What’s your creative profession, and what led you to pursue it?
For the past half-decade, I’ve been a professional Video Game Producer, managing development teams focused on shipping premium independent games. Currently, I’m working at a Toronto studio called Snowman. Our goal together is to make games as artful experiences; create meaningful experiences that you may sit with for a short time, but that sit with you for a long while. Our immediate focus is on building games for the mobile space, where attention is fleeting. Building small worlds that will draw players away from doom-scrolling is rewarding!
My personal interest in making games is twofold: the role games play as an art form and the complexity involved in development. Games offer a unique artistic experience, making the player the main protagonist, rather than a passive observer. The stake in the art is elevated, leading to a more substantial payoff. What’s more, building games is complex. In the industry, we often liken it to “filming a movie while building the camera.” Games must not only be satisfying to experience but also provide a fun, interactive experience, whether with a keyboard or a controller.
Growing up, games made a profound impact on me. Access to them was rare during my childhood in Pakistan, requiring a relative or friend with a bulky computer and the right burnt CD. Games like Half-Life 2 and a vast catalog of SEGA games left a mark on me. Later in Canada, playing RuneScape with friends and getting my first Xbox were game-changers. Immersing myself in a whole new world was mind-blowing, and the ability to influence significant events in the game, while in reality I was just a kid, felt powerful and important.
When the opportunity arose to contribute to games at a studio dedicated to providing players with such impactful experiences, I knew this was where I wanted to focus my efforts for some time.
How has your creative journey been so far?
It’s been fun! I’ve always tried to make time for creativity. A brain dump is often necessary for me to think clearly day to day. It doesn’t feel optional to me to write, sketch, or make something in Photoshop every week. Being creative is being curious and actively working on not losing my childlike wonder.
Tell us more about your portfolio and the story behind your work.
My most recent top portfolio sample is Laya’s Horizon, a game on Netflix, released on May 2nd, 2023. I was the Lead Producer on the title from Snowman. My main role was to oversee development from pre-production to release and be the vision holder of the game, responsible for upholding the Creative Director’s vision and communicating it to the team.
Laya’s Horizon is about mastering the art of wingsuiting, capturing a feeling that almost every person dreams of – the feeling of flying, soaring above the clouds and weaving through mountains. We always had that dream ourselves so we wanted to create an entirely new game that allowed us to live it. Everything in Laya’s Horizon is lovingly handcrafted by us, from player controls, mission paths, challenges, all the way to every single little environmental detail on the mountain.
The real story behind the work is about the people I worked with. For the past five years, the Laya’s Horizon team was a large part of my life and it’s hard to put into words what they meant to me. This was our most ambitious title yet, a brand new IP and it required the largest internal development team we’ve ever had. Suffice to say, the game posed a significant challenge in design, tech, art and production and we rose to the occasion. Everyone gave so much time and creative energy and it really showed. Working with them was the greatest collaborative experience I’ve had so far. Each delivery, the team came together in such synergy and flow. Making Laya’s Horizon taught me that special games are created by special people working together and supporting each other for a long time.
You can find everything Laya’s Horizon here: layashorizon.com
Other portfolio samples are on my website: owaisakhtar.com
What unique challenges or frustrations have you faced as a Muslim creative?
I’ve heard the familiar questions shared by many first-generation immigrant kids. Questions such as, “Am I investing my time wisely in pursuing creativity? Should I consider more conventional and technical careers like being a doctor, lawyer, or engineer? Is it worthwhile to develop skills in stuff like creative writing, sketching, screen-printing, graphic design?”
In response, I’ve discovered that consistently honing my creativity proves beneficial in all aspects of my life anyway. The drive to be innovative exists within every mind, irrespective of the profession—be it painting, graphic design, medicine, or engineering. Creativity serves as a catalyst for improvement in any field. Proficiency in writing, storytelling, brand creation, and other creative skills contribute to overall personal growth.
I see arts and technical skills as interconnected, not separate entities. The synergy of both, whether in an individual or through collaborative efforts, leads to the creation of unique and outstanding experiences.
If you’re facing resistance from family or friends, show the value and seriousness of pursuing a creative path. By showcasing tangible benefits and a viable creative career path, it becomes easier to convince them of its worthiness and potential for a fulfilling career.
What are you currently working on?
I usually have many side-projects on the go. The furthest along is a board game called *Run It Back!* a fast-paced, combat action game where you need to make it to the treasure and bring it home without having it stolen by your opponents (sign up here to keep up with that https://runitback.carrd.co/). We’re focus playtesting at the moment so please let us know if you’re interested!
I’m also working with my younger brother, a budding programmer, on fun game prototypes using the Unity 3D engine.
This year I also got into creative writing, joining Nanowrimo Toronto to start my first novel. This one is a slow burn.
Finally, I enjoy making art products to sell online, often tinged with old game or anime nostalgia (RuneScape, SEGA games, Nintendo, Naruto etc.)
Which individuals within the Muslim creative community do you admire?
The current generation of Muslim creators are immensely talented and know how to build experiences online. Off the top of my head…
- El Seed’s calligraffiti
- Yaqeen Institute’s productions have been pretty impressive in the last few years; they really know how to draw a young Muslim audience.
- This platform, Muslim Creative, is a great idea!
- The team behind Pillars App (https://www.thepillarsapp.com), focusing on beautiful design and privacy
…and many more!
What kinds of opportunities are you actively seeking or hoping to explore within your creative journey?
Overall, I’d like to meet people so we can elevate each others work and passions. Opportunities will organically come of that. I like to produce other people’s ideas and push them to their peak. I also like to bounce my own off others for inspiration.
How can people get in touch to collaborate with you?
You can reach me anywhere. I love to chat, but can be slow and distracted (sorry). Click here to view my website. You can also find me on Twitter (@owaisakt), Instagram (@owaisness) and LinkedIn (Owais Akhtar).
How does your cultural background influence your creative process?
There’s a ton of Islamic influence in my creative process. It weaves itself into my work in different ways: history, theology, storytelling. My South Asian influence though is lacking and I’m doing more work to get in touch with it.
What are your long-term goals as a Muslim creative?
I’d like to be a “polymath creative” who can learn anything I need to a certain level. I want to collaborate with others and elevate their work. I want to build a strong foundation of Muslim and Non-Muslim creatives around me that can make anything we want and sell it successfully.