Indigo Entertainment was founded in 2007 with the dream of developing games that feature “awesome” intellectual property (IP). For several years Indigo Entertainment pursued that dream, creating games for clients with popular IP.
However, as Indigo Entertainment President and Co-Founder James Ronald Lo notes, “everyone in the game industry has hopes and dreams of building their dream game” – and, in 2016, Indigo Entertainment began its venture into independent game development.
Their first independent game, 2D mobile action platformer Agent Aliens, was born out of a studio-wide call for game ideas – “sort of like a game jam” says James. The only requirement was for the game to be fun because, as James notes, if the gameplay is done right, IP can be built around it.
The Letter is a non-chronological, horror visual novel game with seven playable characters. It also features full English voice acting, several branching paths with more than 10 endings, highly animated character sprites and backgrounds, and quick-time events.
At Casual Connect Asia 2016, held at Resorts World Sentosa’s Hard Rock Hotel Singapore, the cream of Filipino indie game development was showcased among the best in the world. Here’s a look at five of the games and their creators.
1. LITHIUM CITY
Lithium City is the Excellence in Audio winner of the recent International Game Festival China – coming from a field of 350 games in the Asia-Pacific region. In the game, you play as a synthetic heroine shooting your way out of a world taken over by computers. The game design evokes tension and excitement. The art is convincing as a portrayal of a dystopia with its austere aesthetic reminiscent of 80s Neon. The music ties it all with its dark yet upbeat synth style. Lithium City is developed by Nico Tuason and its music is composed by John Camara. Casual Connect Asia’s Indie Prize honored them with a nomination for Best Game in Development.
'Staying in this career is a choice I’d gladly make over and over.' - Luna CruzClick To Tweet
At Altitude Games, they use rapid prototyping to find the fun in our games. The question is: does it really work? Listen to Luna Cruz, creative director and co-founder explain how they prototype across different projects (from UI wireframes to giant cube combat) – where it worked, and where it failed. During their talk at Casual Connect Asia, Luna described real examples on how to make prototyping work for you across all stages of development. Luna explained,”For us, prototyping is any sharable output that you can use to make decisions.” Also, Altitude Games prototypes “as a process through all different phases of development.”
After eight arduous years trying to learn the craft of gamemaking, our work finally began to gain traction. One of our games was featured in Newgrounds and was positively reviewed by a game critic at Jay Is Games. Another game won an award from the Philippine Game Festival. We even had a European publisher to back us up.
But we took on too much too soon. Our expectations regarding cash flow were too high and having a team working from distant islands didn’t help either. We hung on as long as we could, but our studio simply disintegrated.
'Now, we are making sure to test as early as we possibly can.' – Juan Karlo LicudineClick To Tweet
In his lecture Dev by Day, Dev by Night, Juan Karlo Licudine explained how he’s managed to work full-time as a game developer and simultaneously work on his own indie projects at Accidental Rebel Games during his recent Casual Connect Asia speech. Find out how he struck a deal with his employer, what he learned about time management and whether he recommends the double workload in the video below. If you are thinking of going down this road, Juan has some great tips for you. He pushed himself very hard to get his game done as fast as possible. Looking back, he points out that, “People aren’t really going to care how long it took you to make the game. . . They are not going to care. [How long it took you] won’t matter at all.”
'You just have to start and do whatever it takes to finish.' —James Lo, on game devClick To Tweet
James Lo detailed Indigo Entertainment’s foray into independent game development with MashUP Tactics, a project following the “games as a service” philosophy during his Casual Connect Asia speech in Singapore. He hopes the GaaS approach will result in a sustained audience: “If [gamers] like it, they’ll stick to it for years and years to come. We want that kind of loyalty. We want that kind of market.” For details on the company’s strategy, see the video below.
'I get to meet and work with amazingly talented people every day.'–Allen TanClick To Tweet
White Widget Co-Founder Allen Tan described starting his self-funding studio and how the team learned to balance in-house and work-for-hire tasks in his Casual Connect Asia 2015 address. “We decided that it’s best to have a clear split between resources who would provide services for clients, and those who would work for our own games,” he says. To see more of the company’s journey, watch the video below.
2015 is the year Bari Silvestre from Keybol went back to his roots – Flash game development. “You can’t help but reminisce about the hay days of the browser games, that can be easily distributed and with the right polish and gameplay you can get some hefty sum via sponsorships. Times have changed though, and you have to be not just twice as good in producing quality games, but your creations should have an interesting original gameplay”, Bari recalls. That is hard to come by, so he just made little Flash games with some interesting twist on existing gameplay. They did get some positive feedback with a feature here and there, but Bari felt something is lacking. His fresh creation, Kill The Plumber, brings to life some gamers’ dreams of playing for the villains.
