Finished writing chapter 4.1
“Whatever is past is gone beyond recall; whatever is future remains beyond one’s reach, until it becomes present.” – S.N. Goenka.
Not in a block universe. The quote above expresses the classical idea that there’s only one present moment, one NOW. It moves from the past to the future, and is shared by everyone in the universe at the same time.
But Relativity has a problem with this, because every part of the universe has a different NOW, depending on every observer’s position, and this means that the present is local, not universal; relative rather than absolute. Lots of different NOWs at the same time. This is not a problem in the block universe, where all of creation is solidified and eternal, and all moments are real – an unchanging 4-dimensional block of NOW that can be measured in height, width, depth, and time. NOW is merely your current position in the block.
As if we lived on pages in a book.
Flipping a couple of pages forward, then, we find Josh, Anomia, and Fairy with their heads together, designing their videogame while they waited for Kurt to build the game engine. You’d never know they were working together, because they were always in different locations, but they were using realtime document editing on their computers, discussing everything in online chat windows, and talking to each other in their heads.
Anomia was stressing out in the bowels of her corporate day job. She was one of the only graphic artists left after the last round of layoffs at Big Behemoth, Inc. Her department was cut down to two people in an effort to keep the partners rolling in double digit profits. She was stressed out because she was working on three proposals at once, and every now and then a frantic management droid would come rushing in waving their hands with a crisis she had to fix by five o’clock. But she still had downtime, because she was fast, and they dithered making their changes. She was always just a boss-key away from her work on the game, and turned to it whenever she got a chance.
Anomia was responsible for the game bible, which she kept mostly in her head, because it was a pain in the ass to work up style sheets and pantones for every little thing in every little scene in every corner of every level. She was currently spending a lot of time working out the background scenery for each level, pouring endlessly over stock landscapes and google image results. She was also supposed to be storyboarding the intro and the cut scenes and writing the scripts, but she didn’t touch them, altho she insisted they were coming right along when the others asked. They were the least of her problems. She had to think about everything, because nobody else was. The box art, the press releases, the demo and screenshots. Most videogame development teams were familiar with detailed project plans, schedules, milestones, contingency plans, budgets, priorities. But not this one. They were flying strictly on instinct and a quickly aging hubris. It was almost scary, so nobody thought about it. The others assumed these things would happen as a natural byproduct of their work on other areas. That’s why she was so stressed out – the success or failure of the game rested on her shoulders.
Fairy continually grilled the couple about their experience, alone and together, using interrogation techniques she learned from a jealous cop exboyfriend. After awhile, the repetition annoyed everybody. Especially when they were reduced to txt spk.
GRL: lvl 1. rocks + watr far as i can c, v cold, v hungry, v wet. 2. huge mtns blocking passag inland. 3. lowlands, v fertil, w/mkt twns. 4. ++ plains, wetlnds, desrts 4evr. 5. mining twns @ far edg of continnt, industrial citis. 6. megacity of futur, ++ wondrs. 7. inaccessibl mtns. we died
FER: assum deth sene not obligatry all playrs
BOY: evry lvl diff parametrs, ++ resourcs, — hostil envirmnt
GRL: result of progress on prev lvl
BOY: r task build + organiz + make sur ppl happy, thn lvl up. main diff on ea lvl tech advancs. go thru ea lvl, cre8 + name + tell what 2 do. chooz settlmnts, rearrang condits, fuk w/ppl who pissd us off
GRL: teh gema s/b big enuff 4 evry expriens
Okay, you might not understand a lot of that. Neither do I. My mind hiccoughs when I see words mangled. I do want to draw your attention to one thing, however. Anomia tended to fumble her words, and tended to type ‘teh gema’ when mentioning the game. The others also started writing it ‘teh gema’ because it was an easy string of letters to mistype; they all did it, and Anomia did it more than the rest of them. This was because she thought quicker she could type, so she stumbled alot. Likewise, she was tactless in her speech, especially under stress, and so clueless that she often found out what she thought about a topic only as she heard it come out of her mouth.
Eventually they learned to discuss the finer points in their heads, because txting sucked, and the chat window thing got crazy with six simultaneous divergent conversations going on every time they got together.
The first level was… Fairy prompted.
