Interview: Bahiyya Khan, Game Developer of after HOURS
Bahiyya Khan is a Muslim game developer from South Africa who is geared up for the release of her newest game After HOURS. After HOURS is an FMV game that centers around a young woman who was molested as a child and suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder as a result. For those who don’t know, FMV stands for “Full Motion Video”, and is a narration technique that relies on pre-recorded video files, or 3D models, to display action. In after HOURS, the player gets a glimpse into the life of Lilith Gray, piecing together details from her past, while learning what it’s like to be Lilith. For more details, check out the interview below!
Games typically make it easier for us to consume heavier topics due to their cartoony nature. I would like to know what inspired you to tell this story through an FMV? Full motion video kind of adds an extra layer of realism and discomfort that’s avoided in a game like Detroit, so what made you embrace the realism?
Bahiyya Khan [BK]: When I thought about how I wanted to represent Lilith’s story in after HOURS, I considered a variety of visual styles but ultimately decided to create the game through the medium of film. This way, I could depict the story through real people and hopefully, have players engage with it on a more tactile level. When I thought about Lilith and the emotions that she would be going through, I couldn’t think of a better way to show it than by actually showing her face, made all the more evocative with the animations drawn over the film. As can be the case with Borderline Personality Disorder, one’s perception of reality can become distorted due to intense emotions and I felt like film coupled with the animations captured that feeling.
When developing a game, especially one like after HOURS, what would you say is the hardest part of the process?
BK: Trying not to lose your mind because you feel so sick and sad over the content that you’re dealing with. Weeks would pass where I couldn’t work on the game because it was so triggering to me. Even before making the game, there would be moments in my daily life where I would stop and think about how someone was getting abused at that point in time and making the game reminded me of that even more. It’s good to think about these things because we need to be reminded of how we have to try our best to look after and protect people and destroy evils within our society. But I generally just feel crippled by moments like that because I feel so small in the face of it all and it feels like no matter how much I try to do to make the world better, there is always something new to be devastated about. But here I am, still trying.
What are your plans for the future? Do you have any other games you’re working on?
BK: I’m currently finishing up work on after HOURS which will be released on Humble Bundle around early November. I have a bunch of other games I want to make that involves things like how terrible art school is, Blink 182 and personifying the season of Summer who falls in love with a human, but first I have to do some work on my Master’s proposal. I’m still in school you know.
What are your plans for after HOURS? Will you try for a larger distribution of the game?
BK: It’s gonna be released on Humble Bundle, so that’s nice in terms of reaching a larger audience, and then we’ll try to release it on Steam and itch.io. and wherever else we can
Can you speak about your industry as a South African woman?
BK: I don’t really know how much I can speak on the industry because I don’t work as part of a game studio and after HOURS is the first game that I’m releasing, and I haven’t even done that yet. But I can speak on what it’s like to be a young female developer of colour who comes from a pretty volatile area in Johannesburg. It’s damn hard. I have to travel for 2 hours every day to and back from university just so I am able to get an internet connection because I have no internet at home, aside from my cell phone. Then there’s always rocks being dropped on to cars from the overhead footbridge while traveling in and out from my area in an attempt to hijack cars, so there’s that added anxiety. People get robbed on the daily in my community as well, so subconsciously, I don’t think that I can ever fully relax. I stay in a middle/lower class PoC community and seeing and experiencing what we have to go through just to survive in a capitalist hell world that doesn’t give a shit about us breaks my heart. It makes it difficult to care about video games when all you care about is receiving that text from your mum saying that she arrived safely, or knowing that your family only has enough rent money for two more months. On the other hand, this is also why I want to make games. To tell my people’s stories. To make games that they can relate to and laugh their arses off to cause they recognize our slang in the dialogue. You know?
The subject matter for many of your games focuses on important, but very heavy topics. What is your process for developing a game/how do you go about conceiving the idea, and taking it to the next level? Do you ever feel like you need a break from developing games with such serious topics?
BK: I usually think of game ideas when I listen to music or read books or am in strange situations and think, “This would make a nice game”. Then, when I am not crippled by the crushing weight of being alive, I start thinking about the game some more. Sometimes I write poems about how I feel the characters would behave and sometimes I just sit on Tumblr looking at photos of things that remind me of the character. Then I start thinking of how to assimilate all my ideas into the game world. I think about this for some time and then I start designing the levels. But obviously, things change during that process. God, I haven’t made a new game in so long that I’m not even sure how this all goes! I definitely do feel like I need a break from video games when I engage with serious topics. But I don’t just need a break from video games, I need a break from life because even though I’m not working on the game, I still exist in the world, so it remains a challenge.
Be on the lookout for more details about Bahiyya Khan, and her work as she continues to develop new ideas, and bring innovation to the industry! And don’t forget to check out the trailer for after HOURS right here!