VRMMO Development Tragedy
Translation of an extra story (EX3.2) of Sword Art Online back when it was still on the web.
(Just a note, but none of the usual characters appear here.)
Okano Kouji raised his face, taken by surprise, while still holding onto the straw stuck in iced coffee with his mouth.
In his sight, Fujita Shin had thrust both hands onto the table and now stared intensely at the ashtray atop the table with an expression resembling some ascetic.
“I’m seriously sorry!”
Shin shouted out once more, fervidly lowering his head this time.
His head crashed into the table with a thud and the mountain of ice in the glass crumbled with a tinkle.
It was one in the afternoon, Thursday, at a seat for an inner table in a cafe near JR Sugamo Station.
Kouji was taking his computer apart and packing it up at home when Shin called him out over the phone.
It was plainly midday on a weekday, rather than the weekend or any sort of holiday, so the clientele in the shop were mostly married ladies, in the midst of their shopping, or female workers from the nearby offices.
As such, Kouji and Shin were strange enough, sporting long hair and beards grown from laziness while wearing discolored T-shirts and jeans, but Shin’s loud voice attracted even more curious looks from their surroundings.
“H… hey, don’t shout!”
Removing the straw from his mouth, Kouji croaked out. However, Shin still opened his mouth to continue shouting while his eyes turned increasingly bloodshot behind his glasses as a result of this rare trip out during the daytime.
“Got it, I got it! First, tell me what you’re apologizing for.”
Shin curtly shut his mouth at Kouji’s voice and froze for a while, perhaps searching for the right words, before eventually lowering his head onto the table once more.
A subdued voice streamed out from in between his concealed face and the table.
“The money’s stolen.”
“The price in the room’s contract, 360k, stolen at the bank.”
“—What did you saaaaaaaay!?!?”
Kouji’s scream boomed through the shop at a volume several times the former.
Kouji and Shin are freelance “object makers”. To be specific, they became that yesterday, 7 in the evening.
After the shop manager at Kouji’s workplace, a convenience store, accepted his resignation with a “hmm” and absolutely no intent to dissuade him from it, the pair officially became freelancers—or existences living from paycheck to paycheck. Likewise, Shin had left his job as a VR cafe’s attendant three days earlier.
An object maker, like the name suggests, is the occupation of selling the data for 3D objects. Most of their business, or 100% for this pair, came from the administration for VRMMOs.
It was once normal to have internal designers create the characters, items, terrain, and such data for virtual MMO games a while ago. There were cases of outsourcing, but the contracts went to specialist design studios, so an amateur, freelance 3D shop that just barely started would have no place in that.
That situation started changing February this year—roughly eight months ago when the completely free use VRMMO package named, “The Seed”, began distribution.
Due to the fact that everyone, not only companies but individuals as well, could set up a full-blown MMO game server with a bit of capital, the number of game worlds multiplied tremendously in the half a year. Though it was even getting hard to estimate how many of those there were now, they met a limit on adoption among users. Sooner or later, those game worlds would be weeded out without any say on their part.
As long as the base game system stayed the same, they would have to rely on appealing to the users’ interest by reskinning many parts to their original creations. In other words, the focus would be on object design for worlds, characters, and such.
Quite naturally, design companies accepting outsourcing requests were flooded with orders and rendered unavailable. Besides, the extremely high fees for design charged by these corporations could not be easily paid by the administration for small-scale VRMMOs.
And that—was how requests for object creation fell onto amateur 3D modelers like Kouji and Shin.
As they fulfilled those one-off requests, piece by piece, the models made by the pair garnered some fame, especially the female ones.
They continued both jobs, the part-time ones and object creation, for a period of time, but one day, a massive order that neither of them expected at all came in from the administration of a mid-scale VRMMO.
It was an urgent order for 80 variants of 20 pretty, female models to be used as the default characters of a newly-established “MMO focused on moé”.
The spare time from their part-time jobs was completely insufficient for such a load. The pair did consider rejecting it once, but the seed money mentioned earlier was far too attractive for the underemployed.
