Monday, 3 August 2015

Remembering Singapore's Golden Age of Film-making in Satay Club Game

In my game Satay club, I feature several films that were made in Singapore in the 1940s till the 60s.

It's worth noting that the Malay Film scene didn't really take off until 1948. that was when the film called Chempaka starring Kasma Booty was released. Kasma Booty was the main attraction of that film and the cinema halls were filled with eager viewers wanting to watch the beautiful bombshell on the silver screen. Long lines formed outside the theatres and people were clamoring for tickets. It broke every attendance record at the Alhambra Theatre's history at the time.

I have no doubt the satay men at Satay Club would have done a roaring business during that time. Imagine the huge number of people stopping by to eat satay or mee siam right after the show at the Alhambra Theatre.

This one film was a huge success for Shaw Brothers. A story about an Indonesian girl who refused to forsake her lover for a prince.  Quoting from the Singapore Free Press published on 12 May 1948:
"...the scenes were local, the language was Malay and shapely Kasma was a sensation."
And the copywriters for Shaw Brother's went on overdrive and wrote this in the Straits Times on 15 April 1948:
"...Comparable with any Hollywood Production!"


Maybe it was the marketing, maybe it was just the alluring beauty of Kasma Booty and her captivating eyes. But whatever it was, the then 16 years old Kasma Booty became an overnight sensation and marked the rise in Malay Films. People kept wanting more of that genre of films featuring native islanders clad in sarong with flowers in their hair singing and dancing under the tropical sun.


Kasma Booty in the 1948 film Chempaka


This film was her first time appearing on the silver screen. Kasma Booty was already married at age 14.

The photo I posted above is a screen capture of Kasma Booty in that film. This photo of her dancing reminded me of Silvana Mangano. If you don't know Silvana you should check out her dance in the 1951 film called Anna. Titillating!



Can you imagine how rowdy it was with all the hot blooded young men in the theatre wolf-whistling the moment when Kasma Booty appeared on screen?


"The house was packed... the audience was very audibly delighted with the beauty and charm of Kasma Booty.." 

Kasma Booty was 2 years younger than Silvana. Who knew about Italian cinema back then in this part of the world right? But almost everybody knows Hollywood films. So Kasma Booty was often regarded as the Elizabeth Taylor of Malaya back then. Elizabeth Taylor is the same age as Kasma Booty by the way.

Elizabeth Taylor

Fun fact: The comedian S. Shamsudin appeared in that film Chempaka as an extra. He was just beginning his acting career then.

There is another film(genre) that I casually mentioned in Satay Club Game. I will discuss more about that together with Zubir Said and Yusof Ishak in my next post.


Wednesday, 29 July 2015

Remembering Kallang Airport in Satay Club Game

I'm writing (typing?) this article because I came across Peter Lamm's post on Google+ where he posted a very nice photograph of Kallang Airport. That reminded me that I actually added that locale as part of my narrative in Satay Club Game.

I read with interest Peter's and other's comments on his photograph of Kallang Airport. He commented: "As SG50 ie. Merdeka draws near there is an over-weaning narrative in our national media that Singapore was just a lousy fishing village until the ruling party took power. On the contrary as I hope this photo partly illustrates, Singapore was already a well-established regional powerhouse in trade, commerce, finance, shipping and culture well before WWII."

I do agree and share his sentiment. I think history is open to all sorts of interpretations by all sorts of people. Old photographs, film footages, oral interviews that has been archived are all great resources for anyone who would want to study history in depth.

I have trawled through many film footages, old photographs and other paraphernalia related to old time Singapore and I have to say that it's hard to categorize Singapore simply as a swampy fishing village.

The Kallang Airport (aerodrome) that was built in 1937 shows that Singapore then was already a thriving city. The land it was built on was a swampy land that was reclaimed. The airport had to close in 1955 because it became too small to support the ever increasing number of people coming to Singapore by air. The Singapore International Airport at Paya Lebar replaced it.

So I am not surprised if anyone gave a big sigh whenever they keep reading or hearing the same old rhetoric that Singapore was a 3rd world swampy fishing village before independence. Get educated!





