Experience Points is a fortnightly chat with people in and around the games industry to talk about the most important games in their lives, whether that’s working on them, being inspired by them, or just playing them.
“What’s really important about storytelling is having a player enter a world with no sense of idea as to what's going on and learning about the world around them through the protagonist." Abubakar Salim, actor, and CEO of Surgent Studios, has some strong ideas about storytelling.
Salim, best known for voicing Bayek in Assassin’s Creed Origins as well as his role as General Dumas in Napoleon, talked to TechRadar Gaming (TRG), first over lunch, where he enthused about his Diablo 4 character, and later by phone to dive deeper into his favorite games. It’s clear that Salim is enthusiastic about the games that he plays and the narrative glue that holds them together.
“It’s all about giving the audience sort of an entry point to learn about all the cool stuff that we've built and have them go on that journey. Otherwise, it becomes a selfish act, right? It's as if I'm just telling the story for myself. Storytelling is about sharing”, Salim explains.
Surgent Studios also just announced its first game at The Game Awards 2023. Tales of Kenzera: Zau is a fast-paced puzzle and combat-focused metroidvania that looks to explore grief in new ways. It follows the main protagonist, Zau, who is on a journey to find his father.
Solitaire (card game)
Storytelling in games can be more than just words on a page to be read out; it’s how it makes you feel, how it impacts your life, and at what stage it meets you. For Salim, many of the games in this list impacted his early life, teaching him valuable lessons about himself and what he looks for in a meaningful story.
“Solitaire is the first game that my Mum and Dad taught me to play,” Salim says. “I remember my Mum telling me that it’s an Ancient Egyptian game, and if you win, you can make a wish, and your wish will come true, but maybe she just taught me it to keep me busy and stop me annoying her.”
Pokémon Red (Game Boy)
For those of you who grew up clutching a Game Boy at your side, you might be able to relate to Salim’s love for Pokémon Red. The first installments of the now iconic Pokémon game franchise alongside Blue and Yellow, Pokémon Red sees players control the protagonist from an overhead perspective as they traverse the tricky landscape of Kanto, capturing Pokémon and fighting trainers with the sole purpose of becoming the best that there ever was.
“It was the first game that my Dad bought me when I was in America,” said Salim. “I went everywhere with my Game Boy, even to family events and holidays. My mum and dad had their wallets or their bags, and I had my Game Boy and spare batteries; that was key.”
Salim’s love of Pokémon Red didn’t come out of nowhere though; he spent his childhood watching all the movies and TV shows as well as keeping up with the manga. “To play that story was really important for me as a kid. Pokémon Red was the game that I would always try to master and complete because it felt so personal to me”, Salim says.
Getting to don the clothes of everyone’s favorite and most powerful Pokémon trainer, Red was a dream come true as Salim was able to venture around the fantastic region of Kanto with his trusty Charmander at his side.
The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time (Nintendo 64)
While Pokémon Red stood out in Salim’s memory for its narrative and the part it played in his childhood, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on the Nintendo 64 was one of the most memorable games growing up, for lovely and horrifying reasons alike.
Zelda: Ocarina of Time is an action-adventure game first released in 1998. It follows Link as he attempts to free the Seven Sages and save Hyrule from Ganondorf. Being the first game in the iconic franchise to feature 3D graphics, it also introduced numerous fantastic features like the target-lock system and context-sensitive buttons.
While no one is saying that Zelda: Ocarina of Time is a horror game - although those water temples will do a great job of raising your stress levels - this action-adventure game did have some scenes that left a mark on young Salim. “It’s not the same as watching a scary film; it’s the difference between watching something and being able to turn it off or actually taking part in it.”
This was pivotal to me; there’s a section with the weird zombie guy in Hyrule Castle that was terrifying”, Salim explains. “As a kid, I couldn’t complete that; it was the one space I was always terrified of going through. But one day, I told myself, ‘No, I’m going to do this, I’m gonna do this,’ and I did it, and it felt like such a massive achievement. I got the sense that if I can complete this, I can be brave.”
However, Salim wasn’t left to overcome this difficulty alone; one of his most cherished memories of Zelda: Ocarina of Time was when he got to experience its thrills and scares with friends. “I used to play it with my friends; I lived in this little cul-de-sac in Hertfordshire, all my friends would come over and we would play together,” Salim recounts. “Those zombies were a collective struggle; it was like the baptism of fire.”
Assassin’s Creed Origins (PS4, Xbox One, PC)
Assassin’s Creed: Origins, Ubisoft’s action-adventure stab-’em-up, was Salim’s first starring role in a video game. Salim also didn’t know he was auditioning for it.
“I didn’t know it was for Assassin’s Creed Origins; it was being advertised as just another TV show,” Salim recalls. “I remember on the day I got the recall, they pulled me back in, and I met Alix Wilton Regan, who plays Aya, and I was like, why is Alix here? She's an incredible voice actress. I know her from Dragon Age. Then the casting directors told me that I wasn’t auditioning for a TV show.”
Instead, Salim found himself in the running for the voice of Bayek, the main character in Assassin’s Creed Origins.”I literally could have cried,” he said. “I’m a massive Assassin’s Creed fan.”
Being a part of the extensive and thrilling world of Assassin’s Creed would be a dream come true for any fan, but Assassin’s Creed: Origins, in particular, marked a groundbreaking new turn for the iconic series. Origins, set in Ptolemaic Egypt, shifted the traditional formula from linear and stealth-focused to an open-world role-playing game experience that saw players freely roam around completing objectives and quests at their own pace to progress through the story.
“Then the [Michael Fassbender Assassin's Creed] film came out when I was filming, and I remember thinking: ‘Great, I'm gonna be the guy who kills this franchise,” Salim says. “Especially with Assassin's Creed like it was, you know, it could have gone either way at that time. It could have either been finished, or it genuinely could have been a resurgence, and I'm happy it was a resurgence.
“Once the game actually landed, it really resonated with people. I still get messages from people who enjoy the character [Bayek]. It just meant so much. To this day, I still love the music. I love the game. I love the whole experience.”
For more classics, check out how to play the best retro games as well as the best retro game consoles, and it's also worth checking in how Origins fares on our list of the best Assassin's Creed games.
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Jake Tucker is the editor in chief of TechRadar Gaming and has worked at sites like NME, MCV, Trusted Reviews and many more. He collects vinyl, likes first-person shooters and turn-based tactics titles, but hates writing bios. Jake currently lives in London, and is bouncing around the city trying to eat at all of the nice restaurants.
- Elie GouldFeatures Writer