At the end of a discussion that spanned over an entire day and night, with beer and snacks in each hand.
The pair decided to put an end to their part-time jobs and genuinely set up shop as object makers.
If they were to do so, the old, six-mat apartments they rented individually would be far too cramped.
They wanted a professional machine for rendering purposes and needed a high speed, high capacity line hooked up too.
Nothing could stop the pair and their exuberance any longer. They needed only five minutes before they decided to invest all of the advance payment into an office.
Two of the newest and best (though self-built) computers.
An industrial scanner and a 6 drums color laser printer.
And a large apartment measuring 8+4.5+4.5-mat to store all of those.
Their balance book climbed steeply for an instant, followed by various nose dives, but the pair paid no attention to that.
And just as they settled the contract with the realtor and were almost done packing with the intent to move in several days later—came this glorious autumn afternoon.
When Kouji was called out by his partner and listened to his shocking confession.
“Stolen… wait… wait a minute, you…”
Several seconds passed as Kouji’s mind stayed frozen from shock before his mouth somehow moved.
“Just how did you…”
Shin scratched at his head while showing a hollow smile.
“After stuffing the notes I withdrew into an envelope, the old guy at the ATM beside spilled all his change, you see.”
“I stuffed the envelope into my rear pocket at once and helped out, picking those up, then when I got out from the bank… my pocket was empty.”
“I thought that maybe I dropped it and went back, but nope. The old guy was gone too. Same for the guy who was in the booth opposite. Then and there, I thought, aah, maybe that was a trap?”
Kouji first extended his right hand.
“You idiot!” Slap! “You idiot!” Slap!
Dealing out a tsukkomi with two hits on Shin’s strangely wide forehead, he gulped down his coffee loudly and crunched on the ice.
“…I could ignore how you managed to get baited into a trick like that from the last century for now. But why in the world would you carry around cash in this time and age?”
“No, well~ I forgot the ‘net account and passcode for the realtors on my terminal, you see… Besides, I had never seen three hundred thousand in cash before, so I was thinking about taking some photos for research and all.”
“I can’t claim to not understand those feelings entirely. …The police?”
“I went, I went. They said they’ll search based on the surveillance cameras’ footage, but that old guy had a huge straw hat on with sunglasses, so it’s not like…”
“Wasn’t he suspicious enough by that point?!!”
He gave another slap to that forehead. Followed by violent scratching at his own unkempt hair with both hands.
“Ah~~~ geez, what will we do now!?”
“Hey, you, got anywhere to borrow money from?”
Shin crossed his two index fingers and shook his head at Kouji’s question.
“Ten or twenty thousand’s still possible, but I don’t even know anyone who has three hundred and sixty thousand. You, Kou?”
“I wouldn’t ask even if I knew anyone.”
“Well, that’s true. Ha-ha-ha.”
Kouji let out a long and deep sigh before leaning against the backrest and looking up towards the ceiling.
A calendar spread out in his mind as he reassessed the schedule from now on.
“…Let’s see, we can probably stay in the current room for another two days… We’ll have to pass them the first base in another ten days…”
“That’s it, we’ll get the money if we finish the whole request.”
“Oh… That would be a piece of cake; the talking about it part, that is.”
Kouji directed a gaze with as much scorn as he could muster at Shin.
“To finish the request, we’ll have to make a whole bunch of objects. We’ll need our computers to work for that. Just where do you intend to plug the cord in the day after tomorrow when we get chased out from the room!?”
Sipping at his lemon squash that had all of its ice thawed already, Shin contemplated momentarily.
“…How about we go to a ‘net café and make…”
“Their CPUs are slow, they lack memory, and in the first place, they wouldn’t have those applications.”
“…You didn’t have to say it with a voice and face that cold… You’re frightening Shin-chan here.”
Shin’s coquettish gestures, holding his two hands together as he puckered his mouth with those small eyes behind his round glasses on that wide brow, made Kouji’s murderous intent brew like a bath close to boil. Kouji’s two hands reached out in silence to strangle his neck and Shin drew himself back in a fluster.
