Leela: The Video Game

2023-08-06 • pagii saddle-point fiction

Kirin: So what were you working on before Core UI Components?

Blake: Oh man, I loved my last team. Not that I don't love this one. But it's just different-- you know? I was on VR. And I had my own project: a VR game called Leela. But no one liked my game. They kicked me off the team.

Kirin: Sorry to hear man.

Blake: What's there to be sorry about?

Kirin: Oh... uh, seems like you were in a good place, doing something that made you happy, and were removed from that place, and had to give up that thing.

Blake: Life is my happiness! There is life in Leela! There is life in VR! There is life in Core UI Components! It's only the superficialities that change!

Kirin: That's a nice perspective man. So what's your game about?

Blake: I'm not sure if "game" is the right word, honestly. I think that was the point of tension between me and the team. They wanted the game, but this was more of an... experience? There's no winning or losing. No quests. There are tons of storylines, but they're subjective you know? You need to find them yourself.

Imagine: you put on the headset, and you're just watching what seems like normal life. Normal looking house, normal looking family-- maybe even your own family-- all modeled in VR. Normal looking dog, ants, fruits, tables-- everything. You go outside and birds chirp and joggers jog and clouds pass. Normal life. Now here's the twist. You have no control over your character.

Actually, every button you press, every move of the joystick, your headset just vibrates more and more violently, until you have a headache. The screen gets blurrier, erratic, random artifacts thrown in, colors and proportions distorted, faces morph, but the character keeps on doing his thing.

Kirin: So it's a video game where you have 0 control over your character? Very avant-garde.

Blake: It's nothing new really. Been done at least 84 times. And actually, well, this was another point of tension. If it were up to me, you'd have absolutely zero control. But my co-worker, you know, we had a lot of debates about this. He was like, we should at least be able to control the camera angle. Perspective, you know? And I was against it, but the rest of the team was all on his side. Because people love control. Am I right? HA! So the game ended up being, you can't control any of the characters, but you can control the camera angle. You can zoom out, away from yourself, into your neighbor, and now you're watching their story, seeing from their perspective. You could even zoom into a spider! Now your screen looks all fractal and kaleidoscopy like you have 24 eyes. That was honestly our biggest technical challenge. How do we simulate a spider's perspective? Took me months of field research. Lived in Australia, in a tarantula colony. Wild few months, let me tell you.

Kirin: Jesus. I'm sure simulating the whole Earth would take forever. What part did you start with?

Blake: Another point of tension. V1 of the project just simulated the Pagii office. So I had models of all of us, you included. It made the most sense to me at the time. How would I model something like, Omaha, Nebraska? I'm here every day. My every day sense data becomes input to my game's model. You know Sinbad? On Customer Success?

Kirin: I think so-- big beard? Aviators?

Blake: Yes! That beard! I spent months checking in with him, every day, taking measurements, to model realistic facial hair-growth in the Punjabi-American population. Obviously won't be perfect, we're all quite unique. But good enough for our purposes.

Kirin: I think you might be a genius.

Blake: HAHA! In the classical sense. As in the "attendant spirit" definitely. It's kind of satanic, actually, what I was doing. But hey, leela, am I right?

Kirin (confused): Right.

Blake: HAHA! You'll get there my friend. We'll all get there. Anyway, this demon, Ahrimman. Huge nerd. Really into tech. We hung out a lot back in the day. Wouldn't have gotten into programming if it weren't for him. Our paths diverged a bit, we can talk about that later maybe, but now we're tight again. Leela is Ahrimman's thing. I'm more of a medium. A channel. Look at me. By nature, I'm a buffoon. I took an IQ test in high school. Double digits. My mind has zero capacity to build these complex graphics simulations. So how did I do it? I'm open. I'm flexible. I'm devoted. And so I was one of Ahrimman's partners in this. But we've broken up since then.

Kirin: Partners in what, exactly?

Blake: He wants to use computers to simulate only the good parts of reality. To use virtual reality to create a more beautiful world.

Kirin: Like the Matrix?

Blake: HA! He hates that movie. These humans, and their TRUTH he used to say, What do they know of truth? The word is meaningless to them. Give them heaven and they'll destroy it with their own stupidity. A blind, masochistic race.

Also, in Matrix, everyone's forced in a vat. With Leela, it's opt-in. No enslavement. You can take off the headset at any time.

Kirin: Yeah, seems alright.

Blake: HA! There are lots of problems, Kirin! Lots of problems! But what doesn't have problems? Everything has problems. The game is acting in the face of it.

Kirin: So what happened to your game?

Blake: The team said it was way too boring. So, they mined the code for patents, passed the project off to Albert, and threw me onto Core UI Components.

Kirin: Ah, I'm sorry man, must be hard to--

Blake: Kirin! KIRIN! I kicked myself off the team! That's the script!

Kirin watches Blake, who laughs heartily.