How Duterte became an 8-bit crime-fighter

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Bari Silvestre, the self-made creator of Rody Fight - Game for Change, talks about shifting from overseas work to game development, the state of tech startups in the Philippines, and his support of the newly sworn-in President Rodrigo Duterte.

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — “I am Rody and I promised to get rid of crime, corruption, drugs, and smuggling in this country in 3 to 6 months. And deliver I shall …”

So begins Rody Fight - Game for Change, a mobile game inspired by Rodrigo “Rody” Duterte, who officially assumes the position of the president of the Republic of the Philippines today. Rody Fight is one of a handful of games that came out in the wake of Duterte’s sensational surge in popularity, which led to his landslide victory in last month’s elections. As much parody as tribute, these games feature Duterte as a pocket-sized protagonist on some sort of quest of endurance against either virtual enemies or side-scrolling obstacles.

Among the current crop of Duterte games, a couple of titles stand out: Fighting Crime - Duterte Edition and Rody Fight itself. While the two differ in their genres, both are largely based on Duterte’s bold, if quixotic, 3-to-6-month anti-crime plan. Fighting Crime is a shoot-em-up that has Duterte wielding guns against lawbreakers, whereas Rody Fight is a beat-em-up where he throws punches and kicks at criminals, literal pork barrels, and other pixelated adversaries.


But Rody Fight becomes even more notable when its unusual provenance is taken into consideration. As it turns out, the game is the brainchild of the man behind Keybol, Bari Silvestre, who has achieved a level of renown all but unheard of among local game developers.

Silvestre, who grew up in Bulacan, didn’t set out to become a developer, not by a long shot. Having taken up accountancy in college, he naturally gravitated toward an occupation in accounting. But circumstances later compelled him to work as an OFW in South Korea, where he was engaged in various jobs ranging from forklift operation to metal fabrication to quality assurance. During his downtime as an OFW, he would go online not only to talk to his loved ones back home but also to learn coding and design, eventually creating his very first game in the form of an admittedly crude and buggy room-escape. It was then that his career shift to game development began.

Silvestre got his big break when one of his creations, the cheekily titled minimalist puzzle platformer Pretentious Game, was released to international acclaim by Bulkypix, one of the most prominent publishers of mobile games by third-party developers from around the world. At the 2013 Casual Connect industry showcase in San Francisco, it had been nominated for best story and won the Director’s Choice Award. More awards found their way to Silvestre’s hands for his work on another game, the “anti-platformer” Super Mario parody Kill the Plumber, which last year won for Excellence in Design at the Independent Games Festival in China and for Excellence in Innovation and Best in Gameplay at the ICT Creative Awards, co-presented by the Game Developers Association of the Philippines.


Now residing in Pampanga with his wife and three children, Silvestre is currently busy with an adventure game that he’s building with a group of developers from Malaysia.

CNN Philippines Life talked with Silvestre via email about his journey to becoming an accomplished developer and his hopes for the administration that is to be run by the man who inspired him to make a crime-fighting mobile game. Below are edited excerpts from the interview.

How did you train as a developer?

I simply read tutorials then downloaded source codes and played with them. I read about simple game codes and created my own. Whenever I make a new game I try to study something new and implement it in, like, physics and now mobile game development.

Why the name Keybol as your developer name?

My very first project online was a website called Keybol, where I combined all online streaming channels into one site. I created it for OFWs like me who wanted to watch TV.

Are you a truly independent developer, i.e., do you work on your own and not with or for a certain development studio? Why did you decide to be so?

I have always been an independent game developer in that I create the games from the ground up and still own the intellectual property. It is more convenient for me since I can do whatever I want with the games.


How did your partnership with Bulkypix come about?

After being selected in consecutive years to showcase in Casual Connect Seattle and San Francisco and winning Director’s Choice in 2013, I decided to port the game to mobile and announce it in the forum of TouchArcade. There, I received a message from Bulkypix and we agreed on the terms of them publishing. My minimalist puzzle game Rubpix was also published by them.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of partnering with an international publisher as opposed to publishing your games internationally on your own?

Back then I had very little experience with mobile games. Through these partnerships I learned a lot, and being able to have somebody with direct relationships to Apple and Google Play and the press, I found that it maximized the visibility of the game. Publishing games on your own means you have to learn the process the hard way, which means making and owning up to your mistakes.

You recently released Jolens, based on the traditional Filipino game. What was your inspiration for making it?

Jolens is rooted from my childhood experience. My plan is to create a series of casual games based on traditional Filipino games and I have just published another one for iOS and Android called Sipa: Blackjack. The next games planned are Piko, Teks, and Tantsing. I want Filipinos to revisit these traditional games and enjoy the feeling of collecting, competition, and camaraderie experienced playing them.


What are your all-time favorite video games and your favorite mobile games now? Can you recommend noteworthy ones made by Filipinos?

I grew up playing Super Mario games. I am also a big Castlevania fan. The mobile games I’m currently playing are Clash Royale and Downwell. The Filipino-made games Dungeon Souls and Lithium City are also really good, but are available for PC. The Pinoy-made mobile games Rancho Ranch and Potion Punch are also worth checking out.

What is your general assessment of the state of local game development and the abilities of Filipinos as developers?

There are lots of talented game developers in the Philippines and their games have also gained traction internationally in terms of the number of downloads and awards. Usually, people are not aware that the games they are playing are wholly or partly developed by Filipinos. There are also many games in development which hold much promise.

What made you want to create Rody Fight? Tell us about the process of making it, from rendering the likeness of Duterte to deciding on the gameplay mechanics and elements.

I made the game together with my friend Jay Soliman. I have known him as a strong supporter of Mayor Duterte since the time people began encouraging the Mayor to run for president. We discussed what could be a good game to promote his platforms and advocacies, and he suggested the six-month campaign against drugs, crime, corruption, and smuggling. Together with other supporters Jay had gathered, we poured in our time, talent, and treasure to create the game. When I had the plan for the entire game, I contacted my friends at Buko Studios and they really nailed the likeness of Duterte in pixel art. All of it paid off as the game was featured on many news sites and was even featured on the Google Play Store globally.

Bari Silvestre Bari Silvestre showcased his breakout creation, Pretentious Game, at Casual Connect Europe 2014 in Amsterdam. Photo courtesy of BARI SILVESTRE  

What is it about Duterte that has made you a supporter of his?

I have read many things about what Mayor Duterte has accomplished in Davao. I like his strong and firm leadership and believe that is what our country needs.

Is there anything you hope the Duterte administration will address with regard to the local tech startup scene and game development in particular? What about with regard to the plight of OFWs?

I really wish our internet connection will be on par with our Asian neighbors’. I also hope that support for startups will be similar to those in other countries. Tax exemptions are fairly generous for startups and small and medium-sized enterprises in Singapore. There are also government grants available, like the UK Games Fund.

As a former OFW, I wish for OFWs to get more benefits and enjoy other amenities. I hope one day they will not need to worry about anything when they send packages and go on vacation in the Philippines or stay for good with their families.