Saudi creative program sees 1st immersive technology ideas brought to digital life

Special Saudi creative program sees 1st immersive technology ideas brought to digital life
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Visitors to Ithra, in Dhahran, test prototypes of the first five winning projects to emerge from the center’s Creative Solutions initiative. (AN Photo)
Special Saudi creative program sees 1st immersive technology ideas brought to digital life
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Visitors to Ithra, in Dhahran, test prototypes of the first five winning projects to emerge from the center’s Creative Solutions initiative. (AN Photo)
Special Saudi creative program sees 1st immersive technology ideas brought to digital life
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Ithra means “enrichment” in Arabic and is intended to signify that its programs are intended to enrich citizens culturally. (AN Photo)
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Updated 10 February 2022

Saudi creative program sees 1st immersive technology ideas brought to digital life

Saudi creative program sees 1st immersive technology ideas brought to digital life
  • Year-long Ithra initiative designed to boost Saudi Arabia’s creative economy
  • 5 winning teams created prototypes individuals can test at Ithra until April 23

DHAHRAN: The first fruits of a special creative program launched in Saudi Arabia to generate innovative ideas using the latest immersive technologies are being showcased at the King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture.

Visitors to Ithra, in Dhahran, will be able to test prototypes of the first five winning projects to emerge from the center’s Creative Solutions initiative.

Using augmented, virtual, and extended reality, haptics, and immersive audio, the products will remain on public display until April 23.

Speaking at a recent demo day, Ithra’s head of programs, Ashraf Alfagih, said: “At Ithra, innovation takes center stage. Here is where imagination is powered, ideas are born, and knowledge is shared. We at Ithra aim to support, inspire, and nourish the growth of Saudis, both locally and internationally.”

Program participants have spent the last 10 months working to bring their visions to life and from thousands of potential ideas, five were selected to be developed into prototypes.

One was Alqatt XR, featuring the women-centric traditional Al-Qatt art form from southern Saudi Arabia. The other creations consisted of a mixed reality, location-based experience focused on the sensations which come from heavy rainstorms, the Jawaab interactive gamified museum tour project, a storytelling experience about great scientists involving holograms, virtual reality, and multi-speaker immersive sound, and the Wamdah virtual journey through time and space in Saudi Arabia.

Some of the finalists had no previous experience of immersive technologies, while program judges focused on looking for original ideas in storytelling with marketability.

As well as receiving up to SR375,000 ($87,400) to develop their prototypes, the innovators behind the selected projects were given access to Ithra’s ideas and immersive labs housing equipment including a haptic suit for physical VR experiences, a special VR treadmill, one of the technology sector’s highest-resolution mixed-reality headsets, and a state-of-the-art VR camera.

Hamish Jenkinson, the program’s creative director who also served as a mentor, connector, and one of the judges for the 30 selected cohorts, told Arab News that he became involved in the scheme in 2019 after being encouraged by the large pool of applicants and the potential for technology to foster gender equality in the Kingdom.

He said: “The Saudi youth is more digitally connected than most in the region, so this program represents a huge opportunity. It speaks to other great changes that come to the country. When it comes to things like esports, there’s great equality there — it’s how fast you can think and move your thumbs.

“When it comes to immersive technology, there is no reason why women in Saudi Arabia can’t be leading — just look at the cohorts. There are three prototypes that are led by female teams and two by men. It’s a great example of how women in Saudi Arabia are really stepping up,” he added.

The Ithra initiative aims to enrich, educate, and inspire creative individuals by developing digital immersive content that connects participants with global experts and investors to promote and nurture new and innovative products.

Through interactive projects, workshops, and talks, the center hopes to help build a national ecosystem of innovators working on realities that expand beyond the physical.

Applicants for the next cohort have until April 30 to apply online.


How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports

How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports
Updated 15 sec ago

How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports

How Saudi Arabia intends to become a global hub for gaming and esports
  • Investments worth $37.8 billion in Savvy Games Group will transform the Kingdom into an industry leader
  • National Gaming and eSports Strategy will create 39,000 jobs and contribute SR50 billion to GDP by 2030

JEDDAH: The gaming and electronic sports industry is growing rapidly in Saudi Arabia and the wider GCC, with major investments announced to support domestic game developers and world-class competitions taking place in the region. 

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman recently announced the Kingdom’s ambition to see 30 competitive games developed by firms in the Kingdom by 2030 as part of the country’s national gaming and esports strategy. 