The boy answered. It was the rocky shore of this huge, uninhabited continent, and we had nothing but the clothes on our backs and our new powers, which I have to admit weren’t very strong.
We were like babies, almost too weak to fend for ourselves, the girl added. We started with nothing, and it was really hard for a really long time. The most we could manage were drafty huts and weak fires. And it was so cold.
That helpful skua, dropping food into our camp, the boy remembered.
Fairy was trying to organize a spreadsheet. So the first level represents your typical stone knives and bearskins era. I’m guessing Animism as the belief system. And your skills all have to do with manifesting food and shelter the old fashioned way. This is magic?
And learning to communicate with our food, Anomia thought. Fairy shot disbelief at her.
We kind of tamed the fish, Josh explained. We talked them into being dinner.
What, they jumped into the pot for you?
Well, we didn’t have pots yet. They jumped into the coals.
Didn’t you feel sorry, or squeamish, or even guilty?
We didn’t cry over them, we were hungry.
But we did thank them, the girl protested, and we did favors for their relatives.
This is too Walrus and the Carpenter for me, Fairy thought in disgust. Can we move on? The next period, that’s kind of Viking, right? Everybody loves the Viking esthetic. Should they be Pagan or early Christian? She answered her own question, Gotta have Druids. On this level you learn how to control the waters and the weather, right?
We made the trees grow, the girl thought.
Right, Fairy responded, not sure how we’re going to do that in a game.
Yeah, and they grew everywhere, the boy added. And the huts grew into mountains.
The girl felt sheepish. That was a problem. Things happened the way we wanted, but we couldn’t stop it, so we had to kill all the trees after awhile.
That’s why the lowlands were agriculture-ready, the boy pointed out.
Yeah, but it also meant thousands of miles of grassland and desert.
The problems we had to deal with changed, too.
Like we didn’t learn with the trees and the mountains, the girl thought as an aside.
Mosquitoes, they thought, radiating horror. Rabbits.
The sound of the girl’s thoughts faded and message popped up in their chat window.
GRL: ffft, consultants. brb
Leaving Josh and Fairy to go over the game’s attributes. Josh usually let Anomia respond. She tried to keep her observations to herself because she was never sure of her conclusions, but in her enthusiasm always ended up blurting things out. Josh preferred to sit back in his coffee shop chair and snipe out snarky oneliners when appropriate. But Fairy was waiting.
Okay, then we figured out how to make pottery and glass, and simple machines and tools. We discovered the wheel. He was proud of himself because he’d figured it out and the girl thought he was a hero at the time.
So that’s the third level, Fairy gathered. Medieval. Priest-ridden, with saints and witch hunts and walled cities and serfs and plagues and bad hygiene. You learned agriculture, and I suppose invented writing and math, and became able to support cities and government and commerce.
Maybe, the boy agreed. He never paid much attention to the details. He was more into winning. He schemed and climbed with the best of them and knew every twist.
Josh was busy working on his violent easter eggs, with evil alien vampire zombies and hidden tunnels. He was also putting in pirates. He was in charge of level design, and was supposed to be specifying the climate and geology of each level, how much rainfall, types of flora and fauna. Things that actually bored him to tears. But it was all part of the level diagram, and that was his baby. It was almost fun – he got to say where the desert started and where to limit the glaciers, when the seasons changed, what the prevailing winds were like. But it was tedious and repetitive, so he kept coming back to the evil alien vampires. At least, until Kurt finished the game engine, and then he could start on the animations and 3D models.
Fairy was supposed to track the assets – all the things – in the world diagram, giving each of them a universally unique identifier, determining their place in the game’s flowchart, specifying their qualities, deciding if they had sounds or musical themes and figuring out what those should be. She was responsible for the non-playing characters, too, their functions and actions, and was looking forward to drawing up a list of animations that she and Josh could argue about later.
Fairy felt like she was being forced to craft a compromise world. She had a good grasp of where the game was supposed to go, and it was her job to make it happen by taking charge of all the assets. She was their fairy godmother, and felt obligated to save the project with her crazy hard work and brilliant organizational skills. Her personal goal was to become indispensable to the design process.