Thursday, 23 July 2015

Empathy in games

(This is a break from the posts on Satay Club Game)

I just had a thought about this today since I'm currently developing a new game at the moment.
I believe games can deliver a lot more in terms of emotional experiences. My games are mostly simple games. Simplistic when compared to hard core games. But I believe simple things can deliver the most significant impact to a person in a very direct way.

This game I am working currently has the potential to convey empathy in players; if I do it right that is. I have an idea in my mind right now that I think can bring a totally new perspective to players who are used to time-management games to think deeper and play to achieve a goal that they strongly believe in because of empathy.

I am still working out the details. Somehow I feel a lot of pressure right now for me to do this right.  The end product could go either way.


Wednesday, 15 July 2015

How do you relate to an era you have never lived in?

When I was developing Satay Club game, I had to be mindful of my contemporary audience.
Like the majority of people who play mobile games, I have never experienced life in Singapore back in the 1940s and 1950s. What I know about that era is what I have gathered from reading books, watching films and listening to music of that time.

On books, an excellent resource to learn about the psyche of the Malay community in the old days is the book by A. Samad Said called Salina. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend it.





 But books are not visual media. Readers need to imagine for themselves how these places look like, how people talk to each other, how they dress etc. This is where films come into play. Without the many films made in Singapore in the 1950s; I would have had to grapple in the dark and Satay Club might not have been developed at all. Even if it is, it would not have been any good in terms of bringing out the mood and feel of that era.





Having said that, a question comes to mind. What good is staying true to an era long gone and presenting it to a pop culture audience far removed from it? Will they get it?
It's like recommending Charlotte Brontë to fans of J.K. Rowling. Some will get it. Most will run away.

In order to connect with my contemporary audience, I needed to fashion my game in such a way that is rooted in the current pop culture but yet has that nostalgic charm. This is the idea I got from Baz Luhrmann's film The Great Gatsby. His vision of F. Scott Fitzgerald's work is to make it palatable to the contemporary audience. He even changed certain elements in the actual story to do so. By doing this, he had somewhat alienated the hardcore fans of the book but the major audience viewed it favorably. I am of the latter.


A video posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on

What I learned from him is his use of music. In his film, he did not stay true to the actual music used in the 1920s and 30s. Instead he used electro swing and electro jazz; music from that era that has been fused with the current contemporary pop music. This I feel is a very good move to connect with the younger audience.

A video posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on
I paid very close attention to the visual details in his film; the night scene most particularly. This scene had inspired the look of the night time scene at Beach Road and the Alhambra Theatre that I created in pixel art.

A video posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on



But why don't I just get the actual film footage of the Alhambra Theatre in the 1950s as visual reference? I did try, but the footage was scant and it was grainy and in black and white. I needed something more but it was hard to come by.



I had to reimagine the Alhambra Theatre and the place it was at. I hope I did a good job.



(to be continued in the next post...)

Monday, 13 July 2015

A tribute to the Alhambra Theatre Singapore

Films have always been a source of inspiration for me. A good film director can bring together many different aspects of storytelling on the silver screen; a good script, powerful visuals and music that can convey a message that could evoke an emotional response from an audience. Because of this, some films that we watch tend to stay in our minds forever.

When I was creating Satay Club game, there were several films that I turned to for historical references as well as to draw inspiration from; in terms of artistic style of visual directions and music. I will discuss some of that here.

Incidentally the first Satay Club was situated next to a cinema called the Alhambra Theatre. You can find out quite a lot about that cinema if you look it up online.





What I would like to discuss here is how nostalgia plays a part in the theme of my game and how the loss/demolition of the Alhambra Theatre might mean to some people in Singapore who belong to the pioneer generation.

On the topic of nostalgia, I would like to reference several films that come to mind when I was developing Stay Club game. One of them was a 1988 film called Cinema Paradiso directed by Giuseppe Tornatore. I watched this as a teenager in the 90s.



One of the poignant scene in that film was when the protagonist Salvatore was told by his mentor/father figure Alfredo not to give in to nostalgia; to leave his town and make something of himself.

A video posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on
When he came back to his home town for his mentor's funeral 30 years later, he found that he really could never let go of nostalgia. It was such a moving film that I cried when I watched it. I somehow understood and connected with the protagonist. From then on I knew nostalgia will always be something I just can't let go of no matter how hard I try.

