writing chapter 10.2
Around Xmas they decided to go back to the game and finish it. They’d all been having dreams – they were in the game playing and having the time of their lives, while the rest of the universe stood outside the game floor or up in the skydome, watching them. Or they were at future Dragoncons promoting the game, and it was the hottest game ever. Ot they were at future Dracongon parades, and there was an endless march of game avatars, a whole microcosm of the game walking in the street in front of them. They wanted to go march in the parade too. But looking down they realized they were in ordinary clothes and couldn’t go.
Game ideas would occur to them while they were in the middle of doing something, and they’d get a strong urge to drop whatever they were doing and pull up the game. It was calling to them. Josh and Anomia were in the game more and more and they started meeting Fairy there. One night Snake showed up in the game.
Snake was back, with no explanation of where he’d been all the months since Kurt’s death. He was enthusiastic and full of plans for a new game.2. With his background as a whizkid programmer (nobody’d heard of), he was the only choice to take over Kurt’s job as lead programmer.
They decided to go ahead and build a prototype. Their big problem was all the work Kurt did to the game the night he died. In the process of scrapping the first Antarctica and remaking it, Kurt discovered an aloofness, an emotional disconnect in the kernel. So he did whatever metaphorical action was necessary to make the kernel more responsive.
Then, connected to the kernel, he up and died in agony, and the kernel was injured by Kurt’s death throes and almost glad of the team’s depression and inactivity. But it healed itself, and with its new feelings realized it was lonely, and started reaching out to the team – its humans. It was very happy when they came back. That wasn’t the team’s big problem. The kernel was very helpful, anticipating their needs better than before . Plus, now there was drag and drop on the carnival levels.
The real problem was that on Kurt’s death, the Antarctica level he’d given his life to recreate was locked away inside a very thick sheet of ice, and nobody could figure out how to get it out. The architecture of the game levels was contained in the game engine, and the engine was buried in the kernel that Kurt took such pains to encrypt against prying eyes and inquiring minds. So there wasn’t much they could do about that, but nobody expected to be able to do anything with Kurt’s kernel.
Their real problem was that when Kurt died and his molecules slowed to a stop, so did the Antarctica level he was inside of. A core of ice appeared and grew and expanded to encompass everything, stopping at the level boundaries. But since all of the levels were built on one template, the ice was everywhere.
Using their past experiments with temperature and winter fashions, the kernel turned the game into a winter paradise. Now the roller coaster was encased in blue ice and the only warmth to be had was in the tunnels and the hub, out of the ceaseless wind. Basically it was their original carnival level layout slapped down on top of a glacier.
This prompted some changes to the game. Now there was no choice but to abandon the quantum Antarctica portion and scale back the carnival levels.
Anomia, Fairy, and even Josh balked, so Snake proposed adding the cloud level as an easter egg for anyone who gained enough quantum skills to open the door. He even suggested putting in a multiple universe option so the really advanced players could mod their own versions of the game. But to balance this concession to Anomia’s annoying obsession with quantum lessons, Snake suggested adding aspects of popular genres. To appeal to the greatest numbers of players.
Anomia insisted on redistributing the quantum lessons of the Antarctica levels. This set up an instant conflict in her. How do you insert quantum lessons into classical mechanisms? Midway and Carneytown were designed to be complementary. For every principle of classical physics illustrated in a ride or game, workers in Carneytown would learn a relativistic workaround, and by playing off each other, players in each level would master both. Like taking a momentum – a roller coaster – and introducing time dilation to stretch the curves and dips out, or changing gravity to make riders float at the top of the first hill.
There was no space to put quantum lessons into this matrix. Quantum principles demanded a level all their own, they couldn’t be understood as part of classical physics. Anomia and Fairy objected to the whole proposal. “The lessons on the Midway are all physical, quantum lessons are psychological, they affect consciousness. We can’t dumb down everything on the carnival level and then try to insert the quantum lessons. You can’t teach quantum thought in a shootemup.”
“Sure you can,” Snake answered. “If we remove the constraints you’ve put on it, then you could use your quantum powers right there on the midway.”
