Thursday, May 7, 2009

Leti Games - building computer games in Africa

I don't remember when exactly I got my first computer game. I was young and it was a Nintendo. It was the thing to have as a young boy. After school (from about class 4/4th grade till about the end of JSS/middle school), setting up shop in front of the TV playing Mario, Street Fighter and Mortal Kombat was the 'joie de vivre'. The funniest part was how we'll simulate jumping if the game character was jumping; kicking, screaming, punching, you name it. Around the same time, when most of us youngsters were looking out for the thrills of puberty,focusing on passing exams, getting the newest gadgets and attending all the birthday parties, Eyram Akofa Tawia was busy learning computer programming. Visual Basic to be precise. This is 1997 and 1998 in a pre-internet cafe Ghana. There's only one way this story could end. Today, Eyram (or Wuzu as his close friends know him), has started his own computer game company called Leti Games with backing capital.

Wuzu meant the "Great One". Eyram knew he was going to be great before some of us even knew greatness existed. Once he mastered Visual Basic (and then Q-Basic), he began to program. By the time we had returned home on vacation to Kumasi from our various secondary school bases, Eyram was programming human characters. One of our friends, Godfred Twum-Barimah, who was an excellent artist, sketched comics. Wuzu understood the idea of partnerships even then and collaborated with him, to sketch comics and create virtual characters. Making cartoons ala He-Man and Captain Planet is cool, but making computer games is much much cooler. The Sword of Sygos was born. The game was developed in Qbasic which remained his 'language' for a very long time. Though the game was never sold, his close friends enjoyed it. Did anyone say something about Made-in-Ghana being bad? We 14 year-old KNUST JSS kids did not care. Wuzu and his crew later joined hands to write other games also just for fun based on other releases of their comics (zee powers, street warriors).

Eyram got interested in programming because of his love for video games and consequently he wondered how they were actually built. To quote him, "So, I once saw a cousin of mine write some funny statements in a blue screen on the pc, tapped some few keys and asked me to enter my name. suddenly the computer printed what I entered in yellow and I was amazed by it. So I asked the question "Can I write a game with his?" and he answered YES. That was my 1st intro to programming! So I got interested."

After graduating from Mawuli School, Eyram returned home to Kumasi and enrolled in the Computer Science program at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology. Eyram, together with his friend Francis Dittoh entered GhanaThink's Invitational Programming Contest dubbed 1.GTPC.06 with their final year project - A 3D Computer Game called The Sword of Sygos. :-) The competition was open to graduating seniors of Ghanaian tertiary institutions to design and develop their senior projects for the Ghanaian market which would not be prototypes for their departments only. The duo, whose project was supervised by Dr. J.B. Hayfron-Acquah received a cash prize of $300. The game was implemented using the Microsoft® Visual Basic® .NET programming language and utilized the Truevision3D engine.

Eyram continued programming throughout his time at Tech. Working with childhood friends Justin Dakorah and Kofi Opuni-Asiama, they formed BlackSoft Developers. Some of their programs and products included Black DJ (a DJ mixing software), another radio management software, as well as Tsatsu (an educational program). The BlackSoft Crew partnered with the folks at Cynkro Interactive and yours truly to build a computer game for the recent African Cup of Nations in Ghana ala FIFA 08, etc. I admired the work they all put into this, even though the project fell short due to lack of financial support in and around Ghana.

Eyram ended up taking a teaching fellow position at the Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology (MEST) in East Legon, Accra. A bunch of their students attended the inaugural BarCamp Ghana in December 2008 at the Kofi Annan ICT center. MEST is doing a great job and with some more support, can begin to rival Ashesi University. At MEST, he was able to grow both technically and business wise. After his time at MEST, Eyram earned seed funding to start Leti Games, an African computer game company. He is partnering with Kenya's Wesley Kirinya, another computer game maker.

According to Eyram, "Leti simply means moon/star in EWE. This shows how the star or moon takes over at night but dies during the day. There are a lot of game companies out there shining during the day. at night, they are all asleep and we take over." Eyram has a great sense of humour and you can find him joking most of the time. But he is as focused as they come. The focus of the start-up is to start a true recognised successful African Game company. He says: "This we believe will place Africa on the globe and also contribute to game development in the world. currently, Africa is hardly considered for anything game development and this really hurts
some of us. We believe Leti games can change this perception and through that, we can be able to introduce game development degree courses into our universities. And also, make money :):) $$$$$$! We intend grow the company to become a major player in Africa in the next 5 years!"

There are many more Ghanaians like Eyram in their mid-twenties turning heads and building businesses that will lead the African charge in the future. I've spent some time trying to find them and will be featuring some of these charges on my blog.
Post a Comment

Disqus for The Vim Views & Versions - Blogs of a MIghTy African