Part of writing is getting to know your characters. The way that I’ve been working so far, there’s not been a lot of time to do that. I write a story, and move on – maybe coming back another time to revisit the people I have created, but usually not. So just for fun, I’m going to do some character interviews this week and see what I can find out about the folks who emerged from between the folds in my brain. To do so, I’ve got my list of characters and the fine folks over at random.org, and together I’ll be randomly choosing my subjects. If you have a request for a character interview, let me know in the comments and I can see to it that he or she jumps to the head of the queue.
It seems the randomness is being especially random today – the subject of our interview is a fictional character within a fictional setting. It is Selaphiel, the archangel who was the end boss for a game being designed by a couple of friends in Day 63 – Creative Differences. Let’s see what it has to say for itself.
Sorry, sorry, don’t mind the sword. Here let me… Ahh, there we go. That’s a load off the ol’ wingbox right there. MAN, but I can’t imagine why I carry something that ridiculously huge.
Are… are you Selaphiel?
You bet I am. Keeper of the Temple of the Hours, chief of the Seven Underlords. Atcher service!
I’m sorry, I just thought you’d be…
Buffer, then? I have been working out.
No, not that. Just a little… You know what, why don’t we skip to the interview.
Okay, you’re the boss here, boss. What do you want to know?
Well, um, about you. Tell us about yourself.
Well, like I said - Keeper of the Temple of the Hours, chief of the Seven Underlords. My job is basically to keep the peace in the realm of Syurdhald by whatever means necessary.
Well, yeah. You know. The world? The place where everything happens? Y’see, I used to work directly under the Big Guy himself. And when he was done making the place, I told him that the humans were probably going to screw everything up. You could see it in their beady little eyes, you know? They look at something and think, “How can I eat-and-or-destroy that?” But I kept my peace and decided to see what was what, until… well, you know…
Actually, no. What happened?
Seriously? I thought everyone – you guys didn’t know about this? Wow.
Okay, so we’d created the world and everything in it and blah blah blah, and God was just saying, “Okay, this is cool.” And my buddies and I all came in and said, “Actually, not cool. You have humans all over the place doing whatever the hell they want and not listening to a damn thing you say.” And so God says, “What do you think I should do about it?” and I said, “You should beat them senseless and then beat them some more until they stop building golden cows and horses and moose and shit!”
Yeah. Well, that didn’t go over too well. Long story short, words were said, someone got slapped, someone’s mother got insulted, and next thing you know my buddies and I are tossed out into Syurdhald and he says, “You think you know how to fix it? Well go right ahead, suckers.” Next thing you know we’re all stranded dirtside with nothing but our angelic powers and a bunch of damn dirty apes. No offense.
None taken. So what did you do then?
Well, we agreed that it would be best if we spread out a bit, you know – each take a different region, run it pretty much autonomously. There were seven of us, and so that worked out fine. For a while, anyway.
What do you mean? What happened?
Well, these humans really didn’t get the hint. They didn’t know that we were there for their own benefit, to whip them into shape, y’know? It seemed like every other decade, some bulked-up barbarian would come by and try to kill us all!
Yeah, can you believe it? Us! So at first it was easy, you know – go-go angelic powers , barbarian go SPLAT. But that got boring after a while, so we started making actual weapons – like that eight-foot wonder I’ve got leaning in the corner. I have to admit, that was a bit ridiculous. Seemed like a good idea at the time.
Anyway, around the same time, we came up with the Daggers.
Yeah, one of these. Take a look. Huh? Nasty-looking thing, ain’t it? Each dagger is kind of like a personal calling card, right? You can use it for just about anything, up to and including killing nosy barbarians.
And how long have you been doing that?
Gosh, lemme see… You know, I really have no idea? It seems like forever, but each time that moron stumbles into my throne room, it’s like the first time all over again. He makes a speech, I utterly unmake him, and then lunch! Good times, good times.
I see. Are you by any chance aware of a game called Lords of Syurdhald?
A game? No, but it sounds pretty good. Huh. A game – I bet me and my buddies would be great characters, too! We could fight off barbarians and crush our enemies beneath our feet and-
No, no – it’s not quite like that. Here, I have the trailer on my laptop. Here, take a look.
Okay, let’s see, where do I press – ah! There we are.
Ooh, pretty. That’s ni- Hey! That’s that barbarian! He’s- What- Wait, where is he-?
What? NO! What’re you! Hey, that’s my fri-
Oh, you son of a bitch! That little monkey in a loincloth, he kills me? What the hell, man?
