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Time Princess: A Different Kind of Otome

When I was growing up in the 90s, paper doll cutouts were all the rage. 

For the benefit of my younger readers, these were basically booklets containing figures (mostly girls, but sometimes they had boys too), which you could cut out and dress up with outfits. The ‘clothes’ were held in place with folded paper tabs. 

Thinking about it now, it’s brilliant how something so simple could provide hours of entertainment – all you needed was a pair of scissors, and a whole lot of imagination. The best part was that they were inexpensive: you could buy them from the stationery shop for a couple of ringgit, or better yet, make your own. It certainly helped me as a child to exercise my creativity, especially when ‘designing’ my doll costumes and coming up with storylines for my doll theatre lol. 

As you grow older, you tend to grow out of things too. Your dolls. Your cooking sets and toy soldiers. Your cars and action figurines. Even video games. But once in a while, something comes along that takes you back to simpler times. 

So a couple of months ago, out of boredom, I downloaded this mobile game called Time Princess. Yes, I’m fully aware that I’m a 30-year-old playing a dress-up game targeted at tweens and teens. (At my age, my parents were saving up to buy a house and planning for the future lol.) BUT. These are different times, and if there’s one thing I learned over the past 1.5 years of being stuck at home – having to care for a sick, aging parent, taking over the role of breadwinner, being separated from my s/o, worrying about my loved ones getting COVID  – it’s that life is short and you should just do whatever you want, and whatever helps you cope. If playing a game helps to keep your sanity intact, so be it.

And to be perfectly candid, despite the childish-sounding title, Time Princess is actually a well-thought out game, with beautifully designed characters and rich plots themed around history and fantasy. 

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As the heroine, you inherit a magical storybook, which absorbs you into its pages ala The Pagemaster. You’ll get to play historical figures like Queen Marie Antoinette, as well as characters from popular literature such as Christine Daee from the Phantom of the Opera, Jo March from Little Women and Helen of Sparta.  There are also stories adapted from fairy tales and folklore, such as the Magic Lamp, Swan Lake, and Romy and Julius (based on Romeo and Juliet). 

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Like most otome games, you encounter characters that you can romance in each story. Depending on choices you make throughout the story, you’ll get different endings. But what differentiates Time Princess from other games of its kind is the dress up element: in order to clear stages, you’ll have to dress up your character based on the required theme. Clothes can only be crafted by gathering certain items either through mini games or gifts. Think of it like the gacha system for other mobile games like Genshin Impact. 

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But what I like are the stories. They’re all well written; the dress-up element is woven nicely into the narratives, and the characters are well fleshed out and don’t feel one dimensional. The Queen Marie storyline, for example, has some pretty tragic and bittersweet endings, forcing you to ‘make’ difficult choices.

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The stories are also peppered with interesting historical and cultural references; sort of like how you would find historical nuggets in the Assassin’s Creed series. For example, the Gotham Memoirs storyline, where you play a tenacious reporter in 1920s New York, highlights the rampant corruption that was prevalent among politicians and the law enforcement in that era, as well as the mafia and their crimes (drugs, human trafficking, murder) – which imo is pretty dark for an otome game. 

Another thing that Time Princess does right is the art. The animations are beautiful and fluid, and the costumes are gorgeous. You can tell a lot of thought has been put into designing each piece, and they’re just really pretty to look at. 

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The downside? The game is an absolute money sucker. It is designed to make you pay. Actions like gathering resources and reading each chapter require energy, so if you’re impatient like me, and want to read more of the story quickly, you’ll end up spending a lot of money. I’m still waiting to finish reading some stories because I don’t want to spend any more than I have, and it can be a damper/take away from the immersion when you can only unlock one chapter at a time. Still, if you’re patient, it can be a fun experience – there are mini games to keep you occupied, and they have in-game ‘events’ where you can win and collect prizes. While it’s not one of those games that you need to spend days grinding over, it’s a nice 10-15 minute escape that you can pop into every few hours. 

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Minigames that you can play for added bonuses and crafting materials.

So yeah. This was an otome game review by a 30-year-old. And I’m not ashamed to say I play what others may call a ‘childish’ game. Some friends my age talk about being productive, achieving something in life, and chasing their dreams. And if that’s what they want in life, more power to them. 

As for me, I’m perfectly content taking on the days one step at a time.  The next day will bring me another chapter to look forward to. And that applies both for the game, and life. 

You can download Time Princess on the Google Play store for free. In-game purchases apply. 

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Loka Made: A Homegrown Creative Promoting Malaysia Through Art

It’s not easy to turn your passion into a business, whilst also spreading a positive message in the process. Meet the folks from homegrown creative Loka Made, as they highlight the beauty of Malaysia and its people, one inspiring artwork at a time.

When Chong Fei Giap and Audrey Chew first thought of  publishing an artbook back in 2015, they never intended to create a brand. At the time, they ran a studio called Running Snail, which did mostly corporate illustration projects for blue chip companies like Petronas, specializing in artwork with local elements.

