Soldiers of the Universe isn’t pretty — and it’s not supposed to be. Turkish studio Rocwise Entertainment created a first-person shooter about fighting terrorists from a Middle Eastern perspective, not a Western viewpoint. It’s the team’s first game, and it’s out now on PC.
Developer Can Cankatlı says that dealing with the topics of terrorism and war is a natural byproduct of geopolitics. Terrorism is a very real threat in Turkey, in part because of the border it shares with the embattled Syria. In 2016, Turkey suffered a devastating attack to Atatürk Airport, with 41 people killed and over 200 injured. In January, a gunman killed 39 people in Istanbul.
Soldiers of the Universe draws its inspiration from these real struggles as well as locations. However, the characters and organizations are fictional. It follows a group of secret military operatives called the Akinci Warriors, who battle terrorists in Istanbul and the southeastern Anatolian region of Turkey, as well as neighboring areas like northern Syria.
Rocwise’s initial mission was to raise awareness about conflicts in and around Turkey as well as dispelling stereotypes. Cankatlı says that other FPSes that deal with terror in the Middle East often perpetuate misunderstandings.
“Generally, the innocent people who are living in these terror-infested areas are misrepresented, or not represented at all,” said Cankatlı in an email to GamesBeat. “If the person who plays these games doesn’t have any info about the geographic, cultural, religious, and political properties of [the Middle East], they unfortunately get misinformed about a certain population. Unfortunately, this misinformation leads to discrimination and racism from time to time. We as Rocwise Entertainment think that all the developers that focus on the anti-terror themed titles are obliged to depict innocent people’s suffering in a meaningful manner.”
Rocwise formed in 2016. Its first project was Nef: The Awakening, a science-fiction FPS set sometime after World War III. However, it halted development on it to make Soldiers of the Universe instead. Cankatlı says indie developers face a lot of challenges in Turkey, not only because the scene is still small and most universities don’t offer game design as a major.
“The biggest problem both individual and corporate ventures has to face is the lack of resources. We’re not talking about only financial resources,” Cankatlı said. “For example there is only one motion capture studio in Turkey which is in the University campus in Eskişehir. This is just one example. So, not every developer has the financial power, time, or work force to use these limited resources. It’s even harder for small teams like us.”
The team behind Soldiers of the Universe is seven strong, and Cankatlı says that it’s been difficult to find experienced developers because most folks opt to work for larger international game studios. Rocwise also struggled with crunch time, as it had to ship the game in only seven months. It also encountered other challenges, such as its lead developer leaving halfway through.
“We are aware that we made some rookie mistakes with our first project,” said Cankatlı. “But for small teams who try to develop with limited resources like ourselves, this is also an ongoing learning process. Was the development of our first project hard and tiresome? Yes, it was and still is. But will it open new doors for the developers here that follow us? Also yes, and that’s a good thought to get your drive from.”
Even with the setbacks, Rocwise did what it set out to do: create a game that incorporates a Turkish point of view about terrorism — and show Westerners another side of the struggle.