Champagne corks popped in our little—and I mean little—corner of the universe. It was the evening before the open beta release and for a game developer, that was like Christmas Eve, New Year’s Eve and the fourth of July all rolled into a mix of massive emotional mood swings and anxiety.
Not just another day in the life of making a game…
“We did it, bro. This is happening.” Jordan clinked his plastic cup against mine as we smiled and sipped. I wasn’t much of a champagne fan but… there was cake. The dev team was obsessed with cake. And to add to the dollar-store party in an industrial back warehouse feel: cheap balloons, crepe streamers, matching paper plates and napkins.
As my eyes scanned the room, I saw a lot of happily relieved people who had no idea that the lion’s share of the work was ahead of them rather than behind.
I could allow them this breather but I wouldn’t be joining in. I knew better.
This milestone wasn’t simply the mark set by David in order to earn his investment dollars. This was the threshold. The do-or-die moment when we’d see if our game, now titled Dragon Epoch would sink or swim.
Non-disclosure agreements were required for every beta player. Nevertheless, there were reviewers, influencers and bloggers galore out there who were, together with the power gamers, slobbering to get their hands on our delicate product and split it open like an almond in a nutcracker.
So I celebrated along with the rest… by getting drunk for the first time ever.
Yes, that’s right folks. Adam Drake had never consumed enough alcohol at one time to actually qualify as inebriated until the ripe old age of twenty-three. Talk about a late bloomer.
I wasn’t going to do it again anytime soon but I did have to admit, it was fun.
The hangover the next day? Not so great. Especially when the day started at six a.m. and I was putting out wildfires long before noon ever hit.
“Boss man, we’ve got server issues. They keep crashing.” Walt stood in front of my cast iron metal worktable in the back corner of the warehouse. Her arms were folded tightly over her chest to contain them from the nervous gesticulation she was prone to.
I fell back against my chair rubbing my aching forehead. Unfortunately this problem was not uncommon when new servers were seeing a lot of new activity. Since early this morning, beta testers had logged on in droves to create their new characters. The servers had quickly grown overtaxed.
“I’m on it.” I said as I picked up my phone to call the datacenter we’d been renting services from.
Fucking ass long day…
Crazy exhilarating and a natural high, nevertheless.
By eight p.m. I’d nodded off at my desk twice when Jordan suddenly appeared and had to all but physically drag me away. “For fuck’s sake, Adam, take a shower and get some proper food in you. And maybe, you know, do that thing that most humans have to do, where they lie down on a bed and close their eyes for a few hours.”
I stifled a yawn with the back of my hand. “Sleeping’s for noobs.”
“You may have the mind of a cyborg, but you are not one. Go the fuck home. Everything’s been running smoothly for hours. We’ve got this. Go.”
He was almost as good as a girlfriend, I guess, for making me take care of myself. We were roommates in my condo now, for the time being, until I could afford to pay him—and the rest of us—a proper livable wage. Soon… Cthullu willing.
While figuring out what I was going to do about dinner, I got a text from Candace.
Hey, I hear congratulations are in order and you are officially launched. I’d love to celebrate with you tonight.
I was sitting in my car in the parking lot, about to go up to my condo and hit the shower. Weird. I’d never mentioned to her when the beta was launching and there’s no way she could have gotten that from my social media—what little I did have of that I never posted on. I doubt she followed gamer news.
My brows knit and I keyed in a reply.
Thank you for the congrats! Long day, just pulled into my place. Haven’t even had dinner yet.
Her reply came back before I could even reach over to grab my stuff to get out of the car.
Come over. I just made a big pot of stew and have tons leftover. I’ll feed you.
My stomach roared at the very thought of a homecooked meal. Candace was an excellent cook and seemed to genuinely enjoy feeding me. And my stomach—and the rest of me—was not opposed to a friends-with-benefits who also fed my appetite for good food.
Talk about lucky.
I told her I’d be there in a half hour, then showered, changed, and dropped by the nearest grocery store bakery to pick up brownies for dessert.
“Sleep over,” she said, hooking her arms around my neck the minute we’d finished. I was about to roll away from her as she tightened her hold. Then, she started to kiss my neck as if to further the argument.
I swallowed, closing my eyes and relishing the sensation of her mouth, already feeling arousal build again. I was exhausted and keyed up, but sex had been a great way to take the edge off.
And her invitation to stay over was even more tempting, given that now I’d had an orgasm, all I wanted to do was collapse into a coma.
I reached up and pulled her arm away from my neck. “I gotta hit the bathroom.”
I didn’t like staying over. Sleeping over threatened to complicate things. I’d never written them down, but I did have rules that helped keep things casual. I had no desire for complications and blowing through the rules seemed like the quickest way to do that.
One of the big ones was no sleepovers. Of course I’d bent that rule with Darlene once in a while, but it had been fine because our on again off again thing had stretched out over a few years. But our understanding was easy, since we were both in the same business and had very little life outside of it.
I puttered about the bathroom, cleaned up and considered what I should do. Since I was this-close to passing out, her bed seemed all too inviting.
