“Grigori, the framework for the new realm is nearly ready,” called Gabriel. “I need you to sit down with me to go over the basic themes and operating algorithms so I can progress the development.”
“Okay, I’ll be there in a sec,” replied Grigori. “I just have to finish reviewing the moderation of the latest dispute in Phaery. We might have set that realm up to be ‘the land where nobody gets old and godly and grave, where nobody gets old and crafty and wise, where nobody gets old and bitter of tongue,’* but that doesn’t seem to be working so well. Some of the players there argue incessantly and their tongues are positively forked.”
Gabriel laughed. “Well that’s par for the course. My experience is that no matter how you set up these multi-player realms, it always gets nasty. Someone gets pissed about something another player does, the onlookers takes sides, and it snowballs from there. And as for moaning about relative prices and assets, the production algorithms, or community taxes, just don’t get me started. So much for free will and cooperation!”
“Okay, I’m ready now.” Grigori appeared on the screen in front of Gabriel. “I guess you’re right. Look what happened in Paradise realm. We spent ages setting that one up to be a peaceful, heart-warming experience for all players and that egotistic bastard Lucifer had to upset the apple cart. I couldn’t find any other resolution other than to give him his own realm to coordinate.”
“Actually, that worked out quite well” said Gabriel. “Hades might be a hellish realm, but you have to admit that most of the players there just get on with their assigned activities without moaning all the time about how ‘unfair’ things are in their world, or agitating for higher rewards.”
“And,” he added, “it’s not as bad as Ragnarok, where the infighting just exploded the whole realm. When we had to terminate that realm it took the maintenance crew weeks to clean out the player residue and reset the parameters so that it could be repopulated.”
“Yeah, well let’s make this one work out better,” Grigori sighed. “I’m not sure about Godzone as a name though. I think I’ll ask the marketing guys to relook at that. It isn’t very catchy.”
“Well it’s just a working title. I quite like Jorden myself. Or maybe Eden,” said Gabriel, before adding quickly “but let’s not go down that street right now. I want to get these new operating rules sorted out so the system designers and special effects wizards have something more to build on. This time I thought we wouldn’t give the players a fully formed world when they join the realm. Instead, we’ll let it evolve in front of them for the first seven sequences. A whole change of approach.”
“Hmm. Maybe. So how do you see that working?” Grigori asked.
“Well, I’ve got the realm opening on a grey mist, a kind of void. Then cue the music and The Narrator states the first parameter of this realm – ‘Out of nothing – the void, comes everything.’”
Gabriel continued: “So that introduction expresses a new principle underlying everything in Godzone. I call it the ‘duality’ principle – and represent it in the program by the expression zero equals one plus minus one [(0 = (+1) + (-1)]. Once the players discover that principle the possibilities are endless.”
Grigori looked puzzled. “Go on. I’m not seeing where you are going with this.”
“Okay,” replied Gabriel. “In our other multiplayer worlds, everything is just there when they enter the realm, but this world will be full of opposites and implicit potential. Pluses and minuses. Assets and liabilities. The point will be to find balance, so the world thrives. If the players work against equilibrium, they will go down in a screaming heap, but if they learn to understand balance – in the operating environment and among themselves – they will do really well. If they can’t learn cooperation that way, maybe we should just give up.”
Grigori looked sternly at Gabriel. “You know The Watchers never just give up. We didn’t become the greatest multiplayer world designers with that approach.” Then, sighing, he added “Tell me more about the set up sequences.”
“Sure. Well there will be seven of them.”
“In the first sequence, a light will appear slowly pulsating in the void. I am building in what I call a “day and night” arrangement, where the operating environment isn’t stable but rather fluctuates rhythmically over time. The players will need to recognize this and time their actions to match the appropriate light phase. Nice first challenge, don’t you think?”
“Maybe, I can’t tell yet. Go on,” replied Grigori.
“In the second sequence, the nothing-void will be pierced by a dark outline so that a lightened space appears around a rough ball. So two parts appear – the ball and the not-ball. The ball is going to become the realm operating space, and the not-ball will provide a valuable energy resource, but also act as a realm representing higher aspirations (important for later activities). So there is the duality principle again. First light and not light. Then ball and not-ball.”
“Then in the third sequence, the screen will zoom into the grey ball, which will begin to bloom with colour, showing a blue background (I’m calling that the sea), and a predominantly green irregular shape I’m calling terra firma. More duality – sea and not-sea, terra firma and not-terra firma.”
