Stahlia (DW), 19 Years Old, Year 1350 of the Age of Man.
Crawling forward on her stomach as she came upon the edge of a valley, Stahlia looked down upon the Black Wyrm. Edonith, Wyrm of the End. This foul creature had razed four kingdoms already and at present was eating from a mountain of corpses. Stahlia could see the bodies of a variety of species, remnants of the Dule Kingdom’s subjugation force.
There was no time to mourn their passing, once the Wyrm was done eating it would move on to the next region. Stahlia checked the wind was blowing towards her before slowly standing and drawing an enchanted arrow from her quiver. The Arrow of Slaying was an ancient divine artifact that bore the enchantment the color of the Underking. Carefully drawing back on her bow, Stahlia took aim.
A wolf howled, causing the Wyrm to swing its head around. A single crimson eye glared at Stahlia, fully exposed at the rim of the valley as she was. “Damnable cur!” she spat before making the split-second decision to loose her arrow. The arrow let fly, as Stahlia tossed aside her bow and began running down towards Edonith. Edonith followed the arrow’s trajectory with his massive eye and then, unfurling his wings he sent out a gust of wind knocking it off course. Stahlia could swear the creature was grinning at her.
That smile would not last long, however, as Stahlia thrust out her hand towards the arrow. “May the winds of war and fortune smile upon thee! Trajectory Correction!” As her spell took effect, the arrow curved back towards Edonith and struck his wing near the base of his shoulder. Edonith let out a roar of pain, his wing slowly turning to ash radiating out from the wound. Stahlia had never intended for the arrow to bring victory; that would have been hoping for too much against an opponent such as the King of Wyrms. She had only wanted to narrow the playing field.
True to her expectations, Edonith curved his neck around and grasped his wing at the base. With a sickening crunch and a popping sound, he wrenched his own wing off of his shoulder. However, without wings, a Wyrm may as well be a large lizard. Albeit one that weighed as much as a castle, could breathe fire, and channel magic. As the wing fell to the ground and finished crumbling to ash, Stahlia finished closing distance and stood abreast of the lizard’s foreleg.
She drew her Magic Blade, a longsword possessed of a hand and a half hilt and capable of physical enhancement sorcery. “Invoke! Strength of a Hundred!” Stahlia’s body began to emit a faint glow. If she had had more time, she would have liked to get a sword capable of stronger enhancement. Strength of a Thousand or, ideally, Strength of an Army. But if she delayed any longer then Edonith would have finished off the Dule Kingdom.
Edonith glared down at her. “For that, I will have your life. Pitiful insect, rather than accept the fate of this world you would cry to the gods and resort to base tricks!” His voice thundered like a rolling storm, the force of it actually managing to physically knock her back an inch. Stahlia opted not to respond, after all, the lizard was right. The Arrow of Slaying had been given to her by the Underking after much pleading on her part and was not her own strength. Hefting her sword, she jumped up the side of the lizard, catching a spike that was four meters in the air.
Swinging herself up and rotating around to avoid the lizard’s snapping jaws she swung her sword in a wide arc towards the outstretched head. Hot blood sprayed across her face and Edonith roared in pain, pulling his head back. Stahlia kicked off the Lizard’s neck and landed 10 meters away. Just in time, as Edonith had rolled onto his back in a vain attempt to crush her.
Edonith swung his head around wildly; he only had one good eye now, which made it rather hard for him to find her. Giving up his search he jumped backward whilst inhaling deeply. Stahlia allowed herself a momentary smile, making any Wyrm retreat in fear was a great accomplishment. Let alone Edonith himself. She crouched low, placing her free hand on the ground, and searched for the flow of mana. “Invoke! Longstride!”. Stahlia vanished from where she was crouched just as the flames reached her position.
Edonith was slowly looking around the burned area hoping to find a charred corpse. Stahlia slowly stood; she was back on the crest of the valley where she had dropped her bow, her free hand closed around its grip. Her bow was another magic item; it was enchanted with Longstride. She could use this enchantment to travel instantly to either the bow or to a fired arrow if it was within a kilometer.
