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Filipino flash indie games find refuge in 'Flashpoint' preservation project

By Gia Catimbang Published Mar 15, 2021 4:31 am

During the early days of the internet, Adobe’s Flash Player was the plug-in that made multimedia content more alive and interactive. It allowed websites to go beyond the limitations of displaying only text and static images by providing animations above everything else, making it possible for users to stream audio and video, access rich web applications, and even play video games.

The era of the Flash Player made it possible for developers to publish their projects out to the world, particularly Flash-powered free video games, housed in gaming websites such as Y8, Friv, and many more. It was the language that web and game developers alike have used for years.

With the vast advantages that one can develop with Flash Player, it became prone to being regularly exploited by malware creators—a recurring problem that led to Adobe’s decision to cut off support for Flash on the last day of 2020, after its long run of 24 years.

Preserving the Flash era

As Adobe’s Flash Player catches its last breath, web and game developers throughout the years have created efforts to preserve the legacy that it left behind.

One of these is BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint, an international webgame preservation project dedicated to outrun the disappearance of content prior to the death of Flash. It is run by over 100 community contributors, including veteran Flash game developers from the Philippines.

“It's an honor to see our works considered worthy of preservation as artifacts of web history and culture. At the same time, we're deeply saddened—it had been announced long beforehand, but when it came, the end of Flash did feel like the end of an era,” says Khail Santia, a Pinoy Flash game developer notable for creating the COVID-19 simulator In The Time of Pandemia.

“To us developers, Flash was more than just a piece of technology. It's a medium of independent self-expression, a laboratory for innovation, a passion, a livelihood, and a community.”

Commemorating their contributions during the bygone era, here are some of their best works—born out of passion and nurtured in Flash, all made in the Philippines.

Pretentious Game by Bari Silvestre/Keybol Games (2012)

Pretentious Game.

A puzzle platformer eloquent in the exploration of impossible love through gameplay, Pretentious Game was made in less than 48 hours for the Ludum Dare 23 game jam.

On launch, it spread like wildfire across game portals, topped Reddit, and trended on Twitter. The game was praised for its clever puzzle design, fourth wall-breaking, and evocative storyline on video game website Rock, Paper, Shotgun.

Pretentious Game won a Director's Choice award at Indie Prize San Francisco. It spawned four sequels and successfully transitioned to mobile and PC.

Pandesal Boy by Khail Santia and Josel Nicolas/Studio Apocalypse Chefs (2014)

Pandesal Boy.

A puzzle platformer about peddling bread in a world in chaos, Pandesal Boy was conceived and developed in the period encompassing the Bohol earthquake and Super Typhoon Yolanda and thus shaped in part by the profound disruption of human life in the aftermath of these calamities.

The game linked thousands of players to donation drives responding to the humanitarian crisis. According to its game designer and programmer, Khail Santia, "Pandesal Boy is a product of our insistence to continue creating joy in a world permeated by tragedy."

New York-based JayIsGames.com commended the game as "an unexpected delight with a ton of creativity and a goofy sense of humour." Pandesal Boy was published and sponsored by GamesOnly of Amsterdam, nominated for three Philippine Game Festival awards including Game of the Year, and invited to the Games Showcase of Indie Prize Singapore.

Witch Hunt by Renson Gamboa/GodSeeD Studios (2015)

Witch Hunt

A captivating mash-up between tower defense, shoot-em-up, and magic, Witch Hunt is beloved by players for its artistic flair, deep upgrades system, and frenetic battles.

Sponsored by American games publisher Dojo, it garnered more than a million hits in game portals Newgrounds and Kongregate. Witch Hunt won Daily Second Place and a Frontpage Feature in Newgrounds and not one but three coveted badges in Kongregate. In an effusive review, JayIsGames.com concluded, "Witch Hunt is a game overflowing with energy, challenge, and charm."

Epic Boss Fighter by Gilbert De Vera and Darko Peninger/Entertainment Forger (2014)

Epic Boss Fighter.

A shoot-em-up of epic scale, Epic Boss Fighter throws players into a titanic struggle to defend Earth from fearsome bosses.

Sponsored by Armor Games, an American publisher and renowned champion of great indie games, Epic Boss Fighter received a heap of awards from Newgrounds—Daily 2nd Place, Weekly 2nd Place, Frontpage Feature, and Review Crew Pick—as well as attaining three badges in Kongregate.

To JayIsGames.com, "The best part of Epic Boss Fighter is its variety. The 10 bosses all have creative designs, distinguish themselves with (different) gimmicks and manners of attack, and keep pace with the upgrades you purchase for a nice learning curve." The even more epic sequel, Epic Boss Fighter 2, was a finalist at Indie Prize Amsterdam.

