Forrest Cameranesi Geek of all Trades

(4x02) The Birth of Another World: Part 1, Episode 2

Tom, already being deeply involved in virtual reality, already has all the equipment he needs to dive straight into the beta program. A lightweight stereoscopic headset resembling swim goggles with attached in-ear headphones provides full audiovisual stimulation. A set of cameras placed around the room provide full 3D body-tracking for input. An omnidirectional treadmill underfoot allows him to walk about without running into real walls. And a thin full-body undergarment provides rudimentary haptic feedback with a combination of infrasonic and electrostatic stimulation. It's a far cry from the full immersion that has attracted Tom to the project, but it's the current state of the art and it's what Tom is used to, so it will do for now.

Xiuying's setup process, on the other hand, is the more dramatic of the two. Not being much into video games or virtual reality yet herself, she has only a simple 2D screen in her home, and only interacts with it through the usual hand gestures. She is hesitant to wear the haptic undergarment, and the headset and treadmill disorient her and threaten to bring her self-injury.

Katia has her team pay special attention to the needs of users like her however, and when Xiu's setup is augmented with a suspension harness, however, she is able to use the standard equipment safely, and with that orientation thus enforced, she then finds the immersive audiovisual experience of the standard headset quite impressive, though she still eschews the haptic suit, dismissing it as probably some kind of weird sex thing, a claim with some truth that Tom could vouch for.

Xiu finds the virtual world a very pretty distraction. It is a photorealistic beautiful untamed wilderness, a sort of virtual Garden of Eden which is a freeform sandbox for these early testers to play and build in. After designing a virtual avatar that looks just like her younger self, she quickly takes interest in the "magic" system of extraphysical manipulation of the virtual world.

Many ordinary devices in the real world of that time are controlled via augmented reality interfaces, and within the virtual world, a "meta-virtual" interface (visible only to the user, not to other people in the virtual world) controls access to "magic". Several types of interface are available, but all are written in a constructed language apparently derived from Proto-Indo-European. The primary interface is a menu system that can be interacted with through pointer-like hand gestures, or through spoken commands. Some menu commands can be accessed more quickly through shortcuts on a metavirtual keyboard. A direct command interface can be interacted with through spoken commands or through hand gestures on the metavirtual keyboard. And a metavirtual chording keyboard can access the direct command interface or the menu interface shortcuts with smaller in-place hand gestures. All of these give the appearance, to other users who can't see the metavirtual interfaces, of magic being cast by waving or contorting the hands, and the incantation of "magic words". But any of these interfaces can be accessed, with greater difficulty, entirely in the imagination of an experienced users who can accurately imagine the normal metavirtual interfaces, with the same effects, giving the appearance of wordless and gestureless magic.

This "magic" system allows Xiu to do things like "telekinetically" manipulate objects in a way her physical body, even when young, could never have had the strength to do. With that power she builds the virtual home of her dreams, and connecting with other like-minded users, begins to learn a variety of artistic skills that she applies in further beautifying the already beautiful world.

Meanwhile, Tom's main interest in games is action, so he spends most of his time exploring the fantastic aspects of the virtual world, adventuring around and looking for a fun fight, either with other users, or with the virtual creatures of the virtual world. That last element proves the most influential in the ongoing development of the world. A variety of virtual ungulates and carnivora collectively called "stags" and "wargs", procedurally generated and not identical to any real-world animals, populate the virtual wilderness. Users like Tom take to hunting them, both for fun and at the request of users like Xiu who want the predatory wargs cleared from their workspaces. This disrupts their populations just as real-world hunters would real-world animals, as the virtual animals (and plants as well) virtually breed, rather than being generated ex nihilo, for maximal verisimilitude.

To protect the virtual wildlife and provide a further source of challenge and thus entertainment for those who liked to hunt them, a new feature is introduced by Joe and Katia's ever-watching development team at Pacifica, wherein random individual animals in diminished populations would spontaneously morph into indomitable "werewargs" or "werestags", to defend their herds and packs.

As users like Xiu build further into the wilds of the virtual world, a similar process is introduced whereby rocks and trees in over-encroached areas will spontaneously morph into "ents" and "trolls" to protect the natural environs of the mountains and caves, forests and meadows, from overdevelopment, maintaining balance in the virtual world. Eventually, to maintain balance between the human users of Virtuality themselves, who had already begun to form a chaotic mess of conflicting groups, an overall narrative structure was introduced to the virtual world, a structure called "the Darklight system".

Artificial "goddesses" named Fire and Ice, respective queens of the virtual sun and moon, represented respectively passion and dispassion, each in both their positive or "light" aspects and negative or "dark" aspects. Omnipresently, they communicated with the users of the virtual world, offering them purpose, nurturing the light aspects of each respective end of their polarity together in cooperation, and setting the dark aspects against each other. Xio is highly skeptical of the introduction of this element, prompted largely by the protests of that ever-critical voice in his head, and almost overrides its introduction as defeating the purpose of a free, open sandbox; but a meeting with Katia and the other senior developers convinces him that it is best for the stability of the world, and assure him that when the platform is finished, different worlds without such elements can still be built within it for those who really can't stand these aspects of it.

The feature is implemented. Tom finds himself falling on the dark side of Fire, and struggles to justify his lust for action and earn the right to call himself on the light side of Fire, by fighting for compassionate causes instead of merely his own vice. Xiu, on the other hand, is on the light side of Ice, living a life of calm dispassionate reason and constructive creation, but finds herself struggling not to fall to the callous dark side of it in the face of raucous troublemakers like Tom.

Next: The Birth of Another World: Part 1, Episode 3