Now clutching the bow she again started running towards Edonith. Her physical enhancement would only hold out for another few seconds but likewise, Edonith would not be able to produce his black flame again for some time. As she approached Edonith clearly heard her footsteps slamming the ground and turned to face her. Consumed by rage he charged, opening his mouth wide to swallow her whole.
Stahlia smirked; it was finished now. Holding up the bow she drew back her sword and took aim towards the gaping maw. At the last possible moment, she let loose the shot and jumped aside. The sword flew true and burrowed into Edonith’s brain just as her physical enhancement ran out. Edonith staggered a moment before collapsing, his momentum gouged at the earth as he slide forward another dozen meters. Stahlia walked forward and dug her sword out of his head. Looking down at the lizard she spat. “That was for my family.” There would be no knighting, no parades in her honor. In fact, nobody in the kingdom even knew she existed. As far as the world was concerned, Edonith was defeated by the Dule Kingdom’s subjugation force. Stahlia turned away and began walking out of the valley, humming a lullaby her mother had sung to her when she was little.
George, 22 Years Old, August 2020.
Staring at my LCD screen I watched the back of my avatar as she left the battlefield and credits rolled. Flashing across the top of the screen was a list of achievements.
Unknown Hero: Finish the game without pledging allegiance with any kingdoms.
Lone Wolf: Slay Edonith, Dragon of the End in a party of one.
Speedrun: Save the world before the destruction of the Dule Kingdom.
Hero of the Proletariat: Start your quest with the Serf Origin setting, and do not seek the aid of any nobility.
Suicidal Hero: Earn the Unknown Hero, Lone Wolf, Speedrun, and Hero of the Proletariat achievements in a single run, while playing on Suicide difficulty.
As far as I was aware, I was the first player to earn the Suicidal Hero achievement, making my run a world first. In a normal playthrough, Edonith would destroy several kingdoms as he sought to usher in the age of dragons. The valley encounter would be the first time the player encounters him after your home village is destroyed. Edonith would beat you handily and then leave you barely alive as an act of mockery. The player would then travel the world, chasing after him while gathering allies and magic items in preparation for a climactic battle in the Last City.
Most people assumed the developers only added the Suicidal Hero achievement as some kind of joke, but I was able to get it after hundreds of hours of practice and routing out the most efficient progression path. “Not that it matters…” I checked my live stream chat and let out a sigh: “0 Viewers” was displayed prominently at the top of my chat window. I was probably the best player in the Dragon War community, and nobody cared.
Stretching back I watched as Stahlia, my character, walked over the crest of the valley and the screen faded to black. “I should have made her ass bigger.” Since I took an abnormal progression route, I had not had any way of obtaining any of the end-game female armor like Mithril Bikinis or loose-fitting Priestess Robes. At least if her derriere had been larger, I would have been able to enjoy the game’s industry-defining jiggle physics.
“Well, not that there is anybody watching, but I think I’m going to end the stream here for tonight.” I glanced at my computer’s time display. It was only 9:00 pm, but I did have a test tomorrow. Just as I was moving to switch off the broadcast, my notifications dinged. “EvilGod is now Following”. I did a double-take, my stream chat was now displaying “1 Viewer”. I gave a sardonic smile, “Thank you for the follow EvilGod. Unfortunately, I was just about to head out for the night.”
9:02 pm: EvilGod: “That’s OK. I was just looking for some smaller streamers who have talent when it comes to RPGs.”
9:02 pm EvilGod: “I saw Dragon Development Studios make a chirp about how a player had actually managed to get their joke achievement without using hacks and thought you might be exactly what I was looking for.”
“Is that so? While I wasn’t expecting them to actually announce when someone did it…” I was honestly a bit bashful now. This was pretty cool all things considered, maybe I had finally hit a stroke of good luck.
