writing chapter 4.4
after a short break to watch the landfall of hurricane sandy, i have returned to work. and tomorrow is the beginning of nanowrimo, so my nonreaders can expect a month long flurry of activity from me. here’s what i managed to cobble together during the hurricane.
Snake didn’t really give a damn about the integrity of the couple’s vision. He was in it for the glory, and didn’t look past the rather narrow goal of getting rich off of game production. To Snake, and millions of the world’s male population aged 13-48, the whole point of a videogame was to give boys something to destroy, and the idea of using it to raise consciousness seemed ludicrously idealistic. So he and Josh set about subverting it.
Most game designers tackle the problem of cheaters beginning in the design stage, making cheating expensive for the attackers and cheap for the defenders. Anomia and Fairy would be expecting Snake and Josh to deal with this in their level and AI designs. But the boys were taking pains to arrange opportunities for rule abuse. A lack of data integrity and security, easy to steal passwords, easily pwned property. They set up avenues of internal misuse, back doors to modifying the servers and software and data, codes to change the properties of objects, ways to subvert the NPCs, to gank and hoodwink and rip off newbies. On-purpose bugs.
There are many ways to cheat in a videogame. Most players are familiar with currency farming and camping at monster respawning lairs. Many know to look for cheat codes, written into games as shortcuts for game testers who need to get to where the trouble is without having to play all the way thru a level. Cheats can throw up a minimap to show where everybody is. Cheats can put a glow on characters and objectives. Wall hacks make walls invisible or bring objects out in front of whatever they’re hidden behind. Then there are social engineering cheats, with infiltration and betrayal, scamming, suicide ganks. Strategy freaking, it’s called – why work for something when you can steal it? The boys saw nothing wrong with including it as a natural way of life in their game, even tho Anomia and Fairy would go ballistic if they found out about it.
“We can work around the girls,” Snake assured Josh as they knocked a few back at the bar. They’d taken to meeting at the pub, because Snake sneered at coffee when there was real go juice available. “We know more about videogames than they do, and it’ll be easy to write it our way.” He watched himself in the mirror as he spoke. “Because the girls are going to ruin it with their insanely inappropriate ideas. I mean, their idea of an intro is basically a lecture on doing good. Nobody wants to hear that. You’ll lose players as they come in the door. You’ve got about 20 minutes of play before noobs lose interest. They’ve got to make a character and go on an easy quest, then you praise the shit out of them, reward them with something useful, and send them on another mission to finish sucking them in. From what I’ve seen so far, the girls want to bore them to death and only promise rewards down the line if they behave.” He finished his beer and wiped his mouth with his sleeve. “Too religous.”
Snake continued arguing for traditional videogame values over another drink. “Every type of player has to be catered to, but there are only four types of players, so it’s really not much of a problem. Diamonds are going to want to win something, and show off their points. They want to be able to beat other Diamonds, and don’t mind impressing Hearts with their status and exploits. So we’ll need a scoreboard and achievement points, and we could give out titles and pimped out rides – concrete proof of their success.” Josh almost wished the others were listening. The others could only sense his awe of Snake’s expertise. “Spades like to map out everything and dwell all the details and backstories, so you give them things to dig up and let them explore their environments. Hearts are social, and they don’t much care about the game itself, as long as they can have relationships, even with the NPCs.” They both snickered. “And then there are the Clubs. Like the Diamonds, they’re into competing, but really they just want to kill something, and they’d really rather fight player versus player than just kill bosses. Carnage, action, destruction. Or just being the bad guy. I’m a little like that myself,” he confessed. So was Josh. “And, Clubs are socially dominant. They’re the ones who take on empire building and terraforming, and they’re the ones who corner the markets and bring order to the chaos of a sandbox game.”
“But the whole idea is to teach players how to be magical,” Josh protested, knowing damn well that Anomia wasn’t going to go for Snake’s ideas of pandering.
“Fuck it,” Snake said. “You’re talking about hand-waving mages, exactly the same thing as warriors swinging swords. None of it is real. If you want to be a real magician, you have to study for years. You can’t just select powers and then go out and battle monsters. Besides, it’s not magic if everybody can do it.” They ordered another round. “What we should be talking about is funding. How are we going to make them pay for this?”
“Well,” Josh considered. “The angel said…” Snake made a face so violent that Josh winced. “Okay, whatever. The idea was to make the game completely free. We’re working for nothing, after all.”
“I’ll agree that this isn’t a single-A title we’re making,” Snake said dismissively. “We’re not working with a hundred people and we don’t have investors and there are no sunk costs. Hell, we couldn’t attract an investor if we had to – they don’t like risk, and there’s a good chance this game will never get off the ground. But if it does, I plan to make millions of dollars for my efforts, don’t you?”
So they talked about the ways of making money out of a videogame. Whether it was better to sell the software up front and make incremental sales on expansion packs down the road, or go freemium and give the core of the game away with a monthly fee to play. Or they could set up micropayments for everything but the most basic items and restricted gameplay.
“We could make money trading items ingame, too,” Josh suggested, energized by the idea. “We could take percentages of every player transaction. We could charge leveling fees.”
“There you go,” Snake said approvingly. “We could sell ads, and do product placements. We could sell insurance. But we won’t make shit if nobody plays it because it’s fucking boring. I gotta pee,” he finished, leaving Josh sitting at the bar looking into his beer, wondering how he could save the game from stillbirth.
Snake managed to bring everybody down in the short time he’d been active on the project. He led the criticism of Fairy’s (Radhu’s) character designs and Anomia’s backgrounds, and never let up about the shitty idealism that would ruin the game for any serious player. Behind their backs he was vicious. But he never criticized anyone to their face. In person, he was concerned and kindly, offering helpful tips from an expert and praising their amateurish first attempts as if they were limited but earnest and he was a slightly put-upon genius.
During their next face to face meeting – a video chat that Snake was too busy to attend – Josh voiced the thoughts they’d all been having.
“I don’t think we can do this,” he said, looking away from the camera. “We’ve got shit to show for months of work, and I’m running low on funds.”
Fairy tried to say something positive, but she was almost ashamed of the cartoonish characters she’d (Radhu’d) designed, and couldn’t think of anything that didn’t sound stupid.
“The whole thing is clunky,” Josh continued. “We don’t know what we’re doing. Videogames take millions of dollars and a crew of hundreds to make. Our stuff is all a mashup, a half-assed copy of all the usual cliches. Why are we bothering? I feel like I’d be better off if I just said never mind and got a job.” He was hardly serious, but it made his point.
“We have to teach the essence,” Anomia insisted quietly. “We have to go on as if it mattered, because it does.”
“What she said,” Fairy agreed without much conviction.
“I don’t know. Maybe I can take my new found mystical powers and develop some sort of mumbo-jumbo exercise ritual filled with abstract newage concepts,” Josh suggested. “Magical sex therapy or something,”
Anomia bristled. “We were specifically told to make the damned game.”
Josh frowned. “I know. I just hate doing something that’s going to turn out like drunk Southpark.”
Fairy said, “You just want to be Walt Disney.”
Josh retorted, “No, I just want Walt Disney to buy it.”
“The angel said to create the game,” Anomia reminded them.
“Look, it’s a videogame. Videogames are for murder and mayhem, not teaching serious physics and consciousness. Go write a book if you want to put all this peace and light shit into it. Go develop a religion.”
They continued to argue for awhile, but Josh put a stop to it. “The most important part about what we’re allegedly supposed to do is give people superpowers. All we know about that is that it’s some kind of quantum entanglement pixie dust, and we don’t have a fucking clue how to do that.”