How an Indie Game Studio in Surabaya Found the Way Back to a Dream

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Be it work related or not, my days are usually spent sitting at the computer and browsing the internet. But for the past two weeks, my routine has been a bit different. My Facebook page, which is usually occupied with cute pictures of cats or babies, was suddenly filled with fantastic and colorful artwork. Next to the images was a compelling hashtag that piqued my interest: #MojikenCamp.

Mojiken Studio is an indie game studio based in Surabaya, Indonesia. The studio has produced two original games so far; Vamp’s Revenge and Ninjakira Combo Showdown. The studio is also responsible for several outsourced games, illustrations, and animation works for other clients. Even at its young age, several months after the studio was founded in August 2013, Mojiken had the “honor” of having one of its games pirated by a Chinese developer last year.

See: As Indonesia’s gaming industry heats up, new startups enter

If you follow Mojiken’s hashtag, you can find a bunch of Facebook posts that have fascinating screenshots of their games. Some of them are actually game teasers, and Mojiken collaborates with local indie musicians for the in-game musical scores. This is something I’ve only seen one other time in Indonesia, by a firm called Digital Happiness on its game DreadOut.

Everyone learns everything

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To satisfy my curiosity, I spoke with Eka Pramudita Muharram, a 2D artist and one of Mojiken’s co-founders. Muharram explains that Mojiken Camp is an internal program for all members of Mojiken Studio. The program aims for each member of the studio, regardless of their position and skills, to build a complete game from scratch. Some of the challenges in the program include making a game with simple tools like Construct 2, creating pixel art and animation properly, and learning how to do basic video game marketing. In the future, the Mojiken’s program might cover other things like video game music composing, says Muharram.

See: How this young studio is climbing from a little Indonesian town to international acclaim

All of the games that come from Mojiken Camp will be compiled into one package and labeled as an experimental game project. Each game will be released weekly for free through itch.io, a site that’s widely referenced as a BandCamp for video games. So far, Mojiken Camp has released six games on the site.

The first game, Ultra Space Battle Brawl, was made by Muharram himself. If you’ve played the game, you may realize that it’s heavily inspired by Pong. Muharram admits that one of the programs at Mojiken Camp encourages team members to create a “clone of a classic video game,” but to incorporate their own features into the game to give it a totally different feel.

An idea born from anxiety

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Muharram says that Mojiken Camp was born from his feeling of anxiety towards the studio’s current situation. According to him, Mojiken mainly survives by handling outsourcing projects. Some are successful, some are not. Often, Mojiken’s assigments deviate significantly from building games — for example, working on animated infographics, comics, caricatures, illustrations, and more.

As a result, the Mojiken team members said they were feeling a loss of identity and direction. It even raised a question among the team members whether they can still call themselves a game studio. Mojiken says it has too many artists on its team: six out of nine team members, with two programmers and one composer.

Although outsourcing projects helped Mojiken survive, it put a strain on the company’s culture, as each member was busy working on his or her outsourcing project. This wasn’t what the team envisioned when they first decided to build Mojiken. The team also admits that continued reliance on outsourced projects does not seem like a sustainable future for Mojiken.

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For this reason, earlier in January 2015 Muharram gathered the troops for a serious meeting about Mojiken’s trajectory. Finally, the team decided to stop accepting outsourcing projects and to get back to the dream that brought everyone together in the first place. This revived focus brought Mojiken Camp into existence. Through the program, Muharram hopes that Mojiken can get back their indie spirit. He jokes:

We hope that with everything we do, each Mojiken member will drop any excuse and start making shit, good shit of course!

Muharram and his friends started to design an intensive video gaming development course. Preparation included compiling the syllabus, gathering tutorials from the internet, watching documentaries about game development, and more.

Growing together

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One of the games from Mojiken Camp that really grabbed my attention was She Who Once Was Lost. The game’s teaser poster lists an indie band as a collaborator called Pathetic Experience. Collaborations like this between game developers and musicians are something not normally seen in both the local game or music industries.

“Nowadays indie music events aren’t held as often and they’re not as crowded as they used to be,” says Muharram. “But I do know that their music is amazing and it would be a real pity if those songs only reached a few people.”

“We just want to invite friends from the local music industry so their work can also be appreciated by more people,” adds Muharram.

The collaboration acts as a cross promotion between the game developers and musicians. Through this collaboration, Muharram hopes that gamers will get to know the bands more, while fans of the bands will get to know Mojiken’s games.

If you are curious about the games coming out of Mojiken Camp, you can visit their itch.io page where a new game appears each week.

Editing by Leighton Cosseboom, Michael Tegos, and Steven Millward; this post originally appeared on Tech in Asia Indonesia.

Originally published at www.techinasia.com on April 9, 2015.

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