9:03 pm: EvilGod: “Well, if youre heading out for the night then thats cool too. I represent an indie development studio ‘Gods of Creation’. Weve been looking 4 a skilled individual to test out a new project and maybe do some promotion streaming.”
9:04 pm: EvilGod: “Do you have a business email I can reach out too?”
I stared at the screen with a blank expression. This honestly sounded kind of fishy too me. But if it was true… I made up my mind.
9:07pm: [Broadcaster]-RPGelitePLAYS-: [email protected]
“You can use that one, I really do have to take off now though. I have a Chemistry test tomorrow.” I shut my stream off and started going through the process of shutting down my computer. Like always, before logging off I went to check out the front page of Spasm. All the top streams were names I recognized, and without fail, every single one of them was of the top-heavy variety.
Letting out a sigh, I was about to log off when I noticed the top streamer was playing Dragon War. I clicked onto their stream and was immediately greeted by the sight of an early twenties blonde wearing a bikini lounging in a hot tub holding an Xbox controller. “What the hell?! Dragon War Isn’t on Xbox though?!” Indeed, Dragon War had been a PlayStation exclusive for a year before being ported to PC last month. Then I noticed something else. The streamer’s in-game character looked oddly familiar. In fact, It looked extremely familiar. This was Edith! Edith was the character I played in my first PC playthrough. This leech was using my stream vod.
I considered my options. If I said anything in her chat I would just get instantly banned by one of her mods. One does not simply accuse the queen of being a hack. I settled for reporting her stream to the site admins. Not that it would matter. Females played by different rules on Spasm. Technically, she shouldn’t be in a bikini on stream as that violated their terms of service. But none of the hot tub streamers ever got banned or even suspended.
Logging off Stutter finally, though in a much worse mood than I had been in a minute ago, I set about closing my various applications. As I was preparing to shut down my computer, I heard a ding. “I thought I closed all my messaging apps though?” Checking the notification, I saw it was for my email.
The sender was listed as [email protected] I glanced at my clock. It was only 9:40 pm That was fast. Curious, I opened the email.
“Thank you for expressing interest in our project. Gods of Creation is currently recruiting for a closed beta of our newest project: New Life. New Life is an RPG with an emphasis on realistic gameplay. Players can choose from many playable races and classes and embark on their journey set on a large map made up of seven continents and three oceans. The total explorable landmass is roughly twice that of Earth, however due to advances in link technology we have been able to bring the download size in-line with other games.
New Life has no main questline, as our focus is to provide a sandbox for players to create their own stories. A new life if you will. Rather than develop an overarching storyline we have instead sought to develop the world itself. Populating dozens of major and minor kingdoms, every person in the world of New Life has their own history and their own goals. How you interact with them will shape your own journey.
If you are interested in embarking on your New Lifetm, then follow this link to our website and fill out the application survey. Then, follow instructions to download the game client and prepare for your journey.”
I snorted. This sounded impossible. There was no way you could fit a map that big into a file size that anyone would deem acceptable, and the amount of development effort it would take to tailor every single non-player-character was just insane. EvilGod had called Gods of Creation an Indie Studio. Indie as in Independent Developer. Those kinds of studios had small teams and smaller budgets.
Still, he certainly put a lot of effort into this. I guess it wouldn’t hurt to check it out, as long as I’m careful. My curiosity was sufficiently piqued, I copied the link destination with a handy right-click and launched a virtual machine. This way, my computer would be isolated from any viruses I was about to encounter. Opening up Google, I copied the link into the address bar.
The webpage I was taken too actually looked very professional. I was expecting something slap dashed together with only the minimal amount of effort to maintain presentability. Contrary to that expectation, the site looked incredibly clean. Near the top of the page was a large button labeled “Beta Signup”. Below that was some more information about New Life.
Consider me impressed, if this is a phishing scam it’s very well made. Reading the listed information, I gathered some more details. Apparently, New Life utilized a new type of network infrastructure to minimize its impact on your system. Rather than installing the whole game, you would only install a small application of about eight point five gigabytes. When you were ready to play, you would receive whatever you needed as you needed it.
