Wake Up

 
Art by:  Maker .

Art by: Maker .

 

Even before full consciousness returns he knows this isn’t where he fell to sleep. It’s a thousand small things that tells him this. The feeling on his skin, the air in his nose, the humidity, the temperature, the pressure on his body. The biggest clue something’s off is that someone is touching him. His roommate would never touch him.

“Hey, come. Wake up.” A women’s voice says.

What the hell is going on?

“You agreed to help…Ah, hey. Now don’t go back—”

A hook drops into his core, grabs the fish that is him, and rips him free of his body of water. Shot from a cannon, blasted into the infinite of space, a rocket propelled sled traveling faster than thought. It all slips away, every memory, every thing he calls his, left behind. Reaching for any one of them is like trying to grasp a fleck of dust in water. The more you reach for it the faster it escapes.

Every time is unlike the last. Only once it happens does he remember. Waking from a dream, but only knowing such when the latest one ends. No way to move back, only forward.

“You awake?” she asks. He knows her voice, remembers it from…That game, can’t remember what it was called. Linear…Nope, it’s gone.

“Where am I?" he asks not sitting up or opening his eyes. Doesn’t want to take in too much. Senses already overloaded. This isn’t his room. The familiar cold glow of his computer screen gone. A wavering light dances against his closed eyes, the sound of water playing with a rocky shore. Smells begin finding homes in his head. Plants, that water, wet earth.

“You don’t know?” she asks. “Hey, dad,” she calls, aiming her voice in a different direction.

But he does know. Memories of his previous life are fading fast. Soon to be lost forever. And yet it all felt so real—was real.

“You up, boy?” a man asks.

Ac1d, a thing he remembers. “I guess.”

“You going to help us or just lay in bed all day?”

Help. Help with…Tries to connect that phrase with the name, and a fragment returns, dragged from the muck of muddled thoughts. He was called Ac1d and was going to help someone, a woman. But this isn’t her, this is his sister. The man his father. One-by-one memories are exchanged. Like old books taken off a shelf and replaced by new ones. Only he doesn’t know these books, hasn’t read them. Has he?

“Help with what?” he asks, eyes still closed.

“We’re putting a totem up.”

Strange as it is he does remember. “Yeah. Sure. Give me a minute, I’ll get up.”

 

More Than Meets the Eye

 
 

The idea hit him a day after the message. “Come to Solin alone.” She’d said. But how? The question played over and over. After that solo game (he didn’t win) Panda got on and they played a few games, then Panda left and Ac1d played a couple with Gold and Cri. He wasn’t at his best, that message “Come to Solin alone” banging around. They won a single game.

The next morning something Cri said the day before came to him. It was in their final game. Cri and Gold had been gunned down, it was just Ac1d and one other player left. Cri said, “Leave us, man. You got this. Do it solo.”

I need to get in a squad with a couple terrible randos, let them die, and do the whole thing myself. I can’t go to Solin alone, but I’ll end up alone. It was the only thing he could think of. There’s no possible way to enter a game on Solin without being in a squad. After four games he got the Solin map. Before Solin it was Havved twice and Kvoka once.

When he launched the fourth game and saw they were headed to Solin he hoped, for maybe the first time in his gaming life, that his teammates would be trash. He’d considered asking them to die, or leave, but didn’t think they’d respond well to that. If they asked him Why? he didn’t want to have to answer. As it turned out they were about as bad as possible. So bad Ac1d wondered if there’d been a recent mobile release of LBR that he was unaware of.

Solin’s system for pushing players closer together is unique to that planet. Instead of a minefield, rising tide, or closing electrical storm the planet’s forest grows ever more dense. Stay where it’s open and you live, get caught in the woods and you’ll have a hard time finding your way. The screen dims as ambient light fades, the foliage grows thick, sometimes a clump of trees will lock you in place only for another to fill the space and turn you to mush.

Once his two teammates die Ac1d dashes into open where he’ll be safe from the encroaching trees the next few minutes. The plant life grows over his dead pals and they leave the match. He grins. On Solin alone. Now what? His internalized question is soon answered as a gas pours from the border of the forest.

 
 
 

He’s never seen anything like this happen before. Like a cross between a zombie and a hyper-advanced soldier, the thing screams pure violence. A monster—built? created? bred?—for one use: destruction. Ac1d has enough time to process this before the thing draws a P90-style submachine gun and begins firing. Ac1d sprints down a slope, hits slide, and slips up against one of Solin’s many tepee tower structures. The moment he turns he sees a second of the monsters walking out of the forest amid a cloud of gas. This one looks like it’s been mixed with a rose bush.

Ac1d starts firing Lasher rounds into the thing. Where each shot hits flower pedals fall. Am I even hurting it? he wonders. The thing lifts a hand and fires a flurry of thorns from its palm. Ac1d empties the bottom half of his magazine while strafing to his left, away from the first monster. He hears it moving around the tower’s base and turns as it opens fire. Ac1d starts running, wondering what the hell is going on.

 
 
 

PandaNam to Ac1d:

-Hey, dude. You solo-queueing? Want to game?

Ac1d ignores the message. Can’t think about that now, the first two…things have been joined by a third. Too-long arms, smoke pouring from its back. It moves in an erratic pattern, too fast to see. One second here, another there. Each time getting closer. Each time swinging those arms, slashing the air. Leaving a trail of glittering smoke in its wake.

A fourth joins the fray. This one begins attacking the three monsters. Her smooth ruby head is patterned with leaves, or maybe they’re feathers. Her armor is black, skintight, and sleek, she moves like a dancer after years of training Tai Chi and Jiu Jitsu. An odd combination, but it’s the only thing Ac1d can think of. Above her head is the name Crystalis.

When the three monsters are dead, she turns to Ac1d. “Thank you for coming to Solin.” The words are heard, and appear in a jagged comic book style speech bubble.

This is brand new. An NPC in LBR? And those monsters? Ac1d feels a swell of giddy joy bubble in his stomach. A game hasn’t done this for him since…Since he was a kid, the first time he played Ocarina of Time. The grin on his face is so big, his eyes so wide, it starts to hurt.

“What. The. Hell.” He asks aloud.

 

Crystalis

 
Art by:  Heri Irawan

Art by: Heri Irawan

 

LBR Forums.

-Where We’re At-
JAX: “Another update?” “Now what?” “When are we going to learn something about the story?” “This might actually be too much content.” “Who’s supposed to be able to do all this?” “I get to play an hour after work, if I’m lucky.” “Only the super hard core will ever figure any of this stuff out.” “I’m going back to _______.” And plenty of other complaints.

Whew, so what do we do? How do we make a game for everyone? Here’s the honest answer: We don’t. We can’t. There are some of you that play LBR more than ten hours a day (there are some real outliers that are playing more than fifteen hours a day). And we have a decent percentage of our player base that logs on for half an hour, maybe an hour, a few times a week. That’s all the time they can find to play. You might think that we want to make LBR for the former, push as much content out as we can to keep the hardcore players sated. But that isn’t the case at all, we simply want to make the best game that we can.

When we launch a new update it isn’t because we’re thinking, ‘Uh-oh, oh gee, those hardcore players need more to do.’ Not at all. In fact your playing habits have very little to do with what we create. Note I did not say your habits have nothing to do with what we make. That isn’t true either. Reality wavers between the two. It’s a constant struggle to find balance. I can see your responses now. “But you’ve said Fun > Balance!” And that’s true, 100%, but that applies to in-game content. Is this gun too strong? Is this Hero useless? Does this perk give a certain Hero too much of an advantage? That’s the kind of Balance that Fun trumps.

