Spotlight On Southeast Asian Indie Game Development: Kabaret, Rendezvous & Coffee Talk Episode 2

The Southeast Asian indie gaming scene is growing to become one of the most vibrant and creative industries in the region, and we recently had the pleasure of speaking to a few studios that released new titles this year; each with their own infusion of uniquely Asian culture, stories, and art styles.

Kabaret, developed by Persona Theory Games in Malaysia, is a dark fantasy folklore visual novel about a cursed boy who is uprooted from his small town to a mystical and unforgiving monster realm.

Rendezvous, developed by Pendopo Studio in Indonesia, is a puzzle-adventure game following a former criminal agent turned security technician who must return to the streets of Neo-Surabaya in order to save his sister from a dangerous fate.

Coffee Talk Episode 2: Hibiscus & Butterfly, developed by Toge Productions in Indonesia, is the second episode of the much loved coffee brewing and heart-to-heart talking simulator featuring new characters, stories, and warm drinks.

Could you briefly introduce who you are, and what role you played in the making of Kabaret?

Saqina, Persona Theory Games: My name is Saqina, I’m the co-founder, Managing Director and Producer of Persona Theory Games and all our games in the studio, including our new game, Kabaret.

For a game as strongly Southeast Asian as Kabaret, did you face any challenges in adapting and representing SEA culture through the video game medium?

Saqina, Persona Theory Games: Not really – we drew inspiration from games like Never Alone when representing culture. Games like Never Alone, and even Guacamelee! really showed us that telling our stories through games is really a great medium to share with the players and the world.

Could you briefly introduce who you are, and what role you played in the making of Rendezvous?

MT Akbar, Pendopo Studio: I’m MT Akbar, the Game and Art Director for Rendezvous. I’m an aspiring 2D artist, and love to draw, perhaps gaming a little bit.

As Pendopo Studio’s first game, what inspired Rendezvous’ futuristic detective story and the setting of Neo-Surabaya?

MT Akbar, Pendopo Studio: Rendezvous was inspired by cyberpunk movies, anime, and games like Ghost in the Shell, Blade Runner, and The Last Night. We don’t want to just make a gun-blazing game with a cyberpunk setting. We felt that a detective or noir story about families fit perfectly with the Neo-Surabaya backdrop. With the said setting we also want to imagine how cyberpunk media sets in a Southeast Asian city.

Could you briefly introduce who you are, and what role you played in the making of Coffee Talk Episode 2?

Aulia, Toge Productions: Hello! My name is Aulia Rahmat, or Aul for short. Although my official title in Toge Productions is Human Resource Manager, I helped in the making of Coffee Talk Episode 2 as a Supporting Writer. I wrote the Evening Whisper Short Stories (ones you can find in the in-game phone app) and I wrote the tweet-like Tomodachill of all the characters in Coffee Talk Episode 2.

Were there any challenges in creating a sequel for Coffee Talk, especially after the success of the first game in the region and beyond?

Aulia, Toge Productions: Like any sequels, the challenges and pressures were present since the bar had been set by the predecessor of the game itself. Coffee Talk found itself close to the hearts of many fans across the globe, and since none of the writers of Coffee Talk Episode 2 were there in the making of the first one, first we had to grasp the essence of what made the narrative of Coffee Talk so endearing to its fans, and expand that essence into something familiar to the fans, and at the same time appealing to gamers who never heard of the franchise.

To me personally, it was hard since the main writer of Coffee Talk, Fahmi, has already left us in this world, so I can only guess if Fahmi would approve of the final writings in the game. There are many parts of the writing I wish I could discuss with him, stuff like “do you think Hyde would say something like this on the internet?” or “Was this short too depressing to be put on the Evening Whispers?” and more questions like that.

Hopefully, one of the angels in heaven could bring him a copy of Coffee Talk Episode 2, and he would be smiling as he plays the game, knowing that his legacy moves forward, and is still loved by many.

