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Maru Nihoniho, Founder at Metia Interactive — Interview Series



It wasn't all that long ago that we first caught wind of Guardian Maia, a third-person action-adventure game by New Zealand-based studio, Metia Interactive. Since its initial announcement, the team has been ever so kind as to lather a bit of additional context over the game's premise; specifically, its firm connection to Māori culture. We decided to catch up with Metia Interactive's founder and managing director, Maru Nihoniho, to gain an even deeper insight into said culture.

Tell us a bit about Metia Interactive. How did it all start for you, and what inspired you to create video games?

Maru: I started playing arcade games from the age of eleven and was curious about how computer games were made. As I got older, I would play action-adventure games and I would think to myself, how amazing would it be if the character was Māori and in a Māori world and to be to be able to interact with my culture in this environment.

In 2002, I decided that I was going to take myself on a journey to understand what the games industry is and how I could get into it. I had to put myself through a game development course, but at that time there weren’t any specific game development courses. There were topics that games incorporate, like 3D modelling, 2D graphics, and coding so I found the next best course that I could do, and that was a one-year diploma in multimedia, but it still didn’t teach me how to make video games.

I decided to head overseas to Australia and the USA to game conferences like E3 and GDC. I would listen to developers talking about game development and sit there with a notepad and a pen and write everything down. Then I’d come back to New Zealand and try applying that knowledge. It was a long road, but it was worth it.

The thought of creating a Māori game was my motivation and I founded my company Metia Interactive in 2003. I decided I was going to make games where I could bring our Māori culture to life on the gaming platforms.

Implementing cultural themes and local heritage into your games has become second nature for you. What’s the thought process behind this, and why do you think video games are ideal vessels for exploring such things?

Maru: I want to make games that highlight our culture on the world stage so our stories can be told with our voice. Whether it’s based on mythology, a traditional tribal story, or an inspired story, it’s still our voice that tells our story to the world. Our history hasn’t always been written by us, meaning that our stories, our voices haven’t been told by us, by the people.

We have our stories in other media, like film and television, where indigenous peoples tell their stories with their own voice. And those stories are amazing. They’re authentic and it gives you a real-world view of different cultures. Telling our stories through gaming is another platform for us to do that but the difference is instead of just watching, listening, or reading you can do all of that and be in control of your journey in the story. The games we make are about fostering a connection with our culture.

Māori culture clearly plays a major role in your works, too. Could you tell us a bit more about it?

Maru: It’s about connection, connecting myself and others to our culture. It’s also about exploration. I think about our culture from different points of view, for example, what does our culture look like in the future? How much of our culture has changed? Has it changed? To answer those questions, I look at the past and present from the great journeys our ancestors took across the Pacific right through to the effects of colonisation. How are we, as Māori, going to tell our own stories and the stories of our ancestors? What tools can we use? For me it’s the gaming platform.

Māori stories and language are integral in our games, but we don’t just incorporate our culture into games, we bring Māori themes into the business too. For us, it’s about bringing those of our team who are non-Māori into our world and embracing them so they feel comfortable as they will be making these games which are heavy in cultural stories and themes.

Let’s talk about your upcoming game, Guardian Maia. What is it, and what can players expect to find?

Maru: Guardian Maia incorporates elements of a dystopian sci-fi world, but authentic representations of Māori culture are its beating heart. In intertwining traditional Māori culture, carvings, and ta moko (tattooing) with a distinct sci-fi twist, Guardian Maia transgresses historicised representations of Māori culture. Guardian Maia is synonymous to the freshness of Indigenous Futurisms. 

Guardian Maia a single-player, third-person, action-adventure with a hybrid historical/science-fiction back story and authentic cultural content which will create a meaningful immersive experience.

The player takes on the role of Maia who is motivated and, on a journey, to save her world after her people are infected with Grey death, an airborne toxin. The journey takes the player through the beautiful and rugged lands of the South Island starting at the village settlement in the mountains through forests, wild lands and into long abandoned technological hubs.

Throughout the world, the player will meet new characters, encounter aggressive monsters, and get closer to discovering the three items that will help them save the world, the three baskets of knowledgeNgā Kete Wānanga.

Guardian Maia Cinematic

And is this a game that anybody can jump right in and play? Do you have any words of advice to offer potential newcomers?

Maru: We’re developing Guardian Maia for the world. For Māori, it will be another way to see our culture and play a story that is relatable. It’s a way to see how we reflected back through the gaming world. For non-Māori it will be a new experience where they will see the beauty in our art, carvings, and tattoos but also interact with our cultural values and learn some of our language as well. They will experience all this while playing through an unforgiving post-apocalyptic New Zealand.

So, what’s next for you, if you don’t mind me asking? Do you have plans to release any new games over the next year or two? If so, could you kindly tell us a bit about it/them?

Maru: I have plans to design and develop more games based on our culture but for the short term, over the next 2 – 3 years we’ll be finishing and releasing Guardian Maia.

Is there a way for potential fans to support you in your current endeavors? Are there any social channels or newsletters that our readers should know about?

Maru: We share development updates on Guardian Maia through the social media platforms TikTok, Instagram, Facebook, and X. We also have a subscribe form on our website and a Steam page. All the links can be found through our website.

Thanks for your time!

To keep up to date with Metia Interactive and its upcoming games, be sure to check in with the team over on their official social handle here. Failing that, then you can visit their website for more information here.

Jord is acting Team Leader at If he isn't blabbering on in his daily listicles, then he's probably out writing fantasy novels or scraping Game Pass of all its slept on indies.