‘Fallen Tear: The Ascension’ Developers Place Passion and Love for the Game at the Forefront

“Back in 2019, we decided to create a contest for our team to see what the art style of the game would look like. It’s really funny how we came about the final concept, but the entry that won was the entry in the style of Wakfu. Everyone loved the cuteness and animation of that game and series, so we decided to go that route.”

It’s not often you hear of game development success stories that start this small and spontaneous, but CMD Studios Director Stephen Manalastas is not only proud of where the team started but also hungry for more as they shift into high gear in preparation for their planned 2025 release window for Fallen Tear: The Ascension, their first game as a studio.

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Product over Payroll

I guess “success” is quite the big word in this situation, but Manalastas believes in his group of talented developers, and they’re willing to do whatever it takes to see their baby come to fruition. Developers and studios in the Philippines often have the odds stacked against them, but even when faced with many challenges, such as budget and resources, CMD Studios places passion at the forefront.

“CMD Studios started with making art and game design for other clients, and we’ve been doing it for about 10 years now. We’re actually celebrating our 10th anniversary this year! During this time, we managed to save enough funds to finally make our own game.”

“It’s hard to gather a good team that is persistent and has the grit to make a good game. This game is huge, and we’ve been working for 3 years now, we still have 2 more years to finish it, making it over 5 years in total working on the game.”

Manalastas cites that creating your own game is a lot different compared to working for clients, and especially for a relatively young team such as his to work on something as ambitious as Fallen Tear, the task ahead is daunting.

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“There’s a lot of things we didn’t know, so we’re still figuring things out as we go, figuring out what the best practices are. Even during production, we’re still teaching ourselves, which explains why it’s taking a long time, but we are making sure that it turns out very well.”

Jeff, Art Director for Environment Assets, fully agrees. He’s worked in game development for a while and says that one of the key factors that their team possesses is valuing the product over payroll. This, of course, is easier said than done, but passion and love for the game always prevail at the end of the day.

Fallen Tear and its Metroidvania Roots

But how did Fallen Tear come to be as a Metroidvania? Manalastas cites that it’s a factor of many things, but mostly, it was their love of various titles in certain genres that fueled the inspiration for the final concept of the game.

“We had three main considerations: is it something we can do? is it something we can finish? is it something we can finance?” says Manalastas. “I’ve been playing a lot of JRPGs since I was a kid and even platformers like Mega Man and Contra. Playing those games and seeing Hollow Knight and Ori blow up, we saw it as a good chance to make something similar.”

“I’m also a JRPG lover, having played games like Suikoden, Breath of Fire, and Valkyrie Profile, we didn’t just want to make a Metroidvania, so we combined both genres, and since we specialize in making 2D art and animation, it just fell into place.”

And fall into place it did, as Xbox Global Expansion Lead for SEA Jun Shen Chia discovered Fallen Tear back in 2022, which led to a series of discussions about the future of the game. The rest, as they say, is history.

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“They’ve given us all the information we needed, even helping us to promote and provide exposure for the game,” Manalastas explains. “Indie studios cannot compete with bigger titles, so having this platform that’s led by someone like Jun who is dedicated to helping small teams put out their games so many people can play it is very welcome. We’re very grateful.”

Manalastas also shares that Xbox has been a wonderful partner throughout this process, providing them with information and training sessions that span technical, marketing-related topics, and even PR.

“We Don’t Want Another Hollow Knight”

Metroidvania titles have a lot in common, mostly basic elements like precise platforming and nimble movements like double and wall jumps. Drawing huge inspiration from Hollow Knight, Manalastas says that while they listened to the community and incorporated as many of the good elements from feedback and through their extensive research from similar titles, they didn’t just want to become another Hollow Knight.

“We don’t want another Hollow Knight,” says Manalastas with obvious respect for the game. “We want something that can give a new experience to the player and something that they’ll remember the game by.

“We also wanted to push the narrative aspect of Fallen Tear. Most Metroidvania titles are known for their combat and fluid gameplay, so in Fallen Tear, since it is also inspired by JRPG elements, we have put our focus on character development, and that happens with the 22 Fated Bonds that you meet in the game, each with their own story.”

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Fallen Tear also boasts a sprawling map that players can explore, and throughout the journey, it becomes apparent that the world feels not only lived in but is also a world that provides a different experience at every turn.

“Our 22 Fated Bonds are spread out across the many levels, and we made sure that every level provides a different experience not just in an environmental and level design aspect, but also with the narrative. One of my inspirations with sub-quests is Witcher 3. I studied the way they did sub-quests because they have great designs for that, so we tried to implement that in Fallen Tear.

The Filipino Touch and Looking to Kickstarter

Manalastas also shared that during the development of Fallen Tear, instead of simply throwing in Filipino references or creating something culturally relevant, with their Filipino backgrounds shaping the design and development of the game, they decided on a different approach instead.

“We made something that the gamer wants, not just implementing cultural references for the sake of it. The way we did it was to put a lot of Easter Eggs in Fallen Tear. For example, our main castle in the game is called the Temple of Oras, and we also have a character named Dagot, which is a play on Dagat, and he is a water-type character.”

Manalastas also announced that they are headed to Kickstarter, which should be announced by the time this article has been published. Fallen Tear’s Kickstarter campaign is scheduled to go live in June, and for backers, a 3-hour demo will be made available.

For players who want to try Fallen Tear before heading to Kickstarter, rejoice! A 30-minute demo should also be released by the time this article has been published, giving players enough playtime to get familiar before deciding to back it.

What the Future Holds and Advice for Filipino Developers

The Philippines does not suffer from a lack of talent, as exemplified by Secret 6, Pixel Mafia, Ubisoft Philippines, and much more. By embarking on this journey with Fallen Tear, CMD Studios hopes that they can blaze a path forward for local developers to start creating their own games.

“We first made Fallen Tear to enjoy and give a love letter to the community. We really don’t have a grand plan or vision, but we hope to be at the forefront of the development scene in the country. In the Philippines, there’s very little support, and it’s quite hard to find a community that helps each other, so we hope that if we become successful, we can share all our learnings with the community and help the developers. IF we manage to get there.”

“If we can make the gaming industry grow, it would be awesome,” says Manalastas.

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“We hope to inspire other companies and studios to release their own game and make the community flourish,” says Nexus Borjal, U/X and Tech Artist for Fallen Tear. “We would like to be the beacon of the Filipino gaming community. When I see something from the Philippines, I would love to say that I am proud to be Filipino.”

Animator Gabriel Cruz is excited at the prospect of success because it could possibly open up more opportunities for local talent to be seen and discovered. “From story to game design to art and programming, I think we have a lot of that covered here.”

Jeff reiterates pushing for a good experience before profit. “Most of the problem I see is that they make games just to generate money. It’s really important to set that aside first and focus on giving a good experience to the player and money will come after.

Lastly, Manalastas shares that, while development sounds fun, a hard but fulfilling path awaits aspiring developers. “Start with a small game, participate in game jams, and learn from other developers. It’s important to have someone to look up to. My dev idols are Supergiant Games (Hades) and Team Cherry (Hollow Knight), so having those aspirations can provide devs with a roadmap of what they need to do to emulate them.”

“Yes, money is important; you have to eat and pay the bills, but if that’s your focus, you will lose your way because money cannot push you to work on a project for a long time. Without passion and love for the game, it will end up badly.”

Special thanks to Stephen Manalastas and the rest of the team at CMD Studios for taking the time to answer our questions!

Fallen Tear: The Ascension is scheduled for a 2025 release.

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