Written by: Erika Haase
Mini-Podcast Featuring: Tariq Mukhttar, Hosted by: Erika Haase
Mini-Podcast Edited by: Erika Haase
If you had asked Saudi Arabian game developer Tariq Mukhttar what direction his career was going five years ago, he would’ve given you the wrong answer. Working a self-proclaimed dead-end job, and programming on the side for applications, he had many talents but no idea where they’d be taking him. A self-taught artist, an avid gamer, a programmer, and a story-teller – these talents would finally begin to manifest themselves in 2014, when he founded his development studio Happiest Dark Corner with the goal of creating a more technologically ambitious project. That project has since become A Cat’s Manor, a game that started as a “simple” platformer but is now a macabre, atmospheric, story driven, puzzle game with elements of platforming. A Cat’s Manor has received international attention both at MENA (Middle East/North Africa) Zanga game jams across the region, to discussions with Sony Arabia’s Gamer’s Day which is held annually in Saudi Arabia. It’s even gotten magazine coverage next to AAA titles with its own print feature in GamesMaster magazine in the UK, and digital coverage on major game industry centric site Gamasutra. This year, A Cat’s Manor made its first appearance at PAXEast2017 and received so much positive feedback, that Tariq was running out of business cards.
EARLY BUILD GAMEPLAY IMPRESSIONS:
I got a chance to not only speak with Tariq at length, but got hands on with an early build of A Cat’s Manor. My impressions are all positive. Everything that Tariq set out to achieve (and mind you, this was far from a finished product) is beautifully executed. The atmospheric nature of the game crawls under your skin like a scratching nightmare just out of sight in a dark hallway. Waking up as a very unlikely protagonist – a talking cat with a hand at the end of his tail – you find yourself in a nightmarish house with all the hallmarks of being home to a family, except with the addition of a few corpses and bloody knives. The upbeat, British accented voice of the cat’s internal thought processes are perfectly out of sync with the cloudy, creeping environment he’s trying to puzzle through. It’s very obvious that something is not right about this home, and you’re not certain you want to know exactly what it is. “Family members” are zombie like, and the first one you encounter is breathing heavily, half-sobbing, while clutching a butcher knife. The remains of what looks disturbingly like a dead rabbit are on the counter next to her.
The sound effects are perfectly placed, leaving you at their mercy as you try to puzzle together what to do in a room, while simultaneously wanting to leave it as soon as possible. Objects appear behind you that weren’t there a moment earlier – creaking rocking chairs that in other locations have a corpse sitting in it. A corpse that then asks you why you’d want to speak to it. Even the cat’s animations give a sense of dread. His idle animation at times lets his head list sickeningly to the side, much like a stuffed animal with a broken neck. All the horror elements are at play here, including one very well done effect involving a spider web, where each time you move the web pulls around you as if you are caught up without realizing it. Like some of the best horror movies, however, it’s what’s not shown that feels even worse. Despite everything I’ve just described, the game isn’t gory in that hyper-realistic, ultra-violent way many horror games go for these days. The violence is implied. A piece of meat hanging from a hook looks human…maybe. Close enough to make you see it as human, even if it isn’t at all.
When this game is released, I imagine it giving that similar sense of unease that Lone Survivor would. A hybrid if you will of Silent Hill-esque use of sound effects, meeting the “what did I just see” noir looks of Limbo, all with a little Tim Burton flair in the character art styles. A Cat’s Manor will clearly be a game best played in the dark with headphones on.
As for our interview, read on below. There’s also a bonus 15 minute “Expansion Pack” pod-cast conversation afterwards which you can listen to at your leisure. There was so much to talk about, that Tariq and I decided to risk the temperamental Skype connection, and go voice-to-voice to get more in depth than text sometimes allows. I’ll also be including a gallery of making-of imagery, screenshots, and even a few gifs so you can see for yourself what you’ll be getting into by entering A Cat’s Manor.
So, in the words of the very disturbing crazy sister character: Let’s get started!
Big Cheshire Grin (/BCG): First of all – as an official introduction – thank you so much for joining us at Big Cheshire Grin (/BCG for those of you who prefer abbreviations) from the other side of the planet. New Jersey talking to Saudi Arabia. This is quite the international connection to talk about video games, and I’m glad we have the technology to be able to sit down this way!
