ForesTree: Closing the loop on Dad’s 30-year old idea

Funny Cow Games has recently released our first educational game, ForesTree, on both iOS and Android. Made in partnership with artist Cynthia Bauzon-Arre and Forest Foundation Philippines, it adopts the card-matching, memory-training game format as a tool to teach children and adults alike about trees that are native to the Philippines. Featuring Bauzon-Arre’s beautiful, hand-drawn illustrations, players learn to match pictures of each tree as well as its leaves, fruits, and flowers.

More than just my first mobile game made with a team, however, this project is in fact also quite personal in nature, as it closes the loop on a 30-year old request from my Dad.

My Dad was very supportive of my early interest in programming. I have clear memories of him looking over my shoulder as I messed around on the Apple computer he used for work when I was around the second grade. After showing him a game I made that mimicked Lode Runner, a game I dearly loved, he began taking my hobby more seriously. When finding a teacher or mentor didn’t work out, he began buying me manuals and technical books, and soon was actively participating in the hobby, offering ideas and insights for games we could make.

One idea that he planted early, and which I suspect he never truly let go of, was a game that promoted environmental awareness and activism. He had always been in love with nature, having grown up in the boondocks and fishponds of Davao; the foyer of our house had an enormous painting of a Philippine Eagle staring at you straight on. (He also tacked a large, white “Save Our Eagle” sticker on the literal rear bumper of his otherwise premium-looking dark green car…)

He called his game “Save the Forest,” pretty cheesy if I am being honest. In the first level, you play the human protector of a forest, running around with your machete and hacking down illegal loggers in gory animated detail. For level two, you, as a monkey, run around planting seeds on the ground in the midst of a torrential rain; the objective is to grow enough trees (they were remarkably fast-growing trees) to counteract the rapidly rising flood before it was too late. We never got around to working on the third level, but, looking back, that game was probably never destined to reach publication and distribution.

ForesTree is probably less dramatic than the environmental game Dad envisioned. But with the educational aspect, classic game format, and the all-age appeal, I hope that the game will be much more impactful, while being ever more relevant now than it was in the 80s. And it does feel like closure for me; I’d always felt like I failed him on one of the few serious requests he made of me while he was alive. So this one’s for you, Dad.

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