About the Project
Tales of the Aswang welcomes you into a VR game about the world of Filipino Mythology. Full of uniquely mysterious and well known creatures of lore named the Aswang. One navigates throughout the world by way of walking, climbing, and grabbing objects. In order to explore, solve puzzles, find items, and discover hidden narratives, you will use the above mechanics.
What is an Aswang?
Creatures that terrorize and strike fear upon Philippine locals as well as the collective term relating to the numerous supernatural beings present within Philippine mythology.
Alongside constructing storyboards, animating, and working with play mechanics, I researched in-depth for countless hours while using various sources so that the user experience within this Virtual Reality would be as engaging as it was accurate and fun.
Why Filipino Monsters?
“Monsters are humanity’s shadows which we project. They represent our inmost fears and the projected ugly desires and repressions. Monsters in Filipino Folklores are archetypes which powerfully capture the collective consciousness of Filipinos”
– From Jungian Psychology applied on Myths
Throughout Philippine history, between each of the 7000 islands, there have been various and unique differences. Due to Spanish colonization not being over the entirety of the islands, the north has a vast colonial linkage, whereas the middle and southern regions have more ties to their pre-colonial and authentic Philippine past. Nowadays, the traditional and the vestiges of colonial times have fused together. With Americans and Japanese peoples coming to the islands, there has been yet further cultural transformation. After all these changes and in the current mode of transformation, the Aswang remain to be a common linkage among the Filipino peoples. A bridge for everyone to the core of what it is to be a Filipino.
This connection to age-old belief systems and how they speak of social issues at the time as well as in the present, is what drew me to research about them and develop this VR game. Some of the social issues are:
Immigration (keep the same)
Gender Equality and Women Rights (Catholicism’s demonizing of women tribal leaders)
Environmental Protection (Spiritual beings living within the natural environment)
Human Rights (The demolishment of ancestral hearths and the slaughtering of peoples due to colonization)
All these tales are part of oral tradition. We do not have an oracle as the Greeks or Romans did, but this oral tradition lives on nevertheless. However, if our voices become silenced over the years, so will the stories fade away into the past. This is why I wanted to build a game that extends the narrative of the Aswang to new places. I want to break the mold that states that whatever is Western and new is automatically more important and integral than lessons from our own native past. I want to overcome the country’s colonial past.
Dr. Maximo Ramos who did his dissertation on the Aswang shares the same sentiment:
“It is sad to note that while we accept these stories as entertaining to our children, we reject our own folk tales about equivalent characters as superstitious and undesirable. It is about time that we changed our perspective that we accepted our own literary heritage and used it if we are to make education meaningful to our children.”
This is why this game exists and why I’m motivated to research, because the tales I’ve been reading about the Aswang has been non-stop and while I am finished with my thesis there’s still more tales I have yet to learn.
Research for Tales of the Aswang led me to hundreds and thousands of sources, from websites to storybooks and Ph.D. dissertations. All of which provided an extensive study of the importance of myth in communities and social development. But most importantly how myths parallel current social issues and how these tales affect the way we live our lives today.
On the left my bibliography has been linked. 3 sources that I find myself coming back to often are posted below for your convenience. Though these sources truly assisted me in terms of research and information, nothing can beat the valuable lessons learned from first-hand encounters.
The Aswang Phoenomenon
A Canadian produced Documentary about the famous Filipino mythical bogeyman named “Aswang” and how it relates to the present folklore tales in the Philippines.
The Aswang Complex
A series of books on Philippine mythological monsters by Dr. Maximo Ramos.
The Aswang Project
The Aswang Project was created as an educational resource to share the rich and diverse culture of the Philippines.
The initial story outline that fueled the project was based on a tale I heard a child. In the story, a young mischievous boy wanders into the woods at night and ends up stumbling upon a Kapre’s world by way of the tree and is trapped until it fulfills all of the Kapre’s tasks. These same tasks later allowed the boy to rediscover the value of caring over the environment and biosphere. Upon returning home, he comes to carry with him a new sense of care for the environment.
