“Greetings!” The one who addressed them was none other than the VRGE entrepreneur and CEO of the company: Greggory Russel. “Welcome to VRGE’s game lab. You were pre-selected to test one of our newest games, Origin. Our facilities will be taking care of you during this field test.” When he smiled at them, Magnolia stopped dead in her tracks. While he seemed friendly on the outside, the raven pixie-haired girl felt a shudder run through her back as his blue pointed eyes looked down onto all. Goosebumps rose on her arms as she stared at the tall figure in the front. While he cleaned up nice in a business suit and tie, she couldn’t shake the feeling that he was bad news.
Cassidy noticed her tension and gave her a dubious expression. “You alright?” She whispered in her ear.
“Y-yeah–sorry, it’s cold in here.”
Greggory Russel continued talking, as if they hadn’t spoken in the middle of his introduction. “We have our programmers, psychologists, and doctors all here to keep you safe during this test. We understand that this game is new so we want to be prepared for anything that may or may not happen. Now, I will hand it over to our resident programmer, Dr. Silva Kane.”
A tall woman with dark auburn hair, dark make up, and a sophisticated gait came up behind the CEO and introduced herself. She discussed her background in programming and how much schooling she took to get this far. She then showed them through the main projector what they would find once in Origin.
She clicked on the remote when the lights went out and a field of grassy knolls popped up. There were rubble and mechanical debris all over the grounds, but it looked peaceful enough. “This is the field you’ll be taken into. It is called the Land of Time. Think of this as a tutorial grounds. You’ll create your avatar within the game, choose your character’s class, and then go through some combat tutorials for whichever weapon class you chose. There are male/female choices, fourteen weapon class types, and a variety of skins and armor to set up your avatar. The colors of your character can also be chosen through a color pickler. It will pop up when you are choosing specific areas of your avatar. Once you’re in the Land of Time, you’ll notice that you will have a wrist console. This will keep track of your progress and any related character’s information. Any questions?”
No one raised their hand or uttered a peep.
“Nothing? Did I explain it too well?” Dr. Silva Kane looked to the smug CEO standing by her. He gave her a thumb up in response. “Excellent, alright well then we move onto–”
“I have a question.” Eugene raised his hand within the middle of the group. His grey blue eyes narrowed as he siphoned through the information he just received. “You mentioned combat, is this wrist console like a controller, or will it use a keyboard for inputs? And is this a turn based simulation or in real time?”
Dr. Silva smiled at the question, “I would dare say that would take away from the experience! No, you’ll have the weapons in hand and you will use your avatar to pilot the attack. You’ll learn more in the tutorial. And as for your second question, it will be in real time! No enemies are going to sit while you ponder which way you want to slash your sword or shoot your gun.” The group of beta testers started to talk amongst each other in whispers. Some of them were good at these types of games, such as Sh4d0w_N1nj4_M4nipul4t0r, EagleEye, and Engine_Loaded. Others like Magnolia and Cassidy were likely to struggle because it wasn’t turn based.
“Each of you has a player card. This card contains your personal data and how you will keep your save data. Whenever you want to log out, there will be a word that you choose as your way out. You’ll pick that word when you are creating your avatars. Now, if you’ll follow me over to the chambers.”
Dr. Silva and Greggory Russel led the way into a bright, spacious room.
Each of them had been guided to a fluffy white bed, it was about the size of a full mattress. It had a type of awning or head rest cover the front half of the bed. When they laid down, some doctors and nurses were coming by to get medical information. Magnolia had been fortunate, or unfortunate, to have a bed right where Dr. Silva stood. The doctor chose her as the sacrifi–volunteer to demonstrate.
“What’s your name dear?” Magnolia saw her manicured nails were longer than what she assumed a doctors’ should have been. They were quite pretty though.
“RelicPetals.” She blurted, her nerves shot through her as her face reddened. Dr. Silva blinked before realizing it was her alias. “I meant your real name sweetie.”
Magnolia could hear Eugene’s chortle, even from where he laid ten beds away. “Magnolia.”
“Alright, Maggie–can I call you Maggie?” Dr. Silva didn’t wait for an approval remark from Magnolia and continued on. The black haired girl really hated when people called her Maggy. Mags was good, Magnolia was alright… Maggie–not so much.
Dr. Silva continued, “Maggie is going to insert her game card into this slot.” Dr. Silva pointed to the open slot where it would potentially fit. Magnolia would have opted for the defiance approach had they not been in the middle of her favorite type of hobby–aka gaming. So with a begrudged expression, she followed instructions, not wanting to be further shamed. Her card slipped in and a screen popped up onto the awning of the bed. It displayed all her information.
Burchett, Magnolia Rae.