The last part wasn’t very clear, but I suppose if they had developed such a revolutionary technique, they would use obfuscating terminology. As near as I could figure, the game probably stored files in RAM, and erased data it didn’t need. This meant the game would always require a server connection, but it definitely would reduce the install size. The eightish gig application probably accounts for the server connection files and local storage for anything you change about the world state as you play. The main game files are likely stored on their server and sent to players via the internet. Sufficiently impressed, I scrolled to the top of the page and clicked on the Beta Application.
“Page one of fifteen? What the hell kind of survey is this?” I stared at the screen in disbelief. I looked at the clock. It was almost 10:30. I sat back in my chair and cracked my neck. I had a chemistry exam tomorrow, so I knew I really should get to sleep. On the other hand, the test wasn’t until noon. I could cut my morning classes to study, it’s not like I was struggling. In fact, I had solid grades. I considered the material I knew we were going to cover in my morning classes. It was all basic stuff. I made up my mind and read the first question.
“Are you a boy, or a girl?”
I blinked slowly while staring at the screen. Asking that sort of question in 2020? This company is insane. They’re going to get reamed on Chirper when this game releases… Still, the question was easy enough to answer. I selected “boy” and moved on to the next question. The first three pages were about what you would expect. Basic demographic information about me is likely used to categorize my beta feedback.
Page four got weird though, “What is your opinion regarding religion?” I read the question out loud, as if to reassure myself I hadn’t been mistaken. I’m pretty sure you could get in trouble legally for asking something like this… The question was a short answer, so after a bit of hesitation, I quickly highlighted my opinions regarding religion. Namely, if God was all-powerful, then he shouldn’t allow the church to be so corrupt.
This answer caused the next question to change. That’s a pretty fancy dynamic question system. Analyzing a short answer response and selecting a new question based on key info in Real-time… Impressive. The new question was straightforward, “What is your opinion regarding polytheistic religion?”
“I guess it picked up on my use of god with the big G.” This answer was also fairly straightforward. With more than one god, the gods tended to be vain assholes across virtually every polytheistic religion. I did not have a high opinion of them. I moved on and kept answering questions. Sometimes a question would dynamically change based on a previous answer and, after a while, it stopped impressing me. Based on how high quality this survey was, I was now basically completely convinced this was not a phishing scam. Making a survey like this would have taken way too much effort for something like that.
The tenth page changed tone again. The first question was very personal, “On a scale of one to 10, with one being horrible and ten being perfect, please grade your relationship with your mother.” The question after that was another short answer; “Why do you feel this way?” Furthermore, the next two questions were identical, except being in regards to my dad. Why does Gods of Creation care about this? What could this possibly have to do with a beta test? Not seeing a reason for these questions, I put seven for both of them, and in the short answer stated that I had an uneventful childhood. The next question changed again.
“True or false: You answered the previous four questions honestly.” …that’s kinda creepy. I answered false with a frown. A notice popped up; “We apologize if the previous questions were too personal. If you do not wish to answer that information, we will utilize the national average as a substitute for your personalized information.” Well, that’s nice of them. Still frowning, I moved on to the next page, and promptly dropped my jaw in surprise. The next questions were similar to the previous page but instead focused on my siblings. The first one asked how many siblings I had, and in what position I was born. After some hesitation, I decided that being honest couldn’t hurt me here. Since I was an only child it’s not like I would be giving away anything too personal. After answering thusly, the remaining questions on the page disappeared.
The remaining pages went back to being normal. The questions on these were just about how I approached playing RPGs, what got me interested in them, what kind of other media did I consume, that sort of thing. I answered these questions to the best of my ability and finally reached page fifteen. I looked at the clock as I hit submit. It was now 2:12 am. After submitting, I was redirected to a page asking me to create an account to save my survey.
