By Shanuka Kadupitiyage
Sri Lanka is a treasure trove of creativity. Creators young and old exist in the country, even engaging with an international audience and client base, yet receive very little exposure and attention by the local public. Black Hammer Studios is one such group of creators. Together, they have successfully developed Forgotten Hope, an independently developed video game successfully published on Steam, the global video game marketplace.
Black Hammer is the creation of co-founders Sithira Siriwardana and Naveen Damintha. Working together with a handful of talented artists and friends, Forgotten Hope began from the two’s love for video games, and the time gained while staying at home during lockdowns.
“We all were enthusiastic gamers,” one shared. “We’ve all played games from our childhood years, and grew up with video games. It was that love for games that probably gave us the dream of finding a career in the gaming industry, which led us to this path.”
“When the pandemic hit in 2020, we were at home completing our studies and spending countless nights playing games together. It was during this time that we came up with this idea of stepping into game development. We wanted to do something unique and inspiring.”
“None of us had any previous knowledge or experience in game development. So we spent a few months learning everything by ourselves from zero. While doing this, we came up with the concept for our first ever project, Forgotten Hope and made it a target to publish the game on a major game distribution platform, Steam. To make this a reality, we registered our own game development studio, and thus, Black Hammer Studios was born. We were both computer science undergraduates at University College of Dublin and University of Colombo School of Computing (UCSC) respectively at the time.”
Making a game is hardly a solo effort. For the development of Forgotten Hope, Sithira and Naveen enlisted the help of Sohan Gunarathne, a close friend of them who is also an avid gamer. Sohan had a career in marketing, but helped the two by taking on the helm as lead game director and handled the marketing for the finished project.
Additionally, Kavin Randima (Audio Designer), Uthpala Denipitiya (Music Composer), Ravindu Ubenarayana (Vector artist), and a couple of other close friends helped Black Hammer Studios in making the game come to fruition.
“We wanted to make something that was within our technical limitations at that time and we didn’t want to get too ambitious and drag the development for years,” they explained. “We decided to make something simple.”
Forgotten Hope is a first-person narrative adventure game with a story that delves into themes of depression, and loneliness. Speaking on the choice of direction, the team shared that, “as humans, we all have felt these emotions at least once during our life and being storytellers; it felt like something we should bring into a game.”
Speaking about the development process, the team shared that the game was built using the Unity game engine and took around eight months for the whole development process. The finished product is now available on Steam, Itch.io, and other online stores around the world. For those who are interested, the Forgotten Hope’s original soundtrack composed by Uthpala Denipitiya is also available on Steam, Spotify, Apple Music, and other streaming services. “We are really excited at the achievement of successfully developing a game from Scratch, and publishing it on one of the largest game distribution platforms on the internet. The game was purchased in a bunch of countries worldwide and we’ve received positive feedback from both local and foreign players. We think that’s a great achievement.”
The team also revealed that a portion of the proceeds earned from the game were donated to a suicide prevention and youth empowerment organisation in Sri Lanka. “We’ve always wanted to be able to contribute to such a cause,” they shared.
Encouraged by the positive response, the team is already in the process of conceptualising their next big project, but want to keep it all a secret.
The Sri Lankan experience
Being a game studio located in Sri Lanka comes with its own challenges. When inquired on the matter, the team at Black Hammer replied, “We think that the geographic location wouldn’t make any difference when it comes to being an indie game developer. It’s skill, talent, and most importantly passion that makes a difference.”
“It is true that Sri Lanka lacks resources and opportunities, but if you have an internet connection and you know where to search for assets and libraries, with a moderate amount of manpower and budget, anyone can make a decent game at home.”
The team at Black Hammer agree that game development in Sri Lanka has come a long way since the times of Jamis banda and Operation Thoppigala.
“Gaming is now a multi-billion dollar industry,” they shared. “If our local studios can build creative games for an international audience, it is only a matter of time before a revenue building industry can form in Sri Lanka.”
The team shared that it’s not just the game developers who can benefit from the growth of such an industry. “There’s story writing, drawing art, 3D modelling, environment designing, character designing, animating, music composing, marketing and so much more to be done in the process of making a game. The scope is so wide and whatever the talent you possess, there is an opportunity for you to be part of the industry.”
“If you’re new to making games and are hoping to jump directly into making games, we would say that the internet is your best teacher. There are plenty of tutorials for beginners on the web for tools like Unity engine or Unreal engine. We never had to find dedicated courses to learn anything. Self-learning is the key. Take your time to hone your skills and make something which you would love to play.”
Black Hammer Studios also shared their interest in providing training and guidance to point those who are interested in the right direction, within their own capacity. They are also providing a free online workshop for indie game developers, available for anyone to watch online on Black Hammer’s official page which may be helpful in learning how to build a career in game development as well as developing a game on the Unity Engine.
To you, the reader
“When we started to learn about building games, we had no one to teach us or give us advice in any matter. It was a journey we carved for ourselves. We encourage our readers to find their own talents and make their own paths. If anybody seeks advice, we are ready to give them a hand and provide any supportive guidance on their journey. Just drop us a message on our page or contact us directly.”