“Angkor Kids” Gives Gamers Cambodian Virtual Reality

Angkor Kids is the first mobile game developed in Cambodia with Khmer text and speech (Photo Courtesty of AVACAS).

By Cecelia Marshall for The Khmer Times

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) − Open to a virtual world set centuries ago, during Angkor Wat’s construction.  As a young villager, you’re ready to explore the world and learn new skills.

Welcome to Angkor Kids, a role playing video game that was created last May and played on iPhones, iPads and iPods.

It is the first game made with Khmer Script, directly targeting Khmer speakers. Since launching last year, Angkor Kids has been the most downloaded game on Facebook.

Set in a virtual world, the world takes players through the ancient, golden era of Angkor. Users play young villagers exploring their world and learning new skills such as farming, fishing, hunting and harvesting. Each player customizes a personal avatar and sets out on quests to help family and villagers.

“The game is intended as an ongoing contribution to the Cambodian people to help youth learn more about their culture and history,” Melanie Lindquist, spokeswoman for Angkor Kids, said in an interview here.

“I like the graphics,” said an anonymous reviewer on Apple iTunes. “Although I haven’t played it, I think it is a great game. I would love to see a more historic record in the game as it would improve education as well.  I am proud to be Khmer.”

Ms. Lindquist said: “For each new element, we research online to try to identify subject matter material that refers to how life was during the early Khmer empire period.”

A team of 12 people made the game.  From graphic artists to code writers, the team was composed of Cambodians at AVACAS, a digital design agency based in Phnom Penh.

“It took us almost three years to make this game because we work on the projects when staff are not too busy with client work,” said Ms. Lindquist.

The main challenge was integrating Khmer script, keyboard and chat into the game, she added.

From their studios in the VTrust building, AVACAS continuously generates new products.

“We will continue to evolve the game and should have a new game, which is an English based fantasy game, in the coming weeks,” said the company spokeswoman.

Other companies are developing games in Cambodia.

Game and technological development is on the rise in the Kingdom. At last weekend’s Barcamp conference at the Institute of Technology of Cambodia here in  Phnom Penh, entrepreneurs, web developers and tech enthusiasts connected to share new technology.

Everywhere in the city, a child has a tablet or smartphone in their little grip. A growing percentage of gamers own a tablet, rather than another gaming device. It’s portable, doesn’t require a plug in or a different cartridge for each game.

The second most popular game types are PC online games.  These are massively multiplayer online role-playing games. Open the door to any wifi coffee shop or any 24 hour Internet cafe at any time during the day and you will find at least one gamer, a player who may been there for hours.

In China alone, these online games are expanding at a rate expected to double the market, from $11.9 billion in 2013 to US$23.4 billion by 2018, according to Niko Partners.

Online games can hold millions of subscribers. At one time, as 4,000 players can be battling each other.

According to Niko Partners, a market intelligence firm, the games market generated US$662 million last year in Southeast Asia.  This is projected to only grow.

AVACAS has localized mobile games for Cambodians, a trend that is taking off not only in game development in Cambodia but other SE Asian countries and predominantly China.

Costumes of avatars are redesigned to reflect the region’s cultural taste. Language is dubbed for dialogue as well as text translation.   Some even have tweaked character’s body languages to draw more players into a game that is familiar in its environment.

Angkor Kids isn’t the first video game for mobile that was developed in Cambodia.

In late 2012, “Asva the Monkey” became Cambodia’s most-downloaded game in Apple Inc.’s online store merely two weeks after its release.

Osjoa Studio, a Cambodia − based gaming studio, produced the game which integrated Cambodian culture.

Users play the monkey, Asva (which means monkey in Khmer) the lives in a forest near Siem Reap’s Angkor Wat.  The game took about six months to develop.

Mirroring the trend of integrating cultural emphasis, the art director, Chivaloy Yok, designed Asva to wear a kben, or traditional cloth that wraps around the monkey’s waist and legs.

Though “Angkor Kids” and “Asva the Monkey” aren’t necessarily made only for locals, it’s much easier gaining a following and support in the home country before a game takes off abroad.

In a newly report by Niko Partners, the Southeast Asian games market will double to US$1.2 billion by 2017. Currently, the market has 85 million gamers. This number is to grow to 130 million gamers in the next four years.

Some parts of Cambodia suffer low connection speeds which hinder developers from using high-quality graphics and animation.  Developers instead are turning to pixel technology found in older phones because it uses lower bandwidth.

The future of gaming in Southeast Asia looks towards localization. The more popular games in country will come from in country developers themselves.

With the middle class booming, mobile technology and infrastructure expanding, gamers can expect a bright future of a multitude of games to choose from.

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