Pixelized – An Afternoon With Pixel Mafia And Driving The Philippine Dev Scene To New Heights

Tucked away quietly in his office, Pixel Mafia Founding Partner Coby Chan opens up his laptop to check on emails. As arguably one of the busiest figures in the studio, dealing with international partners and closing important deals on a daily basis is no small feat, especially when you’re talking about massive triple-A endeavors.

In between these high-priority emails, he gets something like this from me…

“Hi Coby! I know something but I also know you can’t tell me about it!”

The stuff he has to deal with can get pretty absurd at times, but he’s all smiles. And why not? When you’ve assembled nearly 100 of the best local artists and talents to do work on titles like Cyberpunk 2077, Halo Infinite, and most recently Horizon Forbidden West, sometimes you just can’t help but kick back and enjoy the ride.

OMG got the chance to virtually sit down with one of the head honchos of Pixel Mafia, the Manila-based studio that’s quietly blazing the trail for local talent in the video game industry.

pixel mafia paintover

OMG: Hi Coby! Great to finally get you on our site after… I dunno, almost a year? A year and a half of pesky emails from me? How have you been?

Coby Chan (CC): Thanks for having me, Christian! OMG has been so good to our studio and the local games industry – we’re fans of yours too! Things have been exciting for us at Pixel Mafia, as we are slowly releasing projects that we’ve been fortunate to be a part of.

We have been incredibly busy with our current projects, and we are opening our new studio in BGC! Although we are all working from home, we are hopeful (someday) we will be able to utilize our new office space.

It’s an exciting time for us, as our humble studio is starting to get some real recognition for the type of work we do!

OMG: Oh, a new office! The pandemic has really messed with a lot of our plans, yeah? How hard has that been for you and the Pixel Mafia team – shifting processes mid-project to accommodate the new arrangement brought about by COVID? Did you have to do anything radically different to keep up?

CC: Let’s say it was a bit rocky in the beginning. When the pandemic first rolled up, the Pixel Mafia team was just starting to plan for the worst. However, we didn’t expect to come in one day and be evacuated from our office. We had only a few hours to move computers, and we basically packed as much as we could in our cars and drove around the Metro – dropping off our staff and their workstations. It was nuts!

We needed to quickly come up with solutions on how we could continue to work remotely, and it took us a few weeks to sort everything out. Everything from internet connectivity, security, hardware, and communication needed to be revamped. One of the most challenging things we encountered was how the team was going to collaborate as we had been so used to doing inside the Pixel Mafia studio. Especially with us being a creative company, we need to constantly speak with one another to get things done. That said, everyone was going through the same thing, including our partners around the world. There was really a sense of support from everywhere, as we all understood we needed to band together to push our projects through.

As time went on, things have become more “normal”, and I believe we have figured out a process while working from home. I won’t lie though – it’s still tough as hell! One of the things we are proud of at Pixel Mafia is our culture and it’s certainly one of the most difficult things to maintain in these times. We have a lot of fun when we’re all together, and I know everyone misses that camaraderie we once had inside the office. However, I am hopeful that there will be one day (hopefully soon) we can have some people at the new studio that we’re building. Honestly, I’m so excited to see people back in there and hopefully get a chance to see the smiles and the laughs on game nights. I personally miss our “Fried Chicken Friday” parties. Whaddup Pixel Mafia Fam!

pixel mafia sample artwork
Just a taste of the quality of artwork from the team.

OMG: I love chicken, so dropping by on a Friday sounds like a very good idea…

So, after all of the projects that your studio has been involved in for the past year or so, and with the launch of Horizon Forbidden West (congratulations by the way!), does it get any easier for you guys? How does it actually feel working on something of this magnitude? The pressure of excellent output and of keeping silent for years must be tough!

CC: I wish I could say it gets easier! But this industry is always evolving and each partner we work with is always pushing boundaries. This certainly keeps us on our toes as we are motivated to keep up with growing expectations. What I will say though, is we are incredibly proud of the people that work at Pixel Mafia on the day-to-day. Everyone is constantly growing and the experience of working on these types of projects is an accomplishment on its own! It’s the best thing when our people can say, “Whoa – I did that!”.

