Ananse's Well Rescue By Kiaski Donkor

Welcome to our maiden edition of Project Spotlight. Here we will keep you informed a wide range exciting digital arts projects by Africans from around the world. This week’s spotlight is on Ananse’s Well Rescue, a gaming app in development by Kiaski Donkor, Ghanaian freelance illustrator based in the UK. Ananse’s Well Rescue is an ‘action puzzle game’ based on the Asante folklore character Ananse. It uses the Ananse character as the premise for its game and the uses ‘Adinkra’ symbols in its gameplay. In this interview Donko sheds light on the project. Donkor was born and raised in Ghana. After spending the first 17 years of his life in Ghana, he relocated to the UK and has been there for the last 11years. Donkor’s work in the last 12 years has been involved in weaving aspects of his Ghanaian heritage, and to a larger extent the African culture, into his art to create a unique style and aesthetic. More than just drawing, Donkor has a knack for coming up with and developing ideas, crafting concepts and building worlds. 

What is your background as an artist and how did you get started?

I started drawing as a toddler and continued from there. My dad was an accomplished artist, so it was obvious where I got the talent from. In Ghana you usually don’t get any formal art training till about 15 years when you get into senior high school, so that was where i formally started studying art and illustration. In the UK, I continued my further education studying graphic design in college; and finally finished with a BA (Hons) in Illustration from The University of Arts London.

What is ‘Ananse’s Well Rescue’?

 Ananse's Well Rescue is a gaming app in development based on the Asante folklore character Ananse. The game uses math questions and Adinkra symbols (a set of icons that represent traditional wisdom and principles also based in Asante culture) to solve puzzles to help Ananse who has gotten himself in a bit of trouble. It is an ‘action-puzzle’ game that is fun for both children and adul

What inspired the project as a book and now as a game? 

The seeds of this project were actually sown over 12yrs ago back in Ghana. Then, I was in boarding school and started developing an Ananse action comic. This was such an important time in my life and the direction of my work  because until then, all my drawings were inspired by American and Japanese comics and cartoons; so this idea was a break-away from that and drew inspiration from my own culture. But not too long after that I relocated to the UK with my family. This major move left the comic idea half-benched, as I did not do much except occasionally working on the character designs.  But years later, during university, we were given a project to create our own storybook and I felt Ananse was a perfect fit for this. I revamped the characters and used one of Ananse’s classic stories as inspiration to  write and draw my own storybook.

I wanted to continue this way of working, while developing something more interactive. Something that still used my Ananse character in a fun way, while developing coordinative and practical skills in kids as well.

How did you come up with the idea for the game?

 Ananse's Well Rescue was the result of trying to design a game based on my Ananse vision.  We wanted a self-contained game that used African/Ghanaian culture as the basis for its gameplay (the use of an Ananse story as the premise for the game and use adinkra symbols in its gameplay ). We also looked at Ghanaian primary school lessons(speed math) for inspiration as well.

Tell us about the main character Ananse?

 Ananse originally is a famous character from Asante/Ghanaian folklore; He is a spider known for his small size and knack for outsmarting bigger animals. His stories were so famous that all stories in that area were called ‘Anasisem’ or Ananse’s tales or Spider stories. His stories spread throughout the African diaspora and is said to be the basis of other trickster characters the came to be, including Brer Rabbit and Bugs Bunny.

Our version of Ananse takes a lot of the original’s traits but he is essentially a cheeky little prankster. He enjoys playing tricks and this tends to make him cocky and overconfident, sometimes causing his schemes to backfire.

 How long have you been working on the game?

I have been developing the game for about 10 months. I worked on the game on and off for about 6 months then another 4 months was used to transform it into a Kickstarter project.

What challenges have you faced in the production of the game?

Balancing time and having the discipline to work on the game while working on other paid jobs. Another challenge has been finding qualified people to get sound information and advice from. I'm still learning on how to deal with friends in working relationship. In addition, looking outside your own circle of colleagues for other professionals who may be better suited for a particular role was another thing i had to learn to do

What is your role in the production of the game: Are you responsible for every bit of production or do you have a team?

 With the game, I am responsible for the overall concept and gameplay. This  means being responsible for the original idea and its development into the final outcome. I’m also responsible for all the illustrated assets(all drawn parts) needed for the look of the game.

What is the size of your team and who are the key players?

For the game itself, I work with my friend James Littek who handles most of the motion graphics and animation, and creates animated mockups of the game for reviewing and pitching. Being quite a gamer himself, he also helps with ideas to strengthen the overall game in terms of how it’s played and how exciting it could be made to be. There is also Peter 'Poka' Asamoah, who helps with the character animation. He is essentially responsible for how Ananse moves. He creates drafts of the different actions and reactions for our character and we work on how the other animations in the game should look and feel to be consistent with everything else.

Kindly give us a short breakdown of your production process.

 So my way of working begins with having the idea. I draw it out and write down all my thoughts i have about the gameplay.  I have two people to consult with about the game. One is James, he represents the more conventional frequent gamer and my sister and co-project manager Ziona, she stands in for the casual gamer. They help balance out any ideas and thoughts I  have for the game. They also add their own contributions to make the game more enjoyable for the two camps.  We also get advice and feedback from a professional game programmer to know what is possible and within budget. We then come together to  clean up the look and create a video mockup of the gameplay. As this goes on, tweaks and revisions take place. Assets and animation are continually being made throughout the process but actual coding on the game hasn’t taken place since the Kickstarter campaign was designed to fund that. We are still screening for game coders to code the game.

Are there any future plans for the character Ananse? 

As of now we’re planning of continuing the storybooks and comic, while collaborating with other people and organisations with similar interests. Everything else is under wraps for now.

What are your future plans for Ananse’s Well Rescue? 

The game was designed to not require frequent updates, however depending on the reception that may change, with more levels and power ups and even sequels added.

Tell us about the Anase Kick-starter project 

We are looking to raise £5000, through the Kickstarter campaign, to cover coding and production costs of the game and the rewards that come with it. The Kickstarter will also allow us to supply the game and books to Street Library Ghana(SLG), a charity that looks to increase literacy in children by providing reading books and other learning materials. We will be giving the children they work with access to something that is both educational and culturally relevant to them. Through Kickstarter, pledgers can get access to the game as well as Ananse-based books, comics, masks, stickers, posters and prints.

What informed your decision for crowd funding?

 I was actually inspired by what Roye Okupe did with his EXO comic as well as Obi Ud’s Red Origins graphic novel and Lesean Thomas’ Cannon Busters animated pilot. Seeing how there was a eager audience ready to support Black and African content gave me the confidence to try it out myself, and the feedback i have received has been encouraging.

What is your one line pitch to our readers? 

Hi guys if you’re interested in new exciting content, that also looks to shine a positive light on Africa, our exciting new gaming app Ananse's Well Rescue aims to use African culture and art to deliver gameplay suitable for all ages, that is not only fun but educational and culturally vibrant as well. We would like your support in achieving this by pledging at Kickstarter where you can also see the whole project in its full splender. We would appreciate it if you not only donate but also spread the word, by mouth, social media, whatsapp, carrier pigeon, any means there is. Thank you in advance for any help you can give.

When will we have Ananse's well rescue in our devices?

 After a successful Kickstarter, and depending on the funds raised, were looking at 3 months(December 2016) to launch.

Any advice for aspiring artists with ideas they are trying to bring to life? I would say let your work have a purpose and meaning, that will drive you to push on with it even when you don’t feel like it. Work with your head as much as your heart and learn how to connect what you love to do with an audience that appreciates it. Also set goals, make plans and break habits you know are holding you back with deliberate actions