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 Old photographs, film footages, oral interviews that has been archived are all great resources for anyone who would want to study history in depth.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

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...)

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Meaningful games

Thus far I have created quite a few games since 2011. All of which are casual games. Casual games are simple games where anyone can just jump right in and play and enjoy. There are no wordy texts or lengthy tutorials to wade through just to play the game.

Take for example Kopi Tiam game which I made back in 2012.
A photo posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on
This game hasn't got much text in it. Players can just tap away and "cook" to their hearts' content.
It is compelling to see the familiar local foods on your screen being turned into a game. But is this game meaningful?

This is the topic I'd like to touch on. Would you consider Kopi Tiam game as a meaningful game?
The animation in the game shows you how the local food is being cooked and presented. It is simplified but I think it did it's job to preserve the local culture in a media that is interactive and compelling.

Showcasing our local culture in a game such as Kopi Tiam game. Perhaps that is something that could be meaningful to someone local or foreign who has never seen foods like these before.

Fast forward to 2015, I have just released a new game called Satay Club.
A photo posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on
This is yet another casual game and also dealing with food. When Satay Club game was first conceptualized, I wanted my game to have more depth and to be more meaningful for players. I didn't want it to be just another tap, tap, tap and serve. I wanted to incorporate the rich history of Singapore back when it was part of British Malaya. I wanted an interesting story based on real life. And most importantly I wanted to capture the mood and feel of that long gone era.

I wanted my game to have historical facts in it, but I didn't know how to add it in. So the natural way of thinking was to present it in a "fun facts cards" way. This is what I did at first:

As you can see, the facts presented in such a way is not really very interesting.

This is a problem for me. casual players know when a game screams "TYPICAL EDUCATIONAL GAME!" from a mile away. To me this way of presentation is just like those kind of games. Not that there's anything wrong with...Sorry I can't continue that sentence. There's a lot of wrong in those types of games! LOL!

 I didn't want my game development to go down that route. I don't want my game to turn into a glorified textbook. I wanted something different. So I thought about it and decided a better way would be to weave these facts into a storyline made just for the game. As an example, the facts presented in the picture above is now turned into this picture:
A photo posted by Afzainizam Zahari (@afzainizamzahari) on
Now that little picture above might intrigue someone enough to go find out and research for themselves about Tay Koh Yat buses, the bus depot etc. That is what I'm trying to go for in my game. That subtlety. Or it might not and the player might just tap next and continue on with the game. But at least they've got that picture in their subconscious.

I wanted a story in my game. But honestly I'm like the worst story teller ever. People fall asleep the moment I start telling stories. Really!

This is totally not the case for my cousin though, who now goes by the pen name Nizam Zakaria. He however has published several popular novels and has directed many Films and TV series in Malaysia. He has actually influenced me quite a bit when I was a teenager. His novels are really easy to read and the stories are very compelling. But still, I'm not a writer. Far from it.

So I decided to learn.

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

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Pixel Art graphics update and what I have learnt so far

I am still very new at pixel art. Doing this made me have a lot of respect and admiration for those guys who create those artwork for the old video games of the 80s and  early 90s like legend of zelda, mario brothers and pac man. But those guys did it out of necessity because of the level of technology at that time.

After this game, I'm done with pixel art. But because of Satay Club game, I still have to dabble in it because the game needs updating once in a while.

I've just uploaded the first update to Satay Club onto Google Playstore. Hopefully players will get a notification to download this update. If you're reading this then send me a message on google hangout
to let me know what you think of the changes to some of the graphics.

Not all the graphics will be changed. Only those which I feel are crucial to the gameplay. By crucial I mean giving players that much better feel in terms of emotions when they see it hour after hour of play. As an example, here is what I mean.
As I created these graphics I learnt that for casual games, it is best that I make my graphics as clean and as cute as possible. The picture of a happy chicken smiling back at you gives you a better feeling as compared to an emotionless facial expression of the older version that I drew.

Here is a progression of some of the work I did over 2 days. Lesson learned: Cute and clean graphics are better for casual games.

Hmm...happy chickens and happy cows... the sad reality is, few of these animals are happy. The majority of them (billions of them) are not. But, that's the topic for another post.

