“We first talk about what is happening now,” Rigaudis says with emphasis during a recent Zoom call, mentioning the refugee crisis, climate change, and the Covid-19 pandemic.

Following the 2013 screening, Rigaudis was contacted by production companies and hoped that Usoni could become more than a student project. He recalls with bitterness: “When I said I wanted this production to be made in Africa, they usually lost interest.”

He appears on my screen wearing a face mask and harboring the same casual look as eight years ago. He sits in a generic office space next to entrepreneur and gamer Max Musau.

“We worked together at USIU Africa. After I left the university in late 2018, I founded a company called Decoded,” Musau says. “The goal was to bring tech communities together and lower the barrier to learning technology and code. We also started organizing esports competitions, and we were thinking about creating video games. In June 2020, I remembered the Usoni story when I randomly met Mark at the supermarket. The minute I saw him I thought, ‘If I want to make a game, this would be the first place to start!’”

In recent years, Kenya has become a fast-growing tech hub, and in 2010, WIRED called it the Silicon Savannah. According to Douglas Ogeto, CEO of the Nairobi-based pan-African game publisher Ludique Works, there are up to 20 professional video game studios in the country. “We are still a bit behind South Africa,” he says, “but the gaming industry is quickly developing as Kenya benefits from affordable mobile data, new teaching institutions that focus on game development skills, and a growing market of young people with access to smartphones.”

Making a video game is a first for both Rigaudis and Musau. To kick off the Usoni project, they founded Jiwe in June 2020 and recruited a dozen young professionals. Among them were Telvin Njoroge, 25, and Arnold Mwaura, 22, the two self-taught developers who worked on the game from last summer until February.

Usoni Part I is a 2.5D puzzle platformer. Players lead Ophelia and Ulysses as they flee Paris toward the boat that will transport them to the gate of Africa, the island of Lampedusa. They have to cross industrial ruins, refugee camps, and hostile areas controlled by the almighty border police. In between, their smuggler, Felix, asks Ulysses to find a drug in an abandoned lab to cure his wife.

“We worked together at first,” Mwaura says. “Once we knew what he could do and what I could do, we divided things. Telvin worked on the AI side of the game, and I worked on the level side.”

After the alpha release last December, they spent a lot of time fixing bugs for the final launch. “We had a long list,” Njoroge recalls, while laughing and looking for the file on his computer. “One of the main issues we had was with our AI; it was not keeping up with the players. At some point, the character was supposed to climb a particular ledge, and it went further up and up without stopping.”

At this point, most of the bugs have been fixed and the gameplay experience is smooth, except for the last sequence, where Ulysses and Ophelia are sometimes stuck for several seconds in strange positions when falling into trenches, where they inevitably get shot by the border police.