Last week, Savvy Games Group, a firm owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund, unveiled investments worth SR142 billion ($37.8 billion) to transform the Kingdom into a global gaming hub with world-class gaming companies.

The investments will include SR70 billion to take several minority stakes in companies that support Savvy’s game development agenda and SR50 billion to acquire a leading game publisher to become a strategic development partner.

Another SR20 billion will be invested in industry partners, and SR2 billion will target industry disruptors to grow early-stage games and esports companies.

“Savvy Games Group is one part of our ambitious strategy aiming to make Saudi Arabia the ultimate global hub for the games and esports sector by 2030,” the crown prince said last week, according to the Saudi Press Agency.  

Speaking at the Next World Forum earlier in September, Prince Faisal bin Bandar, president of the Saudi Esports Federation, noted the boom in the sporting sector in the past five years, adding: “One of my favorite things about gaming is that you first introduce yourself to someone using your gaming skills, and not history, religion, color of skin, background or gender.”

He said: “This young community and population are really striving to take their place on the global stage. The ultimate goal is to have Saudi Arabia move on a natural path on the global pathway for games and esports.” 

Through this initiative, the government hopes to create 39,000 jobs, establish 250 game developers, and promote a thriving in-house talent pool for esports that will raise the sector’s contribution to the Kingdom’s economy to SR50 billion by 2030.

Scores of domestic startups, as well as more established multinational developers, stand to benefit immensely from the flurry of new investment. 

Abdulrahman Al-Sulaimani, an artificial intelligence engineer and games designer who spent nine years working in Japan before returning to the Kingdom in 2020, is among them.

Over the course of his career, Al-Sulaimani has witnessed the astonishing growth of Japan’s world-renowned gaming community. Seeing the same room for potential in his home country, he returned to establish his own studio.

Earlier this year, Al-Sulaimani launched AlBuraq Wings, a games studio that adopts young gamers eager to turn their hand to design and programming. 

“I wanted to help gather them under one roof and created the studio with a vision to create games that are not only made by Saudis for Saudis but to also educate the world somehow about how extremely talented our developers are,” Al-Sulaimani told Arab News.

From designers, to developers, artists, voiceover artists and more, game development is not a one-man show. It is a community of talents that come together to try out new technology tools to come up with innovative game ideas. 

AlBuraq Wings recently won third place in the Gamers8 XR Gameathon, an accelerated innovation time-bound event, where game enthusiasts come together to develop a game prototype from scratch in one week.

“These tournaments are what push many Saudis to come out and put their skills into the spotlight. I dare say it, the skills of many Saudis surpass those of the Japanese,” said Al-Sulaimani. 

“Gaming events not only attract gamers, they also attract three unique and important segments of the gaming community: programmers, designers and artists. If you get all three, you have a game. They all come full circle.”

Saudi Arabia is already fast emerging as a major gaming hub, with local competitors achieving world-class results in global esports tournaments. 

In 2018, Mosaad Al-Dossary, known online as “Msdossary,” became the first Saudi national to win the FIFA eWorld Cup — an event in which more than 20 million gamers attempted to qualify. 

A year later, Saudi gamers were thrilled when the Kingdom was chosen to host the region’s biggest gaming tournament to date, PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) Mobile Star. 

The global esports market size was valued at $1.22 billion in 2021 and is expected to reach the valuation of $1.44 billion in 2022. Fortune Business Insights predicts the market will reach $5.48 billion by 2029.

According to a report published by Boston Consulting Group earlier this year, there are now 23.5 million gamers in Saudi Arabia, making up around 67 percent of the Kingdom’s overwhelmingly young population. 

About 90 percent of these gamers take part in esports on an amateur or semi-pro basis, while around 100 Saudi gamers are pursuing e-sports as a full-time career, the report said.

“When it comes to the Arab countries, Saudi Arabia is the number one hotspot of gaming,” one female Saudi gamer and content creator, who goes by the online name “PikaLoli,” told Arab News. 

She, like many Saudis, has been playing games from a young age, and recently decided to pursue gaming as a career. She discovered a platform where a growing community of gamers and developers can share ideas and reviews.

“I play all sorts of games and give my feedback on my social media pages,” said PikaLoli. “The interaction and commitment you find by even young ones is outstanding.

“We’ve been waiting for this moment for a while now and the community made up of thousands has been helping each other grow for years. We have a shared platform to communicate with, share ideas, edit videos, play games for developers and give feedback, and so much more.”