What do you think of-
What do I think? Are you serious, they made a game about us, and we’re the bad guys?
Look at that – these jackasses decided we’re the villains here! They made me look like some kind of evil end boss – I never gave them permission to use my likeness! How did they get all this about us?
I am going to sue them… SO hard! To the ends of the Earth, and if that doesn’t work, then it’s a Dagger of the Underlord right to the face!
But they didn’t steal anything!
They didn’t steal anything. They made you up.
Say that again?
They made you up. You’re the game character. The character isn’t based on you – you’re it.
No, that’s ridiculous. No, I remember the – the dawn of time, man! I was there! You’re telling me a couple of code-monkeys just invented me?
I’m afraid so.
No. No, no, no, that’s not happening. No. Gimme that laptop.
I am going to find… out… godsdammit, make this thing show me where they are!
So you want the first dagger to the face, because I swear there’s going to be so much stabbing going on today!
Okay, let’s just calm down here. Okay? No one is stabbing anyone anywhere. Okay? So why don’t you put down that knife, and we’ll see what we – NO!
This interview is done. Me and my stupid-ass sword, we have a date. We’re gonna find whoever did this to us. We’re gonna find ‘em and make them suffer more than anyone has ever suffered before. And after I’ve used their heads as bowling balls – that damned barbarian is next!
I… Okay. All right. Just – just stop the camera.
“Okay, let’s go over this again.” Andy lit another cigarette, tossed the match into the ashtray and took a deep inhale, grateful for a moment that Joel didn’t have a thing about smoking in his apartment. He stared at the storyboard on the computer screen, clicking through the pictures one by one. “Banoosh walks into the Temple of the Hours.”
“Right.” Joel was sitting on the edge of his seat.
“He has the six Daggers of the Underlords.”
“And he goes into the Temple of the Hours, ready to fight Archangel Selaphiel for the fate of all mankind.”
“Yeah, yeah!” Joel’s leg was jittering up and down in place.
“And then, after fourteen hours of gameplay. After killing off six other Archangels. After going through countless fights against all the beasts and monsters and demons we can come up with, this happens.” Andy reached over, clicked the mouse, and the rough pre-vis animation started to play on the screen.
The camera followed Banoosh as he walked into the great, vaulted Temple of the Hours, six daggers of radically different styles hanging on his belt. The voice track was terrible, clearly something Joel had done on his phone. “I am Banoosh!” Banoosh said in a voice that was clearly Joel trying to make his normal high reediness sound deep and heroic. “I have come to face you, Selaphiel!” The camera followed Banoosh through the great arch of the Throne Room, which – when it was properly rendered someday – would be magnificent. Andy had already done some illustrations for it, and they still didn’t quite match what he had in his head. Great, curving walls of giant dark, volcanic stones, towering windows that turned the sunlight into a dull red glare, great torches on the walls, and the throne in the center of it all. The throne would be a masterpiece of design – white marble and gold, with the symbols of all seven archangels etched into the high back.
And sitting in the throne would be Selaphiel, who would be beautiful. Not like a regular End Boss, all spikes and fangs and blood, but graceful, delicate, with eyes full of love and compassion. In the story he’d worked out, Selaphiel truly believed that it was doing the right thing, that every torment it devised, every city it destroyed was for a greater good, and it pitied Banoosh for not being able to understand that fairly obvious fact. And, of course, it wouldn’t let the hero stand in the way of its ultimate victory.
In Andy’s head, the game was already finished, which made this part all the more painful. Where Andy had the ideas for the game, it was Joel who had the resources. He had the machine that could put together their demo to shop around. He was able to use the graphics programs and the 3D engines that would give them a chance to make something that had obvious potential value when they showed it to the real game companies. Without Joel, Andy’s idea would have been just that. With him, there was a chance that the game could come to life.
The trade-off, of course, was that Joel had ideas too. Lots of ideas. And he was not shy about sharing them. Ever since they started working together, Andy had been shooting down ideas that were plainly stupid. Joel wanted to have different selectable outfits, which included a schoolgirl uniform and a chicken suit. He wanted the third archangel to be a disco pimp and have a palace made entirely of cocaine and dildos. He thought that there should be a sub-game where the player had to copy ever-increasingly difficult dance moves. He wanted Banoosh to have a sidekick. A talking dog sidekick. That sounded like Cheech and or Chong.
Joel was a fantastic programmer, that much was clear. But every idea he came up with was dumber than the last one, and it was getting harder and harder to shoot them down with anything resembling constructive criticism.