Saturday, 4 July 2015

Pixel art and the Hi-res Low-res dilemma

I have been receiving a lot of feedback from past players of my games with regards to the Satay Club game. Most of them do not take a liking to the pixel art style graphics used extensively in the game.

I understand their concerns and I realize perhaps pixel art is not best suited for time-management games. Yes I acknowledge the fact that it can be quite difficult to make out what that particular thing on screen is when it looks super low resolution. "Is that a grenade or a ketupat?" LOL!

So I'm now working on getting some of the graphics to have a higher pixel density. It is still pixel art but the graphics look a lot more detailed. Have a look here:

Tell me what you think of this new graphics by reaching out to me on google hangout!

Friday, 3 July 2015


This competition is only for INTERNAL GROUP. #satayclub #cc

**UPDATE 12 JULY 2015**
It seems like I missed out on another 4 entries that came in before the deadline but I did not receive any notification on it until today. So here are the TOP 3 entries and their scores!

1) Resly John: 5195, no. of tries 7
2) Suriya Kool 5020, no. of tries 20
3) Clementine Liew 4695, no. of tries 2

I will contact the 2nd and 3rd prize winners very soon!


To participate in other competitions (open to all) please join my facebook group here:
or follow me on google+

**UPDATE 11 July 2015**
We have a winner! Congratulations to John. Please send me a tweet or contact me on Google Hangout! Thank you everyone for playing!
Deadline: Friday 10 July 23:59 hours

*Top 3 Highest Scores for level 18 from unique players will be selected.

*If in the event that all 3 scores are similar, the next criteria to be the decision factor will be the No. of Tries attempted for level 18.

*Submit your entries as instructed earlier today to:

   1) my Google+ page +Afzainizam Zahari
   2) my twitter page @afzainizam
   3) tag me on instagram @afzainizamzahari

*remember to include #satayclub #CC in your entries.

1) Only one entry per "ticket".
2) You can ask your friends or family members to help you out.

*check back to this post for updates on this competition. Good luck everyone!

P.S. any questions please comment on this post or tweet me or send a message via Google Hangout.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

Remembering Pak Zubir Said in Satay Club Game

If you haven't read about his life then this short video clip from the TV documentary called "My Gradfather's Road" is worth watching. Thanks to Dr Joe Peters for saving it on his Youtube channel.

In my Satay Club game, I have added him as one of the customers in Satay Club. This decision is not a trivial one because he really did patronise the stalls there. In an oral interview done in 23 August1984, he talked about frequenting the Alhambra Theatre in the weekends with his 4 friends one of which was the late Yusof Ishak. After the movies they would eat at Satay Club and then stroll to the beach nearby.

Pak Zubir was a prolific music composer. Many of his songs were immortalised in the classic Malay films produced by Shaw Brothers as well as Cathay Keris.

I admire Pak Zubir, because he decided to leave everything behind in Indonesia to strike out on his own in Singapore. He literally came with almost nothing. The same way the character in my game Adi who longed to leave the countryside to do something more exciting. I think a lot of people who were migrants to Singapore shared the same traits. They were young, brave and willing to take the risk. Much can be learned from these people.

What I have learnt from these courageous men is that you cannot get too comfortable staying where you are. The only way to grow is to be out of your comfort zone.

Pak Zubir passed away in 1987. Three years after that interview was conducted. He was 80 years old.

Listen to him speak in this recording. Much thanks to National Archives of Singapore for keeping all these memorable treasures and making it available online.

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

Wahid Satay

It would not be right if I do not mention Wahid Satay in any of my posts about my game Satay Club.  Abdul Wahid bin Haji Ahmad or better known as Wahid Satay was a very famous comedian in Singapore and Malaysia. You can of course read more about him on this wikipedia page. He was actually the first person I remembered about when I was developing Satay Club game.

This is first appearance that made a real impact on the silver screen that paved his way to stardom.

Because of the game, I watched a whole lot of old Malay films to get a feel of that long gone era. I also had a hard time finding video clips of the old Alhambra Theatre but fortunately I happened to watched this very short segment in the 1958 film called "Satay" where Wahid Satay was with a boy named Satay driving down Singapore's Beach Road in a convertible. They then drove past the Alhambra Theatre. It wasn't a very good clip and the quality of the video was too dark and grainy.
The video clip that shows the Alhambra Theatre with the marquee lighting at night starts at the 36:12 minute mark.