Paper Warfare by Argene Tanyong/AdoboGames (2010)

Paper Warfare.

Argene Tanyong, the one-man army behind AdoboGames, was one of the early Pinoy game-makers to come into some prominence on sites like Newgrounds.

Fond of the shoot-em-up genre, he'd developed several shooters that were well-received and quite popular. Paper Warfare is a prime example. Polished and well-put together but undeniably indie in look and feel, players appreciate its assortment of weapons, pleasing graphics, and solid gameplay.

Paper Warfare earned a Frontpage Feature in Newgrounds. In the game's comments section are a couple of expressions of Pinoy pride. Acclaim that's well-deserved.

Sniper Assassin by Ben Joseph Banta/Ultimate Flash Game Archive (2007)

Sniper Assassin.

Ben Joseph Banta can be considered a pioneer in Pinoy Flash game development with his Sniper Assassin series, started in 2007, eventually amassing a staggering 150 million hits.

Sporting a hand-drawn look, text-based storytelling, and bite-sized gameplay, the very first Sniper Assassin indeed had the hallmarks of a viral Flash game in the aughts. Players enjoyed the game's minimalism, gangster music, and riddle-like clues.

Sniper Assassin 2 won Daily Second Place and a Frontpage Feature in Newgrounds and was sponsored by AddictingGames.com, the largest casual games site in the US. The series was sustained for an amazing eight titles with the last one, Sniper Assassin Zero, a prequel, released for mobile under Gonzo Games.

Innkeeper by Marvin Apacible/Monkey Eater Games (2012)

Innkeeper.

A hotel simulator set in the mysterious island of Siquijor, Innkeeper induced JayIsGames to write, "Without taking itself too seriously, the game manages to satire both Filipino internal society and its international reputation.

The game also delights in references to other Flash gaming hits and internet memes. This gives it a good balance of local color and global appeal." But Innkeeper is much more: Players in Newgrounds lauded the game's classy style. Innkeeper straddles the Goldilocks Zone between information overload and boredom. Its well-crafted upgrades system prompts for strategizing even as it makes players proud of what they've built.

The game's 1.1 million hits and three badges in Kongregate then come as no surprise in retrospect. The iPad version, Innkeeper HD, was published by Armor Games and awarded Best Indie Game at the Philippine Game Festival.

Desert Moon by Nico Tuason/Games by Nico (2010)

Desert Moon.

Still a gem more than a decade after its launch, Desert Moon is a tower defense game about a group of engineers who find themselves stranded on a deadly moon, forced to fight against a horde of aliens for survival.

What makes this title special is its meticulous game design and engineering chops. For instance, players must learn to completely overhaul their tactics as they switch difficulty levels from easy, to normal, to hard—to be effective. How many hundreds if not thousands of playtests that took to make right? The game can render thousands of animated elements on the screen without so much as a hiccup when the typical Flash game can hardly cope with tens of the same.

The net result is immersive gameplay—bordering on the obsessive—and a full-bodied epic win at the end of each difficulty level. Desert Moon was sponsored by MaxGames of Alberta, Canada. It was featured on the pages of Osaka's Gigazine, a Time.com Top 25 Blog. And Kongregate gave the game four badges—the most on this list—with Kongers playing the game 1.3 million times.

What the future of Flash preservation means for the local indie game developers

“What Kongregate's John Cooney said in his Flash Games Postmortem is also true in the Philippines. Flash pushed Pinoy indie games forward in a big way,” says Santia. “It laid an important foundation for a Filipino indie game movement. And as part of Philippine game history, perhaps, Flash deserves a little more respect than what we've given it.”

The legacy of the Flash era for our local indie game developers lives on through preserved passion. Bari Silvestre, for example, has gone on to PC, mobile, and console game development, publishing in-house titles as well as those of other Pinoy studios on the Nintendo Switch, and now backed with an investment from Global Top Round.

Khail Santia took the plunge into educational software research and development, currently working on DOST-funded decision support systems for infectious diseases with the University of the Philippines Mindanao.

Ben Joseph Banta leads Ranida Games with support from Discovery Nusantra Capital, developing games for PC and mobile, and partnering with brands for in-game advertising.

As for the fate of Flash games globally, The Strong Museum in New York—known as the home to the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, will be partnering with Kongregate to preserve Flash games.

“To us who dedicated a good portion of our youth to Flash game development, this is the ultimate recognition: not only of how Flash democratized game development or how Flash introduced themes and mechanics that now constitute the beating heart of many current games, but above all, of how Flash games are art—of how they filled the little cracks of our lives with laughter, sometimes with tears, and always with challenge,” according to Santia.

To play these beloved Flash games, users can download BlueMaxima’s Flashpoint here.

(All images copyright to their respective owners)