After reflecting upon this childhood story, I researched and through that research acquired and categorized over 300 short and long tales based on how detailed in nature each of them area. I also set aside quests and tasks, all the while determined to place an underlying lesson within each one.
Through the act of interweaving these narratives, 7 Aswangs came into existence in the narratie. Namely: The Kapre; The Manananggal; The Duwende; The Tikbalang; The Nangangatok; The Nuno sa Punso; The Engkanto; and the Sirena. In addition, there are several other Aswangs. However, they will not have any direct influence on the protagonist of the VR game. Only, by chance, on secondary aspects of the main character’s journey.
Creatures, Characters, Environments and Monsters
The concept art phase of the project began right after the 7th draft of the story was written. There were 3 Phases of concept art that were drawn in 1-2 weeks
An interpretation that took the creature’s description based on the oral stories,
One that was more cartoon-like which was heavily inspired by Disney and Ghibli films
One that merged both influences while picking up something unique to the character like size, weight, and environment.
The Storyboards were formed in 3 days time, after having wrapped up the concept art. The expanded tale of several Aswangs; the mischievous, young nature of the main character who committed pranks and encountered a Duwende by the river; and the Kapre that traps and takes him to his own world form the basis of the storyboards.
At this stage of the project, the focus was more on discovering and prototyping the tone of the creature’s relationship with the main character as well as establishing the mystery around the world of the creatures.
A lot of these storyboards eventually became the base of how I wanted the main character to interact with a specific Aswang. As well as how the Aswang would relate back to main character and those around them.
An animatic is a preliminary version of a movie, produced by using sections of a storyboard and adding a soundtrack.
The animatic presented in our Thesis class had a run time of 20 minutes and was voiced only by me. This original animatic had a lot of confusing plot lines and unnecessary quests for the main character. Which led me to evaluate what would be perfect for the VR experience.
I selected the Kapre scene to be shared with you on this behind-the-scenes site because this was the scene that has been maintained from the first inception to the final VR experience as well as because of the raw nature of the animatic having possible storylines and dialogues not being brought to the final product.
The New Story
Keeping time in mind for the user’s convenience, I trimmed the tales down so that it would flow easily to the player.
Each tale revolves around an individual Aswang, while simultaneously reintroducing another Aswang in the same environment later on. The monster’s own tale as well as a social issue that affects both the history and the present circumstances of the character are of equal importance.
A large change in the tale was the power of the HOMECOMING trope. The homecoming trope is basically a story of characters coming back and remembering their past to help make decisions for their lives in the present. This was added later in the process because it allows outsiders of the Aswang culture to be introduced as well as those familiar with it, to be re-introduced again without the need of establishing all the Aswangs at the beginning.
The new outline was received well by focus groups and as such the scripts had transitioned toward the next phase of the project-- going to the detailed level. In other words, level scripts.
The flow has been laid out, following the foundation being established for each of the episodes.
Determining what actions the player is able to accomplish at a particular level, in a particular location and/or environment was the first break down I took upon myself before writing the dialogue in the Level scripts. This allowed me to write as much dialogue and exposition based on the player’s capabilities.
Information such as this would help me determine how the level is built, whether the experience space is linear or non-linear for the player.
Scripts such as Tutorial Level 1 and Tutorial Level 2 are laid out in detail and are based on the capabilities of the player, given context.
Tutorial Level 1 is of a non-linear nature whereas tutorial level 2 is of a linear nature. Basically, in Tutorial Level 1 it is a freer more flexible environment. Though in Tutorial Level 2 the storyline progresses as the player explores.
The first stages of production (assets, levels, sound, models) took only 1-2 months. However, the second stages of production (user testing and narrative experience studies that affected the output of the game) took a total of 6 months. Thus ending with the last month of the interactive showcase of the game.
The production schedule for the game was subdivided into two parts. One for the first semester (Aug-Dec) and another for the second semester (Jan-May).