When it comes to international appeal, do you think it’s more important to be relatable or accurate when it comes to representing SEA culture in games?

Saqina, Persona Theory Games: It comes down to what your intentions are as a game developer, I don’t think there’s a right answer to this. Both can go really right or really wrong. As an indie, I think it’s important to be aware of your intentions of making a game.

MT Akbar, Pendopo Studio: Absolutely! We want to bring authentic SEA culture to the international players since we feel Southeast Asia is somehow underrepresented in media.

Aulia, Toge Productions: What I learned from working with other writers on the game, it is more about finding that fine line between the two. We don’t want to just shove our cultural representation blatantly in the game, but rather, we want to sprinkle something about our culture in a manner that would entice fans to want to know more about our culture. 

For example, in the game, rather than putting a full wiki article long explanation of what STMJ (the Indonesian warm energy drink) is, the explanation is casually mentioned by the barista to the curious customer who ordered the drink. So like the old saying goes, ‘show, don’t tell’.

What are your thoughts on awareness towards local-made games in your country?

Saqina, Persona Theory Games: It’s surprisingly still quite low, but it’s starting. We still get new followers on our TikTok and some comments will be like – I can’t believe this is a Malaysian made game! It’s nice, but we really need to share more awareness of locally made games, because the ecosystem is growing and thriving!

MT Akbar, Pendopo Studio: For the last few years, games made in Indonesia are increasingly known globally. Local players have also been supportive in the last few years, even more with some Indonesian influencers playing locally-made games.

Aulia, Toge Productions: I think right now, local-made games from Indonesia are greater than ever! When I was in school, it felt like I could count the Indonesian games that made it to the global market with one hand, but now it feels like more and more Indonesian games are being played and recognized around the world. Hopefully it will only grow even further from now on.

Also, what really warms my heart is the fact that local video games are now more respected inside Indonesia itself. When I first joined Toge Productions, everytime we joined local conventions, it was very rare to see people who recognise us as a game developer. Now, the last time we opened a booth in local events, people would actually come to our booth cosplaying as the character in the game we made and published, and it was a very great feeling to see that our country also recognised us, and the products we create.

What are other Southeast Asian games that our readers should check out?

Saqina, Persona Theory Games: There are so many! Coffee Talk 1 and 2 are definitely on top of that list. Rendezvous by Pendopo Studios is great, it’s set in a futuristic Indonesia, do check that out if you’re looking for a short game. We recently played Lovebirb by Anonymous Penguin on stream and it’s been a blast!

We even did a little collab with them and we have a Garuda lovebirb drawn by the lovely devs. Other honorable mentions include The Library of Babel, A Taste of The Past, The Sun Shines Over Us, and so many more! This list could be the start of your journey in trying out all sorts of amazing indies from SEA devs.

MT Akbar, Pendopo Studio: A Space For the Unbound, Coffee Talk, Faerie Afterlight, Sunset Satelite, Kabaret, KISS, Knight vs Giants, Hello Goodboy, Troublemaker, and the list goes on. Also, I want to shout out to the Pendopo team, Indonesian, and SEA devs, you’re doing great all!

Aulia, Toge Productions: Right now, I’m playing ‘A Space for the Unbound’ made by Mojiken which Toge helped publish, because even before I joined Toge Productions, I was already a fan of Mojiken Studio since they made ‘When the Past was Around’. I also still play ‘Potion Permit’ by MassHive Media on my Switch  from time to time because I love the potion making in the game, and the vibe of the game in general.

On my phone, I play the game “The Sun Shines over Us” by Eternal Dream Studio because I really respect the themes they are bringing to the game. Also, I have ‘Knight vs Giant’ by Gambir Studio and ‘Hello Goodboy’ by Rolling Glory Jam on my Steam wishlist, and I really can’t wait for those games to be released!

Follow Persona Theory Games, Pendopo Studio, and Toge Productions on Twitter for more news and games from their studios.

Have a Southeast Asian game or creative work you think we should feature next? Let us know in the comments below!

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