Talent And Treachery

Hey everybody! Back for another story post. This time I have a fiction story. Don’t really have any other categorization to give it beyond that. Though, I think you might believe otherwise when you start reading it. That’s all I’m saying. Not spoiling anything. Just a little hint is all you’re getting. Anyway, it’s about 8,700 words long. Have fun!

Standing on the precipice of a several thousand foot tall cliff, Qwera stares out over the valley below him. It’s ringed with mountains capped with brilliant white snow. Or at least it looks as though the valley with its tree stuffed steppes is hemmed in on all sides.

Qwera cannot say for sure if that is true for this is the first time he has set eyes on these lands. If they have a name he does not know it.

You see, he ventured out this way from far to the East. How much farther the landmass of the continent goes, or if he is even still on the same continent, he cannot say. Yet, stood there taking in the sights, sounds and limited, at this altitude, smells he feels as if this is right where he needs to be. Still, the journey had not been an easy one for the storms he has braved have been treacherous, and made worse by their extreme swings from one end of the spectrum to the other.

If he didn’t know any better he might think outside forces are working against him. Trying to halt his advance for reasons he cannot imagine. After all, it is not as though he is in search of anything out here. In fact, thinking about it he isn’t sure why he felt it necessary to journey out this way. There must be a reason but what it is he can’t put his finger on…

All of a sudden Qwera moves; jogging away from the edge he had been at he makes his way over to a narrow dirt path. The exposed and compacted soil is an off yellow colour, dry as a bone. Not that Qwera pays any mind to that as he begins to wind his way down the sweeping path toward what can only be the valley floor.

His head, every so often at random intervals, turns so he can look out over the valley which is becoming increasingly more difficult to get glimpses of due to his continued descent and the presence of towering lance like fir trees. They do more than a decent job of blotting out an increasing amount of his view, when he tries to look out at the valley beyond them.

“Is this some kind of joke, Naz? When do I get to the good part? And if you say it’s all walking I quit right here, right now.” Is the outburst unleashed from the lips of Hans Fitzgerald who has hold of a controller as he stands staring at the thirty two inch flat screen monitor sat atop the boring looking table that serves as his friends point of both work and play.

“Just zip it and keep going. I’m saying, spoiling, nothing.” Is the swift response fired back with an over exaggerated roll of his eyes which Hans cannot see.

Without another word Hans obeys, begrudgingly, and turns his attention back to the monitor and the game running upon it.

Qwera, the character, is forced back into motion after having stood unnaturally still throughout the brief exchange between the two roommates.

There is no doubting that the scenery is pretty and that Qwera, a warrior dressed in a mixture of colourful cloth with frills and small mini capes as well as sections of metallic plate is an interesting sight. To Hans he would have to say it reminds him of a mixture of European and Middle Eastern influences. For that reason alone he felt, in addition to the demand from Naz, intrigued enough to continue on. Still, he’s convinced this is going to be nothing more than a visually appealing walking simulator. After all, Nazim, for all his talent, seems averse to putting in combat of any sort, primitive or otherwise. Why that is Hans doesn’t have the foggiest because Naz is big on combat heavy games but…

Qwera, having reached the end of the path, stops. His head pans right, then left and back right again. Unarmed and seemingly wary he steps forward. All of these actions controlled by Hans who thinks, at least in any other game, this is where some big set piece would occur. He seriously doubts it will in Naz’s game and his pause to look around is only because he’s imagining what it would be like in a released AAA title and not one cooked up by his friend.

At the mere thought a myriad of names come burbling to the forefront of his mind. He banishes them all and Qwera is forced into motion once more.

Out of nowhere the ground begins to shake. Hans gets his hopes up only to quash them swiftly soon after with a reminder to himself who the designer of this is. For there is no way that Naz would…

A section of the meadow valley floor explodes upward in a shower of debris. Hans is in awe, his eyes wide. He cannot believe that some action related event is actually taking place in…

The dust cloud clears while debris continues to rain down. Hans’ jaw drops as he stares over the shoulder of his flame haired representation, who according to Naz will be given a proper back-story though will look roughly as he does now, at what lies ahead.

That statement, that the character is set and non-customisable, had irked Hans a tad. He prefers designing his characters. Creating a look for them, but alas that isn’t an option and has never planned to be, apparently.

Anyway, back in the game, Qwera remains stood in place without any input from Hans. Alas, that is right when Naz butts in, breaking the immersion, to utter that animations are missing currently. He then goes on to explain that there should be things happening onscreen, ones which affect the character model but that he hasn’t had chance as yet. Chiefly because he wanted to get a working prototype up and running first before adding the finer touches, details.

