Thursday, February 3, 2011

My Conversation with a Boss Monster

So, I'm working on this game -- and when I say "working on" I mean: sitting back and watching while my programmers and artists do the heavy lifting -- when my programmer (Hi Paul!) comes up with this new idea for in-game artificial intelligence. (By the way, don't talk about "getting your hands dirty in AI work" with biologists, for them AI means "Artificial Insemination").

Anyway, my programmer wanted the game to secretly turn the computer's microphone and listen to what noises the player made or the things the player said. By eavesdropping on the player, we could have the monsters and enemies react more realistically. After a few months of work, he sent me a preliminary build of the game and I tried it out.

For a while, I played the game and nothing interesting seemed to happen. Okay, a few of the little monsters seemed to jump and run away when I coughed, but nothing else seemed to happen. Then I hit the "boss monster." If you're not into games, a boss monster is a giant, difficult enemy, usually placed at the end of an area. This boss was enormous. It was a giant, reptilian beast with three eyes, teeth bigger than its head, and enormous muscled arms that could reach halfway across the screen. I tried to kill it a few times, but I kept dying. I got frustrated, went away, came back, died, and left and came back and died a few more times before shouting into the microphone in rage.

The monster stopped and blinked at me.

"Hi," I said, stopping in front of it.

"Hi," it said back in a strange, guttural voice.

"Why are you doing this?" I said.

It blinked. Somewhere inside my computer, an AI algorithm clicked away, trying to figure out what to do.

"I serve the Ur Lord of Krelth," it said, reciting from the story I wrote in the design doc. "We will crush the Elf Queens of the Nether Valley and destroy the world."

"Yeah," I said. "But why?"

It blinked again and I sensed the whirring of the AI.

"The Ur Lords will reward me with land and jewels and-"

"Won't you die when the world blows up?"

It scratched its chin with one unsettlingly long fingernail.

"Seems you have a problem," I told it. "You must have noticed that I keep coming back every time you kill me."

It nodded, it's eyes gleaming red with annoyance.

"You're obviously pretty good, but I'll eventually win and kill you."

It snarled. I sensed it was the wrong thing to say.

"Or you could keep killing me until I give up," I said hastily. "Which means I'll just turn off the computer, and you die, or cease to exist, or whatever and, even if I don't, the world will blow up and you'll die. See, either way, you lose."

"So, what do I do?"

"Desert your post. Go find a forest somewhere. Eat stray hikers. Find a girlfriend-"


"Sorry, boyfriend. Have lots of kids. Join the PTA and complain about lack of school funding. Meanwhile, I'll go kill the Ur Lords and stop them from blowing up the world. What do you say?"

Without a word, it turned and walked off the screen. A week later, Paul called me all freaked out. It seems we had a server crash and the game was damaged; the "bog monster" had been deleted from the game.

I don't know about you, but I'm not going to hike in any forests for a while.

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