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Breakthrough. Phenomenon. Crisis(?)


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It's the year 20XX. Humanity stands on the edge of despair coming to a disillusioning realization; we can not advance any futher. As a species, we have peaked technologically. Resources are dwindling as the population continues to rise. Attempts at revitalizing the Earth have failed. In such a hurry to get ahead of everyone else, no one seemed to consider what would happen when we hit that inevitable ceiling and could elevate no further.

War was a distant memory, not because of mutually assured destruction and deterrents, but defense systems had become so incredibly advanced that there wasn't a point in attack. The world was in a record peace time. Computers were so fast and advanced that home entertainment had hit a standstill in development. Cellular devices no longer required satellite, access to internet is provided by the country and is available at all times to the public with strong signal literally anywhere a person could go. As far as luxury is concerned, the Earth had all but become a paradise.

Despite the futility felt globally in terms of ascending the laurels they currently rested upon, research still extensively continued in some fields, particularly that of neurology. As much as we knew about the human brain, we still knew very little about how it really worked and just what it was capable of. 

On a pivotal day, while monitoring the signals sent through the brain to the body, researchers succeeded in something thought impossible; artificial simulation of physical sensation by stimulation of the brain with sensors and pulses meant to mimic the activity. At first, they couldn't duplicate the results on their test subject, but on the verge of such an amazing discovery, they pursued it vigorously and without rest.

Finally, they were able to replicate the experiment with success, again, and again, until they adjusted the intensity and range of the sensation. It started with a simple feeling of something light brushing across the wrist of their volunteer until it intensified to replicating the sensation of a massage, it wasn't quite as intense, but the signals sent through the brain telling it that it was happening had the muscles and nerves fooled enough. They'd done it, and they sought to perfect this breakthrough.

Of course, with this revelation that progress could still, in fact, be made, researchers in other fields were energized and movitated to get working in a serious capacity again. The dark cloud of hopelessness and monotony hanging above them was gone, a hole was blown in that ceiling and soon, they elevated once more. 

Scientific fields soon flourished, having breakthroughs in stoage space capacity, upload and download speeds, improving the strength of the online access of world around them and even assisting the farming markets in helping them find new ways to grow more crop quickly and safely without the use of genetic altering chemicals. Space exploration was being funded and looked into again, the computer market was booming and along with it, the videogame industry was revitalized.

The leaders of various corporations heading digital design and engineering came together in a think tank, knowing they needed to get in on this booming market with something new, something no one had ever seen before, something that everyone would have access to that would revolutionize technology as well as entertainment. They pooled their resources together, assembling a team of their top engineers, programmers and designers to work on a new product, codenamed Project New World.

For this bold new project, they would need something new that has never been available to the public, and they knew exactly where to look. The leading minds behind the breakthroughs in neuroscience were contacted and offered a ridiculous salary to join the project, have their research funded for life as well as the promise of changing not just the field of neurology, but the entire world. They just had to accept the offer, it was too sweet to pass up, under the condition that they would be able to select their own programming and designing teams to work under the leads chosen by the corporations.

Together, the conglomerate took on a new name - NexTech.

NexTech went dark for several months after the announcement of the partnership, several heads turning in their direction in suspicion, curious as to what it was that the future held after they promised to "Alter the world" with their newest project, which was announced under a code name and then released no updates on it's status. Some blogs and news outlets were passing it off as a publicity stunt, something to get interest in stocks and product of NexTech's parent companies... 

Until the Electronics Expo the following year. NexTech had a stage to themselves between game companies revealing their latest software and concepts to the public. Naturally, this drew eyes into the Expo from around the world. The time came for them to take the stage and when the lights turned on, the representative stood with confidence, a neurologist stood at his side. On the stage with them was a plan, but rather large black box that resembled an older PC tower and something covered with a cloth. Near it was also a chair that resembled something from a dentist's office, laid back. 

The explanation was given for the amount of time it took for updates on their project. Through their funding and manpower, extensive testing was undergone to perfect the studies started years ago. The cloth was removed from the hidden objects, revealing a VR headset and two handheld control devices. The audience groaned at the concept of another attempt at virtual reality. NexTech's confidence didn't falter, even for a moment, and they called a member of the press to the stage and had the audience decide, to prove they didn't have a plant meant to be pulled into the demonstration.

