Interview: Mohannad Al-Khatib
This past December at PSX 2017 I got the opportunity to talk with Mohannad Al-Khatib the creative director at Artifact 5 about their upcoming game, Anamorphine. The game’s booth stands our starkly on the showroom floor. There is no competition to either side or in front of it and it stands directly across from the display for one of Sony’s most anticipated games, Spiderman. It’s gotten a sweet spot on the floor, granted I imagine because of both its integration with PSVR and rapidly approaching release date.
When I wander up to see if there is any literature I can grab I’m greeted by Mohannad, or Mo he swiftly informs me, who is ready to give me the full pitch. He is not taken aback in the slightest when I ask him if I can record an impromptu interview. In fact, he seems pleased.
As we talk he is soft-spoken and humble. He’s excited about what he’s created, and he’s well spoken when I ask him about it. In my experience many indie developers have trouble handling the PR for their games when faced with the general public but Mo comes off experienced and ready to share. It is a breath of fresh air after encountering people at booths completely unprepared to discuss the games they have on display. After a few moments of passing conversation while mic and camera are set up, we dive right in.
So I walked by this game a few times while I’ve been here, what is it about?
Anamorphine is a trippy exploration game where you play through someone's memories and trauma. You're playing the story of Tyler and exploring his relationship with his partner Elena. You’re uncovering the events that led up to a trauma that triggered the events of the game. We’re doing it with environmental circling. There is no text, voice or action button. It’s all about where you go and what you choose to look at.
That sounds cool! Did you guys display last year?
At PSX? No, we’ve shown at a whole bunch of other places.
Okay, I saw a lot of things last year so I’m just like… do I remember this? What was your creative direction with this? How’d this come about?
So I’m the creative director on the project. Used to be a hobby project between me and my business partner. We were just doing it in our part time like in the evenings and weekends. Eventually we made a demo and people liked it and it was like, we gotta figure it out. So we quit our jobs, formed the company. On Sunday, we grew to six people which is big but still small.
Yeah, and we’ve been working on it for two and a half years full time now.
Wow, that’s… that’s really amazing.
What was that like for you, like making the switch?
Uh, it was scary but exciting at the same time. Lots of decisions to make, especially business decisions so we found a business partner. She’s amazing, she helps with the business and finances [...] it’s been going pretty well, the game is doing well, people are receiving it.
It looks amazing. Every time I’ve walked by it I’ve been like, this is stunning--[Laughter]--I understand the drive for people to check it out. Where did the idea for this game come from?
When I first started I wanted to do sort of like an environment--[...] I wanted to do an environment where it tells you a story. It’s almost like a 3D painting you’re walking through. It speaks to you. And my friend who’s a programmer wanted to do this effect that shifts the perspective of the player like it changes the sense of space, so I guess these two merged together and we came up with a story that kind of worked well with that concept.
That’s really interesting to take your story idea based on how you want to do your concepts. Is there anything else special you wanted to say about it?
We announced our launch date, it’s going to be January 16th, next month. We just released a big 5 minute gameplay trailer. It’s going to be on PS4, PSVR, also PC, Oculus, and Vive.
Oh! As I was looking at it I was like this looks like a game that would look really good on PSVR. What was the development process like for that?
It was interesting. For VR for example you have to worry about locomotion. People can’t get sick versus the effect. A lot of our trippy circle effects have--use multiple cameras so when you have VR you have two eyes so two cameras and that multiplies all the cameras in the game by two, and then you have to figure out the frame rate, make sure it’s slower run. It was tricky but I think we did a good job.
If you’d like to find out more, you can check out Anamorphine’s website
Miranda is the patron saint of sports anime, bishounen, and western RPGs. She works full time at Vertical Slice as a cat wrangler and dabbles in content creation. You can follow her on twitter at @Jaegerx7.