Tariq Mukhttar (TM): Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor to speak to you.
/BCG: So, for our readers who may not have heard about your game yet, let’s get them on the right track: What is A Cat’s Manor?
TM: Alrighty… A Cat’s Manor is a narrative based adventure, where you play a mysterious cat locked in a creepy house inhabited by an eccentric family. Your initial instinct is to get the hell out of there! It’s 2D to allow me to treat the graphics like a painting. It’s got quests, puzzles, boss fights, escort missions, stealth, item crafting, etc.!
TM: It’s got coffee too! XD
Editor’s Note: Before we’d started the interview properly, Tariq and I had bonded immediately over our love of coffee and how it’s the international drink of creatives. I may or may not have been responsible for him having purchased a bag of my favorite coffee. I apologize in advance for his shipping costs.
/BCG: I noticed that! One of your game development notes mentioned that the “Mother” of this family attacks differently (in a boss fight) based on the kind of coffee she drinks. Is coffee truly the drink of villains?
TM: I treat my coffee with respect and it plays a pivotal role in my life, so it was only natural that it had to be included in the game in some form or another. And what better, starring role, then to base a boss fight on it! lol
/BCG: That’s a good point – you always remember a good boss fight.
TM: Might I add that developing a boss fight turned out [to be] surprisingly difficult and time consuming.
/BCG: Oh really? In what regards?
TM: If you’ve ever read the credits of a game, there’s usually a “boss programmer” listed in there. Before I got into game dev, I always wondered if that was an exaggeration. Now that I have experience with it, turns out crafting a boss fight takes a lot of heart to make just right and unique. It’s a whole different beast from the rest of the game.
/BCG: We’ve actually seen that happen from AAA devs as well. I don’t know if you played Deus Ex: Human Revolution but there was a big issue about the disconnect between the main gameplay and the boss fights, so it’s interesting you bring that point up – how boss fights need to integrate the right way to feel part of the same product.
TM: I remember that Deus Ex example very well in fact.
/BCG: Since this game is 2D, would you say boss fights play out more like a Castlevania game or are there more puzzles involved?
TM: Well, from the top, you’re a defenseless house cat with an annoying meow, so it’s not a test of might. More along the lines of Soul Reaver where you have to think if you are to defeat a boss. And it’s not in the vain of Castlevania (love that series to bits! O_O). I try to stray away as much as possible from cliché fights.
/BCG: Yes, the kind of boss fights you’re describing are the kinds I like the most. I really don’t like just having to memorize a pattern and dodge bullets. It’s been done to death. And like you said, you’re just a helpless house cat, anyway!
TM: I prefer the boss fight to be part of the narrative. I love Metal Gear Solid boss fights. Lots of soul and storytelling in them, with a fair bit of thinking involved.
/BCG: Oh yes – the famous “switch out the controller” in the Psycho Mantis fight.
TM: Boss fights are where you can REALLY show off your skills with animation, set pieces, cut scenes, and just IMPACT!
/BCG: Everything you just said basically is such a great example of giving solid thought to game play flow and design – awesome to see it out of an indie studio, because big or small, it’s not easy to get right. Now, you’re self-publishing as well as developing, correct? At this time, there’s no official relationship with any other publisher?
TM: That is correct. I am developing this all by myself. I have no official ties with anyone, publisher or whatnot.
/BCG: My next question is really two questions. You’ve mentioned that one of the inspirations behind A Cat’s Manor was growing up in a house with TWENTY-FOUR cats. May I ask how on earth you landed up with 24 cats in a single house? And secondly, was there a particular cat that you remember from this time when you started designing the main character, who mysteriously has a hand for a tail?
TM: Well, my family didn’t believe in neutering a cat. So, they just bred to their hearts content. That didn’t go without notice from strays and wandering cats who found shelter and plenty of food available. So, they too made themselves right at home. You could say ‘Boy! That escalated quickly’! No, none of the dozens of cats we had was a direct inspiration for my protagonist. The hero of my game couldn’t have had a more boring origin. LOL. Since it was decided to be 2D, hence a platformer, it was a fairly obvious choice it would be a cat. Didn’t even need to think about that one! And, since I’d just played Limbo and love it to bits, there’s your inspiration for how he looks.
/BCG: It’s awesome you just mentioned Limbo because that is the first thing I thought of design wise when I first saw the cat! I thought of the boy with the white eyes immediately – so your inspiration worked!