Here’s some food for thought. We play LBR. Not as much as some of you, we tend to fall into the ‘1-2 hours a few times a week’ group (we’re too busy working on LBR to play it more than that). We’ve put things into the game that will surprise us. You might not think that’s possible, but we’ve figured out a few tricks to make it so. Point being, there’s stuff in there that even we don’t know about.

—x—

“Well done, Hero. Will you fight for us? Come to Solin alone so we can talk.” The woman’s voice says, it isn’t one Ac1d has ever heard before.

The hell? Come to…How? Solin is a squad map. How am I supposed to go there alone? What the? The game ends and Ac1d leans back in his chair, brow knitted, hands laced behind his head. There’s no sign of the message. The only hint that a woman said anything at all is his fading memory.

—x—

“JAX,” Todd waves.

JAX lifts their chin, tells the person they’re talking to something, smiles, then makes their way to Todd. “Hey.”

“What say the people?” JAX shrugs. “Any sighting of Crystalis yet?”

JAX shakes their head. “Nope. Not a peep. We’ll know the second someone finds something. That kind of stuff doesn’t stay hidden for long. One mention on the forum, one screenshot shared on Reddit, one video—that’s all it takes.”

“Yeah,” Todd nods. “Yeah, assuming someone shares what they find. I was thinking about this last night, kept me up for an hour. What if even we can’t find her?”

JAX’s eyes widen. “Oh. Huh. That’s…Yeah, wow. That’s totally possible. I never considered that. I’m so used to people wanting to talk about anything and everything they encounter. Well this is interesting.”

 

I Figured They Forgot

 
 

PandaNam to Ac1d:

-Dude, did you see the new releases in the shop?
-Yes. Already bought the skin for Euryale. After the last three updates without a single thing for her I started to think they didn’t care, but this makes up for it in every way. I’m so happy right now.
-Hahaha. Yeah soon as I saw it I thought oh yeah Ac1d is going to want that for sure

—x—

This is in the early days of LBR. After Linear knew they wanted try and make a BR, but didn’t know exactly how it was going to look. Coming off the heals of Fallen Suns, a real time strategy game, this was going to be a big departure for them.

“Alright. Topic of today’s meeting is LON…GEV…I…TY.” Todd writes the word on one of the white boards with a black dry-erase marker, then underlines it a couple times. “How do we make a game that people want to keep on playing and—just as important, maybe more so—a game we want to keep making?”

“We listen to our fans,” says JAX.

“And critics,” adds Marcus. “Love ‘em or hate ‘em, many do know what they’re talking about.”

“Many are blithering morons.” Todd turns back to the board, jots down: Listen to fans and critics (NOT all). “Start tossing ideas out, people. What’ve you heard when you watch streams or play games yourself? Give me stuff from a player’s perspective, what causes people to lose interest and move to a new game?”

The replies come rapid-fire. “Lack of content,” “Unresponsive devs,” “Not enough different,” “Boring,” “Too much balance,” says someone.

“Too much balance?” Todd looks for the speaker. “Elaborate on that.”

“Ah, well,” says Sachen, one of the animators, “in a lot of games there’s this ongoing battle between a team of a hundred, three hundred, whatever, and a few million.” This comment garners tilted heads, furrowed brows, looks of confusion. “Think about it, any game you’ve played. How many devs are working on it? WoW, CoD, PUBG, Fortnite, Destiny 2, whatever, you pick the title. There is never going to be more people working on the game than are playing it. The ratio isn’t even close. Let’s say a million people log into one of these games each day, how many developers are working on Destiny 2 over at Bungie? A few hundred? Say five hundred, but it might not even be half that. How about WoW? A thousand? Hell, let’s go nuts and say with freelancers it’s five thousand for a big patch—it’s not even close to that, but let’s be silly. That’s a minute fraction of the people playing the game.” Sachen sighs. “What I’m trying to say is we will never, ever beat the mind—the collective mind—of the players. We can test things internally for a year, throw tens of thousands of hours at the game, and a day after release the players will have figured out damn near everything we did—and more. I recall stories about Dishonored bringing in play testers and they were mixing Corvo’s powers in ways the devs had never even considered.”

“Okay, so what’s your point?” Todd asks.

“My point is that we shouldn’t be too concerned with balance.”

Todd writes: Fun > Balance on the board, everyone nods. Within a week there’s a mural painted by a local graffiti artist on one of Linear’s halls with this slogan. It’s a motto they’ve stuck to ever since.

Two years later LBR is the most popular game on the planet, played by nearly two million people a day.

—x—

A message appears on screen: Final ring activation commencing in two minutes.

“Where do you think they are?” Panda asks.
Ac1d opens his map, scans. “Not a whole lot of places left they could hide. Maybe Tower? See if they’re in there, if not hold tight until we spot them.”
”Dicey, it’s right on the edge. If we have to move for the next ring it’ll be bad.” Panda groans. “Alright, sure, I’m not seeing anything better.”
”I’m going to look for some med gel and arrows, I’ll join you in a minute.”
”Don’t take much longer than that.”
”I won’t.” Ac1d heads into what’ll soon be an active minefield while Panda makes his way towards a towering skyscraper.

This planet, Havved, is a collection of one massive factory after another. Machines for war get built here. What war, where it’s being fought, who’s in it, are all unclear. LBR’s active community of fans researching the game’s lore has been digging around into that very thing. So far they’ve concluded that there’s a three front intergalactic war taking place. Each of the three factions has many allies, but what’s being fought over is still unclear.

But for Panda and Ac1d that’s neither here nor there, they don’t play LBR for the story, they play it because it’s damn fun. And if a game isn’t fun no one will care to pay your story any mind, no matter how clever.

Fun > Balance

 

It's Part of the Game

 
 

“You’re not a nice person,” Goldantuan says.
”Never claimed to be.” Ac1d chuckles. “Okay, here comes another team.”
”My bubble isn’t off cooldown, brah.”
”Piss. Panda, your ult. up?”
”Nope.”
”I don’t want them getting a turn-in. Hold tight. I’m going to jump down. If they seem too good I’ll back the hell out, be ready to cover my butt.”

Ac1d drops from the rock outcropping above the Cacher. Two players are turning their Resonance in while the third plays lookout. Ac1d notches an arrow, draws, and wishes he had the speed-cam mod, reduces draw time by fifty-percent. Let’s the arrow fly, shatters the 9th Ring’s shield. The other two cancel their Resonance drop and turn to assist their friend. Ac1d plants a viper rod and backs away, fires another arrow at the 9th Ring and misses. Shit, need the flight guide too. This might have been a bad idea.

“You want help?” Panda asks.
Ac1d, running from the three drops a second viper rod the moment it comes off cool down. Three blips on his mini map show he’s being chased. “Yeah. I’m coming to the back side of our camp spot.”
”You got it, brahseff,” Gold says. Playing Guardian this game, he does as Ac1d said and is waiting when Ac1d’s Euryale comes into view.
Panda, playing Deus-Ex, gives Ac1d some heals. “They close?”
”Right behind me,” Ac1d says and sure enough a second later the three enemies round the corner. The 9th Ring uses his agony ability on Euryale doing 100 percent of pre-existing damage, which isn’t much. Ac1d snickers. “They’re not that good.”
”No kidding,” Panda says having gunned down a Lawman.
Ac1d fires a shot, hits his ult.—split shot—and two arrows fly through the air hitting the 9th Ring and DJ. The DJ dies on the spot, his shield already gone from Panda and Gold doing some work. The 9th Ring tries to run but is killed a second later.
”Back to camping?” Panda asks.
”Nah,” says Ac1d. “I think we should get moving and try to win. I’ve got 18 Resonance, don’t want to lose it or turn it in. Still hoarding it.”
”Good. I’m sick of camping anyways,” says Gold. “Such a bullshit tactic. Can’t believe you wanted to do this.”
Ac1d laughs. “It’s part of the game, man. And you got some Resonance, right?”
”Don’t give a shit about Resonance. I play this game to win. That’s it.”
”Won’t getting more Resonance help you win more?” Panda asks. “You know, unlock new—”
”Look, play your way, but I’m not camping anymore. Don’t invite me to your party if that’s what you want to do.”