Fei Giap had been working on a series of illustrations on the side since 2011, which were inspired by a visit to his father’s hometown in Kuala Pilah, a small town in Negeri Sembilan. The unique artwork combined a Japanese anime art style with scenes of rustic Malaysian landscapes, local architecture and fantasy elements – and it quickly caught the eye of local art enthusiasts and corporate brands. With the support of fans, the pair decided to expand on their passion project by publishing an artbook. 

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“Our initial idea was just to publish the artbook. We were young and crazy; we poured all our savings into it!” Audrey says, adding that they spent about RM40,000 on the project. Since they already had a lot of material and concepts in hand, it felt like a waste not to expand on them, so the duo decided to go the whole hog and create a few more products to sell. Their first merchandise was a series of quirky Malaysian-themed pop-up post cards. 

To launch the book and their new items, Audrey and Fei Giap had the support of Kinokuniya Bookstore. The retail giant was not only willing to put the artbook on their shelves, but also provided them with window display space and a place for them to do the book launch. The rest, as they say, is history.  

Today, Loka Made makes art books, pop-up postcards, notebooks, puzzles and other souvenirs inspired by everyday Malaysian life and culture. The designs are often whimsical and nostalgic, and feature everything from scenes of small-town sundry shops and heritage buildings, to iconic Malaysian landmarks and traditional dishes, sometimes interspersed with fantasy elements.

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The Loka Made team with Audrey (third from left) and Fei Giap (fourth from left). Photo courtesy of Loka Made.

In the brand’s early days, Audrey played a more hands-on role in helping with the illustrations, but has since moved on to a more managerial role. She oversees a team of four artists and one designer, and handles the sales and marketing side of things while Fei Giap spearheads the brand’s creative direction. Although Loka Made has a retail arm, a significant portion of their business involves creating artwork for corporate clients. 

Of course, Rome wasn’t built in a day – and despite its current success, Loka Made was no different. Audrey shares that in the early days, it was very challenging, not only because they were a small indie studio, but also because there were no other companies that had a similar concept of making Malaysian-themed artwork and products for sale. Coming from art backgrounds, the pair had to adapt and learn things quickly on the job. For example, Audrey shares that they actually went door-to-door in order to introduce their products.

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Illo courtesy of Loka Made.

 “We’d go to tourist spots in Penang and Melaka, and pass out samples of our work to shops. Although there was some interest, not many businesses called us back,” Audrey recalls. (This was before the boom of the domestic travel in recent years, which has seen a heightened appreciation for local products and art.) She adds that this was partly the reason why they started Loka Made – to promote what the country has to offer, whether it’s amazing culture, food or scenery.

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The pair’s persistence seems to have paid off. Today, you can find LokaMade products in many local independent bookstores and art stores such as Stickeriffic and Salt X Paper, as well as bigger chains like Kinokuniya and Popular. Aside from their studio-cum-physical store in USJ9 Subang, they also have a shop in Central Market Kuala Lumpur. Items are also available online at lokamade.com. 

The products are affordably priced, with postcards going for as low as RM2 per piece, while the pop-up pieces range between RM10 to RM20. “If we’re going to educate the public as part of our vision, it has to be accessible to everyone.” Audrey says.

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Illustration courtesy of Loka Made.

Just a look at any one of their pieces and it’s easy to see why their designs have captured the hearts of many. They are all painstakingly detailed; and while the fantasy elements are the products of creativity and imagination, a lot of research is also poured into creating each artwork. “We have a catalogue of photos that is this thick,” Audrey spaces her hands apart to illustrate. “They’re sorted according to different themes, time periods.. so for example, if our artist needs to draw a scene from 1960s Malaysia, they’ll have to refer to that catalogue. It helps us to accurately portray the local architecture and subjects in our artwork,” she explains. The team also works with local historians and professors by conducting interviews, like with an upcoming project involving the different Malaysian Chinese clans.

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Tapir Man. Courtesy of Loka Made

To keep things fresh, Loka Made has their own in-house projects each year. Fans who have been following their releases might be familiar with the Tapir Man – a cute character based on the Malaysian tapir, which was conceptualised during Malaysia’s Movement Control Order back in March. There’s also the “Ride MY Wave” series which includes T-shirts, bags, notebooks and customisable Touch N Go cards. The illustration features fantasy elements. The Malayan tiger, our national animal, captains the ‘ship’ that everyone is sailing on and there are people of all races on the boat. You will also spot iconic landmarks such as the Stadthuys in Melaka, and Malaysian wildlife like the orangutan and hornbill. The theme was created in response to the current pandemic, serving as a reminder to fellow Malaysians to stay strong. 

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Cute cat-themed postcards. Courtesy of Loka Made.

“2020 has been full of ups and downs, and we’re hoping to weather this storm together. In the artwork, you will see lots of details which we think people will enjoy looking out for,” Audrey points out. 

Audrey is hopeful for the future, despite the uncertain economic outlook right now. “We had a lot of plans before the pandemic, but we’re still grateful for how the business is doing. But on the bright side, more people are travelling locally – which is what we’ve been promoting as a brand all along. Malaysia has so much to offer. It would be great if more people can see this,” she says.