TM: The hand on the end of the tail…now that has an interesting story
/BCG: Do tell about that hand….
TM: Yes, the hand…I wouldn’t settle for a boring tail so having it ruffled at the end to KINDA look creepy was a no brainer… it got a lot of comments how hand like it was, but it didn’t stop at that.
TM: VERY FIRST concept art for the game:
TM: I have a little philosophy with this game: “NO HAND HOLDING” I explain nothing. No tutorials. NADA! Jump in and EXPLORE! Early testers complained how they didn’t know what to do, so I came up with a novelty “hint” system. The end of the tail became a hand that would do specific gestures at certain points to “nudge” you in the right direction.
/BCG: Oh, that’s clever.
TM: It eventually got integrated into the story with a surprising explanation
/BCG: I always enjoy studying the ways game developers give subtle hints about “the right way to go” without having a sign or a big arrow with a tutorial
TM: It didn’t stop there. One of my earlier worries about the game was too much travel time to “fetch” items. I thought that would make the game boring and tedious, so I made the hand more useful. You can use it to carry items, too. The cat can use its mouth, but to cut travel time I had to bring the hand into the picture. I don’t want people to think I am artificially increasing play time by meaningless fetching. That’s a problem when you refuse to include an inventory system. In an early version there was an inventory system, but I opted to keep things as simple as possible, so out with the inventory system!
/BCG: So basically, your “inventory” is limited to whatever the cat is carrying?
TM: Yes, two items max. Although…that’s kind of deceptive without going into spoilers.
/BCG: I can see a lot of tricky puzzles with this set up, and don’t worry, I’m already imagining the combinations of things I’ll have to do to figure things out.
TM: That’s another issue I had with the game actually! Initially, the house and all items were available and intractable. That caused SO MUCH confusion to players. Now, only necessary items needed for that part of the story are active, with a red herring here and there. XD
/BCG: Yes, that delicate balance between giving too much freedom, and just enough to make it a challenge. Things that might be interesting to do on a development side, might not actually translate to “fun” on the other end
TM: Absolutely! You go in with all these hardcore, old school ideas about freedom and what not. Then you realize that doesn’t make your game fun, or at the very least an “experience” to remember.
/BCG: How many times did you have people play test different versions?
TM: Any local convention I could participate in, I went to! From IGN to Sony’s Gamer’s Day. More than 7 conventions I think by now. Here’s the thing, we have industry shows, and public shows. Each audience plays the game in a dramatically different manner. The public shows provide incredibly VALUABLE feedback. Absolutely essential if you are to craft a solid experience. I strongly advise all devs to pick up their in-development games, and put them in the hands of the public. Can’t stress that enough!
/BCG: I’d love to ask about the art style of this game, because it definitely stands out from a crowd. I know on Twitter I’ve seen a few sketches that went from a more cartoony horror look to something more gothic and dark. Are you the primary artist, or did you outsource the designs of the characters we’ve seen so far?
TM: Allow me to repeat myself, beside the voice overs and music – I do EVERYTHING. At one point I even did the music! LOL. The character designs, and all art, animation, and posters were done by me.
/BCG: Let me back up to the music bit, because it bears mentioning. Your composer, Wlad Marhulets, is a multiple award winning musician with multiple performances in massive Hollywood productions, including The Giver. May I ask how you came to be connected to such a prolific composer for your first major foray into gaming?
TM: At the advice of a friend, I signed up at TIGSource dev forums. Started blogging the development progress there. One day I got an email from someone who offered to do the soundtrack. I scratched my head and said I’m honored and lalala…and then I Googled him. I simply said to him I politely decline, because no way in hell could I afford someone of his caliber. So, he came back with this reply that I’ll never forget. He said, there are things we do for money, and things we do for love. I am going to work on your project and we will reach a deal. And the rest is history! I was so humbled by that. He’s a terrific person, a good friend, and soooo modest and polite! And he’s also working on his game which looks fantastic! Check it out, it’s called DARQ by Unfold games
/BCG: Likewise, your voice actors, Kai Kennedy & Mary Elizabeth Kennedy also have a sizeable amount of work to their names. Did they also contact you on the forums?
TM: Again…TIGSource forums! LOL. They all found me there and contacted me that they were interested in doing work for my game.