She knew that Anomia and Josh appreciated what she was doing, and she was grateful for their recognition, because of course she was actually the one holding it all together while they buried themselves in minutiae. When she woke up and thought about it in the middle of the night, she wondered if she should copyright the game in the morning, to protect it from the inevitable battle to come.
But those were just sickly midnight musings. It was daylight, and she had a miracle to pull off. She continued grilling Josh. Next level I don’t understand, I’m not really down with the endless fruited plain motif.
Well, it was full of game and nomads and there weren’t many trees, and after awhile the water ran out and it was desert. Josh was getting bored.
No, I mean it’s kind of a mixed metaphor. Like the Renaissance period out in the desert. If it was real history, it would be the Enlightenment, with all the exurban social experiments and the harnessing of nature and science and stuff. But it also sounds like the Crusades meets Genghis Khan and the Golden Horde.
Anomia cut back in, bitching because the stupid consultants had pushed right past their deadline, and she had to stay late again. At least I’ll have more time to work on the game, the girl thought, consolation prize.
Whoopee, Fairy and the boy thought without enthusiasm.
The level description continued. Technology really took off after we found iron in the far hills, the girl remembered.
Steel, engines, the industrial age, the boy added.
I think that’s fission, the girl corrected.
Whatever. How society was organized, that was the other difference between each level. Each level was bigger and more advanced, so we went from tribes to nations, and from serfs to citizens. Sort of.
From superstition to science, the girl added. From everyone for themselves all the way to worldwide government – an evil one.
Sounds rough. Let’s move on. Fairy consulted the level diagram they were working on. Those Victorian cities on level five, they’re Revolutionary? That’s a stretch, but okay, Victorian looks good visually, cool costumes. This is where you start organizing society instead of tinkering with the resources. She paused. They’re Fundamentalist? I guess Revolutionaries can be Fundamentalists, she thought doubtfully.
The girl objected. No they can’t, they’re opposite. Fundamentalists are Reactionaries.
Hmm. Fairy made a note. I see a kluge coming on.
Then Anomia got revisions and had to brb. She listened in her head whenever she got the chance, but it looked like she was going to be busy with edits for awhile.
Fairy took a short break to make another pot of tea and bring it back to her bed, where she had her laptop set up on the back of a stuffed Hello Kitty. The sixth level is Totalitarian breakdown, that doesn’t sound very nice. She was not very happy with the way the levels developed. Loads of advances, but way overcrowded and very imbalanced, where tiny super powerful cabals enslave the poor that vastly outnumber them. Society reaches all its limits and they have to rethink everything. As for skills, it sounds like this is where you start to take baby steps in your new quantum reality. The antichrist, huh? O-kay.
And what happens in the inaccessible mountains? she continued, feeling discouraged. Oh yeah, nothing. I find epic battles totally uninteresting.
Fairy searched for a how-to game development website. “Make a list of the game’s environments and the missions taking place in each,” she read. “General information on the unique characteristics of each mission.” She went thru the levels and tried to sort it out. I guess you’ll want a tech tree, she suggested, where you have to choose between technological advances at any given point, and that affects what choices you get down the line.
Um, sure, the boy responded, and changed the subject. He and Fairy spent some time complaining about Anomia while Josh moved shop to the bar next door. She’s tactless. And a bitch.
Fairy made a few adjustments to their spreadsheet. It had the seven levels across and seven rows down, and she was having trouble filling it with the parameters she’d gotten off the two chosen ones. Detailing each level’s assets, goals and obstacles, she wondered if Josh and Anomia experienced the same game, their input conflicted so much. They’d already run into trouble over basic things, like what religious and philosophical beliefs did each era have, and what was their economics, or their politics. She had the feeling that she might as well make these things up.
When Anomia came back to the spreadsheet, it had changed. Fairy had rearranged the belief systems. Anomia called for an immediate reversion to the way they had it before, and Fairy argued that it made so much more sense the way she had it. Anomia insisted that the angel wanted them to recreate their experience, and then both Josh and Fairy complained about how the rows were just mashups. Finally Josh announced that they were going to have to sacrifice accuracy for playability.
Anomia had a wicked sharp tongue and wasn’t afraid to just come out and say what she thought. Since she was pretty sure her analysis was right, she forced it to go her way – no edit-wars. Josh, on his second beer, didn’t push it.
