Bitter 544

“I think you’re overstating the difficulty,” said Guildford. “It is difficult to level up right now, but I hardly think it’s a no-win situation.”

“Perhaps not what you would call no-win,” agreed Nasty, “but my analysis has shown there’s a very strong bias against players. We are being low-rolled on purpose.”

This was surprising and shocking news, if it was true. “You’re sure about that?”

Nasty shrugged. “It’s hard to prove. Statistically, you could argue it was just RNG producing a series of unfortunate results. But the consistency of the inconsistencies is very suspicious.” He took a very unimpressive painting of a bowl of fruit off the wall and inspected it, and then put it in his bag.

“Hmm,” said Guildford, not finding the argument very convincing. “RNG can produce some awkward situations, that’s to be expected.”

“Indeed,” said Nasty. “Ever has it been thus. And we’ve had to accept it. What else can you do but take their word for it? They test these things, they make sure their randomness is truly random.”

“True,” said Guildford.

“False!” Nasty barked back. “It is one of the great fallacies of modern computing. Numbers aren’t generated randomly in a game. A computer can’t think of a number.”

“Yes, of course,” said Guilford. “We all know that. They don’t hide it from anyone. It’s a prepared list of randomised options the computer selects from. But the distribution is pretty accurate.”

“Oh, it’s exactly accurate, that’s the problem. But, you see, Mr Underpass, if you toss a coin a bunch of times, it can be heads, tails, heads, tails, heads, tails — that will give you the correct distribution — or it can be heads, heads, heads, tails, tails, tails, tails.”

“The algorithm is a little more complex than that,” said Guildford.

“Agreed, but that is not the point I’m making. What happens is that the distribution is sometimes a little off. A fraction, a decimal point, nearly there but not quite. Now, you could redo it all, or painstakingly go through the code line by line and find the error and fix it, or… you could just add on a bunch of results at the end to correct the distribution, say, like seventeen heads in a row tacked onto the end. It won’t make for a very pretty outcome for some poor player who gets stuck in the middle of that run of seventeen, but the books will be balanced, technically. And if the boss asks the dev if the RNG machine is accurate, he will have the test results to prove it. The only way to prove otherwise would be for someone to go in and forensically search the code for the error, that person also being a dev who will have to put in a great deal of effort when they would rather be doing something else. You can see the pattern, I’m sure.”

“Yes, I see what you’re saying,” said Guildford, “but without actual proof, you’re just—”

“Ah, proof, yes, yes, the beyond a reasonable doubt, the standard we must be judged by, and hide behind. Mr Underpass. Guildford. We are men of the world, the gaming world, so I ask you, do you think game developers are the sort of people who would allow something like that to happen? Would they ruin a game just to avoid doing a little more hard work than they strictly have to, and take the easy route in the confident belief that when complaints arrive they can loudly insist all is well since their negligence is so well hidden no one will ever be bothered to prove them wrong? You are familiar with programmers, what do you think? I can see from your face that you think as I do, that it is not only possible, it is more than likely. So you see, this game will never be fixed and the problems will only get worse. And unlike other games, this one actually matters.”

“And you think this wizard is the key?”

“Absolutely. She is the heart of the game. Together, I am sure we can find her and convince her to join us.”

“Well, I’m afraid I have some bad news for you,” said Guildford Underpass. “I know the gnome you’re talking about, I’ve even fought alongside her on a couple of occasions.”

“You have?” For the first time, Nasty McNice expressed some boyish excitement. “That’s great. I didn’t think it would be so easy to find her.”

“Yes, but like I said, it isn’t good news. She’s an employee of APE. She’s a tester, that’s why she isn’t hooked up like the rest of us. But it isn’t bugs she’s looking for, it’s how far the game can be pushed. She tests the limits.”

Guildford Underpass had thought long and hard about how to keep the boy off Britta’s trail and this seemed the best approach. If he wanted to stay off APE’s radar, then Britta was the last person he should want to get close to.

“Yes, I thought it might be something like that.”

“Not only that, but they are constantly watching her, recording everything she does. Even in a place like this, I’m pretty sure her channels would remain open. Approaching her would be the best way to let them know what you’re up to.”

Nasty McNice frowned. “I see. Yes, that wouldn’t be good. But she is very much the person we need. Or someone like her. I don’t suppose you know anyone like that?”

“No, I’m afraid not. She’s unique.”

“Hmm. I see I will need to come up with a new approach. Can I trust you to keep this matter private?”

“Nothing we discussed will leave this room.”

Nasty nodded absentmindedly, brow furrowed with thought. “Thank you, this has been helpful. I’ll be in touch.”

He left, his mood somewhat subdued. Guildford sat down on the bed and wiggled his backside. The mattress had to be less than an inch thick. He could feel the wooden boards beneath it.

“That was an unusual young man,” said N-28. He was standing in the doorway, his blond locks flowing as though there was a breeze out in the corridor.

“Yes. What do you think?”

“I will keep an eye on him, but nothing to worry about.”

Not telling APE what Rick was up to was risky, but they weren’t the only ones overseeing the game. In many ways, the AI was a much better supervisor. All things considered, it was the best option, even if he agreed with a lot of what the boy had said.

“Think of a number between one and ten,” said Guildford.

“Seven,” said N-28.

“And again.”

“Hmm, seven again.”

Guildford smiled. “Did you do that on purpose?”

“Only randomly,” said N-28.

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