Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム
We’re 12 hours in. A quarter of the way. I’ve been coding almost non-stop ever since we specified the mechanics. My eyes are heavy, and my body feels limp, but I continue on. The AC blasting in this room is surprisingly cold so I’ve been wearing my jacket. I feel cold but hot at the same time. Just as I was about to complete a script, I sneeze. The intensity was enough to startle my teammates.
“Ken-chan, are you okay? You don’t look so good.” Chinatsu looks at me from above her screen, an expression of concern on her face. “Maybe you should take a rest.”
“I’m almost done with this script. I’ll rest a bit after this.”
Miura brings over a tissue for me to blow my nose with. Since he isn’t doing much, he’s been sort of like our support team – although that’s probably just a fancy way of saying servant. Maybe that’s what it feels like to be an unpaid intern bringing coffee. But instead of coffee, he’s in the middle of eating an onigiri filled with umeboshi – sour picked plums. I don’t understand how anyone can like that taste.
“More importantly, Chinatsu, how’s it going with the player animation? Shinichi asked for that an hour ago.”
Chinatsu quickly returns to her drawing tablet. “I’m working on it, just wait!”
“There’s still a lot of things you need to make. If you’re too slow, we’re not going to make it.”
“I know that! Just shut up and let me draw!” she shouts as she puts on her headphones, shutting me out.
I continue the script, typing as fast as I can. But I’m losing my focus, so typos and missing parts crop up more often. I smash the backspace button, frustrated at my own trivial mistakes.
“I’m going to sleep for a bit!” Mitsuo announces as he stretches in his seat.
“Are you done with the sound effects Shinichi asked for?”
“Not yet, I’ll finish it when I wake up.”
“Not yet? What have you been doing?” I stop what I’m doing and stare at him. “We’ve been at this for twelve hours already.”
“I’ve been working on it, don’t worry, Ken-chan!” he slaps my back. “I’ll get it done, now let me get some sleep.” With that, he sank into his chair and closed his eyes. He starts snoring within a minute.
Three hours later, I finish most of my scripts. It’s 3 am. Mitsuo is still sleeping, and Chinatsu and Miura have fallen asleep. Only Shinichi is still working, making the world and UI on the game engine. I stretch my arms and yawn. As I kept coding, adrenaline started pumping and I forgot how tired I felt. But now with the adrenaline gone, all that fatigue starts rushing back. My arms, legs, neck, and back all hurt, and my eyes are heavier than ever. I yawn.
There’s still so much to do. What’s left is only UI and other aesthetic stuff, but it’s still a pain. And I haven’t properly checked for all the bugs yet. I’d like to at least minimise the bugs now so when we integrate everything there’ll be less bugs, but my eyes are practically closed at this point. I check the clock again and count how many hours I can sleep.
“I’m going to rest for a bit. Wake me up in four hours, will you?”
“Alright, not sure if I’ll last that long. I’ll wake up one of the others and tell them to wake you up if I can’t stay up.”
Thanking him, I sink into my chair and look downwards. It’d be really nice if I could lay my head on the back of the chair instead, but there’s a lamp above me and it’d kill my eyes. I drift into sleep before I even realise it.
Slowly, I open my eyes and leave the world of my dreams to enter reality. Everything feels intrusive: the lights, the noise, the smell. Somehow, all these noises that I’m supposed to be used to feel irritating. I raise my head and see the situation my team’s in. Mitsuo’s watching something on his phone next to me, laughing and smiling. Across me, Chinatsu’s hunched over her drawing tablet in a thick coat, drawing. I can see the bags under her eyes even from where I’m sitting, and she has a cup of hot tea next to her laptop. Next to her, Shinichi is sleeping on the desk. Meanwhile, Miura is doing something on Shinichi’s laptop, looking intensely focused.
“Miura, what are you doing?”
“Oh, morning, Hoshino-san!” He turns to me like a soldier suddenly being called out by his commanding officer. “Taniguchi-san asked me to continue his work. He says I can probably do it, and he’ll make any changes necessary later,” he explains, referring to Shinichi.
I yawn and stretch my arms, checking the watch on my hand. My mouth gapes.
