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"Hurricane Maria knocked us back into the Stone Age for a few days"

Two Puerto Rico-based developers talk about coping in the aftermath of the storm; SRG Studios readies Play for Charity campaign to benefit devastated US territory

SRG Studios CEO Michael Hoyos gives a sobering account of what the development studio and the rest of the inhabitants of Puerto Rico have been dealing with after Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria hit the US territory in the span of two weeks last month.

"Hurricane Irma didn't do much damage, except for our outlying islands, Culebra and Vieques," he told GamesIndustry.biz. "However, Hurricane Maria knocked us back into the Stone Age for a few days; her fury and destructive power can still be seen and felt throughout the island."

As of Wednesday, 75% of Puerto Rico was still without power. Hoyos said those that do have it don't have it consistently, with power coming and going in all areas. The telecommunications infrastructure was obliterated by the storm, and about one-third of the island still lacks service. Between the communication problems and roads choked by debris, coordination and distribution of supplies has been incredibly difficult in the weeks after the storm.

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SRG Studios' Ricky Latimer has been coordinating volunteer relief efforts

Hoyos described extensive flooding on the island, coupled with an ironic lack of potable water as natural springs, rivers, and aquaducts have been contaminated with bacteria from dead animals and human waste.

"Distribution continues to be a nightmare and people are dying because of it," Hoyos told us when we first touched base with him two weeks ago. "The most affected communities in the island are barely eating and drinking fresh water. The people take to creeks to get their water supply, and we already know what's in that water. Supplies aren't reaching them in time, or in the right amount. And sometimes, even these supplies are a joke, borderline insulting: last week in Bayamon the mayor opened the freights from FEMA, for each person there was a bag with one bag of Skittles, one NutriGrain Bar and one can of sausages. Can anyone call that a meal?"

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A screenshot of Relief Road: Puerto Rico.

Another prominent developer in the Puerto Rico scene, Gladius CEO and Atlantic University College dean of technology and marketing Heri Martínez de Dios, characterized the effect of Maria similarly but was less critical of the relief efforts.

"My friend, this was catastrophic for almost all four corners of Puerto Rico," he said. "Both Atlantic University and Gladius started working in just four days after the hurricane with our power [generators]. Still, we have no electricity here and almost at all of the island... The Governor has done an amazing job looking for federal funds and all the possible help from President Trump, the Congress, FEMA, and other sources. And yes, we are improving in general little by little. Still, there is so much to do, rebuild and work just to get back to normal in general will take some months."

Martínez de Dios said his family escaped serious harm, but multiple Atlantic University employees lost their homes, as did one Gladius developer.

"We are resilient and committed and we will not back down, [just like] most people in Puerto Rico," he said. "We have to do our part and contribute as much as we can and continue working hard to present the best of Puerto Rico to the animation, technology and innovation industries in general. We are stronger than María and with the lessons learned we will be even better as persons and professionals."

As for SRG and Hoyos himself, they are getting by. While they've lost weeks of work, knowing how many lost their jobs, their livelihoods, and more has helped keep things in perspective.

"Our families are safe and we have a ton of work ahead of us, so we cannot complain," he said.

Hoyos agreed by email yesterday that relief efforts had improved since his criticisms of earlier in the month, but said there are still plenty of problems in reaching more remote locations with aid.

"In my honest opinion, we are more than 8 months away from getting Puerto Rico back on its feet," Hoyos said.

Still, it's clear that the relief efforts in Puerto Rico are only beginning, and much more needs to be done. To that end, SRG's head of ops Ricky Latimer has been coordinating volunteer relief missions since last month, delivering food and water to isolated and hard-hit areas. Meanwhile, the production team has been working its own relief effort, a match-making puzzle game called Relief Road: Puerto Rico. The game will launch as part of a campaign called Play for Charity, organized by SRG.

"We've never done this before, so our priority is learning fast to manage this kind of project and building the necessary relationships to have it make a real difference," Hoyos said. "Our model is that all the revenue, both transactional and ad rev, will go towards relief efforts. Our involvement includes actual boots on the ground, so the organizations we are partnering with have been extensively vetted and are the ones that are having the greatest impact in the current situation; it's important for us to take the guess work out of the equation to ensure to everyone involved that their money and time is going exactly to where it is needed the most."

So far Play for Charity has partnered with Chartboost, Tapjoy, Foundation for Puerto Rico, and ConPRmetidos; Hoyos said they're looking for more partners, collaborators and sponsors as well. In the coming months, he hopes to have a website for the effort up providing full transparency on all participating partners, as well as a platform to help any other developer easily integrate Play for Charity funding into their games. Hoyos also has ambitions to team with esports events to raise money for relief efforts.

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