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You're a crisis manager of a town under the grip of COVID-19. Your mission is to save lives.
*Includes a sandbox mode with level codes to share.
# "COVID Conqueror" trophy now unlockable. Thanks to @HerbieG for the report.
# "4" medal now worth 25 points. Thanks again @HerbieG.
# Adjusted par scores. Thanks to @redgamehunter for the feedback on this.
# Long simulation codes in sandbox are no longer concatenated. Thanks @PBSfanboy for posting your code.
# Streamlined the level progression. Compensated for lost points by increasing the value of the remaining medals. Acknowledging @Ericho for this.
The compound I stay at is about to be cordoned. We've been contact-traced by the police, swabbed by medical personnel covered in protective gear. One of our housemates works at a government hospital and tested positive for antibodies against SARS-CoV-2.
The pandemic closes in from all sides. What can a game-maker do in a time like this?
I've been asking myself this question since the beginning of community quarantine. I'm based in Cebu City, now the top hotspot fior COVID-19 in the Philippines in terms of incidence proportion. I'm at a quarter called Barangay Guadalupe which goes in and out of first place for most number of infections. The once lively streets are empty while yellow tape festoons more and more houses like the aposematism of poison frogs—except it strikes fear in both marked and onlookers alike.
A local writer compared the experience of pandemic to the Five Stages of Grief. In my case, I went from denial to a form of suspended depression. As if in a fog, I felt helpless as the pandemic tore through the City. I wanted to do something, anything, to help, and perhaps truer, to find a lifeline out of this dark place between helplessness and despair.
Games can make abstract concepts accessible, awaken empathy, and move people to action. Games can allow us to explore the possibility space to not only see but live through proposed solutions and their consequences. The final push to action came from a Facebook post by Raph Koster calling for an interactive COVID-19 simulation where he sketched the game design that became the starting point of this work.
We thus developed In the Time of Pandemia—a simulation game in which you take on the role of crisis manager of a town under the grip of COVID-19. The core art, music, and code were created during Jamdemic 2020. After the jam, I proceeded with development in pockets of lucidity in the next three months—implementing a sandbox mode, searching the literature, and iterating in light of player feedback.
To quote the statistician George Box to qualify the scope of this piece: "All models are wrong, but some are useful." The game incorporates data from published sources to attain plausibility. However, it's a toy model roughly approximating a complex and evolving phenomenon.
In the end, the attempt to articulate a game-maker's perspective on COVID-19 has enabled me to somehow transcend the chaos outside and the turmoil within. It's become a welcome respite from isolation, a thread connecting me to a diversity of talents who've been truly generous with their expertise and encouragement. As incidences continue to rise here and in many parts of the world, our hope is that the game will be of some use in showing what it takes to flatten the curve and in advocating for communities most in need.
July 23, 2020
Notes on parameters and limitations including the references can be found here.
I consulted with experts on the plausibility of our model, but having made the final decisions, I take sole responsibility for the flaws in this work.
Your suggestions and feedback will be much appreciated.
Inspired by & based on Raph Koster's call & game design sketch for an interactive COVID-19 simulation.
Lead Game Developer: Khail Santia | Visual Artists: Ramon del Prado, Linya Fernandez, & Troy Logramonte Valdehueza | Composers: Algernon Van Peel, Filip Žarković, & Jom Ouano | Mathematical Epidemiologist: May Anne Estrera Mata.
Engineering Feedback: Scott Cameron, Daniel Fernandez, & Juan David | Medical Feedback: Mariane Faye Acma, Kiselle Campos, & Noeme Sobrevega | UX Feedback: Séverin Larose, Louis Tessler, Nathan Valdez, Wyndel Sañoza, Annel Pabitu, Pope Vergel, Ashley Uy, Raphael David Condor, Harry Rodriguez, Keiji Santia, Crina Escabarte Tanongon, Angelica Norrie, Charlotte Mae Efren, Beverly Mae Kirit, Maia Diaz, Queenie Maria Guibao, Cerino Ligutom III, Renz Torres, Carla Bien, Janyl Tanoy, Mary Queen Villafañe, Gregg Lloren, & Jay Jaboneta.
Special thanks to Kaelan Doyle-Myerscough for organizing Jamdemic 2020, Grant Sanderson for making the video Simulating an epidemic, John Albano for pioneering the same themes tackled here, Milan Andrejevic for recruiting Filip, Jovelyn Carmona-Quizon & Vicente Patalita III for showing the game to your students, Richie Eve Ragas for the introduction to May Anne, & the Household of Eugene Faelnar for keeping me fed in these months of lockdown.
Dedicated to the frontliners in the fight against COVID-19;
to Jocelyn & Leizel, who are in the thick of the battle.