Making no effort to acknowledge the creators words, Hans exerts his control over Qwera and makes him run toward the massive mountain sized hulk of rock with streaming lava ‘veins’ that wind across its surface while it is stood there waiting.

By looks of things this enemy, what he thinks it has to be because of a red health bar across the bottom of the screen, is wielding a mace like club formed from rock with chunks of metal protruding and more veins of lava across its surface. Little does he realise that the ‘club’ is in fact a part of the creatures arm, but it’s a minor detail. One that many might miss unless they closely studied the character model, which is something that Hans obviously hasn’t done. To be honest he isn’t into the art of games only the entertainment value they bring.

Suddenly, the AI enemy swings with more speed than the controller wielding Hans would ever have been able to guess it might possess. Luckily, in the nick of time he receives a prompt to dodge. Instinctively he jabs at the face button and performs a roll which undoubtedly saves his life.

Qwera, at the end of the dive roll sideways, lingers, panting softly from the exertion. A bar on the screen, in the top left, has appeared and seems to be indicating a lack of stamina. To make matters worse its recharge rate is excruciatingly slow. It’s why Hans turns to his friend with despair in his eyes. The response he is offered is little more than a smile. And when the player turns back he catches the tail end of the mace club completing its swing and crushing Qwera to red pulp in gruesome and gory fashion.

“Come on! What is that? How is that fair? Is this a trick or…” Are the outraged ramblings which spill from Hans’ mouth as he gestures, with both hands, towards the monitor.

“Calm yourself Hans.” Nazim Akinpelu replies with a shake of his head, gesturing hands while an ever so slight smirk sits across his lips. It’s an expression which is only able to be seen because he has turned in his chair to look at the other young man, the one who is holding the controller.

Alas, Hans shows no signs of calming. He hates losing at a game, dying. He doesn’t care that he can always restart from a checkpoint or an earlier save, because he plays a life as though it is the only one. Usually when it comes to games made by Naz it means there isn’t an issue with that being how he plays.

There are things Hans wants to say, protests he wishes to make but after a long period of contemplation the only words out of his mouth are, “Can I go again?”

There is determination in the blonde haired man’s green eyes which do not marry with his tone. Yet, this look is one Naz knows well and has seen many a time. Not because Hans is a diligent sort of guy but because he’s a sore loser, a very sore loser. He might even be the sorest of losers he is so bad at taking L’s.

“Sure. You can go as many times as you like.” Is the chipper response given.

Something about how Naz said those words doesn’t sit right with Hans. Hence, that is why he blurts, “It’s rigged isn’t it? You can’t get past that point. You’re not meant to. Is that ‘cause that’s as far as you’ve got with the game?”

“No; to all of what you just said.” Is the reply which is given without letting anything slip, though hinting at the possibility that there may be more to the game than meets the eye.

Sure, there is some UI missing, which if this were a final version of the product might be sacrilegious to have omitted, but it isn’t and so Hans will have to live with that if he wants to experience everything in this game, the one that Naz hasn’t got a name for it yet.

In actual fact he has a list eight pages long of potential titles to give what he’s been working on. Sadly, as yet he hasn’t been able to nail down an option which really speaks to him. It could be that while he thinks a number of the names are good, which is why the list is only eight pages long and not eighteen, none of them are right. If that is the case then he has to hope that something, inspiration wise, strikes him along the way.

“Fine.” Says the blonde man having a mini strop in the moments before, during and after he opens the pause menu and selects the restart option. That reaction by Hans leads to a tiny grin appearing on Nazim’s face, which is gone as swiftly as it had appeared.

A few seconds pass as the game goes about reloading, during them a debug screen can be seen running. As yet there is not a proper loading screen, but seeing as the game is running off an SSD its appearance is only fleeting and might be something Naz leaves in for the final version. You might wish to ask why; well it’s because he thinks it’s cool and might help some smart souls build mods if it were ever to be released. He would like it to be. By far and away he thinks this is the best project he has ever conceived and worked on.

When the loading is complete, Qwera appears onscreen once more, alive and well and stood on the precipice of the cliff that overlooks that valley below.

Having turned to Naz, Hans asks, “Any advice you want to give me?”

Shaking his head slowly, the designer with his wild shoulder length hair but well groomed beard and brown eyes assures with a wry grin, “Nope.”

“Fuck you. You’re only saying that to torment me.”

“Yep.” Is the admittance from Naz who pivots his chair away from his friend to face forward once more as if to say, get on with it.