The journalist was ushered onto the stage and helped back into the seat. The controls were put in their hands, the headset was placed on their head over their eyes and the neurologist had a seat and put on a set of their own. The lights went dark and the enormous screen behind the stage lit up, showing the perspective of the journalist in a plain VR environment. Soon, the neurologist's blank avatar appeared and approched the journalist's, then... Contact. The NexTech representative stood a few feet away from the journalist with his hands behind his back and the journalist didn't understand what was happening at first. He could feel it. He could feel what was happening in the virtual world and the audience immediately started into a buzz. By the end of the demonstration, the amazed journalist was speechless and the audience was on their feet, shouting question after question, but NexTech had no comments and once they cleared the stage, the company went dark for longer months to follow.

After months of anticipation, Project New World was fully announced with product details and a final name...

Altered Online.

An online game featuring an all new virtual reality gameplay engine, intuitive gameplay, complete control over a player's character in game with neural synchronization with propriety hardware (No PC required!) and a cloud-based network of servers, allowing nearly endless amounts of memory for optimal gameplay, functionality and the expansion of the in-game world's living environment feature.

The whole world, not just the gaming industry and it's followers, shook with anticipation for this technological marvel, everyone curious about how a virtual experience could possibly adequately simulate reality. 

The popularity of streaming gameplay videos had begun to rise again after a long lull in activity or enthusiasm since the technological breakthrough and certain interested parties received a beta testing kit, including prototype versions of the VR headset and controls and proprietary hardware necessary to run the game, allowing professionals to test out their game, live stream and report to the public what they experienced. Beta testers also would receive a special kit to further customise their in-game avatars and abilities.

With something so massive, the beta testers could forgive the minor bugs in certain animations and environments as well as a bit of lag with abilities being activated upon selection. Being able to actually FEEL the in game environment was unbelievable, though the sensation was dulled a bit from how it would really feel. Grass felt soft, water felt cool and wet, they could even taste what their character ate and drank and feel it going down their throats. This, alone, was worth looking into the game, just for the unparalleled experience of immersion into the beautifully designed fantasy world.

The closed beta came to an end and the full release of the game was scheduled for just a few months away. NexTech was prepared, their server in top notch condition, the animations and environments fixed to be seamless, the full living environment program was ready for launch and the neural sync sensors within their VR headset were tested extensively and proven to be absolutely safe for use, even with the optional setting to simulate the pain of your character. It was all an illusion, after all...

The game's pre-order count went into the millions, NexTech offered the hardware necessary to play at a modest price considering the revolutionary technology within at just over the price of a home video game console at launch price, meaning nearly everyone had access to Altered Online if they wanted it. Beta testers, as a thank you for such positive feedback and publication of footage of their experiences within their product, were given final versions of Altered Online by NexTech at no cost.

Altered Online launched with astounding success with tens of millions of players joining at launch and in the days following. The number only grew in the following months and NexTech was on top of the home entertainment market... No, with the experience offered by Altered Online, they were on top of the entire world, their representatives, developers and leaders appearing in magazines, blogs, vlogs, news interviews, talk shows and any other form of media that could get exposure.

Unfortunately, with the spotlight also came attention from less savory parties. The governments of the world saw military application in the technology, seeing a possibility in gaining an edge over other nations if a person could physically traverse an enemy's datascape and tamper with files within, among other applications. Government officials and employees had accounts within the game to learn all they could about it and try to learn how it worked, exploit any part of the system they could to get it to leak informaiton, only to be met with consistent failure.

A few months post launch... It happened. Something amazing. Something inexplicable. Something out of science fiction...

The Living Environment engine was evolving on it's own, it's coding rewriting itself, the in game world shifting, changing and finally, writing programs into itself. Characters appeared in game, monsters and citizens alike, which were not created it coded by the development team. These programs were literally being born of their own volition and NexTech was stunned... And terrified at how intelligent the AI was becoming.

Reports started to come in from players about killing new enemies and not having them respawn later, finding areas not mentioned in any part of the User Manual or in-game maps... NexTech needed to quarantine those parts of the game and respond that they were under maintenance, or were environments planned for an update that leaked into the game somehow.

Then came the effects on players who encountered the wrong sort of enemy. It was very few in number, but enough that NexTech could rule out simple seizures from the VR headset... However, they wrote it off simply as that, claiming no liability as they had a disclaimer before every login session, advising those sensitive to seizures, headaches or other discomforts not to play, or limit game play time. There were four fatalities documented from the seizures induced by an anomaly within their game and NexTech knew they needed to work fast and keep the situation under control and away from the knowledge of the public while they found the source of the anomalies and deleted the coding. Shutting down the game's servers would be too suspicious. Undergoing sudden maintenance would be as well. With unwanted parties already snooping around, NexTech left the game open and the players were unsuspecting of the secrets within the world of Alteria...

Well... Most of them...

Edited by TheSourestPatch
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