Meet Weza Interactive Entertainment, the Kenyan game developers behind ‘Mzito’

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What was exciting for me about getting to interact with the team behind Mzito, was that they gave me a glimpse of how much promise the local gaming industry has. Evidence of this, beyond just Weza Interactive Entertainment, are the growing audiences and exhibitors at NAICCON (Nairobi Comic Convention) and East Africa Gaming Convention (EAGC).

The six member team at Weza consisting of; of George Ahere, James Ahere, Joshua Ayugi, Andy Mahowa, Stephanie Akeyo and Christian Kijimbi are the brains behind Mzito. Mzito is adventure game whose backstory draws from the themes and fantasy of traditional African stories. Mzito, which is two years old, is the team’s first project and took the better part of a year to develop.

What is the narrative behind Mzito?

First of all, Mzito is not only a game it is a movement!

Basically Mzito is a game about Africa for Africans and the rest of the world to enjoy and learn from. The story line takes one through ancient folklore in which there is a place reserved for the Mzito. A place where wisdom, knowledge and the history of Africa was preserved and passed on. We call it the Lion’s den.  In here one hears a roaring call to action to be a Mzito in one’s own right. In this place, one of the five Ancient spirits of Africa resides. It appears in the form of celestial lions, one for each corner of Africa. However, a great ancient evil had plagued Africa and caused the people to fall into a deep slumber. This sleep stripped the Ancient Spirits of their connection with their land and their people. As the sleep got closer the Lions grew weaker. They knew that soon they would fall into the same unending fate. The Lions looked across their once thriving lands and wept with loud roars. Before they succumbed to the unending slumber, they split a piece from themselves and created the first two Mzito. The Mzito’s were blessed with all the potential of Africa. Tasked with the duty of awakening the Sleeping lions, they must travel all over Africa and use the skills blessed upon them to spread the awakening.Only then shall Africa return to its former glory.

The game basically gives a glimpse into the way the people of Africa have too long fallen into a deep slumber and given way to ills like tribalism which divide us. It is metaphorical in that it gives the person playing the game a chance to be a Mzito in his or her own right.

Mzito is a 2D faller platformer adventure game. You play as one of the first two Mzito and go on an epic adventure to save Africa. Travel across 15 majestic locations, and purge the ancient corruption. Begin the new awakening MZITO.

How did the idea come about?

When we began we knew we wanted to create African games, but there was a problem. To make African games we had to understand what Africa is. That led us to create the Ancient Spirits of Africa. The Mzito Universe is centered on these ancient spirits, which symbolize different pillars of African culture and /or values. The five are Shujja, Shakka, Ajaa, Riziki, and Mila. The universe takes inspiration from African culture, traditions, art, beliefs, history, and mythology. It depicts normal human societal challenges through an epic adventure to save and Unite Africa.

This game is made to inspire Africa. In our own way, we are all a version of Mzito, with the potential of awakening Africa through our talents, skills, and ideas. We all want a bright future for Africa and Mzito embodies exactly that.

How did you go about developing Mzito?

Game development is a collaborative process. We learned a lot about this when Weza Interactive Entertainment pitched Mzito and won a competition called the French Tech Ticket. A program where startups are selected worldwide and brought to France to learn and grow their companies. Through it, we went through master classes and mentorship, which gave us great insight into the huge gaming industry and empowered us to reach a high level of quality with Mzito.

We developed most of Mzito in-house but partnered with 2 artists, one from South Africa and the other from France so as to reach our visual goals. We also worked with a talent producer called Ricky Mathews Githinji ( Hookvh_The_Trvvelling_Monk) who is also part of the Kenyan Band Yellow Light Machine, who helped make Mzito’s soundtrack. We chose to give Mzito an Afro – retro feel with its art style, and music. We chose this for Kenya never really got to express the retro era, when video games started to emerge. Thus we thought it would be cool to take us back to that era ,and merge it with African sound.

In the game, each level is an actual location in Africa, so we had to do a lot of research on these locations and their cultures so we could bring out their beauty in the game.  

Who is your target audience for the game?

Our target audience was mainly Africa but then we realized that Mzito could be more. It could be the platform that we use to educate people about Africa and the beauty it holds. We target the young adult demographic  of 13 – 27. Over time we have managed to do some market research and we now primarily target Africa and have the Western markets as a secondary target, which we reach through distribution partners. However, we do get surprises, like India which has one of the highest numbers of players. This just shows that the world is ready for the African narrative and the global scale of the video gaming industry.

How did you guys meet?

All we can say is that Weza Intercative Entertainment was created out of the convergence of Passion and innovation and the rest (as they say) is history.

Explain your roles in the team?

Being a startup company, we are few and our roles sometimes overlap however, George  and Joshua are the developers in the team, James deals with the business and legal side. Andrew is the creative and Stephanie does our PR and Communications. We are however, beginning to grow and just welcomed a new member of the team who is also a developer, Christian.

What are some of the challenges you have faced during and after the creation of Mzito?

We have been generally #blessed with this whole process but like any new startup our main concerns were and still continue to be funding and the maintenance of a consistent and thriving source of income. Especially with the dream to be global, there are a lot of inner points that we keep learning about as we go along.

Why is it important for Kenyans to create and play their own games?

Because why not? We’ve been playing other people’s games for years and it is time we support our own and celebrate it.

It gives us a huge opportunity to write our own narrative and control how we want to be seen in the media that we consume. There literally are no bounds to what we can achieve in the gaming industry if we came together and supported one another in this.

Another big reason is jobs and opportunities. The video gaming industry in Kenya makes about Ksh. 3 Billion (30 million dollars) yearly yet 90 – 95% of this money goes to international companies plus this revenue increases every year. At Weza Interactive we have made it our mission to activate this insane potential. We believe that it is only a matter of time.

What are your day jobs or is Mzito your full-time hustle?

Joshua and George are full time working on Mzito, James is a Legal intern at Microsoft, Andy is a designer, Christian is a freelance developer and Stephanie works with Refugees.

What are some of the events Mzito has been a part of?

We have been to several events namely the East Africa Games Convention (EAGC) 2017 and 2018 (Kenya) , NAICCON 2017 and 2016 (Kenya ), Games Com Cologne 2017 ( Germany) , Game Mixer Jo’burg ( South Africa) , London Games Week (UK) , Video Games Economic Conference 2017 and 2018 ( France) and Protopitch EU (Belguim) just to name a few .

Should we expect more games from you in the future?

Yes of course. We are already prototyping our next game at the moment. Which will introduce the second phase of the Mzito universe and expand the narrative. We also plan to work on collaborative projects with other companies and institutions. So expect more, expect bigger and expect better games from Weza Interactive Entertainment.  

You can download Mzito for Android here.

Read more about the good folks from Weza Interactive and stay updated on the awesomeness they are creating here.

 

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