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A video game community for grown ups in Southeast Asia

 A videogame community for grown-ups in Southeast Asia. Southeast Asia.

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Staring at Screens episode 33: On Being Asian

Staring at Screens episode 33 is out!

This week, in addition to the usual game talk, the SAS crew (with guests Brian Kwek and Cassandra Khaw) discuss how it is to be Asians in the global gaming industry:

In a small departure from our usual gamut of topics, this week the crew and guests explore broadly how being (South-East) Asian has affected their careers are game writers and developers. Naturally, parental expectations are discussed, as well as these careers being "outlier professions" in the eyes of Asian society, issues of creative and technical competency in the region, and the struggles of independent game developers in Asia.

This topic has piqued my interest more than any other so far this year, and if you like games, you should give it some thought, too. Head on over to Staring at Screens to listen to the episode. Don't miss all the interesting links in their show notes!

Southeast Asia has Nothing to Say

It was back in 2009 when I was last in Singapore--the year of H1N1, Cawadoody: Modern Warfare 2, and bad annoying music on the radio. The birth of Squeenix-Eidos. Ensemble Studios' death. On second thought, it wasn't the year of bad annoying music. It's become clear that every year is bad annoying music year for me ever since the nineties ended.

I was there to attend the fourth CG Overdrive--a conference in Southeast Asia for graphic artists and visual effects people--and I was psyched. Everyday for a week, in the company of my other artist friends, I braved the scorching heat and lugged over a notebook, a huge sketchbook, and my DS Lite to the Singapore Expo. The event was held in the farthest hall at the end of a significantly long walk, which made things even worse. None of that mattered, though; I was excited.

I was there to learn how best to create--to mold a reality out of bytes and pixels, to play God with 1s and 0s. I was under the same roof with people from all around the world who are the pioneers and leaders of the industry. I was there to move on to the next level in our secret club of concept artists, animators, and designers. I--and Southeast Asia along with me--was going places.

A funny thing happened after the first lecture I attended, though. It was Alex Alvarez's talk, and he had just turned the mic over to the audience to take some questions. "Would anyone like to ask Alex a question?" boomed our emcee. He stepped forward, microphone in hand, and looked to the audience for the first curious soul to raise his hand in response.

Nothing.

"Come on, guys," the emcee added, smile still on his face. "It's not everyday that we get to ask someone like Alex Alvarez a question."

And there was nothing. I sat in the audience with about a hundred other people, and no one among us had anything to ask or say. I certainly didn't have any technical questions, but in retrospect, a technical question wouldn't have been the most appropriate one to ask, anyway: he had just talked about his experience as a kid, and how he had liked to shut himself in his room and just doodle monsters and dream up worlds and ideas, and how he first discovered the online world through BBSes and how he learned to make friends over a virtual space. Figuratively, Alex had described the childhood of all of us there.

Maybe I should have asked which of the eight Virtues was his favorite. Or if the phrase "Coconut of Quendor" meant anything to him. I don't know. I should have asked something--if not to expand my own knowledge, then to just try to better understand how he thinks.

That was the first of many incidents of utter banality on our part as the audience as the week dragged on.

Are you a Warhammer fan? Did you ever play the first Dawn of War? Yes? Do you remember that fantabulous intro that starts with ships swooping down from the sky, continues on to an all-out battle between the Space Marines and the Orks in a beautiful, chaotic, bloody mess, and ends with the Blood Ravens chapter banner flying proudly on top of a hill even as it gets peppered by bolter fire? Do you remember that intro? Wasn't it just awesome? Wasn't it freaking incredible? Didn't you feel your balls expanding tenfold as you sat there watching it?

Well, we watched it again during the conference. It was presented to us by visual effects guy Allan McKay as a sample of his FX work. A guy who helped make all that awesomeness exist in our world was right in front of us presenting his work. Our response was predictable: we sat there and took it all in silence. No one applauded--not even after Allan uttered a quiet, satisfied "Cool." after the video ended. The whole room would have exploded in a testosterone-fueled gamer high if even one guy started clapping, but no one wanted to be The Guy. Not even me, back then.

I ask at this: why?

It was the week of the Stoic Asian. For five days, we sat and silently peered left and right and over our shoulders whenever the open forum began. A few questions eventually got thrown up here and there, of course, but not much; I even asked Norihiko Hibino (of Snake Eater theme song fame) a question about composing game music and he gave me a ticket to Video Games Live for my trouble! But those instances were the exception, and not the norm.

