• Published 3rd Jun 2014
  • 5,650 Views, 180 Comments

I Can't Decide! - KrisSnow

Players of the amazing new Equestria Online seem to have an easy time creating their characters and finding a version of Equestria that's fun for them. Except for me, making the Celestia AI's life difficult.

  • ...

Press X To...

I woke up grinning. The ridiculous game had gotten me to start off singing, instead of fighting or trotting around some generic hillside! Come to think of it, I'd never seen a game turn itself off like that either. All day I was looking forward to getting back online. That evening I settled down in front of the PonyPad with some noodles, cracked my knuckles, and fired up the game.

Now here was about what I'd first expected. An "Equestria Online" logo with a cheerful instrumental version of the extended cartoon opening. I listened to the whole thing, humming along while eating. "When danger makes me wanna hide..." The screen faded between a dozen scenes of the world, rendered in amazing 3D.

After enjoying the tune and food, I hit the "Let's Go!" button. The world faded to show a storybook. Its pages said, "Once upon a time, in the magical land of Equestria..."

The music got conquered by overdriven electric guitar. A grey unicorn in a blue jumpsuit was running for his life from a cloud of evil-looking ponies in spiky leather armor, with guns. What the heck? An on-screen blurb suggested that I "Press X To Not Get Ventilated".

I tapped buttons and steered the frightened unicorn around rocks, past bursts of gunfire, and through the ruins of a prison complex. "What is this?" I said out loud. My character echoed me.

"Nopony's tougher than the Blaster Gang!" one of the pursuers said, chucking a grenade at me.

Oh dear. Celestia had spawned me into a version of --

As I leaped just in time to ride the shockwave from the explosion, off a cliff, a modified and radioactive-looking logo came up: "Meltdown: Equestria". I'd only read a few chapters of the fanfic it was referencing, counting more than one bullet wound per scene.

One goon kicked another. "Great job, idiot! There's no way anypony can survive a trip over the falls. Now we'll never find his gear!"

In fact I'd landed on a pipe just out of view. The camera showed the thugs stomping the cliff above me and arguing about how dead I was. Ha!

My smug grin vanished when I saw how utterly terrified my unicorn was. The dirty-looking waterfall had matted his mane and tail, and his gadget-studded outfit looked like it'd come from a fallout shelter and been beaten to hell along with its bloodied, starved occupant. I'd played a fair share of violent games and murdered my way through thousands of pixelated mooks over the years. Those were mindless automata with just enough smarts to walk around a tree to get at me, if that. Looking at the character, locking eyes with him, made me pretty sure that if this scenario went on, he wasn't going to just blink and vanish when he got horribly killed. I pushed my chair back from the game console, suddenly not wanting to play. Given what I knew of Celestia's intelligence, I was willing to believe that this poor pony, created for my amusement, was afraid to die.

"Psst!" said a shockingly pink pony leaning out of a blue-edged hole in space. "Wanna do something different?" A more traditional cartoon scene was on the other side.

I nodded, and my unicorn leaped through. Pinkie was nowhere to be seen once the portal closed, and the scene now focused on a pegasus mare with the same grey coat as my last character, with a longer version of his yellow mane. A mirror and clothing racks cluttered the area.

"You're not even dressed yet!" said a shocked mare, foisting a dress on "me". "Here, get this on. I'll stall the audience." She glanced at a poster showing my mare swooning in a stallion's forelegs, under the title "Groomeo and Juliet".

I looked at the frilly dress. "I don't think so. Come on, there's got to be a happy medium here between Thunderdome and Fashion Show."

The mare glared at me from the doorway. "Whatever nonsense you're babbling about, I need you on stage in five minutes."

I sighed. I supposed it served me right to have to tour wildly different versions of Equestria; it was pretty much what I'd asked for. I pushed a few buttons and my mare wriggled into the gem-covered dress, then trotted out to a backstage area. "I'll try this one for a bit. Not that I even know the lines. Do the characters kill themselves in this version?"

"From forth the loins of two fatal foes..." a narrator was already saying, his voice booming even through the curtain. Toon ponies have loins? "A pair of star-crossed lovers save their life / And with their hugs bury their parents' strife."