Recent graduate Waleed Abu Alkhayr, a game designer, found his footing soon after completing university and enrolling in the Game Development Hima bootcamp, which concentrates on game development by mastering skills and later interning for an international gaming company before landing a job at another. 

He told Arab News that IT training programs and learning courses in esport and gaming development appealed to him most, cementing the idea of becoming a game developer.

“I started playing games on Sony Playstation 1 and I haven’t stopped since. The love for games is what led me to want to select this profession, but I didn’t see enough support until very recently when the sector developed at an unprecedented rate; I knew then that this is what I wanted to do.”

Abu Alkhayr, also a member of the AlBuraq Wings, said that the boom in esports and gaming development is not simple hype, but has been brewing for years.

“Initiatives and programs launched by entities that teach game programming and development are numerous and the resources even more so, which provide opportunities and build technical competitiveness in the community. The more the participation of talent, the bigger the community will grow and help build the vision that is set for us,” he said.

For Al-Sulaimani, harnessing this energy, enthusiasm and raw talent is precisely what is needed to put Saudi Arabia on the world map of gaming.

“The Kingdom is nurturing homegrown talent; it is ripe for creating a vibrant environment for esports has long been laid out by the youth with their love and passion for gaming,” he said. 

“As game developers have found our platforms, we share our games and receive support, but the recent announcement will give more chances for the younger generation who want to delve into this fun world.” 

 


Morocco’s king congratulates Saudi crown prince on being named prime minister

Morocco’s king congratulates Saudi crown prince on being named prime minister
Updated 19 min 12 sec ago

Morocco’s king congratulates Saudi crown prince on being named prime minister

Morocco’s king congratulates Saudi crown prince on being named prime minister

RIYADH: Morocco’s King Mohammed VI on Saturday congratulated Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman on assuming the position of prime minister.
Prince Mohammed became the Kingdom’s prime minister on Tuesday following a the royal decree and was handed the position from King Salman.
King Mohammed wished the crown prince success in all his duties, in a cable he sent.
He also “expressed his deep pride in the strong bonds of brotherhood and friendship that bind the leaderships of the two countries, and in the deep-rooted and strong relations between the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Kingdom of Morocco based on fruitful cooperation, active solidarity and mutual appreciation,” Saudi Press Agency reported.


Saudi Arabia re-elected member to ICAO council

Saudi Arabia re-elected member to ICAO council
Updated 22 min 51 sec ago

Saudi Arabia re-elected member to ICAO council

Saudi Arabia re-elected member to ICAO council

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia was elected to the membership of the Council of the International Civil Aviation Organization until 2025 during voting at the ICAO 41st general assembly in Montreal, Canada.

The Kingdom was re-elected after a voting process with the participation of 193 UN member states.

The council has 36 members, including the US, France, Singapore and the UK, “thus providing a voice to the Arab and Islamic countries,” the Saudi Press Agency reported on Saturday.

Saudi Minister of Transport and Logistics Saleh bin Nasser Al-Jasser praised the importance of the election for the Kingdom, saying: “Since the establishment of the first airline in 1945, the Kingdom has proven its commitment and tireless work toward the aviation sector, both domestically and internationally.”

He added that the Kingdom is now working in line with the vision of Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman by consolidating its global leadership role in the sector.

Al-Jasser said that the election “represents a broad tribute to the tireless efforts being made by the Kingdom to be a center for air linkage between the three continents to achieve the objectives of the national strategy for transport and logistics services.”


Techno revolution: DNA works to take the underground scene public in KSA

Techno revolution: DNA works to take the underground scene public in KSA
Updated 29 min 55 sec ago

Techno revolution: DNA works to take the underground scene public in KSA

Techno revolution: DNA works to take the underground scene public in KSA
  • In a trend to publicize growing party scene within KSA, DNA is working to shed light on Saudi techno scene

 

RIYADH: The DNA event series took the underground party scene public with its inaugural event headlining Belgian DJ Marhu, becoming the first entertainment brand to promote harder techno music at the Biennale Foundation in Diriyah on Friday.

The company was founded by Mohammed Alqumri, Mohammed Bahaidrah, known by his DJ name B-Hydra, and fellow DJ and producer Erizo.

In a trend to publicize the growing party scene within the Kingdom, DNA is one of the few organizations working to shed light on the Saudi techno scene under the theme ”Underground is in our DNA.”

