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A note from Balr0g

Hey everyone, apologies for the delay in getting this chapter out. I had to do some serious re-writing as a result of feedback from one of my early readers. I just want to give a shout out to Alexis for some great feedback.

If you have read the previous chapters, you should see a drastic change in this writing style as Im attempting to elimate first person narration as well as unify the tenses.

I'm open to feedback from readers so if you see anything let me know!

Tristen looked out at the crowd of faces before him, the excitement was palpable as everyone waited for him to address the group of scientists, engineers, developers, designers, and artists for the first time on what would be a product and game to revolutionize the world. Tristen said as much to the assistant standing next to him, which earned him a look of “you can’t be serious, right?”. The reality was that if the group here was able to deliver full immersion technology the possibilities and application were endless, not to mention the medical breakthroughs that could be achieved! It would also be exciting for Tristen and his friends to see their childhood brought to life with Dungeon Quest Online!

“Welcome everyone! Welcome to Sai Enterprises and the future of computers and gaming!” Tristen paused for dramatic effect before he continued. “Ok, that’s all the dramatic flare you’ll get from me.” A few chuckles were heard across the room as the levity decreased the tension that felt like a taught bow string poised to release.

“Many of you are probably still in the dark about everything that I want to accomplish here at Sai Enterprises and some of you are probably wondering who all of these folks are.”

Tristen looked around the room at all of the faces and people of vastly different backgrounds and disciplines, then he continued, “The group you see to your left and right come from a variety of different places including leading experts in neuroscience.” Tristen nodded to the group of people in lab coats on his right.

“We have mathematicians and engineers,” Tristen said, indicating the group in the back wearing knit sweaters and spectacles.

“Next, we have individuals completely outside the sciences such as the artists and game designers.” Tristen again pointed to a group in the back wearing street clothes, with varying degrees of neon colored hair and piercings, as well as average looking middle-aged folks who were the game programmers.

“We also have a retainer of doctors, technicians, and nutritionists,” he commented, pointing to the group just left of the small podium where he was addressing the crowd.

Steeling his nerves, Tristen’s voice turned serious and cold, “Every person you see here today was hand picked and thoroughly screened. Every person in this room will be held to the highest standards of secrecy. Everything you do on these grounds will be recorded, catalogued and archived. Every conversation, recording, email, or outside correspondence will be reviewed and intercepted to prevent corporate espionage. If you have any issues during the two year time-frame you have agreed upon, you will work with my lawyers and Human Resources team to be debriefed from the program and loaded down with so many NDA’s that even a mention of Sai Enterprises would bring about a lawsuit.”

Tristen scanned the room looking at the shocked and apprehensive faces, while letting the weight of what he had said sink in for a few moments. Just as the silence reached its peak he began again, “Now that the formalities have been taken care of and you have a healthy respect for the gravity of our endeavor, I want to go through the details of why we are all gathered together. We will be working on a new technology that will change the way we interface with technology, the way we educate our children and how we do business. Running parallel to these noble endeavors, my ultimate desire is that we revolutionize the gaming industry. My plans for this group are two-fold. The first project involves the creation of a microchip that will be used to interface with the cerebral cortex. This microchip will be small enough to attach to the back of the neck at the base of the skull using a small clamp that will embed itself. I want these chips to be small and easy enough to use that anyone can apply them without having a specialist perform a minor surgery. This means that we will need to undergo extensive testing and evaluation of physical well-being.” Tristen pointed to the doctors, indicating this is why they were present.

“These implants will serve two purposes. First, immersion into a virtual world,” he said, pointing to the group of game designers, “and interfacing with various technology that has already incorporated a series of microprocessors I developed that are being included in manufacturing lines for nearly every type of electrical gadget.” Tristen went on to explain that part of the requirements to interface with the technology already in production was that each of them needed to have some sort of wireless technology, whether wireless fidelity, bluetooth or infrared. In order to account for this next stage, the executives running Sai Enterprises had been informed of the need for wireless technology and started to implement and roll it out in all of the microprocessors the company was producing.