/BCG: Attention indie devs – USE TIGSOURCE FORUMS!
TM: YES! YES! Sign up and post updates! It’s an amazing community full of talented and eager people looking for collaborations and work! TIGSource, IndieDB, Twitter. Indispensable for indies! Don’t be discouraged, KEEP AT IT. Let people out there know you exist. It may seem worthless, takes a lot of time, but believe me, it opens up a whole world of opportunities!
/BCG: Initially, A Cat’s Manor was greenlit on Steam, however you moved from development in the Unreal engine over to Unity, which, to my understanding is the language of choice for PS4/PSVita development. Does this mean you plan on a Playstation 4 release as well as PC, or did you do this just to keep options open in the future? If you have any further elaboration on that, by all means feel free.
TM: [Steam] Greenlight…I went in unprepared. Wlad had already greenlit his game and gave me invaluable tips. Without any marketing, A Cat’s Manor shot from 6000 something to rank 8th globally in 19 days! It was still going strong, and would’ve climbed higher if it wasn’t greenlit so soon.
TM: A Cat’s Manor was developed totally on Unity. Unreal was a first choice for me but seeing how the local community was all Unity, and at the time I never used a game engine or knew C#… I had to go with the flow. A prototype was actually released on Google Play. It was actually a smart phone game, but grew out of that as it expanded.
/BCG: So basically, on top of doing all the art, and all the design, you had to learn a whole new language to make this game. No wonder you have so much respect for coffee.
TM: Hahaha! Learning one of the C languages was always one of my dreams (nerdy, I know!). The Sony platforms are a prime target for me. Sony Arabia are so helpful and welcoming. They have their annual Gamer’s Day show here in Saudi Arabia and that was my first exposure when I was invited to participate in the local indie booth. I’m targeting any platform I can get it on. I’m even a licensed Nintendo developer.
/BCG: How long have you been developing this game, if I might ask?
TM: Things started rolling July 2014. Bear in mind, I have a full-time job, and work on other projects in my free time. I had to take long breaks from this game to avoid fatigue. The indie community work takes about a sizable amount of my time, too.
/BCG: Yes! About that. You’re a leader and an organizer in the game development world, so you are one busy guy! In an interview with Gamasutra in 2016 about the indie gaming scene in the Middle Eastern regions, it mentioned you were responsible for founding two of those indie development communities yourself. That’s a pretty big accomplishment as it cited those communities had over 900 members. Can you explain that process for our readers, and what it was like working within the limitations of what is, clearly, an industry fighting to be seen as mainstream?
TM: +1500 now 😊 So, sadly we didn’t have an indie “scene” when I started out, just close friends meeting up here and there few and far between. Then in a distant city, they started their own meet-up, organized their ranks, and made it a regular thing with monthly talks. It was sadly too far away to join, so why not start my own? I somehow needed to rally local devs, getting them out of their caves. Luckily A Cat’s Manor was already well known locally, so it acted as a beacon for people looking for like-minded folk, help, or simply inspiration.
TM: Like TIGSource, you simply have to keep at it and don’t give up! Regular meetups at cafes grew to more organized “talks” at venues. Members who don’t follow social media had their eyes opened to the world around them. Local and international conventions and shows became known. You continue to nurture the local scene until it can stand on its own feet. You build bridges between local communities with those in other cities, and then other countries. Eventually, you’ll catch the attention of people who can do something.
/BCG: Well clearly you did. You were an organizer for the 6th annual Pan-Arabian Zanga Game Jam this past year. Can you explain the event and the ways you’ve been seeing it grow that are hopefully pointing in a positive direction for the perception of game development in the Middle East?
TM: The Zanga Game Jam was founded well before me by those we regard as the forefathers of the indie scene in the Arab world. They are literally from all over the MENA (Middle East North Africa) region. It’s a pan Arabian Game Jam, much in the style of the Global Game Jam for Arab devs everywhere. [You can] participate online or host a local location. A lot of the original organizers and founders have strong ties with industry people so it helps a lot with sponsoring and whatnot. Each year the Zanga grows larger, and the quality of games leaps. Last year was another record year. We were just glad to break-even but then the counter for submitted games just kept going up! And each year, now that we have more matured and are a better-connected community across the Arab world, the Zanga gets more attention and locations. Business and governments are recognizing it too!