At the end of the day, we are fans of these games too. So when we get a chance to step back, the realization that we had an impact is really rewarding. It does take a great amount of passion to work in AAA. Much like other jobs, there is always pressure. However, in my opinion, we work in one of the best industries in the world! We get to be creative and work on things for people to enjoy. But of course, I’m a bit biased…

OMG: It’s interesting to point out that just over the past year alone, several Filipino studios, including Pixel Mafia, have combined to work on quite a number of world-renowned triple-A titles. How does that feel for you, as one of the studios blazing the trail for recognition of Filipino talent, to see the local scene slowly making its presence felt on a global scale?

CC: This is a great thing for everyone! More projects mean more jobs up for grabs in the country. There is certainly a lot of work out there, and it’s a good thing when we can grow the industry together. When Pixel Mafia first started 5 years ago, not a lot of people knew that there were developers here. However, the Philippines is most certainly on the radar now.

There has been a lot of local talent that have flocked to other countries to look for opportunities to work in the AAA market. However, we’re now finding that a lot of them are coming home to join companies like Pixel Mafia because the landscape has changed drastically.

pixel mafia staff
All smiles during work.

The industry still has room to grow here, but we are well on our way. At Pixel Mafia, our dream is that the Philippines can be a hub for talent around the world.

For myself and my business partner Walter, it has always been a dream of ours to help bring the spotlight to the talent here in the country. Filipinos have such an advantage in the world market due to our diverse understanding of culture. It is really just a matter of time before we see some serious growth.

At Pixel Mafia, we’re still very hungry to prove what we can do. We hope that one day the Philippines will experience the same impact from the game dev industry as seen in countries like Canada, the US, China, Malaysia, and India.

OMG: Alright, so I’m obviously not going to go into Horizon Forbidden West too much, but if you’ll allow me one question, what’s your favorite part about the game from an artistic point of view? Any particular setting or settlement or machine that impressed you the most?

CC: The Horizon franchise is just such a beautiful world to be in. The team at Guerrilla Games has created something so special and iconic, which is rare these days, especially for the genre. But to capture a look and feel that is easily recognizable as “Horizon” is pretty incredible. There is so much to love – including the gameplay, characters, story, and of course – the art.

Guerrilla Games has been a great partner of ours and has a team that is so very passionate about the finer details. They are so good at what they do and we at Pixel Mafia are just proud to have played a role in helping them along the way.

Horizon Forbidden West is a visual triumph.

OMG: Since we’re on the topic of game franchises, is there a dream project or franchise that you would want to work on? Also, why?

CC: Now that I am a Dad, my son and I have started playing games together – which is my dream come true! However, a lot of the games that I work on for Pixel Mafia are unfortunately a no-go for my 4-year-old. That said, I’d like to work on something that both him and I can play. I would love to get a chance to work on a Nintendo franchise, more specifically on “Luigi’s Mansion” – it’s just so good! I also grew up playing games in the 90s, so my ten-year-old self still wants to work on Street Fighter.

OMG: As a father myself, my daughter is certainly going to grow up with a controller in hand, I just need to get one of those pink sparkly ones...

But yeah, I know you’ve got a lot on your plate so to close this out, do you have any message to aspiring talents out there that want to get into the industry?

CC: I want people to know that the games industry is now here in the country. I have spoken to so many people that have dreamt of being in game dev, but felt the pressure to do something else that was more “practical”. However, I’d like those people to know that the games industry is thriving. It can be both long-lasting and rewarding.

That said, it is not for everyone and it does take a certain amount of dedication. Whether it is in art, programming, or production, it is important to stay current and hone your skillsets and focus on what you are good at. If you continue to self-educate, there will be a long-lasting career in this field waiting for you. Did I mention that Pixel Mafia is hiring?

Related – Pixel Mafia worked on Horizon Forbidden West

Well, actually, no he didn’t mention the hiring thing but now that it’s out there, those interested can check out the Pixel Mafia website for more details. Who knows, you could just be the next name on the credit roll of your favorite PlayStation or Xbox game!

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