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Women-led showcase Videogames by Indie Dev Girlies puts Pinay indie game developers in the spotlight

MANILA, PHILIPPINES — There have been many indie games over the years that have achieved fame and glory, some even outpacing big-name AAA studios. However, something like that has yet to come from Filipinos. While it may not be the solution just yet, a recent event may have been a small step in the right direction. Organized by creative director and illustrator Rob Cham and independent game developer Mellowminx, Videogames by Indie Dev Girlies brought forward the idea of creating safe spaces for female developers at Space63 at Comuna, Makati City, on May 26. 

According to Rob, the event was organized to promote art that “wasn’t in galleries,” especially video games. “Video games are also a very cool art form, and I’m so excited to see what local creators are able to make,” he said.

He and his frequent creative collaborator, Apol Sta. Maria, hosted a takeover of Studio63 throughout May, celebrating Filipino art in unconventional ways during the month-long May Art Month. At one of these events, Mellowminx approached him with the idea for a female-led gathering of indie game developers.

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For Mellowminx, the event was set up to boost female voices and experiences in the game design industry, especially since most video game events tend to be male-dominated, focusing on competition and esports. 

“I was kind of looking for a more sort of chill and girly space for gamers and game developers, and because I know other women and developers locally, I wanted to have a space for us,” she shared. 

Videogames by Indie Dev Girlies featured several indie developers whose games were set up on computers free for anyone to try out. Upon entering, guests were greeted by Kelsie Regine Reyes, the developer of Pluck & Brew, who would give them a small sheet listing every game being shown at the event. 

Guests could have the developers sign this sheet, and if they got every developer’s signature, they would be rewarded with a free sticker. Guests could try out the games on display, as well as talk to the developers themselves about their work and experiences. 

This is exactly what I did. I played four of the seven games being demoed (and enjoyed them greatly) and interviewed their creators, and this is what they had to share:

“Bardic: Quest for Love”

Indie Dev Girlies puts Pinay indie game developers 2024 Bardic

The first game I thought to try out was Bardic: Quest for Love, by Breadwork Games, with Bee Sarmiento presenting at the event. 

The game is described by Bee as a combination of a romantic visual novel and a management simulator. It is set in the city of Deepharbor, where you control either Edmond or Edna, twins who have inherited their father’s tavern, the Ready Bready Tavern. This is where the management elements come in, as the twins must recruit allies from all over the city to help around the tavern. You can also romance any one of them, no matter which twin you play as. 

“I’m really into Dungeons & Dragons, like the tabletop RPG,” Bee said, when asked about what inspired Bardic. “I just loved playing it so much that I wanted to make a dating sim out of it, yeah.” 

Bee served as lead programmer on Bardic, as well as Creative Director. The game is available on Steam for PHP 485, with a free demo version. An art book containing concept art and production notes is also available on Bardic’s Steam page for PHP 239.95, with copies being sold at Videogames by Indie Dev Girlies for PHP 100. 

The game immediately took me by the art style and charming voice acting, and I enjoyed the management elements (even though I’m normally bad at management simulators) almost as much as I did the worldbuilding and story. If you’re into fantasy settings, quirky characters, and dating sims, definitely give this game a spin.

“Pluck & Brew: A Potion Making Game”

Indie Dev Girlies puts Pinay indie game developers 2024 P&B

The next game I tried was Pluck & Brew: A Potion Making Game, by Kelsie Regine Reyes, known on indie game marketplace Itch.io as Nalshira Games

Players take control of a mage-in-training, who runs a potion shop out of her caravan. You sell potions to various customers and brew these potions by completing different pattern-based puzzles to mix together the ingredients (if you even have them, as you have the option to send customers away if you don’t). This is the only programmed feature so far, as the game is currently in its demo state. 

“Currently, the demo has one coded feature, which is the selling and the brewing,” said Kelsie. “But in the future, I’m hoping to add a traveling mechanic where you get to travel from location to location, where you can forage ingredients and basically set up shop in areas, and there’s the foraging mechanic where you have to be careful about overharvesting, getting too many ingredients from one area.” 

“I always liked cooking and management games,” she continued. “Ever since I was a child, I liked playing games like Diner Dash, and I really liked this mobile game called Cooking Craze. Something that I wanted more of from the games that they didn’t give me was that I couldn’t get to know my customers. That’s also another thing I have planned for the game, where all of the named characters, you can form a relationship with them as you travel through the land.”

Pluck & Brew’s demo is available on Itch.io as a browser game. 

The concept of a potion-brewing game caught my eye immediately, and boy, was it worth it. The simplistic pattern puzzles proved surprisingly challenging when I had to match up to the required symbols. What I liked most about this game is that Kelsie’s desire to connect with her customers, which she longed for in other cooking games, is made clear here, as the customers have distinct designs, speaking patterns, and needs, not only informing you of their required potions but also their personalities. 

If you enjoy cooking and puzzles and are into the “cottagecore” aesthetic, then this game is the one for you. 

“Miranda’s Retail Rebellion” and “Lucky You? Bancit Kantunan”

Indie Dev Girlies puts Pinay indie game developers 2024 Retail

Both of these games were made by the last two developers I spoke to at the event, Dara Mendez and Nissie Arcega, who worked as partners and were presenting on behalf of their development team.

In Miranda’s Retail Rebellion, you take control of a teenage girl — the titular Miranda — as she applies for a new job at an unnamed store. 

And this is where the “rebellion” part comes in. Described by the two presenters as an “anti-management simulator,” the player’s goal is to sabotage the store by deliberately ruining operations (throwing stuff off the shelves, breaking the cash register, wrinkling and tossing clothes, etc.), all while a studious coworker runs around trying to fix these mistakes. Your goal is to cause the store to lose as much profit as humanly possible by the end of the day. 

“We made that project during a game jam,” Dara shared. “It was a women’s game jam that was hosted by […] an organization that supports women in game design. One of the prompts was ‘management’, so that’s the idea our game designers thought of. Nissie’s one of the game designers for that, and I personally did background art.”

In Bancit Kantunan, you play as an unnamed, gender-ambiguous student at “UB” (playfully based off of the University of the Philippines). Your goal is to secure a date to an upcoming student fair from among the game’s various love interests. 

This would be your run-of-the-mill romcom dating sim, if not for the fact that each love interest is seen as a package of Lucky You! (Lucky Me) Pancit Canton. For instance, Xander is represented by a pack of Hot n’ Spicy, while Chris is a pack of Chilimansi with glasses. Only by completing their respective routes do you get to see hand-drawn photographs of the boys as actual humans. 

Indie Dev Girlies puts Pinay indie game developers 2024 Bancit

“We started this back in the pandemic,” Dara said. “We’re both from UP, and we were sort of reminiscing about university life.” 

I tried Retail Rebellion first, and while I liked the art style and found the concept hilarious, it was too challenging from the third day onwards. Maybe it’s just because I was too slow and didn’t notice things quickly enough, but still, it was a fun game. 

When I tried Bancit Kantunan, I found the concept even funnier than Retail Rebellion. What really shined, though, was the many references to UP life and student culture, with details here and there like the many street food stalls, as well as the floating park. 

Miranda’s Retail Rebellion and Lucky You? Bancit Kantunan are available on Itch.io for free. 

From what was displayed at the showcase, it’s easy to have nothing but optimism for the Pinoy indie game scene. Videogames by Indie Dev Girlies left me with a smile on my face and hope in my heart that local developers will only get better and more creative as time goes on, especially when given safe spaces to showcase what they can do. 

And that someday, one of us may even make their mark on video game history, ascending to join the likes of Toby Fox (Undertale) and Omocat (Omori). 

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