 
 
Art by:  柿子 皮

Art by: 柿子 皮

 

“Todd, hey, man, come check this out.” Markus says, mouth half full of veggie sandwich made with what his dad would call “squirrel bread”. “Look what Owen did,” pointing at Owen’s screen.

Todd beams. “Now that’s what I’m talking about. My first thought is “Yes, bad ass, that’s the look we want for Solin.”

“Watched Iria again last night,” says Owen. Using his stylus he points to the patterns on the building. “That’s where I got the idea for this look, the colors, the whole thing really. Kind of feel like a thief.”

“Picaso would be proud then.” Markus grins. Then, turning to the rest of the artists, “Heyo, folks, take a look at what Owen whipped up. This is exactly the kind of thing I want to see for Solin. Take your time with it, the look needs to be consistent. Bounce between Solin, Havved, and Kvoka as you like.”

“You got a second?” Todd nudges Markus.

“Yeah, sure.”

Todd nods towards one of Linear’s many meeting rooms. Glass walls, recessed lighting edging the top of the ceiling, huge screens on one wall, sliding panel white boards and chalk boards on the opposite. Todd takes a seat, spins, gets up, goes to the ever-stocked mini fridge, grabs a Perrier, cracks the top.

“What’s up?” Markus asks.

“I’m starting to worry about LBR. No, not LBR, about me. Us. Linear.”

Markus’s brow furrows, “What’s that supposed to mean? What’re you worried about?”

“In the past week I’ve started to feel like I’m running downhill. The grade of the slope is such that I can’t slow. It’s like barely controlled falling.”

Markus takes a seat, looks over at the mini fridge, considers getting a drink, decides to wait. “Have you talked to anyone else about this?”

“Yeah. Rachel.”

“What’d she say?”

“I’ll bet you can guess.”

“Uh, let’s see…She said you work too much. You need to step away from Linear, get some rest. Probably suggested a family vacation.”

“Yeah, almost word-for-word. Which is why I’m telling you. As much as I love my wife, as much as I value her opinion—which I do, both of those, a lot, you know that.”

“Uh-huh, but—?”

“But you’ve known me since we were kids. What is this? Me worried? Just anxiety due to having the most popular game out? Should I take some time off? Or will that only make it worse? Be freaking out about how the game is doing when I’m gone.”

Markus leans into the gaming chair. “It’s your competitive nature. You remember when we used to play Quake for hours on end?”

“Yeah.” Todd grins.

“You were the one that always wanted one more game—just one more. It’s the same with work, just another hour, another idea, another something. Rachel is right, you should step away. Not just physically, but mentally. But I’m not sure you can do that.”

“Honestly, I think that’s the issue with what I said about the falling feeling. I feel stuck, like I have to be here. If I’m not, things will go bad.”

“Linear isn’t what it is because of you, Todd. It’s Linear with or without you at this point. You being here an extra hour or not has almost no impact on what happens. It’s way bigger than that now.”

Todd nods, “Yeah, I never thought of it like that. I think I’ll take off early today, pick up the kids and go for a hike or something.”

“I think that sounds great. The place isn’t going to burn down with you gone.” Markus smiles. “And”—he shrugs—”if it does, eh. We’ve got good insurance.”

Todd chuckles.

 

Cri4Her to PandaNam:

-Dude, are you fucking kidding me? I just dumped all my Resonance into unlocking the new Hero.
-lol, and I put mine towards Lancer
-The hell? Why? You want him back in the game?
-Yeah, to play. Not a fan of playing against him, but I liked being him
-I’m not spending any Resonance now. If I hadn’t dumped all I had into the new Hero I would have been half way to that 9th Ring skin.
-Do you even play 9th Ring?
-Yeah, in solo queue

PandaNam to Ac1d:

-Hey man, you see the new skin for 9th Ring
-Yeah
-You going to buy it, right?
-I assume you’re kidding.
-Haha, yeah. I know you’re not spending any. Worried they’ll take your precious Euryale out.
-I’ll be so bummed. I don’t know who I’ll play if they do that, there’s no one else I like.
-Why do you like her so much?
-It’s a few things.
-Go on…
-First thing that caught my eye was how she looks. Always been a fan of the survivalist-hunter vibe. Kind of how they’re doing the recent Lara Croft, and that gal in Hannah, the movie, not the show. Aloy from Horizon Zero Dawn.
-Capable.
-Yeah, and I really like bows in games. So when I figured out her ult. works really damn well with a bow I decided she was my main right then and there.
-Yeah, I haven’t seen many others use the Raptor like you do. I don’t think that’s how her ult. was meant to be used.
-I don’t either. I mean, it splits the shot of any weapon you fire, auto aims, and pumps the damage, but the Raptor is so damn strong already it’s crazy. I think the idea was that it’d give you an edge in a team fight. You start firing on one dude with a Lasher, or whatever, hit her ult. and blast the dude’s friend at the same time. In that context it’s alright, but nothing amazing.
-Yeah. The way you use it though, you only pop it if you’re certain the shot is going to land. You’ve gotten really good at gauging that. Seems like every time you pop her ult. you’re getting two kills. Turns a 3v3 into a 3v1 real quick.
-You want to get a couple games in?
-Yeah, sure.

Ac1d closes the chat window, invites PandaNam to a party, hits Launch.

 
 
 

“Alright, Owen, what’ve you got now?” Markus asks.

“Well, not mine, this was one of George’s designs.”

Markus looks around. “Where is George? I don’t think I’ve seen him today.”

“Had a dentist appointment. Getting his wisdom teeth pulled.”

“Ah-hah. Wise.” Markus smirks, a few artists within earshot groan, that only makes Markus chuckle. “Okay, so George did something?”

“Yeah, so this is an idea for Kvoka. Instead of Resonance trees we have something like this. This is just a first pass, but you get the idea. Not a tree, not a static thing. A monster. Something that moves, fights back.”

“Yeah, and requires AI and animation and…This is way more involved than a tree.” Says Markus. “I like the idea, but—Let me see what Todd thinks when he’s back in.”

“Yeah,” Owen agrees, “but once it was done we could do the same for other planets. Something George and I were talking about, a few of the other artists too, was the idea of players needing to fight these things together. This guy shows up, he’s carrying a ton of Resonance. How much Resonance do the trees have? Between three and six pieces?” Markus nods. “Okay, so say these monsters have five times that. Anywhere between fifteen and 30 pieces. But there’s no way one player can defeat one. Maybe it shows up on the mini map, or is really loud, some kind of mechanic to let players in a wide range know where it is. It acts as a magnet, drawing players together. They battle it, then those still alive have to fight each other.”

Markus is smirking, “And you’d get other players coming in just to poach kills while players fight the big baddie. Whew, that’s an idea right there. Let me talk about it with Todd a bit. I’ll see what JAX has been hearing too. Whip up a few more designs so I’ve got some more stuff to show. We’ll talk tomorrow.”

 
 
Art by:  Leon Tukker

Art by: Leon Tukker

 

The ship punches through the portal. Hexagon pieces shatter, over and over again, fragmenting smaller each time until they become dust then the stars. A planet appears.
The announcer’s voice: Alright, Heroes, the tide on this planet rises fast. Find as much Resonance as you can within the time limit. As always, the extraction ship will only have enough room for one team. Good luck.

Half a minute later Ac1d, Cri4Her, and Panda jump, aiming for one of the smaller satellite spires.

“This is different.” Cri says.
”Always is,” says Panda. “Never know what they’re going to put in the game with these updates. What’s this, the sixth map or something?”

