June 10, 2008

While working on the physics engine for Ecomorphosis 2: Killpocalypse, I briefly become convinced I am God.

Myself and the other developers on my team have been studying water, breaking glass, dirt clouds, and countless other real-world phenomena in hopes of delivering what the president of our company has promised the readers of Electronic Gaming Monthly will be “the most realistic physics engine in the history of video games, bar none.” I have just spent eighteen hours in an awful chair in a dark room describing to a machine how to accurately simulate the motion of a feather floating through a shaft of light coming from a church window and now, on a snack break, halfway between my cubicle and the Snickers ice cream bar machine, I am pretty sure I have achieved perfect consciousness.

I have catalogued the “motion vocabularies” of dozens of different kinds of materials in the past few weeks and I see an example of each in the hallway where I am frozen, enjoying my newfound omni-mind. There is the torn paper of a poster for AquaCycle, the futuristic jet-ski game we made last year. There is the aluminum of an Arizona iced tea can underneath John’s desk. There is the pebbled glass of the fluorescent overhead lighting. There is the latex of a condom Aaron stretched over Elise’s mouse as a joke six hours ago when everyone was still in the office. I know them all, and I know exactly how they would react were I to touch them with my hand, or run them over with an all-terrain vehicle, or blast them with a sub-machine gun modified with alien technology. Everything is perfect and still and quiet and I am deeply and all at once aware of how every bit of it would look burnt, trampled, or exploded. I see any and all possible trajectories and can extrapolate outward. Show me any item in this hallway, describe an interaction with any other object in the universe, and I can tell you how it would look. I can tell a computer how it would look and make it re-create it for you at home so well you would take it for granted. Three floors up in an office tower in Burbank at four forty-five in the morning I am two days from a massive deadline, sixty pounds overweight, and infinitely understanding. I am convinced I could lift the Snickers ice cream bar machine up and blast it through the drop ceiling and into the online poker start-up company offices one floor above without ever touching the machine, just by being so completely in tune with its weight and density and vibration and glow. A Monster energy drink thrums through my heart, little lights wink on and off everywhere in the office, and I am so completely God.

The cleaning woman pushes her cart out of Tom’s office. Sticking out of her back pocket is one of those big synthetic feather-dusters, and I’m undone. There has been no call in this rush to simulate a universe for us to study, describe, or catalog these things. At no point in his adventures does Lieutenant Phong, cybernetic anti-hero of the Ecomorphosis franchise, wield a big synthetic feather-duster. It means my knowledge is less than perfect, the tendrils of complete understanding which had just seconds ago extended forever in all directions draw all at once back into my head, and again I feel fat and tired.

I feed a dollar into the Snickers ice-cream machine, then curse as I realize the two quarters I thought I had are really just one. There’s some more change hanging out in the right back pocket of my jean shorts, though, so I put that in and the robotic vacuum hose sucks a Snickers ice-cream bar out of the freezer, drops it into the slot, and I grab it and unwrap it. I’m finished before I get back to my desk. My hands are all sticky so I steal some Wet-Naps from Morgan’s desk drawer. A left-over drop of vanilla glistens on my hand and I am tempted to imagine its limitless varieties of motion, but the thrill is pretty much gone and I’ve got a lot more work to do.

The game will be in stores in November. I don’t expect the epiphany will ever return.

Posted by DC at June 10, 2008 11:56 AM
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