7 More Lessons Learned as a Persona Theory Games Intern

The lessons I learned in university shouldn’t be so hard to remember but somehow, they are… so forgettable. I remember trying my best to survive and in the beginning trying really hard to compete, but then I realized the person next to me could do whatever I could, and probably even better. Slowly, my passion for programming drained away. The gradual doubts made me realize that maybe I wasn’t cut out for it, and then, I was seduced by the world of writing.

Aware of the risks, I decided to use my internship to venture into new grounds. That’s when I applied to join Persona Theory Games. My expectations? University crushed all expectations I had for having a good experience through my learning environment. Safe to say, I felt like it would be inevitable again for me to learn everything by myself through the internet.

What a surprise it was to be a part of a project like Kabaret, where I could be a part of something bigger, and felt that my contribution to the story would matter. Before joining, I had told myself to stay silent, know my boundaries, know my place, because this wasn’t my story to tell. I was quickly proven wrong. The people and the lessons that I learned here made me realize that I had found a place that I could call home.

Lesson 1: Learn to Appreciate

Life doesn’t always have to be about achieving things, chasing after what I want, what I don’t have. It is also about understanding and appreciating even the littlest of things, the things I have… and not just the pretty things, or the things I choose to remember. Stop, smell, and touch all the flowers, not only the roses. A lesson best illustrated by one of my favorite sayings: “The frog at the bottom of the well doesn’t know the vastness of the sea, but it does know the blueness of the sky.”

Lesson 2: Write with a Purpose

I never knew there was so much more to writing than words strung together in a blank space. But, I soon realized that to write, I have to first understand what I’m trying to say, what I’m trying to get across, the story to tell. Don’t write to write. Don’t write to “show-off”. There’s no point in a written piece if no one wants to read it, or if they can’t. “Everyone can tell stories, but not everyone is a storyteller.” I’m beginning to grasp some of these concepts now.

Lesson 3: Ask “Why?”

The “why” questions are always the best to ask. “Don’t accept everything that everyone else expects us to accept. Learn to ask, ‘why’?”. It is only through understanding that my appreciation will grow.

Lesson 4: Be Proud

Taking pride in my work, and the people I choose to work with. “If your work is something you would show your family and friends, something you would put your name on to call yours, then that is something you can say you are proud of. And that should be the standard for anyone’s work”, a saying that has stuck with me ever since.

Lesson 5: Sharing a Community

Being in a community was a first for me. My initial sense of uneasiness didn’t stay long, as I soon realized I wasn’t forced to “socialize” if I wasn’t ready to, or simply didn’t feel like it. I do, however, enjoy spending time in our weekly movie nights, where I have also been introduced to movies that I would never have discovered on my own… especially foreign films, where I was exposed to different cultures.

Lesson 6: It’s Okay to be Yourself

I’m not the expressive type. I was never the guy with much to say. But despite it all, I’ve never really felt left out, or that my silence was a flaw… even if it definitely had been in most of my school days. All of the little moments where the others would try to include me in conversations just so I don’t feel left out, are the ones I hold ever so dear. I do hope I leave a silence that will be remembered when I’m gone.

Lesson 7: The Work Culture

The standard “corporate” structure doesn’t exist. Instead, in its place is an assembled “family” unit, one that gives a sense of inclusion, and belonging. Although I was an intern, I was never reminded of it. I wasn’t treated like some distant relative who was bound to leave soon. Instead, we all worked on the same projects, giving me an equal sense of importance. We were all in the same boat. No one was going to sink alone. When we’re happy we celebrate together too.

These were only a handful out of the many moments and lessons that I could take away from. An experience… no, a journey, best described as “memorable”. Because things happened. Things were different. And even if I wasn’t going to be better… I could be different.

I’m still where I started off, in my room, staring at the same computer screen, sitting on the same chair, but what is different now is the person sitting on it. Perhaps the most important change of all, knowing there’s more than one side to every story… more than my side.

Staring at the blank pages that follow, I wonder what stories I will write from now on. Only time will tell. All I know is that if it happens to be my story, then it won’t be about a boy trying to survive in college, but a boy who can say… “I lived”.

Look under the bed.

Do you see anything?

