Zero-Sum Game | ゼロ和ゲーム
The next few days after we decided to make a game were hectic. We’d meet everyday to come up with ideas. We mentioned any idea that came to mind, no matter how ridiculous. Meetings sometimes went on until the sun had set. At those times, we ate dinner in the clubroom. It was mostly just convenience store boxed meals. But it was all worth it. With great effort, we managed to narrow our ideas to three.
One, a 2D procedurally generated top-down mobile shooter game. The player would take the role of a space soldier tasked with clearing out a space station. The level would be composed of rooms connected by hallways. These rooms would be procedurally generated and never end. Players would have to shoot their way through the rooms. Some of the rooms will have items that the player can use. Players can pick up weapons, armour, ammunition, or special abilities.
Two, a rhythm game based around elements. The player would have to ‘ignite’ the note according to its element. Fire with fire, water with water, and so on. It would feature original songs by our very own Mitsuo.
Three, a 2D level-based mobile puzzle game where the player would control more than one character. The challenge would be to get all the characters into their target positions since the characters would all move at the same time. If you move forward, everybody moves forward. There’d need to be at least 100 levels.
None of us were sure of which we wanted to make. There were pros and cons to each. After discussing it for hours, we decided to call it a day and leave it for the next day.
Which is today.
We’re sitting in this room again. Sick of convenience store boxed lunches, Chinatsu and I had bought some takeaway. Of course, we called everybody beforehand and asked what they wanted. I let Chinatsu handle that, so I don’t really know what she bought. But as for me, it was simple chicken cutlet curry rice, one of my favourites. Some good food would definitely help us think.
I stand up. Everyone’s eating, including me. But it’s fine. We’ll discuss it as we eat.
“Alright, let’s start.”
I briefly go over what we’ve decided so far. I continue with a description of each of the ideas from the notes on my phone. Finished, I put down my phone and look at them.
“So, what are we going to go with?”
“I like the rhythm game idea,” Mitsuo says he swallows. “It sounds cool and fun.”
“And you get to write a lot of songs,” Miura says.
“Yeah, that’d be so much fun!”
“It sounds good as an idea, but I’m not really sure how it’s going to be in practice,” Shinichi says, closing his eyes as he rubs his chin in thought.
“What do you mean, Shinichi?”
“When I imagine playing it, it doesn’t feel fun. If we have to choose the element, that means there can’t be more than one lane, right? Having more than one lane would be too complicated. The player would have to choose the element for each one, but the notes will keep on coming. At most we could have three, but I think it’d make the most sense if there was only one.”
Everyone pays attention and nods along.
“But, one lane isn’t necessarily a problem, right? Do you know Taiko Drum Master? That drum game you can find in arcades. There’s only one lane and depending on the colour we have to hit a certain part of the drum.” Chinatsu would know. She loves playing those arcade rhythm games.
“Oh yeah, I know that game,” Mitsuo comments in between bites.
“That’s true, but that game only has two things you need to take care of: hit the centre or the side. We’re going to have at least four elements, right?”
“So, I’m afraid it’s just going to be boring. Especially if it’s on PC. Maybe it can work on mobile. But just imagine it. The notes will fall from the top. You’ll hit them as they come. Each time, you choose an element.”
Miura suddenly speaks up.
“To be honest, it sounds kind of fun to me. I’m imaging like a joystick at the bottom. You move that joystick in a specific direction according to the element. As the song speeds up, wouldn’t that start to get hectic? Add in some long notes you have to hold and maybe other types of notes. It can be pretty fun.”
With no end in sight, I decide to pivot the discussion to the other two ideas. If we can’t agree on what’s good, maybe we can agree on what’s not. Briefly, I explain the procedurally generated shooter idea again. They all go hmm as I finish my explanation.
“Who came up with this idea again?” Chinatsu asks.
“Me,” I answer. Asking that means she wants to ask something about it.
But she doesn’t say anything.
“Hmm… I was just wondering whether you can do the process generated thing?”
“You mean procedural generation?”
“Oh, yeah, that.” She plays with her hair and giggles in embarrassment. “You’ve never done that before, right?”
She’s right. It’s not something I’ve ever tried. But I think that I can, though I do need to learn first. There’ll be a lot of tutorial videos online, I’m sure. And as they say, “There’s a first time for everything”. Who’s they, anyway?
“Yeah, I haven’t. But I think I can. There should be a lot of tutorials online. I can learn from those, so that shouldn’t be a problem.”
“This idea sounds great to me,” Shinichi says. “It’s the type of game I’d play.”
“But maybe that’s just you. It doesn’t sound all that interesting to me, not gonna lie…” Mitsuo says.
“But doesn’t it sound really fun? You go room to room, shooting your gun. In each room, there’ll be lots of different enemies. You have to keep constantly moving around to avoid their bullets. And there’d be lots of different weapons, ammunition types, abilities, skills.”
“Sounds complicated to me.”
The debate goes on for a few more minutes, until I finally decide to move the topic to the last idea.
“How about the puzzle game?”
“The puzzle game, huh…” Miura muttered to himself.
