Home Tech A ‘House of the Dragon’ Star Made a Video Game to Grieve His Father

A ‘House of the Dragon’ Star Made a Video Game to Grieve His Father

by Elijah
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A 'House of the Dragon' Star Made a Video Game to Grieve His Father

Ten years ago, Abubakar Salim lost his father. That sadness lives in him. An actor by profession, with credits in it Raised by wolves And House of the DragonIn the coming season he searched for years for the right medium to process the pain. A movie. A TV show. Nothing did it justice until he tried making a video game. “If you really portray grief in a truthful and honest way, it’s so open and chaotic that you can actually gamify it a little bit,” he says.

Salim is the CEO and creative director of Surgent Studios, the developer behind the upcoming film Metroidvanie game Stories of Kenzera: Zau. The game, out April 23, follows a young shaman, Zau, who makes a deal with the god of death to bring his father back to life in exchange for three great spirits. The story is a reflection of dealing with loss; even the premise is based on negotiation, a common stage for someone dealing with death. Pushing buttons, changing masks – these are all, Salim says, representative of the madness people can experience.

Games about grief reflect those feelings in many ways. Platformer Gris turns the stages of grief into literal stages as the heroine silently navigates a world that uses color and music to express emotions. What remains of Edith Finch examines the death of a family by going through their belongings, alongside vignettes dedicated to the lost.

Kenzera has its own methods. Throughout the game, Zau takes time to pause and talk about his feelings. That’s the result of Salim and the game’s developers trying to figure out how the character could restore his health. The solution became quite literal: create a space where Zau simply sits under a tree and reflects.

Every biome in the game world is a reflection of the journey through that fear. Salim, who grew up playing games with his father, recalls something his father always told him as a child: “When you are born, you are alone, and when you die, you are alone.” Kenzera‘s developers have infused that idea into the Woodlands setting, which is meant to evoke a sense of questioning: “Will I be remembered? Will I be forgotten?”

Stories that Salim’s father told him had a major influence on the game, as did Bantu culture, which he said was done as a form of celebration rather than an attempt to educate people. In recent years, games such as God of war And Hades have breathed new life into Norse and Greek mythology. A game like Kenzera could do something similar for the culture of southern Africa. “It’s meant to inspire people to see these stories and lean into them,” says Salim.

although Kenzera‘s struggle has evolved over time, that’s what influenced by Dambe, a form of Nigerian boxing. Zau switches between masks to change his fighting style: sun and moon masks that represent life and death. In Bantu culture, Salim explains, these two balance each other. “That’s really where the inspiration for these two masks came from,” he says. The sun mask is naturally heat and flame heavy, while the moon mask looks and feels more icy. Both masks are beautiful and imbued with energy, an ode to how other cultures deal with death. “Especially within African cultures, (death) is almost celebrated in a way,” he says. “It is a transition to the new.”

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