Without hesitation Hans does exactly that and quickly puts Qwera back on the path, spiralling downwards towards the valley floor, for what is a second time.

To be honest the blonde man hasn’t a clue as to what he could’ve done differently and wonders if he’s being setup by Naz. He’s the sort of guy who would do that. Maybe it’s payback for all the little walking games he’s built which Hans called pretty but boring. If that is the case, and he has no intention of developing this further or completing it, then wow Naz is a douche. And an overcommitted one at that, because there is no way Hans would spend more than maybe ten to fifteen minutes on a similar endeavour. Then again, Naz is a patient man. A bit too much, Hans thinks before taking note that he is close to the valley floor again.

However, unlike last time he doesn’t walk straight into the arena. No. Rather, he has stopped.

“Wait, that wasn’t there before.” Is the exclamation which passes his lips.

“Wasn’t it?” Comes the overly dramatic response from the black haired designer and coder who more than anything wants to build a career in the games industry. Not so much at a big studio working on mobile or even AAA titles but as an indie, a one man band. Maybe alongside a small team, a dozen developers at most, but that would be a one day sort of thing, maybe. Though it would only occur if he were to find the right sort of people. He hasn’t, not that he’s tried to, as yet and no, Hans has no artistic or coding skills whatsoever. He is a gamer, a player, not a creator. Even if he were Naz wouldn’t want him to join, for reasons. Really good reasons too he thinks.

For a fact Hans knows that the pathway he cannot take his eyes off wasn’t there before, and that was without his roommates reply added to the mix. Yet, he says nothing to challenge the subterfuge used against him and instead forces Qwera, a name he doesn’t like nor understand, down this freshly discovered avenue. It’s lined on either side with densely packed trees which blot out a good deal of the…

Suddenly, Hans realises that he’s seen no sun in the sky but that it is beyond a shadow of doubt daytime in the game. He shrugs. Seeing the shrug out the corner of his eye Naz giggles silently to himself. He guesses that the reaction is in response to something not feeling right. It might be he’s noticed the lack of a sun, a source for the light being provided. More than likely Hans will believe it’s something unfinished, that Naz has missed or yet to include. If only he knew the reality, the importance of details not mentioned but present.

Reaching the end of the path, Hans sends Qwera headlong into a small opening at the centre of which stand a pedestal with something clearly laid out upon it.

It doesn’t look like a weapon but it might…

Without warning the floor disappears beneath Qwera. He tumbles end over end into the dark abyss.

Outside the game the blonde man lets out an exasperated sigh alongside a backward flick of his head, so that he is looking straight up at the white ceiling above his head.

“Really? So that’s how I die? To something I cannot avoid. You made this to punish me, didn’t you?”

“Ha, nope. I made this because I wanted to. You’re the one who wanted to try it, so I let you.”

There is a hint of smugness in Nazim’s voice as he reminds Hans that he is the one who wanted to try any and every game that his roommate produces. Sure, all of them have been, in his eyes, boring until this one but still he feels irritated at being reminded he’s the one who asked for this. It’s why he is pretty confident now that Naz has built this ‘game’ purely to mess with and frustrate him.

“Shut up. You know I don’t like dying…”

“Who said you died?”

“What? I fell into a fucking big hole. How can I not be dead?”

“Does it say, Game Over?”

“Well no, but…”

“Then try doing something other than quitting then Hans.” More than Naz likely means that statement to it cuts deep for his roommate who does have a tendency not to stick with anything he turns his hand to in life.

Evidence of that is that the blonde with green eyes has shifted course five times. In fact, he’s set a new record for the university. Not one they or any of their others students wished to see attained. Yet, it has been and by Hans Fitzgerald. How long his latest obsession, and that is what they border on for as briefly as they last, forensics will last is anyone’s guess, including Hans.

Being Hans’ roommate means that Naz has been present for almost all of it, except for in the rare instances where he goes to class. And that is incredibly rare. Chiefly that is because Nazim Akinpelu is smarter than probably anyone else in a hundred mile radius, maybe more.  Which means there is nothing lecturers can teach him that he cannot teach himself, and has.

If he were anyone else he would’ve been kicked out for his abysmal attendance but not Naz, he’s a star pupil in every way. Well, honestly he makes a star pupil look second rate. He’s better than a star; he’s more like a whole nebula. Though, all he wants to do is make games. It’s a childhood ambition of his, and despite his teachers and parents attempts, it is a path he refuses to stray from. Sure, he continues with his studies. But as soon as he’s done he throws himself right back into developing whatever his latest project is. Not in an obsessive way however. Naz always makes sure to keep a healthy balance. It’s because he doesn’t want to burn out. Still, he puts in plenty of hours and work. To others it might be unhealthy but the wild haired young man knows his limits, when to push and when not to.