“If we do not achieve the second goal in the two years allowed, I will draft up extensions for any of you that wish to remain on the project through to completion. The main goal of this is to get a functioning chip that will immerse a user into a virtual world of our creation. The game I have in mind was one from my childhood called Dungeon Conquest,” Tristen explain and noted there were a few exclamations of recognition, mostly from the developers and engineers. “I want to bring this old board game to life and allow users to experience full virtual reality immersion, or FVRI. This includes all of the senses: taste, sound, smell, hearing and touch,” Tristen continued explaining his idea about using the microchips to intercept signals to and from the brain.

“The idea here is to figure out how to decode, process, interpret, relay, and send those signals through the microchips. Using the microchip as a channel, it can interface with any technology by sending signals, or thoughts with intent. There are approximately 100 billion neurons in the human brain. Studies have shown that a human can instruct a mechanical arm to move and perform a specific function using less than 150 of those neurological signals. Mapping out all of those neurons is where we should focus out efforts. If we can understand all of those neurons and decode the brain, then we can simulate those same signals. This will be the first step to creating a technology that allows for immersion. If we can successfully decode the brain, intercept signals, and send artificial signals, then we can create a virtual world complete with all of the senses which will be indistinguishable from real life.”

Tristen paused, looking over the crowd of professionals to see wonder and possibility in their eyes. He could already see some of the scientists clustered in little bubbles discussing the possibilities and how to go about achieving this goal. When he looked over at the game design folks and artists their mouths were hanging open at the potential to be fully immersed in a world of their creation. Many of these folks created and lived out their creations in their minds and that allowed them to be the best in their field. It takes a level of immersion for their creations to really come to life in any environment. Now, they had the opportunity to really bring their creations to life and it was staggering to some.

Continuing his explanation, Tristen said, “how do we implement this technology? Well, for that I’m going to lean on the individuals in this room. Throughout this whole process, I will be working with both of the teams here, but also developing a new A.I. that I hope will be self-aware and able to control and dynamically generate new content for the game that we design. I also plan to give liberal control of the game to the A.I.. What the team in here develops and designs will be the framework. The actual implementation of some of the game mechanics and content will be the responsibility of the A.I.. I know this seems like fiction to all of you, but I can assure you I have quite a bit of experience in this already.” Tristen outlined everything he had done with S.A.I. since he was a 13 year old boy and all of the improvements that had been incorporated over the years. He even went into the details of how he had started developing a personality for the A.I.. Tristen recalled some of the various instances where the snarky comments were made by S.A.I. as a result of Tyler’s antics. Yes, S.A.I. had a personality. It has learned to interpret some of the sarcasm and witty comments that seemed built into Tyler’s vocabulary.

With just a few more items to cover, Tristen wanted to ensure that everyone had an idea of how this would work at a high level. He had a few areas that were non-negotiable and it needed to be clear to the team.

Thinking about these items, Tristen continued, “Regarding the immersion technology we are striving to achieve here, it needs to be 100% safe and easy for anyone to use. We will set age limits on the game we develop, but the actual implant should be at the discretion of the individual or the parent of a minor. What I want to happen for the immersion side of the technology involves the microchips being able to intercept the signals issued to the physical body and use those to control a virtual body. While this occurs, no signals will actually reach the physical body, which will be in a sleep or dreamlike state.” Tristen went over some addition ideas such as allowing the technology to control the users physical bodies to perform basic functions like lying down, using the bathroom, drinking water and other functions. However, due to legal ramifications and controversy over something like that he informed the team it was likely not an area they would dabble in much during this two year push.

Changing direction slightly, Tristen addressed the game development team, “A few thoughts for the game designers regarding Dungeon Quest Online. I want this to be as close to the original game as possible, which is going to be quite a bit different than games of a similar nature.” Going over the details, Tristen explained how the game world would be centered around dungeon diving and that any progress to achieve fame and prestige would be accomplished through adventures.

