8 January 2016

Rwandan Develops Digital Game App

Photo: allafrica.com
13-year-old Somali inventor Guled Adan Abdi (left), Makote Tours' Virtual Gorilla app (top right), WhatsApp logo (bottom left).

When Joseph Nelly Sugira started exploring digital game invention technologies, it was 'just for fun'. He had no idea that luck would land him into developing a card game application that is growing to become the talk of the game lovers across the digital world.

From his workstation, Sugira, was looking into how to make application games, when he recalled a popular childhood card game called "Amaturufu," a game he initially thought would only interest Rwandans into digital games.

"Initially, I programmed the Amaturufu card game as a way to practice. I chose it because it was the one game that I was familiar with since I grew up playing Amaturufu with friends in Kigali. The more I developed it on my computer, the more realistic it looked. Then I decided to make a product out of it," said Sugira, a software engineer working with Aspen Technology Inc in Bedford, Massachusetts, US.

Sugira, 26, is a Presidential Scholarship graduate with a Bachelor of Science in Electrical and Computer Engineering from California Baptist University.

"When I was going to college in the States, I realised that we (Rwandan students) and other international students didn't really participate in playing all the video and mobile games the American students were enjoying.

Most of us showed no interest in them. Unless it was the Xbox FIFA (soccer video game).

"Maybe the answer was that nobody really made all these games targeting us," he said in an email interview with The New Times.

To Sugira, the challenge was to programme a game that was familiar to his compatriots, thus testing his hypothesis.

"I realised that if I was going to target Rwandans, I had to keep the original name of the game (Amakarita y'Amaturufu). Thus, the Amaturufu App," Sugira said.

Amaturufu evolves

The Amaturufu App is a card game application for the popular old style Rwandan card game whose concept Sugira came up with two months ago.

In terms of accessibility, the Amaturufu app is now available for download on the Google Play store for all Android 3.0 and above phones and tablets.

It is also available for download on the Amazon App store for all Fire and Kindle Fire phones, tablets and all BlackBerry devices running the BlackBerry 10 operating system.

As of Monday, the Amaturufu App - approved for Apple Store Beta test programme - had several people have signed up to help in the process for iPhones/iPads/iPod touch devices.

"I hope to have it available for download on the Apple store soon. I am also working on making it available on Windows App Store for Windows phones and tablets before the end of the month," Sugira said.

In terms of usage, by January 2, the Amaturufu game had been installed on 115 Android devices around the world.

By Monday, the users included 38 in Rwanda, 31 in the US, 17 in France, six in Canada and four in Germany.

Also, three each in the UK and South Korea, two each in Italy and in Japan, one in Australia and eight in other countries.

On the Google Play store, the game has a 5Star rating from 17 people with convincing reviews from people that all say how much they love the game.

"The Amaturufu iOS test app has been installed and is being tested on 22 devices. I attribute the small use base to the fact that not many people know that they can actually play Amaturufu on their phones and tablets. But I believe when more people find out, they will love it," Sugira said.

Currently, the app only features a single player game of two, but Sugira plans to integrate it with social media (Facebook, WhatsApp, Viber) to allow multiple users to play against each other.

"I plan on having a multiplayer option for the two to three people game in the next three months. By the end of the year, I should have six-people game," he adds.

Future projects

Sugira has started making the 'Ibigarasha' card game, locally known as 'Ibyondi'.

"I plan on pushing the envelope even further and make games like 'Igisoro,' (board game)," he said.

Sugira told The New Times that he is also working on another application that he hopes will help revolutionise transport system in Rwanda-whose details he could not avail, until it materialises.

He said the Amaturufu app would help safeguard and promote his culture.

"Very often, I get a text from, even, non-Rwandan friends with a screenshot of the game. I am proud of that [game] and I think everyone should," he said.

Who is Sugira?

Born to Erasme Rwanamiza and Alexie Uwingabire, Sugira spent most of his childhood life in Gitega Sector, a Kigali city suburb.

He attended Camp Kigali Primary School, and high school at Petit Seminaire St Vincent, Ndera, in Kigali, where he majored in Latin, Biology and Chemistry.

Growing up, Sugira dreamed of becoming a surgeon since; he was good at Biology and Chemistry, but later fell in love with computer science and programming shortly before joining California Baptist University where he did Electrical and Computer Engineering.

"I ended up in the US as part of cohort of students that were awarded a Presidential Scholarship to pursue their education in the States. For that I want to thank our President and the people of Rwanda for investing in my education," he said.


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