There’s a belief that if there are gaps under your bed, monsters will reside there, so YOU’D BETTER make sure that you fill it up with boxes or things so they have no place to hide.

Perhaps, they don’t hide under our beds, but live and lurk in our fears.

And from the depths and fears of old, we’re proud to introduce our homegrown project, Kabaret! The interactive demo is now available after a year being buried inside the box (thanks to WINGS for reaching in and pulling it out of the darkness).

If all goes well, and we beat our demons along the way, you don’t have to wait long to get your hands on the full game, as Kabaret is coming this Summer 2021! (We’re gonna release our second game while still in a global pandemic ^^)

We cannot wait to introduce you to the world of Kabaret, a monster realm full of characters inspired by Southeast Asian myths. Get your cup noodles ready and smell that broth ‘cause it’s gonna be a f***ed up ride!

The idea of Kabaret was first conceived after Saqina & Buddy (our founders) worked with local traditional cultural dance performers and became entranced in their artistry and spirituality. Kabaret was then crafted to be a lighthouse for us estranged kind to find our way back to our roots.

Similar to our previous project, Fires At Midnight, Kabaret features a distinct hand-drawn stylized art style, layered storytelling with multiple endings, original soundtrack by Sambasunda Indonesia, music and sound effects by Hello Universe (same team from FAM!), and gameplays featuring local traditional games!

Our Kabaret project is funded by WINGS Interactive, who finances games made by teams with women and marginalised genders holding key positions.

The reception for Kabaret has been incredibly positive, and we are grateful for the support. Our community is growing closer together, like a dysfunctional family, so much so that we are having weekly events! Ever wanted to know what game developers are really like? Or just looking for friends to game and chill with? Drop by and hang out!

And as Bukowski said, “we are all museums of fear.” So come on by and take a look, there might be something for you here.

Enjoy our trailer! Art by MicehellWD, featuring music by Sambasunda Indonesia! Have a good day whoever you are, and don’t take shit from people!

As usual, do join our Discord community and follow us on our socials on Twitter (@personatheorymy), Instagram (@personatheory), and Facebook (@personatheory) for more info on us, Kabaret, Fires at Midnight and our upcoming games.

Remember to wishlist Kabaret today on Steam here!

Hi guys!

We’re happy to announce that Fires At Midnight is officially LIVE!

Steam page here.

Itchio page here.

Get the game, soundtrack, and artbook on itchio here.

Get the artbook only here.

Get the soundtrack (featuring awesome tracks from Golden Mammoth and mutesite) only here.

We can’t wait to hear from you. Tell us what you think, and if you encounter any bugs, please report at the community hub. Enjoy the trip back to 1999. Let Love Burn.

Follow us on Twitter for more updates!

From the devs <3
Team Persona Theory

When I first started looking for internship companies as I neared the end of my fifth semester, I didn’t know what to expect. I was a lost, 22-year old final-year student, just about to cross the threshold of adulthood and it stumped me how difficult finding an internship company was when you don’t know what you’re looking for. That’s when I stumbled on kakuchopurei’s interview with a local independent games company, Persona Theory.

Long story short, I was intrigued. An independent visual novel games company focusing on visual storytelling based here in Malaysia? That was a first for me. I couldn’t wrap my head around it but something about that interview video pulled me in. I’ve always loved storytelling and games, so without thinking about it too much I sent them an email. They immediately got back to me as soon as I hit them up, and set up an interview. I was approached by the two managing directors of the company, Buddy Anwardi and Saqina Latif. We had an interview about my wanting to be a writing intern there, and I asked them about the company. I was given a week to decide whether I was sure of interning at Persona Theory, and without thinking about it too much, I agreed. Fast forward a few months later, I’m in the last week of my internship. As I write about this article, I remember one of the first things my supervisor said to me when I started in the company, “I want you to write something that shows the experience you had here at the end of your internship”, so here it is.