Diving further into the weeds, Tristen elaborated saying, “Even the crafting professions would require dungeon diving and adventuring to be successful. A blacksmith on a journey to become a master will need to embark on a dungeon dive for crafting components or a unique crafting item.” He informed the development team they had full rights to re-use any and all material for Dungeon Quest into the new online version and not to worry about any trademarks or copyrights.

Having laid out all of the high level plans and gone over the sciences and game structure, Tristen could see the wheels turning in everyones heads as they immediately bent to the task at hand. Everyone was very eager to get moving on the project. Although Tristen would not be heavily involved in the design of the game, he would definitely be checking up on it from time to time to ensure that they were sticking as close to the context of the board game as possible. One of his requirements to the team, would be that all of the lore, scenarios, characters, skill and spells were translated into Dungeon Quest Online.

Building the Microchips

Throughout the following months Tristen and the teams worked around the clock, six days a week, everyone was allowed one day off, resting only to get needed sleep and food. They worked on the microchips that would be used to interpret neural responses from the brain. This was a massively complex undertaking and initially super computers were used to process all of the data and record responses to simulated environments and actions. Only on-site employees and volunteers were used for testing the technology. Tristen did not want to bring in temporary study groups and potentially compromise the secrecy of the project. Slowly, they began to understand how the human brain processed data and were successful in sending and receiving signals from the brain in a simulated environment. A short time later, the team began to experience roadblocks, where test data was insufficient to continue analysis. To overcome these obstacles, prototypes of the microchip were handed out to volunteers and they would be required wear it at least four hours a day. Each chip could last that long on a single charge. The engineering team was working on wireless charging capabilities that would not overheat the chip to the point of being uncomfortable to the wearer.

The four hours of data the team collected for each of the volunteers helped to shatter the roadblocks experienced in the simulated testing environment. After overcoming the previous challenge, the team moved on to collecting data during sleep cycles. A subset of individuals from the original testing group were chosen to wear them while sleeping to see how the brain operates when unconscious. Based on Tristen’s opening comments for this project, he had noted that immersion should occur while the user was in a dreamlike state. This phase of the testing was the most important to date and could make or break that goal.

After testing the data collection during unconscious hours for a couple weeks, the scientists came to the conclusion that in order to interact with the virtual environment and simulate full immersion an induced dream state was a requirement. When the brain was conscious, there were quite a few side effects to transferring the conscious state to a completely new world and it caused a lot of disorientation and dizzy spells. Several of the testers also started to get migraines. Once the testers entered a dream state before immersion, the side effects disappeared. After a little over a year, the team had catalogued and studied nearly every possible neural response to any given stimuli and were ready to start trials on immersion into virtual spaces. Up until now, all of the immersion was just testing neural responses such as moving parts of the body, or sending signals that would cause the brain to respond with a different set of signals. Now, it was time to move on to the next phase and induce a dream, or virtual re-creation into the users mind. To start, basic rooms were simulated with very simple objects that each user would interact with, perform exercises, play problem solving games and even have conversations with programs or employees overseeing the testing. After testing emersion for a few weeks it was quickly determined that each tester was able to transition smoothly and could experience the virtual world just as tangibly as real life. Tristen could hardly believe it! The team had actually achieved full virtual reality immersion in less than a year’s time. The project was off to a phenomenal start and he was excited about what they team would be able to accomplish in the next year. Clearly, there were areas that could be improved and the design of the actual hardware needed some work, but with over a year to go, it gave the engineering and development teams plenty of time to refine the product. Some of the glaring issues for the technology included the lack of charging, the chips were too big to fit comfortably for extended periods of time and medical professionals were required to implant them. The eventual goal was that each person would have a receiver unit that would plug into an ethernet jack and power source. This receiver would be the brains behind FVRI, while the microchips acted as the conduit, sending and receiving the firing of neurons for simulated experiences. The receiver would also allow for wireless charging and near instantaneous wireless communications so that users wouldn’t experience any hiccups in the connection.

