A world of wonder, storytelling, self-confidence and talent for this gaming genius
If you’ve spent hours playing Assassin’s Creed or one of its many spin-off or board game versions, then it’s time to meet the gaming industry leader who has been in a leadership position in creating art for the household name, and arguably, the biggest and most successful title to date, Assassin’s Creed Valhalla.
Since realizing her dream of being part of the gaming industry and joining Ubisoft Singapore in 2015, Syarah Mahmood, Lead Artist, Ubisoft Singapore kept climbing the ladder. Her recent projects have led her to take on a leadership position in the artistic creation of Assassin’s Creed Valhalla. Her work has seen her collaborate with gaming industry veterans around the world and seen by over 11.7 million gamers as they journey through the digital likeness of ancient England and Greece. .
The rise of female gamers is a well-documented phenomenon, with statistics from 2020 showing that women make up 40% of gamers in Southeast Asia. Knowing what the talent landscape looks like for the video game market, Syarah has focused her efforts on raising awareness of the gaming industry, dispelling myths about who can and cannot have a career in video games, and discounting question of the current status quo.
In this interview with Aditi Sharma Kalra, Syarah talks about hher professional journey, what it’s like to create art for one of the best video game franchises in the world and the challenges she had to overcome along the way.
Q What did you dream of becoming a little girl? What drew you to the world that mixes art and gaming?
As a child, I was always interested in storytelling and loved to write and draw. I chose to study animation at school because I felt like it mixed all those interests. After college, I worked in the animation industry for a few years. Eventually my perception of storytelling had started to evolve and I wanted to push myself to explore a different industry.
For me, gaming is a way to tie together storytelling, world-building, design, gameplay, and technology – which provides me with the challenge I was looking for. I had an amazing experience playing the first Assassin’s Creed and was inspired to recreate that amazing feeling for others.
Q While creating art for one of the best video game franchises in the world, what challenges have you had to overcome throughout your career and how did you overcome them?
It’s probably a universal experience for people joining a new industry, but at first I had my doubts about my ability to succeed in the game. It made me question myself.
After a while, I learned to ignore those comments and focus on my goal, which is to create great art, create immersive game worlds, and work with talented artists to really develop my skills. in game development.
I think that while there will always be people who will doubt you, what’s important is how you react to the situation and what you choose to focus on.
Q From your early days as a background artist to creating globally acclaimed artwork for Assassin’s Creed Valhalla, what inspires you? What are the influences in your life to build your early interest in this area, or to maintain it?
The real world inspires me with its complexity and beauty. Nature, traveling to new places, experiencing and understanding a new culture add to the knowledge and visual library. Music, television, games and pop culture and, of course, games.
Having the opportunity to work with visionary Ubisoft art directors (Mohamed Gambouz, Dann Yap!), really gave perspective and insight into the art direction of the game. It’s not just about inspiring direction , but also how you translate what you know and your intentions, and how you motivate the team to execute your vision.
There is plenty to be inspired if you are constantly searching and open to it!
Q Do you think the problem of diversity in the game can be solved with sustained effort, and if so, what organizational initiatives would you gladly support?
Yes! I work with many talented women in the studio and I think the industry is already diversifying.
I think there are many concerted efforts in gaming to improve workplace culture and discrimination. Ubisoft Singapore, for example, regularly organizes training and courses on topics such as anti-bias and respectful behavior. We also have channels such as [email protected] and a women’s resource group, acting as safe spaces to discuss any issues or share ideas.
Beyond that, I also think public awareness is a huge part of the equation. We regularly collaborate with local institutions and schools to share more about the variety of careers and opportunities in games. Although change takes time, I believe that all of these initiatives are helping the industry develop in the right direction.
Q If you could represent the concept of diversity in a game, which one would you choose and why?
It would be a question of representation. Show more women, different cultures, etc. to reflect diversity in society.
By giving the audience the opportunity to identify with the game experience/character or learn a new experience while playing the game, it can help broaden perspectives and alleviate unhealthy/false stereotypes.
In this brand new series of interviews, titled Break down barriers, HR is for women leaders around the world who have made their mark and made their mark in the career of their choice, doing what they love most: living their passions and inspiring others to go further and faster. Read all our Breaking Barriers interviews here.
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