Meet The Kakanin Squad: This Filipino Artist Drew Sticky Rice As Video Game Characters

Which character would you play?

The artist, John Patrick Gañas, envisioned how local delicacies like suman and bibingka would look like as characters in an action-adventure class-based video game.

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There’s nothing like the taste of eating warm kakanin. Treats like puto, suman, bibingka, and sapin-sapin are classic staples of Filipino comfort food. They’re perfect for dessert or for merienda. There are dozens of variations of kakanin all over the country and the best part is that you can eat these snacks no matter how old or young you are.

But despite their popularity, who would think of using kakanin as a source of inspiration for art? One Pinoy artist did and decided to immortalize kakanin in a unique and interesting way. The artist, John Patrick Gañas, illustrated kakanin as video game characters with their own backstory and powers. He even went as far as to set up the world the characters live in. NYLON Manila spoke with the 24-year-old artists to get the story behind his Kakanin Squad series.

KAKANIN SQUAD

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Photo via John Patrick Gañas Facebook

John Patrick Gañas is a 24-year-old concept artist and illustrator based in Manila. He graduated magna cum laude from the University of the East–Caloocan and took up fine arts in advertising arts. He said that seeing his big brother drawing Goku from Dragonball Z is what started him on his path to being an artist. After graduating, he first found work as a designer in an ad agency. In 2021, he shifted to doing concept art and illustration in a game studio.

According to Patrick, whenever he does a personal project/series, he is inspired by what he sees around the country. For Kakanin Squad, he wanted to deep dive into local delicacies. “Channeling completely different inspirations, I think, is a good ingredient in coming up with fresh designs. I also felt like it’s a lost opportunity given the amazingly unique and wide selection of our sticky rice delicacies.”

HOW KAKANIN SQUAD CAME TO BE

He started the project with puto cheese and felt that he could fit the fighter class in a potential video game. He went on from there. “I ended up looking for other delicacies to fit the usual job tropes in games. I saw a photo of suman, which at first looked like a mummy, but observing it further could pass as a magician wrapped in clothes. Then the bibingka, which has this bow-like shaped boiled egg white, fits a ranger/archer class. Kutsinta, topped with coconut meat grate, was reminiscent of an assassin/rogue’s fur cloak. Sapin-Sapin, easily, is a priest with multi-colored robes. Palay, an NPC, was based on an Ifugao rice sprite.”

Patrick, who describes his art style as containing elements of cubism and anime heritage, made all the designs on Adobe Photoshop. He said that the project was relatively easy to start since they already had a shape to work with. “I first drew the sketches on my iPad, and once I’m satisfied with the ideas, I transferred to a drawing tablet and painted them on adobe photoshop.”

THE BACKSTORY

Each character he drew has its own class and backstory. He even made one for the potential game world. He envisioned Kakanin Squad as a game about sticky rice delicacies turned adventurers. “The story follows a kakanin squad who signed up on their first debut mission in the rice guild, an association newly established in response to a steep decline in farms and production caused by the Villar’s expansion plans. Each of them is sent by a house of kakanin to join the cause. As representatives, they fight for the farmer’s rights and the entire rice race.”

Aside from the five main classes, puto cheese, suman, bibingka, kutsinta, and sapin-sapin, he also drew a special sixth, palay, and familiars/mobs inspired by the different terms for rice. When asked who he would play as if Kakanin Squad were to become a real video game, he said, “I’ve always played mage-type roles in games, So Buri, the Suman Magician, would absolutely be my first pick.”

Patrick said that he takes a lot of inspiration from local cultures, elements, myths, and the like. This is something he hopes that aspiring artists and illustrators take into account as well. “As a Filipino creative or simply a creative, we often find ourselves looking for our unique style, voice, and subject. What we don’t realize is our unique individuality is strongly tied to our curated experiences. And what better way to find that so-called “originality” than to tap the rich culture we experienced ourselves. Taking inspiration from our own is a good starting point in finding our narrative and space in this practice. It’s a beautiful way to express ourselves, showcasing our own culture in the process.”

You can see more of Patrick’s work here. Check out the Kakanin Squad series below as well as his description for each character.

Lapong, the Puto Cheese Fighter from Nene’s Puto Barracks

“A proud member of the purple cake unit, Lapong boasts a yellow hair crest, a mark of the blood champions from the dinuguan war. Raised by war survivors, he upholds the virtue of discipline and courage: traits that made him a good fighter.”

Buri, the Suman Magician from Dolor’s School of Suman

“Buri studied in a long-standing school of magicians that practice the art of Buri wrapping, body covering that allows the wearer to store and control budbud spells. Frail in nature, she turned to books and eventually put magic into practice.”

Tapay, the Bibingka Ranger from Ferino’s House of Bibingka

“He rose from a traditional family that popularizes clay pot training. Tapay, now a full-fledge ranger, has undergone a rite of passage where he took a rigorous test inside a hot palayok, adapting his marksmanship to changes in temperature.”

Kayo, the Puto Kutsinta Rogue from Aida’s Kutsinta Monastery

“Raised differently from Lapong, Kayo was trained and shaped in a ramekin, making him suitable for espionage. As a rogue, he had to maximize tools at his disposal, such as the grated coconut meat cloak specially made to conceal weapons and use as throw diversion.”

Latag, the Sapin-Sapin Cleric from Dulzeria’s Sapin-Sapin Church

“Latag, as a cleric of the layered trinity, now dons herself accordingly to the holy colors; purple, yellow, and white. Vested with the favors of the colors, she can freely channel the flavor blessings through her latik necklace and mace.”

Palay, the Rice Sprite (NPC), Head, Central Plains of Luzon

“Palay is a united farmers council representative overseeing the central plain of Luzon. His arms are the guild’s quest masters responsible for organizing missions such as low-rank pest hunts, large-scale crop guarding, and human-combat jobs: to name a few.”

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