It’s 8.30 am.
An hour and 30 minutes past when I should’ve woken up.
“Miura, did Shinichi tell you to wake me up?”
“Ah, yes. He told me to wake you up at seven.” He glints his eyes at the laptop screen, checking the time. “… Oh. I didn’t realise that it passed.” He smiles at me, rubbing his hand behind his head. “Sorry, I forgot.”
“How could you forget that?!” I shout at him.
Chinatsu flinches and Mitsuo takes off his earphones. Several people around us also turn their attention to me, and some even wake up. Miura shrinks back, his smile gone, and his face turning pale.
“You do realise we’re not in the clubroom anymore, right? We’ve only got 48 hours to finish this game. Every little bit of time is precious. What are you going to do if I don’t finish the code in time now, huh? Are you going to take responsibility for that? You going to help me code? You can’t even do that!”
Without realizing it, I’m already standing up.
“Do you get the problem? I lost an hour and 30 minutes. You should’ve woken me up.”
“I-I’m sorry, Hoshino-san.”
His apology pulls me back. “Whatever.” I sit back down, and everybody goes back to their own work.
“And what’re you doing?” I ask Mitsuo.
“I was watching some videos…”. His answer trails off.
“Are all of those sound effects finished?”
“Not yet, but I did most of them–”
“So, they’re still not finished?”
“And you’re watching videos?”
He doesn’t answer. The gall of some people. Am I the only one who’s taking this seriously?
“Ken-chan, calm down…” Chinatsu says to me.
“I’ll continue work on it now,” Mitsuo says as he closes the video.
I go back to my own work. For a while, Miura doesn’t do anything but look down at the laptop, his eyes hidden from view. Eventually, he goes back to work without saying anything.
Shinichi wakes up and stretches his arms. He takes a sip of water from his water bottle and looks around. He must’ve noticed the heavy atmosphere. He opens his mouth as if to say something but thinks better of it and says nothing. He puts on his glasses and takes his laptop from Miura before telling him to get some sleep. Miura nods and curls up in his seat, pulling a jacket above him.
I manage to finish most of the primary features quicker than I thought. Even though it’s just a platformer, it’s not just some run-of-the-mill one. This one’s a stealth platformer, so there’s a bunch of things I have to add, like hiding behind objects, tools to catch the guards’ attention, weapons to kill guards. Technically, they shouldn’t take too much time, but the problem is always the bugs. Bugs that are glaringly obvious are the easiest. Second to that would be bugs that cause the entire game to not work. But the worst are bugs that usually work, but at certain other times they don’t. Figuring out when they don’t, and exactly the problem is, is the worst. But I’ve managed to iron out most of those.
I stand up, trying to massage my hurting neck. I check the time on my watch.
It’s past lunchtime, but nobody’s eating anything. I make sure my wallet is in my pocket and grab my phone.
“I’m going out to get some food. Any specific requests?”
They’re all too focused to answer anything coherent, so I just leave the room and head to the convenience store inside the building. I pick up the shopping basket and head straight to the onigiri section. There’s a lot of fillings, but I go straight to the ones my teammates like. Red rice and sesame for Chinatsu, salmon for myself and Shinichi, and umeboshi for Miura. I look around for beef onigiri for Mitsuo – it’s his favourite. But I can’t find it. It seems to be sold out. I opt for a tuna mayonnaise one for him.
I pass by the bento area, but I decide to buy that later for dinner. Instead, I head over to the refrigerators to get some drinks. Some green tea for me and Chinatsu, barley tea for Shinichi, a cola for Mitsuo, and Pocari Sweat for Miura. I check the contents of the basket once more. Satisfied, I go to the counter and pay. I go back to the room bringing with me a heavy plastic bag.
I put the bag on the table, trying to be as silent as possible. But Mitsuo notices me anyway and takes off his headphones.
“It’s done,” he announces.
“All?” I take out the food and drinks as I talk.
“Yeah. Well, there’s one more background music I can’t wrap my head around yet, but I’ll get it done soon.”
“Alright, nice job.” I hand him tuna mayonnaise onigiri and cola. “Here. They ran out of beef.”
