Pinoy-themed role-playing video game now in the works

By Espie Angelica A. de Leon

Imagine opening a book or komiks of Philippine folklore. In full color, diwata, engkanto, dwende, tiktik and other monsters, spirit creatures, and deities from local mythology seem to leap from the pages and grab your attention.

Now imagine yourself interacting with them.

Next, envision all these as a video game like God of War or Grand Theft Auto – an open-world quest-based action role playing game (RPG) that you yourself are playing.

Far out? Not so, because a group of five dedicated individuals including game creator Niley Bacolcol are now in the thick of developing a Pinoy-themed video game with all these elements. They call it their “passion project.”

Pinoy theme: Merging cultural with modern

Titled “Balete City Game”, the RPG will incorporate local culture into the scenario by populating the storyline with the diwatas, engkantos, spirit creatures, gods and goddesses of Philippine mythology. It will also include monsters which many Filipinos have not even heard of, based on folk tales of the different islands.

Settings and design will also be Pinoy-themed, featuring familiar places like ricefields, plazas, and yes, the balete tree.

“The balete tree serves as a door that connects our human world to the realms of the spirits. In the game’s story, it serves as the main ingredient to the plot and to the whole game lore,” said Bacolcol.

The story itself is spun from beliefs of the Philippine minority and tribal groups. The player will take on the role of Aki, the main character. Aki’s brother died under mysterious circumstances inside the Balete High School.

To find clues to his death, Aki has to live his sibling’s life as a senior high student during which he meets different characters who will help him discover the strange goings-on at school.

Aki will also learn that he is a babaylan in training. This is the game’s main objective – to pass the different levels of babaylan training and become a full-fledged babaylan with all the powers.

Other fixtures of Philippine culture will also be incorporated into the story such as medicinal herbs, sacred symbols, ancient text, and the sigil.

To add modern flavor, the video game will also feature taho and balut vendors, wet markets, jeepneys, and tricycles. The creators will throw in some tech trends as well like Google, chatting, and social media.

“The whole project’s goal is to serve as a a preserving factor for our local beliefs and mythologies. We do believe that [they are] slowly fading and being forgotten. We believe that we can use the gaming platform to ignite curiosity and love for our Filipino culture in each gamer’s heart,” said Bacolcol.

From thesis to video game

He may not be an avid gamer but he definitely had the heart of a video game fan.

Balete City Game is actually the video game spinoff of Bacolcol’s graphic novel titled “Balete High,” inspired by his undergraduate thesis about the T’boli tribe’s belief systems.

Then the novel sparked another idea.

“I love watching gameplays of different games with stunning visuals and rich storylines such as God of War and Witcher,” Bacolcol related.

“These games are heavily based on a certain culture. It got me into thinking ‘What if a game like this can be based on our culture? What will the gameplay look like if the game scenes are with Philippine scenarios?’”

After years of learning how to design a video game, he realized he was skilled enough to turn the novel into an open-world action RPG.

Pooling resources

At present, the Pinoy-themed video game is at its early stage development.

To gather resources and drive development forward, the group has resorted to crowdsourcing for programmers, developers, voice-over talents, and others. They’re also looking for supporters who can provide funding through their Patreon account.

Bacolcol revealed that they started with two funders. In less than a week after announcing their project, that number jumped to 29. Meanwhile, email messages poured in from individuals wanting to do volunteer work from the project.

“The support that we are receiving is overwhelming,” he said,  “We can feel the excitement of our future gamers.”

He added though that it will take them at least three years to finish. For now, they’re simply doing their best.

“Local literature, such as komiks, has done a great job injecting uniquely Filipino myths in the beautifully crafted pages of a book,” said Bacolcol. “Now we want to do that in our game.”

For interested volunteers and supporters, send an email to baletecitygame@gmail.com

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