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Take A Look At This Filipino-Themed Role-Playing Video Game

The millennial creator behind “Balete City” is raising funds for its development.
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Twenty-seven-year-old game creator Niley Bacolcol has one vision: to create a 3D world that shouts "Philippines!" from its concept, to its sound effects, to its graphics.

So when he finally had the time and resources, he started his passion project, Balete City: The Video Game, a one-of-a-kind Filipino-themed 3D fantasy game that’s based on Philippine culture, beliefs, and mythology.

“I had the chance to work with the T’boli group for my undergraduate thesis; I was exposed to the vast and wonderful world of the tribe’s spirits, beliefs, and mythology. From there, a fire to discover more sparked inside my heart,” Bacolcol told Esquire Philippines.

IMAGE: Balete City: The Video Game
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Bacolcol graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree from the University of the Philippines Baguio, which may explain his interest in the indigenous culture in the country. (U.P. Baguio has a research arm dedicated to the preservation of cultural traditions, particularly in Northern Luzon.)

“As I dove deep into the rich culture, I was saddened by the fact that these beautiful stories and magnificent characters were almost forgotten or practically unheard of to most Filipinos. Years went by before I found a chance to start a project that could help promote these forgotten beliefs to the general public,” he added.

Two years ago, when Bacolcol felt confident enough about his artistic skills, he started devoting his free time to the Balete project. He first worked on Balete High, a digital graphic novel that follows the same themes of Philippine folklore and mythology as the Balete City game. Both worlds are filled with the likes of engkantoengkantada, and babaylan. He uploaded the first chapter in June last year.

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IMAGE: Balete City: The Video Game

“After learning necessary skills in game development, I then turned this story into an RPG game,” he said. 

The Balete City core development team is composed of just five professionals, including Bacolcol and Geordane Tabo-oy, the game's head of concepts and ideas. But Bacolcol has also opened his passion project to crowdsourcing and since then, several other interested Filipino artists and developers have joined the crew and contributed their skills.

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Now it has become a crowdsourced initiative that aims to collaborate with local cultural groups “to promote, educate, and preserve our fading or forgotten roots,” Bacolcol said.

A One-of-a-Kind Filipino Role-Playing Game

While there have been other games made by Filipino developers before, such as the famous Anito: Defend a Land Enraged, an RPG released in 2003 for Microsoft Windows; Tanggal, a short first-person game; and Tales of Aswang, a VR game exploring the country’s mythological creatures, what sets Balete City apart is the integration of Philippine mythology into its gameplay, characters, settings, and design. It is also a 3D third-person, quest-based RPG set in an open world.

“We do not claim to be the very first; only our RPG game is Pinoy-made (everyone on the team are Filipinos!), Pinoy-based (set locally in a rural town here in the Philippines),” he explained, adding that Anito and other games indeed laid the foundation for the popularity of Filipino-themed video games in the country.

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Bacolcol is also proud to share that the game runs on Unreal Engine 4, which he calls “one of the top-notch game engines available in the world." It was developed by Epic Games, the creator of Fortnite Battle Royale and Unreal series.

The most challenging part, however, is figuring out how to make everything work. Since Bacolcol has a Fine Arts background, he found programming and the creation of the 3D world both complicated and tedious. “One mistake can lead to appropriation, which is our biggest fear. So we plan to collaborate with our indigenous groups in order to learn more about these cultures that would serve as inspiration and influence to our work,” he added.

Early popularity

Although still in its infancy stage, the game has already gained traction on social media. Its official Facebook page already garnered over 4,000 likes since its creation in early March.

But aside from fans and supporters, what Balete City needs most is funding. Bacolcol recently opened a Patreon account to raise money, especially since they are striving to be a self-sustaining, crowdfunded, and crowdsourced organization

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“I find it harder to plan for this project to succeed in terms of finances, management, logistics and the business side of things,” he admitted. So far, the millennial game creator shared that they have reached at least five percent of their funding goal.

IMAGE: Balete City: The Video Game
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“Honestly, we need millions to finish everything; of course, we are talking in dollars. Having no investors will make our development slow,” he said.

But he clarified that, while it is not easy to get funding, the team is very careful in making sure the project stays true to its vision. “We don’t want our passion project to be negatively influenced by investors,” he said.

It would take at least another three years before we get to experience Balete City in full action, but Bacolcol assures that these years will be put into proper game development. The team is currently planning to release the game on PC and consoles and is yet to decide if it will also put the game out on other platforms because of licensing and budgeting concerns.

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About The Author
Pauline Macaraeg
Esquire Philippines
Pauline is Esquire Philippines’ data journalist. Follow her on Twitter @paulinemacaraeg.
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