There is a scene where the once popular cinema called Cinema Paradiso was about to be demolished to make way for a parking lot. The people who used to frequent the place watched and remembered the good times they had there.

A video posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on

I'm sure some of the older generation of Singaporeans must have had the same feeling when they see the Alhambra Theatre being torn down as shown in these photographs. (photographs shown here are from the National Archives of Singapore)






But more importantly I remember the film because it had a scene where it showed a great deal of the interior of 1950s cinema hall; how cinema goers behaved and everything else that goes on in that hall. There is a scene where you can hear boys whistling excitedly. This behavior is funnily enough, the same in Singapore back then in the 40s and 50s.

A video posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on
Back then long films took up space of 2 reels and when the first reel has been played, the film projectionist needed some time to replace that reel and put on the second reel onto the projector. The film audience at the Alhambra Theatre will have to wait for quite a while and during this time there will be piano music being played to entertain them. This was also depicted in that film. I knew about this when I read the transcript of Mrs Goh Heng Chong's oral interview done in 23rd December 1992.

This little trivia from Mrs Goh was why I added piano music with the sound of people chattering in the background  in the "select game levels" scene in my game to simulate the atmosphere in the cinema hall back in the 40s and 50s.

I had a hard time finding any visual reference for the interior of the Alhambra Theatre so I based it on the interior of Cinema Paradiso in that film of the same name.




Who goes to the Alhambra Theatre? All kinds of people! But what I found interesting was that the people from the European community would dress up when they go watch a film on Saturday night at the Alhambra. Ladies would wear hats and men would be wearing tuxedos! There was no air-conditioning in the cinema halls at the time so they would be perspiring in their glad rags. But it was alright to them because they'll just drop off their sweaty clothes at the dry cleaners the following day. I knew about this from listening to the oral interview of Mrs Myra Isabelle Cresson on 20 Aug 1985.

Also, they were addressed as Tuan and Ma'am by the Asian locals who are of a lower social status.

Since tuxedo is mentioned in this discussion, I am going to segue to another film that had strongly influenced the music as well as the look and feel of Satay club game; a film directed by Baz Luhrmann called The Great Gatsby.




(to be continued in the next post...)

Friday, 10 July 2015

Historical Accuracy in Games

When I was creating my fictional story in my Satay Club Game, I felt the need to take great care of the chronological order of real life events. For example, I wanted Satay Club game to start off in 1948. I had to research on the events that happened during that particular year. Specifically events that concern Satay Club, the surroundings and people that go there to enjoy their night time street food.

Satay Club game progresses from level 1 to 60. Thus I had to think of a way to anchor each individual level to a particularly interesting event that happens at Beach Road. Not a lot of stories can be scoured from the old archives of the Straits Times in 1948 concerning Satay club. So I had to stretch the story longer. From 1948 till about 1959. So now I have a wealth of interesting events that I can pick out of from the old newspapers and then make a story out of it. It had to be done in a chronological way.

One of the earlier levels in Satay Club game has the character Ah Chong expressing his worry to Adi.


I created this scene to let the players know that something bad WILL actually happen in the later levels. This is based on the Singapore newspaper article published in 1952 that reported on what transpired after the tension between the Traffic Police and the Satay men.



There is another article published in 1955 that reported on the attitude of bus drivers at the bus terminus in Beach Road. Satay club is just a stone's throw away from this place.



So Ah Chong's fears are warranted. Accidents are just waiting to happen and players can know about this as they progress and reach the higher levels in the game.

Because mobile games are visual interactive media, I felt that historical accuracy must also apply to the artwork in the game. I'm not a very good artist and to make it worse this is the first time I am dabbling in pixel art. The only tool I am comfortable with is Adobe Flash, and its not even the latest version. I'm still stuck with CS3 because that's what I had many years ago. I actually won a copy of it in a mobile game competition, back when Flashlite was starting to take off and then soon after that the iPhone killed it.

So yeah, I made pixel art using Flash. Crazy.

Anyway, I'm going to segue a bit here to show you a pre-Alpha version of Satay Club.