Andy stubbed out his cigarette as the cut scene continued and lit another one. Banoosh was finishing his speech to the archangel about how he would end his reign of wickedness, send him back to his dark masters, blah blah blah, and the whole thing was just awful. But Andy would be able to fix that much. The speech wasn’t the problem.
Selaphiel stood up from its throne, made a gesture that would, when the game was done, be a twisted rippling of reality itself, and… A giant stone fell from the ceiling, crushing Banoosh underneath. His arms and legs were sticking out comically from underneath, and a red pool of blood slowly oozed out.
The video ended.
They were silent for a moment. Andy sucked on the cigarette. Joel started cracking his knuckles. “Well?” he finally said. “Is that a great ending, or what?”
Andy closed his eyes and counted to five. “That’s your ending. The hero gets squashed like a bug.”
“Yeah!” Joel was up out of his seat now. “No one will see it coming! It’ll be a complete surprise, they’ll be talking about this for ages!”
“They’ll be coming for our heads!” Andy shouted, smoke billowing from his mouth. He stood up to match Joel. “That has gotta be the dumbest ending I’ve seen since Saw! Anyone idiotic enough to play through the whole thing and then get to that ending is going to show up on our doorstep with torches and pitchforks!” He was close enough now that he was able to poke Joel in the chest. “And anyone lucky enough to hear about it before they play will probably decide to spend their money on something more useful, like dogshit-flavored Oreos!”
Joel looked puzzled for a moment. “Do they even make -”
“No! What the hell were you thinking with this?” He spun around and started pacing, taking another cigarette from the pack as he swung by the desk. “You begged me to let you write the finale, I said sure, you’ve spent two weeks on it, and this is what you came up with?” He clicked the animation again, rewound it, and they watched the stone fall on Banoosh again. “That’s it?” He glared up at Joel, squinting slightly to keep the smoke out of his eyes.
“But…” Joel looked lost. “But it’s ironic. Right? I mean, games always end with the hero winning against impossible odds, so I thought -”
“You thought? You thought this was ironic? What the hell kind of hipster doofus bullshit is that supposed to be?” He jammed the cigarette out. “Nobody wants to play a game because it’s ironic, you ass! They want to play it because it’s fun! Because they think they can win! If they want ironic they can go read Shakespeare!” He dropped back into his chair and put his head in his hands. “I can’t believe I let you waste our time like this. Jesus, we were supposed to have a meeting with Qualis next week and we don’t even have -”
Andy looked up, and for a moment wasn’t sure what he was looking at. Joel was standing next to him, standing still, with his arms crossed and a look of anger that was positively unnatural on his face. “Hey,” he said again. “I think you should go.”
“You heard me,” Joel said. He pointed to the door. “I think you should go.”
Andy looked at the door and then back to Joel. “What? I don’t -”
“Maybe you didn’t like the ending, and that’s cool. But you’re being a serious asshole about it, and I don’t think I need that.” He nodded at the door this time. “So get out.”
Andy stood up slowly. “Hey,” he said. “Look, I was just a little surprised is all. Right?”
“No, man.” Joel reached over and turned off the monitor. “You’ve been like this since we started. Every time I have an idea, you shoot it down like I’m some kind of moron. And I don’t think I want to work with you anymore.”
Now the panic was setting in. “Look,” Andy said, “I’m really sorry about that, man. It’s just that this is important to me, right? And you’re the only person I know who can make this work. So why don’t we just smooth this over and fix this? Right?” He gestured at the blank screen. “We can still get something together for the demo next week.”
Joel shook his head. “I don’t think so,” he said. “I have my own ideas for games, and I think they’re pretty good.” He shrugged. “Maybe they are and maybe they aren’t, but I don’t need someone stomping all over ‘em because they don’t fit your little dream project.” He walked over to the door, opened it, and waited. “I’ll send you all the files and I’ll get rid of my copies, don’t worry about that. But you’re gonna have to go find someone who’ll put up with you, man. Because it won’t be me.” He just stood there, arms crossed.
A dozen different responses flew into Andy’s head, from begging to screaming to both. His stomach was churning and he was pretty sure he could taste blood. His hand shaking, he picked up his jacket off the back of the chair and walked slowly to the door. He stood in front of it for a moment and turned to Joel, who just shook his head and nodded towards the outside.
Andy felt his gorge rise as the door slammed behind him. He took the stairs down, his feet landing heavily on each step. When he got outside, the sun was bright, the sidewalk busy.
He took a deep breath and looked up at where he was pretty sure Joel’s apartment was. “Okay,” he said. “I can fix this.” He nodded. “I can fix this.”