Taking his roommates advice, Hans presses a button chosen at random. Nothing happens. He wonders if this is some trick. Surely Naz wouldn’t be that cruel?

Deciding not to examine the likelihood as to whether he is or not, the man with short perfectly styled blonde hair, which has only gotten more blonde during the summer months as a result of the sheer hours of daylight, presses another button. Again there is absolutely no response. Sighing, Hans tries a third and then a fourth. Still, he is met with no response.

Feeling testy, he looks toward Naz who if he is aware of the glare he is receiving makes no efforts to acknowledge it. As a result that presents Hans with two options, as far as he is concerned; continue his attempts or explode into accusations. He settles on it being the former, though would like and could with ease indulge in the latter.

Fifth time lucky proves to be no such thing whatsoever.

Running out of options the blonde man tries for a sixth time only for the screen to pulse red, once. It isn’t the outcome he was expecting, which was a resurrection of Qwera but feeling hopeful Hans continues to press the button until a prompt appears onscreen. Said prompt invites him to continue his pressing, but this time with the inclusion of a bar. His guess is that said bar has to be filled.

Slow presses, he soon learns, do nothing to fill the bar. A sideways glance at Naz reveals zilch and so Hans tries a different approach, a few rapid taps. The bar partially fills and then almost as quickly empties when he stops.

Nodding, believing he understands, Hans erupts into a frantic hammering on the button. Rapidly the bar fills to bursting; a red aura appearing in the darkness only for a few seconds prior to Qwera bursting out of the inky black covered is flames. It looks awesome, Hans thinks while taking note of the fact that the character now has a massive sword which dwarfs the avatar he has control of.

“Holy shit!” Is the response which is offered by the young man holding the controller.

“I’ll give you a hint, try the valley floor again.” That is all Naz says. Nothing else is added. It’s as much as he feels should be given away.

Without hesitation that is precisely what Hans does. As a result he discovers that Qwera can sprint now and at twice the speed they had been capable of previously. That is something Hans is relieved about because up until this point he’d felt Qwera’s jog was far too pedestrian for his liking. Better than the walking sims made by Naz previously but certainly lacking compared to purchasable titles.

Once back at the edge of the valley floor arena, as Hans thinks of it, he takes a deep breath. Again, in his mind he is thinking of this life as if it were his own, singular and finite, and then he moves Qwera forward.

Just like the first time the floor begins to shake with Qwera the avatar showing no reaction to what is happening onscreen.

Unlike the first time, Hans takes a look around. He’s seen the reveal. It won’t be special to him this time round.

Instead, he wishes to know where the light is coming from. Just as he thought, there is no sun in the sky. In fact, the sky he realises now is… wrong. He cannot explain it past that.

Finally, the hulking enemy is before him, its reveal over. Quickly he dodges when prompted and then tests the buttons to see what Qwera can do. He’d tried when the character had first been resurrected but had been met with no response whatsoever. In this arena however he is greeted to a flurry attack, a jump and a block in additional to the dodge already performed on two separate occasions up to this point.

Regrettably, he feels something about the jump in particular strikes him as underwhelming. It might be the height, which does look decidedly meagre, or maybe it’s the responsiveness, it not being snappy enough. He can’t be sure. But this is a prototype, not a finished game so he shouldn’t balk too much.

Feeling better prepared the man with green eyes, holding the controller, realises the enemy has made no attempts to attack the in-game character, Qwera.

“Why hasn’t he swung at me, he did last time?”

“Cause you haven’t pushed him like you did last time Hans; that’s why.”

“So I screwed myself?”

“Yep.” Is the succinct response provided.

“But that path wasn’t there before. The one through the trees, I mean?”

“It was, just a bit more hidden. Don’t want to spoon feed the player, if I’m honest.” A shrug accompanies the explanation.

“If you say so.” Is the reply from Hans who is not convinced at all that a lack of hand holding is a positive in this game, or any other for that matter.

Returning to the game, Hans performs another short test of the buttons and options available to Qwera. Evidently, a fair few of the buttons do nothing, which leads to questions forming in Hans’ head as to why that is. Is it because there will be more options which will be available down the road, like additional equipment or skills, or because Naz felt it best to keep things simple and not overload any prospective player?

