I’ve been a huge fan of social distancing. In fact, that’s been one of my favourite parts of the pandemic.
The SOP got rid of those aunties who’d line up so close behind me that I could feel them breathe down my neck. It also gave me a very feasible excuse to not visit crowded spaces or join gatherings if my introverted self didn’t feel like it.
So when a Malaysian-made social distancing game, Please Lah CB, was launched on the App Store and Google Play, I had to try it out.
Sounds simple, in theory
Please Lah CB is a retro-style mobile game that’s casual and easy to understand. But, it’s also extremely challenging.
You’ll be playing through a character named Chee Beng (CB) who’s trying to find his way home without getting infected by a highly contagious virus. Just like in real life, CB has to distance himself from anyone who isn’t wearing a mask, as they may be exhaling the invisible virus.
The game is made harder as you’ll be using tilt motion controls to quickly yet meticulously manoeuver CB left and right on this path down the endless street.
Bumping into anyone will immediately end the game, and you’ll have to start from the beginning as there is no way to save your progress.
Please Lah CB seems cheekily packed with over-the-top and yet relatable localised themes. But the bigger picture aims to encourage people to take social distancing practices more seriously during the pandemic to stay safe.
Not so simple in practice
Trying it out myself, I highly underestimated the game when first entering CB’s world. Tilting my phone from left to right, I managed to dodge the first wave of oncoming passers-by rather effortlessly.
But the game also gets pretty merciless pretty fast. You’re flooded by huge crowds with tiny gaps to navigate in between, and I lost almost immediately. Flustered, I tried again, then again, and again, before eventually giving up.
“The game does have a Flappy Bird-wannabe level of simplicity… and extreme difficulty, which would undoubtedly turn many players away after just a few plays,” reckoned Tony Teh, Please Lah CB’s developer.
“But I believe those who’d love putting their skill, composure, and reflexes to the test would appreciate it.”
Unlike most casual endless running games in the market, Please Lah CB offers sort of a story progression the farther you go. You’ll get to reveal a different dialogue for each star rating you achieve from your score, and you’ll unlock more of the story to learn about the game’s pandemic situation.
“If anyone somehow manages to score the seventh and final star, you will get to see the ending,” Tony added. However, he believes this achievement is close to impossible as it requires a player to make a perfect run. “Those who could do it must be crazy good and definitely deserve the bragging rights,” Tony commented.
I’m someone who gives up in games easily, especially when I have no way to compare my progress against another competitor. Therefore, my highest score so far is 16, and I didn’t even gain one star.
Adding a leaderboard would increase the competitive edge for players, as your achievements displayed will become public information, challenging others to beat them. Tony has mentioned that this is something he plans to add in the future.
I also wished that there was some form of settings in the game where you could control the sensitivity of the motion. Some of my frustrations came from the fact that even minuscule tilts of my phone were enough to send CB sprinting to the edges of the street, bumping into an unmasked uncle.
But I’ll admit that this is a rare feature to have for such games, as it could make the game easier to beat. This way, players are forced to adapt to the game’s set mechanics, and it’s down to a battle of who gives up first: you or your phone battery.
Please Lah CB is the first game developed by Tony who picked up coding amidst the MCO.
Tony had zero programming or art knowledge when he started the development of Please Lah CB, as a business management graduate. He has, however, had experience running a couple of small businesses, such as selling fried chicken and offering digital marketing services.
Most components in the game development were far from a stroll in the park. The coding part was particularly difficult.
“It was like having a whole idea for a novel in my head but I had to write it in a language I did not speak at all,” Tony said. “For someone in his mid-30s, learning and creating something this foreign can indeed be at least a little bit intimidating, if not difficult to grasp.”
Using a free, open-source game engine called Godot, Tony required months of Google searches, YouTube tutorials, questioning forums, and Discord to help him with the parts of programming he was stuck at.
Meanwhile, the retro-style pixel art was first created by an artist hired on Fiverr. It was further modified with the help of Tony’s girlfriend, Yip Sze Yan, a seasoned graphic designer and content creator.
Despite the game being almost 100% as per Tony’s vision, he admitted that he’s disappointed that he could not complete the game’s development quicker.
“If the game was released earlier, it would have been more relevant to serve its purpose of encouraging proper social distancing and SOP practices through entertainment,” Tony shared.
“Now, I simply hope it could still serve as somewhat of a nostalgic experience of how we survived through the pandemic. And of course, also as an extremely challenging old-skool casual arcade game.”
Tony Teh, developer of Please Lah CB
Other than adding a leaderboard for Please Lah CB, Tony teased that he may consider developing a sequel that continues the character’s story and journey.
Tony shared that while being an indie game developer may not be financially rewarding, he’s hoping to continue creating games, potentially with more development engines too.
“I might even explore different genres while keeping the themes and concepts relatable to Malaysians and Singaporeans or even Southeast Asians in general, as there aren’t enough games that are based on us, our countries, our cultures, and our society,” he noted.