“Look, I’m not trying to make a value judgement here or gross you out or anything. All I’m saying is you should think about it,” Kristoph said. “How would that even work in a world where someone has one set of parts in the real world and a different functional set in the game world? How does the game know what nerve endings to tickle to get things going?”
“Would you shut up about that already?” I asked. “I seriously don’t need to think about all this right now.”
“But if the game allows people to play characters of the opposite gender, and I know they do because I saw it in character select, then it stands to reason that they had to research how that all works. I mean we know in-game brothels are a thing because that girl mentioned it and…”
“Please,” I said through gritted teeth as I pushed branches out of the way. “Shut. The. Fuck. Up. There aren’t words to describe how utterly not interested I am in this conversation right now.”
It’s not that I particularly cared what gender someone chose when they logged into a game. The old acronym that “girl” in an MMO actually stood for Guy In Real Life was something I’d been familiarized with early on in my gaming career, though I'd always thought the kinds of people who tossed around terms like that tended to be assholes and I could understand why real girls playing games never opened up to them.
I really didn’t want to consider the implications of a game world where the person playing an insanely hot elf priestess or something was actually a neckbeard who bore more than a passing resemblance to the large mammals who used to perform at Sea World, but with more facial hair.
“Y’know that means the hottie hiding in the trees could very well be some overweight dude with more body hair than gorillas back before they went extinct in the wild,” I said.
“Yeah, but does it matter if she looks like a sweet little hottie in the game world?” Kristoph asked. “It’s like that dude said in the old Matrix movie. Y’know the one before that terrible remake? Sometimes ignorance is bliss, and I wouldn’t mind finding a little bliss in the game.”
“You’re impossible,” I said. “Honestly. The whole thirsty gamer dude in an MMO thing doesn’t work for you.”
“Says you,” Kristoph sniffed.
I looked at the forest around us to avoid Kristoph going on about gender roles in massive online games. It was my tried and true method for tuning Kristoph out. He knew to tap me to get my attention if there was something important going down. Otherwise the big guy was usually happy as long as he had someone to talk at.
As I looked around I spotted more of those small yellow flowers I'd seen back in the clearing. The flowers I hadn’t had time to inspect properly because the goblin had ruined any chance I had to look at them up close.
I had the time now, though. At least I was pretty sure those assholes weren’t following us, so I leaned down for a closer look. I reached out and brushed my fingers against a petal. A notification popped up in front of me that five flower petals had been added to my inventory along with an animation of the flower petals flying into my bag.
Huh. That was neat. It looked like the developers had decided to strike a balance between realism and gaming convenience, which included transferring crafting ingredients and whatnot into my inventory without me having to think about it overly much or actually pick them and put them in that bag.
A surprise, to be sure, but a welcome one.
Five Nhewb’s Blessing petals added to your inventory!
I was starting to get excited. If the things were flying into my inventory then those petals had to be some sort of reagent or something. Items in games had purpose, otherwise developers and art departments wouldn’t waste time on them.
Not to mention the text for these petals was the same yellow as that wolf pelt. I figured the fact that it was color coded and not greyed out meant these petals were more than trash to clutter up my inventory and be sold for a few coppers at the first merchant I found.
I suppressed a wave of excitement. The presence of reagents meant Lotus Online had crafting. I hadn’t found any crafting items while I was going through loot databases, but that was probably because I’d been looking through armor and weapons loot tables. I felt like an idiot now for not broadening my horizons.
Crafting was always a fun legit way to break a game by messing with the mechanics, but something told me it was going to be a lot more difficult to mess with the crafting mechanics in this game than in the single player or multiplayer Horizon modules I'd played and broken with Kristoph.
I grinned. As far as I was concerned that only meant that the rewards were going to be that much more amazing when I figured out how to break the crafting system. Assuming, of course, that the same attention to detail had been paid to making an intricate crafting system as to the rest of the game design.
The more intricate something was, the more rewarding it was when you figured out how to have your way with it. Complex systems yielded complex rewards and all that. I’d take advantage of a simple con or exploit if I found it, but something like this could very well be the magnum opus of my long and storied game breaking career.
And if Horizon really was hanging around in this game then I had a pretty fucking good idea of who I’d be bending over and giving a good fucking if I figured out how to break this game.
“Holy shit,” I said as a window popped up.
“Oh come on,” Kristoph said. “Are you seriously going to be that old fashioned about this sort of thing when you’ve been gaming your whole life? Remember Treasa who used to heal for us a few years back? I heard her on voice chat, and that deep voice didn’t belong to anyone who…”
“Shut up,” I said. “I think I found something important here.”
“Important?” Kristoph asked. “What’s up?”
“Hold on,” I said as my eyes darted across the notification window that’d popped up.
It let me know I'd unlocked the top level Gathering skill as well as the subskill of Herbs. Interesting. I also saw related subskills from other skill trees I hadn’t unlocked yet but were part of the overarching Gathering skill. It was like the game was encouraging me to unlock those new skill trees by giving me tantalizing glimpses of what else was possible.
“Wait, are you picking flowers?” Kristoph asked. “What the fuck could possibly be important about picking fucking flowers?”
“Maybe I am,” I said. “What’s it to you?”
Kristoph rolled his eyes and let out a long suffering sigh. This wouldn’t be the first time he’d been brought along for the ride as I gathered up reagents for crafting. It probably wouldn’t be the last time either if the suspicions about what I could do with the crafting system in this game were anywhere close to correct.
“I don’t understand why you’re so obsessed with all that crafting crap,” Kristoph said.