“We’d have to design a lot of levels. Like I said last time, at least a hundred. Otherwise, the game would be too short. And we’d have to balance it too. Make sure that the levels don’t go up and down in difficulty, or too difficult at the start. That is going to take a large amount of time.”
“But it does sound kind of interesting…” Chinatsu says, her voice trailing. You don’t sound very sure of it, you know?
“It’s okay for me,” Mitsuo says without any of the fire from before. “I don’t see myself playing it though. Aren’t games like those for kids or older adults? Like, as old as our parents?”
They continue to debate amongst themselves while I remain silent. I’d like to finish this today, otherwise we’d be stuck in never-ending idea debates. We’d be wasting a lot of time. Don’t get me wrong, ideas are important. But what’s more important is how we’re going to make those ideas into a reality. All three ideas sound equally good to me, so I don’t really care whichever one we go with… Although I kind of want the procedurally generated one. It sounds fun.
After this goes on for a while, I decide to act to speed things up. I clear my throat and prepare to raise my voice.
“Alright! Let’s do something different.”
They all go silent and turn their attention to me.
“How about we vote?”
“One person votes for what they want? I think that’s just going to result in nothing getting a majority.”
“No, I have something better in mind. If you want the idea, you simply raise your hand when I mention it. You can vote in two at most.”
“Wait, I don’t get it.”
“I’m going to mention the ideas one at a time. If you’d like to go with that idea, then raise your hand when I mention it. You can raise your hand twice. That means you can vote for two games. If the majority’s clear, we’ll go with that. But if it’s not, which is most likely what’s going to happen, we’ll throw away the one with the lowest votes. After that, each one can only vote on one of the two remaining ideas. What do you say?”
“There’s still a chance the vote can go wrong. Two games can get say three scores, while one gets four. They’re all more than half.”
“In that case, we’ll just go with four. How about we try it first?”
They all half-nod in agreement. That’s good enough, I suppose. I mention the first idea.
“Procedurally generated shooter.”
Shinichi, Miura, Chinatsu, and I raise our hands.
Shinichi, Miura, Chinatsu, and Mitsuo raise their hands.
Miura and I raise our hands.
“Miura, you voted for every single one…”
“Eh?” He looks around, confused. “Is that not allowed?”
“It’s not that it’s not allowed but… never mind.”
But it’s pretty clear few of us want the puzzle game. Therefore, it’s the first to go. I cross it out on the whiteboard. I know I’m fine with any idea, but this one was my idea. Somehow, it feels kind of sad that it got so little votes. I was expecting at least three…
“Alright, two games left. You can only vote for one.”
“Ah, this is hard…” Chinatsu says as she bites her nails.
“Yeah…” Miura agrees with her.
I give them some time to think before I mention the games again.
“Procedural generated shooter.”
Shinichi, Miura, and I raise our hands.
“Guess it’s decided.”
“Aw, man,” Mitsuo moans as he leans back into his chair.
“Alright! Now, we can continue to the main thing: designing the game. Does anybody want to say anything before we begin?”
Shaking heads and silence conveys their answer.
“Okay, let’s begin. We need to decide in detail how the gameplay’s going to be, what weapons the player can have, ammunition types, abilities, skills, and all those things.”
I go back to my seat and pull up my laptop.
“I’ll make the Googol Drive folder. I’ll share the link in the group.”
This is the job that I’m best at. Right next to programming, I’m basically the producer or project manager of the team. Scheduling, budgeting (not that we’ve ever had any budgeting), making sure everyone knows what to do, who to ask, where to go. Basically, I have to lead the project, make it move.
After I send the link to everyone, I open a blank document and write in large, bolded letters at the top:
SILVERSTORM GAME PROJECT
“So… you want to showcase the game at Artfes?” Chinatsu asks, her tone unsure.
“Will they even accept us?!” Chinatsu bursts out. Out of everyone here, she probably knows Artfes best.
It’s an annual fair like Comiket, where people from all over the country showcase and sell their fan-made manga, original works, artwork, music, and even games. But it’s not that easy to get in. Chinatsu’s tried to get in to sell her artwork several times, but that hasn’t worked at all so far. Her concern makes sense.
“I’m sure we can.”
“Wow, you sure got the courage, alright…”
“Before Artfes, we should discuss some other problems like what we were talking about,” Shinichi interjects.
Before this, we were talking about the visual effects. Chinatsu’s great at artwork, but she’s not really good at making visual effects like sparkles, explosions, or glitters.
“Like I was saying,” Shinichi continues. “Visual effects like this are essential. We absolutely need them. It’ll make the game look far better.”
“I know that... But I’m just like, not confident about it, you know? I’ve never made something like that. Somehow, I’m kind of afraid because of what the result would be, you know?”
We put our thinking caps on and the room goes silent. That is, except for Mitsuo. Not long after the meeting started, he stood up and stretched. Then a few minutes later, he got up from his seat again and took a seat by the window. At first, he was listening. Then, he started yawning. And now, he’s just playing on his phone.
“Well, I think it’s fine for now,” I say, breaking the silence. “We’ve made a lot of progress. It’s almost night too. Let’s call it a day.”