/BCG: You had mentioned there were a lot of female developers there as well!
TM: As you probably understand, Saudi Arabia enforces segregation of the genders. This poses difficult challenges for organizers when trying to allow them to participate in events. I have to keep saying, the talent (technical and artistic) possessed by girls here is incredible! World class caliber, and yet it is so hard to cultivate, recognize, and make use of this talent. The GCC Game Jam (Gulf Coalition Council) surprised us all with an extremely high female turnout!
/BCG: Yes, you’d mentioned that the gaming scene isn’t really seen as being “serious” for men OR women so it’s an uphill fight to be seen as reputable. Around the world there’s a big push to have female developers and game creators come out of “hiding”, haha. It’s great to see it’s happening
TM: It’s still “gaming” in the eyes of the elders and conservatives. We need to educate them, we need to help society progress. My country is the biggest consumer of video games in the region. It’s no longer a game, and it’s a shame we don’t have more devs here! I’m so happy now that two regions here their local indie devs are run by girls!
/BCG: That’s awesome! Go ladies, keep it up!!
TM: Absolutely! Even neighboring Arab countries [communities] are spearheaded by girls! Awesomeness!
/BCG: I had a conversation not all that long ago with another Saudi friend of mine, discussing game stories from different regions of the world. Obviously, Japan has their own style of story-telling, America and Europe have a distinctiveness as well. It’s the kind of thing where you can play a game and say “this probably came from XYZ place in the world.” We began to discuss what kind of stories might come out of the Middle East since it’s far less well-known in this medium of entertainment. I’d love to pose the same question to you. I know A Cat’s Manor isn’t marketed as being an “Arab” game, but if you could envision games that were, what do you see?
TM: There are quite a few examples of “Arab” flavored games. It goes without saying, the Arab world is absolutely FILLED with myths, legends, literature, and uniqueness. There have been recent games that drew from this rich heritage. Some commercial successes, others not. It’s more about the local devs “maturing” and having a better grasp of crafting their games and marketing skills! We’re just beginning to emerge from our bubble. There’s still the language barrier, the international market is still an unknown beast to us here. Then there’s business savviness that our local devs need to acquire, a lot of us are just making games to satisfy that itch. We need a broader outlook of the game development process. You don’t invest 2-3 years of your life to publish a game in a dark corner of iTunes and tell no one about it!
/BCG: So, you’re something of a trailblazer.
TM: I’m still learning the ropes, but I have an international outlook and truly fortunate to have great international friends and mentors. I’m not the only one going for the big jump.
/BCG: Yes, I think it says a lot that Sony is paying attention to Saudi Arabia. They’re obviously a huge company so they definitely see the potential that you do. You’ve said that you’re developing A Cat’s Manor for a Western audience. Do you hope to make a title one day that champions those stories from the Arab world? As someone who’s been so instrumental in rallying the game development community from so many regions, is this something of a personal mission of yours?
TM: Sadly… nope. I have no inclination to develop my own Arab homage game. But that doesn’t mean I’m not helping out anyone here that does. Only thing that comes close [for me] wouldn’t even be a game – more of a VR experience to show the rest of the world the tragedies that go on in our region. Out of respect, I can’t call that a game.
/BCG: Of course, I understand that. It’s a very sensitive subject matter.
/BCG: Now, you recently attended PAXEast2017 here in Boston. Was this your first PAX event? I’ve heard from several people that the indie presence was huge there this year. Do you feel that’s accurate, and what surprised you the most about the reception for your title as a presenter?
TM: Not only it was my first time at PAX, but my first time in the US. It was a nerve wrecking experience with all the anxiety and stories surrounding your newest President. XD I had actually written off PAX. It was too far and too expensive for a small time indie dev like me. But then one day, I got an email. It was from PAX, inviting me to showcase my game at their show! O_O It was a leap of faith, one that I had to take. A sign from God! LOL.
TM: Indies were BIG at PAXEast2017! I felt…at home! All the things I’ve read about and seen in little pictures half way across the world were right there in front of me! I was IN the chocolate Factory!
/BCG: You walk in and go “I’m never leaving. This is where I’m supposed to be. These are my people”
TM: Truly! I was among my Kin. I have found my people!