“Thanks. I’ll pay you back later.”
I hand the red rice and sesame onigiri and green tea to Chinatsu and the salmon onigiri and barley tea to Shinichi. I take out the umeboshi onigiri and Pocari Sweat and hold it up. I glance over at Miura who’s still soundly sleeping. Should I wake him up? I feel bad towards him. I lost my temper. He was wrong, but I shouldn’t have blown up like that. In the end, I decide to just put it next to him so he’ll notice it when he wakes up.
With 20 hours left, I prepare for the final stretch. I sit back down, stretch my arms, crack my knuckles, and get to work. I ask Shinichi to upload his latest progress.
“Shinichi, can you push what you’ve made so far?”
“Alright, let me finish this part a bit.”
“And Chinatsu, can you push what you’ve finished too? So, Shinichi can start applying the art assets and we can see if anything’s weird.”
“Okay.” Just as Chinatsu is about to do that, her eyes close and her face looks like it’s being squished. She pulls her head back and sneezes.
I pass the tissue to her. Chinatsu always starts sneezing whenever she doesn’t get enough sleep.
“Are you okay, Chinatsu? Maybe you should rest a bit.”
“I just have a little bit mo–”. She sneezes.
“We still have 20 hours. Sleep for an hour or so. I’ll wake you up.”
“I’m sure you can finish the rest. You always do, so just rest a little. It’d be a real pain if you got sick right now, right?”
She nods. “Let me just push what I’ve made.” After she does, she closes her eyes and sleeps, curling in the green blanket she brought.
An hour later, I wake Chinatsu up. Miura’s still sleeping in his chair, but I decide to wake him up. He hasn’t eaten lunch. I head over to him and gently shake him while calling out his name.
He stirs and looks up at me with half-closed eyes.
“Wake up. You haven’t eaten. I bought an onigiri for you.”
He straightens up and looks at the onigiri and Pocari Sweat in front of him as I go back to Shinichi’s side. He stares at them but doesn’t pick anything up. Did I mess up with the umeboshi?
“Oh, you don’t like umeboshi? Sorry, I thought–”.
“No, no, I do,” he waves his hands in front of him to assure me. “It’s my favourite. But how did you know?”
“You were eating it yesterday, so I wanted to play safe and get something you can eat.”
He looks at the onigiri then thanks me and starts eating.
We managed to make in time, submitting the game just one hour before the deadline. Everyone is exhausted. Chinatsu, Shinichi, and Mitsuo are all sleeping on the desk. Only Miura and I are awake, not doing anything in particular because of how tired we are.
I check my watch. It’s a few minutes past eleven. The competition’s barely finished. There’s still 3 hours before the winners are announced. I look at the three sleeping and wonder whether I should catch some sleep too. I feel tired, but not really sleepy. As I was thinking, my stomach suddenly rumbled. I didn’t eat breakfast, so I decide to stand up and go out to buy lunch. When I do, Miura looks at me.
“Where are you going, Hoshino-san?”
“The convenience store to get lunch for everybody.”
“Oh, let me come too. I’ll help you carry the stuff.”
“Fine by me.”
We head to the same convenience store where I bought yesterday’s lunch. We pick up a shopping basket and start choosing bentos and drinks. We decide to go a little extravagant to celebrate finishing the game. As Miura was choosing out drinks, I clear my throat.
“By the way,” I say, standing next to him and looking into the refrigerated shelves as if I’m looking at the drinks.
He turns his head towards me.
“I just wanna say sorry for yesterday. Blowing up at you, I mean.”
He doesn’t respond. He just stares at me, so I continue.
“Even though you did forget to wake me up, my reaction was way out of proportion. I shouldn’t have done that. I always get like that. In these types of situations, I always get stressed and that leads to some unreasonable behaviour, especially getting mad. So yeah, I just wanna say I’m sorry.”
For a while, he just stands still and look at me. Couldn’t he say something? It’s getting awkward. Finally, he shakes his head and smiles at me.
“It’s fine. I was shocked, of course. But I did forget to wake you up. Sorry.”