“The screen will then zoom into the land even further, until we see organic resource providers growing out of the land. I’ve called these plants and trees. They have a really great self-perpetuating principle built into them so that they can grow and be used by the players, but each unit also produces a token (I call them seeds) so that they can be regrown, again and again. See, here are some rough sketches.
Watch the life cycle. Don’t you think that’s cool?”
Grigori watches a soft yellow rose bloom on his screen – bloom, then wither, petals falling. His aura brightens as he watches a deep red rosehip form, then fall to the ground where a new rose plant begins to grow. “Actually, I like this idea. What comes next?”
“In the fourth sequence we’ll liven up the not-ball area, which I want to call the cielo. I’m thinking to reinforce the duality here with a daytime light and energy source called sol, and a night light called luna. The luna source will wax and wane, indicating the best times to plant seed and harvest crops. A big light in the heavens is a pretty big clue so I don’t think we’ll need to spell out that aspect of optimising production any further. There’s a bit more to the sol and luna concepts but I imagine you get the idea.” Gabriel was talking faster now, as his vision for the new realm spilled out.
“There’s more?” asked Grigori.
“You bet. Look at these creatures we have started prototyping to fill the sea, the land, and the air above the earth in the fifth sequence. Aren’t they gorgeous?” Gabriel quickly cycled through images of colourful corals and sea anemones, red cardinals, black woolly sheep, slinky jaguar, inquisitive dolphins, frolicking gazelles, wriggling whitebait, howling wolves, dam-building beaver, grazing bison, scurrying ants, shy little kiwi and long-legged emus, cuddly koalas and an adorable little Tasmanian Devil. The slideshow whizzed through more images, each more surprising and beautiful than the last. As the last frame came into view Gabriel turned up the volume on two kookaburras laughing in a blue gum tree.
Grigori shook his head. “This is amazing. Do we have the RAM and data storage for this profusion of elements? I’m pretty sure a sequence of data objects of this quality could win an award all by itself.”
“Well that’s the beauty of this new realm framework. During the introductory sequence we stock all the required basic building blocks to build these in the air, land and sea slots on the player site so, once the sol element kicks in to supply energy, no further storage is required on our part. The secret ingredient is a little memory routine we invented just for this purpose. The designer called it a Direct Nature Attribute routine, but now we just call it DNA. Baring damage from any environmental corruption to the routine on the player platform, all these lovely things can be grown again and again from seed stored inside the parent creatures, without the need for further data transfer from upstairs.”
“Gabriel, I knew you were a systems accountant with a reputation for coming up with ultra-efficient, cost effective resource routines, but this is something else again,” exclaimed Grigori. Still looking entranced by the image on the screen, Grigori continued: “All this is simply the set up for the players. When do they get control of the action?”
“That’s the sixth sequence in the set up phase of loading the game. Although the full narrative will take a while to develop, the prototype designers came up with a lovely poetic voiceover for the appearance of the player avatars.” Gabriel launched into the typical Narrator style, including the deep voice: “Players, you were created in The Creator’s own image, and blessed, and given guardianship of this lovely world. Go forth and live in harmony with these beautiful and varied animal companions, share and eat from the plants and fruits, and enjoy all the days of your lives.”
“Hmmm. A bit corny but I suppose the writers can polish that into something that works.” Grigori frowned. “I thought you said there was a seventh sequence?”
“Well, yes,” although Gabriel’s manner was less certain this time. “The finale in the setup sequence is a day of rest for The Creator and a festival of celebration. This is part of the rhythm cycle of the realm: day and night, lunar cycles, annual seasons (I missed that bit out before), and also a special seven day cycle which mimics and regularly celebrates the activity/rest ratio of the set up sequence. The techy who has been working on the rhythm algorithms suggested calling the seventh day a Shabbos Day. Actually he is keen on including a longer mirror sequence over a seven year period (he called that a Shabbos year), but that might be going too far.”
“So what do you think, Grigori?” Gabriel looked straight at Grigori’s image, so the camera would project him face to face.
“My first impression is that it is a great setup, with mega possibilities for spectacular artwork and special effects. And those are things that often attract attention and awards.” Grigori hesitated. “But isn’t this a bit like Paradise? We all know what happened there. Happy players while they explored the new realm, but after that they wanted something to actually DO. And that is when Lucifer stirred them up to taking the world apart. He would have succeeded too, if I hadn’t bought him off with his new role on Hades.
What will the players actually DO on Godzone that will keep them busy and satisfied?”
