writing chapter 6.2
Snake slouched in his seat, one knee jittering up and down constantly. He was fixated on the duct tape and rubber bands, and couldn’t stop making fun of the diy stylus. “I’m sorry to keep going on and on about how ugly this tablet is. I mean, wow what sharp rendering on this cool screen…that’s a little sticky around the edges. Gee how fast it powers up, for an underpowered hacked offbrand.”
Anomia tried to ignore him. “Does the screen make your fingers tingle?” She asked them, wiggling her fingers and flexing her hands.
Josh replied, “It makes my palms itch.”
“That’s because you jerk off too much. Are they hairy, too?” Snake reached for Josh’s hand to check.
“Guys, please,” Fairy pleaded. “I don’t feel anything when I touch it,” she said to Anomia. “I’ve got a lot of experience with low voltage electric fields.”
Snake rolled his eyes. “I’ll bet. Therapeutic, huh?”
“As well as,” Fairy said, looking him up and down. “You wish.”
Snake coughed and mumbled something.
“Maybe it’s just us,” Anomia said to Josh. “Ever since our vision thingie, I’ve been sensitive to electric fields, like I get this noise in my head whenever the microwave’s on. It feels like that with the tablet here. It buzzes, it almost burns.” She rubbed her hands. “I don’t like it at all.”
“I think it’s kind of fun,” Josh remarked. “My fingers leave tracers when I swipe them across the screen.”
Snake looked. “You must be special,” he said. “Or maybe it’s just broken.”
Josh pulled up an online shootemup. “Wow, it loaded immediately,” he said, rapping the surface of the tablet in quick, staccato beats as his avatar shot everything that moved. “And I’m firing at way more capacity than I’m used to. This is some update, how’d he do it?”
Snake snorted. “Overclocking and tweaking, it’s just a trick. In such a handsome package. Probably did lots of drugs while he was putting this together,” he said as an aside.
“I want drugs like that,” Josh said wistfully.
Anomia looked up. “I just replied to an email, but instead of getting a blank form, what I wanted to say was mostly typed out already. Like it read my mind.” Fairy leaned over to see.
Snake straightened up in his seat and shook his head. “Can’t be done,” he said flatly. “It’s probably a browser issue.” He tossed his tablet on the table with a thump. “I don’t know, Kurt’s a genius and all, but why can’t we just use something that’s had all the bugs worked out, something with a label on it, and 24/7 customer support?”
“Because we don’t have a budget?” Anomia said, as if you’d think that would be clear enough. “The cheapest, barest version of Maya is four thousand dollars a seat.”
“We could use unlicensed copies.”
“You mean pirated ones.” He shrugged. “And training is just as expensive. We can’t afford it. So we’ll do the job with what we’ve got. There’s no shame in that. At least we’re not cheating.”
“There is so,” Snake protested. “I’m ashamed. We’re in a position where we have to cheat in order to survive, and we’re not doing it. I’m ashamed, personally and professionally. And I blame the person with the tight purse strings and no vision.”
She shook her head firmly. “We’re not going into debt. We’re not selling control. We’re just going to make a simple game like the angel said.”
“I can’t tell you how tired I am of hearing about the angel. We are not in it for your vision.” The others looked at him. “Okay, maybe we are. I thought you were more sophisticated than that. All’s I’m saying is, it’s shameful how much time you’re wasting doing it the hardest possible way – out of the best of motives, perhaps – when you could be having a blast developing this game. Character sculpting with ZBrush – you’d love it,” he said to Fairy. “It’s like putting on makeup. But of course ZBbrush costs thousands, and doesn’t run on linux, so we’re forced to use crappy open source software that takes twice as long to do a half-assed job.” He threw up his hands. “You’re just not serious, or you’d get investors and buy proper equipment. Pay yourselves a salary. Eat decent food.” He gestured at their surroundings. “We could be in a conference room over at the Marriott having this little presentation, but no, we have to meet in front of all the homeless people in Atlanta.” He pointed contemptuously at Caroline sloughing across the atrium. “Tell me, what does she have to invest?”
Anomia sat flipping thru pages of image search results, looking at pictures of Antarctica. None of them were the land of their vision. The land they journeyed thru in their vision wasn’t cold, and it wasn’t ice covered. Their game was on a lonely island leading to an archipelago that developed into a continent and morphed into a megacity.
She looked, page after page of search results. White, blue. Round. Q-shaped. White blue round. And penguins. Icebergs. Squint/smiling cold faces in sunglasses and fur parkas. She drummed her fingers on the side of the tablet in frustration.
