Kabaret: A Story Of Having Tea With Pontianaks While Listening To Cabaret Songs

When a video game company goes to an exhibition, their marketing team comes up with extravagant ways to set up a booth that captures the essence of the games on the display. 

Batik-clad. From left to right: Director and Writer of Kabaret & co-founder Buddy Anwardi, 3D Artist Kok Foong, Executive Producer & co-founder Saqina Latif, Programmer Naim Iskandar, 2D Artist Cherry Oon, Concept Artist Six Kilometers and Game Designer Eugene Tam.

During my visit at Star Supa Comic last weekend, one particular booth stroke a chord. The whole booth was embellished with vibrant kain batik from the giant flower motive kain batik spread on the wall, the tables where they placed their laptops for game testing, even the entire team were dressed in kain batik sarong. That booth belonged to Persona Theory Games.

Established in 2017, this is their first appearance in a public event to unveil a storytelling adventure game, Kabaret. I tried the game and talked to the director and writer, Buddy Anwardi to learn more about the game.

Monsters and tea

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Kabaret follows a young man cursed to be a monster named Jebat in the Bunian World. It’s a tale of self-discovery, where you have to interact with a diverse cast of monsters inspired by Southeast Asian folklore and mythology. You’ll be meeting with strange monsters, uncover their stories and make tough choices that will impact your character’s moral compass whether to remain a monster or to return as a human.

The game opens up with a conversation between the Pontianak and Jebat over a cup of tea. Other than drinking with the monsters, players need to learn how to brew tea. After the tea is finished, Jebat will gently flip the cup upside down and flips it back for tea reading. Players have to ‘draw’ lines inside the tea and it will conjure up symbols that are kept in a journal for the player’s reference.

The exchange of dialogues is the heart of the game, which you get to learn the hidden intention of various mythical creatures and give players clues on how to navigate the world of Kabaret in 30 days. Then, players will be transported in a cabaret and you can chat with the regular patrons such as a talking skeleton Jerangkung, a humanoid horse-like creature Tikbalang, and a boar demon Babi Ngepet while enjoying performances by a giant snake, Nabau.

Tea reading sequence

According to Buddy, the main mechanic of the game is to let players engage in the game’s story by doing various tasks such as the tea making ceremony. Spoken like a true tea lover, he was captivated with the discipline that one must take in brewing a tea and its calming benefits that became a direct influence to write the conversation in the game.

Musical cabaret

The scaly singer-performer Nabau inspired by the Iban legend.

Buddy wanted to showcase the heyday of cabaret that was once popular in Malaysia back in 1950s and 60s. “Nowadays, there are nightclubs only and nightclubs are boring. Cabaret used to be a place where everyone comes, there are performances and dance and it’s a nice place to go. That’s the spirit that we’re trying to bring back,” said Buddy. A lot of Malaysian cultural elements are also highlighted in the game such as the intricate wood carvings, kuda kepang and kulit wayang. 

The lively cabaret is not complete without musical performances and Buddy believes that music is essential in delivering a meaningful story. “For Kabaret, we want to bring back a certain type of music that could be heard in the cabaret. At that time, you probably can hear songs from Saloma and the P. Ramlee gang,” he explained that the cabaret will feature different performers every night in the game.

When I played the prototype of Kabaret, Nabau performed a song called Bintang Malam that was popularised by prima donna, Saloma in the classic film, Do Re Mi. It turns out that the song was sung by Eddin Khoo, the son of the late Prof Emeritus Tan Sri Dr Khoo Kay Kim who is also the founder and director of Pusaka. 

Buddy also revealed Persona Theory Games is partnering with Hello Universe to provide the sounds in Kabaret. Kabaret’s musical atmosphere is about to get bigger as they’re looking to work with several Indonesian bands who play cultural music. Not only that, the studio is collaborating with the cultural organisation Pusaka to advise on history and culture.

Kabaret will be released in 2020 on PC and Mac.

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