ESGS 2019 Games: Indie Devs Highlight Values, Culture, Mental Health, Growth!

What’s an ESGS without games, right? And this year’s Esports and Gaming Summit (ESGS 2019) provided us with an Indie Fiesta with a ton of game devs and local game creators. There’s around 30+ games in Indie Fiesta alone, and more games from other exhibitors – so we unfortunately weren’t able to check out all of them. 

We didn’t go home empty-handed, though. Here are some of the games we’ve seen this year! 

ESGS 2019: Improvements, Sequels Abound!

Who says ESGS should always be about new and up-and-coming games? We have developers from previous years and previous events taking the newest forms of their games to this year’s ESGS 2019.

Bayani

Bayani gears up for a full release. Ben Banta, Ranida Games CEO, once again revealed Bayani to gaming fans and attendees of ESGS. This time, though, the current game iteration will be here to stay. 

“This will be the official version of the game,” Banta said. “We’ve been releasing different versions of Bayani [in the past few years]. This (current) one will be the official version.”

Banta boasts new and improved features in this “final” version of Bayani. The game keeps its “Filipino heroes” motif, but has technical components akin popular fighting games. Prominent new and improved features include an open-ended combo system, allowing players to form their own combos. Controls feel much sleeker – an essential component, as Bayani aims to be “easy to play, hard to master.”

Aside from new features, the game features new heroes as well. Dre (Andres Bonifacio) and Oryang (Gregoria de Jesus ) will be playable characters as well.


Jump Squad 2

Jump Squad 2 takes a casual game and transforms it into an entertaining and cute experience. Lemuel Bantug and his team’s booth might be some of the more iconic booths in the Indie Fiesta because of the nature of their game. It’s actually a sequel to last year’s Jump Squad. And based on gameplay, it’s much more fun than the first iteration. 

Jump Squad and Jump Squad 2 involves a lot of jumping. A ton of it. Jump Squad 2 is a pet simulation and platformer in one. In the game, players can take care of pets from a variety of cat and dog breeds. Eventually, their chosen pet becomes their avatar in the jumping part of the game. 

The jumping aspect of the game is perhaps the most interesting part of the title. Jump Squad 2 is an endless platformer game, with its vertical levels entirely self-generated. This means none of the levels will be the same, and this adds good replayability to the title. 

“We opted for a vertical platformer because it appears endless,” Bantug said. “Jump Squad 1’s horizontal format makes it seem like there’s a limit to the level.”

And the pets? They appear to be extremely inspired. 

“I have a ton of pets at home. A lot of the cats here are inspired by pets I own,” he said.

When you play Jump Squad 2, tell us who your main is. 

New Offerings From Indie Devs

When we say independent developers, we don’t just talk about people “completely new” in the industry. In ESGS 2019, we’ve met a couple of devs and teams that made new projects for gamers.

BAWS

BAWS is Basically Animals With Swords. That’s it, really. BAWS answers the question, “What will win – cats or dogs?” by letting you settle the debate yourself. As the name suggests, you – as an animal – will take up arms and prove cat or dog supremacy with – or against – your friends. 

Vincent Ortega II, the guy behind Jank-Fu, and Jank Studios teamed up with Miguel Dungan, Joscef Trinidad, and Wendy Gan to make BAWS. And how they came up with the game for their ESGS 2019 booth was as crazy as the game sounds. 

“We originally wanted to make a battle royale with swords,” Ortega said.

“And we also wanted to make a petting game about the cats of DLSU (De La Salle University),” Miguel Dungan added. He noted how DLSU supports a lot of cats on campus. 

And they put two and two together and, well, we now have cats and dogs in armor and holding swords. 

The game takes place in a 2D platforming environment. Players can navigate the area with directional buttons and then slash in any direction with a swipe of their fingers. The game features quite simple controls in a wildly fun and chaotic environment. 

BAWS features the iconic fluid movement in Jank-Fu with the flair of multiplayer. The mobile demo supports 2v2 matches, but the game was can apparently support 4v4 matches. 


