Our country has a unique culture and heritage the likes of which are found very rarely across the world. However, with the rise of commercialization, many traditions and customs of the old days have been forgotten in favour of keeping up with the new and busy lifestyle of the modern human. Among the customs that are slowly dying out are the card games that older generations were so fond of. Games like Omi and Buruwa are being played less and less by the younger generations. They have become a dying hobby in the urban cities.
By providing a mobile experience to play the classic game of omi, the app Oombi aims to rectify this situation
How and where did this surface?
Oombi was actually an experiment developed by Ceydigital, a tech company based in Bandarawela. They initially started off with a web version of omi ten months ago which looked and operated similar to the game “Hearts”.
Based on user feedback, a year back they decided a mobile version was in order. The interns working in the company at the time took up the project. When speaking to Kalinga Gunawardhana, the founder of Ceydigital, he said “We wanted a game that doesn’t have a foreign look and feel, so we carefully crafted the game with the intention that any person can ‘feel’ the Sri Lankan culture inside of the game.”
Of course, all this was intriguing, so we decided to try it out for ourselves.
Playing Omi: Modern Style
Going on the play store, we found Oombi easily by its unique spellings. Much to our surprise, there was already 10,000+ downloads on it. Scrolling through, we discovered this was just the beta version of the app.
There was also a lengthy description on how to play the game in the description. Everything was clearly explained, quite a feat considering the web of complicated rules one uses in Omi. Reading through, a user gets an idea as to how they have to play the game.
Once the game was installed, we fired the app up. It loaded instantly, taking us to a simple homepage with two options: start new game and continue previous game. Starting a new game took us into a room with a 4 player setup, as the game is played, with trumps being called by you. (No not Donald, the other kind)
In Oombi, there was only one human player. Yourself. The system plays the other three players, including your teammate. We took that in stride, and played one hand. And another. Then another. And another after that.
Modern Omi: Pro’s
The quaint graphic style and local feel of the app immediately appealed to us, as did the background music, which had the rural vibe to it. The game also had no lag, which was a huge plus.
Talking about the actual playing experience, the effort to re-create the game is certainly admirable. The layout was simple and effective, with a distinctly Sri Lankan feel. All the aspects of the game, the trumps, the “kata” cards, scores, your deck, and the table layout were all neatly integrated into one screen.
One striking feature which sets this app apart is the language used. From the scoreboard to the “you won” message, everything was done in Sinhala many of us know and love. One playing the game would love the authenticity of the messages that kept popping up on their screen.
The layout was also one that could be easily understood by any person of any age. Ceydigital aims the game towards a market that ranges anywhere from 6 year olds to 70 year olds, so this works out in their favour.
The actual playing was smooth and fast paced, with hands going at lightning speeds. A player could pause the game anytime, shuffle a new hand, start from the beginning or simply stop. We noticed that wherever we stopped, our game would be automatically saved.
Modern Omi: Cons
While I, an avid card player, had no trouble getting used to the game, my colleague (who was not) didn’t. The lack of a tutorial was confusing for those who didn’t know how to play omi, especially since the game rules are complicated at times. While the app description does contain instructions, it is not the most user friendly method.
Next, as of many other instances, we found ourselves questioning whether this can actually replicate the original game. While the playing was fast and smooth, players of omi are usually taught not just the simple instructions on how to play, but to communicate with your team member, watch the opposite team and keep a very sharp eye. Body language plays a key role in Omi. With an app, no matter how smooth it is, it’s hard to feel that connection.
One other thing to pinpoint was the “flawed” logic of your teammate. When the player is run by the system, we found that sometimes the cards played would make no sense played in that particular order when we would have played it differently.
Certain gameplay features are yet to be integrated, such as half court and full court. However, this is still a beta app, and the main functions are performing well.
Future plans of Ceydigital for Oombi
Kalinga stated that Oombi had big plans for the future.While he said that it would be a surprise, he did disclose that the multi player version would be coming out soon. This would, of course, bring back some of the original game experience, with multiple people playing and not just one user playing with the system.
An in-game tutorial with trilingual interface is also in the works, which should alleviate much of the confusion new players are faced with. Kalinga explains that their priority for a beta version was not the tutorial. Their target was to first reach the older generation and those who already play the game, who would know the rules.
Judgement call: Potential or Flop?
All in all, Ceydigital has done a good job of bringing one of our childhood games into our daily lives. While one can argue that it doesn’t give the full experience, many would agree that it is better than nothing.
The general consensus is favorable, with the rating of the app on the store being at 4.7 stars. User reviews have also been flowing in, many praising their product and calling it the “best Sri Lankan game”.
As for us, we wait, fingers crossed, in anticipation of the full version. We’ll see what it brings us.
Intrigued? Download Oombi in the google play store and try it out yourself.