“Woah, it’s a joke, a joke! Don’t get so mad, Kou-chan, you think up of something too.”
“Stop calling me that. …We could still barge into someone else’s house with panel PCs, but… Two towers would just be…”
The computers newly made by the pair didn’t use MRAM, the mainstream since recently, as the side storage, but a traditional array of four hard disk drives. They had no qualms with the cost-to-storage ratio, but the chassis was horrifyingly huge, not to mention how when combined with the excessively loaded cooling fans, the noise produced was like a hurricane. They weren’t something that could be used while sponging off someone else.
Apparently understanding the gravity of the situation at last, even the optimistic Shin glowered at the glass filled with thawed ice with a stern expression.
“…In short, we just need a machine that we can use for free somewhere that’s fast and with ‘Nizer’ installed on it. …School… public facilities… erm…”
“Putting the machine’s specs aside, we can never find a computer with a software as specialized as ‘Nizer’ on… it…”
Kouji’s mouth froze as he spoke.
The image of a desktop he saw somewhere surfaced from his recent memories.
Mixed in with the mess of icons scattered throughout the lifeless blue wallpaper, not of his own machine, was the logo of the 3D modelling assistance software, “Solid Organizer”.
However, the desktop appeared hazy and translucent along with the monitor it should have been displayed upon. As though the monitor itself was a hologram or something. After all… he saw that desktop at…
“We can find one. A machine that has Nizer on it and can be freely used for hours on end.”
Shin became round-eyed with his small ones at Kouji’s subdued mutters.
“On the moon.”
“…Kou-chan, so your brain had snapped from the shock, huh…”
“That’s not it! Kopernik City. In ‘LUNASCAPE’.”
Shin’s puckered-up mouth opened wide and stayed that way.
“LUNASCAPE” was a VRMMO-RPG game the two were addicted to for this one year. Its selling point was the steampunk-styled world with the moon’s surface as its stage, it had the most SF-ish setting among the VRMMO “empire” filled mostly with orthodox fantasy worlds of swords and magic.
“Look, we did that quest a couple of months back, right? The one where we searched for the lunarians who went missing in Koper…”
“Ah, ah. That boring yet troublesome one with a crappy reward.”
“We played a mini-game on the terminal at some bar halfway through, right?”
“The one where a message would appear after winning, huh. That was really annoying… You sure snapped back then, Kou…”
“You were the one raging! You were in a fit from anger after losing and smashed on the keyboard, suddenly ending the game…”
“Ah, I certainly lost my patience back then. It went to the desktop or something.”
The pair panicked, fleeing in case a GM came, and it was back to normal when they went back there the next day, but…
“In other words.”
Kouji spoke to Shin’s wide forehead.
“That terminal isn’t a virtual object programmed exclusively for the quest’s mini-game. An actual computer on the administration’s side runs the game application and that’s just linked to that bar.”
“Oh really, that’s pretty lazy of them, or rather…”
“They probably forgot to lock up the game application. Well, it is only a small venture company managing LUNASCAPE… Anyway, I saw it. Nizer’s logo was on the desktop after the game ended.”
“…In other words… if we use that terminal…?”
“Yeah. Let’s work in LUNASCAPE. We have no other choice.”
“W-Won’t they find out?”
“We’ll take it as it comes.”
Everything went quick after they confirmed their decision.
Vacating the room they currently lived in, Kouji stacked up all the luggage he could into his worn-out van and disposed of all his furniture. They stopped the deliveries for the peripherals ordered.
On top of that, they rented a horrifying two-mat room with shared bathroom, toilet, and kitchen facilities, built forty-eight years ago, that went for twenty thousand a month with no deposit or key money; when they marched into their new home, they were each literally equipped with nothing more than “a single AmuSphere”.
The pair were at a loss for words at the despondence of the space consisting of two tatami mats and a closet, but anyway, they only needed space to lie down. Sticking the AmuSpheres’ plugs into the one and only lifeline drawn into the room, a black power outlet, they hooked them up to the portable terminal that connected to the internet via a router… and thus, their office was completed.
