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Interview with the Creator

Published: 1st, February, 2020

The founder of Evolva Games, Joshiah, is a humble, behind the scenes kind of guy who does not like the limelight. He is an inspirational character whose story needed to be shared. After a bit of encouragement (more like a shove) he opted to answer a few questions that we can now share with you.

 

Evolva Games is such a unique business venture. Where did the idea come from?

“It all started with Easter actually, it had become a family tradition to create Easter egg hunts for each other. One year, I decided to take the hunt to the next level and add clues & puzzles. My dad is a puzzle game fundi, video games like Riven and Myst, my mom is a big kid with boundless energy, my brother is in film/is a writer and so revels in what makes a good storyline and my sister loves building puzzles and will chew your ear off about their importance and therapeutic values. So it was no surprise incorporating clues & puzzles into Easter would be a hit with the family. Every year the egg hunt became more elaborate until I started creating storylines and puzzles in outdoor settings other than our garden and not only on Easter. That’s where this idea really began generating embers.”

What was the 'a-ha' moment if there was one?

“What started as a ‘just for fun’ weekend activity for family and friends, quickly became something that consumed me. I would lose myself for hours putting storylines together that would fit in with the puzzles I had built, and then finding an outdoor setting that was authentic to the storyline and practical for the puzzles. And then one day after doing a game in an old quarry for my brother in law, we started chatting about how exhilarating it is to be outdoors, climbing rocks, solving clues, getting lost in this fantasy adventure and how we as adults don’t do that anymore. That was my a-ha moment. Watching my family and friends immersed in nature having a blast while working together, and ultimately bonding, to solves these puzzles, I realized I wanted people to experience that.”

Was Evolva something you had always envisioned yourself doing?

“No, not at all. After graduating with a business degree, everything I did involved the outdoors and adventure. I worked in Wales at an outdoor adventure company where I got my rock climbing, canoe and kayaking qualification, I then joined the British Royal Marines in the UK and finally came home to South Africa and completed my level 1 FGASA course. It was always apparent I needed to be outdoors pushing my limits and Evolva embodied that for me. It’s everything I value; being connected to nature, which I believe is a powerful way we can foster a willingness to preserve our natural environment; being proactive about our health by keeping fit which doesn’t have to be boring; pushing ourselves to think creatively and maintain a vivid imagination, which I believe we lose a bit as adults if not consistently applied. Ultimately, I value a healthy mind more than anything, one that never stops growing and learning.”

Why did you choose Salt Rock, KwaZulu-Natal?

“It was a prime location to launch Evolva Games, essentially because the Dolphin Coast has so much landscape diversity and a beautiful community that help and encourage one and another, and that appreciate the outdoors. Being outdoors is something we South Africans love and KZN has an awesome culture with a rustic feel to it, from which I draw inspiration, and there are so many hidden gems here."

As the founder you don’t have to be game master, you still do it though. Is there a cunning reason why?

“It is a good reminder of where I started and why I started. It is not always fun and games creating, sometimes puzzles don’t work, the sequence doesn’t flow, or I finish a whole game and one element is off or I have made a mistake and that means changing everything! Ultimately we are still a young company and it’s important to see: what works, what doesn’t, is it too easy, is it too challenging? I like watching how people think too, it gives me new ideas on what puzzles to build, and it is gratifying watching a group of friends or a family doing a game that you have created and have a blast during the process, because it fuels my ambition to create more games that are even better than the previous one. Plus I get to be outdoors, escape reality and the stresses of everyday life, which is the very thing Evolva is about. And of course the added bonus is meeting people from all over and from all walks of life, that never gets old.” 

 

 

What’s your favourite part of witnessing an Evolva Game unfold?