Building Dungeon Quest Online

Having gotten the microchips we would use for FVRI into a workable state, Tristen switched gears to help with Dungeon Quest Online. Throughout that first year, Tristen had assisted the game developers with lore, backstories, characters and plot progression so that the original board game was replicated in its entirety. They also included as many of the scenarios and characters he and his friends had built throughout the years. There were plenty of other folks on both of the teams who had played the game as well. Tristen opened up submissions for anyone that wanted to submit ideas for the game and they had gotten a lot of really great data to work with. Tristen thought about all of the scenarios and characters he and his friends had made and it made him excited for this game to launch. After they had all graduated high school, they had very little opportunity to get together. Each of them had their own lives in different parts of the country. Sure, they kept in touch, but they hadn’t actually gotten together since college. He really wanted to use this game to bring the gang back together when they could immerse themselves into Dungeon Quest Online!

Seeing the game design well in hand and all of his requirements met, Tristen began work on turning S.A.I. into a self-aware A.I.. He didn’t want a simple computer program that just regurgitated pre-programmed words back at him, nor did he want stories and plots to be rigid. What he was striving for was a fully persistent world where every aspect of the game had real consequences and content was generated dynamically by the A.I.. For instance, if an NPC, short for non-player character, died, they remained that way. If a band of adventurers burn a building in town, it stays burned until the village or other adventurers rebuild it. In order to have a world like this, there needed to be equal amounts punishment and sufficient deterrents in play and something or someone to hold players accountable. S.A.I.. The game would be implemented just like the original, where if an adventurer dies, they actually die and have to start all over! This game would be based on hardcore mode, but Tristen also wanted to avoid making the game impossible so he was planning a feature that would help avoid death and ultimately result in rolling a new character. Much of the implementation of these rules would be at the discretion of the A.I., but first he needed to build an A.I. that could think and act independently. As he thought about building the AI, he recalled the vow he had made after S.A.I. came online. He absolutely would be the first person to develop a sentient, self-aware A.I.. Clearing his mind, Tristen dove into the project and relentlessly drove himself to get the A.I. developed.

Weeks and months flew by, and before he knew it the team was just a few short months from launch day and everything was pretty close to finished. The goal was to finished a couple months ahead of schedule to allow for two months open for alpha and beta testing. Tristen wanted to make sure the immersion technology integrated seamlessly with Dungeon Quest Online. He also needed to get a good marketing campaign going and start setting up deals with vendors so that mass distribution of the product would go off without a hitch. Tristen anticipated sales on launch day to be low key at first, since they would be marking technology that is implanted in someones neck. Chances were there would be a lot of controversy over this, but Tristen expected that after initial user reviews sales would skyrocket. The marketing campaigns for the microchips and the game would be separate since users could buy the chips alone and use them to virtually and mentally interact with electronics. Thus, it was a stand-alone product that was not dependent on Dungeon Quest Online. The game on the other hand, would require the microchip to work. The game would be sold as either a physical collectors edition or software download. The collectors edition bundled the microchips and game. Basically, the user would receive a microchip and a receiver that was a collectors version depicting Dungeon Quest Online and would also have the game pre-loaded. This would save on time to market, packaging, and lack of product in stores.

The time for testing the game and immersion technology was in full swing and the reviews and notes coming in from the testers was incredible. No longer considering this a job, the testers couldn’t wait to jump back into the game, but we limited everyone to four hour sessions with short breaks in between to check vitals, mental state and ensure everyone was eating and drinking enough. Each tester would be monitored at all times of the day to ensure that even when not immersed in the game their vitals were healthy and there were no lasting side effects. The current plan was to cycle 100 people through the testing and Tristen was not amongst those numbers. It was a difficult decision, but he wanted to experience the world for the first time with his friends on launch day. Also, he would be able to monitor the progress of the testers, game stability and the A.I. as it evolved. After months of testing and tweaking to the game, the testing team came back from every session with nothing but positive notes and praise to the game design team. Feeling like the project was in a state of near completion, Tristen began the process of brining the technology to market.

