“You’re just saying that because you’re a …”, started Eli.

“I’m a .. what, exactly?”, demanded Chel, rearing back on her seat.

And just like that, Eli was in trouble, skewered by his colleague’s entirely reasonable question.

A few minutes earlier, it had been one of his usual, late afternoon rants. His main development tasks of the day were done, and he’d gone looking for trouble elsewhere in the game. Chel had tacitly offered to help out as a sounding board, always happy to keep an eye (or ear) on the emotional state of folks in her team.

“But the idiot orc just splashed across my stream straight at the dwarf with the massively fatal axe. Not at the vulnerable, unarmed fairie over there with all the jewels”, he cried, tapping a staccato on the screen with the back of his fingers.

“No. What’s the point of making splashed water drops sparkle realistically in the setting sun’s light, if the idiot orc is going to commit suicide-by-dwarf-with-a-bloody-great-axe?

“No-one looks at the water drops, but they do look at the idiot NPCs displaying all the intellect of moths round a candle flame. There is no challenge here for the players. There is no threat. All we do is throw more idiot orcs at them and hope the players get tired, which they don’t. Bored, maybe.” Eli slid his seat back, and span it round.

The few remaining game crew in the office, mostly systems support, did not look up. They had their own battles to fight and this tantrum was old news.

Chel stepped into the breach. “But Jen is a top-grade AI architect. I’m sure she’s got some algorithm up her sleeve to give them some smarts.”

“Here we go”, groaned Eli, slumping some more. “ ‘Jen did it before and she’ll do it again.’ After winning the Elisa competition and then the Turing Test with her bot, she gets the big bucks and the NPCs to play with. She stole my code!”

Chel was having none of this. “Your open source code. Your creative commons share alike code. She cited you and profusely credited you with having built the main chat engine.”

“Ah, yes, but, she hardly made any changes to it”.

“So why didn’t you make those few small changes and win the competitions yourself?”

“I was busy.”

“Doing what? Drinking? Playing Halo?”

“Ok. Experimenting with the wrong changes, is what I was doing”, sighed Eli. He tried to slump again, but since he was starting in that position it just looked, briefly, like he had trapped wind.

“Alright, maybe she did deserve it, but what has she done since? These orcs are pathetic. They are the same pathetic as they were last year. The number 1 most repeated complaint/suggestion from our players is to make the NPCs less stupid. But we have not done so. They did not ask for sparkly water drops, which I am allowed to give them, or these ripples that flow and fade downstream. I can give them leaves which wobble fetchingly in a light breeze. But will the Uncles let me make some kick-ass NPCs who might win the occasional fight?”

“I don’t know. Will they? Have you asked?”, Chel could not help herself. “Why have a go at me? I just order the stationary.”

“I can’t go against Jen and the other Uncles. They totally support her. I’m replaceable; she isn’t. Except she should be”, stated Eli. He knew he was straying from easily-supported into the wild-and-unfair-accusation territory, but he had momentum on his side.

Chel’s listening was done. She was now witnessing an impression of a maudlin drunkard.

“Yes, one does have a certain amount of sway, as someone who pumped all of one’s competition winnings straight into founding a games company which employs talented but otherwise demonstrably unemployable friends and colleagues. Damn those people who earn their rewards and then do good with them.”

“You’re just saying that because you’re a …“

“I’m a .. what, exactly?”, asked Chel. Her voice calm, her body posture otherwise.

Skewered, is what Eli was.

“erm, unable to think rationally about this”, he tried, eyebrows raised, frantically trying to switch from attack to defense.

Chel, meanwhile, relished the opportunity to unload her own frustrations of the day.

“I’m a-unable to think rationally? About this?
Do you use this line of argument with your girlfriend?
You do have a girlfriend, right?
Yes, of course you do. I’ve met her.
She seemed nice which is why I was confused.
So, yes, is she also a-unable to think rationally?
Often, or indeed ever?
Have you let her know your thoughts on her a-inability?
If you’ve yet to let her know, I’m happy to give you feedback on how that line is working right now.
See, the thing is, its not working too well.
I’m waiting for your next few words.
Quite a lot hangs on them.
Some choices may not end in violence.
So, what have you got?”

The rest of the office was now paying attention. This was quality.

“Imagine I hadn’t said that last sentence”, suggested Eli. Silence. “Or started the one before that”, he continued, more in hope than confidence.

Chel, calm stare, sitting centrally on her seat, kept up the pressure.

“Nope, thing is, you did.
I remember.
I was there, and so were you.
Strike 1 by the way.”

“erm, it didn’t come out right?”. Eli tried the raised eyebrows again.

Chel leaned back. This was no contest.

I told you that.
I still don’t see any significant improvement in your situation.
Strike only one left.”

Eli paused for a couple of seconds, aware that any longer and it was all over.

“Ah, it is just possible that through a lack of care on my part I may have inadvertently let slip a choice of words which could be easily misconstrued in such a way as to cause offence, and that since this was entirely my fault I accept full responsibility, and in the spirit of friendship and cooperation and in no way attempting to bribe you into not launching a full scale attack by the sisters on my male sexist pig ass, I would be happy nay delighted to help sort out your laptop Windows setup which I hear has been getting on your ti-nerves.”

Some light clapping had started from across the room as his craven apology ticked all the boxes, and then a couple of ‘ooh’s and the clapping stopped on his final phrase.

Chel stood up, and brushed down the front of her trousers.

“Oh, nicely played and yet so nearly lost at the last ti-moment.
Tomorrow would be good, during lunch.
I’m off home now.
Bye.”

Eli, closed down his game session, put the PC into suspend mode, switched off the screen, stood, picked up his satchel, mock-wiped his brow for the few folks who looked up, and left the office. Considering how it had very nearly ended, today had actually been a good day.

THE
END


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The Idiot Orc
(from Emus All The Way Down)
by Chris Gathercole
http://stories.upthebuzzard.com, RSS
published: 11 February 2014
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This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.
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