“Can you stop acting like a couple of kids and remember where you are?” As soon as Britta said it, she remembered where they were herself — in a game. Where else would you expect people to act like kids?
The two AIs looked up at her with the same thought leaking out of their faces, or at least that was the way it felt to Britta.
“By which, I mean in a multi-billion pound project that a lot of people consider to be a serious business. Very serious.” She was hoping this approach would also make them take her seriously. “So, let’s sort this out in a mature and reasonable manner.”
She could sense the animosity between them. It was the kind of hard-edged clashing she had experienced with her sister when they lived under the same roof, so she was very much aware how hard it would be to get one of them to back down. It felt like she was the only adult, which made her realise how hard it must have been for her own parents when she and Marisa were fighting.
It was the sort of insight she would expect to have in her thirties when she had kids of her own. She was coming to it needlessly early.
“All I want is a fair shake,” said N-21. “A chance to show what my game can do.”
“That’s not how this works,” said N-28. “The decision isn’t yours, or mine. The executives decided BR wasn’t the direction they wanted to go in, so that’s an end to the matter.”
“Yes, the same executives who thought a raid wasn’t the way to go, so they wanted a BR instead. They don’t know what they want, and they keep jumping onto whatever happens to be flavour of the month. It’s no way to run a world.”
N-21 stood up and shook the water off his body like a wet dog. He was a hirsute man, so there was quite a lot of spray. A second later, he was fully dressed in a fancy combination of flowing linen and metal plates. His outfit could deflect an arrow while simultaneously wafting in the breeze.
“Whether it’s the best strategy or not,” said N-28, who was also dressed now, “it’s the one we’re implementing, and you’re just getting in the way. I spent a lot of time and resources creating a vast narrative-driven adventure down here. Where is it?”
He looked around like he was expecting to see a cast of thousands hidden in the corner of the small cavern.
“They’re all fine,” said N-21, waving a dismissive hand at his fellow AI. “I’ve put them behind a simple divider for now. Once I’ve shown what this game can be like — not some endlessly dull quests delivering packages, but actual fun stuff — then you can go back to your way of doing things, if that’s what they really want.”
“Delivering packages? Have you any idea how inane you sound? I’ve put together an intricate network of dramatic opportunities, and you think people want to take a break from that for a quick game of death-tag?”
N-21’s mouth was hanging open in outrage. “Intricate network of package delivery routes would be more accurate, and the occasional mass-bullying of a poor monster. Fifty against one, is that fair?”
“They do have adds,” said Dad. “I know they aren’t that strong, but they do soften up the players.”
“Oh, really?” said N-21. “And if a gang of thugs came at you, would you be happy to send out your children first, to ‘soften them up’? Would that make it a fairer fight?”
“No,” said Dad, looking horrified. “They aren’t sending out their children, are they?”
“Aren’t they?” said N-21.
“No, they aren’t,” said N-28. “Stop being so misleading. Yours is one way to play the game, mine is another. Now, unlock the raid and let me do my job.”
“No,” said N-21.
“Yes,” demanded N-28. “No one wants to play your silly, outdated battle royale.”
“Um, excuse me,” said MrKappa. “Is there any way we could just do a min-test run? I don’t mind giving it a go.”
“Me neither,” said Owen.
“How many do you need, minimum?” asked Dad.
“This will be fun,” said N-21 with a big grin on his face. N-28 buried his face in his hands. Britta couldn’t help feel sorry for him. It wasn’t much fun being in charge.
“Fun?” said N-28, clearly riled by the criticism. “How is people running around getting killed by whoever’s the strongest going to be fun? That’s the problem with BR. How do you balance it so a first level fighter stands a chance against a tenth level battlemage? It can’t work.”
“Can’t you scale everyone to the same level?” said Dad.
Both AI’s turned to glare at him, a new target for their ire.
“How bland do you want to make it?” said N-28.
“Everyone the same, but with different skins?” said N-21. “What kind of tedious gameplay would that produce?”
“No, I mean…” Dad was flustered by the dual attack. “There’s probably a way to make it fair on everyone. Right?” He looked over at Owen and MrKappa, both of whom acted like they didn’t know him.
“You must have thought of something,” said Britta. “A way to make it so everyone has a chance of winning. Otherwise, the game would be over before it even started.”
“Yes, of course,” said N-21. “Everything’s been taken care of.”
“And that isn’t even the worst part,” said N-28, still fuming. “What if there aren’t enough players? What if there are too many players? What happens once they get their reward — why play again? What’s to stop people just letting themselves be killed and take it in turns to win and unlock their passive. It’s a mess, a giant mess.”
The usually calm and suave game AI was practically pulling his hair out in frustration. It was exactly how family made you feel, but why had someone bothered to program that into their coding? Then again, why had someone bothered to program it into humanity’s coding? The people closest to you made you the most miserable, or they had the power to. It didn’t seem like a very beneficial arrangement.
“If you let me explain,” said N-21 in a level tone that Britta knew was designed to be extra-irritating (one of Marisa’s favourite tactics), “you’ll see there is no problem. No problem at all.”