Discover the Philippine Constellations With This Soothing Game
You’re probably familiar with easy-to-spot constellations like Orion’s Belt and the Big Dipper. But did you know that ancient Filipinos had their own names and interpretations of these star formations?
Naga, a mini game by indie game studio Chikon Club, lets you discover Philippine constellations. You’ll find yourself on a bangka set adrift on a glowing sea. The soothing soundtrack and relaxed pacing contributes to the ethereal, meditative atmosphere of the game. While most games have you trying to beat the clock, Naga forces its players to take things slow. It simulates the wonder of looking up at a sky full of stars, far away from the garish lights of the city.
All you have to do is wait for each constellation to glide into view. Click on the stars to expand and connect them. Once you’ve completed the constellation, a beautiful illustration of how the Tawi-Tawi voyagers once interpreted it will appear. For example, according to Dr. Rizchel Masong, what we know as The Big Dipper is Bubu, a basket used for fishing. The Hyades are called Basung, or a cup used for rituals.
“I think a lot of the games that we make are deeply rooted with Philippine Culture,” says Gwen Foster, technical director of Chikon Club. “I really loved astronomy growing up, and always felt like the education around astronomy was very Western centric, when Philippine ethnoastronomy is very rich and our ancestors are very accomplished wayfinders. I love reading Dr. Ambrosio's books, and then we encountered a paper by Dr. Masong about Star Catalogue, we used it as a basis of what most of the constellations found in the game. So we referenced it, and had a simple mechanic to honor everyone who travels by sea.”
“The mechanics is fairly simple and has been seen in games like Night in the Woods,” she adds. “And we really wanted something like that but rooted in Philippine culture. Also Naga, if I remember correctly, is a Hindu serpent and what our ancestors referred to as the Milky Way in some regions. It's also the city near where I was born.”
The game was created as part of Rising SEA, an initiative that brings together game creators from the Philippines, Singapore, Indonesia, and Malaysia to “encourage creative freedom and experimentation.” The soundtrack and sound effects were contributed by Yvonne from Singapore and Kuseki from Malaysia, while Brilcrist from Singapore created the cover art.
“We really liked Yvonne’s music which made us think about the Philippine constellations. Kuseki's sound effects just gave us that extra fun that we always want to achieve in the games we make,” Foster says. “Naga is part of the Rising SEA compilation and we had a waterfall way of working which means that you have a finished product before you (in our case it was the music and SFX) and then we passed them on for art (which Brilcrist made for us).”
The game was completed within just one day, so there wasn’t enough time to add information on the constellations featured. In the meantime, you can check out Dr. Masong’s paper to learn more about Tawi-Tawi and Mayawyaw Ifugao constellations.
When asked if they have any plans of turning Naga into a full-fledged game, Foster says, “Maybe yes. It depends. We'd definitely use the mechanic as a tool for narrative. We do have games that we want to make, but the larger game that we had in mind for Naga is fairly complex (like three years development time more or less), so it will take some time before we pick it up, commit to it, and turn it into a full-fledged game.”
Games like Naga are more than a pleasant way to pass the time. Inspired by Filipino culture, they put the spotlight on how rich our heritage is, and how much there is to uncover.
Play Naga for free here.