All of this long-winded exposition is in service to my question of "Why?" Back when we regularly played Team Fortress 2 on StarHub, we'd be lucky to get in a match with just one guy who knew how to use his microphone. In public Asian servers, every match is like those five days of embarrassing silence. Are we just shy? Are we afraid? Do we think we sound silly? Are we just afraid to reach out, only to find out that there's no one out there who will respond? Do we avoid looking into the mirror so we don't have to see that there's nothing there peering back at us?

What the fuck am I saying, now?

What I'm saying is that no, Southeast Asia isn't going places. Not with all those silent drones in the game servers. Not with people like us who were content to sit there and allow ourselves to be spoonfed and not bother to try to run that extra mile to push ourselves even beyond where we expected to be. We're not dumb. We're not incompetent. But if we have nothing to say, then there's no point to creating anyway, now, is there?

That's what everything boils down to: having something to say. It's especially true for any creative endeavor, but let's be totally relevant and look at this matter from a game development standpoint. All the best games have something to say. Deus Ex says that the centralization of power is detrimental to society. Its prequel Human Revolution says that it's human nature to tamper with God's work. The Witcher says that people with exceptional abilities and talents will always be abused by those in positions of power. Call of Duty says America, fuck yeah. Fallout, of course, says that war never changes. It goes on and on.

What do we, as Southeast Asians, have to say? Are we happy enough to sit in the audience and parrot what the West and the Japanese have already said before? A lot of us dream about breaking into the game industry, but part of me wonders about the titles we'll be churning out once it becomes economically viable to do so. It'll happen eventually. I dread that day when we will finally accept that we are indeed devoid of any original thought.

Let's not make that our future. Let’s not.

It was 2009. One of the speakers ended his lecture, and the hall was bathed in silence. The speaker looked at all of us with a knowing expression. "I've been to Asian conferences before," he said matter-of-factly.

There was no open forum for that talk. He showed us another video instead.

Do you agree? Do you disagree? Do you think I'm full of it? Share your comments with us at the forum

Being a PC gamer in Southeast Asia Makes Me Jelly of our Western Counterparts

Tactics, solid teamwork and camaraderie are what I have always craved for whenever I play any military shooter. Call me an idealist, but that’s how I enjoy my gaming. Stats such as K/D ratios or individual score never appealed to me. I take pride and joy in being a beneficial team player and helping the team win. This is one of the main foundations that OMGeek is built on, and we would like to gather players from around Southeast Asia with the same ideals and principles. I must say that this is a rare species to find, but fortunately, our numbers seem to have been growing steadily.

But before this great community existed, I’d always find myself craving and wanting to join established communities such as Tactical Gamer and Forgotten Honor. Both communities are founded on the same principles of my gaming philosophies. Unfortunately, since they are based in the west, two big roadblocks stopped me in my tracks from joining them: server location and time zone. There’s no way that I’ll be joining servers where I’d keep second guessing my aim due to lag. Waking up also at 3am just to join one of their campaigns wasn’t plausible since I do have a day job with regular hours. Too bad that it wasn’t practical on my end.

But what makes these two communities great that I’m dying to join them? Well let me break it down for you:

Tactical Gamer is a community founded on the principles on of housing mature players and having great teamwork. It’s an ideal community for players who aren’t into clans but want to experience the same level of teamwork. They pride themselves with the following features in their community:

    • Mature organized teamplay (sound familiar?)
    • Promotes teamwork and tactics above all else
    • Not really focused on competitive performance

Forgotten Honor provides a meta experience to military shooters by providing long term campaigns and having military ranks within the different groups participating. These are the main features they have in their community:

    • Structured hierarchy, having ranks similar to the Army
    • Long military campaigns (meta-game)
    • Promotes mature attitude and teamplay

I asked myself: why can’t we have something like this in our region? Aren’t there any other PC gamers with the same ideals and frame of mind? Is it all about quick fixes and fragging each other? For the sake of our hobby, I certainly hope not. With these types of communities around, a game such as ARMA 2, which is notoriously a niche game in our region, would be played lot more and the experience would increase tenfold.

