Chapter 3:

LEVEL 3: Update Alpha

CREO: Game of Creation

A warm breeze and the smell of flowers. I opened my eyes to a view of a mountain valley. Clear blue sky above, a village far out in the distance. I was sitting on a hill under a tree, a field of white and yellow daffodils surrounding me—I recognized them because they’re Mom’s favorite, she always keeps a vase full in our living room. I noticed a butterfly land on one. It was so detailed. My hand brushed the ground and felt the grass, pulling up a few blades and some dirt.

I’m really in a CREO world right now? I glanced down to make sure it was truly my avatar’s body I was in, rather than my physical one. By activating one of my mod skills, I hoped to see the full extent of the map—but it never ended. The scanner kept going, showing a bigger and bigger map until it reached its limit and shut itself off. This was unprecedentedly large, not to mention realistic.

“Like what you see?” Kuu appeared next to me, smiling in its annoying way. “CREO update, also known as Update Alpha. It features the first infinite map and quality that we believe matches or even supersedes that of the physical world.”

“It’s insane!” My excitement was getting the better of me as my gaze followed a flock of birds flying into the alpine distance. CREO always had strong graphics and spectacular views, even some touch and smell simulation, but never anything this intricate. “How is this possible?”

“Code files for Update Alpha are restricted.” Kuu said, like the fluffy robot he was.

“It wasn’t a serious question.” I said.

“Try creating something. This is CREO, after all.” Kuu switched the subject, like he was programmed to. I held out my hand and the familiar build menu appeared before me, while my surrounding became overlaid with a grid, encapsulating all. Usually when creating a CREO world, you start with a void, then you add whatever obstacles or environment you want, freely designing the style of your surroundings. The circular creation menu before me contained building blocks for everything, from simple polygons to living creatures.

I decided to design a bird. I chose the living creature selection and an orb of light with a heartbeat appeared before me. The creature I had in mind began to shape itself, the CREO program converting my mental image into a game element. This one, however, was unlike any I’d seen before. My design was executed flawlessly, a small bird with plumage emblazoned with swirls of neon color, but it felt so alive. Usually, the CREO architect (me) programs the behavior of the newly created game element—but as soon as my bird was finished, it began chirping and flapping its wings. The details on its feathers were better than even I’d imagined. Then it flew away and joined another, more normal looking bird in flight.

“Imagine what you can create!” Kuu said, sounding as if he were putting on a commercial for me. “A world of your creation!” I admit, I liked the sound of it. I opened the menu and imagined a hot-rod convertible—red with racing stripes, but instead of wheels it used balls of energy, which I could freely control to make it drive, fly, or shoot. It materialized before me and I jumped in. Kuu stared at me with its blank smile.

“Have fun and consider filling out our feedback questionnaire after you log out!” Then it disappeared into a wisp of vapor. Something about Kuu creeped me out, but I wasn’t going to dwell on a stupid bear mascot, not when there was a world to explore.

I drove into the village and marveled at what I saw. It felt like more than a normal NPC village—people were having full conversations, children played, one even tripped and scraped his knee. His mother came and gave him a bandage and he went back to his friends, out of sight. The buildings and the people’s clothing looked like a strange mixture of European and Babylonian, with steepled roofs next to ziggurats and a variety of robes worn over trousers and shirts. The village children took a particular interest in my car. They’d obviously never seen anything like it, or anyone like me. I spoke to a merchant and tried to trick him into a pre-programmed response.

“Never seen anyone like you before…” He looked me up and down, suspicion written on his scowl.

“I’m from the physical realm.” I said. “You’re a computer program without a soul.” The man looked at me for a long while, processing what I’d said.

“You’re nuts. You gonna buy something? If not, get lost.”

“I’m telling the truth, look.” I opened the creation window and created a hat out of thin air, then I made a rabbit fall out of it. The NPC man looked genuinely confounded. My trick gathered a crowd of onlookers—the children from before, and some of their parents holding them close. I decided to play up the attention.

