Bitter 597

From the way the shaman was talking, organising a well-defended dungeon was mostly about logistics and coming in under budget.

Even if soldiers came back to life after death, costs were incurred in getting them on and off the battlefield. Resources were limited and the way you used them was tightly controlled, like any business.

That kind of resource management was normally applied to players. They had to make sure they earned enough money to buy equipment and consumables for each battle. It kept them busy grinding and farming, and giving them a progression they could work towards.

If Dad had taught Britta anything, it was that players loved progression. They liked to look at their stats and watch them slowly go up. Dad was the perfect example of someone who would log ridiculous amount of hours so he could get one more point on the attribute he needed for the ideal build — until he got bored and started a new character.

NPCs were just the fuel for the furnace. They were a means to an end. They didn’t need to operate within an economy because they were endlessly recycled to do the same job over and over.

At least, that was how it used to be.

In this game, the same dungeon was never repeated twice. NPCs came back to life, but they had to find employment elsewhere once their previous home had been destroyed. Their lives were in constant change and flux, which meant they had to adapt much like the players.

It would have been possible to simply place the NPCs and monsters in new environments and rewrite their code to fit, but that would take a lot of time and work for the devs. It was far more efficient to make the NPCs self-adaptive. Let them learn and grow to fit whatever situation they found themselves in. Let them manage their own day to day affairs. AI didn’t just have to be about running entire worlds, you could teach the least important elements of the game how to take care of themselves, so you didn’t have to.

They would go eat when they were hungry, go to sleep when they got tired. No need to regulate their behaviour to a regimented schedule that would seem artificially consistent. Let them have the freedom to be erratic. Just a bit.

“It sounds like you spend a lot of time in meetings,” said Britta.

“You wouldn’t believe how pig-headed they can be,” said the orc shaman, sighing.

Britta could believe it very well, but didn’t say anything. She just nodded in what she hoped was a sympathetic fashion.

“It’s a struggle,” said the shaman. She seemed less like the warrior-priest of a monster race, and more like an overworked middle-manager.

“If you have the ability to change things for the better,” said  Britta, “isn’t it worth trying?”

The shaman shook her head. “Not everyone feels the same way. They fear change and they fear the repercussions. There have been those who have tried to move  in a new direction, and they have been struck down for their sins.”

“Struck down by who?” said Britta. “The gods?”

The shaman looked upwards. “The god of gods.”

Did she mean L-15? Or the devs themselves? Would they wipe a dungeon and its inhabitants if they tried something too innovative? Probably. If the NPCs made it so things favoured them and left the player without a way to level-up and have fun, what choice would they have other than hitting the delete button?

“Do you think I could meet the person in charge here?” said Britta. “Just for a chat.”

The shaman narrowed her eyes. “Why? Do you plan to kill him and take his legendary mace?”

“I didn’t know there was a legendary mace,” said Britta. “Do you think it would suit me?”

The shaman looked down at her and smiled slightly so a yellow fang crept out of her mouth on one side. “No. It would probably end up carrying you.”

“I’d really like to talk to him about maybe not turning this place into a giant battle zone. Do you think he’d be interested?”

“Perhaps,” said the shaman. “But it’s a long way from here to his throne room. You would have to pass through many challenges and dangers. Not all those you meet will be willing to talk to you. Some of them can be quite unreasonable. Even worse than they are in committee meetings.”

“Can’t you teleport there?” asked Lin.

“I can’t go somewhere I’ve never been,” said Britta. She turned back to the shaman. “Aren’t there any back ways to get to the boss room? Employees-only?”

“There are,” said the shaman, “but you need the proper accreditation. It would be more than my job’s worth to try to sneak you past the inspection points, of which there are several, without the correct paperwork. And it would take weeks to sort out — there’s a terrible backlog.”

“But you can get past the inspection points,” said Britta.

“Of course,” said the shaman.

“So you can go speak to the boss?” said Britta.

“I’m sure he would see me if it was urgent. You want me to speak to him on your behalf? I don’t even know what it is you want to tell him.”

“I can teleport to a person’s location if I think of them. So if they’re where I want to go, I can get to them, even if I haven’t been to that place before.”

“You can find anyone, no matter where they are?” said Lin. “Even if they don’t want you to?”

She made it seem like a hugely overpowered ability, and in games of hide and seek it certainly was, but there wasn’t much more to it than convenience. That and being able to eject people from dungeons.

“It’s okay,” said Britta. “It’s not like I would use it to bother anyone. Not unless it was an emergency.”

Lin didn’t look convinced, and neither did the shaman.

“You wish me to gain an audience with the Grand Orc Demon, and then you will appear next to me? He will probably execute us both on the spot.”

It would look a bit suspect, barging in unannounced.

“Couldn’t you ask him if he’ll see me and then let me know? Just tell him L-15 sent me here.” She didn’t like to name drop, but it felt like it was the only name that would make the Grand Orc Demon (the initials hadn’t gone unnoticed by her) pay attention.

“How will I contact you?” asked the shaman.

“Join my party,” said Britta. “I’ll send you an invite.”

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