Going commercial when it comes to the music industry usually means catering to the public’s taste. Instead, DNA kept the event true to the underground feel, with just a few watering holes and a makeup station on the venue’s exterior, and the real party awaiting inside.

Underground techno means real music for real people. Instead of selling out on big names, DNA aimed to highlight the local talent found in Saudi while also focusing on emerging international acts.

The night was set in motion by Jeddah-native Mariam Arab, who was inspired by classical artists Beethoven and Chopin from an early age. That influence allowed her to create a unique sound, paralleling the two genres’ melodies.

Arab’s set was followed by a back-to-back (b2b) performance by local DJs B-Hydra, and Psykey, who also played together recently at Desert Sound’s Techno Therapy event at the same venue. The two acts enticed the crowd with deep melodic grooves and psychedelic sounds.

To follow, DJ BiGG3 took the stage to combine euphoric trance and the hard energy of techno. The artist first took an interest in electronic music at 16 while watching paragliding videos.

Intrigued, he attended his first festival, which happened to feature renowned Dutch DJ Tiesto, who inspires his own sound to this day. He began mixing his music in 2014 until he finally found his unique sound.

“It’s not only about techno music, what matters for me is good music,” he told Arab News.

After coming back from studying abroad, he was disappointed to find there was no space for techno music in the region. It was only in the past few years that the underground scene grew its roots.

DNA created a home for acid and industrial music lovers, open to all.

“This music is bringing everyone together. They’re all on the same beat, you can say. It’s the atmosphere, it’s the vibe all together coming in one place. I can feel that everyone is communicating with everyone, loving each other. It’s amazing,” he said.

While there is a plethora of music events booming all over the region, the DJ believes that the crowd is what really makes this event stand out.

“What makes DNA special, besides the great DJs, (is having) the best people together attending the event, the great community, having great sound, making the production so great for the people to enjoy and remember,” BiGG3 said.

Echoing with “squelching” synthesizer textures, the venue lit up as the anticipated headliner Marhu took the stage. The crowd cheered as the DJ delivered an entrancing performance, demonstrating her aggressive and rhythmic performance.

As one of Belgium’s most promising producers, promoted by electronic music news platform Beatportal’s radar earlier this year as an “emerging act,” she aims to take her acid-driven and minimalistic sound international.

After coming to the Kingdom for the first time for the show, she was surprised by the demand in the region.

“I had no expectations about a big techno scene like this. I got a lot of engagements and messages on my profile and I realized that there were real demands for these kinds of events,” she told Arab News.

“It really warms my heart because I didn’t expect so many people to listen to techno music, especially acid.”

What makes DNA unique is its dedication to maintaining the simplicity and minimalist feels of underground parties within the raw grunge scene, while also commercializing and promoting the transcendent techno sound.

“It’s such an honor to be one of the first legal events in Saudi Arabia and to be part of the beginning of this freedom. For me, techno means a lot of things and I’m really happy it’s taking a big level of attention,” Marhu said.

American DJ and Saudi resident Erizo ended the night, concluding his first public event in Saudi as a founder along with his partners.

“It’s something that’s never been public here, and now we have the opportunity to bring it and expose it. Now, they actually have a place to go and express themselves. That’s what we’re providing. We’re providing that niche with the harder techno that no one else is really doing,” he told Arab News.

As someone who has collaborated and performed all over the world, Erizo expressed his interest in the growing scene and cultural shift in the country.

“It’s kind of cool to see it in this transition that Saudi is going through with entertainment, the entertainment industry. Being a part of that is really nice,” he said.


Saudi foreign minister and Blinken discuss Yemen truce during call

Saudi foreign minister and Blinken discuss Yemen truce during call
Updated 24 min 11 sec ago

Saudi foreign minister and Blinken discuss Yemen truce during call

Saudi foreign minister and Blinken discuss Yemen truce during call

RIYADH: Saudi Arabia’s Foreign Minister Prince Faisal bin Farhan received a phone call from US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, the Kingdom’s foreign ministry said on Saturday.

During the call, they reviewed aspects of relations between the Kingdom and the US, and ways to strengthen and develop them in various fields of cooperation.

The two sides also discussed regional and international developments and the most prominent issues of common interest.

Blinken spoke with Prince Faisal about the imminent expiration of the UN-mediated truce in Yemen on Sunday, the State Department said.

“The Secretary welcomed Saudi Arabia’s commitment to extending the truce,” the State Department said in a statement after their call.