“People surprise me all the time. I recently was game master for a family with the parents, their brother and his partner and the parents son who was 12 years old. I was sure the 12 year old would grow bored as the puzzles were quite complex, however the family were confident the child would be happy just being there, after a while the 12 year old was leading the group in the puzzles, because the adults were struggling and I was reminded to never underestimate the untainted imaginative power of a child. So often I see the surprised look of a father or mother who underestimated, or maybe didn’t realize their child could think like that, or could climb like that…it brings characteristics out of people that you wouldn’t see normally in everyday life. The uniqueness of the experience shines a light on a person’s unique capabilities. Sometimes of which they themselves didn’t know they possessed. I love that: when a person not only enjoys an Evolva game, but also push their limits and be surprised that they could overcome when they apply themselves and with their team."

It happens with couples too, the girls are so badass with these games actually, and the guys will start off all macho and in charge and suddenly be totally side kicked by their other half, some guys seem to find it greatly alluring, not all though. (chuckles)

Another aspect that I love is no matter the age: children, friends, parents, older family members all dive into this live-adventure quest and do something fun and exciting together as family or group of friends. A woman once told me she forgot where she was, because the experience felt like entering into another world. That for me is one of my favourite parts witnessing an Evolva Game."

What are the night games about? You can’t say that’s about connecting with nature and pushing creativity!

“(Laughs) Well, it is still about pushing creativity. When you add an element of fear it becomes a new challenge to stay focused, find clues and solve puzzles. And the most important part in each game is to have fun and be excited of how the game unfolds, some games are less challenging with regards to puzzle complexity, nevertheless within each game there are always certain variables that I want people to experience. Evolva Trials is a good example of that, the puzzles are less complex and the game is a faster paced, series of obstacles, but the aim is to encourage people to work together. You cannot, or rather will struggle to win a team challenge if you do not work together. The game has been designed specifically that way; there is always an angle. So in the night games, the aim is to create fear and uncertainty in people when they play. For example, not only have you got a mystery to solve that is unsettling to begin with, but now you have to contend with the darkness and navigate with limited light, which adds opportunity to manipulate light and the darkness to my advantage when creating the puzzles and game flow.”

How did you come up with the slogan and what is its significance?

“the slogan: 'An adventure to be experienced' is because it is exactly that. You can tell people where it is, how long its going to be etc but it’s not comparable to anything except maybe an action quest - which are quite popular in Russia - or an escape room, but then people expect a escape room like experience and its not that either (laughs). Evolva games is a new activity, essentially the first of anything like it. And while I can sum it up in a short summary and capture the essence of what an Evolva Game is, until you experience it, words are cheap. It's like online dating, the profile will look great and tick all the boxes, but you have to meet the person face-to-face to see what they are truly all about (laughs)." 

What is the science behind building an Evolva Game, if any?

“Building an Evolva Game is a fine balance between interactive puzzles that compliment a captivating storyline with the perfect amount of clues so you don’t have too much information or too little. It’s about creating the right atmosphere in the right setting. Not always easy to do. I often turn to ancient civilizations for inspiration and ideas, for example how the Egyptians were able to move heavy stonewalls with a weight system, or how Romans deciphered coded messages. That coupled with second hand props adds authenticity. Second hand props are not only sustainable but also trying to age a prop never works as well as something has actually aged.

The fun part is, there are so many possibilities and so much inspiration to draw from; books, movies, video games, board games etc. and it is so great when a player says ‘this reminds me so much of that scene in the movie The Mummy (1999).’ Then I know I am doing my job well.”

What is the future of Evolva?

“This company is forever evolving (no pun intended), like its values I want it to keep learning and growing. We’re working on our team building games in collaboration with a training company that focuses on emotional intelligence. Team building can be so boring and generic. I really want to design team games that highlight a team’s strengths and weaknesses.

My next goal is to create an educational game for children about nature, this province is a jewel in the necklace that is South Africa when it comes to biodiversity, there is a lot of fun to be had with that and so much exploring to do - one of my favourite parts of designing a new game.

Honestly, I have so many ideas and places I want Evolva to go. You will just have to wait and see.”

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