The moment they land all three notice the same thing, all they have are knives. And after a minute of looking they haven’t found anything else.

Ac1d chuckles. “I think this is it.”
”A knife? Just a knife?” Cri scoffs.
”You think that’s what everyone got?” Panda asks.
”That’d be my guess.” Says Ac1d.

A warning appears on screen: Three minutes until high tide. Make your way to higher ground, Heroes.

Ac1d heads towards a bridge then holds. At the bridge’s center stand three enemy Heroes. He swings his knife a few times. This isn’t a weapon he’s used before, has no idea what the range is like, how much damage it does, does aiming for different parts of the body matter?

”Want to just rush them and see what happens?” Cri4Her asks.
”Not really.” Panda groans.
”I’m doing it, back me up.” Cri dashes onto the bridge. He starts jumping and slashing, as the enemies do the same.

Ac1d laughs, then runs to support Cri. Panda follows. The six players are jumping, slashing, jumping. All the while the three friends are laughing over mic. A warning pops up, a minute left until the water rises. During the fight one of the enemies gets pushed over the bridge’s railing and falls into the water. The remaining two players get cut down in short order, each drop a single piece of Resonance. Cri and Panda each get one.

“Hurry, get to higher ground.” Panda says. The final thirty seconds begin to count down. The three friends sprint to the next spire, as they run up a spiral stair case the water begins to climb.
”How the hell do we get from this one to the next?” Cri4Her asks. ”I don’t see another bridge.”
”Maybe that glider symbol? See it?” Suggests Panda.
”Where?” Asks Cri.
”Oh, I see,” says Ac1d. “Open your map. Looks like it’s on the top of this spire.”
”Oh, okay, yeah. Uh, guys? This gate is locked and the water is still rising.” The timer is at fifteen seconds, thirteen…twelve…The water creeping ever closer. Then, at the ten second mark the gate opens and the three rush through. They look back and as the timer runs out the water reaches the middle of the gate.
”Okay, I get it,” Ac1d says. “We have to make it to these gates alive.”

As they roam the spire they find med gel and heal up. Panda finds a Grouter and Cri4Her gets a katana.

“How many shots for the Grouter do you have?” Ac1d asks.
”A full clip, six shots.”
”It’s not a clip,” says Cri. “It’s a magazine.”
”Whatever. I have six shots.”
”Eyes up,” Ac1d says.

Ahead are three players, one has a Lasher and opens fire. Ac1d is killed in the opening burst. Panda loses half his health before the Lasher runs empty. Panda fires back, lands all six shots, but fails to kill anyone. Cri sprints into the fray, swinging his sword, he kills one enemy, a second swing kills another. Panda swaps to his knife, runs in and helps Cri finish off the third. They go back, revive Ac1d, and wait for him to heal. As they do that a second group jumps them.

Back in the lobby Panda sends Ac1d a message:
-That was stupid
-Not a mode I like much either.
-See you on tomorrow?
-Yeah, probably. Peace.

Ac1d logs out, puts his PC into sleep, heads downstairs to get something to eat.

 

Choices

 
 

LBR forums

Subject: Choose Wisely

JAX: Hello, Heroes, friends, family, players. Something we’ve tried to do here at Linear is keep in constant communication with you. We know what it’s like to feel like the game you love is made by people blind and def to your concerns and worries. Today I want to address some of your questions. Instead of having an AMA I’ve scoured the web over the past few days to learn what it is you want to know most. Let’s get to it, shall we?

#1 What’s going on in LBR?

This question is, by far, the question most asked. It’s also the most challenging to answer, because it means something different to everyone. For some of you it means “Where’d Lancer go? Why was he taken out of the game?” for others it means “Why are we being brought to planets on the brink of destruction?” and still others want to know “What’s this Resonance stuff all about?” And there’s a lot more people are wondering, but those three points: Lancer, the planets, and Resonance are the most discussed.

This is where my job as Community Advocate gets really, really hard. I do have the answers to all of those questions, at least…sort of. You might think, “That’s crap, you HAVE to have the answers, you work at Linear! And if you, JAX, don’t have them, then someone there does. All you have to do is walk over to Todd or Markus and ask them.” And that’s true, to a degree. But some of this stuff we don’t even have answers to. If you don’t believe me then I implore you to think of what we do (game development) as writing. Does the author know, exactly, what all of the characters in the book will do and say before the scenes and dialog is all written? No. The author might have a few ideas, might even have a lot of ideas, but as the book is written some of those ideas will work and some won’t. What we’re doing with LBR isn’t done in a vacuum. We pay attention to what works, what doesn’t, what you like, what you don’t. This game is a collaboration between what we want and what works. It’s ever evolving.

So, instead of giving you what almost surely will be read as ‘more corporate spin’ I’ll answer what I can as best I can in the way I think you want. But keep in mind we absolutely want to keep some surprises for you.

First: Why was Lancer taken out? Because he was played too much. He was overpowered. Let me state something that Markus has said time and time again. “We will never, ever, EVER nerf our Heroes. Or buff others—which is a backhanded way of doing the same thing. They’ll stay as-is or be removed wholesale.” Now you might be thinking, “Okay, what about Orphiel and Slinger? They weren’t broken in the least, why remove them?” That’s one of the surprises I can’t talk about.

Second: What’s the deal with the planets? Why are they always on the brink of destruction? Okay, so when we sat around talking about LBR we paid real close attention to what all the other big Battle Royales were doing and with almost no exception they all followed the exact same formula. 100 (give or take) players get dropped into a map, every five(ish) minutes the eye of some kind of ‘storm’ gets smaller forcing players ever closer to each other, last man (or team) standing wins. The thing we asked each other was “What the hell is that storm?” because it’s never explained. It’s just…there. We think that’s extremely lazy. Everything needs to have a reason if it’s in our game. Things don’t just happen…because reasons. And so we decided to try the planet idea. Now I will add one thing to that: there’s more to the destruction of the planets than we’ve let on thus far. There are clues to what I’m talking about in the game already.

Third: What’s this Resonance stuff all about? Now this is where I have to really watch my words. This is the paragraph that I’ll read and reread and dozen times, ask my colleagues if it’s okay, because the Resonance is key to a lot more than we’re ready to talk about. Here’s what I can say. Resonance is lot of things. Is Resonance a kind of currency? Yes. Is Resonance going to be used for anything? Yes, 100% yes. When will we know what Resonance is for? It has many uses, but you’ll learn about one today. I think this is about as much as I can say and remain safe.

And on that note I encourage you to log in and see what I’m talking about.

See you in-game, Heroes.

—x—

Ac1d logs in. A few friends have messages waiting for him, but after reading that update he’s curious to see what JAX is talking about. Assumes his friends will tell him a thing or two, but wants to see it for himself.

As soon as the game loads a notice pops up covering the typical main-menu screen. There’s an image of Lancer on the left, a fist raised and falling in slow motion. He hits the screen as if he’s trapped inside. To the right of Lancer is another image, a Hero bursting from the head of some massive beast. Below the two images there’s a message: To free Lancer spend 20 million units of Resonance. To unlock Slayer spend 20 millions units of Resonance.

Ac1d drags the notice window down, looks up to the top right of his screen where the number of Resonance he’s collected is shown. 72. I’m supposed to collect 20 million? What the…No, that can’t be right. He opens his chat window.

-Goldantuan: Yo, bud. What’re you going to put your Resonance towards?
-Ac1d: It’s a collective thing?
-Goldantuan: Yeah, of course it is. You think you were going to collect 20mil alone? Come on.
-Ac1d: I’m still not sure if I like how little is explained with this game. It’s kind of cool, but I feel like as soon as I learn one thing it changes.
-Goldantuan: Sounds like whining to me. I want Lancer back.

