Ithra’s Creative Solutions: A Unique Glance at Nature, Culture, History and Education Through XR
While the 2022 Game Developers Conference was back in action over in sunny California, gmw3 was also invited to attend an exclusive preview of the final prototypes of Ithra’s Creative Solutions group, which was held in London. All attendees were able to try out a series of XR prototypes through an initiative conducted by the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (Ithra) in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia.
Here, we’ll provide a brief overview of Ithra’s Creative Solutions programme and its greater initiatives for Saudi Arabia’s creative economy. We’ll also cover the wonderful works we were able to take a peek at — with highlights from prototypes covering the group’s diverse and enriching takes on education, history, nature, gamification and more.
About Ithra’s Creative Solutions programme
According to the official website, the King Abdulaziz Centre for World Culture (Ithra) is “Saudi Arabia’s premier cultural and creative destination for talent development and cross-cultural experiences.” It offers a creative and interactive space for exhibitions, events and other artistic endeavours, with a mission to leverage diversity, creativity and collaboration “with the objective of energising the Kingdom’s knowledge economy.”
Ithra’s Creative Solutions programme aims to “enrich, educate and inspire creative individuals” by building a diverse community of innovators and connecting them with global experts and investors — ultimately allowing them to innovative products in the fields of AI, VR, AR and haptics technology.
Out of 231 creative applicants, five finalists were chosen via the programme to develop their projects into prototypes. The final prototype of each finalists’ project was revealed at the event — with each one embracing VR, AR, immersive audio and haptic technologies.
After being selected for the programme, each finalist embarked on a year-long initiative — with an objective to help boost Saudi Arabia’s creative economy by leveraging digital content creation in immersive technologies. Each creative team was also given the opportunity to work with top investors, along with a grant that helped bolster their creative process.
The innovators were also paired up with prominent UK mentors — including Maddalena Crosti, program lead at Digital Catapult (the team behind CreativeXR, the UK’s largest immersive content accelerator) and Simon Benson (a leading technology consultant and former director of immersive technology at Sony, where he helped found the Playstation VR project). In all, the event showcased how the UK’s robust tech industry is providing support for the development of other emerging markets.
What were the creative prototypes?
Naima Karim – The Anticipation of Rain
Before revealing her prototype to all attendees, Naima — who refers to herself as an artist and painter of the sky — spoke about a revelation she had during a stint of paralysis — which was caused by a viral illness — back in 1999. She claims that this period of immobility allowed her to dream in colours, all while pausing and reflecting on the beauty of the world and everything that is moving in it.
Naima grew up in Bangladesh, where she bears a deep emotional connection to the nature of the skies, monsoon rain and the significance that these phenomena have to her homeland.
“Monsoon rain is so romantic and exciting — but also very scary,” she explains. Furthermore, she aptly likened the destructive nature of monsoon rain to the impact that climate change is currently having on our world, noting how both of these concepts “have become very dangerous and erratic.” Also, because of climate change, she notes the worsening conditions during monsoon season — and how an occasion that was previously associated with rebirth and renewal now represents loss and fear.
To fully immerse her audience, she’s created The Anticipation of Rain — a 6-minute mixed reality experience capturing the arrival of monsoon rain in South Asia and encouraging thoughts about climate change.
The Anticipation of Rain was a stunning, thought-provoking 6 minutes that we didn’t want to end. While running the prototype, the animated scene truly comes to life around you — showcasing a style with fastening brushstrokes and quick colour changes. To further amplify the experience and appeal to greater senses, Naima even provided scented samples of the rain and wood.
Naima hopes to expand her project through partnerships and is currently looking for investors to work with. To check out more of Naima’s work, visit her website here.
Hakawati Studio, a large creative team of individuals based in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, have created Wamdah — an immersive and interactive VR storytelling experience depicting a man on a quest to find his long, lost brother. Led by Abdullah Bamhashmos and his wife Roua Alzehem, they’ve appropriately named their company “Hakawati” — which means “storyteller”.
The immersive story features Odai, a man who has made it his sole mission to find his brother while traversing sandy dunes and mountainous landscapes in his homeland. At a first glance, the visuals are beautifully detailed and enriching, with immediate sights of clifftops, caves and red-hued skies. As a character, Odai is also wonderfully engaging — he’s outgoing, friendly and when he instantly begins to guide you towards your next steps (such as reminding you of the lighter inside your pocket or where to follow him towards the nearest cave), you immediately feel at ease in his presence.
Led by creator Layla A. and a roster of other talented women (known as the Alqatt Al-Asiri Team), Alqatt XR brings the art of Al-Qatt — a home decor style used by Saudi women in the Southern desert region — to life through VR. Alqatt VR’s mission is to enable users to visit remote regions within the Arabian Peninsula, allowing them to “experience particular sites and the culture associated with them through immersive VR experiences.”
Showcasing bright, green carpeting, geometric patterns and other vibrant shades, players are encouraged to journey through a labyrinthine-styled home. By teleporting across staircases and other small hurdles, you’re eventually teleported to a fun and challenging Beat Saber-esque paint-by-numbers game.
To learn more about Alqatt XR, visit their YouTube channel.
Jawaab – Rayah
Led by Nouf Alsughier, Nora Almunaif and Reem Alrashoud, the Jawaab team showcased Rayah — a gamified AR mobile application “for individuals and organisations who want to create gamified and learnable journeys that are divided into a series of steps.” Their greater initiative is to explore ways for different spaces, such as museums and airports, to use gamification to improve user experiences.`
To demonstrate how the interactive AR journey worked, a series of barcodes were dispersed throughout the event space. We were given an iPad and guided by a friendly AR-powered robot, which helped guide us to each post (even if we had to weave around the other attendees a little bit). Once each barcode was scanned using the iPad’s camera, a special trivia question would come up on the screen in a prompt.
Abdullah Al-arfaj – Story of Science
Creator Abdullah Al-arfaj says he developed a passion for science and astronomy while visiting the planetarium in his hometown of Dhahran, Saudi Arabia. He’s now created an immersive and interactive educational experience called Story of Science.
Story of Science was a joy to experience — as the player, you are directed into a colourful vicinity that allows you to teleport around to various portals and engage with fantastic audiovisual learning materials (including brightly-coloured, animated trees and models of the stars). While speaking with Abdullah and Simon Benson, his UK mentor, we noted the emerging accessibility that we all believed should (and will) one day be provided by education in VR.
As he continues to build Story of Science, Abdullah has two key strategies: one, to establish a valuable learning experience before facilitating the overall teaching experience, as he’s focused on identifying which things work as teaching tools inside VR. Based on this, he hopes to gauge how educators can find ways to include their own content within the platform as well — with the eventual hope that he can provide opportunities for educators to upload their own content, animations and enhanced teaching tools for future learners.
More about Abdullah’s projects and background can be found on his website.
Learn more about Ithra
In all, the preview of Ithra’s creative prototypes made for a highly engaging, exciting and informative evening. Each team also did an excellent job of tackling the needs of heritage, arts, accessibility, education and tourism-focused organisations in Saudi Arabia’s creative core.