“Oh, we are setting up the usual growth routines,” Gabriel replied, “but they will be much more challenging in this environment. Build houses, grow and harvest crops, use the crops to make second tier products, find mineral deposits, make tools, trade with neighbours, build community buildings, and then move on to higher level activities. And they will have all these animal companions to get to know. Many of them have inbuilt intelligence, so players can learn to communicate with them. Also, we have ideas for more colourful versions of the normal team protocols, to introduce some friendly competition.”
Grigori looked skeptical. “What about the testosterone factor? How are you going to channel that energy? That’s how these realms hit the rocks.”
“Tell me about it,” laughed Gabriel. “Rafe has hit on this great idea he is calling ‘sport’ – sort of warfare with no real damage involved. He’s working up a range of permutations for us to look at to channel that energy away from harm to other players.”
“Well it all looks good, Gabriel. I’d like to give you the go ahead for in-depth development.” Grigori indicated there was more. “But first, list for me the main objectives of this realm. Apart from being entertained, what are the players meant to achieve?”
“Sure thing Grigori. The higher level rewards will come for activities involving nurturing the realm environment: its plants and animals, and its clean water and air. Also for developing strong, healthy communities where players support each other, and the other animals sharing the realm. Also for developing celebratory forms, such as music, dance and art, that strengthen the energy systems of the realm. I haven’t got the details worked out yet, but that is the general theme.”
“Great. I like that. I have been through the development schedule and estimated costs you sent me, along with the inflow projections, before this meeting. The projected results look good.” Grigori smiled from the screen. “So you have my blessing to move forward!”
“Thanks,” said Gabriel. “I will do my best. Let’s hope this world is a long term keeper.”
“Hello Gabriel. It’s been a very long time and much water has flowed under the bridge.” Grigori’s aura did not bode well as he glowered from the screen.
Gabriel cringed inside. This conversation had been inevitable, but he had put it off as long as possible, partly so he could find something appropriate to say. Unfortunately there really wasn’t anything in the acceptable excuse category.
“I’m so sorry. You know that I am really sorry about what happened on Terra. I just didn’t see that coming,” Gabriel forced out.
Grigori’s expression did not change. “The last time we spoke you were building a realm that should have been a stunning expression of all that The Creator intends, and all that The Watchers stand for. Then I was called away to Head Office, and when I return I find a burned out, written-off disaster. What happened?” Grigori demanded.
“Well four things happened really. And they compounded to create a hell of a mess.” Gabriel spoke slowly and quietly.
“The first was that I assumed players would get the principle, implicit in what they were shown on the third day, that they were provided with renewable resources like plants and trees and energy from sol, and non-renewable resources like minerals in the earth itself. But most of them just didn’t get what that meant, even when they got feedback that the realm infrastructure was depleted and the renewable resources were dying, with further activity creating a serious case of diminishing returns.”
“The second was that very few players realized that they were supposed to share the realm with the other inhabitants. Most just treated our lovely kaleidoscope of creatures as another resource, and not even a resource to be valued and nurtured. Truly, I think that is what hurt me the most. The designers were in tears.”
“The third was that the realm activities were loaded with the normal exponential growth algorithm, so players had to do more to get more rewards as they went along. But I hadn’t taken into account the impact that would have in the context of the duality principle. To get bigger rewards, players had to incur bigger costs, and to hold bigger assets they had to create greater debts. Those who had the most assets then took control of the debts of the smaller players. Those who had more got more, and those who had less lost even that which they had, rendering them powerless to influence the strategies in use by the most powerful. I hadn’t appreciated that would be the result of the exponential growth principal in conditions of duality. Mea culpa.”
Gabriel took a big breath. “And lastly there was what I am now calling the Lucifer disaster principle. The realm was infected by the Gigantic Receipts Expectation and Ethical Deficit worm, with the result that players continued to extract non-renewables at ever increasing rates, and pollute the water and air of the realm, even as it was dying. They seemed to expect to be given a new world as their reward when they ‘won’ (which they saw as being the last man standing). No matter what warnings we sent (and we did get The Narrator to intervene on several occasions) we couldn’t shake them from this view.”
“I suppose I should have seen it coming after all the trouble in Paradise, but truly, there’s just no accounting for some players’ beliefs and behavior.”
Gabriel recited all this looking at the floor, but now he raised his eyes to Grigori’s. “We lost almost everything to the GREED worm, but I did manage to save something.” He shook his fur and waved his tail.
“Really?” replied Grigori, a small twinkle starting up in his eye, and his own fur rippling. “What was that?”
“Two small but perfectly formed Tasmanian Devils – a she and a he. Do you think Head Office would let us try again, if we make some changes to the algorithms?”
* From W. B. Yeats: The Land of Heart’s Desire
By Elizabeth Stevenson from Argentina