1. Learn Adapt Improvise

Interning at Persona Theory has been a roller coaster. When I first started, the company was in the midst of pitching a project to a client, so I was thrown into the action, head first. I had to quickly adapt and learn the lingo of the company as soon as I was in. As this was my first time interning, I had to get familiar with programs like google sheets and google slides. Thanks to the support and help from my supervisors and team members, I did. The managing directors, lead artist, game designers, game programmers, and interns are all linked to each other like a delicately-balanced spider web, where each role plays an important part in developing the games for the company.

via GIPHY

2. Speak Now, Or Forever Hold Your Peace In Pieces

One of the most vital things I learned while interning is to never assume anything. Working on something that requires the effort of a whole team for it to work requires a substantial amount of communication and it is the most important thing. Nothing, not even something that seems small like the font size for an article or naming conventions for certain folders should be taken lightly. Like I said before, the team is linked to each other like a delicately-balanced spider web, and if a part of that web messes up — it falls apart.

3. The Culture of A Video Game Company

The culture here at Persona Theory Games is that of a bohemian lifestyle. Our office is more of a co-working space than an actual office, so employees and supervisors are encouraged to dress down and drop the honorifics. From my experience, I’ve come to understand that communication within Persona Theory isn’t set upon a hierarchy structure. Of course, you still show respect to senior workers and those who have more experience than you, but that doesn’t make you inferior to them. My supervisors and senior colleagues all listen and accept ideas from us interns, and respect us enough to have discussions about them. Working at Persona Theory feels more like working with a group of unlikely family members rather than a group of unlikely strangers, where trust plays a huge role in progression.

4. A Day In-the-life of A Persona Theory Games Intern

A day in-the-life of an intern at a video games development company. Sounds like a cool youtube video, doesn’t it? Well, it’s cool in reality too. My typical day starts with a traffic jam, so I’ve to go out at least by 9:20am in order to get to the workplace by 10:00am. Once I’ve arrived, I’d have a cup of coffee before pushing through with work. Most days, I’m stuck in front of my laptop screen, writing and researching — with one or two meetings in-between. Others, I’d be visiting our clients and partners as part of our fieldwork projects.

Flynn — one of our supervisors

5. Separate life and work… If possible.

“No matter how much fun it is, work is still work” is a phrase that I take strongly to heart. I’m a firm believer that your work and your personal life should be separated, because how else would you appreciate one or the other? One is designed to keep you on your toes while the other helps you unwind. Which is why I believe that, despite some of the flexibility and leniancies of Persona Theory, they are a very result-oriented company. My supervisors are very understanding when I consult them regarding certain difficulties or complications that I’m facing regarding work, my personal life and studies, but they still expect me to deliver on the tasks that they’ve assigned me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Before I complete the last level of this adventure, I would like to take a second to thank my supervisors and colleagues for the support and knowledge they’ve given me for the past three months. I believe what I’ve learned here can be used to further progress my career and my life. Being able to work here with these talented up-and-coming developers has been an honor, and I’m excited to see the strides that the company will come to achieve in years to come. And me? I’ll be looking at them proudly, and say “that’s my team!”.

Person Theory during Chinese New Year

Our latest game will be out very soon, so please look forward to Fires at Midnight.

Demo out now, on itch.io.

As usual, do follow us on our socials on Twitter (@personatheorymy), Instagram (@personatheory) (@firesatmidnightgame), and Facebook (@personatheory) (@firesatmidnight) for more info on us and our upcoming narrative interactive video game, Fires At Midnight — which centers around a young couple living in late 90’s Kuala Lumpur, struggling to make ends meet while being stuck in a toxic relationship.

As I write this article, I wonder about my car, about how long it’s been since I last heard its old engine cough as it circled around the block and optimistically tries to survive highways. I wonder about my neighbor, whom I have not seen since we both greeted each other on my way out to the office. I also wonder about other creatives and artists, how they keep their minds fresh, and their crafts “fresher”. We decided to call up some friends, check on how they are doing, and we had the amazing opportunity to interview these artists who are working and wandering about Southeast Asia. Let’s find out how they live, deal with loneliness, what they think of family and of course, how this pandemic has affected their livelihoods.

PT: Hello, and welcome! Thanks for being with us here today. Welcome to the first episode of our virtual coffee shop talk show, Persona Grinds. Let’s get down to brass tacks, tell us about yourself and the work you do.

