The Void of Dominion Part 1

Albert McLintock, 39 years of age, was a professional Video Game reviewer, possibly even a good one.  He had written for IGN, PC Gamer, Gamespot, and had his own blog, The 9Three9, that received millions of hits each month.  His most famous review was for Kings of Dominion: Online, a much hyped Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game, or, MMORPG, by acclaimed developer “Lord” Calvin Maxwell, who had made millions and millions of dollars off of the Kings of Dominion series.  In McLintock’s review, he shredded the product, as many others did, citing server lag, weak quests, and clunky combat, but `he also went after Maxwell himself, pointing out in thorough and skewering detail, an overall tone to the game that nudged players to worship Maxwell as a true in-game deity – the tagline for his review was “The most expensive follow-request ever created.”  It got picked up on twitter and the major gaming sites, became an in-joke for cosplayers at all the major conventions, and really put McLintock on the map.
KoDO flopped hard.  After an initial burst of sales, players quickly turned elsewhere, returning only to troll the game for screenshots and memes, and within a year it had all but vanished.  Lord Maxwell, the Oracle in RPG gaming, had become a relic, a once great game developer who had lost touch.  The man was still worth somewhere north of $100MM, but career-wise, for him, it was seemingly Game Over…
That was 2012.  Now it was 2022.  And on March 19th, a rather dull and forgettable day in Northampton,  McLintock, sat down at his desk and opened a strange grey envelope, made out to “My Dear Adversary,” with a return address that read: “1 Dominion Cir.”
Inside was a hand-written note from Maxwell, an invitation to check out the new game he was hard at work on.  “Beyond next generation, Immersive on a level never before seen, alpha-stage finished and moving into beta-testing.”
McLintock was curious.  And maybe a little flattered.  After a quick call with his manager to push an appearance on TwitchTV, they decided to accept.
McLintock packed his bags as his 9 year old daughter, Madison, watched with a pout on her face.  “We were supposed to go to the zoo!”  McLintock tried to conceal the guilt – yes, they were.  But this story could be big, he explained, and a headline exclusive would mean that McLintock was as relevant as ever, it would assure a continued offer of paid gigs on panels and conventions, his site would grow, and all of that would translate into revenue for him to sock away for Maddie’s college tuition among other things.
In truth, he had a deeper fear.  The fear that he didn’t have long left in the gaming game.  With 40 approaching, he could feel himself aging out of relevancy – the younger gamers didn’t really want to hear reviews from the old guys, with their tastes and “classics” references as stale and boring as the graphics on a Playstation 2.  He was sure he could parlay his writing talents elsewhere, but then again, he’d been saying that for years.  He had to take every job he could, right now.
“But doesn’t this guy hate you?” Maddie protested.
“No, sweet heart, he doesn’t hate me, he knows how the business works.”
She had a point though.  Maxwell reaching out directly to McLintock did seem pointed – “I’ll make you eat your words, asshole.”
Maddie was so smart, he could not have been more proud of her, so he said
“You have a point- that’s very perceptive.  But this story I’m going to write could be very big, which means more money, which I need…  because you’re so smart, you’re going to get into a big fancy expensive college that I’ll need to pay for.”
“I’m going to get a scholarship.”
please, baby, please.  McLintock smiled.  “I love you.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
The journey to Isle of Dominion involved three flights:  A commercial 737 from San Francisco to Seattle, transfer to a smaller commuter jet to Vancouver, and then a chartered sea plane to the Isle itself.  Schloss Island, as it was known to google maps and anyone else, really, was an 88 acre mound of forest jutting up from the Mahatta River in Vancouver Island, just inland from it’s merger with the Pacific Ocean.  McLintock saw a few abandoned logging camps along the banks of the Mahatta, but the closest town, or… village, was Port Alice, about 20 miles inland.   McLintock was finding it hard to believe that a triple-A video game title could truly be developed in such surroundings – hell, just getting a running toilet in this wilderness would be a major feat.
Maybe that’s why his games are so bad, and yet he’s so proud, McLintock thought as the plane made it’s final descent toward the river dock.
A butler of sorts, introducing himself as Vance, met McLintock at the dock and assumed the burden of unloading McLintock’s bags from the plane onto an awaiting golf cart.  As they drove up from the coast McLintock couldn’t help but admire at the fine paving of the path.  “How did you get construction contracts going going way up here?  The roads I saw on the flight were all dirt.”
“His lordship has many ways of seeing his visions realized.  Most of the infrastructure you’ll see was built by the Canadian Corp of Engineers.  At one point we had three Magellan-class cruisers anchored off the Isle, working round the clock to lay the necessary piping and grading, as well as some of his Lordship’s more innovative energy designs, but I’m sure he would prefer to save the stories of these marvels for himself.”
And with that, not another word was said.  McLintock bided his time on the rest of the drive taking in the quiet and the bountiful fresh air.   By the time they arrived at the main grounds on the far side of the island, he was feeling truly rejuvenated.   Here he could see, was more of a campus, five buildings done up in a sort-of posthumous Frank Lloyd Wright design- stone, wood, glass and steel overlapping each other in hard angles and simple geometry, with curated natural elements like trees and boulders in between.  McLintock wasn’t much for architecture, but even he was impressed.  And at the center of the circle drive here, stood Lord Maxwell.