Brawl Quest

Brawl Quest takes us to a nostalgia trip with this beat-’em up. Lord Gosingtiao and his colleagues in Thinkbit give gamers a quirky nostalgia trip in this modern beat-’em up. 

Brawl Quest  plays like the usual beat-’em up with special elements. The game allows players to pick one of many characters, all of which based on tropes we’ve encountered in the 80s and 90s. These include mecha heroes, fast food brands, and even characters from artists collaborating with Thinkbit.

Each character has their own set of special attacks and movements that can provide them with a unique battle advantage. Others have lasers, stunning attacks, lunges, and the like as special moves. Characters can also do jump attacks, dash, as well as dodge. 

“Our first version of this game wasn’t even a beat-’em up,” Gosingtiao explained. “We arrived with beat-’em up because it’s one of the most popular genres of gaming today.”

Perhaps the most unique aspect of Brawl Quest is its special feature with local artists. Thinkbit collaborated with various local artists today to have their own characters featured in the game. Gosingtiao said they have plans to feature more artists in the future. 

Games to Express the Self

It’s important to remember that when game developers create games, it’s not always about the money and the fame. A lot of creators actually make games for fun, and most importantly to express themselves. Some creators in ESGS 2019 took it to games to express what they’re feeling to others.

artsybarrels

artsybarrels shows gaming can become a form of self-expression. Her booth appears to be one of the most iconic within ESGS – as instead of presenting a game, she presented several of her works.

Artsybarrels introduced herself as a pixel artist and a game developer. In an interview, artsybarrels shared she’s been doing pixel art for the past two (2) years, with her art being featured in several other projects. Perhaps the highlight of our interview, though, would be her library of game creations. 

“I create short interactive fiction games whenever I want to express myself,” she said. She explained a lot of her games will take gamers through her thinking process, allowing them to understand how she feels in the context of her work. 

Some of the games she’s made are standalone pieces. She also has a series of four (4) interconnected stories. Either way, for artsybarrels, making games has been a way of expressing herself whenever she felt she needed to share her point of view. 

“If you play my games, you’ll know exactly how I feel in certain situations,” she said in Filipino. Artsybarrels proves that while not all of us are “okay,” sometimes sharing our stories and helping find ways for people to understand us better can at least help alleviate some of our worries. 


Himig

Himig takes players to a personal journey of growth and evolution. Arwyn Silva shared Himig is a personal piece that revolves around his own point-of-view on matters of childhood. 

“It’s a personal project for me,” Silva said. “We all sometimes want to be kids again. And now that I’m facing challenges today, sometimes I just want to be a kid again.”

Himig is a fixed-perspective 3D game. You take control of a student exploring various parts of his community. The game currently has accessible areas around a school, where the character can talk to various students and teachers. 

Having been used to the usual horror stories in fixed perspective, Himig is a breath of fresh air. The collaterals in the Himig booth peg it as a chill game, and based on the gameplay it is. The heavy emphasis on memories – as well as pastel and light backgrounds – gives hint to a more story-intensive take on the plot. 

“In the game, the protagonist is running on a clock,” Silva said. “So we need to help him get memories and help him grow into an adult.”

Wanna Make Games? Do Them Quirky!

Not all games have to be serious, and even casual games can have interesting approaches to development. Some creators present at ESGS 2019 presented games that aren’t just fun, but also quirky! These feature interesting mechanics and concepts sure to intrigue gamers.

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God ‘Em

God ‘Em takes godhood to virtual reality. Somewhat. We all interpret local and global issues in many ways. Some want to write essays on the subject, publish commentaries, or even make memes about hot topics in the country. Some creative minds, like Sean Lee and his team used these issues as inspiration for a game. 

God ‘Em takes place in a fictional island that the players, tasked as a deity, will have to defend from invaders. Players will control literal hands of fate via VR, “grab” clouds, and smite the invaders with lightning. Lee and his team used recent global territorial disputes as a springboard for this entertaining VR game.