Dr. Silva placed her hand on her shoulder and eased her back down onto the fluffy white mattress. Something about her smile didn’t soothe the raven hair in the slightest.
Alex, who laid by Eugene, gave his neighbor a bewildered stare. “Are they really going to put us to sleep?” He whispered as the rest of the group started to insert their purple game cards into the slot aforementioned.
The blonde stared around up at the bed contraption and gave it a quick look over. It reminded him of a cocoon-like stucture. Perhaps this is what VRGE meant when they said virtual reality gaming had become mobile. It was a mobile bed for home usage.
Dr. Silva settled the room down again as she grabbed a square of soft fabric. She grabbed a bottle of rubbing alcohol and squeezed it onto the swatch. “The doctors and nurses will have to attach an IV to your arm, place a heart monitor on your finger, and scan you periodically for brain waves. We are doing this to data collection and bug fixes.”
Magnolia bit her lip as the doctor rubbed the inside of her arm for thirty seconds straight before expertly piercing her skin with the IV. She immediately taped the needle down and covered it with a warm towel. Once everyone had been on the same page, they realized how tired they all were.
“You all probably feel fatigued, which is normal. You’re being injected with something like intravenous sedation. When you’re asleep, we will activate the console and you will be awake in the Land of Time. Good luck!”
Magnolia struggled to keep her eyes open–her eyelids felt heavy, and her arms felt like lead. She couldn’t tell her legs from her butt, and before she knew it, she fell into darkness.
Doctors came by to check on their beta testers breathing, activating consoles as they went. The beds, unbeknowst to the players, were the consoles themselves. The bed produced a wavelength to the player’s brain. While they were sleeping, the REM function of the brain would intermingle with the game and create the open world. Unlike a dream where one could wake up and forget, this one would save in the specific origin of the last save spot.
Dr. Silva hovered over Magnolia’s bed before finally activating it. She snickered as if enjoying her own personal joke.
“Enjoy the game while you can.”
The instant Magnolia felt the darkness surround her, she snapped her eyes wide open. There she found herself staring at a mirror. Even though she knew that she was in front of it, there was no person reflected into it. It wasn’t until she raised her hand up to touch the glass when two options appeared before her.
Magnolia didn’t think twice as she hovered her ringed fingers over the female word. An avatar popped up in the mirror completely naked with no color. It had the standard dark bob hair cut, and round dark eyes. The character’s avatar name popped up over top: “Insert Charater Name” and a keyboard appeared just above Magnolia’s fingers. It was strange not to have a physical object in front of her to type, but she figured it out after the third keystroke.
Over the avatar’s body read the name: RelicPetals
Magnolia then noticed there were more variations than just a ‘human’ avatar.
Human Elf Dwarf Tiefling Halfling Dragonborne
Orc Half-Elf Half-orc
The list of of races went on and on — It seemed to Magnolia that character creation was quite similar to other gaming platforms she roleplayed in before.
Since this was a game, Mikan decided to choose the Half-Elf race. There were a few options to mix and match but she ultimately chose between being a human and an elf. There she started from the top of her avatar and worked her way down.
She lengthened her hair, changed the color to a raven black color. She had light sprite-like bangs that bounced up over the top of her forehead. Her pointy ears were longer than an average human, but still smaller than an Elf’s. After approving of her face, Magnolia changed the eye color to match her blue-azure color, and adjusted her height to be about the same as her real height.
If this game involved combat, she wanted to be as comfortable in her skin as possible. Even if she had to look the exact same. She chose a green tunic, dark brown leggings, brown leather corset for armor, and a necklace which enhanced her magical aura.
Her boots went past her knee, covering a decent amount of skin. The only skin showing on her were her face and arms. Unlike those other online games, she wasn’t going to dress like a slinky hoe. What was it with revealing clothing anyway?
Her next choice happened to be the classes.
Barbarian Bard Cleric Druid Fighter Monk Paladin Ranger Rogue
Sorcerer Warlock Wizard
Magnolia sighed–all of these were basic to any archetype class system within a game. She decided to go with Druid as she liked the nature based spells as well as the usage of healing spells and boosters. With her gender, character, race, and class chosen, Magnolia selected “safe word” and input her out word.
In case there happened to be marmalade as a fixture in the game, Magnolia added a number to be safe. RelicPetals stared back at her through the mirror. She reached forward, and when she did, her hand brushed against RelicPetals outstretched fingers.
“I’m ready–are you?” She asked herself and the world exploded in a flash of light. She wasn’t in an abyss of space anymore, but rather an open grass knoll. The air was clean, crisp to smell and she could feel the heavy leather wrapped around her bodice. She looked down and noticed she was not herself, but her half-elf version.
