== 2064: The Den, Aristillus, Lunar Nearside
Blue stared at a block of code, then shook his head in disgust. There were too many bugs in this file, and he knew why – the module as a whole was a conceptual muddle. He needed to refactor it. He exhaled and began to drag functions and data structures around, then stopped. He needed to take a break first. He rose from the beanbag chair and stretched, moving his body back while dipping his head, then moving forward and dropping his pelvis near to the ground.
Blue looked at Max, who was still sitting in front of a keyboard, his screen covered with PERT charts for vehicle component deliveries and tactical maps. Blue and Max had been arguing recently. A lot. Was that normal in siblings? A cursory search of human novels said it was, but was it normal among Dogs? Being the first generation meant that there was no answer – ‘normal’ was undefined.
Not that they were – technically – siblings. He and Max weren’t even litter-mates, having been gestated in artificial wombs. Whether they were siblings or not, they’d spent most of their lives together, and they’d always felt most comfortable in each other’s company.
Back on Earth he and Max and a few others had bonded as pups, forming their own clique. Despite the chaos of the final days – John and The Team breaking into the lab, rescuing them, and bringing them to Aristillus – they’d stuck together even more strongly. Or perhaps not despite it, but because of it. And then during the hike to farside they’d spent every waking minute within meters of each other. That was when the disagreements had begun in earnest – when Gamma’s sattelites had been burned the first time. When it became clear that despite John’s forboding and Blue’s aprehension the war Max had long predicted was coming, and coming fast.
Blue looked at Max’s screen. While the Dog rework a delivery schedule a series of simulations ran in one window. PK forces threw themselves against the lines of Dog rovers, fatality counts climbed on both sides, kill ratios were continuously recomputed. Blue looked more closely at the kill ratios. This was not the only metric that mattered, but it was a key one. No matter how good the maneuver, fire control, accuracy, and logistics were, in the end the Dog rovers had to punch above their weight. The kill ratio on the current simulation climbed to 2.05 : 1 …and then, as Blue watched, the PK forces turned a flank and started destroying Dog units. The ratio fell. 2.0. 1.92. 1.83. Blue winced.
At almost the same moment Max glanced over from his schedule charts, saw the numbers and growled.
Blue shook his head. The tension was getting to them. It was eating at all of them, but at Max and Blue, and at their friendship especially. Since getting back to Aristillus they’d fought more and more, disagreeing on everything – whether they should integrate their robot army under the Boardroom Group’s control, whether Father Alex’s message was interesting or ‘human centric propaganda’, and everything else under the sun.
They often couldn’t stand each other – but it didn’t occur to either one of them that now, with John dead on Earth and the invasion coming soon, they wouldn’t be in the same room.
Max snapped, with out turning his head. “What?”
Patience. Patience. “I was going to get some lemonaid. You want any?”
Max now turned, chagrined. “Oh. Uh, sorry. Yeah, that’d be great, thanks.”
Blue turned to Duncan. “Duncan, are you still working, or -”
Duncan yawned deeply. “You know, I think I’m about ready to start working on a bowl of chili. Zing! So, yeah, I’ll take a break with you. But after that, I’m going to start coding on a new idea.”
Blue raised one eyebrow.
“It’s about Age of Gothis!”
Max’s ears pricked and his tail stiffened with annoyance. Blue understood. They’d – personally! – been attacked by the PKs on Farside, Rex had been killed, Aristillus had been attacked, and everyone knew the war was about to come crushing down on them any moment. And Duncan was –
Max let him have it. “This is not time to screw around with games, Duncan!”
Duncan recoiled. “But this -”
Blue looked at Duncan. He looked seriously wounded. Misunderstood.
Max spoke over him, his voice getting more angry. “We don’t know how long we have left, we don’t -”
Blue held up one hand. “Hang on Max. Let’s hear him out.”
Duncan looked from Blue to Max, then back to Blue. “Thanks. So – umm. In Age of Gothis, the were-creatures are better fighters than the Harald the Fair-haired and his thanes, right?”
Max growled. “Duncan, we don’t have time for this crap. The invasion is coming, and you need to be serious -”
Duncan’s ears drooped and he turned away. “Never mind.”
Blue scowled. “Max, I think this might be important.” He paused. “Remember when Duncan used the code from the ping-pong playing robot to get the mules to punch the PKs?”
Max pursed his lips but said nothing.