Ac1d shakes his head. No way, not after what JAX said this morning. That quote from Markus. If Lancer comes back he’ll be as broken as ever. I’m not helping make that happen at all.

-Goldantuan: You want to get a game in?
-Ac1d: Yeah, for sure. You got anyone else on?
-Goldantuan: aXotlgas, you play with her before?
-Ac1d: I don’t think so.
-Goldantuan: Only plays Capt. Lasher.
-Ac1d: Huh. Okay. Not a popular Hero. Sure, whatever, I’m down. I’ll invite you to a party.
-Goldantuan: Right on, let’s do it. Yesuhyesuhyesuh

 

Speculation

 
 

Ac1d dashes into a house of mud. The little village set at the foothills of towering mountains looks like it’s been ripped from Afghanistan. Thin waterfalls run down the side of mountains inspired by mist drenched Thai islands. Two players drop from the top of a nearby butte, land on the house Ac1d is in with a double thud. Their footsteps echo.

“Aw man, this is no good. Think you can make it back to me?” Panda asks.
”D’know. Hang on.” Ac1d drops a viper rod in the middle of the house, crouches, readies an arrow. Come on, just peak. Just peak your dumb fa— He let’s the arrow fly as a player appears at the front door. The arrow hits center mass. There’s a shattering honeycomb effect. The viper rod spits poison. “Shit, he’s got a shield.”
”Man, this is going to be rough. They have shields on their planet, all kitted out of their minds, and we’ve got dick all.” Panda grumbles.

How can he even the odds? Two players. Have to assume they both have shields. The one he hit was a Verity. A close range semi-support Hero with decent damage output. Her ability is a pillar of light that forces enemies within 10 meters to look at it for five seconds. Her ult. causes that same pillar to emit a blinding light that silences all ability use for its duration. Ac1d being stuck in the house is about the best case scenario for the Verity. If she can plant her pillar in the house’s center he’ll be forced to stare at it while she and her partner gun him down. Then again, there’s only one way in and out of the house and the pillar does not prevent normal weapon use. No telling what the other Hero is though.

Sure as shit the Verity shows her face again, for a half second, long enough to drop her pillar smack-dab center of the mud hut. Ac1d let’s an arrow fly, but misses. The viper rod does not, but its poison only eats through shields, and not fast. Although that’s hardly why Ac1d likes the ability. The Verity activates her ult. Panda groans in Ac1d’s ear, but Ac1d chuckles. True, he can’t see his screen, but he can see his mini-map just fine.

Forced to stare at the pillar of light in this context ends up being no issue at all. He begins firing arrows straight into the light, towards the door. One, two, three. One blip vanishes. Panda starts laughing. Another blip appears, the viper rod hitting the second player with poison. Ac1d continues shooting. The second blip blinks out.

“I can’t believe that actually worked.” Ac1d chuckles. Loots the two players. “Finally got a shield. Hell yeah. Oh, dude, this one has…I’m going to come rez you, you’ll want this Banal.”
”Ah hell yeah, that’s my jam. Kitted?”
”Looked like it, I’m on my way to you.”

—x—

LBR forums.

Subject: Resonance and What it Means in LBR

BoneDry: I think the Resonance is like memory. Think about it. Lancer got taken out, but we all remember him. Some of us liked him, some of us hated him, but we all know who he was. And so does the game. I think the Resonance trees are, like, I don’t know, growing out of his memories? Or are his memories? What do you guys think?

DontPlaytheFiddle: Uwotm8…A game doesn’t have memories.

Nogglenog: A game doesn’t have memories? What about your saves? uwotmatey?

Snikshizz: @BoneDry, I’ve wondered something similar. It seems obvious we’re collecting pieces of Lancer, but why? What for? And why do the “trees” show him? He’s not the only Hero removed. Don’t forget they took out Slinger and Orphiel. Makes me fear for my beloved Deus-Ex.

Globlo: @Snikshizz, “…seems obvious…” I think you’re jumping to conclusions.

BoneDry: @Snikshizz, any ideas on why its only Lancer we see in the trees?

Snikshizz: @BoneDry. Maybe because Lancer was the one we thought about the most? The one most talked about? The Hero most in our collective thoughts?

KingLordEarl: What if its nothing and Linear is just fucking with us?

Nogglenog: @KingLordEarl. it’s* yourewelcome.jpg

ReetR33t: @Nogglenog you’re*

Nogglenog: actually no, in this case it is in fact “youre” because characters like apostrophes aren’t allowed to be saved in an image name.

ReetR33t: @Nogglenog. thisishowIknowyou’reretarded.gif.webm.jpg.png.csv.pdf

—x—

“Just us and them, bro. We got this.” Panda breathes heavy into the mic. More of the planet falls away, a message comes through saying the next destabilization is expected in three minutes. “Kind of neat how it’s not an exact thing.”
”Yeah, better than a closing circle. That never made sense to me anyways. Some kind of electric storm? One game does it and they all do the exact same thing, kind of stupid.”
”There was that game, Darwin Project, it was kind of similar to this in how sections of the map went away.”
”Oh, yeah,” Ac1d says. “Never played that.”

The two of them are running through city ruins, like downtown L.A. after “The Big One.” Nothing on their mini-maps, no shots fired, no sign of the last team. Ac1d drops a viper rod each time the ability comes off cool down, but even they aren’t finding anything.

“Fucking campers, man.”
”How much Resonance did you find?” Ac1d asks.
”Just what we got off that tree thing. Why? You? Did you find more?”
”Five pieces from one of those guys I killed back in that hut.”

They continue searching for the other team as the planet falls apart around them. Half the city crumbles away. A lake drains into the void of space. Ac1d’s shield shatters, the shield rod that dangles at his side emits gas and a bright glow. He ducks behind cover, presses a key and his Hero begins shaking the rod to cool it down.

“You see where that came from?”
”No,” Ac1d says. “Two seconds for my shield.” Another shot cracks the quiet. “I think it’s coming from 330.”
”I’ll pea—Shit.” Panda is hit, shield goes hot, a grenade lands next to he and Ac1d.
Ac1d cancels his shield shake, moves out of the grenade’s way and is shot. You Placed 2nd appears on screen. “Welp. Not too bad for our first game of the day.” A moment later the winning teams loots he and Panda.

Back in the lobby Panda sees he doesn’t have any of the Resonance he collected. “I guess you’ve got to win to keep it.”
”The Resonance? Yeah, I guess so. I wondered why the game didn’t end right when we got killed. That’s interesting. You know what it’s for yet?”
”No. I’m on the forums now. People are talking about it. No one knows though. People are annoyed you lose it if you die.”
”Kind of hard to be all that upset when we don’t even know what it’s for.”
”Yeah, but if only the winning team gets it then you’d got to figure it’s worth something.”
”True. Guess we’ll have to win to find out.”
”Guess so.”
”Another one?” Panda asks.
”Sure.”
”You good with threes? Goldantuan just got on.”
”Ugh, alright.” Ac1d groans.
”I know he’s kind of annoying, but he’s good.”
”Kind of annoying?”
”One game”
”Fine.” Ac1d agrees.

 

Patch 1.1

 
Art by:  Karl Sisson

Art by: Karl Sisson

 

“Alright, let’s see what they did.” PandaNam says. “Okay, that’s new and that, and that, wow, they changed…What didn’t they change?”
”No more Lancer or Slinger…or Orphiel.” Ac1d says. “You want to jump into a game, see what’s what?”
”Yeah, let’s do it.”
”Duos?” Ac1d asks. “Or you want to wait for a third?”
”Nah, let’s just go.”