“You could say I’m a god around here!” I said, loud enough for everyone to hear while making fireworks burst into the air above my head. The children seemed impressed—they stared wide-eyed and cheered, but the adults looked more concerned. Nervous grimaces never left their faces, their gazes never left me. “I’m hungry. May I have an apple?” I asked the merchant, wondering if he’d fall back into his programming.

“I don’t think so. Can’t you just make one yourself?” I noticed the children had been shuttled away, and I was now surrounded by the more muscular members of the village.

“No need for that. I mean no harm.” I said, an apple appearing in my hand. This was the best programming I’d ever witnessed. I wondered…

After eating the apple (it even tasted accurate), I stepped away from the merchant’s stall, the suspicious villagers following me from a distance.

“I’ll prove I’m a god.” I said, selecting living creature from the creation menu. It wasn’t my style to use NPCs, but I’d still made plenty of them in the past. Still, this felt different—I could feel its heartbeat. It began to form in front of me, the townspeople looking on in awe and fear. I made him about 10 years old, gave him a medium skin tone, darker than mine, blue hair and eyes, and dressed him in elaborate robes like one might see on a kabuki stage. When he was finished, he stood swaying back and forth, like he was drowsy. I was afraid I’d done something wrong when he fell, landing on his butt and looking around as if he wasn’t sure what had happened. Then he spoke.

“N-name?” He mumbled in the voice I had given him.

“How about… Adam?” Fitting, right?

“I… Adam.” He said. Usually when NPCs are made, they’re lifeless puppets. Then the CREO architect programs their behavior—though not before they’re given a name. So far, there wasn’t much difference between Adam and any other NPC I’d made. He just stared blankly into the distance, disappointing me a little. The surrounding townspeople were terrified, however, at the nonchalant creation of life that unfolded before them. Many retreated into their homes, while others stayed in the plaza and either looked ready to fight or knelt down and appeared to pray (though I’m not sure I was the recipient of those prayers).

Out in the distance, a familiar wail sounded—a flock of beast birds. CREO has several preset creatures and obstacles architects can use if they don’t feel like designing something from scratch, including the massive winged monsters that soared toward the village. They were raven black, had giant talons and rows of teeth. Their wings spread the length of a soccer pitch, easily.

The villagers scattered, clearly familiar with the might of the creatures. I grinned and sprang into the air, eager to try out some battle moves. I shot a bolt of fire out of my palm and roasted a beast. Normally, defeated monsters simply disappear. This one fell from the sky as a smoldering fireball, right onto the village.

That’s… new. I ignored the shouting and screaming from below. No sense in getting worked up over NPCs. I decided to deal with all the birds at once and create something I’d been working on for a long while, but could never get the programming right. Once again, I selected living creatures and created an enormous, fearsome dragon. Not the friendly kind like in Japanese legends, but the ferocious kind—the treasure hoarding, knight roasting kind. Its roar pierced the heavens, to the point it hurt my ears, and in a mighty blast it charred all that surrounded it. The beast birds were dealt with but…

The dragon’s breath had reached the village too. Hardly anything was left standing, just ruins. The monster I’d created flew off into the mountains, and I was left standing in its wake. Burnt corpses of beast birds and townspeople lined the once vibrant, sun-bathed streets. My hot rod was a flaming mess. Fires raged while the people that remained cried out in fury against the god that had dealt such destruction—me.

What is this? A sick joke on the loser of the championship? This isn’t CREO, and it’s certainly not a game. I felt sick. The graphic horror that surrounded me was more than I could bear. As I opened the CREO menu and pressed the log out button, I felt something grab my leg.

I was back, panting as if I’d waken from a horrible nightmare. The clock at the top of my vision read 2:15 am. I staggered off of my bed—I needed to get to the bathroom, though I wasn’t sure if it was to barf or cry, or both. What I’d seen in CREO felt real and disturbing enough—but then I heard someone crying. Not a virtual voice, not an echo replaying in my mind of the burned village, not Mom, not me, something else in my room that was very much real. I turned around slowly, trembling, then I stumbled onto the floor and let out a scream at the sight of the child sitting on my bed. Blue hair, blue eyes, kabuki clothes. It was the NPC I’d made in CREO—Adam.