Pathfinding: How Decoy Games inspired this series

Meet Decoy Games founders Ahmed and Khalil Abdullah

April 12, 2022
Khalil and Ahmed Abdullah

Khalil and Ahmed Abdullah

A dynamic team of brothers, Decoy Games founders Khalil and Ahmed Abdullah have been a terrific addition to the indie game development community. I spoke with them at the end of 2021 and was impressed by their passion for diversity and inclusion in the games industry. Through their partnership with Microsoft, the Abdullahs have learned how many more skill sets are involved in game development beyond programming and art—especially at larger companies—and are helping to dispel the myth that you must have shipped at least five games to work in the industry.

In our conversations about this blog series, they encouraged me to provide even more details about the developers I meet, highlight the variety of roles available at Microsoft, and showcase the wide range of people, backgrounds, and talents that have found success in this field. "When we grew up, we didn't even know it was possible to become game developers—there are a lot of very talented people out there who don't even know it's possible," says Khalil. "If you see someone who looks like you, talks like you, and has similar skills, it gives you a boost in confidence to know you are on the right path." Those conversations shaped and inspired this blog series, so today I am excited to share more about Khalil, Ahmed, and their game, Swimsanity!

Starting out with degrees in computer science and day jobs as sales engineers selling healthcare software, Khalil and Ahmed Abdullah not only taught themselves how to make video games, they also translated their sales skills into marketing for their first game, Swimsanity! They recognized early on that wanting to sell your game is the first step on the journey from a hobbyist to a professional developer, and that business considerations are critical to setting up your game for future marketing, sales, and publishing success.

That's why throughout development, the Abdullahs prioritized bringing people together through gaming in order to build a thriving community. They attended local events, eventually started hosting their own game jams, and as the pandemic progressed, they transitioned to online events to keep building connections among gamers, virtually and safely.

As they taught themselves to use Unity, the brothers fell into complementary roles. Khalil, who is 18 months older than his brother, became an expert in Physics and was the first to tackle those builds. Ahmed, meanwhile, specialized in animation and UI. For aspiring game developers, the Abdullahs encourage online learning and suggest setting up a schedule to build your skills each day with free resources—just get started and know your skills will grow! As their game progressed, they focused on growing their network to showcase progress and turned their project into full-time jobs, and in August 2020, they released Swimsanity! to multiple awards.

gameplay from the game Swimsanity!

Swimsanity! is an action-packed multiplayer underwater shooter that features eight different game modes including Co-Op and Versus, both online and local. One key feature is the ability to play all modes online or locally, and the newest update brings additional solo play modes. It was important to Khalil and Ahmed that people be able to play where they want, the way that they want, and they didn't want anyone limited because of their internet connection or availability of friends.

In the game, the hero character, Mooba, uses a variety of weapons and power ups to survive in the aquatic world. "We didn't get to jump into the story narrative as much as we wanted," says Ahmed. "In the future we want to build out the underwater narrative and delve into the environment to explore the preservation of that ecosystem and how we can defend it from incoming invaders—things we only alluded to in the current game."

The Abdullahs are not just hard at work on their next game, they are also expanding their team. Their goal has always been to create a broad library of games. So while they don't rule out a Swimsanity! sequel in the future, for now they have plenty of other ideas to tackle with their new team. Their next title is bigger and more ambitious, so having additional creators was critical to the plans for Decoy Games. Says Khalil of the new team that he and his brother have assembled: "We feel like we can now really hit our potential as game developers."

Swimsanity! leverages Microsoft Playfab for its matchmaking, custom rooms, parties, and cross-platform leaderboards. You can check out Swimsanity! on the Xbox store now.