…featuring her new best pal, Happy McMurray
The Doclopedia #137
On New Year’s Eve…:
…of 2019, everybody who was anybody in the adventure gaming hobby/industry was attending the huge VR based party being put on by New Realities Unlimited. NRU was premiering it’s flagship virtual reality world, Delandros, and had sent out invitations to 3,000 gamers and 300 various media outlets. Those invitees were now hooked up in luxurious VR beds in 20 cities on four continents and their virtual selves were sipping virtual wine in the courtyard of King Valen, the alternate identity of NRU founder and CEO, Dennis Valenzuela.
The general consensus among the party goers was that this was pretty much the coolest thing they had ever seen and almost certainly the attainment of that long held tabletop gamers dream: a computer generated setting that a party of players could adventure in without a GM and with all the options of face to face gaming. If NRU was to be believed, this game world not only had a rich history, but would behave just like a real world, growing and changing, even if nobody was plugged into it.
People were trying all sorts of things: firing off spells, fighting monsters with sword & shield, haggling with merchants, picking pockets…even attempting to seduce serving wenches and handsome men at arms. It was geek heaven. As reports from the party began popping up on various internet sources, the stock of companies that produced traditional MMOs began to plummet while NRU stock gained a nearly 200% increase.
RIGHT NOW, many of you are waiting for that big twist wherein it is explained that the VR experience drove all of them mad or they became addicted to it or something happened and they were all stuck in the VR world fighting to get out. The truth is, everything went swimmingly and two months later the company had it’s grand public opening with 50,000 people plugged in at 62 locations around the world. Within a year, those numbers quadrupled and on the second anniversary, the home VR chairs began selling at $500.00 each (including your first 30 hours free) and they sold 4.25 million units in the first month. By their third anniversary, they had 250 million regular users. They were also employing a small army of former pen & paper RPG writers to create new content, from villages to continents and farmers to monsters.
BUT THEN one day a very minor level technician did a bit of figuring and came to the conclusion that even the huge number of server farms that NRU maintained were not nearly powerful enough to create the entire world of Delandros and all of the people and creatures in it. True, many of the shops in the game were staffed by characters controlled by human players who got free game time for X number of hours served, but that was a tiny drop in the cyberbucket. Where were the extra servers located?
This curious techie…let’s call him Bob…went home that night and mentioned his conclusions to his two roommates, both of whom were computer geeks and top of the line hackers. Loving nothing better than a mystery, the three of them set off into the internet in search of the truth. Two weeks later, the only thing they had turned up was that NRU owned a “radioactive waste containment” facility way the hell up in the Yukon. Actually, the facility was owned by a subsidiary of a spin off company that NRU had bought three years before the release of Delandros. The more they thought about that, the stranger it sounded. NRU had plenty of startup money, but not enough to be buying up anything like that.
NOW, this being 2022, it was fairly easy for our three investigators to buy a slightly outdated military grade infiltration bot and do some mods on both the hardware and software. Once that was done, it was time for a road trip to Alaska with a short detour to turn the bot loose about 180 miles from the alleged containment facility. The bot (which was about the size of a large rat) reached his goal four days later and began scouting around. Since the three amigos had shielded their bot from detection by other bots, it was able to get into the air venting system and begin searching.
Right off the bat, it stopped detecting radiation after it got below the first level. However, the second level only contained thousands of large drums labeled as rad waste but actually containing stuff like sand, old chunks of asphalt and plain old dirt.
On the third level, the bot located life support machinery nearly identical to that used on the new International Space Station. Most of it was tended by bots, but there were a few humans about. The fourth level held spacious living quarters for about 20 people. The fifth was home to a pretty large server farm and a whole lot of bleeding edge tech.
It was levels six through ten where the little bot struck gold, if by gold you mean rows and rows of human heads in tanks that were hooked up to headsets that looked a whole lot like Delandros VR helmets. It would not be an understatement to say that Bob and his pals nearly wet themselves when they saw the video.
The bot had counted as far 31,670 heads when the video feed went blank and the door to Bob’s apartment opened and a half dozen NRU security personnel walked in, faces grim and guns drawn. About then, at least two of our three heroes didwet themselves. In short order, they were taken to waiting vans and then driven to what appeared to be a warehouse. They were allowed to sit and contemplate their predicament for about half an hour when in walked Dennis Valenzuela himself.
AFTER introducing himself, Dennis explained that the heads they had seen had all at one time been on the bodies of people who were either dying of incurable diseases, trapped in paralyzed or otherwise useless bodies or criminals awaiting death. There were, he said, 104,000 such heads in that facility and 214,000 in another facility located in Nigeria. A third, much larger location was about to open in Kyrgyzstan. The goal was to have a million heads online by 2024.
He went on to explain that during the earliest VR interface tests, it had been discovered that if the brain of a rat was kept alive while plugged in, the rat would continue to control a VR rat body even if the head was detached from it’s real body. The same went for every other animal they tested. In fact, Dennis told them, they were able to upload tons of behaviors that later were used to control all of the normal non-sentient lifeforms in Delandros. That was a good thing, since it freed up a huge block of programming time.
And then one of the driving forces behind the development of the project, Wayne Delmont, found out that he had incurable prostate cancer. He volunteered to be the first human test subject and after being hooked up to both the VR and a life support system for his head, had his body removed and became the first permanent citizen of Delandros.
Based upon that success, NRU started seeking out the terminally ill and extremely physically challenged and offering them a deal: life in a healthy body in a new world. Rather surprisingly, almost nobody turned the offer down. Of course, everything was done on the QT, but things went very smoothly. Pretty much every NPC you might meet in Delandros had once been a real person.
Before long, death row inmates were being used, although their higher brain functions were “edited” and their memories wiped so they could be installed in monster bodies. Still, once their monster bodies were killed in game, they were just transferred to another monster.
This was all necessary, Valenzuela explained, because the cost of creating server farms to run Delandros at the current level of realism was just too high, to say nothing of the cost of programmers and techs. Besides, they were giving people virtual immortality, which was a good thing, right.
He ended by telling Bob and the boys that their own memories would be edited to feature a road trip of epic proportions, including many sexual encounters with ladies they could never really hope to meet, let alone screw. All recollection of what they had found out about NRU would be erased and Bob would be reassigned to monitoring guild interaction data. The boys thanked him for not just having them killed.
A year later, Delandros, had half a billion regular users…not counting a million heads in tanks.