Then the results changed. Antarctica without ice. Ah, she thought. That’s kind of it. She looked thru richly colored topographic maps of islands and mountains and plains and vast lakes. She selected a color-coded topographic map that looked pretty close to their gameworld. Now what?
While the boys argued about software, and Snake copped an attitude and refused to learn blender, Anomia pulled up the help files, and looked up a bunch of terms and examples. Her fingertips tingled, and she stopped hearing the boys chattering as she dove into a tutorial, and a few more tutorials.
It seemed like eight hours passed, but the boys were still jabbering. Anomia listened to them for a moment while she was searching for the perfect background picture to use for a skydome of the antarctic sky and the Southern Ocean. She sectioned the photo and slapped it up, then switched to gameview and got out her paint tools to edit the corners. But the kernel had already been there, and the corners weren’t just patched from the existing picture, but contained new details that made it more real.
Hmph. She wasn’t sure she liked that. Okay, now for the game platform. She went back to the topo map of Antarctica and thought about the ten or fifteen steps involved in turning it into geometry. She felt a shimmery tingle at the back of her head. A dialog appeared onscreen. “Make static mesh from heightmap?” it asked. Her mouth dropped. It anticipated her and skipped to the end result. She bit her lip, and tapped the yes with the stylus. The view switched to 3D, and there were islands and mountains and shorelines and plains, all in gray putty with glowing lines gridding the squares. Hmph.
She thought about showing everybody what she’d come up with, but decided to load up her texture brush and fill it in, starting at the peninsula end with grasses and mosses and birds and critters, the kind of environment to be found just north of the peninsula. The others expected a gray substrate of rocks, mostly, with some scrubby grasses, just ground to build the carnival on. With such a large environment, it seemed a shame to make it all just gray rocks and glaciers under gray and blue skies. And she loved the idea of Antarctica without ice. It was like a fairy world to her, the fantasy world she would have lived in if she were still a kid. All those islands, the vast wastes, the mountains, all empty, all just lying there waiting for someone to come and live there, for stories to be told about that particular corner of the world.
Since they’d scaled back to the first two levels, there was no need for Antarctica at all, but she wasn’t going to jettison all that work. When they rethought everything, they decided it was could still be Antarctica, but reduced to a platform on which to build their game. But she wanted plants, damnit. The boys were fine with a generic concrete floor tile with random skies for background, but islands have landscapes. So she started with grasses and ferns, and at some point said fuck it and began putting in forests and meadows and grand vistas and lush valleys, more florid and eyecatching the farther you went.
She got to the end and stopped, looked at her work, and then animated the environment, and suddenly the skydome was in movement around the platform, the sun circled low on the horizon, the clouds soared by, there were distant waddles of penguins, lapping waves, calving glaciers. And spreading out on the screen was an Antarctica of fiction or the future, lush and verdant. Anomia smiled to herself and showed the others.
“Wow,” said Fairy. “We’ll be finished in no time.”
“I didn’t know you did 3D animation,” Josh observed.
“I don’t, I do Powerpoint,” she spat, hating her job and anyone who reminded her of it. “But this was really easy,” she said, gesturing at the display, where a fantastic landmass lay spinning slowly in its ocean, under a sky where the sun never set. “It’s not like I did it myself,” she said. “I felt like I was along for the ride. I just indicated what I wanted to do, and everything was done for me, out of sight, instantly.”
“Magical. And very impressive,” Snake allowed, “but you don’t design a game based on a landscape model. That’s not functional. We need a fucking amusement park layout, for fuck sake. Beautiful mountains, nice sunsets, but who cares? Where’s the roller coaster?”
The party broke up soon after that. Snake invited everyone out for drinks; Josh was tempted, but Anomia didn’t want to go, and Fairy had a date, so they all filtered off home, leaving Nathan doing his homework at a nearby table, and Caroline wandering her territory looking for miscreants.
“So who were that lot?” she asked, sitting opposite him and slipping her shoes off for a quick footrub.
“They’re videogame developers,” he said. “I want to do that.”
“I don’t know,” Caroline said. “Sounds like a hobby. Were they sitting there playing videogames?”
“No, they were trying out some new computer software. I wish I could have seen what they were doing.” He put his pencil down. “It’s experimental,” he explained. “I want one so bad I could almost steal it,” he said.
“Go ahead, I’ll cover for you.”
He looked at her for a moment. “No, that’s okay. Maybe I can get a used one later on.
“Story of my life,” Caroline said, and walked away.