Using my business email, I was able to finish this fairly quickly. I was met with a page congratulating and thanking me for expressing my interest in New Life and informing me that once my survey had been processed, I would receive an email with my download link for the Beta. Stretching my back, I felt a satisfying pop. I hadn’t realized how tense I had gotten whilst I was filling out the application survey.
I closed out of the internet browser and instructed the virtual machine to shut down. Although I no longer held any doubt about the legitimacy of Gods of Creation this would erase any malicious software I had inadvertently downloaded. Just as I was about to shut off my PC, I got another email ding. Feeling somewhat excited, I aborted the shutdown and clicked to open the new message.
“From: [email protected]
Subject: Beta Activation Key
Thank you for expressing an interest in New Life! On behalf of Gods of Creation, We would like to extend an official invitation for you to take part in our beta test of New Lifetm! Please follow the link below in order to download the beta client and use the provided authentication key to activate your client. You will not be able to connect to our server without the key, so we recommend saving this email.
Activation Key: FCRK-H52F-IJIE-7XAG-XFHZ-LL35”
“That was pretty fast…” I was getting excited, or maybe I was just tired.
Glancing at the clock, I determined that I still had about three hours before I HAD to get to sleep. With my heart aflutter, I clicked on the download link. This opened a web browser and began downloading an executable file. A bit belatedly, I realized that I had forgotten to launch my Virtual Machine. It should be ok, I mean, if this was actually a scam, they got me hook, line, and sinker. They put so much effort into making it look legit that at this point, they would deserve to scam me.
The executable finished installing and I selected clicked to run it. The install wizard was nothing special, anyone, who has ever installed something has probably seen something like this before. I got to the screen requesting an authentication code and quickly copy-pasted the one I had received into the answer field. The installation finished in just a couple of minutes, and I was prompted to log in. Upon logging into my account, I was greeted with the bane of all gamers and software users, a line reading “Please agree to the following terms and conditions to use this software.”
“I don’t have time for this, I have to be asleep in three hours!” I scrolled to the bottom and clicked accept.
The next window got a chuckle; “WOW! It took you 3.67 seconds to read our terms&conditions! You must be a world record speed reader. Please note that even if you did not thoroughly read them, by clicking ‘I Agree’ you are still entering a binding legal contract. Are you sure you want to proceed?” After laughing, I blithely clicked the option indicating I was sure of my decision.
The application proceeded to launch without any more contrivances, and I was greeted by a notice.
“Thank you for installing New Lifetm. Based on your application survey, a NewLife has been prepared for you. If you would like to use this life, select ‘Confirm’. If you would prefer to review and edit the settings of this life, please select ‘Edit Life’.” Well, isn’t that impressive… Still, that’s some odd language. Then again, this is inside the game now, so I imagine they are going for a specific flavor by calling the player character a ‘life’. Either way, no way am I going to use the default settings! The game was advertised as having thousands of choices for every character. I am definitely checking those out! I selected “Edit Life”. The screen that greeted me seemed to be a basic summary of my character.
Name/Age: Eric Growson, 19
Class/Level: Farmer, 20 - Ranger, 1
Species: Human (Pureblood)
Social Strata: Commoner
Starting Gift: Enchanted Steel Longsword (Random Weak Effect)
Ability Improvement Values:
- Strength B: 157
- Constitution C: 155
- Dexterity C: 95
- Intelligence D: 93
- Charisma D: 93
- Mana E: 30
Fighting Style: Dragon Sword Style[Swap Style]
Talents: Sword Fighting I, Bowman I, Scythe Fighting III, Field Plowing [MAX], Animal Handling IV, Mathematics II, Memorization I, Balance I, First Aid I, Situational Awareness I, […] .
Skills: Ranged targeting Correction, Farming Enhancement Mastery, Brute Strength, Language Proficiency[Local], Fighting Style [Dragon Sword].
Accompanying this were two buttons; “Edit Life” and “Create New Life”. Chuckling to myself, I selected “Create New Life”.