A note from Balr0g

Updated Intro 01/02. Switched to 3rd person, past tense narration

Chapter 1

Operation A.I.


Tristen Alexander - Experimental Build #1

20 years prior to launch


Tristen jolted out of bed from a loud, insistent knocking on his door.

His mother's voice sounded from behind the closed door, “Tristen, wake up! It’s time to get ready for school.” 

"Ugh, school already?" Tristen groaned as he waited for a sleep-addled brain to jump-start and the figurative fog of war to diminish.

"Ha, Ha...," he chuckled to himself. He'd been dreaming about their last encounter in Dungeon Quest.

Tristen recalled his friends crouched next to that Goblin camp and Aaron nearly panicking as he almost got the group killed. If only he could immerse himself in a fantasy world every day, it would make life so much more interesting. Instead, he had to go to school and sit through biology, mathematics, and history all of which provided no stimulation for Tristen.

"Ugh," groaned Tristen.

The only class that intrigued Tristen was Computer class since he loved to create programs. Outside of computer software and programs, he also loved to dabble with gadgets in the machine shop. Many of his other classmates that spent time in the shop worked on some metal project or another. There was a small bench in the back corner Tristen used to work on computers and other electronic gadgets. He often stayed hours after school ended while he worked on projects.

The current project was an attempt to build an Artificial Intelligence or A.I.. He wanted to use it as the GM for their groups Dungeon Quest games. It wouldn't be a complex A.I., but if he programmed enough data into it, perhaps it would function well enough. The goal was to create an electronic GM so that Tristen could join his friends as a party member for their next game. To create the A.I., there needed to be a voice modulator and a processor that could handle all the pre-built scenarios and characters the group had created. The A.I. could then respond to events based on keywords or triggered phrases.

The equipment Tristen had at his disposal was an old-school voice modulator that had zero personality. He would need to change that, or he imagined his friends growing bored with it. He would like to have a more modern voice processor, but discarded and outdated electronics lacked the needed design. One day, Tristen planned to have a lab of his own and a team to build technology. Not only did he want to build a better A.I., but Tristen had also thought about building virtual reality technology. He had read about the technology and theories about full immersion into a created virtual space. Most of the designs were clunky and only allowed two senses, sight and hearing, to experience a virtual world. 

One day, he wanted to create a technology that allowed people to immerse themselves in a fantasy world, like Dungeon Quest. For now, He would survive with a cobbled together approximation of an A.I. so he could experience the thrill of adventure with his friends. He hoped to have everything complete before their next game, but he seemed to have an issue with the voice recognition that allowed the A.I. to hear and interpret keywords and trigger phrases.

Tristen had gone through all the pre-fabricated scenarios, notes, GM responses, every possible combination of success checks and failures, and the phrases he used to moderate the game. He had done all of this on his own because he wanted to keep this project a secret from them. None of his friends had the same fascination and intrigue as he for electronics and computers, anyway.

Instead, Aaron was a different person outside their little group of friends and was on the junior high football team as a running back, whatever that involved. Sports was not an area of much interest to Tristen, not to mention he was a scrawny little guy that could float away from a stiff breeze. Aaron's involvement in Dungeon Quest was often a mystery to Tristen, and he suspected Aaron would have abandoned his seat at the table if not for Natalia. 

Natalia was a beautiful, slender girl that loved to dance and sing. At school, other students looked askance at her as she walked through the halls with her head buried in her books. She had that quiet “mousey” bearing on lockdown, but it allowed her to avoid the usual intrigues found in middle-school and allowed her to avoid the “popular” girls since she had no desire to be with the “in” crowd. The inflated egos of the popular kids revolted her, and she preferred to sidestep all of that drama.

Last, there is Tristen’s friend Tyler who is often in detention for the pranks he orchestrates. The jokes and pranks extended to the teachers and staff which has resulted in being sent home. One time, there was a biology teacher that was instructing the class on animal reproduction, and somehow Tyler had gotten to the teacher's instruction manual and taped a picture of the teachers head on the body of an animal showing how babies came to be. Although he didn’t get caught in the act, it was obvious who the culprit was as he sat on the edge of his seat with an expectant, mischievous grin plastered on his face. 

For every time he failed a prank on the teachers or other students, there were three times as many pranks that succeeded and remained a mystery. He had an uncanny knack to avoid being caught and could weasel his way out of almost any situation. Many people would bristle at being called Weasel, but not Tyler. He embraced the name, and it had become his de facto nickname in both student and teacher circles.

As he reminisced about his group of friends he was reminded to finish this surprise before the next game day on Saturday.

I am so close. He thought

He glanced at the clock and panicked as he misread 4:23 to say 4:32 pm. He double-checked the time-

"Phew..., " he sighed in relieve as he re-read the clock and noted he still had 7 minutes to get home.

If he didn’t get home by 4:30, his parents would lecture him and ground him from after school projects the rest of the week. He only lived a few blocks from school, so his parents allowed him to stay after school as long as he got home in time. 

He tossed a few parts into his backpack, he bolted out the door and unlocked his bike from the fence. He raced home and arrived just before 4:30 pm, which earned him an arched eyebrow and, "you better watch it look," from his mom. Tristen shrugged and went to his room where he deposited his backpack full of parts on the desk. He expected to put in a lot of work after supper. 

That was a close one, he thought. 

Two months ago he had become so engrossed in a project he didn’t get home until after six. He reaped the consequences of showing up late. Not only did his parents ground him from after-school projects for a month, they also banned him from hosting Dungeon Quest games at his house for two weeks. After-school restrictions were one thing, he had plenty of parts at home to work on, but banishment from Dungeon Quest with his friends was barbaric.