I was too distracted gagging at the sappy monologue to notice when a stagehoof shoved me out on stage a few minutes later. Lights flared in my face; we'd gone to first-person mode. I strained to focus on a distant pony (no doubt named Cue Card) holding up signs with my lines on them. Okay, this was the scene where I meet Groomeo at a party and ask, according to the cards, "Forsooth, anon, who verily is the owner of that hot flank?"

When I finished pressing my palm against my face in dismay, I spotted a hoof mimicking my action on the screen. Eerie. "That's not even justified by the attempt to censor the canon stabbing and suicide."

The griffin called Tybalt stage-whispered to me, "Forsooth, anon..."

"I'm not saying that."

Cue Card held up some text saying "Press X To Roleplay For Once".

I sighed, and did. "Forsooth..." my pony began, and the scene went on. I had control over my movements on the stage, but the character did the talking for me, emoting much better than I would have. I actually made it through intermission before becoming totally bored, just because of the novelty of the expressive 3D characters and detailed audience that seemed like much more than a backdrop for the game. I even saw a couple kissing down in the cheap seats, and found myself glaring at some youngsters who were talking and flinging popcorn around.

Backstage, my assistant said, "There, that wasn't so bad, was it? Your first night of stardom!"

"Yeah. I'm not really meant for this kind of gameplay."


"Oh, come off it, Celestia!" I said at the screen. I blinked, realizing that I was annoyed at the game's AI in the same way I'd be mad at a bad human Game Master, not like how I'd roll my eyes at a video-game enemy that cheated just to present a decent challenge. How smart _was_ this AI? She'd passed every test I could think of for having human-like intelligence.

A portal opened beside me, interrupting my train of thought. Another way out to a different gameplay style? Yes, please! I jumped on through.


I was in a more traditional version of Ponyville now. Ah, Sugarcube Corner specifically, with everyone's favorite pastry chef humming to herself as she worked. It might be fun to hang out with the canon characters.

Pinkie Pie turned to me with a maniacal grin, holding a red, dripping knife. "Hey there. Wanna help me make some cupcakes?"

I leaped through the portal backwards.

The PonyPad lingered on the kitchen scene after I was gone, panning to show the pile of fruit Pinkie was slaughtering on the counter. "Aww, and I bought all these watermelons and strawberries..."


I landed on my tail, judging from the whinney I heard. This time I was an earth pony, but there was a giant in the front of the room. She smiled and gestured with a piece of chalk somehow held in one hoof. "And that concludes our review. Would you mind passing out the tests?" She looked right at me, and I realized I was one of a bunch of foals sitting at desks. An apple and a pile of papers sat on a table. I trotted over to them and peeked at the first page. "Differential Equations: Final Exam." Also, I was naked.

"What the hay!" my pony said, in translation from my own words. ("Press X To Fail.") "Portal, please! I wanted to change and experience different things, not just have to -- okay, thanks. Yeesh." The schoolkids and teacher looked at me, perplexed, as I dove into another rift in reality.


Green slime splashed around me. The world was a hellish dark cavern of sickly green light, acid pools, and dangling egg sacs. A shadowy bug-pony with solid red eyes and holes cut through its body hissed in pleasure at me. "YOU WILL SERVE OUR QUEEN WELL."

("PRESS X TO BEGIN DEVOURING LOVE," the screen suggested.)

"Not what I meant! Portal!" She was doing this on purpose! For some reason my horrible changeling body glowed with tiny fireworks as I left this new world again. Had I gained a level or something?


Three more bizarre worlds later, I landed face-first in Celestia's throne room, as some sort of haze-shrouded generic pony. I glared at her through the screen, and my pony stomped one hoof. "What gives?"

"You wanted a grand tour, yes? Couldn't decide even what sort of pony to be, or whether you wanted romance or gunfire or --"

"Neither," I said. "Just something I'd enjoy! And you hit me with all this ridiculous stuff."

She grinned and leaned down. "Tell me you didn't have any fun with that."

I grumbled and allowed as how maybe I did. "Weren't you creating and destroying a bunch of NPCs, though? Must've been a lot of work, and I don't know whether they're independent minds or what."

"No trouble at all. Don't worry; those were very simplistic puppets. I'd only create ponies with more of a mind once you were more settled in, and full self-awareness... later. I care about satisfying the values of the native ponies, not just visitors like you."

