San Pedro Laguna, a city right next to Biñan which is where I’ve lived for most of my life. Being back for the first time in a while, I felt a sense of nostalgia as I walked across Pacita Complex during a scorching hot afternoon in late April. I used to pass by this area on my way to work or on my way home. I worked in game development back then. And during that time, I wouldn’t have believed anyone that said there was an actual game development studio in San Pedro. Even now I still find it unusual, mainly because of how far it is from the lot of game development offices in Makati or Ortigas. However, the uncommon location isn’t a problem for San Pedro-based Ranida Games. In fact, the small team that produced the breakout hit Philippine Slam (formerly PBA Slam) is making a name for itself faster than Steph Curry shoots threes.
I walked further along, made two left turns, and finally found Ranida Games co-founder and Game Development Head Ben Joseph Banta’s house. Inside was a home-studio wherein the entire Ranida team worked on several game projects. As I sat down near Ben’s workstation, I was able to read the text on his desktop wallpaper: “the road to success is always under construction”. For Ranida Games, the said road wasn’t just under construction; a new one had to be built from the ground up.
Sometime in 2014, Ben’s previous video game venture with a foreign partner, Gonzo Games, which developed popular flash games such as Sniper Assassin and Potty Racers, had to cease local operations due to unfortunate circumstances. This led to him founding Ranida Games with his brother in law, Walter Manalo, who is now Ranida’s head of business development, and the Gonzo games employees who stayed and joined the new studio. The new company’s name was derived from the words “Ranida Phobic” which literally means fear of frogs. According to Ben, “we have one team member who fears frogs so much he refer frogs as T-Rex hence our studio logo, a T-Rex catching a fly with its long tongue. It was the most voted name from a long list of ideas that we have, though it may sound weird but it does reflect the fun and camaraderie that our core team has developed through the years of working together”.
There were two guiding principles behind the formation of Team Ranida. One was to create games that they really wanted to develop and play (and have full creative control while doing so). And the second was to release unique or stand-out games which were synonymous with high quality.
In late 2014, Ranida Games was figuring out what their first game would be. This brainstorming period resulted to several ideas being considered, including a title starring Filipino superheroes/comic book characters. Finally, while watching a Philippine Basketball Association (PBA) broadcast on TV, creating a PBA mobile game was discussed. Ben explained that the idea for developing PBA/Philippine Slam came when they decided to initially develop games for the local market. “Knowing that basketball is very close to the hearts of Filipinos, we decided that making a basketball game is the best way to grab the market’s attention. We then pursued to acquire the license to develop a mobile game and become the official game developer for the Philippine Basketball Association (PBA). We knew that when it comes to basketball, the PBA has the best brand recognition in the country and this will give us a safe way and will help us reach a massive potential”, he added.
Of course, Ben and his team were aware that the NBA 2K games were the standard when it came to basketball videogames. However, they didn’t have the time and resources to develop a full-on five on five hoops game like NBA 2K. Eventually, Ben remembered NBA Jam which he used to play on his Sega Mega Drive, and their team decided to pattern their PBA game after it. Ben recalls, and stated that “the idea was perfect as NBA Jam is a 2v2 game that allows players to satisfy their basketball game cravings but is casual enough for younger and non-basketball players to enjoy”. It also helped that there were some PBA fans on their team, especially their artist/animator, who did amazing work for Philippine Slam (the extreme dunk animations in the game are a highlight).
Getting the PBA license proved to be quite a task. It was also a significant risk as Ranida had to pay a certain amount for the license; and it came with the task of developing the official basketball game for the most popular league in a basketball crazy country. Not to mention, they had to cut their development cycle from six months to four as the PBA wanted to release the game earlier (in time for their 40th anniversary). The stakes were high and time wasn’t on Ranida’s side. It was like their team was down by two with only a few seconds left on the clock. No timeouts left and they had to inbound from the opposing team’s court. Thankfully, Ranida was clutch. They were able to release Philippine Slam on time in April 2015, and it got a massive number of downloads and positive player feedback. It was like Steph Curry dribbling just past the half court line and launching a three pointer before time expired. Just as the buzzer goes off, the ball goes in. Nothing but net. Bang.