Support your local business and order online from Loka Made at https://www.lokamade.com/

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My personal haul from their shop. 😛

Note: I did this story for the November issue of Fireflyz, the inflight magazine for Firefly Airlines. This article features a few tweaks and some additional info I wasn’t able to fit in to the story.

Note 2: A big thank you to Audrey for her time and patience in answering all my questions. I truly enjoyed doing the interview 🙂

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Happy Year of the Rooster!

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Hey everyone!

Tonight is the eve of Chinese New Year, and Chinese families all over the world will be celebrating this special time with family reunions (and scrumptious food!). The year of the Fire Rooster is supposed to be a good year for my zodiac. I guess it’s too early to tell, but we’ll see xD

Anyway, I’ve been dabbling with the Adobe Illustrator programme to make vector art, and for my first ‘project’ after watching some tutorials, I thought of making a cute rooster 🙂 Course, my skills aren’t that good yet so I had to trace it from another image, but with more practice, I hope I’ll be able to make nicer vector illustrations soon. Would be a nice touch to this space and help make my blog entries interesting, no?

Gong Hei Fatt Choi! 🙂

Comic Art Festival Kuala Lumpur (CAFKL3)

Although I like reading manga, I’ve never attended a Con (short for convention): which is basically an event where manga/anime/cosplay lovers can get together, showcase their work and mingle. One of the biggest Cons here in Malaysia is the Comic Fiesta, held annually at KLCC and which attracts thousands of visitors.

Organised on a smaller scale is the Comic Art Festival, which makes a return for the third time this year. Unlike the Comic Fiesta, which features all things related to the manga/anime subculture including music bands, cosplaying and such, the CAFKL focuses mainly on comics and illustration.

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I thought it’d be a good experience to attend a Con, and since both the bro and I like reading/drawing manga, I dragged him to CAFKL3 @ MakespaceQuill City Mall over the weekend. The event wasn’t free – we had to pay RM15 for a ‘passport’, which entitled us to an info booklet and an all-access, two-day pass. There were well over 200 booths crammed into the space – even the walls were pasted over with drawings, comics and illustrations. Most of the exhibitors were independent, self-made artists – some drew doujinshi (fan art), while others had web comics or mini-manga series for sale. There were also loads of artsy items, such as posters, stickers, badges, printouts, notebooks and more.

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I’ve lost touch with our local comic art scene since I started working (used to be an avid reader back in my college days!) so most of the new names were not familiar to me; but it was still great watching the artists in action. They’re all so talented! Makes my doodles seem like childish scribbles lol. 😡

I once had dreams to be a cartoonist/illustrator. Needless to say, that got crushed. My parents didn’t approve of making it a career, so it became a hobby instead and I took up journalism.

These days, I find I have less and less time to even draw anything. Sigh.

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Commissioned arts ! You can pay the artist to draw something for you. Course, most of the stuff doesn’t come cheap, but they do put a lot of effort into creating these works so if you’re truly a fan, it would be worth it.

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Forum, featuring Black Jellyfish, a local Chinese cartoonist who uses the Internet as his main medium. I think Facebook plays a huge part in creating viral trends and marketing a webcomic these days, allowing the content to reach audiences like never before.

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The session I was really looking forward to was the forum with a bunch of local web comic artists – Abam Apam, Lok Foong, Vulpine Ninja, Min and Hwei. I follow Abam and Vulpine on FB, and I love their witty, humorous comics – especially Vulpine’s social commentary which manages to provoke thought while being funny at the same time.

The group spoke on how they found their audience online, channels that they used, how they dealt with challenges and such.

The forum could have been better conducted –  the moderators weren’t good at asking questions and ‘leading’ the panelists, which was really frustrating because they missed a lot of good points. Nonetheless, it was an insightful session, especially when the cartoonists offered advice to aspiring artists.

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Not sure if they’d like to have their pictures public, so I took the liberty of putting cartoon faces. 😀

Did I enjoy CAFKL3? 

There was a lot to see, but I’d only recommend it for die-hard manga fans. Being a casual reader, I got bored pretty fast. I didn’t buy a lot of stuff coz they were very pricey and I couldn’t afford paying more than the Rm15 for entry 😡 I was also disappointed as both panel sessions were badly moderated, awkward and the moderators were not good at prompting, resulting in a lot of uhms, ahs and answers that lari tajuk. lel 

Overall, it was a good Comic-Con experience. Would I go again? Maybeee. I’d like to go to the ComicFiesta once, since they would have more things to see and do, like games, cosplay, music and such. Let’s see how it goes.

Thanks for reading!

 

Happy Deepavali!

It’s Deepavali (or Diwali as it is known in some other parts of the world), which is the festival of lights for Hindus. My neighbours were letting off fireworks earlier, but it started raining a few minutes ago. >-<

Here’s a kolam-inspired peacock sketch that I did in the evening. Took me an hour to draw and colour … I haven’t had much time to draw stuff these days. Happy Deepavali to those celebrating it! 🙂