Ac1d hits Launch, the queue begins filling with players. 16…34…52…72…106—

“It’s going over a hundred? Dude, what the—” Panda half gasps as the player count climbs to 151, slows, then stops at 196. A countdown begins, 3…2…1… The loading screen shatters, a thousand honeycomb panels burst, each breaks into a dozen more, another dozen.

The void of space. Stars. To the left a space craft picks up speed, freezes for a half second, a wavering portal appears, the ship punches through, the portal warbles then breaks like the loading screen—a pattern of hexagons that fragments into ever smaller pieces. Moving their mice, Ac1d and Panda realize they too are in a ship.

“Dude. Holy. Shit.” Panda laughs. “What is even going on?” Ahead of their ship a portal opens, a moment later they shoot through.

On the other side the first ship is headed towards one of two planets. Ac1d and Panda’s ship is headed towards the one that looks like a war-torn earth, less green and blue, more brown and blue-ish. The other planet looks to be covered with a massive sprawling city separated by long bodies of water. Long lakes or massive rivers?

“Interesting,” says Ac1d.
”Huh?”
”Looks like half the players are going to one planet and the rest to the other.”
”Oh, yeah,” Panda says. “Weird.”

As their ship enters the planet’s atmosphere a male’s voice breaks through, “This planet’s stability has reached critical levels, destruction imminent. Find as much Resonance as you can, survive long enough for extraction.”

“What’s Resonance?” Panda sounds giddy. “Dude, this is amazing. Holy shit.” Their drop ship heads across the map. Panda marks a spot called Dusk Wood. “How about there? I have no idea.”

Ac1d checks the map. “Yeah, fine by me.” Fifteen seconds later they jump, ten after that they’re on the ground and have begun looting.

”Marshal on me.” Panda says. “I haven’t found a shield yet, tell me if you see one.”

Ac1d bursts through a door. A trio of items await on the floor. Med gel, a Grouter, and a counterweight for either a Raptor or Rodeo. “I need a Raptor if you find one, got a weight.”

“Yeah, I know, I know. Raptor for Ac1d. I still don’t have a shield yet, pretty kitted otherwise.” The second Panda stops talking gunfire erupts. “Shit, man. I think I just got caught between two teams.”

Shit. Still haven’t found a shield and only this crappy Grouter for a weapon. “On my way.” Ac1d vaunts out a window, checks his mini-map, and sprits towards Panda. “Come to me, right now, gogogo.” He throws a viper rod down and begins backing up, aiming down sight in the direction Panda is coming from.

Panda, sprinting, rounds a corner. Not a full second later two players follow in chase. A Cryptid and Lawman. The Cryptid raises both hands trying to attach a soul drain on Panda. The viper rod spits poison interrupting the Cryptid’s ability. Ac1d opens fire. Without a shield the Cryptid dies in four shots. The Lawman, now facing uneven odds hesitates. That’s all it takes. The viper rod hits him with poison as he turns to run, and Panda guns him down as Ac1d reloads.

“No shields on them either, what the hell?”
“You said there was another team?”
“I thought so, looks like they booked it.” Panda says.

“Find Resonance or be left behind,” says the same voice that spoke in the ship as they entered the planet’s atmosphere.

“What’s this Resonance stuff?”
“No clue, let’s keep moving though.”

As the game progresses they discover LBR is not at all the same game it was a day ago. There’s no closing circle to stay ahead of. Instead the planet begins to fall apart forcing players to an ever shrinking plot of land. Sometime after they win their fourth fight Panda notices that looking up he can see the other planet. He and Ac1d stare for a moment, wondering what that’s all about, when their attacked. They manage to win this fight too.

“Raptor here.” Panda says.
”Finally, good grief. Still no shield?”
”No, man. I’m starting to think they took them out. You find anything called Resonance yet?”
”Nope.” Ac1d drops the Grouter, equips the Raptor and attaches the weight plus a pin-sight he picked up off the third team. “If you find more arrows let me know, I’ve only got fifteen.”
”Only. You’re a god with that thing.”
”Guess that’s what I get for only playing Euryale.”
”You think they meant for her ult. to be used like that?”
”Dunno, don’t care. It works damn good. I just hope they don’t take her out like they did with Lancer.”
”Dude, I’m still amazed they did tha..Whaaa…The fuck is that?”

Ahead, half in the water of a foul beach is what looks like some kind of alien tree. It’s branches, if they can be called that, shimmer and move as if hunting the air. Maybe hunting isn’t right. Feeling? Searching? Now and then the tendrils—not branches—form patterns that almost look like…But no, that doesn’t make sense. And yet, there it is again.

“You, uh…You see this, right?”
”Yeah. Yeah I do.” Ac1d says. “One sec.” He runs back towards the way they came and drops a viper rod to cover their backs then returns to the tree-like thing. “It reminds me of one of those art installations where an artist hangs a bunch of stuff and if you stand in one particular spot you see something like David Bowie.”
”Dude, that’s exactly what it’s like. Is it just me, or do you see Lancer?” Panda asks.
”Yeah, that’s what I see too.”

A blip appears on Ac1d’s mini-map, someone hit by his viper rod’s poison. “Yeah, nah. Get fucked.” He spins, spots the incoming two, aims, draws, fires, then hits his ult. The arrow splits in two mid flight skewering both players with an arrow that does double damage and applies a poison effect twice as strong as the viper rod’s. Euryale’s ult., unlike viper rod poison, inflicts player damage. A moment later both players drop dead.

“Oh, something happened? What’d I miss?” Panda laughs. A warning goes off, more of the planet being destroyed. “What do you want to do with this thing?”
”I have no idea. Shoot it?” Ac1d suggests.
”Yeah, okay, cool by me.” Panda opens fire with his Lasher, an AR style weapon he likes. The tree-thing shatters in the same way the portals did, the same way the loading screen did. A honeycomb puzzle of golden glass tumbles down. Left where the tree had been a moment ago is a trio of hexagon pieces. When moused over their label reads “Resonance.”
”Well there we go.”

—x—

“JAX, what’s the word from the people? What say our players?” Markus puffs his chest out like he’s some English Lord addressing a lowly peon.

“Aw good sah, be kind to ol’ JAX ‘ere. A bite to eat, sah?” They both laugh, a few nearby Linear employees shake their heads and chuckle.

“Reception is…As a headline? Confused, but excited, player-base seeks answers.”

“Beautiful,” Markus smirks. “Just as we hoped. Keep them wondering what’s around the corner, keep them interested. And Lancer? Much blowback there?”

“Nah,” JAX shakes their head. “A vocal few grumbling, but when Resonance images starting showing up they shut up and got all kinds of excited. People have no idea what’s going on. I’d say the overall emotion is wonderment. Kids on Christmas morning.”

“You know, there’s this line attributed to Jaime Griesemer of Bungie. Is he still with them? Not sure, but he said—”

JAX nods, “The thirty seconds of fun thing?”

“I’ve said this before?” Markus lifts his brows in mock surprise. “But my goal has always been—”

Todd joins the impromptu meeting sipping espresso from a cup almost too small for a doll. “Thirty seconds of fun, uh?” JAX nods. “Markus loves that one. Has he said what his goals is? A minute of wonder.” He waves his free hand through the air like his painting a rainbow, the look of his face a cross between derangement and awe.

“Well if the reception of this patch is any indication of what to expect,” JAX smiles, “I think we might have figured the wonderment part out.”

—x—

“Uh, Ac1d? Why isn’t the game over? We won, right? Last team standing?”
”I have no idea.” The two of them are standing on a slab of land the size of a cartoon island where there’s only one palm tree and a couple coconuts. S.O.S. written in big letters in the sand. Only there’s no tree, nothing besides Ac1d and Panda.

“Sorry for the wait, Heroes. Extraction ship coming in now.” Says the same voice that kept on reminding them about Resonance. Ten seconds later a ship drops out of the sky, it hovers a few feet off the ground while one Euryale and a Deus-Ex board it.