/BCG: Actually, in relationship to that point – In the midst of the craziness that is the world today, how have you felt received by the gaming community as a whole? Some people label the gaming industry as being toxic to its own members (and of course it can be, sadly even at the best of times), but millions have also found comfort, friendship, inspiration, and comradery in it. Have you experienced any push-back in the development of A Cat’s Manor, or have you been met with mostly open arms and minds?
TM: Trying not to jinx myself, the reception was AMAZING. Granted there were some examples of stupidity and toxicity, but so far and few between I can write them off as trolling. The gaming community has embraced A Cat’s Manor so warmly. You can understand the fear of putting your unfinished baby in front of total strangers, and gulp down as they pick up the controller, but the game was loved by almost everyone it came in contact with.
/BCG: Yes! I remember on Twitter during PAX, you were saying that you were almost out of business cards
TM: The cards were flying off the table! I had to make an emergency run to print more, and even then they almost ran out, too!
/BCG: I didn’t realize that this was also your first time here in the US! What an arrival, Boston: history and the future all right there
TM: Let me say, the US was so welcoming and friendly. From airport to airport. Wonderful city, Boston and wonderful people.
/BCG: That’s great to hear, and I’m glad you had such a great first visit. I hope you have many more! For a lighter question – everyone gets this one when they’re interviewed on my site. Obviously, your game is a puzzle game so I have a feeling it will have plenty of moments for its players to feel quite clever about themselves when they figure something out. What are some games that have done that for you? And – here’s the big one, what do you feel is your favorite game or the one that inspired you the most?
TM: In recent memory? THE WITNESS! I played that because I loved Braid so much. I thought I’d get inspired, and even learn a few puzzles from it. Was totally unprepared for how incredible it was!
TM: The “what’s your favorite” question is very hard for me to answer really. We all go through different phases as we grow up. I tend to get obsessed with something and truly soak it up, learn the inside and outs of it, then move on to the next thing. I did it with my skills (art, painting, 3D, music, animation, video) and the same holds true for gaming. A Cat’s Manor was obviously inspired by Limbo, Tim Burton’s creations, and Coraline. I draw also from my love of Castlevania and Metroid, but you’d be surprised of the games I obsessed over.
TM: in reverse order: DayZ, Battlefield, Killzone 2, Guilty Gear, Street Fighter, Fatal Fury, Sonic, Mario, Metal Gear, The Last Ninja, Panzer Dragoon, etc. I made a few manga of [Guilty Gear]! I even played with facial animation systems for Guilty Gear.
/BCG: I think this is a good place to stop for now. Is there any last bit of information you’d like to give your readers that might be new or exciting, or really any last pieces of wisdom to share?
TM: Scope. Indies have trouble releasing their games because they can’t keep their scope under control. A Cat’s Manor is no different. But it’s been as much about my evolution as it has been about the game. Had I released the game when it was intended, it would have been forgotten instantly. I gave it my all, and continue to. I’ve linked it with community work, I have used it as a vehicle to help those around me. I went from my own bubble, an introvert, in a dead-end job, to where I am today
/BCG: You’re both your best friend and worst enemy by giving yourself so many high bars to reach. Can we expect A Cat’s Manor this year?
TM: The bar has been set. It will be released this year  on PC. There’s nothing to prevent me from raising the bar further when it comes to consoles.
/BCG: Thank you again, so much, for joining me today. I know you’re very busy and will have lots of business ahead. I wish you all the success.
TM: Thank you so much for having me. I really enjoyed this so much, and hope to bring you great news in the near future.
If you’d like to hear a bit of extra conversation between myself and Tariq, you can listen to the 15 minute “Expansion Pack” mini-podcast below. Please also enjoy the galleries of A Cat’s Manor making of imagery and screenshots from the game coming this year. We’ll wrap everything up with a nice creepy trailer.
STAY IN THE KNOW:
If you’d like to get regular updates about Tariq’s work, you may follow him on Twitter @as3adya. You can follow his development company, Happiest Dark Corner @hd_corner. If you’d like to experience the excellent tone-setting music by award-winning composer Wlad Marhulets, there are six tracks available to listen to for free on Wlad’s soundcloud.
Disclaimer: I was not subsidized in any way for this interview. I make no money if you click on any of the links. All images are Copyright to Happiest Dark Corner, Tariq Mukhttar and used with permission. Opinions expressed other than Tariq’s own words are my own.