Somehow, horrible, it’s been almost a full year since most of us went into lockdown waiting for Covid-19. And while a light shines at the end of the tunnel in the form of a slowly, confusingly distributed vaccine, we are still in the middle of it. As a result of this week from Split screen Podcast, we reflect on the one year anniversary of the pandemic and speak to the creator of Plague Inc., a game about creating a deadly, global virus that emerged many years before Covid, only to see a painfully relevant resurgence recently.
To start the episode, Ash Parrish, Mike Fahey, and I talk about the games that kept us from losing our minds while we were stuck inside of time-consuming JRPGs (Person 5, Dragon Quest XI) to multiplayer games (Final Fantasy XIV, Valheim) to Deer crossingthat is in a category of its own. Then we switch to our world-famous FAQ segment, AFQs, which of course stands for Ask Fahey Questions. You see Fahey recently received his second shot and we decided to interview him about the experience in hopes that if you have any questions he will have answers.
At last we bring a guest Plague Inc. Developer James Vaughan to talk about what it was like to see your game suddenly become a reality and how he and the rest of the Ndemic Creations team moved on “The Cure,” a DLC expansion over to save the world from a deadly global pandemic instead of destroying it with one.
Get the MP3 Hereand view an excerpt below.
Ash: How does it feel to be responsible for the destruction of humanity by a raging virus?
James: It was actually a very difficult year for us as a studio. It was a very uncomfortable feeling to see a game I played in the real world in 2011. I can remember sitting in my bedroom trying to look up movies, researching how a pandemic could happen, and then fast forwarding 8-9 years and all of a sudden I see everything happening on the real world news. Awful.
Nathan: When it turned out that covid-19 would affect a lot of people – it wouldn’t just go away – how did you feel? I imagine a lot of that probably fused into “The Cure” DLC, but by the time the shock really hit, where was your head?
James: I think a lot of people wondered why people weren’t responding more strongly to it. I remember when things really got going in China at first and the world seemed so confident that the disease would not spread anywhere else. I wanted to believe it too. I thought, “Well everyone else seems to believe that it will be okay and we don’t have to close our borders and things. I am sure you must be right. I just made a game. I don’t know as much as the experts. “It felt very surreal when I saw it happen slowly afterwards.
Fahey: I played a little bit “The Cure” this morning. Even during the tutorial, I found it terribly nerve-wracking. It gave me a perspective on the effort because you got all the dynamic of, “What if people don’t believe you? Suddenly they won’t believe you anymore. “And if you then look at the current events, there are of course people who are still like“ Nah ”with all these millions of dead.
James: The way I go about this type of thing is that as I research, I come up with a list of the key themes I want to work out in the gameplay. Because with real-world-based games, it can be tempting to toss it all in, squeeze it all together, and create that clumsy monstrosity that nobody cares about because it contains too much stuff. For us it’s always like this: “Here are the things we’d like to do. Now how can we try to integrate this? What if we change that mechanic? Can we introduce this other mechanic? “
I really wanted to make sure we were bringing the concept of the economy into play. Because when people were playing Plague Inc.They said, “Why don’t you just turn everything off once a person is infected?” I wanted to show people that it’s not that easy. You are not going to get people’s support for doing this. They have to provide economic support even when they know something is going on. This is where the problem of non-compliance in “The Cure” came into play. One key message that I hope will get through in our games is that the world is not black and white. It’s all a cloudy, complex shade of gray. There are no easy choices. There is no such thing as perfect information. Everything is complicated. I wish it was nice and simple and easy.
Nathan: So you’ve talked about the subjects that you wanted to explore in The Cure. How have the topics and ideas you wanted to investigate changed and changed as you consulted with various organizations like the World Health Organization and made sure you were creating The Cure DLC accurately and responsibly?
James: I do quite a bit of research on topics before I start and I think one of the joys of basing things on the real world is that it’s very easy to get a lot of visibility on topics that you want to convey. With covid you certainly cannot look at a news site and you are not exposed to a lot of information, a lot of complexities and dilemmas. Because we donated to the World Health Organization, they had donor calls where some of their executives talked to donors about the things they were doing.
One message I can remember was how quickly, by having quick access to funds, WHO was able to help maintain supply chains for PPE equipment in countries that might otherwise not have access to it. When I originally donated, I thought, “Oh, it’s going to be used for medicines, drugs, and so on.” In fact, a significant portion of that was spent on renting logistics aircraft. It’s not remotely what I expected, but when the planes stop flying you can make all the goods in a factory, but if you can’t get them where they need to go, you will have problems.
One thing I really got from this call is the importance of global supply chain management. It doesn’t feel like something relevant to a pandemic response, and yet it is actually of vital importance. It’s a great example of something that may be difficult for some people to understand – some find it boring – and yet it is vital to the world’s reaction.
I also remember speaking to some people from CEPI, a vaccine organization, and at the time there were concerns that Russia might be skipping various controls on its vaccines. So we thought we should maybe be modeling in an area where people are getting a less safe vaccine because they panic about it. And those vaccine experts said, “Whoa whoa, you got this all wrong. Concern for Russia is not about the safety of the vaccine. The vaccine is safe. It’s more about how effective it will be. Just because they skipped some of the large-scale trials doesn’t mean that all safety precautions have not been put in place. “This has enabled us to improve the messaging to make it clear that the vaccine is safe regardless. It was just a concern about how effective it would be that was reflected there.
This way we can add a realistic element to the game that we would otherwise not be able to capture. Because people who do this stuff do it every day. You know everything intuitively. While for myself I have to spend a whole lot of hours on a Wikipedia page or library book trying to figure out what’s going on with it.
Nathan: I was also curious: how did people more generally react to the game during these times, and have you heard of anti-vaxxers? Are they freaking out about your game?
James: We get a lot of messages. I don’t read all of them anymore, but I used to. I can’t think of any anti-vax messages. The game is probably not that convenient for anti-vaxxers. It shows the power of vaccines I think. Safe with Plague Inc: The CureThere is no way to get rid of the disease or win the game if you don’t get a vaccine. We are actually planning a game mode that looks at Anti-Vaxxer more broadly. A player started a petition a few years ago asking us to bring an anti-Vaxxer mode into the game. X Tens of thousands of people signed it, but then came The Cure, which meant we had to somehow realign our priorities. But we’re going to get something against anti-Vaxxers.
We also have a fake news scenario in the game that we ran with a number of anti-fake news charities such as Full Fact in the UK and Politifact in the US. It was actually very interesting because the mechanics you use to model infectious disease spread works very well with fake news. The fake news mode allows users to design their own fake news and use various techniques to distribute them. So you can take quite a anti-Vaxxer approach there.
Nathan: As a joke, I wanted to ask you when the Bill Gates mode is coming to the game, but I think it’s already there.
For all of that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday and don’t forget to like and subscribe to them Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. If you’re feeling inclined to do so, leave a review and feel free to email us at [email protected] with any questions or suggestion. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtraFahey is @ OnkelFaheyand Nathan is @ Vahn16. Until next week!