Cheryl J Hoffmann (pictured right), Photographer

Cheryl: Thank you, pleasure to be here. My name is Cheryl J Hoffmann, I’m a photographer but I don’t see it as work, I feel freer when I do it that way. Mostly, I photograph “beliefs” without being too concerned about how that’s interpreted. My shots consist of traditional performing arts, spirit mediums, rituals, sacred spaces, and things that go bump in the night, always looking for the artistry beyond the image.

Social Media: (Facebook)@cheryljhoffmann

Michelle Lee, Art Director

Michelle: It’s good to be here, I’m Michelle Lee, currently the art director and illustrator of project FAM (Fires At Midnight) where I deal with everything on the art side of FAM, starting with the research stage to concept art for both characters & environments, and completing the final illustration look and feel for the entire game. I enjoy the unexpected things in life, and food. Social Media: (Instagram)@micehellwd

Ezzam Rahman, Art Educator & Performance Artist

Ezzam: Thank YOU for this opportunity, my name is Ezzam Rahman, I’m an art educator, multi-disciplinary installation and performance artist based in Singapore. I’d like to say I’m well-known for my interest in the body and common use of easily accessible and unconventional materials to produce works.

Social Media:(Instagram) @theeverydayness

PT: Perhaps you can shed a little light on your lives as artists. Describe it for us.

Cheryl: For me, life as an artist is — A constant bombardment of ideas begging for articulation. Never, ever, being bored.

Michelle: I have to say it’s not an easy life, especially if we’re taking it in as a career. There’s always obstacles in every corner that would tell you to give up your career as an artist due to many reasons. Not every artist is born the same and not every artist is as fortunate as the others.

Ezzam: To me, making art and living, works hand in hand together and it is almost impossible to separate them apart. Artists create works and those works are reflections of themselves too. When I stand in front of the class, it is my responsibility to inspire my students, to guide them, to challenge, to help them fulfill their goals and I will try in my best abilities to do so.

PT: Which of your work would you say is “the best one” and why?

Cheryl: My photography is not about single image impact. I have a lot of images that I am emotionally attached to and many that I’m proud of. If I must, I would choose my long-term project “Jalan-jalan cari Datuk”. It’s not my strongest photography but it is my most selfishly precious. It has evoked my historical geographer background and makes me chase ideas and ask questions and write. In my search for belonging, that project has connected me to Malaysians and to Southeast Asia, more than anything else.

Michelle: Project FAM would be the best one for now. Working on a project from scratch to finish for 10 months straight is definitely an accomplishment. It’s not easy but we made it.

Michelle’s Illustrations

Ezzam: I cannot just pick one. I also cannot say every work that I have made, I am satisfied with them too but I can highlight a few works that are important to me.

1) Here’s who I am, I am what you see, 2015 – My award-winning artwork that catapulted my artistic career that gained a lot of recognition and had opened a lot of doors of opportunities for me.

Ezzam’s Collection

2) You are what I don’t want to be, 2015 – This performance in Saint Merry Eglise church in Paris, France is definitely one of my iconic works. I am very lucky to create this site-specific performance work in an old gothic church. It is still one of the favorite works, just because of the location, my collaboration with sound artist Pascal Battus, the reactions I’ve received from the audience… The experience was pure magic.

You are what I don’t want to be – 2015

Flower Petals made from Ezzam’s own skin.
PT: That brings us to our next question, are there any specific things that you do (outside your primary work) that contribute to your craft?

Cheryl: If I say yoga or classical music, it’s going to feel like an Eat/Pray/Love meme. Is there anything I do that does NOT contribute to my craft? I cannot separate.

Michelle: I do enjoy playing games. Overall, I just love the storytelling and the amazing visual that can be created from technology nowadays. It’s very inspiring.

Ezzam: Like I had mentioned before, I see art and life work hand in hand. For me, my works are definitely a reflection of my own personal experiences. What I see, taste, smell, hear and touch are recorded as memory files that I can use and translate them in my artworks.

PT: If we may ask, how do you deal with loneliness?

Cheryl: I like solitude and the space it gives me for reflection. Sometimes I do push companionship away so hard that I become lonely. Then I cry. I have a mantra for life that helps me with my times of self-pity. “When you feel that you have nothing left, give something away.” If I’m sad because no one has called me, I call someone.

Michelle: Mostly just continue my day like usual. Getting work done, eat in time and just remember to take a break and get enough rest. Good rest always helps.