Spreading an air mattress over the light brown tatami mats, singed with countless marks from cigarettes, the pair equipped their metallic rings and stretched themselves out before shouting out together. Link start… as long as they could connect to the internet, they were in no position to complain about where their bodies were in the real world.
“You challenging the game put together by that legendary hacker, Vorpal Bunny? You bastards just don’t know your place.”
It was the seedy bar at the end of the road constructed from pipes and metal plates on the lowest layer of Kopernik City on the moon surface, the bar-owner NPC spoke as he faced Kouji and Shin who sat before the two terminals lined up deep within the shop.
“Heh, like I would ever play a game like that again…”
Shin cursed as he pressed the Ctrl, Alt, and Del keys simultaneously on the rustic, metallic keyboard. As expected, the game application displayed on the holo-display ended and out came a vivid desktop clashing with the world view. After confirming that, Kouji, too, pressed the keys for the terminal before himself.
There were no player customers in the shop at all and the door showed no sign of opening. The quest in question had already ran its course, so that was only natural, really. There was the possibility that the entire pub would vanish, but they didn’t bother, fortunately, and left it alone.
“Ooh, it’s here, it’s here. Let’s see, Nizer, open… there.”
Shin manipulated the mouse with a dull gleam like titanium and clicked, displaying the multiple layers of palettes for the familiar “Solid Organizer”.
“It really is fast, huh. Lots of memory too… with this, we…”
Gazing at the holo-screen before him, Kouji nodded.
With his virtual right hand—stripped of the armored glove it was equipped with—on the virtual mouse and his left hand placed on the keyboard, he glanced towards his side. After sharing a deep nod with Shin—
“Now, let’s start!”
The pair worked hard.
They would stuff themselves with the shady lunar cuisine offered by the bar-owner to deceive themselves whenever hungry and collapse on the shop’s sofa for a nap whenever sleepy.
They limited returning to the real world to once or twice a day at most. After getting rid of those unavoidable physiological phenomena and quickly taking in the bar-shaped energy-supplement food they bought in bulk, they once again dived into the virtual world.
“Toiling away like this isn’t all that bad, huh”, or so Shin said.
After staring at a monitor for five hours in the real world, his eyes would hurt, his shoulders would be stiff, and his waist would creak. Tumbling onto the bed for a so-called refresher, he would either end up going to sleep mode or put on the AmuSphere to escape to another world.
However, now that he was already in the game, there was nowhere else to run to. Sleepiness was unpreventable, but unexpectedly enough, slumber with the five senses blocked off was efficient and he would feel fully refreshed after lying down for 4 hours.
Like so, the pair continued, immersed in their work. Figures of beautiful, young ladies were created on the virtual monitors one after another and stored in unethically occupied storage. Ten days passed.
“…We’re done…? Tell me we’re done…”
Shin moaned as he leaned himself against the chair’s back.
Kouji carefully moved his mouse and spun the detailed 3D model sprinting on the screen. An extensive check from all angles.
“…Okay, looks good.”
Shin jumped to his feet and thrust both hands up into the air.
And slummed back onto the chair once more.
“…Let’s go to a public bath first… then a proper meal… meatmeatmeatsakesakesake.”
Kouji agreed, just this time, with Shin’s deranged mutterings. It would have normally taken a month… no, it would have easily stretched beyond that and they compressed it by a ridiculous amount in a VR world. It wouldn’t be strange if a fraction of his brain cells had gone and died off.
Seeing a realistic hallucination of smoke rising from fried meat as dizziness took him, Kouji saved the final model…
And came to a sudden stop.
“…Hey, what’s the matter. Let’s hurry up and get back.”
Shin said, but Kouji would not move. No, he could not move.
“C’mon, what is it? Hurry up and save the…”
Shin, too, stopped his mouth there.
“………Save the data…… and how are we going to bring it back to reality……?”
There was no answer for that question.
Kouji and Shin turned to each other.
“What is it, younglings? Giving up?”
The bar-owner NPC’s raucous voice lifelessly resounded throughout the shop.
- Translation – Tap