According to Lee, the main development for God ‘Em took place in the recent Game Jam. In this 3-day event, teams had to build a game based on a specific theme. Lee and his team set out to build a game with “a single control,” and ended up with God ‘Em. Thankfully, Lee and his team have training making VR-based software, and as such, opted for a VR game. 

As a result of the Game Jam, God ‘Em relies solely on the right-hand button of the VR console. Players will have to “pick up” parts of the sky to “throw” lightning to the intruders. Perhaps what makes this game entertaining would be thanks to the cartoony approach to the 3D sprites, which wobble cutesily to their demise. 


Couch Fightato

Cough Fightato takes “fighting for the remote” to new heights. The trio of Dan Liamco, his wife Francine, and his brother-in-law Vaughn took this funny quip and turned it into a fun fighting game. 

At first glance, Couch Fightato seems to have elements from games like Smash and other platformers and beat-’em ups. However, similarities only go as far as the initial aesthetic. Couch Fightato diversifies its genre with a twist to its controls. 

“The concept is simple: four (4) potato siblings are fighting for the remote,” Liamco explained. As the concept suggests, the game supports up to four (4) players. The goal is to take complete control of the television three (3) times. Simple, right? Not quite. 

Players have the ability to move in any direction and stun opponents at the cost of energy. When players take control of the floating TV, they have to drag the TV around long enough for it to charge them. Thing is, other players can stop the process by grabbing the TV away from other players. This transforms every match into a race against time. And the result? Suspenseful but fun matches. 

Liamco explained the game won’t end there, though. Despite the already-appealing cartoonish graphics, Liamco and his team have plans for expansions. 

“We have plans on releasing themes based on TV and film genres and shows,” he told What’s A Geek! in ESGS 2019. “So we’ll get themes on sci-fi, fantasy, and others.”


Ang Ospital

Ang Ospital sets itself apart in Indie Fiesta as one of the few horror titles in the gallery. And Kenneth Mamaril and his team said they still feel overwhelmed by the positive reception their game gathered from fans and critics alike. Based on the gameplay, the praise is well-deserved. 

Mamaril and his peers originally intended Ang Ospital as their graduate thesis. They showcased their game in other conventions because they felt a lack of horror games on a local setting – and they were completely taken aback by positive reception. They appear to get the same impressions in ESGS 2019. 

“We’re still overwhelmed until now,” Mamaril said in Filipino. “We didn’t expect people to notice the game. And we’re very happy they liked it.”

Cheerful demeanor from Mamaril is the total opposite of the game’s theme. Ang Ospital is a psychological-horror game set in a fictional abandoned psychiatric hospital in Baguio City. Kate, the game’s protagonist and a nyctophobic (afraid of the dark), has been dragged by her friends into a ghost-hunting session in the said abandoned psychiatric hospital. And as all horror stories go, things become awry. 

Kate, armed with her trusty flashlight, has to solve puzzles in order to leave the psychiatric hospital in one piece. And she has to avoid its many denizens, most of which appear to have a penchant for murder. 

The gameplay itself seems very smooth, and the graphics seem realistic. The lapses in the demo version are a given, due to its nature as a project. And Mamaril and his peers already have plans on the matter. 

“We plan on starting from scratch because we didn’t have a lot of time developing this game,” he explained. 

Take Interesting Concepts, Gameplay Together

Games often make a mark to gamers and players because of the impact they make. And a lot of times, games don’t necessarily have to be too “on the nose” when they want to send messages to gamers. In ESGS 2019, some games from indie developers take this route.

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Surat

Surat takes a unique approach to teaching gamers and players on ancient Philippine writing scripts aside from Baybayin. It’s a fun and perplexing 3D puzzle platformer that both entertains and educates gamers about the alinuop (?) script. 

It helps to realize as early as now that a ton of ancient Filipino writing scripts existed among our many tribes and peoples across the archipelago. It’s the lack of use and preservation that put these scripts at risk of disappearing forever. Nic Arganda and his team took it upon themselves to make a game about another ancient writing script as a means of preserving it for future generations. 