Ezzam: By touching myself! HAHAHA! I have a love-hate relationship with my right hand and sometimes I want to cheat him with my left hand! HAHAHA! On a serious note, my loneliness is killing me.. and I, I must confess.. I still believe… still believe… When I’m not with you… I lose my mind… Give me a sign… Hit me baby, one more time.

PT: Now that this pandemic is among us, how has it affected your workflow? How is it any different?

Cheryl: It’s been a reality check. When we first started isolating I hopped on the bandwagon and believed that this was an opportunity to complete all of those projects that were waiting for me. It did not take me long to admit to myself that “time” was not the only barrier to getting things done. So, I’ve taken them all off my “To Do” list and with them, the pressure of being productive. Ironically, I think about the projects more and might even get to some of them. These are strange times and I believe that I need to be kind to myself and others, to be ready for the new reality that awaits.

Michelle: It hasn’t really affected my creative flow at all as I’m used to working remotely. Communication with the team is the key to keep every project going smoothly.

Ezzam: To be very honest, I started social distancing and initiated my own ‘self quarantine’ about a month before it was officially implemented by the Singapore government. It is just my own personal responsibility to behave as such because I am a care-giver to my aging mum, hence I have to take care of myself first and the people around me. I am enjoying my own quiet time, in isolation I am most creative, I get to do the work that I’ve always wanted and complete the many pending projects. My life has been very hectic, constantly busy with teaching and juggling art projects month after month. Due to the lock-down, I get the time that I need for myself. I have always loved staying at home and making my own works at my own time and this pandemic is also a blessing in disguise, it allowed me to slow down and rest… and sleep!!!

PT: My oh my, look at the time! It’s almost 8pm, which means most stores are closing down, which is also a sign we must wrap things up for now! We’ve got one last depressing question to ask — what would you like written in your obituaries?

Cheryl: Damn! What was that?

Michelle: Died at the age of 98, she rose from the grave a day later just to celebrate her one last birthday before she went back to her resting place. Officially died at the age of 99.

Ezzam: “Oh… he die already lor” (insert artist name / date of birth and date of departure)

PT: And that’s all the time we have for now, folks! Thank you interviewees, and thank you readers, for joining us today on our first edition of this new series of talks. Part two will be out very soon. Stay healthy, from us at Persona Theory Games.

Do follow us on our socials on Twitter (@personatheorymy), Instagram (@personatheory) (@firesatmidnightgame), and Facebook (@personatheory) (@firesatmidnight) for more info on us and our upcoming narrative interactive video game, Fires At Midnight — which centers around a young couple living in late 90’s Kuala Lumpur, struggling to make ends meet while being stuck in a toxic relationship.

A short teaser of Fires At Midnight.

Amidst the outbreak of the deadly Covid-19 Virus, the world has been engulfed in a party of chaos, and Malaysia was invited. As of now, with over 2000+ active cases and an accelerating headcount of deaths, we are dancing and even singing, very closely to tragedy. Therefore, the Government had no choice but to enact the Movement Control Order (MCO) in order to regulate the situation from getting any worse. In this MCO, excluding those who work in essential services, citizens are required to stay at home from the 18th of March to the 1st of April which has since been extended to the 14th.

Prime Minister Tan Sri Muhyiddin Yassin announcing the initiation of the Movement Control Order (MCO)

As such, this crisis has forced Malaysians to adapt to a lifestyle that is limited to the confinements of their homes, alongside their work. Companies far and wide are coming up with different alternatives to get their tasks done, initiating a “work-from-home” concept, and we at Persona Theory Games are no different. We’d like to share how we’ve been soldering on in this time of crisis.

1. Medium Of Communication

Like with many other things, communication is, if not the most important thing in a workplace setting. One of our major worries during this quarantine period is how we’re going to be able to have the face-to-face interaction that we can often easily have in a physical environment. So with that in mind, we at Persona Theory Games have come up with our own initiative that rectifies this complication for us, at least.

