First Look at a brand new series by Michael Anderle!
Ever wonder if living in a video game was a viable option? Justin is about to find out! Check out this exciting, and dangerous, version of a new MMORPG story about a boy who needs a place to live while his body is fixed. Too Young To Die!
Jacob’s favorite part of MMORPGs by far was that you could be another you. Not someone else entirely because you could never be that, but you could find out who you were if you were dropped into the middle of, say, a fantasy world with a rusty sword and nothing else.
He liked to think he was the same in either world. A straight talker, he liked to give people the benefit of the doubt until they blew it and once they did, he immediately leapt to conclusions about their character.
It was why he wasn’t part of the public relations part of the PIVOT team, generally speaking. As Amber liked to say, no part of that cycle was helpful in PR.
She, meanwhile, took her opportunity in the game world to be a—mostly—more “woohoo” version of herself. In real life, she was five feet two inches of terrifying muscle, with a head of curls that could put Medusa to shame. She had studied engineering with Jacob and Nick at MIT, and she managed to meld creativity and an intuitive grasp of design with one of the most coldly analytical minds Jacob had ever seen.
Which made her druids both fascinating and pants-pissingly frightening. You never knew if she would preach about the harmony of the natural world, slit someone’s throat…or both.
Nick, meanwhile, was such a dialed-up version of himself that he was insane. He wanted everyone to love him and poured time into learning the backstory of every NPC. When monsters attacked the group, he felt personally betrayed.
His two friends had learned a very simple way to deal with this. They let him get as far as he could in terms of winning people over and killed those he had no success with. While they had agreed never to tell him about this strategy, both of them had to admit it was likely he would notice someday. He might be a pathological people-pleaser but he was also quite intelligent.
They’d deal with that when they came to it.
Right now, Jacob listened to Amber and Nick argue about the best way forward.
“No,” she stated, “because the villager said there were dozens of orcs in the hills, and if we stop to talk to all of them, it’ll take us a thousand years to reach the next settlement. And it’s midnight, man. I’m tired.”
“I won’t talk to all the orcs,” he argued. “I merely thought I’d try to find the leader and talk to him about the attacks on the village.”
“Okay, but…” Jacob could practically see her rubbing her forehead. “Here’s the thing. It’s late, the orcs will not listen to you, and it would be so much easier to take the side road, log out at the inn, and come back and kill them all tomorrow.”
“Kill them?” Nick sounded aghast.
“I’m only jumping ahead,” Amber said grumpily. “It’s where we’ll end up. Jacob, back me up on this one.”
“Nuh-uh.” He laughed. “I won’t get in the middle of this one.” He typed out a PM to Amber: Remember the rule?
Yeah, it works, her answer agreed, but it takes so long.
To be fair, you once said that about a McDonald’s order.
They had fries already made!
Jacob laughed but forgot to mute himself, and Nick took this as a condemnation of his strategy.
“It’s always worth talking to people,” he said grumpily. “Plus, if I resolve five more disputes, I’ll get Diplomat Level Twenty-three.”
“There it is,” Amber said and sounded grimly amused. “Nick’s a people-pleaser and this game turned it up to eleven because now, he gets little gold stars when he does it.”
Nick muttered on his end of the voice chat, and Jacob decided to wrangle the two of them. “Let’s go up the mountain path. If it looks like an ambush, we turn and go back to the village behind us. If they immediately want to parlay, we save and come back tomorrow. If it’s smooth sailing, we log out at the next village.”
The two of them muttered but as he’d expected, they began to walk with him. They even joked about the next day’s lunches. For years, the three of them had lived together and Jacob had only recently moved out. He felt a little pang and could imagine the way the kitchen had smelled while they were cooking.
It wasn’t something he wanted to spend his time thinking about, though. He liked his new place, and it wasn’t like the three of them didn’t see each other every day at work. They were on the cusp of making their startup’s principal technology workable, and once they had that, investors would pour in to help them fund the rest.
“The rest” was a game. PIVOT might be founded on virtual reality and reading brain waves, but all that scanning technology wouldn’t do jack if they didn’t create themselves a world. All three of them had worked on PIVOT, in fact, in order to make their dreams of truly living in a game world come true.
The problem was, while a crack team of three MIT-trained engineers could absolutely build a prototype of an immersive VR experience given several years and some funding, it turned out that a team of three could not make a sprawling, immersive MMORPG. There was simply too much to do.