A grey critter darted in the grass by her feet, which caused her to jump in fright. Her character traits were not that high, as she was only level 1, so she tripped over her boots. She took 2 point of health damage. She noticed her HP bar to the left of her wrist, where the green bar marked 42 HP took a negative 2.
“Ow!” She muttered.
“Did you trip over your own feet?” Magnolia twisted her attention up to see a hand with taloned nails reach out. Her own hand, slender and taloned, accepted the help with appreciation. She noticed above his avatar read: Engine_Loaded.
He had gone with the Dragonborne avatar, choosing ruby colored scales and black onyx eyes. His eyebrow were pointy, just as they were IRL, and he dressed similar to a steampunk pirate would. Dark cargo pants, laced boots, multitude of belts decorating his waist. He had two weapon holsters. One for his falchion, the other for his dagger. Mikan could tell Eugene did not care for his clothing, which explained the simplicity in his white button up, and simple leather vest.
She did notice his crimson scaled tail swing behind him. His tail was long, made of thick scale, and had a bit more weight to it.
“Earth to Mags?” Magnolia snapped out of it. “Sorry Eugene, I was still figuring out the character.”
Once she was stable, she saw the Land of Time fill up with more avatars. People, ranging from all kinds of races appeared. Their outfits varied as well, some were fantasy like, and others seemed to take on a more futuristic look.
“Should have known you’d gone with the fantasy look.” Eugene joked, he even guessed her class. “Let me guess, Cleric?”
Magnolia shook her head, “Druid — Someone has to be able to support everyone in battle. Are you a fighter?” She took a stab at his class, and noticed too late what he actually was.
“Ooo, nope. I’m a rogue.” He dropped his taloned hand on top of her head to mess with her hair. Once his hand caught onto her wisps of hair, she blushed under the contact. She didn’t mean to flush such a deep red, causing her to tense up in embarrassment.
“There you guys are.” Drawing attention away from her, Magnolia gave an appreciative glance over. She discovered a female Tiefling with gorgeous deep royal blue skin with transulcent purple and teals mixed in–her horns, a dark purple curved over her skull, braids into her multi-colored hair with gold jewelry pieces. Her ears pointy, similarly to Magnolia’s, adorned the side of her fair face. Standing tall with grace, she dressed in an alluring outfit. She wore a simple long -patterned sleeved blouse tucked into dark harem pants which cut off at her calves. Sandals cover her beautiful feet decorated up from head to toe in gold jewels. From ear and horn cuffs, to necklaces, and jingly waist belts, to her anklets and toe rings–a light blue shawl covers her shoulders, with gold embroidered stars and constellations attached to the fabric. Cool_Azure_Sea’s name popped up over her avatar, as she approached.
“I think we found them Alex.” She chuckled and turned her head slightly down to look at the Elf standing beside her. He dressed like an archer during the vikings era. His dark brown hair and hazel eyes remained the same, with strong physique and his arm carrying a long bow. A quiver rested on his back as he gave everyone a quick glance over.
“Looks like it.” Alex smiled before gesturing to the Land of Time. “This is kind of cool. It’s like DnD, but you’re actually IN the game.”
Eugene crossed his arms. “Hopefully no dice rolling. Natural 1s are killers.”
Cassidy smiled devilishly, “Or hilarious, depending on how you look at it.”
“Ah, there’s our chaotic neutral we all care for and love.” Magnolia replied sweetly before looking at Cassidy’s avatar again. She was really pretty to her eyes.
Suddenly, a screen popped up in front of their group. A young human male, pale white skin, white eyes, and white hair wearing angular glasses and clean-cut greek clothing greeted them. “Hi, I’m Journey. I’m the artificial intelligence designed to helped your characters throughout your journey. I hold manuals for controls as well as track story progress. Later on I will also inform you of quests and mercenary opportunities. I am also designed from Chronos’ servant’s likelihood.” The male smiled to them.
“The tutorial will commence shortly, would you like to know how to form a party?” Everyone in the group stared at the virtual window.
Alex answered for their group first. “What is the benefit for forming a party?”
Journey smiled. “Parties can hold no more than six players. The benefits include achieving specific quest requirements, item sharing, and co-operation tactics. More will be explained as it becomes more reverent.”
A command box opened up in front of all of them to reveal a dialog box. In front of Magnolia, this format read: “Form A Party with Engine_Loaded, Cool_Azure_Sea, and EagleEye”?
Magnolia swallowed the lump in the back of her throat. “This is kind of an odd way to getting a party together.” She pressed accept, and a link formed between the four. They too accepted the party requests.
Cool_Azure_Sea agreed. Unfortunately, she was not as adverse to this style of play. For Engine_Loaded and EagleEye, it seemed much easier to take in.
“By Co-operation, do you mean techniques? For example, I use a sword attack, and I have a mage cast fire, would that change into a fire sword attack?”
