It’s no secret that Filipinos love playing video games. Recently, the growing number of award-winning Filipino-made games is also proving to the world that we love making video games just as much.
Case in point: “Kill the Plumber,” the latest offering from Bari Silvestre of indie game development enterprise, Keybol. “Kill the Plumber” was released for PC via Steam on January 1, making it the first new game of 2016.
So what’s the game about? Well, have you ever wanted to rain righteous vengeance on a certain mass-murdering Italian plumber? As a clever inversion of “Super Mario Bros.” and the platformer genre, “Kill the Plumber” gives you control of an enormous variety of bad guys as you try to kill – in as many devious ways as possible – a familiar-looking mustachioed hero. Part puzzle game, part action platformer, each of its 140+ levels is short but intense, often demanding a combination of quick fingers and even quicker thinking from the player.
Prior to its official launch, “Kill the Plumber” was featured on international sites such as Siliconera and Kotaku. It received accolades from international associations, such as Casual Connect Asia 2015, which nominated it for “Most Innovative Game,” and the Independent Games Festival China 2015, which rewarded it with “Excellence in Game Design” – one of the six major awards handed out during the event.
Locally, it garnered the “Excellence in Innovation” and “Best in Gameplay” awards at the ICT Creative Awards – an event coordinated by the Department of Science and Technology, the Game Developers Association of the Philippines, and the Animation Council of the Philippines.
A childhood dream
Silvestre started playing video games in his youth. As a huge Nintendo fan, “Super Mario Bros.” was one of his favorites. He not only played the game, he used known cheats and glitches to exploit it, too.
Another thing he started doing as a child? Designing his own games.
“I remember making my own games… drawing mockups… one of which was a platformer with a frog,” he told GMA News Online. “I also made my own character for a fighting game and drew their moves set. I also remember designing card games.”
Fortunately for many game designers today, the tools used to develop video games are now widely available. Silvestre familiarized himself with the technical side of game design through self-study, which eventually allowed him to turn a childhood fantasy into a reality.
“I only learned online from tutorials and downloading source codes. I started with the very basic; a room escape game where the codes are basically listeners for mouse clicks…”
Silvestre honed his game development skills by making games that were tributes to his cherished platformers. For example, he created “Belial Ars Arcana,” which was an ode to “Castlevania,” and two “Splitman” games, which were inspired by “Mega Man.”
As he grew more confident, Silvestre began studying more complex coding, such as those governing advanced user interface and in-game physics. He now combines all this knowledge to make more polished games.
“It’s really inspiring to see your creation interactive on screen,” he said. “When you get to see your players’ reactions through comments, or when you actually see their reactions on YouTube and conventions, the feeling is really great. Appreciation of your hard work is a great motivational tool for us game developers.”
The making of ‘Kill the Plumber’
“Kill the Plumber” is actually a collaborative effort between Silvestre and the artist Iskander Aminov, from whose notes the game was spawned.
“I was looking for a collaborator early 2015 and Iskander was one of those who approached,” Silvestre explained. “Working with Iskander is one of the best collaborations I have done.”
Silvestre immediately liked the idea of having players assume the role of the enemy. In fact, he had already tinkered with the concept before; he once made a game that could be best described as a reverse “Angry Birds,” where players had to shield the villains from heroes being hurled at them.
As for the making of “Kill the Plumber,” it was a long and arduous process.
“We developed (‘Kill the Plumber’) for a month as a small browser game. People seemed to like it and many YouTubers featured it. We then spent another month to create more levels and show it at conventions. When we confirmed it was a game many people would enjoy, we spent another month to port it to mobile.”
At this point, Silvestre and Aminov ran into some problems with Apple, who refused to include “Kill the Plumber” in the App Store due to what they deemed were potential copyright violations. Silvestre argued that the game’s assets were original, and the game itself was a parody, not an appropriation, of “Super Mario Bros.” Sadly, his efforts to change Apple’s mind proved futile.
“But we didn’t get disheartened,” stated Silvestre. “We expanded it again, and now ported it to PC via Steam. That took another 6 weeks, as there were really big improvements there besides the new levels. You can say it was 5 months of development but it was staggering improving what worked and removing features that added nothing to the game.”
The Special Ingredient
Silvestre was also behind 2014’s “Pretentious Game,” another multi-awarded indie title available on Steam. It received positive reviews, with many lauding its engrossing story and innovative puzzle platforming mechanics.
One has to wonder: what is it about Silvestre’s games that make them so appealing to people?
“I think the ‘special ingredient’ in them is that they are games you don’t usually get to see,” explained Silvestre. “ ‘Pretentious Game’ was made to mock the art games, and people who could see through that appreciated it. ‘Kill the Plumber’ grants the players their wish of playing as the enemies.”
Silvestre further shared his thoughts regarding the secrets to successful game design.
“Design within limits,” he explained. “Design games you like playing. Learn from others and implement (the new knowledge you gained). Sometimes it is more of a gut feeling, and the more experience you have making games, the more you will develop this.”
Knowing your audience is also key to making a great game. “If you listen to your audience, you will get a feel of what they want.”
Despite his accomplishments, Silvestre isn’t one to rest on his laurels.
“Iskander and I have big plans for 2016 as TekiTown (Silvestre and Aminov’s game publishing outfit). We are working on a step-based platformer where you play as the daughters of Hades.”
Of course, Silvestre isn’t the only Filipino game designer working hard to churn out quality games. Accidental Rebel also wowed the Casual Connect Asia 2015 crowd with “Pop Puff and Away,” earning the game a nomination for “Best Kids and Family.” Nico Tuason’s “Lithium City” reaped the “Excellence in Audio” award at Independent Games Festival China 2015. Mike Studios’ “Dungeon Souls” won the “Best Game Engine Award” at the ICT Creative Awards, and Haogamers’ “PC Game of the Year” in the “Best of Asian Indie Games 2015” category.
With so much talent and dedication Silvestre and others like him pour into their craft, we can only expect a bright future for video games made by Filipinos. — TJD, GMA News