I grinned as I looked down at the yellow flower petals in my inventory. I couldn’t quite describe what it was about gathering and crafting digital stuff that drew me in. I'd always loved crafting shit in game. There were times, before Diana’s accident, when I'd had more fun gathering and crafting things and playing the market on a game’s auction house than I did actually going out and playing the damn game.
The only problem with that was there were so many games where the developers seemed to think that crafting should be an afterthought, or only in service of lame things like raiding rather than being a pursuit innately worthy of investing time in because it was fun in and of itself. I'd always pined for a game where leveling crafting was just as rewarding as learning the intricacies of taking down raid bosses, with equivalent loot rewards, but I had yet to find a game with developers who felt the same way despite so much searching.
I was hopeful now though. So far everything else about Lotus Online had shown itself to be way more thought out and immersive than anything I'd ever found in another game. I could only hope the same would hold true for the crafting system.
Still, I had to phrase this in a way that Kristoph would appreciate if I wanted him onboard. Or at the very least if I wanted him to be patient enough to stand by while I gathered shit.
“You know how I feel about crafting,” I said. “It’s a good way to break a game, and breaking a game is what makes a game fun for me.”
“You and your game breaking,” Kristoph said. “Did you ever stop to think that maybe you could have more fun if you just played the damn game?”
He whipped out his two-handed hammer and whirled it around his head a couple of times. Of course he wasn’t nearly as skilled with that thing in this game so he nearly took his head off with some self-inflicted blunt force trauma. Though, come to think of it, he had a habit of nearly taking his head off with whatever weapon he was flourishing in just about every game we’d played using the Lotus hardware.
“Maybe it’d be more fun to play the game like the normies, but I seriously doubt it,” I said.
“Those normies are playing the game the right way man,” Kristoph said.
“Hey, I’m not going to feel bad just because everyone else can’t figure out the intricacies of game systems that don’t involve bashing shit over the head. If it’s in the game then it’s worth exploring and exploiting, and stuff like this is a hell of a lot easier to exploit than smashing low level digital bunny rabbits with your hammer,” I said.
“Behold the mighty warrior, slayer of flowers!” Kristoph said in a tone that I took to be just a tad mocking. He held his hammer over his head, looking for all the world like a sand person celebrating his most recent victory over young Mark Hamill.
“Don’t knock it,” I said, touching another flower and adding a few more petals to my inventory. There were little intricate veins in the thing that almost seemed to glow as I inspected it. “Crafting can be a path to fame and fortune in games like this.”
“Fame and fortune?” Kristoph asked with a snort. “When did you ever get fame and fortune from crafting?”
“Well, fortune at least,” I said. “There was one time when I took a level one character in NuWoW and used a few coppers I got from killing mobs in the starter area to completely corner the market on a couple of different ores without ever leaving the capital city. That was fun.”
“Yeah, I remember that,” Kristoph said. “I spent the whole night trying to get you to run NeoDeadmines with me, and you were so busy with your auction house shenanigans that you wouldn’t come out to play.”
“Whatever,” I said, tapping another flower and adding it to my inventory. When I glanced at it in my inventory a tooltip came up.
Nhewb’s Blessing is a flower that grows in moderately untamed forests around settlements that border the wilderness. It can be used as a reagent in several potions.
That wasn’t much to go on, but it was a start. If I was a betting man I would’ve put money down on the moderately tame wildernesses Nhewb’s Blessing grew in being mostly the kind of areas where low level players got their start.
“So I got Gathering: Herbs just by touching one of these flowers,” I muttered. “And it’s showing me skills I haven’t gotten already. Looks like the game doesn’t give you a skill until you do it.”
“Duh,” Kristoph said. “How else would it work? You have to do something before you get the skill to start leveling it. That isn’t exactly revolutionary game design.”
“No, that’s important,” I said. “If we’re going to have fun in this game we’re going to have to figure out how the devs thought about putting it together.”
Kristoph leaned in and tapped me on the forehead. “If you’re going to have fun in this game then you’re going to have to figure out what the devs were thinking when they put it together. I’m perfectly happy smashing things with my warhammer. You’re only happy when you’re smashing the nice systems the game devs put in place so us normies can have a good time putting our brains on autopilot and doing fetch quests.”
“Whatever,” I said, moving along the path and tapping more flowers that went into my inventory. Meanwhile my Gathering:Herbs skill was moving up with each tap. It was addicting. “I wonder what kind of perks I might get for leveling Gathering?”
Kristoph shrugged. “You’re the one who unlocked the skill. Look at the skill tree and see if it shows you.”
“Huh,” I said. “Good idea!”
“You don’t have to sound surprised that I had a good idea,” Kristoph said with a sniff.
“Maybe not, but that doesn’t change the fact that I’m surprised,” I said, winking at him and earning a single finger salute for my trouble.
I thought of the skill tree and sure enough, just like every other status window in this game, thinking of it was enough to make it appear.
It was time to see what there was to see with this fun new skill I’d unlocked, and from there figure out how I could use that to pull off my ultimate exploit in the most complex video game ever created!
Hi! I'm a working writer who's been doing this full time since early 2015. I got my start in the Kindle romance boom, and I'm finally getting around to publishing stories under my own name!
I live in the Midwest with my wife, kids, and cats. Most days find me sitting in front of my computer typing out stories for your enjoyment!
I'm currently releasing Spellcraft. The tale of Conlan, a gamer who loves finding ways to exploit game systems, and how he uses those unique skills to battle a soulless multinational entertainment conglomerate who killed his sister and is trying to take over the gaming world!
Spellcraft is currently released on a chapter a day schedule.
I hope you enjoy my work. Thanks for reading!