When I came back into the room, she was nestled under the covers looking up at me with wide eyes.
“So are you going to show me how to play your game?”
I twitched a brow. “Are you much of a gamer?”
Her eyes slid down my form and she smiled coyly, then slowly shook her head. “But I have a feeling I’d like your game. I’ve played a few on my phone. Solitaire. Bejeweled.”
I sighed. Candace was nice. Sweet. And very attractive. But during the eight months that we’d been hooking up, she’d shown zero interest in gaming, so I wondered where this was coming from.
After that first night at her place, she’d wanted to date. I’d told her that wasn’t possible for me, given all that I had on my plate. Nor did I really want to. Even if I were inclined to date, despite her being a great fuck, I doubt it would last very long. This whole thing sounded like an It’s not you, it’s me situation if I were to say it aloud.
Honestly I never pictured myself with any one woman long term—or in any sort of partnership. I already knew that I wasn’t cut out for it.
Perhaps I was the quintessential lone wolf. For those reasons, I never bothered wasting the time to date. Too much other shit to get done.
When I’d proposed a friends-with-benefits arrangement with her instead, Candace had been enthusiastically on board.
I rubbed my jaw, still a little sensitive from hurriedly dragging a razor across it before coming over. “It’s not the kind of game you play on your phone.”
She sat up and the sheets fell away from her chest. My eyes flicked downward. She had gorgeous breasts. I could stay and catch a catnap after. That would only be bending the rules.
“I have my laptop…” She reached over toward her nightstand.
“It would take a long time to download the software… But the game is already set up on mine. I could show you.”
I busted out my device, because the thing went everywhere with me these days. In case I got a call to patch something up in an emergency, I could fix it on the go given my machine and a dependable wi-fi connection.
I sat beside her in bed and opened the laptop, never imagining I’d play my own game naked. As I’d done some work over here before, I already had her connection info in my computer, so I keyed through the log-in screen on my demo beta account.
She leaned against me, laying her head against my shoulder. Her long blonde hair spilled down my bare chest and I felt another flicker of arousal despite my exhaustion.
“What’s this?” she said as I entered the start-up phase of the game.
“This is the character creation screen. Where you design our character. I haven’t even done one yet, for the beta test.”
“Mmm.” She turned and kissed my shoulder. “I think he should look just like you.”
I shook my head, typing in some commands. “Too awkward. I’m going to make him look like a bald monk with a long white Santa Claus beard and a pot belly.”
I whipped my way through the huge amount of appearance options. A person could spend hours just customizing their character’s looks and abilities if they wanted to. Since this was just a random character to demonstrate for her, I rushed through that part.
“Will you name him Adam?”
My fingers froze on the keyboard. “Uh, no that’s not typically what people do when they’re playing. They come up with a new persona. I guess I could just…” I shrugged.
“Well when I make my character, I’ll call her Queenie because that’s what Candace means, queen.”
I frowned, hitting the random name generator. It came up with a jumble of consonants and a few vowels, something unpronounceable.
“Oh c’mon, what does your name mean? Just name yourself that…”
I laughed and turned to her. “Adam is the fallen man.” I’d always been semi-amused by that meaning when I’d discovered it. And given the shit I’d endured when I was younger, I’d always taken it as a fairly accurate omen. The fallen man… Fallen…
I typed in Fallen for the name.
“That’s not a name. Like… you’ve fallen and you can’t get up?” She laughed.
“FallenOne, then.” I amended the name, hit the button to start the game and end any further discussion. I spent about a half hour showing her how the gameplay worked before she very obviously got bored.
Fortunately, when she got bored, she got handsy and soon I shut the laptop, game forgotten and time well-spent in another round of pleasant stress-release with Candace.
Despite my misgivings about sleeping over, I did fall asleep beside her when we were done. But, in spite of my exhaustion, it didn’t last. When I woke up hours later, it was still dark and very early in the morning. My mind immediately raced over all the things I needed to get done in the days ahead and lying here doing nothing was only making me more anxious.
Three hours would have to be enough sleep to get me through the next round of beta bugs to sweep up in order to keep the game going. Soon, we’d start adding more and more beta testing players each week in order to test the stress loads on our servers. We’d have to be ready for that.
I dressed in the dark and scrawled out a note to Candace a note on a writing pad, then left it on her kitchen table.
I ran by my condo to get dressed before heading back into the office.
It was just before dawn and Jordan was already awake. And of course, he had to give me shit for being out all night getting laid. The height of irony, coming from him.
And so here I was, on the first day of a running game where players were actually encountering our content. Hopefully the beta testers would be more impressed with the game than Candace had been…
As I predicted, the days ahead had made our pre-release rush seem like a fun day at the playground with the kiddies. And there were days, when I collapsed into bed after eighteen hours of work that day and hardly any time for a decent meal.
Still no word on the general reception of the game, just endless bug reports as they rolled in…and other fires behind the scenes to put out. I’d have to wait until we lifted the NDA to get the real feedback.
Which meant I was going to have to figuratively hold my breath for six months, maybe more. If that didn’t kill me, this job surely would.
Chapter 5 | Chapter 7