Never again, thought Tristen. He made sure he always arrived home on time, which included setting both alarms on his watch, a watch that looked like a steampunk contraption wired together using an analog clock face with a digital alarm.

Tristen started in on his homework while he waited for dinner. He felt meaningless homework was like an oppressive bog in a swampy marsh. His thoughts meandered into potential Dungeon Quest scenarios-

Focus Tristen, he told himself and forced his thoughts back to his homework.

As fast as possible, Tristen whizzed through all the assigned homework, not even turning on his calculator for the various mathematics problems. Part of his passion for all things gadgetry, resulted in numbers and calculations being second nature. He almost never needed to write out equations or use a calculator for complex equations. It was the most significant issue Tristen had with this class, none of it challenged him. He often ignored his teacher while he compiled new adventures and dungeon maps in his head.

His homework completed in record time, Tristen pulled out the spare parts which included the speech modulator and voice recognition module he'd worked on. These were the final two components that needed integration for the A.I. to function. Tristen attempted to program every possible response. He knew some aspects needed improvement, but he hoped there was a sufficient amount that allowed him to join in the Dungeon Quest adventures with a character of his own. The group lacked support and damage mitigation spells, and Tristen had the perfect Mesmer or Illusionist combo that complimented the party. He couldn’t wait to play the character this weekend. 

No sooner had Tristen begun work on the A.I., when his mom called out that dinner was ready.

"Aw, man...," he grumbled, exasperated at the constant interruptions.

He tromped down to the dinner table where lasagna, garlic bread, and a side salad awaited him. 

"Ugh, do I really need to eat salad?" complained Tristen.

"Yes, and you will eat every bite of it mister," scolded his father.

He stared at the site of the poisonous green plants with ranch dressing in disgust. He sat in his usual spot, the one closest to the hall that led to his room. It was his preferred seat so he could make a quick escape after wolfing down dinner.

Alone in his room, at last, Tristen cleared his workbench off and flipped on his boombox. He played a lot of throwback music, and his newest intrigue involved some 80's music he had heard in a recent superhero movie. Prepped for the task ahead, Tristen submerged himself into his work. Only two days remained to work on the A.I.; he wanted to complete the project with time to spare for testing and tweaking. He also wanted to add a new scenario he'd thought about for a few weeks.

He added more data and trigger-words into the voice recognition software. He also worked on the voice module so it could recognize and interpret his voice. Although he wouldn’t be the GM this time around, Tristen aimed to lead the party due to an intimate familiarity with the rules, monster guides, and dungeon encounters.

Engrossed in his work, Tristen didn't hear his door open.

"Tristen, turn the music off. We are headed to bed," his dad said as he raised his voice to be heard over the noise.

Tristen jumped at his dad's voice and said, "okay, good night."

Tristen had convinced his parents earlier in the year, after a somewhat heated conversation, that he could manage his bedtime and that he wouldn’t abuse the privilege. For several weeks after that discussion, Tristen’s parents watched him and ensured he didn't neglect sleep and it didn't affect his school or attitude. After he satisfied his parent's requirements, they allowed him to manage his bedtime but had been clear if he abused the privilege or woke anyone else in the house, they would revoke it.

“FINALLY!” he whooped in delight.

Oh no!

Tristen ran to his door and yanked it open. He listened for any noises, paused for a full minute, and then breathed a sigh of relief after he ensured his parents hadn't heard. He closed the door and returned to his workbench. The excitement was palpable; he had gotten the two modules integrated and operational. He ran through some prepared test scenarios. The A.I. recognized his voice and uttered the appropriate responses.

I did it! I created an A.I.!

It looked terrible, like something regurgitated from an old Pentium 4 with a modern LCD on top, but it worked! He couldn’t wait to tell his friends but waited for the reveal until Saturday.

In the meantime, Tristen planned to work on the cosmetics at school the next day. He had no spare parts to do that at home but could find some discarded equipment to house the new A.I. at school. He also wanted to look for some speakers to amplify the volume. Tristen realized the A.I. designation exaggerated what he had built. It was not a full functioning A.I.. It only responded to pre-programmed data and couldn’t create new responses on its own. However, the definition of artificial intelligence explained that any artificial program performing human-like tasks such as speech recognition and decision-making counted as an A.I.. 

All the responses were pre-programmed and triggered by keywords, but for the sake of Tristen’s pride, this project hailed his first ever A.I. creation! Even though the actual hardware was someone else’s creation, all the programming and integration of the parts was his design. 

One day I'm going to built an A.I. from scratch, one that is self-aware and can learn on its own! I'm going to use this A.I. to create a game the likes of which this world has never seen! vowed Tristen.

A note from Balr0g

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About the author


Bio: This is the section where I'm supposed to write how I have always dreamed of writing books and that there are dozens of five star books out there with my name on them. Reality? I am brand new to writing, and worse, I'm not a creative writer. Most of the stuff that I have written is technical, cyber-related stuff. So, how in the world did I start down this path? The best way to sum it up is D. Rus and Vasiliy Mahenenka. These two Russian authors created books in a new genre called LitRPG, which falls under a more broad category called Gamelit. I devoured any and every book created by these two authors and quickly realized they were not alone in their endeavor. The series they created were translated from Russian to English, but it wasn't long before American authors started pushing their own series. Since starting with the Play to Live series (D.Rus), I've read hundreds of books and dozens of stories on Royal Road. I started posing questions and conversations about plots and book directions in various groups and forums. Eventually, I got the idea to start keeping track of my ideas and instead of giving them away, write my own story. Herein, is born a writer (or at least a wannabe writer)... not a writer to grab a paycheck, and not even for the sake of a job. I am putting this first story together purely for my enjoyment and it has been a fun ride so far.

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