This 19-year-old game developer just won a CCP grant, thanks to her field trip-inspired mobile game

What were you doing when you were 19?

When most kids barely knew what college degree they should pursue, Audrey Stinson is already pursuing her dream career: game development.

“As a child, I created games without even knowing what a ‘game developer’ was,” Stinson tells us. “I would make games through apps that allow you to make games without any code. They were usually simple platformers with some dialog, but I had a lot of fun making them. I guess the interest has always was there.

Fresh out of high school, Stinson has already become one of the recipients of the first-ever Cultural Center of the Philippines (CCP) Game Development Grant for her free-to-play mobile game Galà.

“The day CCP announced the Game Development Scholarship winners was actually the day I graduated from high school. In the morning I graduated from high school and before the end of the day, I was a CCP scholarship holder”, explains the young game developer who is about to take a degree in computer science.

Galà is the first commercial project from the Philippine independent game development company Kendikorp, of which Stinson is the founder and director. (Fun fact: this is a one-person operation!)

“I’ve gotten used to developing games solo, but for Galà I’m working with freelancers to handle research and marketing. On the development side, however, it’s just me,” she reveals .

This field trip-inspired game aims to “expose rather than educate” casual (and core) gamers to the different regions, historical sites, and hidden gems of the Philippines through a virtual field trip. It will feature cultural artifacts like the kubing, a jew’s harp found in Muslim Mindanao, and myths like the Bakunawa, a serpent-like dragon that is said to have swallowed the moon.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28dYjfKMUX8

At the time of writing, the game is still in its early stages – its first prototype release – but overall gameplay concepts are finalized. Additionally, Stinson already has a “rough schedule” of upcoming (and exciting) events such as trailer releases.

So, for this week’s Seen on Scout, we had a quick chat with the incoming college student about Galà, her creative process, and what it means to be an independent game developer in the Philippines.

How did your interest in game development come about? Can you mention any games you played growing up that sparked your interest?

Growing up I had a DS which introduced me to many iconic characters like Kirby and Mario. The retro aesthetic, in particular, really sparked my interest in gaming.

Game development combines many creative mediums that I love, such as playing the piano, doodling characters, writing stories, and writing code.

Growing up I had a DS which introduced me to many iconic characters like Kirby and Mario. The retro aesthetic, in particular, really sparked my interest in gaming. [But] the first game that really immersed me in its world was Danganronpa! It really showed me how impactful the games were – how much the connection [they] can be formed with [the] players.

Recently, some games that really inspire me include indie games like Omori and Baba Is You.

We heard you just graduated from high school. Congratulations! As an aspiring young game developer, what made you decide to submit your pitch to the CCP grant program? Were you a bit hesitant to know that more experienced developers could also submit their own?

To be honest, the money got away from me. Since I was also starting college, I thought it might help with tuition. Another thing is [that] I realize that indie game developers can struggle to make money. If I was to start my game development journey, I had to seize the opportunity. If I didn’t at least try, I would definitely regret it for the rest of my life.

I thought to myself, “Even if there are more experienced developers, it’s still worth a try!”

I knew there would be experienced developers, but I was mostly focused on forming a good concept.

There were two things that helped ease this worry. The fact that there was an “indie” category reassured me because it meant that the CCP was open to developers with limited budgets and small teams. Second, they held an orientation to discuss the grant and emphasized that it was open to developers of any level of experience. Participating in this gave me a better perspective on the scale of the game to be created.

I thought to myself, “Even if there are more experienced developers, it’s still worth a try!”

Walk us through the smallest details of Galà. How did you find the concept and what do you think is its relevance in the current context?

During the CCP grant orientation Luna Javier, co-founder of Altitude Games, told us about Jan-Jan the Jeepney which was supposed to be an educational game that allowed children to experience different places in the Philippines. I liked the jeepney element.

The last thing I want my game to be is another stressor on their list of assignments.

The field trip [or] The road trip theme was also inspired by my own personal experience. I really enjoyed going on school trips and road trips with my family.

Also, students are having a hard time right now. There’s Zoom fatigue, slow internet, and piling up homework. Back at school, every time I looked at my “This week” homework list, I was already feeling so stressed, even before I did anything. The last thing I want my game to be is another stressor on their list of assignments.

In fact, one of the main goals of my game is to provide a relaxing experience away from the responsibilities of life.

When you say Galà’s goal is “to exhibit rather than educate”, what exactly do you mean by that?

I believe video games should be used to introduce concepts rather than fully explain them.

I believe video games should be used to introduce concepts rather than fully explain them. In my experience, it’s harder to retain information if I’m just reading it from a module. Through my game, I want to introduce notions of culture and history with the primary aim of arousing the interest of players.

However, gamified education is a whole other topic. Galà is not intended to be an “educational game”, but rather an adventure [or] exploration game about Filipino culture.

What is the hardest part of the process? How did you get through or get through that?

Right now, I think the hardest part is finding the balance between marketing and actually developing the game. Video game marketing is a whole different area. The way to handle both would be to either split my time or have someone else do the marketing. I did the latter.

Conceptualizing the final game was also surprisingly difficult! I had about 20 gameplay concepts before landing on my last one. Often, I had ideas that were way too ambitious for six months.

Identifying Galà’s main focus and constantly reducing functionality is how I got away with it. Just asking for feedback was also very helpful.

Do you plan to develop a new game after the launch of Galà?

100%. I have many future plans as Kendikorp in the years to come. My journey has just begun! For now, however, I am attached to Galà.

How different were your expectations from the realities of game development?

Before I learned game development, I thought that studios and indie developers made a lot of money, which is probably why they made games. I used the very popular indie games as a reference, but these only represent about 2% of all games available.

Now, when I got into game development, I realized that these developers make games because they really like them. They are passionate and truly believe in the impact of the video game medium.

For you, how important are grants (or support from established groups in general) to organizations, especially independent ones like Kendikorp?

Incredibly important. There is the monetary side which pays for platform fees, advertising, assets, etc. Then there’s also the support to get the word out to more people. Being a renowned institution, the CCP has a wide reach.

Most importantly, the Philippine game development industry is finally getting national recognition through this grant, especially since this is the first-ever game development grant supported by the Philippine government. Hopefully it won’t be the last.

Emerging sectors such as game development benefit from a lot of subsidies in order to become more competitive on an international scale. In other countries, gambling has already long been established as a very lucrative industry, generating millions of jobs.

The existence of grants like these is like saying, “It’s also possible for the Philippines. Similar to a scholarship, grants encourage people to pursue their dreams with the support of established institutions. Fingers crossed for more game development grants in the future!

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