I’ll use ARMA 2 as a perfect example since it’s a game that has a very slow pace and a lot patience is needed--a simulation in every aspect and the learning curve is quite steep. With the right kind of people to play with, this game can truly be satisfying, plus you get to live out your mil-sim fantasies, if that gets you off. Imagine this scenario: You belong in a five man fireteam. You approach a small town which is located somewhere in the middle-east. The darkness of the night gives you cover to the unsuspecting OPFOR. Everybody goes prone along the ridge and surveys the village to know the patterns of the sentries. The team leader instructs his team to position themselves around the perimeter of the town and to start firing only on his command. Once all fire team members check in their confirmation, the team leader gives the green light to open fire and flashes of light start popping all over. After the barrage ends, everybody rallies inside the town and starts securing it. Once secured, team leader requests for a transport out to the next active AO. A few minutes later, a Chinook arrives and the whole fire team starts mounting up.  This was an unbelievable experience and I still vividly remember this event as if it happened yesterday. I genuinely craved for more of it.

Sadly, it’s the numbers we lack here in Southeast Asia and it’s hard to find a dedicated group who can pursue this game on a consistent basis.

I’m genuinely hoping, and I apologize in advance if this sounds self-serving, that OMGeek can foster a community that has the same ideals as Tactical Gamer and Forgotten Hope. Admittedly we were heavily inspired by those two communities when forming OMGeek, and this is something we will pursue with a passion. PC gaming isn’t just about being entertained by fragging one another, because it’s all about working together as a solid unit and achieving a single goal. I know it sounds too idealistic, but I’m proud to say, that’s how I game.

Hoping to hear from some like-minded gamers. Chime in on our forums if this kind of gaming appeals to you.

The State of PC Gaming in Southeast Asia

Southeast Asian ISPs are not interlinked and peering with each other due to political or business reasons.Like many pc gamers in the region, I long for low ping servers and the accessibility to hop onto a populated server with a decent crowd. However, the reality we face in our region is that of fragmentation. Spread across the archipelagos, Southeast Asian ISPs are not interlinked and peering with each other due to political or business reasons. James pointed this out last week in his article with how the Philippines is suffering from this problem. Case in point, I live in Singapore, and a lot of my pc gaming buddies are in the Philippines. The issue we have is that their ISP, PLDT does not peer directly to Singapore, which prevents us from playing together with decent ping.

In looking at the US and Europe however, you have a situation where bandwidth is relatively cheap, and most countries are interconnected via an internet backbone/exchange that has good peering with each other. This means ping to neighboring countries is a lot lower, and allows for hassle free gaming with sub 100 latency.

As such, computer hardware enthusiasts and pc gamers like us have evolved and adapted to the situation. We have formed individual pockets of communities each focusing in our specific countries where we know pings will be low enough to enable lag free gaming. Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines, Indonesia, etc have their own servers and play amongst themselves. What we have seen over the last 5-10 years is the explosion of many pc gaming oriented communities in SEA -- off the top of my head, Lowyat, GameAxis, Hardwarezone, VR-Zone and XJZ -- all catering to specific countries pc gaming crowd. I myself am a member of all these communities and they are superb because they have enabled like-minded gamers to interact in forums and play together on game servers.

As a follow up to the exponential growth of the pc hardware and pc gaming communities in the region, I personally feel we need to move a step further in linking us all together. I know this is a long shot but in the very near future I envision a time when pc gaming in the region will no longer be hindered by peering issues. We don’t have our own data centre or dedicated servers; in fact we just rent ours from well known GSPs. But I think what we have to offer is the strength of an idea, a concept of unity for all of the SEA pc gaming community. We want to work with everyone involved, from as high up as the ISPs, GSPs and data centres down the line to the forums and communities, across the region because we know we can’t do this alone. We here at OMGeek are passionate about this, and hope that setting up this community is a small step in the right direction. We hope you feel the same way.

We have big plans in the coming months for pc gaming and Southeast Asia, and we want you to be part of these plans. There's no question of whether it's possible to have a truly interconnected Southeast Asia that allows all of us in the region to play pc games with each other. We simply need to ask ourselves if we want this badly enough. We can be content with what we have, or we can push for a better gaming experience for everyone.

Do you have any thoughts on pc gaming in Southeast Asia? Have you ever been a victim of abysmal ping and other connection problems? Share your thoughts with us in the forums.

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