“Now what?” Panda asks.
”I know as much as you, man. This is my first game since the patch too. Guess we’re about to find out.”

 

This Is How a Game Grows

 
Art by:  SIMON WEBBER

Art by: SIMON WEBBER

 

“You feel like taking any of these interviews?” she continues tapping and flicking the tablet’s screen. When Markus doesn’t respond Maggie looks up. “Markus?”

Hands behind his head, rocking in the Herman Miller. “I’m not sure this was worth the extra twelve hundred. Actually I’m certain it wasn’t, at least in terms of comfort.”

“Uh-huh. How about you answer my question?”

“I’m sorry. No.”

“No? Okay, well I’m sick of telling them “At the moment we’re still busy with the launch of LBR, maybe at a later date.” That isn’t going to keep working. We should get out there and say something. You want me to do it?” Maggie lets the tablet swing to her side, held by its bungie. Got the idea to use a rifle sling after Linear took a class with Haley Strategic. Wanted to get a feel for how guns actually handle.

“Fine by me. You want to?”

“No.” Maggie snorts.

“See if Todd’ll do it. If not I’ll make time. Who’s asking anyways?”

“You name the outlet—they’re asking.”

"Actually, fuck it. Yeah. I’ll do it. EuroGamer?”

Maggie checks her tablet. “Two days ago, yeah.”

“I’ll talk to them.”

—x—

New message: Grimepaw

-Yo

-Yo

-Dude, I saw you come online a minute ago. What’re you doing?

-Whatever, I’m going to get a game in while you jack off

-I wasn’t jacking off
-Really? I sent that an hour ago, the hell were you? Played two games and got shit on. 34th game one and I don’t even want to talk about game two
-I was getting something to eat, then my roommate came home and we got talking about the Tarot
-The what? Like the cards? Fortune telling?
-Yeah
-You’re weird lol

New message: PandaNam
-Game?
-Sure, you want to party with Grime?
-Cool

“Who’re you going as?” Grime asks.
”Me or Ac1d?”
”You. Ac1d only plays Euryale. Have you even tried anyone else…at all?”
”Nope.” Ac1d says. “At least not in-game. Tried a couple in training, but that’s it.”
”You know basically no one plays her, right?”
”I do know that.”
”I think that’s half the reason he likes her.” Panda laughs. “I’ll give Cryptid another go. Tried him out last night, sucked ass, but he seems cool.”
”Alright, then you guys want healer or support? I can do Deus-Ex or Slinger”
Panda laughs. “What? Slinger? Slinger is trash.”
”Deus-Ex,” says Ac1d. “I want his heals.”
”Alright, cool. Just got a new skin for him anyways. Slinger is good if you know what the fuck you’re doing.”
”Which skin?” Panda asks.
”Inner Geist.”
”Oh fuck, no way. You bought that?”
”Yeah. Middle of the month paycheck, beautiful baby boy.”
”You guys ready?” Ac1d asks, cursor hovering over Launch.
”Let’s fucking do this.” Grime growls into mic.
”Alright,” Panda slaps his desk or claps, hard to tell which.

—x—

A day later an interview appears on EuroGamer’s front page titled, “Talking with Linear’s Markus Tottle, a man with a mission.”

EuroGamer: Linear Battle Royale, or LBR as everyone calls it, has been out for a month now. How’s it feel?

Markus Tottle: Good, yeah, real good. What’s not to like? Biggest launch of any BR ever. Over two million players daily. A monetization system that critics and players alike seem to enjoy. Yeah—smiles—things are good.

EG: Let’s talk about that a bit, your monetization model. How’d you come up with that?

MT: I didn’t. It was one of the artists. As you probably know we don’t have a set-in-stone hierarchy at Linear. We care about two things: Good ideas and ability to execute. One of our artists came to me one day and told me her idea. Said it came to her when she realized she pays $15 a month for Netflix when 95% of what’s on there she’ll never ever even think of watching. Why is she paying for that 95%? So we had a few meetings, couldn’t see any downsides, and decided to give it a shot. Seems to be doing just fine—laughs.

EG: Care to comment on any numbers?

MT: Absolutely not. That’s one thing we like about remaining company. We don’t have to tell you, or anyone else, anything we don’t want to. Suffice it to say we’re doing just fine. If you figure we have no less than forty million unique players a month and they’re all paying a minimum of $1 to play LBR, yeah, things are just fine.

EG: The name, LBR, you must really believe in the game if you’re putting the very name of your company on it. What was the thought process there?

MT: We do believe in it, yeah, for sure. But, honestly, we couldn’t think of something we liked better. We call it LBR not because the game is Linear, anyone that’s played it can tell you it’s anything but. Sure, it’s a Battle Royale, last player—or squad—standing wins. We’ll add more Heroes, more weapons, more skins, more everything, but that stuff is expected. We have a few tricks we haven’t even talked about yet. But really what’s linear about LBR is our way of thinking. We’re going to make this game the absolute best we can for as long as we can. It’s our mentally towards it that’s linear.

EG: Can you share a little about the game’s inspiration? There’s nothing else on the market than comes even close to how LBR looks. I don’t even know what to call it. What do you call it?

MT: Laughs—Yeah, we’re still not sure ourselves. Best thing I’ve heard is Mythic Sci-Fantasy. There’s a lot of stuff in there. There’s this anime from the mid 90’s called Iria, our art director is a huge fan of that world’s look and drew inspiration from that. That’s where the tribal space vibe comes from you see in the Heroes armor and weapons. Trigun for some of the over feel for the world. The scarcity. Star Wars—of course, that’s were some of the Sci-Fantasy comes in, like a couple of the Heroes less than science abilities, Crypid’s Life Drain, for example. Let’s see, what else? Horizon Zero Dawn, Destiny, for the progression systems and weapon modification. The Dune series of books, EvE Online, Titanfall, Dark Void, all kinds of stuff. We liked the talent tree idea from WoW and the shield system of Halo so, yeah, it’s all over the place. Oh, there was this RTS game, Planetary Annihilation, that too. Warframe, and the book Annihilation for that matter. But that’s how making a game goes.

EG: Okay, some of what you said makes sense, but you’ll have to help me understand what you mean about EvE Online and Planetary Annihilation. And Dark Void? That was a Capcom release right?

We’re going to make this game the absolute best game we can for as long as we can. It’s our mentally that’s linear.

MT: Yep.

EG: So, those other games, how did they play into LBR?

MT: Well, I guess you’ll just have to stay tuned. You haven’t seen much of anything yet.

EG: How long until we see some of these things?

MT: Soon—laughs.

—x—

The day after the interview.

New message: Grimepaw
-Holy…Shit…Dude, this update is … I don’t even

New message: PandaNam
-Are you seeing this?

-Where are you, man?

New message: Cri4Her
-Ac1d, wtf, you see this yet? They didn’t nerf Lancer, they took him out of the game WTF

New message: Juicebox
-Bro. Lancer is gone! Noooooooo, not my boy Lancer!!!

Ac1d, brushing his teeth, sees message after message flash onscreen. The hell is going on? Bent over his desk, one hand continues brushing, the other on his mouse—click-click…click. The fuck? Opens a browser, heads to the LBR forums. Every new post is about the patch. Confusion. People aren’t mad, they’re confused. Every post has a pinned message from JAX, Linear’s customer relation’s guy (or gal, no one knows). JAX’s message on every forum post says the same thing: “Everything will make sense tomorrow after the follow up patch.”