While the game design had been in full swing and testing underway, the engineering team had made strides of their own. They had been able to slim the the microchip down into a one inch by one inch square. The underside of the chip was sterilized and included hypodermic needles that would numb on direct contact with the skin. Once pressed firmly into place, the needles would clamp on to the skin and create a seal so as not to become infected. Because everything was sterile and included anti-bacterial applicators the chances for infections were slim. Additionally, the placement didn’t have to be exact so long as it was mostly in line with the spinal cord and position close enough to the brain stem. The chip would then be able to process any electrical neural responses sent and received. Engineering had also been able to figure out the charging of the chips so that as long as the user was within 15 feet of the receiver it would charge sufficiently and there was no discomfort to the users from overheating. It had built in safety measures not to exceed the internal temperature of the user. In a surprising development, the engineers had also been able to extend the operating life to eight hours without needing a charge. Tristen made a note to congratulate the team and hand out bonuses to the entire team. They had really outdone themselves and exceed Tristen’s expectations.

Having set everything into motion, Tristen was ready for the final plan to move forward. He needed to get all of my friends together for launch day. He had chosen to launch the game on a Saturday, primarily since it was nostalgic for him and his friends. What better way to re-introduce Dungeon Quest into the world than his favorite day and pastime growing up. Now, Tristen needed to get his friends here under false pretenses, but it wasn’t too hard to get them to agree. Aaron was a professional football player, but it was the offseason and he had nothing to do but work on building up sponsors. So, dangling a sponsorship in front of him would be sure to get him on board. Also, Tristen really did want to sponsor him with Sai Enterprises and even use him in future commercials for the game. Natalia was in very successful show on Broadway, but the show had just ended a year long venue. It would be fairly easy to lure Natalia here with rumors of a new play that was being cerated. There was no way that Tyler would be fooled into coming without an explanation. A career gambler and two-time winning professional poker player and he could smell deception through the phone. Instead, Tristen just hopped on a flight to Vegas and met Tyler in person. He explained that he had a new product to unveiled and he wanted Tyler with him when it happened, He wouldn’t tell him about Natalia and Aaron, that way all of them would be somewhat surprised. The biggest concern Tristen had was getting Natalia and Aaron together. It had been a while since either of them had talked to each other after they had split up to pursue their careers on opposite sides of the continent. Tristen had been so absorbed in the project the last couple of years, he didn’t really know where they were at on a relationship level, but would hope for the best.

Flying out to Vegas and talking with Tyler had gone surprisingly well and he agreed to accompany Tristen back to Arizona. Tyler would get an exclusive tour of the facility and would be the first outsider to step onto the compound in two years. One thing can be said about Tyler, he had not changed one iota from the mischievous kid in junior high school. He was one person that Tristen could always count on to have his back and be a cornerstone in his life. After reaching headquarters, Tristen explained some of the purpose of the facility, but avoided the wing where Dungeon Quest Online was being developed. That reveal would remain a surprise as much as when Tristen had first unveiled S.A.I. so many years ago. Tristen went on to explain the microchips and how the technology worked as well as all of the possibilities that would open up as a result of the launch that was set to happen the following day. Tyler was impressed with all that had been accomplished in such a short time and couldn’t wait to see the technology in action the following day. Aaron and Natalia would be arriving early the next day and Tristen had agreed that they should pick them up separately. Ordering a couple limos, the two of them set out early the next day to pick up their friends. All the while, Tristen was near bursting at the seams as he nearly failed in his attempt to keep the surprise.

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A note from Balr0g

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About the author

Balr0g

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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