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Balut: A Mobile Side-Scroller Rife with Filipino Easter Eggs

Who in the Philippines isn’t familiar with the delicacy, Balut? This fertilized duck egg is commonly sold in our streets and shops, and most of us have heard the evening herald, “Baluuut! Baluuut!”, at least once in our life. It comes as no surprise then that when the interactive media company Overactive Ink wanted to go with something tatak Pinoy for their newest mobile game, they named it after this iconic Filipino dish.

“Our investor wanted us to find a word that’s synonymous with the Philippines, something iconic,” Richard Yayon, the game’s art director, said. “Balut is everywhere; it has the same name everywhere and it’s a unique food in the country.”

Balut SellerIn the game, you control a flying Balut that escaped from this seller.

The game is a side-scroller where you control its flying namesake as it flutters through various Philippine streets. Your goal is to collect floating objects that resemble salt, pepper and chili (common accompaniments to a Balut meal) while trying to avoid contact with a horde of hungry people and animals flying in the opposite direction.

Play Balut, and the Filipino references would not be lost on you. Power it up and after the company splash screen, you are shown the Balut seller you escaped from. He’s riding a bicycle through a Cebu street, complete with a basket and a towel draped over his shoulders. His cycling makes up the loading screen animation as well. And below that, instead of the usual gaming tips and pointers, are randomized trivia about Balut and the Philippines: “Aswang is also known as Wak-Wak”, “Cebu is the oldest Philippine City” and “Some people like Day 17 Balut”, to name a few.

The maps are inspired by actual Philippine cities too, and you are sure to come across familiar landmarks—Cebuanos would immediately recognize the Lapu-Lapu Shrine, Larsian BBQ and Magellan’s Cross; Boholanos would be delighted to see the Baclayon Church, Sandugo Shrine and the Man-Made Forest; and Davaoeños would certainly spot Mt. Apo, the Davao Crocodile park and the Philippine Eagle Centre. And it doesn’t stop there. Overactive Ink plans to create more maps—Manila, Iloilo, and Baguio in a coming update—with hopes to cover the entire stretch of the country.

“We also hope to incorporate some familiar Filipino personalities, like Pacquiao,” Yayon said.

Mirroring Success: Balut and Flappy Bird

With its side-scrolling feature and the tap-to-fly mechanic, it’s hard not to compare Balut to the 2013 mobile game, Flappy Bird. Created by Vietnam-based developer Nguyễn Hà Đông, the game was a popular hit in 2014, becoming the most downloaded free game in the iOS App Store at the end of January. It was so successful that by March of that year, over sixty clones were released daily in the App Store.

“[Balut] is like a Flappy bird clone,” Yayon said as he showed me the game on his iPad. “But we tried to make it a little better”.

UntitledFLAVORFUL. Aside from the Filipino themes in the game itself, Balut is also peppered with factoids about Filipino life.

Despite Balut’s apparent similarities in terms of core gameplay with the 2014 hit mobile game, Yayon believes that it can stand on its own. Indeed, the Filipino-inspired design and references are enough to set it apart from other clones. But what really makes it different are the additional maps, graphics quality and added gameplay mechanics.

Flappy Bird is basically an endless side-scroller, while Balut has different maps and modes. Each city is divided into two maps—night and day—with slight differences in design and obstacles. And each map has two modes: normal and endless. You can unlock the endless mode by garnering three stars in the normal mode or by sharing the game on your Facebook or Twitter account.

The graphics are much better in Balut as well. Aside from having more immersive scenery, the game also scores better in terms of animation. Your flying Balut becomes cracked when hit and the wing movement is more pronounced. The ending screen is pretty great as well; when your flying Balut takes too much damage, you are shown its fate: being happily eaten by a person.

As opposed to an instant game over in Flappy Bird when your bird comes in contact with the pipes, Balut employs damage progression. You can be hit three or four times before your flying Balut falls to the ground in a damaged heap. And while Flappy Bird’s obstacles are static, Balut’s hindrances are mobile, making it a bit more difficult for players to maneuver through them and anticipate which direction to take. In Davao’s night mode, you are even introduced to a more challenging hurdle: the aswang. This flying ghoul is faster than the other objects and just zaps through the screen from randomized points.

But at the end of the day, because of the oversaturation of flappy bird clones in the market, it’s hard to see Balut as more than what it is: a game that tried to follow in the footsteps of an extremely successful counterpart by borrowing its core mechanic. It would most likely be hard for mobile gamers to see past that too.

Fortunately, Overactive Ink has more to offer than just a clone. “We are planning on developing games with original game mechanics and hopefully next year, we can [have] one released,” Yayon said.

“We have something in the works but it’s still in its design stages,” he added.

Mobile Gaming in the Philippines

Nguyễn Hà Đông showed how a mobile game can be just as successful with Flappy Bird, and it’s understandable that companies like Overactive Ink chose to go the same route. Not to mention that video game console and PC titles are much more difficult to create than their mobile counterparts.

“A mobile game would be much easier to work on because we’re a small development team,” Yayon said.

Aside from being the third largest market for smartphones in Southeast Asia, the Philippines has great potential in terms of mobile devices, with smartphone penetration expected to reach 40% by the end of the year. In 2014 alone, a total of 26.8 million smartphones were shipped to the Philippines, Tech in Asia reports. This brings about numerous opportunities for mobile apps, games and developers in the country.

When asked what he thought of these opportunities, Yayon said “I think it’s good because there are a lot of talented people here in the Philippines who are more hardworking than people in other countries. [Investors] prefer to work with Filipinos because our second medium is English, and they are usually from Europe or America.”

It is important to note that the mobile market growth in the country is mainly powered by budget offerings, with smartphone models worth Php4,000 accounting for more than 58% of shipments in 2014. With budget mobile devices in the majority, games like Balut become all the more appealing.

“Balut is light, not very device-heavy. It can be played in a dual-core device,” Yayon said.

As a low-spec game that can be downloaded on most devices, Balut succeeded in becoming accessible to the general Filipino public. To date, it has a little over 100 downloads and a rating of 4+ on both Google Play Store and the iOS App Store.

“We tried to make it user-friendly, mobile friendly. It doesn’t have a lot of 3D. This is so everyone can download,” Yayon added.

Overactive Ink’s previously published titles include the Adventures of Ashlad series, composed of a game and two interactive storybook apps based on a classic Norwegian fairytale. They also created the motion comic book app, Holoradix Motion Comics, which they’re developing a card game app out of.  Balut is their fifth app, released last July 21 after about a year of development. It is available for download on Android and iOS devices.

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