Surat takes place in the ancient ruins of a Mangyan civilization, which the player – an architect – will have to explore. The 3D puzzle platformer plays a lot like classic platformers, with a lot of gameplay features to keep the experience fresh and entertaining. 

Puzzles range from carrying symbols to certain locations, decoding words, and linking symbols. If the game didn’t feature any local script, it would play like your usual Tomb Raider. Surat spices things up by using these puzzles to keep on helping players remember what symbols of the writing system are. 


The Hottest Dog

The Hottest Dog takes a literal spin on this funny quip. No, it’s not about the best-looking canine. It’s literally about becoming the best hotdog. Although for Gelo Ventenilla perhaps the most important lesson lies in the game’s theme: trusting the process. 

Ventenilla and his team created The Hottest Dog as part of their thesis. And Ventenilla said a huge inspiration for their chosen theme lies in our current approach to discipline and growth. 

“We want to focus on ‘trusting the process’ and ‘following the rules’ because rules exist for a reason,” he said. “They might be hard to follow, and we might be tempted to take shortcuts, but the process is there to help us grow.”

In The Hottest Dog, players control Frank, a “piece of extra meat” that aspires to be “the Hottest Dog.” The game itself is a puzzle platformer, where Frank can spin to defeat obstacles and turn into a meatball to traverse small spaces. 

Frank needs to collect spices and “transform” into new kinds of meat via machines in order to fully become the Hottest Dog. Ventenilla added this is a crucial part of the game. We found ourselves stuck in a part of the demo, just after taking the shortcut.

“Did you take the shortcut?” he asked. “If you have, then you missed a part of the game that transforms you (Frank) into a new kind of meat. He needs to become that first before you proceed.”

Again, trust the process. Ventenilla expands on his application of the game philosophy. 

“You might have been tempted to take the shortcut. However, by doing so, you can miss important parts of the game. That’s the same as in real life.”


Entry Level

Entry Level shows the harsh but rewarding nature of “adulting” after college. In this thesis piece, Justin Joyas and his peers approached the idea of “leveling up” after graduation with a side-scroller. 

The game lets players control a protagonist who had just been accepted as an entry-level employee in a company. Players have to slowly rise through the company’s ranks by traversing the company building. And in true side-scrolling action, the protagonist won’t be in charge of coffee runs. Rather, they have to get past through spikes, spinning blades, and other hazards.

Joyas and his team didn’t give players too much of a disadvantage, though. Players can double jump and dash in any direction. They can dash twice, provided they use two (2) different directions. As such, the game appears very accessible… but also requires a bit of technical mastery. Rhenn of What’s A Geek! took almost a minute just analyzing a puzzle – but then again that’s Rhenn and he’s a very noob player. 

“As you’ve noticed, the game gets harder the more you progress, like when you enter the real world after graduation,” Joyas said. “The game gets harder every level, but it rewards you as well.”

ESGS 2019: Games To Spark Change

If there’s anything games in this year’s ESGS 2019 prove, it’s that games can be used as a tool to spark and motivate change. Gone are the times when people see games just as a form of entertainment. Local game devs and creators have proven this year – and in previous ESGSs – that video games can indeed be a way to send messages, inspire change, and motivate people into positive action.

Granted, a lot of the games this year do fall on various categories of wacky, cute, and entertaining. However, what we’ve seen is that at the very core of these games are devs succeeding in transforming otherwise traditional approaches to games into more entertaining pieces. What games in this year’s ESGS 2019 piqued your interest? Let us know in the comments! 

 

 

 

 

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Rhenn Taguiam
Rhenn Taguiam
Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.
Rhenn Taguiam

Rhenn Taguiam

Rhenn Taguiam is a frustrated journalist with a knack for comic books and video games. He likes pizza and pasta, and has an uncontrollable urge to gush over anything Super Sentai, Star Trek or X-Men. He is currently on his way to get his Master's Degree - unless he creates his own video game or graphic novel first.

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