Chapter 6:

Chapter 6 - Urayama Computer Festival

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“I’m almost done with this script. I’ll rest a bit after this.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“More importantly, Chinatsu, how’s it going with the player animation? Shinichi asked for that an hour ago.”Bookmark here

Chinatsu quickly returns to her drawing tablet. “I’m working on it, just wait!”Bookmark here

“There’s still a lot of things you need to make. If you’re too slow, we’re not going to make it.”Bookmark here

“I know that! Just shut up and let me draw!” she shouts as she puts on her headphones, shutting me out.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“I’m going to sleep for a bit!” Mitsuo announces as he stretches in his seat.Bookmark here

“Are you done with the sound effects Shinichi asked for?”Bookmark here

“Not yet, I’ll finish it when I wake up.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“I’m going to rest for a bit. Wake me up in four hours, will you?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

“Miura, what are you doing?”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

I yawn and stretch my arms, checking the watch on my hand. My mouth gapes.Bookmark here

It’s 8.30 am.Bookmark here

An hour and 30 minutes past when I should’ve woken up.Bookmark here

“Miura, did Shinichi tell you to wake me up?”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“How could you forget that?!” I shout at him.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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!”Bookmark here

Without realizing it, I’m already standing up.Bookmark here

“Do you get the problem? I lost an hour and 30 minutes. You should’ve woken me up.”Bookmark here

“I-I’m sorry, Hoshino-san.”Bookmark here

His apology pulls me back. “Whatever.” I sit back down, and everybody goes back to their own work.Bookmark here

“And what’re you doing?” I ask Mitsuo.Bookmark here

“I was watching some videos…”. His answer trails off.Bookmark here

“Are all of those sound effects finished?”Bookmark here

“Not yet, but I did most of them–”Bookmark here

“So, they’re still not finished?”Bookmark here

“…No.”Bookmark here

“And you’re watching videos?”Bookmark here

He doesn’t answer. The gall of some people. Am I the only one who’s taking this seriously?Bookmark here

“Ken-chan, calm down…” Chinatsu says to me.Bookmark here

“I’ll continue work on it now,” Mitsuo says as he closes the video.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

I stand up, trying to massage my hurting neck. I check the time on my watch.Bookmark here

1.47 PM.Bookmark here

It’s past lunchtime, but nobody’s eating anything. I make sure my wallet is in my pocket and grab my phone.Bookmark here

“I’m going out to get some food. Any specific requests?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

I put the bag on the table, trying to be as silent as possible. But Mitsuo notices me anyway and takes off his headphones.Bookmark here

“It’s done,” he announces.Bookmark here

“All?” I take out the food and drinks as I talk.Bookmark here

“Yeah. Well, there’s one more background music I can’t wrap my head around yet, but I’ll get it done soon.”Bookmark here

“Alright, nice job.” I hand him tuna mayonnaise onigiri and cola. “Here. They ran out of beef.”Bookmark here

“Thanks. I’ll pay you back later.”Bookmark here

“Chill.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Shinichi, can you push what you’ve made so far?”Bookmark here

“Alright, let me finish this part a bit.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

I pass the tissue to her. Chinatsu always starts sneezing whenever she doesn’t get enough sleep.Bookmark here

“Are you okay, Chinatsu? Maybe you should rest a bit.”Bookmark here

“I just have a little bit mo–”. She sneezes.Bookmark here

“We still have 20 hours. Sleep for an hour or so. I’ll wake you up.”Bookmark here

“But–”Bookmark here

“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?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

“Miura, Miura.”Bookmark here

He stirs and looks up at me with half-closed eyes.Bookmark here

“Wake up. You haven’t eaten. I bought an onigiri for you.”Bookmark here

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?Bookmark here

“Oh, you don’t like umeboshi? Sorry, I thought–”.Bookmark here

“No, no, I do,” he waves his hands in front of him to assure me. “It’s my favourite. But how did you know?”Bookmark here

“You were eating it yesterday, so I wanted to play safe and get something you can eat.”Bookmark here

He looks at the onigiri then thanks me and starts eating.Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Where are you going, Hoshino-san?”Bookmark here

“The convenience store to get lunch for everybody.”Bookmark here

“Oh, let me come too. I’ll help you carry the stuff.”Bookmark here

“Fine by me.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“By the way,” I say, standing next to him and looking into the refrigerated shelves as if I’m looking at the drinks.Bookmark here

He turns his head towards me.Bookmark here

“I just wanna say sorry for yesterday. Blowing up at you, I mean.”Bookmark here

He doesn’t respond. He just stares at me, so I continue.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“It’s fine. I was shocked, of course. But I did forget to wake you up. Sorry.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

Chinatsu and Shinichi say the same thing. We continue our meal, talking, joking, and laughing, tired as we are.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“We weren’t in the runner ups!” Miura exclaims, his eyes wide with amazement as if that was surprising.Bookmark here

“That much is obvious,” Shinichi says.Bookmark here

“I hope we win this time.” Chinatsu closes her eyes and seems to be praying.Bookmark here

Shh, the third winner’s about to be announced,” I tell them as the first runner up team leader returns to his seat.Bookmark here

The announcer waits until the applause dies down before clearing his throat and raising the card containing the name of the third-place winner.Bookmark here

“And now, for the third-place winner of the Urayama Computer Festival…”Bookmark here

I can practically hear the non-existent drumroll as he builds up the moment.Bookmark here

“Team Teamname with their game Private Experiment!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“That was the third-place winner. And now, onto the second-place winner…”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

3Bookmark here

2Bookmark here

1Bookmark here

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“Team Silverstorm!”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Hoshino,” she calls out, lightly tapping my shoulder.Bookmark here

I jump, startled. She smiles at me. I look away.Bookmark here

“Moriyama. Congrats.”Bookmark here

“Thanks.”Bookmark here

“Ken-chan,” Chinatsu calls out to me as she pulls up her backpack. “We’re going ahead, okay.”Bookmark here

“Okay, take care. Good job today.”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“Better luck next time.”Bookmark here

“Don’t act so cocky.”Bookmark here

“I’m not.” She takes a seat. “In fact, I came here to tell you what I heard from the judges.”Bookmark here

“What?”Bookmark here

“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.Bookmark here

“Really?” I can’t help but feel proud. “I mean, of course! It’s just a matter of time before I beat you.”Bookmark here

“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.”Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

“Kenji?”Bookmark here

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.Bookmark here

“It really is you, Kenji.”Bookmark here

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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.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.