Entertainment Forge was a Serbian-based one-man indie studio founded and run by Darko Peninger, the programmer and game designer. Darko later joined forces with Gilbert De Vera from the Philippines, the studio’s artist who also shares game designing duties. They’ve recently launched their second game for PC, How Smart Are You?, where the player happens to land on a planet with some intelligent civilization whose history arises as the visitor solves their puzzles in a pyramid. At the same time, the player’s IQ is being measured for some reason… Darko, with help from Gilbert, explains how they got to working together and how they’re going to conquer the world.
First Choice: Less Money, More Work
I started working on my game-making career as soon as I finished high school on the 1st of July 2011, though I should have totally left school and started earlier! Back then, I didn’t know much about game design, knew almost nothing about programming, but had a big passion for making games – as I still do! So I just thought out and did everything myself, including artwork. Oh boy, was I bad in art! In about a year and a half, I made a game called Mystery IQ Test. It was my first game that got sponsored.
I got two sponsors fighting over the game. One offered more money, and the other one promised less money and some additional work. So, logically, I chose the latter! It was actually a good decision, because this is when I met Gilbert. The chosen sponsor from Yepi, Roy Tzayag, suggested paying an artist and working together to make the game even better. This could have been a valuable experience for a newbie, so I decided to give it a try.
Gilbert De Vera has been a game artist since 2010. He started it as a part-time job, while still working as a trainer in a call center of a company.
“Like everyone else who’s starting a new job, I didn’t have all the things I needed to make art: no tablet, printer, scanner and not even a good computer,” Gilbert explains. “I used my camera and took photos of my art in paper, and then transferred them to the computer for digital coloring. What is more, I was using a crappy old PC. That was really hard, but turned out a great challenge.”
“In 2011, I quit my day job and became a full-time game artist,” he recalls. “I’ve worked with different clients, garnered a lot of experience in game development and finished plenty of games. One of them was a game made by Darko. A client who happened to be his sponsor asked for help to improve the game’s visual aesthetics. After we finished that project, Darko planned to create a sequel to the game he made first. And How Smart Are You? appeared.”
Puzzles Make a Game Fun, Even With Little Mechanics
The game’s puzzles were designed with the help of my friends. They used to come to my place or we just sat in the park brainstorming puzzles. There were at least 200 ideas, but I picked the 40 I found most suitable for the game. Many of these still didn’t appear to be good enough, so only 30 ended up in the latest version of How Smart Are You?. I think figuring out puzzles was the hardest thing, cause the game itself doesn’t have much of a mechanic. And then Gilbert joined the team to do his magic and make art! We started creating games together with a 50/50 percentage deal.
“I didn’t have any problem doing art on this game, since Darko explained all the details he needed pretty well,” Gilbert says. “At the start of the project, I always ask what kind of character is needed, to make sure to create two or more so that there’s a choice. Darko told me to draw a spaceman that looks like a human, while it’s actually an alien. There is a puzzle room where the character needs to put boxes behind an X-ray machine to see what’s inside. It also shows the character’s skeleton that should resemble a human one. This is the tricky part: making players believe that the character behind the spaceman suit is a human being.”
This is the tricky part: making players believe that the character behind the spaceman suit is a human being.
“The best experience for me is when a player loves the game so much that we receive fan mail and good feedback,” the artist confesses.
“Sometimes we disagree about the design, but the good thing is that we respect each other’s opinion, value each other’s reasons, and eventually end up using the best version (that are mostly my suggestions),” Gilbert says. “But I really commend Darko for being one of the fastest coders I’ve worked with (or maybe I’m really that slow).”
“It took us almost 2 months to finish the game,” Gilbert recalls. “The main challenge for me was keeping up with Darko’s deadlines! Since I was working for several projects back then, my attention was split, and I wasn’t doing things fast enough. However, I learned one thing here: better to do one project at a time and focus on it, in order to finish it much faster. Never really expected that Darko and I will continue doing games in the future, but I really admired his efforts on finishing a project, and that’s why I suggested to him to make more games together.”
Currently, we’re working on smaller games to get more experience and build up some budget – Physics, Launcher, Action/Adventure games for Web (and planning to go mobile soon) platforms. We’ve noticed that making a small but fast to finish game is the safe way to earn money in this line of business. Risk is much lower compared to creating a game that we could finish in a few months.
Plans: Rule the World and Beat Bill Gates’ Fortune
I have plans for bigger games (most likely web and mobile). From the very beginning, my goal was to make awesome games that will rule the world (Muahaha!!). To be serious, it’s creating really engaging and meaningful game experiences for players. And I will accomplish these goals, cause I strongly believe that I can and will give everything I’ve got to achieve them!
“My future plan is to top Bill Gates fortune and be able to donate half of it to charity,” Gilbert smiles. “Kidding aside, my real plan is just to top Bill Gates fortune.”
Right now, How Smart Are You? is available for web only. In the meantime, Darko and Gilbert are thinking of some new games, both similar to the previous one, but, at the same time, totally different.