After cleaning up the room, we walk out of the building together before saying our goodbyes and parting ways.
It’s the next day, and I’m walking to my afternoon classes which start in around 45 minutes. Since there’s so much time left, I take my time and walk at a leisurely pace, looking around me. Though I’ve been on this path so many times before, I sometimes take a look at it again because seeing the vibrant, beautiful colours is really refreshing.
As I reach an intersection with tall, campus buildings on each corner, a particular sight caught my eye. A girl with long, silky hair wearing white shirt and brown trousers stands in its centre. She’s looking left, right, and front uncertainly, constantly looking down again on her phone.
A prospective student? But that would be weird as we were far into the semester at this point. A freshman then? But for a freshman to still get lost even now is just… Banishing my mean thoughts, I walk towards the freshman (?) to help her.
But when I get closer, I stop in my tracks. It’s no freshman. I almost didn’t recognise her without her characteristic grey vest – Moriyama Kyoko. Once I processed that information, I continue walking towards her at a quicker pace.
Just as I’m about to reach, she looks in my direction in her quest to find whatever it is she’s searching for. But she’s not looking at me, but at the path that I just came from. Only when I get closer to her does she shift her attention. Her eyes widen in recognition and she smiles brightly, showing her beautiful, perfect teeth.
“Fancy seeing you here.”
“Uh, not really… This is the campus?” What was she on about?
“Oh, I guess you got a point there.”
She continues on with what she was doing. We haven’t talked again since that day I showed her the clubroom. That day when Chinatsu went off on her. Ah, now I’m remembering it again. As those memories resurface, I gradually feel more awkward. I need to say something before I lose all my will.
“So, what are you doing?”
“Hm? Trying to find my class.”
My guess was on the spot, it seems. It’s just that it’s Moriyama… out of all the freshmen I knew, I never would’ve thought she wouldn’t know the way.
“Need any help?”
“I think I got it…”
She looks left, then right, then left again, then right, but before she does, she turns back left. Then she turns to me with an embarrassed smile.
“Actually, some help would be nice.”
She offers her phone and I take it. I thought it was the school website or a map, but instead it’s directions her professor sent through a group chat. The directions are pretty confusing. Seems like it’s how he’d describe his own route instead of making it as simple as possible for others. Ignoring all that, I know the building he mentioned. Visualising the map in my mind, I hand it back to her.
“This way,” I tell her before walking in that direction.
“You’re coming with?”
Ah, what was I thinking?
“Ah, right, I could just tell you the directions…”
“No, no, it’s fine. I was just wondering if it was fine for you. Do you have class or something?”
“There’s still quite some time left before my class. I can accompany you to like, show you the way.”
“Sure, that’d be great!”
We walk on in silence as I lead her through the campus. Like before, I think if people see us, they’d think we were together… But now that I think about it, that feels conceited. There are a lot of guys and girls that are friends out there after all.
“Hoshino,” she calls out to me suddenly.
I stop and turn around.
“Sorry, was I going too fast?”
“No, that’s not it.”
She continues walking and I do the same.
“So, how did things turn out?”
“You know, Silverstorm, and your dreams.”
“Oh, you mean that. Well, I gave a lot of thought to what you said.”
She nods along.
“In the end, I brought the idea up to them. And they agreed.”
She lights up.
“That’s great, isn’t it? You get to try working towards your dream and keep Silverstorm together with it.”
“Yeah, it’s all thanks to you. It’s not like I never thought of it before, but when you said it to me, it was sort like the push I needed.”
And that’s not just lip service. That’s really how I felt.
“All I did was talk. But anyway, so what’re you going to do?”
“We’re making a game, and we hope to be able to showcase it at Artfes?”
“At Artfes, wow. Is it going well?”
“I guess. We’ve just started.”
“What sort of game are you going to make?”
As we walk, I explain the idea to her. As before, she nods along, but she listens intently to each word I say. Without us realising it, our pace became much slower.
“Sounds like an interesting idea.”
“So, you’re developing that with everybody?”
“That’s nice…” she mutters, but I can barely hear it as her voice trails off.
“What did you say?”
“Oh, nothing. No issues so far?”
“Well, of course there are. For starters, we have no idea where to start on Artfes.”
“And also, we’ve run into some problems. We want to do some of those visual effects I mentioned, right?”
“Well, Chinatsu hasn’t had much experience with them. So, she’s not sure if she can do it.”
Silence. Maybe she’s done talking? Her class is starting soon anyway. Guess I took up too much of her time. I quicken my pace and like we’re in sync, she matches it.
“Sorry for taking up too much of your time talking. Let’s go to that building.”
She shakes her head. “I don’t mind. But Hoshino, I have a question.”
I feel her stop following, and I turn back. She’s standing a few paces behind me, and she’s looking at me with the most earnest, serious, and intense eyes I’ve ever seen on her. I’m getting a little nervous. What is she going to ask me? Does she, possibly, maybe, but no way, l-
“Can I help out?”
“Can I help out with your game? Can I join the project?”
We’re standing there amidst the flow of people rushing to class, with my mouth falling agape.