Blue turned back to Duncan, who was licking his lips nervously. “Finish your story, please, Duncan.”
Duncan perked up a bit but didn’t make eye contact. “Umm – OK. So, anyway, in Age of Gothis the were-creatures – even when you ignore their attack and defense points – they’re just better at fighting, right?”
Blue nodded. “Yes, you can’t predict their tactics like you can with the other monsters – they’re always springing surprises.”
Duncan looked up, the eagerness clear in his eyes. “Do you know why the were-creatures are so good?”
“Six months ago someone leaked some binaries online. I found an archive site that hadn’t been taken down yet, and I downloaded them and reverse compiled them. So I could look at the combat algorithms, you know? For ideas in our own rovers.”
Blue looked at Max and raised one eyebrow.
Duncan continued. “And here’s the weird part: there AREN’T any combat algorithms.”
Blue tilted his head. “That doesn’t make any -”
Duncan let out a yip of enthusiasm. “There aren’t any WRITTEN algorithms, but they’re there. Here’s the thing – they evolve during the course of game play.”
“So you’re saying that the game developers randomly create a bunch of algorithms, test them out in simulation, and then put they write the best ones into the code for -”
Duncan barked in excitement. “No! I meant it when I said that there are no written algorithms, just -”
Max interrupted “‘Genetic algorithms’ – what are you even talking about?”
Duncan’s eyes opened a bit wider. “Well – it’s pretty much like Blue said. You use the same idea as in genetic evolution, but for software. You randomly generate a bunch of pieces of code and you test each of them to see how well they do. But you don’t just pick the best one – you take SEVERAL of the best algorithms, and then you smash them together to share their genes, then you get the next generation, and you repeat that over and over. Natural selection. And the code gets better and better.”
Max started to object but Blue put up one paw to silence him.
Duncan leaned forward and spoke faster, his enthusiasm for the topic clear. “So you keep repeating this, generation after generation, and pretty soon you have algorithms that are insanely good. In the case of Age of Gothis, you have were-creatures that have beyond-level-99 melee skills.”
Max puffed his cheeks out. “OK, so the were-creatures are good fighters. In a game. But-”
“Wait, that’s only part of it. Guess how the game developers decide which algorithms are best, and get to breed?”
Max shrugged. “It’s based on how successful they are in fights, right? So, I don’t know – maybe the develoeprs have a sandbox where they fight simulated enemies – ”
“That’s the normal approach, but check this out!” Duncan punctuated his sentence with another bark – he was excited, had forgotten the tension with Max, and was barely in control of himself. “When you’re actually playing the game, the were-beasts are fighting real players, right? So -”
Suddenly Blue saw where this was going and some of Duncan’s enthusiasm infected him. “Wait, are you saying that when the game starts the software that controls the were-beasts doesn’t know ANY tactics, but as you play the game -”
Duncan’s eyes were bright “Yes!”
“- and it’s evolving tactics based on ACTUAL combat -”
“- so it’s becoming customized to your avatar’s particular fighting skills.”
Duncan spoke in a rush. “It’s even cooler than that! It’s a networked game, so the were-creatures aren’t just learning from their own experiences. Every time ANYONE fights a werebear in the Gothis world, they’re not only fighting code that’s been evolved by interactions with every other player, but they’re also helping to select the next generation!” Duncan was all but shouting by his final sentence.
Max had forgotten his earlier objections and was listening intently. He furrowed his brow, his ears moving slightly together. “So the werebears – all of them – are being evolved by fighting against the best that tens of millions of different players can throw at them?”
Duncan nodded, mouth open with excitement “Cool, huh?”
Blue shook his head. “It’s not cool. It’s completely amazing.”
Max looked at Blue. “And the relevance is -”
Blue raised one eyebrow. “Go on.”
Comprehension suddenly dawned in Max’s eyes. “Holy crap. You’re saying that we don’t try to DESIGN combat algorithms for the rovers. You’re saying that we EVOLVE combat algorithms, maybe in simulation -”
Duncan and Blue both nodded
Max continued. “- and then, once the PKs arrive, we throw them into actual combat, and let the algorithms continue to breed. The more dog-killing peaker bastards they kill, the more their code reproduces.”
Duncan grinned. “Coolest. Game mod. EVER.” His grin reached his forehead as his ears moved noticeably closer to each other. “Am I right, or what?”