At that time I only had a rough idea of what Satay Club will look like. I had initially thought about creating a game based on Satay Club from 1940s, to 1970s and then the 80s and 90s. But because that amount of content in the game is just too huge for me to undertake, I finally settled for just one era: the good ole 1940s and 1950s.

So because of that I had to scrap the art that I did and redraw many things. One of which is the bus.
This bus is one of the icons in the game. It gives the player the idea that Satay Club is actually at the bus terminus.


As you can see from the picture above, I had to trawl through many old photographs of Tay Koh Yat buses from the National Archive of Singapore's website. I also had to research on what are the buses that go to Beach Road at that time. If you notice, there's a number 2 on the top front display of the bus. Bus service number 2 goes to Beach Road and ends at the terminus.


(to be continued in the next post...)

Thursday, 9 July 2015

Anita the cabaret girl in Satay Club Game

In this post I will continue the discussion on meaningful games.

Like most time-management games such as Diner Dash, there is a storyline that players can follow through as they play. In Diner Dash you follow the trials and tribulations of the protagonist called Flo. I thought it would be a good idea if I make a fictional story for Satay Club game that is based on real life in Singapore in the 1940s and 50s.

One of the characters that comes up in Satay Club game is Anita. I used Anita to represent the popular night life scene in Singapore city at that time. A cabaret girl is basically a dance hostess where her job is to be a dance partner to many different men that came to the cabaret. This job is very much looked down upon by society at large. A step above the social ranking of a cabaret girl would be a nightclub singer. This is who Anita is in the game.

This picture is most likely of cabaret girls in Singapore in the 60s
Picture taken from http://singapore60smusic.blogspot.sg/2012/06/do-nightingales-only-sing-rafchangi.html



In the 1960 film Antara dua Darjat (Between Two Social Classes) directed by P. Ramlee, we see the hypocrisy of a man of royal blood (Tengku Karim) who married a cabaret girl and then has a daughter (Tengku Zaleha) whom he later on opposed to having a romantic relationship with a common man. The fact that Tengku Zaleha's mother was a cabaret girl was kept secret from her right until her step brother shouted at her mother in anger. From this scene modern viewers can know that being a cabaret girl is something of a social stigma.


Another scene from a romantic comedy film titled Masam Masam Manis also presents the social stigma at the time. In this scene, P. Ramlee acted as a school teacher who unknowingly married a cabaret singer who kept her profession as a secret from him. But he soon found out about it and went on a fake rage. In the scene he mentioned that he considers those who works in cabarets are low class, regardless they be dancers or singers.


In Satay Club game, there is a scene where we see Adi giving chase to Anita but he was too late.

A photo posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on

I showcased a pirate taxi here. Not many people know what a pirate taxi is. I think Uber is like a pirate taxi back in the old days. Private car owners who decide to use their cars as unlicensed taxis. You will know when a pirate taxi approaches, by the sound of their car horn. Usually pirate taxis will pick up other passengers along the way so if you're in one of these taxis most likely you'll be sharing your journey with strangers. The situation with pirate taxis then became prevalent and started to undercut the licensed taxis. Soon even the licensed taxis will pick up other passengers along their main journey. Because of this, most ladies do not ride in pirate taxis because they do not like the awkward situation where they might have to share that tiny car space with strange men. Ladies back then prefer riding in trishaws instead. (Side note: I also featured the Ford Prefect car in Satay Club Game. One of the popular cars back then in Singapore).

So now we see Anita leaving in a pirate taxi. If you were part of the uppity moral majority, what impression would you have if you happen to see a lady getting onto a pirate taxi at night?

Adi seems not to mind the fact that Anita works in a cabaret where morals where looser. Or it could be that he doesn't know what a cabaret is. I guess like most men, Adi was very much drawn to female beauty. Nothing else seems to matter. Much like Tengku Karim in that film Antara Dua Darjat. In this video we see his commoner wife retaliate and exposing his hypocrisy in order to protect her daughter Tengku Zaleha.




So when Adi wanted to date Anita, she refused him. Adi was persistent. Anita still kept her distance until one night when she had to explain to him clearly who she really is.

A photo posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on

Things took an unexpected turn from then on. I do not wish to spoil the story for players so get a copy of Satay Club game from the app stores to find out what happens next!


(to be continued in the next post...)