Anomia couldn’t say how to make everything fit any better. There were no words for what they went thru, and trying to divide it up into rational rows and columns drove them all nuts. There were no divisions in their game, everything was connected. There was no cost to create things, and they couldn’t really grasp why Fairy insisted on using a faucet and drain economy when there was endless wealth in their game.
Fairy wondered about the objectives. What are the players doing in all these different environments? The disciplines you want to teach?
The girl reeled it off. The first step is to master your mind and your body, and then you develop your consciousness, and after that you learn to control your subtle body. Once you’ve built up your muscles, you learn how to move and fly, you develop your intuition and clairvoyance, and you learn how to manifest things, how to create.
We learned a mnemonic, the boy added. CNNGSPP.
Fairy snorted into her teacup. That’s not a mnemonic, it’s a collection of consonants. What’s it mean?
Create, name, nurture, guide, share, preserve, pass on. Those are the ultimate goals of each level. The girl sounded pompous.
And the lessons?
All one way, all knowable, all relative, all possible, all alive, all together, all one.
Fairy just sat there and shook her head.
Don’t worry, the boy soothed. We’ll work the bodymind exercises into game rituals, and we can embed the lessons in each level’s theme.
When Anomia took a breather from her paid labors and rejoined them, Josh unwisely handed a piece of his level diagram to her for an art pass, but she’d already been proceeding with her own plan for the assets, so they had a fight, and he ended up spending the night back home at his parent’s house. It was the first time in awhile.
Fairy quietly adjusted the world diagram the way she and Josh had decided earlier. They’d also agreed to keep Anomia out of the loop on Josh’s easter egg assets, partly because she didn’t seem to care about the details, and partly because it gave Fairy some leverage to use on Josh later.
Another little victory came in a fight between Fairy and Josh over the animations and the avatars. In a spirit of meanness, they’d offered it to Anomia first, but she threw her hands up in horror. 😯
So Fairy was supposed to design the avatars, but she wasn’t as interested as she’d let on, she just wanted to wrestle something essential from Josh. Anomia’s original stab at NPC and avatar design let Fairy complain about everything from her drawing skills to her fashion sense, so Josh took it over for a minute, but he didn’t know anything about style, so they fought over it only because he wanted Fairy to appreciate that he was in charge, and Fairy ended up with the avatars’ shapes and appearance, their skin textures, their clothes.
But now that she had the responsibility, she realized what a huge task it was. Millions of players meant infinitely customizable avatars, and that boiled down to thousands of costume parts and body types in hundreds of styles and periods. She was great with individual styles, based on her intuitive knowledge of whoever she was styling. But working up 286 textured fabric swatches was not her thing. She’d rather think about slipping dragons into the game.
So she opened up a child account and secretly handed Radhu the entire avatar portion of her workload. She chatted with him a lot, and they became good work friends, but he didn’t have access to the collaborative document, or the ability to chat with the others, and Fairy kept her world diagram to herself. Anomia and Josh had forgotten all about Radhu, so Fairy kept him as her little secret.
He rejected Fairy’s idea of modeling the avatars on the tarot, which offered only 78 cards, expanding to 352 characters in 22 families. He decided to base his avatars on Hindu gods, which were infinite. Radhu’s avatars turned out more Bollywood than the pages of Vogue, leaving Fairy to explain it away and still take credit.
Radhu worked nights in his Bangalore call center, trying to be top scorer again so he could go to next year’s trip and ditch his telecom conference for Dragoncon. He was hooked on comic book conventions after his experience in Atlanta, and had already booked his ticket for the only con in India, but it was a couple of years old and only a hundredth the size, so he wanted to go back again.
In his spare time, he’d started playing videogames, something he’d never done before. He liked adventures, and didn’t like shooters at all, even tho the Panchen Lama played them. There was something too disturbing about all the blood and guts, and his guru had advised him that negative emotions were disruptive to good health, so he avoided violence and concentrated on management and social games.
He was delighted when Fairy asked him to help design the game, and stayed up all day working on the avatars. While he worked, he constantly thought about his future, generating images of success, putting his energy and enthusiasm into the fantasy, knowing that his beliefs shaped his life, and using his thoughts and words to create his future.
Several months came and went like Fairy’s boyfriends. Then Snake reappeared.