“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?”
”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.”
“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.
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?”
“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.”
“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.”
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
-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.
-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.
-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?
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.”
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.