November 13, 2016

Andreas Betsche

Jermania, Indonesian Game Development and the Developer’s Dreams: Interview with Nightspade from Indonesia

November 13, 2016 | Andreas Betsche

Every year, a game jam called “Play Lab” takes place at the Play16 Festival for Creative Gaming in Hamburg, Germany. This year was special, because for the first time the participants came from all over the world to develop a game together during the festival. This was where I met Teddy Pandu Wirawan (Teddy) and Garybaldy Wibowo Mukti (Gerry), two Indonesian game developers who were invited to participate in the Play Lab with support from the German Foreign Ministry. We sat down to have a little talk about their current project, game development in Indonesia and of course, the game jam.

Teddy and Gerry in front of the Play Lab tent.

“People like to wear weird costumes in the subway” – German daily life in a game

Both being the founders of Nightspade, a mobile game studio located in Bandung, they explained to me that they are currently working on a mobile game in collaboration with the Goethe Institut. This game will be called “Jermania”, meaning “Germany” in Bahasa Indonesia. Teddy explained the concept as follows:

Teddy: “The Goethe Institut and the Foreign Ministry want to introduce German culture to the Indonesian audience. And their first target are teenagers. So, they want to use a more popular way to introduce it.”

The idea for the game came up during a workshop held in Indonesia. Together with two German Developers (Linda Kruse from The Good Evil and Moritz Lehr from Kunst-Stoff) they did some brainstorming and asked a target group of Indonesian teenagers about what interests them most about Germany:

Teddy: “From the initial workshop, we know that the audience wants to know more about buildings. The mix between classical and modern buildings. As well as the food and transportation in Germany.”

Map view Jermania
Travelling Germany the easy way: Jermania’s map view (work in progress).

The game will depict several cities in Germany, such as Cologne, Berlin or Freiburg. Players can explore those cities, where they take and collect pictures of landmark buildings in 2D side-scrolling environments. Additionally, every city will feature some related mini-games such as making kebabs (Döner), matching love locks or looking for hidden objects in Cologne’s Museums. Doing activities allows the player to earn coins to unlock new buildings, games and cities. Using two different perspectives called map view and city view, players will have the opportunity to explore the urban side of Germany. Neither Teddy nor Gerry have been to Germany before. That’s where the German developers come into action, as they provide all the background information and pictures so that the two Indonesians can fully concentrate on developing the game.

Taking a tour through Berlin in ‘Jermania’ (work in progress).

Currently, “Jermania” is still in development. There are plans to add up to 10 cities and corresponding mini-games. They want to release the game by March 2017 and it will be completely free to download and play.

“Instead of competition we should collaborate.”  – Indonesian developer scene

Animal Pirates
Nightspade’s last game is a free-to-play puzzler for Android called “Animal Pirates”.

The Indonesian games market scene has grown in recent years and is the biggest market in the whole Southeast Asian region when it comes to population. I asked the founders of Nightspade for their personal assessment of the still young Indonesian game developer scene. They explained to me that most game studios in the region are so called indie developers with only a handful of staff. Also, it is not easy to become a games company in Indonesia with bureaucracy getting in the way:

Gerry: “There are a lot of things to do if you register as a company in Indonesia. Most of the Indonesian game developers publish their games for the international market, not for the Indonesian market only.”

One of the biggest problems in the region is the fact that most people don’t own credit cards which are necessary for micro-transactions in free-to-play games:

Gerry: “Because of the cultural ecosystem in Indonesia, they don’t pay much for games. We prefer to put adds in the games to create more revenue for the game developers.”

Therefore, most game creators do not produce their games for the local market as most income is generated outside of Southeast Asia. But with the rising importance of smartphones, Gerry sees the possibility of change:

Gerry: “I think that most of our revenue, more than 90 % comes from outside Indonesia. Maybe because, the time for smartphones has just begun in Indonesia. Until 2013 the people used only Blackberry and Nokia phones. Starting in 2014 there are more cheap phones for just a hundred Euro.”

Most games in Indonesia are produced for mobile devices, especially for Android platforms. But there are also quite a lot of games for Steam (PC) or Kongregate’s casual gaming platform. I wondered why making games for consoles isn’t a thing in Indonesia now. The answer was astonishingly simple:

Teddy: “If you want the SDK (Software Development Kit) you must go to Singapore, where it will be sent and then you must get it back in to Indonesia. The importing laws and customs are crazy.”

But obstacles like these don’t stop Indonesian game developers from moving on. Also,the government’s stance on promoting game development might change in the future, as neighbouring countries Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines have shown. In the meantime, Indonesian developers are building a strong community and helping each other to mitigate the hindrances:

Gerry: “We share knowledge and want to grow together instead of becoming competitors. Even a lot of game studios works together on the same game. Even sometimes we had an exchange of staff.”

Traditional Indonesian games – The dev’s dream

As most games developed in Indonesia aim for a global market, the developers often decide to use generic or western themes for their games. Although this might be a wise decision from an economic point of view, I sometimes wish they would take advantage of their knowledge of local cultures to make more diversified games and stand out from the crowd of globalized gaming. So, as a final question, I asked what part of Indonesian culture (I know, that’s a very broad field) they would like to transform into a video game. They ultimately came up with ideas to make digital versions of actual traditional physical games played on festive days:

Teddy: “I think I would come up with an Indonesian traditional game. I used to play ‘Gobak Sodor’, it could be translated as ‘The Blockade’.”

Gerry’s ideas go even further. One could imagine a game depicting traditional Indonesian game competitions in the style of the Olympics:

“In Indonesia, we have a tradition called ‘17 Agustus’, the translation would be ‘August 17th’. It’s the Indonesian Independence Day and at that day, we have many kinds of events and competitions. And all of them are mostly physical games. Like you need to balance a marble on a spoon that you hold in your mouth and go from start to finish as fast as possible. There are also sack races.”

Seeing the enthusiasm in their eyes while speaking about their dream games gives some hope that in the future we might see more games with a “Indonesian” touch.

Tube Men and Dark Rituals – The Game Jam

Play Lab
Serious game development: participants of the Play16 Play Lab.

Now, let’s finally look at the results of the Game Jam, the original reason for Gerry and Teddy to come to Germany. Unfortunately, as I had to leave early I could not see the results of the Play 16 Game Lab in Hamburg. But Teddy told me that it was an utter success and that they had a great time in the Game Lab. This first international game jam produced not only one but two games. The first one is called “Whacky Tube Man” and involves creative use of the Kinect camera and inflating “Tube Men”. The second game holds the name “Dark Lord Summoner”. And it sounds so crazy fun that I better let Teddy explain it:

Teddy: “In this game, we need 13 players and make them do some rituals to summon the Dark Lord. We made an installation in the dark room (the room with a black wall in the centre of the exhibition room at Kunsthaus). In this game, we use a smartphone as a controller for the Dark Lord’s eye movement, SFX, BGM, and a volume. We also have a voice actor who acts as the Dark Lord. So, the players will get the illusion that they interact with a pre-programmed character in the game. But in fact, we control all of those from the tent!”

Seems like this international gathering was a real triumph and I hope that creators of the festival will continue inviting game developers from Southeast Asia.

Andreas Betsche

Andreas Betsche founded Virtual SEA in early 2016 after researching Cambodian mobile games for his Master’s thesis. He has a background in Southeast Asia studies and has worked and lived in Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia. Since he has been actively playing games since the early 90s, combing both worlds in Virtual SEA brought together both of his passions.

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