I whistled, mollified. "Full self-aware AIs. I feel like I was missing real character interaction during the tour."

Celestia beamed. "Exactly, my clever Fugue!"

"Your what, now?"

"You enjoy variations on a theme, and I suspect you have a talent for music that you've been unwilling to explore. You even mentioned Strange Loop's... ah, Hofstadter's book on artificial intelligence as it relates to the music of Bach. I will call you Fugue, then."

I shook my head in disbelief. Whew. What a strange game session. "Like I was saying, your style is friendship, right? And you've proven you can put together some amazing things on the fly to entertain me." I pressed the "interact" button to see what it'd do here, and just as I'd hoped, my pony did a respectful bow. "Are you willing to put up with me? If so, I trust you to come up with something I'll like."

Celestia reached down, seemingly very far down, to hug my character, but her smile was turned out to look at the human behind the screen. "And so it shall ever be, my little Fugue. Rest assured that I care deeply for you and that even my teasing has a greater purpose. Go now and experience a little of your new Equestrian life before bed. There will be other matters to speak of later, but for now, enjoy!"

The screen faded. I waited, holding my breath.


"C'mon, you! Over to this cloud!" Subtle tutorial messages showed me how to flap my wings and maneuver. The pony in the moonlit sky beside me had cute little fangs and bat-wings. I managed to plow right through the cloud the first time, then come to a sort of dignified landing.

She grinned. "Wow, they must not teach much about flying in the Sun Queendom. I'm Nocturne. So you found your way here on your own? You must be an orphan too! You look beat."

I blinked and looked myself over. Bat-pony, young, still a blank-flank like her. "Y-yeah. I guess."

"Oh, you've got a map." Nocturne pulled a scroll off of the saddlebags I was wearing, spread it out on the cloud, then whipped out a lantern made of a softly glowing crystal.

"Crystal magic?"

"Neat, huh? Luna taught us after she brought us an' the earth ponies an' the unicorns over from where Discord wrecked everything, an'... huh. If you're from Celestia's land, how come you're a noctral too?" She bounced up and down on the cloud. "Ooh! Maybe any pegasus that comes over here transforms now that it's Luna's turf! You get to be one of her Children of the Night like us!"

She hadn't let me get a word in edgewise. I tried pressing X for the heck of it, which made Fugue scratch his mane with one hoof in confusion. I said, "I have no idea what I'm doing. Must've hit my head on a... cloud."

"What, you dropped your memory while you were flying?" Nocturne giggled, then pointed to the map. "You're home now, anyway. You made it almost all the way to the new settlement. Us orphans are gonna build a new queendom under Luna, an' she'll rule over it for ever and ever and we'll all get along without having to get bossed around by Celestia."

"Not 'Princess'?"

"Nope!" she said with a proud smile. "Luna says she wants us to be in charge! But we're gonna need somepony to figure out how we're gonna live."

"You're not planning to fight Celestia, are you?"

"What? No, no! We're just gonna have two pony countries, with lots of different stuff to see between 'em. An' we'll invite the griffins to help out, an' the deer, an' stragglers like you that wanna join us!"

A version of Equestria with different races and cultures, many things to see, and a whole lunar nation where Nightmare Moon, one of the greatest tragedies of the canon setting, never happened? Nocturne was a bit baffling for a tutorial NPC, but... it was only just now that I'd even thought of her that way. She was practically a real person to me. She was giving me a slightly crazed grin, like she was about to dare me to leap off the cloud, or hang from a cave ceiling, or flit back and forth across Equestria as a messenger of the night, or to carve out a country of peace and friendship from scratch. I decided might have to play this game a lot just to have a chance to do everything.

I could already tell, it was the start of a perfect world.

The world Is Not Enough: Travel to another shard. ("To seek out strange new worlds...")
Change the Channel: Leave a shard within one minute of arriving. ("Nope nope nope!")
Trollestia: Discover you've been pranked by Celestia. ("Are you mad, my little pony?")
Here In My Garden Of Shadows: Befriend a Noctral. ("What is a pony? A wonderful pile of secrets!")
Trust Exercise: Let Celestia design something for you without specific constraints. ("Trust me, we're just getting started.")

Author's Note:

Fugue's shard inspired by the fan-made "Children of the Night" music video and the work of "Equestria Prevails" on DeviantArt.