Courtesy Omar Uraimov

Omar Uraimov’s Love Letter to Central Asia Makes You the Hero of Kyrgyzstan

In a tribute to his homeland, a recent graduate unveils a video game based on a local legend at the USC Games Expo.

Once upon a time, in a faraway land in the great Kyrgyz mountains, there was a boy named Omar Uraimov. In the fifth year of his life, Omar and his parents moved to Houston to pursue the great American dream.

Gone were the rugged “celestial mountains,” vast plains and pristine lakes of Kyrgyzstan, a landlocked country in Central Asia known for its complex history, rich cultural heritage and nomadic traditions, replaced by high-rises, highways and sprawling suburbs. As the years passed, Omar felt that he was starting to lose touch with his roots. He longed to share the stories of his homeland, but how? 

Fast-forward 15 years, and the answer materialized: by creating a video game based on the Epic of Manas, a Kyrgyzstan legend and the country’s most treasured cultural artifact. 

Passed down orally through generations, the Epic of Manas tells the story of a legendary hero named Manas who unites the Kyrgyz people and leads them to freedom. Its premise: 40 tribes of the Kyrgyz people are divided and scattered across Central Asia, driven out of their homeland by an enemy faction.

Uraimov developed Manas as part of the USC Games Advanced Games Project (AGP), the program’s yearlong capstone project. As the nation’s top-ranked undergraduate games program, USC Games brings together students from USC Viterbi and the USC School of Cinematic Arts to co-create polished and engaging video games.

“It seemed like a perfect opportunity to both explore my own heritage and introduce it to so many people who probably have never heard of Kyrgyzstan,” said Uraimov, who graduated in May 2023 with a B.S. in computer science, games. “The fact that it’s an improvisational epic that is influenced by its performers made it a really organic match for an interactive media form like a video game,” he said.

The perfect stage

Students accepted to the competitive AGP begin the year with a concept, build a team, and by the end of the second semester present a fully developed game. 

In the spring of 2022, Uraimov began recruiting more than 20 students from across USC — including engineers, game designers, producers and artists — to bring his concept to life. The game was presented in May at the 7th Annual USC Games Expo, which showcased more than 60 student games. 

“What I really was happy about was how many students came to me, telling me how interested they were in the subject matter and learning more,” Uraimov said. 

In Uraimov’s version of the tale, Manas is struggling with his duty and finds a deeper spiritual understanding through his journey. Uraimov said it echoes his experience managing a large team of students, maintaining a shared vision and staying on deadline.

“It’s a massive workload,” he said. “But one of the most integral things to the identity of the Kyrgyz people is that we are united. Whatever the struggles are, we come back together.”

Since graduation, Uraimov has joined Ripple Effect Studios, a gaming studio owned by Electronic Arts, as a software engineer. It’s a dream come true, fulfilling his childhood ambition of working in the gaming industry.

“Growing up, you hear that game development is not a realistic career, or it’s really difficult to break into it,” said Uraimov. “But USC is the best program in the world for a reason. It’s because it makes achieving those things possible.”