Why Not Games




Syphilisation Update - 2021-05-16 - Celebration Points and Covid Vaccines

You can buy a very early version of Syphilisation here. You can read about what Syphilisation is here and the manifesto for the game here. You can subscribe to the mailing list here.

Work Done

The past couple of weeks were terrible. The short answer as to why is simply that COVID has broken India completely, but I want to use this to talk a bit about how I work and about the crisis as well.

So, the first week was meant to make the celebrations of the game better. The idea is that there are moments in the game where I want the player to feel like they've achieved something. Wonder movies do a lot for how Civilization plays. It makes certain turns stand out and it feels like a good payoff for the effort that it took to make the wonder. I felt that Syphilisation suffers for that lack and I wanted to use this week to help with that.

This is fairly soft as far as weekly goals go. I picked up an easy goal for the week because I've currently racked up a fair bit of playtesting debt. Ideally, a week like this works out to about 2 days on the feature and the rest on minor fixes and playtesting. I even plotted out a lot of minor changes to make for the week.

I actually managed to complete the celebration point tasks in the first week. It took a lot out of me to do so given what's been going on outside of work. This is one of the big reasons that I schedule work out weeks in advance. I just really don't want to fall behind the schedule, so I push myself hard to make sure that I don't. I also managed a major performance upgrade, which has made the game much better to play, especially in the late game.

I spent the second week iterating on it a bit and stabilizing the game. I build buffer weeks into my schedule for things like this, but it is frustrating to have to burn one on such a simple feature. These things happen, but it's hard not to get frustrated. I like having that time to iterate on the game and improve it without the pressure of a scheduled feature and I think being able to do that really improves the quality of the game.

One of the main reasons that I schedule is that it forces me to cap the amount of time that I spend on a feature. It keeps me from falling into a rabbit hole when there's something not quite perfect about a feature. I can always come back to something that needs improvement later anyway and when I do, it will be with a better understanding of the game. It's just at times like this though that this becomes really unsatisfying. I still don't feel like my work on celebration points is anywhere near satisfactory, even after two weeks on it.

Normally, I would be at this point on Tuesday or Wednesday and that would leave me with a lot of time in the week to iterate and try different things. This week, I only finished on Sunday. It wasn't even that much work to do, it's just the difficulty of working in India right now.

I need two things to thrive, the ability to stick to my schedule and enough free mindspace for my work. This is not particularly profound or uncommon, especially now that everyone is working from home, but together they define how well the week goes for me. Neither one was possible here right now. It took everything I had to get my first shot of the COVID vaccine. To get a shot, you have to register online. That doesn't sound so bad in itself, until you see that there are only about 1000 spots a day to register in for a population of 33 million. So I, like everyone else with enough privilege to do so, had joined the furious competition for those slots. Every day, I stayed logged in to the CoWin website all day. The website kicks you out after about 15 minutes, so every 15 minutes, I log out and log back in. Why do I log out? Well, because it kicks you out silently. So, if you don't do so, it will only tell you that you're logged out just as you try to get a slot.

Logging in requires an OTP. There's a wide range for how quickly these OTPs come. Sometimes they show up in a couple of seconds. Sometimes, you can go five or ten minutes without a single one. You need to stay logged in at all times though because in the time that it takes to get an OTP, even in the best case scenario, all of the slots that were opened will be booked. You cannot afford that kind of delay here.

I followed a bot that automatically tweets whenever a new slot opens, as did 13,000 other people. There are even more in a Telegram channel. Five days in, I finally hit a slot. Until then, every time my phone dinged, it was a sharp jolt of stress. It meant dropping everything and furiously fighting a website in the hope that I can navigate it a couple of milliseconds quicker than the rest. It meant frustration and disappointment when it inevitably told me that there are no slots left. I muted a lot of the notifications that I used to get because I couldn't take the stress of hearing my phone go off. It's even worse when it stays silent though. Every new day in India right now feels like I'm gambling my life. I've seen people whom I'm closely connected to struggle to get a hospital seat. People whom I know have died.

Being able to do this at all is a monumental privilege. Many, many people do not have the time or access needed for this. This obscene competition for the basic right to life is inhumane and I'm still tremendously lucky to have even this.

Finally, getting the shot was a full day's work and a full year's stress in itself. The site was organized terribly. Many people were turned away, some of whom were messaged by the government to show up. The entire process felt like a high-risk event for infection. There were multiple places where the whole thing was just chaos. I do want to highlight the doctor who gave the shot though. She was quick, through and professional.

After the shot, I was out for two days. I had a fair bit of soreness and I just had no energy. It ended up being Thursday before I was able to really get back to work. Having even the first shot is a substantial weight off my back though. Any protection at all feels like a big deal. It's just hard not to look at all that went into getting a shot and think about those without the resources to put into getting one. This is a country that's falling apart.

Syphilisation is an unapologetically political game. There's no way to make it without engaging deeply with politics. I try to keep the politics light when talking about it though because the aim of the game is not directly political. That is to say that I built this game to advance the avant garde of video games, and the politics of the game are the means to the ends there. To make any 4X game without thinking about politics is to miss a lot of the space in the genre, and it would be impossible to make a post-colonial 4X game without thinking deeply about politics, but while it is inevitable that the game will make political statements and while I think deeply about what those statements are, I am not building this game in order to make those statements. I build it to make statements about the genre instead.

So, while the game is critical of the Hindu Mahasabha, the Sangh and the modern offshoot of the BJP, as anyone who writes accurately on any of these topics must be, the point of the game is not to criticize these entities, it is to revolutionize the space in games instead. The criticism is merely a side-effect that I agree with. So, I tend away from those aspects in this blog in favor of game theory.

I cannot properly write this article without criticizing the BJP though. They are directly responsible for this crisis. It is through their incompetence, their inhumanity, their arrogance and their idiocy that this disaster has come to pass. We have had ample evidence of all of these traits dating back to their first term in power, but never have their failings been this disastrous. This is the complete repudiation both of the philosophy of the Indian right wing and their ability to execute. It's hard to imagine how anyone could have done more harm to the country in a mere two terms than they already have.

Finally, on a separate note, colonialism is colonialism no matter where in the world it is and Israel's occupation of Palestine is colonialism. Free Palestine.

- @murthynikhil

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Written for Why Not Games.