Every morning at 10:AM (our usual opening hour) starts with a conference call. During this call, our managing director hands out our tasks for the day while also checking the progress of our previous or current work. The call usually lasts for a good 15-30 mins before everyone is allowed to go about their tasks. Throughout the remaining work hours, we use Discord to contact each other about any confusion or complications regarding our tasks. Specific channels relating to art, writing, tech and general announcements have been created in order to categorize any issues we need more clarification on. The day usually ends with a progress check, where the managing director and senior workers check on everyone’s work for the day. Once they’ve been signed off, we can either polish our work or end the day and start again tomorrow. It’s a very “work-life balance” principle, and we haven’t come across any issues with our method so far. It’s one of the perks of working in an indie company with a bohemian lifestyle.

An average day for us at PTG throughout this entire quarantine schtick

2. Keeping Track

Keeping track is an important process in games development. With so many things going on, it’s easy to miss out on minor details and get sidetracked. Consequently, Google applications like Sheets, Docs and Drive have been good friends to Persona Theory, as we write a lot of our logs in these applications. In our shared company Google Drive, we have created separate folders to segregate specific aspects of development. Eg, game art, game development, game tech, and the list goes on. This is especially helpful right now, as we go about our work through a virtual medium. If, for example, programmers need new art assets to be implemented into the game, they can do so by downloading them from the game art folder with ease, provided that the artist has uploaded the assets needed.

Aside from that, we also made a to-do list for each of our members throughout the duration of the MCO, where they can fill up with their daily tasks. Categorizing and organizing the vast amount of content at our disposal is highly important to us as we work on a timed schedule, making it frightfully easy to rush through and forget a few things along the way. Besides, organizing our files neatly allows us to mediate our work in a way that sparks us joy, like how a certain Miss Kondo does it.

via GIPHY

3. Our Work

Games Development requires a team effort, which is why communication and keeping track is key. With the general situation in Malaysia being at an all time low, we keep our morale high by doing the primary thing we all signed up to do — making games, and we’re excited to show everyone what we’ve been working on. If this tickles your fancy, follow us on our socials on Twitter (@personatheorymy), Instagram (@personatheory) (@firesatmidnightgame), and Facebook (@personatheory) (@firesatmidnight) for more info on us and our upcoming narrative interactive video game, Fires At Midnight — which centers around a young couple living in late 90’s Kuala Lumpur, struggling to make ends meet while being stuck in a toxic relationship.

Unfortunately, a lot has changed these past few weeks in terms of physical meetups and teh-tarik breaks, but we’re still “keeping on, keeping on” by being plastered to our screens and typing away on our keyboards. Check up on your loved ones, wash your hands, practice social distancing, and most importantly,

via GIPHY

On Merdeka weekend, Team Persona Theory took part in Animangaki. Animangaki was held on the 31st of August and 1st of September at the Mines Exhibition Hall, and proclaimed as one of the largest animation, comics, and games convention in Malaysia. Special thanks to the organizing committee of Animangaki for getting us to the event!

The team L-R: Naim Iskandar, Gibran Iskandar, Tam Eugene, Saqina Latif, Zura as Kabaret’s Pontianak, Zaim Zulkarnain, Buddy Anwardi, Nurul Nadhrah

For this year’s Animangaki, the Persona Theory team set up a booth to showcase and market test two of our upcoming games, Kabaret & Fires At Midnight.

Our goal was to let people play the prototypes, experience the game concepts, and give feedback for further game development and evaluation. Our game received a significant number of play-testers of over 80 people, accompanied with valuable feedback.

It was the first public showcase for Fires at Midnight, while it was the 2nd showcase for Kabaret.

To fit the aesthetic and experience of Fires at Midnight, we used colourful decorations, rainbow patterned cloth and multi-coloured lights to represent the characters in the game.

For Kabaret, we wanted to bring a local ghost, the ‘Pontianak’, to life and to roam around the event grounds. The Pontianak, which is an intractable character in the game, was played out by the cosplayer, Azura, and our new intern, Nadhrah. Our goal was to deliver a factor of ‘curiosity’ to convention visitors to compel them to visit our booth and play test Kabaret.

Yoko Taro (Nier) and Taura Takahisa (Astral Chain) made an appearance!

Yoko Taro and Taura Takahisa signatures on Kabaret postcards!

Thank you to everyone that played the games, and took the time to chat with us! We’ll be releasing more details on both games real soon, so follow us on our socials to keep up with our updates.

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