Level design for the game was completed in multiple phases including the first phase of outlining and diagraming in addition to setting the focus points on a defined level.
This would then be built digitally as a white wireframe and interacted with by a player to see if navigation was seamless.
Measurement would then be done to measure distance and scale of objects to the player, after which detailed modular assets are then built on Maya and assembled to an early polished look. This is then tested and iterated, adding each layer from texture to object to NPC, triggers, programming, and interaction until the player can navigate the level smoothly.
Also, being conducted as an isolated iterative process of level design to test various interactions and animations on an environmentally isolated area away from the other assets, were sandboxing tests.
Building The Forest
Building The House
Building The Cave
Outline of the Level Building Process
3D Modelling and Animation
On Maya, 3DS, MAX, Cinema 4D and textured on Substance Painter, over 70 original 3D models from objects, environmental details, characters, and Aswangs were constructed for the game.
Motion capture was done to make sure character interactions on the game would be met with realistic body gestures to ensure a fully immersed experience.
I did the 3D Modelling and motion capture for the game in a total of 2 months, spread out throughout the course of a year. The process was enduring and tiring and a lot of fun. What makes the work rewarding is seeing the model you make come alive in the experience.
Here is an alpha playtest where the Kapre, some 3D Assets and the cave level are mixed together to see how the experience would be in VR.
There were over 67 User Testers, subdivided into several sections (listed below) tested the game.
Early Research (What actions in VR are fun?)
Level Testing (How are people motivated to move to a distance)
Narration (Did people get the story or were distracted by the shiny object)
Experience Testing (Do people get dizzy, motivation for story vs visual sickness)
These testers determined a lot on how the game or level was going to be designed and I wanted to make sure that we would have the least amount of dizziness for the player.
Interestingly, I came upon a concept I have come to dub as “Visual Convenience” after the user testing. Essentially, it is the idea that players in VR universes immediately attribute real world movement upon digital spaces. For instance, players may feel motivated to walk to seemingly far away objects. Though if the object is nearby, players then may feel they will be led to new places rapidly.
Younger players adapt easily to new control scenes; whereas adults take longer to adapt, despite being able to control the game fluidly nonetheless. As such, I prioritize the tutorial level because of its function as a gateway to the game’s world.
The soundscape draws from the sounds heard within the Island of Mindanao, particularly tribal sounds from Davao City. I chose Mindanao because the soundscape of Luzon is heavily influenced by the Spanish colonial past.
Despite this, the game still incorporates both tribal and colonial sounds, contributing in unison to the story of the Aswang. At the start of the project, themes and leitmotifs were considered and which character had a theme that would evolve over time as the game progresses.
I wanted the voice actors for Tales of the Aswang to have that distinct Filipino twang but not just any twang but also the twang from different islands.
Given that the country’s language is English and Filipino, it wasn’t really hard to find anyone who can voice the characters. Yet what was hard to find were people who could capture the twang on both languages.
There were countless design choices made, particularly considering how the youth would only speak English because of the heavily Western-influenced education system within the Philippines.
The Aswangs speak both languages fluently, and they speak the native language unforgivingly as it is the language that was used to tell their tales.
The adults lastly speak a broken English mixed with some Filipino as to show how they are forcing themselves to adapt to the English language yet still having the struggle to express certain emotions in Filipino.
As I began optimizing the game for the showcase, I also prepared marketing assets and demoed the game to several friends and writers from popular media.
Creating the Poster
Conferences & Festivals
Unity Developer Day
Games for Change Festival
Cache (Parsons School of Design)
Playtech Fall 2017
Indiecade East 2018
Unfolding (Parsons Thesis Show 2018)
Spring Playtech 2018 [April 14, 2018]
NYU Game Center [April, 2018]
Unfolding (Interactive Showcase) [May 14, 2018]
Unfolding (Symposium) [May 16, 2018]
Creator + Director + Writer+ Animator + Composer + Programmer