This game, for instance, had made incredible waves when it came out—its AI and voice recognition software were top-notch, and the sheer depth of each of the quests was breathtaking. Instead of being stuck on one questline or having to choose between a few dialogue options, you could approach problems in your own way—it was why Nick could try to talk it out with the orcs or Amber could simply go in with fireballs.
The PIVOT team needed to make a game that could rival some of the best games out there, and they needed to not do what Forever Echo had done and piss off a number of big industry players. The second one, as far as Jacob could tell, wouldn’t be a problem because they had no way to accomplish the first.
They needed to find solutions for that one.
He kept his character moving and took the time to appreciate how twilight looked in this zone. After a magical explosion of some kind, the area was bathed in drifting fallout—gorgeous, like embers on the wind, but also dangerous if you were touched by too many. The village behind them had tall walls and, even in the middle-ages aesthetic, an abundance of pseudo-greenhouses kept vegetables safe.
When Jacob moved around the bend in the road, however, he stopped in confusion.
The conversation on the voice chat stopped and the other two took the corner at a sprint.
“Orcs?” Amber had her staff out.
“No, look at the sign.” Jacob started his character forward again and the three of them crowded around the sign and clicked it.
THANK YOU FOR YOUR TIME IN OUR WORLD. UNFORTUNATELY, WE CAN NO LONGER AFFORD TO KEEP MAKING THIS GAME. WE ARE GLAD TO HAVE SHARED THIS MUCH OF OUR WORLD WITH YOU AND HOPE YOU HAVE ENJOYED YOUR TIME. PLEASE FEEL FREE TO ENJOY EXISTING COPIES OF THE GAME, BUT OUR MULTIPLAYER SERVERS WILL SHUT DOWN ON JANUARY 31.
SINCERELY, THE FOREVER ECHO TEAM
“Wait.” Amber sounded lost. “The game’s shutting down?”
“The game can’t shut down,” Nick said. “So many people love it.”
“Oh, for fuck’s sake, Nick, not everyone is motivated only by that. It says they can’t afford to keep going.” She sighed regretfully. “I knew their subscription numbers weren’t good but damn—I’m gonna miss this one, guys. This sucks. It sucks so hard.”
Jacob turned to look over the valley behind them. The game was one of the most amazing he’d played in a long while. It had an immersive feel to it, real enough to hook you in but unreal enough to be an entirely new world.
Then, something occurred to him. “Wait.” His brain had shifted into overdrive. “Wait. Wait, wait, wait.”
“Wait, wait, wait?” Amber said.
“Wait, wait, wait, wait, wait…” Nick chanted now. “Wait! Wait!” He laughed when Amber joined in.
“I’m trying to think and you’re not making it easy!” Jacob called over the sound of their chanting. He pushed his headset off his ears and lowered his head into his hands. Yes. This could be workable—it could be very workable.
He put his earphones on and grimaced when he heard the other two still chanting.
“Hey, listen here, kiddos.” He flicked the microphone a few times. “I have an idea. It means we don’t have to stop playing this game.”
“We hide their servers so they can’t shut them off,” Amber said. “Excellent. I like it.”
“Or,” Jacob said, drawing the word out, “we buy them.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, kiddo, we’re broker than broke right now. We can’t simply buy games for—ohhhh.” Amber caught up. “Oh, that could work.”
“Look, I haven’t slept in a while,” Nick interjected, “so I want to make sure I’m parsing this correctly. You two want to buy this game…and start some kind of paid, worldwide Thunderdome thing, right?”
Jacob guffawed. “I’m not crazy, right? We could do this. Adapting an existing game to VR has to be easier than building an entire game. They have all the assets in place, the story…we could do this.”
“We could do this,” his friends confirmed in unison.
“Okay, it’s past midnight. Let’s all go to bed and if it still sounds like a good idea in the morning, we’ll buy it.”
A growl behind them interrupted their plans.
“Goddammit, Jacob,” Amber said, “this is why you don’t have long conversations in orc-infested territory. All right, everyone. Let’s murder some orcs.”
“No!” Nick pounded on his desk. “We talk to them—”
A fireball streaked toward them.
“I think talking time is over, buddy,” Jacob told him. “For the forest! For the villagers! For glory!”