Nodding, we bring the shopping basket to the counter and pay for our purchases. When we reach the desk, the others were already awake. We handed out everybody’s food and drinks and sat down to eat. While eating, I apologise to Mitsuo too, and to the others just in case I did something that I didn’t realise hurt them.
“It’s fine, it’s fine!” Mitsuo slaps me on the back, and I almost choke on my food. “You’re always like that. We know it’s the stress and you don’t mean the things you say.”
Chinatsu and Shinichi say the same thing. We continue our meal, talking, joking, and laughing, tired as we are.
The announcement is finally here. This time, in addition to the three winners, they’re also announcing the three runner ups. And of course, they start from the third runner up to build suspense up to the number one winner. So far, they’ve announced the three runner ups, and as expected, neither Silverstorm nor Firetale have been announced.
“We weren’t in the runner ups!” Miura exclaims, his eyes wide with amazement as if that was surprising.
“That much is obvious,” Shinichi says.
“I hope we win this time.” Chinatsu closes her eyes and seems to be praying.
“Shh, the third winner’s about to be announced,” I tell them as the first runner up team leader returns to his seat.
The announcer waits until the applause dies down before clearing his throat and raising the card containing the name of the third-place winner.
“And now, for the third-place winner of the Urayama Computer Festival…”
I can practically hear the non-existent drumroll as he builds up the moment.
“Team Teamname with their game Private Experiment!”
We sigh a collective sigh of relief. As the team leader climbs up the stage and receives the prize, we’re at our most tense. Now it’s come to the usual question: who’s going to take first place? None of us say anything as the third-place team leader descends the stage.
“That was the third-place winner. And now, onto the second-place winner…”
My heartbeat’s so fast it threatens to break through my chest. We all hold our breath, and beads of cold sweat cover my forehead. Chinatsu’s eyes are closed. She’s looking down as she clasps her hands tight, hoping for our victory. The announcer’s lips start to move.
Applause. All the tension in our muscles disappears, but it’s bittersweet. I smile as I stand up and head to the stage. The rest of the team smile and clap, but to me it’s visible how disappointed they are – except for Miura, who’s clapping enthusiastically. I receive the award, take a photo, and go back down. A few minutes later, Moriyama stands on that same stage and receives the first prize.
We’re packing our stuff. Unlike our first loss, we’re not that down anymore. We got used to it over the years. But, man, that’s quite a sad statement. Moriyima approaches me as I put my laptop in my bag.
“Hoshino,” she calls out, lightly tapping my shoulder.
I jump, startled. She smiles at me. I look away.
“Ken-chan,” Chinatsu calls out to me as she pulls up her backpack. “We’re going ahead, okay.”
“Okay, take care. Good job today.”
Before she leaves, she waves at me and smiles. And then, she sends a stare as sharp as knives at Moriyama. Moriyama doesn’t notice though and is looking elsewhere. Chinatsu and the others leave.
“Better luck next time.”
“Don’t act so cocky.”
“I’m not.” She takes a seat. “In fact, I came here to tell you what I heard from the judges.”
“They said choosing the winner was really hard. They said that the second place was really good.” She puts her elbow on the desk and uses it to prop up her head.
“Really?” I can’t help but feel proud. “I mean, of course! It’s just a matter of time before I beat you.”
“We’ll see about that. Hope you do that quickly though. I don’t see myself entering too many more of these.” She stands up and straightens her clothes. “Well, I have to get going. See you next time, Hoshino.”
I leave the room after thanking the staff. Out in the hallway, I lean against the window and sigh. Clenching my fists, I curse myself. Ah, it was close, I keep thinking. Just a little bit more and maybe we would’ve won. I make a mental note of checking and evaluating the game once I get home so I know how we can improve. But suddenly, I feel so tired. I decide to stay there for a bit, with my head against the window.
The voice takes me by surprise. It’s a voice that immediately triggers a sharp pain in my heart and makes my breathing ragged. A voiced I hoped I would never hear again, but at the same time hoped I did. I pull my head away from the window and turn to the source of the voice.
“It really is you, Kenji.”
And there before my eyes in a black shirt and light, blue jeans, short-cropped hair was my former best friend and teammate – Yoshino Keisuke.