Creative Lives — Game designer Allan Cudicio on creating the first virtual Afrofantasy world
Allan Cudicio has set out to create the first Afrofantasy game under his own company, Twin Drums. Before taking a deep dive into launching his own venture, Allan had a taste of what it was like working for the likes of Wooga and King, two of the biggest leading game developers. Having worked on the famous Candy Crush to Jelly Splash, he began to establish the kind of work he wanted to do, and decided it was time to go it alone. From Ireland to Berlin, we talk to the game developer about what it’s like creating a game centred around Afrofantasy during this time.
Game Designer and Founder
Game Designer, Wooga (2017–2019)
MSc Management, Grenoble School of Business (2010–2012)
How would you describe what you do?
I run Twin Drums where we are developing a game called The Wagadu Chronicles – the first Afrofantasy MMO [a massively multiplayer online role-playing game]. I am pretty hands on, so I spend a lot of time working on that.
Twin Drums is more than just a company, we are on organisation with a mission to change the industry – or at least a little corner of it – in order to positively affect the rest. The name of the company comes from West African “talking drums” which were used a bit like telephones to communicate long distances in the forests or grasslands. We want to tell African-inspired stories, just like those drums.
“Twin Drums is more than just a company, we are on organisation with a mission to change the industry.”
This is of course a bit personal for the half of the team who are Black, but even for the rest of the team, it’s about expanding the horizon of what imaginary worlds and their inhabitants look like. No matter how big our successes will be, if we inspire people to play or make more African-inspired games – or even games about other less-known cultures – we will have succeeded!
It’s definitely not easy, I have had to deal with comments such as a publisher asking questions like, “Are you not worried this will alienate high-spending men in their 30s and 40s?” Another challenge is finding people who do not simply want to ‘make games’ but want to potentially improve the industry as well.
‘The Wagadu Chronicles’
Can you tell us about The Wagadu Chronicles and how it’s developing?
The Wagadu Chronicles encompasses two new things: an MMO where everyone role plays, similar to D&D table [gaming table] and an Afrofantasy video game. I noticed that both elements are starkly absent from the gaming market currently.
What’s been your favourite thing about working on the game so far?
People’s reactions online, especially Black folks! Also the sense of purpose I feel within the Twin Drums team.
What does an average day look like for you and where does it happen?
It varies, but it’s usually a mix of admin (mostly emails), organising and speaking with team members, and game design where I build and write things for the game.
What drew you to Berlin?
Berlin has a growing indie game development scene but the AAA [video games produced by large, mainstream gaming companies] scene is almost absent, so it can be great or not depending on your focus. I came here for the cultural atmosphere and also because it’s one of the most liveable capitals in Europe.
‘The Wagadu Chronicles’ character development
With the world going through so many unprecedented changes over the last few months; do you feel like this time has changed the way you work or your aspirations?
Yes, working on a distinctly Black game feels even more like a mission.
Are there any resources you’ve found to be inspiring?
A lot! As a game designer, almost anything can inspire you, but my tip here would be: read top game design books, they really help.
Over the last couple of years, some of my favourite books have been The Six Pillars of Self Esteem by Nathaniel Branden; Deep Work by Cal Newport; The Art of Game Design by Jesse Schell; The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman.
A little camp addition I’d like to make is Naturally Tan, the autobiography of Tan France from Queer Eye. I found it unexpectedly insightful and inspirational!
‘The Wagadu Chronicles’
‘The Wagadu Chronicles’
How I Got Here
In what ways do you feel your background or upbringing have influenced your choice of career?
I was very geeky! My family were into watching documentaries together, and would opt for that over a weekend skiing. So game development is definitely a natural evolution from that.
Do you feel going to university was important to your development?
Yes, I understand business better than the average game designer. I also had the tools to build a company from scratch.
What was your journey like when you were first starting out?
I worked in marketing for a multinational company in Ireland and then I did a semi-sabbatical in Ghana, which eventually led me to gaming in Berlin.
“When starting your own business, make sure you have some savings or gigs lined up to help you stay afloat for a while.”
How did you find working for companies like Wooga and King?
They are both great companies! You get to work with amazing people and learn a lot. Unfortunately, you have little freedom on what game to work on next; this is what led me to start my own company, as I knew exactly what I wanted to work on, and what I didn’t.
Do have any major learnings in terms of making money and supporting yourself as a creative?
When starting your own business, make sure you have some savings or gigs lined up to help you stay afloat for a while.
Looking back at your career so far, what would you say has been your biggest challenge?
Not having a conventional ‘gamer’ background. The typical member of my industry is a white straight cis dude. When compared to other industries, we are definitely more open minded; but in the past there have been many situations where I have not felt comfortable or included, such as when some old colleagues found it ‘weird’ that I never play shooters (I rarely play ‘gory’ games in general).
I noticed it while brainstorming, too, where many of my ideas – “Let’s add more Africa!” for example – were not always welcome to all team members. This said, there are really a lot of wonderful and supportive people, so it really depends!
‘Candy Crush’, work for King
‘Jelly Splash’, work for Wooga
Words of Wisdom
Would you say the gaming industry is hard to break into? And if so, how would you recommend someone does it?
It’s not the easiest to break into, but there are some tried-and-tested methods which could increase your chances. I like to give three tips to everyone trying to get into gaming:
• Play and analyse games with a critical eye, and once you’re able to do so, go to as many industry events as you can – this industry is a lot about networking.
• Build your own small game (alone or with others) and add it to your portfolio. Create modded (self-made) levels for games, you can do this by following YouTube tutorials.
• Hone down on a type of job, then study the descriptions of jobs you want to apply for, and work hard to tick all those boxes. Build your portfolio and activities around that.
These worked wonderfully for me; good luck if you decide to make the leap, with all its challenges this industry is still a wonderful place!