“But if you get rid of the rules of physics, you destroy the interplay between forces that makes it work. If you can take each force from 0 to infinity without affecting the other forces, then nobody’s going to learn anything about how classical physics works.”
He shrugged. “It’ll be a wild ride. And your point is?”
“You turn well balanced physics puzzles into rides of death and nothing more.”
“But it”ll appeal to the masses.”
“With violence and cheating.”
Snake and Josh grinned at each other. First person shooter, melee, strategy, racing. Anomia sat stony faced.
“No violence,” Fairy reminded them sternly.
“Oh, shove it,” Snake said. “I know how you can sneak in your precious quantum lessons. Why don’t you just take Carneytown and turn it into Quantum Nation or something?”
“Then what do we do with the relativistic side of the carnival level?”
He shrugged. “I don’t know, teach them relativity tricks on the midway once they’ve reached whatever many points. And mastered classical physics,” he added, to pretend he valued the whole physics part of it.
Anomia was trying to imagine a quantum Carneytown. “What, teach them to fly around while they pick up trash? Teach them how to fasten peoples’ harnesses from a distance? How to make the target move out of the way?”
Snake ticked them off. “Arcade games, sure. And you could fit a quantum adventure game into the carnival levels, easy. Strategy games. Role playing on the carnival levels. All this is given. Doing carnival jobs by magic. That’ll impress the low level players.”
Josh said, “You could do a quantum sports action game, or racing.”
“Even the shootemup you despise,” Snake said.
So it was settled, and they reorganized everything. Snake was in charge, unofficially. Nobody was in charge officially, and that never sounded good. Anomia’s task was to find places to incorporate the quantum teachings. Josh’s job was to dedicate a class of quantum NPCs who would act as guides and teachers. Fairy’s job was to find a way to make an icebound world seem inviting. Snake’s job was to fuck everything up on purpose.
Now that he was lead programmer, Snake could take credit for all the changes the kernel appeared to be making on its own, so they’d all think he knew what he was doing. But he had no idea. Kurt had a fuck you attitude toward documentation and the kernel reflected that. Snake’s queries were ignored, his changes backed themselves out, and he couldn’t delete anything Kurt had written.
It took him several months to figure out how to pick up the losose end and finish buidling the game. With some special modifications he made himself. He tidied up, basically fixing bugs someone reported (with the kernel fixing his fixes as he fixed them).
So he was left with ingame sabotage. He wrote bugs and viruses, he twisted the purpose of the quests toward revenge and vanquishment, Mainly he fucked with the NPCs, filling the quantum ones with doubt and making the existing leprechauns militantly antiquantum. And while he was at it, he detested Fairy’s leprechaun persona, so remade them into snarling, unintelligible gollums. He hated Kurt’s twinkly NPCs, but of course there was nothing he could do about it. Snake installed traps and endless loops for unwary players. He and Josh tunneled all thru the carnival levels.
Josh had his own side project. Instead of rewriting the leprechaun NPCs to deliver Anomia’s quantum message, he wrote a class of pirate NPCs. He liked pirates. So he created a bunch of assets – pirate maps, spy holes, bolt holes, weapons, hideaways, pirate coves, fast ships, torture, wenches. And then he created a bunch of easter eggs and cached everything.
Radhu was working for Snake now, and doing a fine job. Snake had tasked him with minor changes to the list of skills and lessons. It was part of the tacitly accepted plan to dumb down the game. But Snake wanted him to alter the quantum skills so that they required no effort to use them. Radhu thought this odd, but Snake had cautioned him against contacting any of the others, especially Fairy. Radhu was grateful to Snake for letting him continue to work on the game, but he wondered if Snake was trying to use him for his own purposes. Snake’s purpose was to make his mark on the game, smear his personality into every corner and shadow.
Fairy was going thru the game being all sweetness and light, chasing around correcting Josh and Snake’s errors. In her assigned work, she went with a gleaming chrome diner look. Futuristic retro. With candy apple red for contrast. Steampunk bordello and opium den. She wrote music that drove Snake mad. Her side task, besides fixing everyone else’s mistakes, was to make caches of quantum skills and karma points.