Journey took in Eugene’s question before spitting up a textbook response. “Techniques are singular until two compatible characters find arts that blend. You will be able to find the manual detailing more under Battling with Friends (part 3).”
“How do you know if characters are compatible?” Alex ventured a question of his own to the AI.
“Character compatibilty solely relies on the player. Under the main menu, accessed through your wrist console, you will find Character Growth. There you will see all others in your party, how much compatibility you have, and what skills you have unlocked. Finding the combinations are up to the players.” Journey finished his explanation before turning his attention behind him. “Oh, be careful. An enemy is approaching. First you’ll need to draw your weapons.”
Journey indicated to each other them how to access their weapons if they weren’t already on their person. Eugene immediately drew his sword and dagger, ambidextrous being one of his character feats. EagleEye drew his bow and arrows, focusing on the test before them. Magnolia and Cassidy had to open their main menu and equip their starter weapon. Cassidy’s staff magically appeared in her hand, a simple baton wand that sparked when she waved it. Mikan also drew a wand, but hers happened to be longer, and had tree branches extending from the top.
“A battle commences once an enemy is in sight. The best strategy to approach monsters is to sneak up behind them. By striking first, you gain momentum of the attack. Beware though, if the enemy gets the jump on you, the same effect will happen. Try sneaking up on this group of monsters.”
A group of bunny-like creatures appeared about ten feet away. Their backs were toward them nibbling at the ground. The group looked to each other before exchanging puzzling looks.
Cassidy, being more of a strategist than a fighter, took charge. “Alright, Eugene will perform an attack and Alex will follow up with his shot. Mags will stay further back to help with support, and I’ll get my fire spell ready to fire at the whole group.” It seemed like a pretty good plan.
“Remember, this is a game–don’t be afraid you’re hurting something alive.” Alex reminded them all, but mostly to Magnolia. She looked apprehensive to attacking defenseless bunnies. “They’re bits of program data.”
Each player positioned themselves, Journey giving helpful hints to each of them via the comm link. Eugene initiated the battle by a horizontal slash, knock one of the five bunnies to the side. Three of the bunnies jumped to kick his character, but Alex had fired two of his arrows. Two bunnies took the arrow damage, effectively knocking them out. Eugene then dodged out of the way from the third bunnies’ kick, but his tail caught him off guard. He took two damage points, and the fifth bunny who waited to strike, hit him for 4 points of damage.
Magnolia watched as he tumbled into a barrel roll, and she stammered. She could see his health bar above his avatar go from 62 to 56. “Health–health…ah….”
A tutorial screen with Journey’s face popped up again.
“To cast magic, all you have to do is chant the spell’s name aloud. It looks like the only spells you know are healing word, pass without a trace, create or destory water, gust, thorn whip, and Protection from Poison.”
She collected herself before she lifted her staff high in the air. “Healing word!” Mikan wasn’t sure if she had her targeting right, but a wind of billowing light swirled up and around. It circled around Kuroneko and healed his health up to full.
Cassidy finished her own spell, targeting the fifth bunny while the third was shot down by Alex’s arrow. The bunnies disappeared in a poof of smoke leaving behind some trinkets and coins. A number circled around each of their avatar’s, following the number were the letters EXP. A few seconds later, everyone heard a bell sound coming from their wrist console.
“Congratulations on leveling up,” Journey explained as soon as the bell sound went off. “If you access the main menu, you can add points into the character growth page under the subpage: Skill Sets.”
Everyone followed the instructions, finding the subpage on their wrist console. They had 3 points each when they peered at each other’s wrist console. Magnolia looked down at hers and noticed her skill tree had five circles branching out into other mini tree skill sets.
“Should I put the points in anywhere?” She surmised. Cassidy gave her the impression that she didn’t know what to do either.
“Mags, wait before you do something,” Eugene reprimanded. He looked at her skills available and advised accordingly. “Focus on your reload timing for spells, give yourself some boost in mana, and add potency to the spells you cast. You’re only level two, but if you focus on these three things for now, by level 8 you can start dividing points into your offensive spells.”
Alex also helped Cassidy do the same idea, but focused more on the offensive spell potency than support.
“Our skill trees don’t raise our stats? Like physical strength, dexterity, charisma..?” Magnolia posed, and before Eugene could respond, Journey had answered.
“When a character levels up, the stats are already programmed to rise. This is based upon the class you have chosen. Your skills are the only things players have to build and grow. Likewise, you can practice your techniques in battles and expand them into stronger spells or attacks.”
Magnolia seemed to understand a bit more about the gameplay.
Journey smiled at them once again. “Now, next we shall introduce parrying and blocking.”
Everyone in the group groaned in unison. Everyone forgot how tedious and annoying tutorials were until this moment.