Whichever it might be it matters little for he asks none of his questions as he instead surges forward toward the mighty enemy. The same one which had on his first go struck with surprising speed and ended Qwera in a single attack.

Again Hans reaches the trigger point and again the hulking beast of molten rock winds up for its strike. This time Qwera dodges the incoming devastation with ease. And right after has Qwera lay into the boss with the oversized sword.

Yet, the strikes take a surprisingly long time to complete. Far slower than they’d felt when he’d been testing them out of combat, at the edge of the arena.

Overcommitted, a stomp with no forewarning provided throws Qwera back. Hans’ eyes go wide. He’s worried, deeply so, that this might spell the end for him and he’s only done maybe a fifth, if he’s being generous, of the enemies overall health bar.

Unsure of the controls, the blonde man hammers buttons hoping one will get him back to his feet quicker. None do and so he is forced to watch as a mighty fist comes slamming down on his in-game avatar. Hans, throat dry and itchy, is convinced this is the end, that the character has been squished. It’s why his shoulders drop in defeat. A spark of rage fires deep inside, pointed toward Naz who has made this ruthlessly hard. Right after the appearance of that spark he wonders if the difficulty has been dialled up to mess with him. A snarl appears on his face but for some reason he presses that same button, the one that had resurrected him before. There is a reaction, but one which is different to the last time in the small clearing. Nevertheless, a smirk appears across his face in response and Hans continues to hammer that same button. Before long Qwera reappears with the mighty crushing fist held aloft over his head.

“Son of a bitch, you put in a secret win mechanic.” Is the cry from a joyous Hans.

He is grinning from ear to ear now while he continues to hammer at the button on the controller in his hand until…

The club comes swinging in, shattering the giants balled fist and sending Qwera flying across the arena and into a low wall which snaps their back in half resulting in the appearance of a Game Over screen.

“Fuck! Are you kidding me? What is that bullshit Naz? How am I supposed to get past him if he one shots? Even your win mechanic doesn’t allow me to defeat him. You definitely dialled this up to screw with me.” Are the accusations which the enraged Hans casts in Naz’s direction, his face red like a tomato as he screams the words loudly.

“I didn’t. Give me the controller, I’ll show you.” Assures the wild haired designer who has his hands raised up as if to say he surrenders, submits.

A flexing of Han’s snarl follows. He doesn’t like where this is going and thinks the only thing worse than being beaten by this game is to have its creator make him look a fool.

“You built it; of course you can beat it.” Is the excuse provided in anticipation of what might come next.

“Even if I ‘rigged’ it like you are accusing me of?” Comes the retort from the designer utterly outwitting his opponent.

Aware he has been outmanoeuvred Hans stops dead and mulls over his thoughts.

He might not like it, or want to believe it, but it does seem a little farfetched what he is accusing the designer of. That is why ultimately, following a dropping of his shoulders, Hans relents and hands the controller over to Naz.

A quick reset of the game, jog down the spiralling path, drop into the abyss off the side avenue, resurrection in god form and rush back to the valley floor where the enormous enemy breaks through is followed by a swift three minutes of perfectly timed dodges, blocks and flurries. It ends with a short cutscene that sees this boss torn asunder, turned into nothing but bloody chunks of rock and lava based flesh.

“How the fuck…?” Is the astonished exclamation from the blonde.

“Patience. That is what you need for this game. It isn’t a hack and slash. It’s a combat game. I designed it to reward those who take their time, learn mechanics and watch for tells that indicate when an attack will be coming.” Naz says by ways of explanation.

“Booooooooooring.” Is the utterance made in self-defence because Hans knows he isn’t a patient player, which is why he tends to player run and gun shooters or fast paced action games where stun locking enemies is simple and encouraged.

“You don’t like it then?”

Feeling he should admit the truth, “No, I love it. It’s super awesome. Is there any more to it or…”

A quick restart to put the game back at the opening menu screen is followed by, “There is, but no save states for the moment. So if you want to see more. You’re going to have to get there yourself.”

“Fuck off, come on. I just want to get a peak at where it’s heading.” Utters the defeated and demure Hans as Naz hands him back the controller stating, “Then get there. Find out for yourself. I’ve got to run a few errands. Be back in a couple hours, ok?”

It’s rare for Naz to go out but when he does he really is gone for hours. Early on Hans had decided to follow him to find out what he does, but he found it was nothing exciting, just the boring things which are too adult and responsible for his liking.

“Yeah. See you in a bit.” Hans replies selecting that he wishes to start the game while Naz grabs his keys and heads for their apartment door without saying another word.

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