To PandaNam:
-Tomorrow, huh? Guess we’ll have to wait and see what’s going on.
-A full day without LBR? This is unheard of. wtf is Linear doing?
-Whatever they want, just as always. It’s worked for them this far.
-But these patch notes, they…I don’t get it. You read them?
-What, the one sentence? lol, yeah.
-That’s what I mean. Twenty-four hour maintenance to take a single Hero out of the game? It doesn’t make sense
-They’re obviously doing more than just that. Want to play something else?
-No, I want to play LBR… …

-Okay, fine, what?
-How about Magic, you still got Arena installed?
-Okay, sure. But for the love of god, please don’t play Nexus Fog
-I played that once, I think I hated it as much as you. I’ll play Dimir midrange.
-Oh joy

 

The First Game

 
Art by:  Johnson Ting

Art by: Johnson Ting

 

New message icon blinks on screen.

-Dude, you see what Linear just put out?
-No. What?
-Check this shit out—link

The video is thirty seconds long. A twenty second montage of character silhouettes followed by a five second fly-over of three maps, the last five second is the game’s name: LBR: Linear Battle Royale.

-They’re making a BR? Wow, that’s the last thing I expected from them.
-Right? Guess what.
-Huh?
-I’ve got it half installed.
-How?
-An hour after that video was posted they put a download link on their site. Didn’t advertise it, just stuck it there—link
-Okay, that does seem like something they’d do. I’ll give it a try.

—x—

"Alright, alright, alright. Hot damn. What a wild twenty-four hours, huh?” Markus clicks his remote, the room’s lights dim, the massive OLED screen at one end lights up with figures. Number of players since launch: 1.9 million. Number of hours played: 10,462,400. Shots fired, deaths, ultimate abilities used, list of Heroes played from most to least…etc. “You know what those figures have in common?” Markus asks. Todd senior game designer, bouncing on a ball-chair—boing, boing, boing—raises his hand. “Todd?”

“They’re all higher than any other BR to date.”

“That’s damn right. Maggie.”

Maggie, 30’s, maybe early 40’s, dark bob, taps a tablet, her face lit by the blue glow. “That little teaser we released received more views in the first twelve hours than any game trailer since Grand Theft Auto Five. Our customers trust us. We’re still one of only a handful of employee-owned developers in the industry and our loyal following shows we’ve done something right.”

“Which brings me to the subject of today’s meeting, but first let’s give ourselves a round of applause,” says Markus and the room bursts into cheers, clapping, hugs, smiles, high fives. Beyond the glass walls members of Linear respond to emails, engage with their player base on Discord, take calls from media outlets hoping to land interviews. “Alright, let’s talk serious. Now that we have nearly two million people playing our game we need to figure out a way to make some money off this thing.”

—x—

New message: PandaNam

-Dude. I don’t think I’ve had that much fun in a game since… Fuck. I don’t even know
-Seriously
-It’s like Linear said, “Oh, okay, Battle Royale, huh? Yeah, that’s cool. But here’s the thing, you’re ALL doing it wrong” then put this out. Holy shit
-I can’t remember the last time I woke up and actually wanted to game, like really wanted to. Not just because I didn’t have anything else to do
-And the monetization system..What the actual fuck? When I saw it I literally shook my head and thought How has no one else done this before?
-It’s really smart
-No kidding! Why doesn’t Netflix do something like that? Base rate of $1 and you add what you want with the option to buy a pass for stuff that isn’t part of your normal package. What’d you go for?
-Just the base, nothing extra
-Really? That doesn’t surprise me. I’m too impatient for that. I want access to the new Heroes the day they release, so I went with that, the 50% EXP add-on, and Overflow
-Overflow?
-Yeah, that’s the one where a percentage of the EXP you earn for the Hero you’re playing is shared with the others. I don’t know who I want to make my main yet.

Dropping in 3…
”Where do you want to go? Crash Site like last game?”
2…
”No. Looks like there’s already at least five teams headed that way. Let’s go Vineyard.”
”Ugh, I never find anything there. Fine, fine.”
1…

They start looting. Ac1d finds a medium backpack, shotgun shells, and a crossbow. “Let me know if you find bolts. I’ve got shotty ammo if you need it.” A little more looking and he finds a Grouter, a pistol decent at close ranges, but garbage beyond 25 meters. Footsteps on the roof. “Above me. Two.” A quick press of “1” and his Hero throws a viper rod into the ground. The rod goes turns flexible, a spear become snake. Any enemy that comes within line of sight will be hit with poison that eats through armor but does no character damage. As long as the damage ticks the enemy appears on the mini-map.

“I’m coming,” says Panda. “All I’ve got is a base AR, only twenty shots for…Two dropping from your roof now.” He opens fire, but the first opponent jumps through a window into the building Ac1d is in.

The moment the glass breaks the viper rod spits poison. Ac1d jumps out the window, spins—checks his mini-map mid turn—locates the enemy and opens fire with the Grouter before his eyes see the player. As visual cortex registers what’s happening the shots connect. The opponent moves out of view towards a door—towards Panda. “He’s coming your way.”

“I see,” Panda starts shooting the moment the door opens. “Knocked him. Where’s his bu—Ah shit.” Hands appear to cover his face, there’s a crack, and Panda drops. “He’s playing Shade. I’m down, man.”

Ac1d’s viper rod ability comes off cool down, he drops a rod outside the house. Panda tells him the guy is going inside to rez his buddy. Ac1d’s mini-map pings as what Panda says becomes visually clear. The viper inside the house poisons the opponent. The moment it does Ac1d vaults back through the window, shoots the enemy three times, then melees him twice for the kill. Before looting he returns to Panda and revives him.

“Thank you, hot damn. That Shade came out of nowhere.”
“That’s what he does.”
”You ever tried playing him?”
”Nope.”
”Just Euryale, huh?”
”Liked her the second I saw her. Almost no one plays her.”
”I still haven’t decided on a main. I’m not sold on this guy.”
”Lancer? Seems broken if you know what you’re doing. I have a feeling they’ll nerf him sooner or later. I’ve seen some good players 1v4 and win with him—his ult is nuts.”
”I know, I love it. If I get to use it once a game I’m lucky, but when I do, oh man. Bam—you’re dead; bam—you’re dead; bam.”

—x—

Owen says “Knock-knock” as he raps on the glass door. “You got a minute, Todd?” Todd lifts a finger, continues typing for another thirty seconds then sighs.

“Owen, hey, what’s up?”

“I was giving some thought to the issue of balance.” Todd's brows lift, a subtle degree, but enough. “Not my wheelhouse,” Owen says, “I know, but hear me out. I play a few collectible card games and that’s what got me thinking.”

“Okay.” Todd closes his laptop, leans back in his chair, giving Owen his full attention.

“So…Well how familiar are you with Magic?”

“Enough. I haven’t played in awhile, but I know the game.”

“Okay, so you’re familiar with some of the formats and how new sets are released, how there’s a rotation of whats legal and isn’t?”

“Yeah. That’s not uncommon in card games.”

“Exactly. But it’s unheard of in a BR.”

Todd nods, gears begin to turn.

“What if we did that with our Heroes? Had a rotation. Why do we have to keep all the Heroes in all the time? But what if we went a step further.”

“How? A whole reset?”

“No, no. Picture this, we release…Who’s coming out next? Cryptid?”

“Yeah.”

“Okay, let’s say when we release Cryptid we remove the most played Hero. Last I checked that was Lancer.”

“Been Lancer since two days of release. We made his ult. way too strong,” Todd laughs. “I’ve seen some bonkers highlight reels on YouTube.”

“Okay, so when we release Cryptid we remove Lancer. Not nerf him, flat out remove him from the game.”

“Players would lose their shit.”

“What do you think is better? Nerfing him, or taking him away entirely?”

“Fair point.”

“But that’s not all.”

“Uh-oh,” Todd smiles. “No?”

“What if we gave players a way to earn Lancer back?”

“Okay, now I’m curious.”