After Twitter user c0mpl3x1ty had a few drinks, they booted up Techland's open world zombie game, Dying Light. An electrical engineer by day, they noticed a problem: there should be no way for the city to generate power. It's all wrong! But when I contacted Techland, they revealed a huge secret about the game.
Because c0mpl3x1ty know how power grids are supposed to work in real-life, this got under their skin; the Twitter rant went on for nearly 30 minutes.
"I admit that I got kinda drunk," c0mpl3x1ty told me over email.
"Where's the power coming from?" they said. "It doesn't appear to be generated anywhere. No dams, no natural gas, no coal, no nuclear, nothing. Maybe they will get into that later in the game but it probably won't. If I had to guess, that big substation will for some reason power the whole city or whatever, but that's not how substations work. Substations move power, either stepping it up or stepping it down. Hence, transformers. They step it up to the BIG power lines, or step it DOWN to little power lines. The point is, they don't generate power."
The detail in c0mpl3x1ty's tweets caught my eye. We've all complained about one thing or another in a game on Twitter, and we're used to granting games a pass for not exactly adhering to reality. I'm willing to bet c0mpl3x1ty is the only person who noticed these details in Dying Light, and Techland figured they were fine. It's possible Techland never properly researched how the power worked.
"I work for the reliability coordinator," c0mpl3x1ty told me. "Our company is like the air traffic controllers of power for the western interconnection. I see every power line 115kV and up in the western United States, Canada, and Mexico. I travel some and always make a point to take pictures of substations."
Not only does Dying Light's power grid make it hard to imagine where power comes from, their safety standards are pretty lax, even for a zombie apocalypse.
"The only thing more horrifying than the zombies in the game is the NERC [North American Electric Reliability Corporation] violations at these substations," they said. "Granted, the game probably doesn't take place in North America, but even in Brazil, they have high safety standards regarding their electrical grid because if they don't, people DIE. If I saw one of those giant switches at a sub that looks like something out of Frankenstein's lab, I'd shut the power down and dismantle the whole substation myself."
Flush with knowledge of this egregious error, my journalistic instincts kicked in, and I emailed Techland. Knowing they'd been caught, Techland came clean and issue a wide-ranging statement about its lax approach to authenticity:
OK the cat is out the bag. Yeah it's true, our electrical systems break conventional design. But when you're stuck in a zombie outbreak you're going to have to adapt and therefore bypass certain "rules". The people of Harran had to apply a really resourceful design which required the existing infrastructure to be tweaked. That's why when you look at the current electrical setup in Harran things appear "wrong". We didn't want this ground-breaking design out in the public before we could patent it, but your interest has shown us that electrical engineering world as a whole needs to know there are other ways to generate electricity despite "conventional knowledge". Feel free to share this with your fellow engineers.
In an industry that normally keeps quiet, it's heartening to hear such honesty.
What exactly has Techland been hiding? Well, take a look for yourself:
"I have to admit," said c0mpl3x1ty, the electrical engineer that kicked this off, "that if a zombie apocalypse is all it takes to push human ingenuity to the point they reached in game -- generating power for free, wireless power transmission -- I think I speak for my colleagues in saying, BRING ON THE ZOMBIES!"
Let's take a closer look:
One way or another, the mystery has been solved.
"We're totally open to any investors who want to buy this flawless design from us for heaps and heaps of cash," said a Techland spokesperson. "This will then let us fund our other great ideas like a Dying Light theme park, Dying Light: A VR Farm Simulator Experience, and Dying Light: The Sitcom."
(Thanks to Techland for playing along with the joke, by the way. This post has gone beyond my wildest dreams!)