McLintock had searched for a recent picture online, but had come up empty.  The man who awaited him now, this Lord Calvin Maxwell 2.0, had his long sandy hair swept back into a tight ponytail, and had outfitted himself in a dark suit that had a bit of a Mandarin cut to it.  He had seemingly discovered the gym in his years away from the spotlight as well, a good 20 pounds lighter then McLintock had remembered, and his “lordly beard” had been trimmed up into well groomed goat-tee.  He still bore his earrings, a fashion McLintock would never understand, but overall, he was definitely getting the sense that whatever was in store for this demonstration, it would be an update indeed.
Maxwell greeted McLintock with a warm handshake.  “Ah, Albert.  Thank you for making the trip.  I hope it wasn’t too arduous?”
“Not at all.  An adventure for sure, but you certainly have me intrigued here.”
“Yes, many questions, I’m sure.  I will answer what I can.  I afraid my legal team got wind of my plans after I sent you the invitation, and they are on eggshells about what you might try to disclose outside of the game itself, so, before we begin properly, would you do me the favor of a few formalities with the Non-Disclosures and such?”
“Certainly, I expected as much.  And as far as that goes, you know, I am here for the game, people barely pay attention to my thoughts on those anymore, much less my thoughts on travel in British Columbia or architectural essays.”
“You are too modest, Albert.” He stretched his arms gesturing to the magnificent campus surrounding them.  “You nearly laid this kingdom to waste once, and your arrival now may be it’s salvation, or it’s final undoing.  I knew you were the right man for this.”
The signatures and signings, of which there were many, took place in what McLintock assumed to be the main building of the compound, on a large conference table that seemed to be constructed from a single redwood tree.  He felt that he’d read some where that such things had been outlawed, but he didn’t imagine that housing or environmental inspectors made their way to these parts too often.
After that was done, Maxwell gestured for McLintock to board one of the segway scooters lining the lobby, and commenced the tour proper.
“So that was the administrative building,” Maxwell said as they glided along the concrete pathway connecting the buildings.  “naturally I avoid it at all cost.  Coming up here is “Design,” this is where most of the game is crafted and coded, and the one beyond here is “R&D,” the really good stuff.”
“What about the first two?” McLintock inquired.
“The first building is Processing.  Basically houses one massive computer that the game and everything here work off of.”
“The game and the development run on the same single machine?”
“Yes.  I know it sounds a bit backward, but it works quite perfectly in sync.  Everything is live, real-time, all the time.  It’s necessary, you’ll see.  As far as servers, we have a worldwide network of processors. but everything ultimately emanates from there.”
“I’d love to see it.”
“I know.  And it is a thing of beauty, but you have to understand, the technology in that building is… more valuable than the game itself, I must admit.”
“I get it.”  they continued travelling towards R&D before McLintock asked, “And where do you live?”
“I keep a small cabin on the southern end of the Isle, but to be honest, I spend most of my nights in my Office at R&D.  I’ll show you both tomorrow, but first, lets get you what you came for.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~
McLintock wouldn’t have described the outside of the R&D building as modest, but once inside, it felt like a massive vault, with slate walls and recessed track lighting setting a quiet mood.  Maxwell led him into a central elevator, the buttons went down to 12.  Maxwell pressed 9.
“This building goes down 12 stories?”
“It takes a lot of R&D for what you are about to experience my friend.”
“That’s like… below sea level I’d imagine.”
“I believe, yes.  I think you’re right.”
“I don’t know where you got the scratch for all this, but, wow.”
“Just wait.”
The doors opened into a large cube shaped room, maybe 50 feet in all directions if McLintock had to guess.  in the middle, a metal platform dais stood about 2 feet off the ground, thick wires running from it in all directions.
Maxwell led him to the left first, where work tables had been setup.  To the right of them, some sort of contraption lied underneath a plastic tarp, McLintock’s gut guess was a hospital bed, but surely it must’ve been something More exotic and hush-hush.  On the tables were thick modified wetsuits, but with a wired mesh inlaid throughout.  “Is this?”
“That’s your very own suit, yes.  It should be measured out to fit within reason, your height and weight weren’t hard to search online, hope that’s okay.”
“Not a problem.  Will players be expected to buy these?”
“We’re working that out, right now the focus is on delivering the purest experience, but, to get around to what I think your point is, ultimately, we want the game to be as accessible as possible.”  Maxwell checked his watch.  “But let’s get going,  I promise we can continue once your suited up and things might make more sense then, too.  I’ll step away and give you some privacy to change.”
Once McLintock was suited in, Maxwell reappeared.  “Ah, perfect fit!”
McLintock looked himself over.  “Yeah, you guys really nailed it.  really tightens up the excess too, can I keep it as an undergarment?”
Maxwell laughed, then “You know my friend, I think we might be able to arrange that.”
As Maxwell led him to the central dais, those last words grated at the back of McLintock’s mind, that constant reference, “my friend.”  Something people said falsely all the time, but there was a strange force behind it whenever Maxwell spoke it, and of course, they were anything but friends in so many pointed ways.  Maybe he was just reading into it too much…
When they were standing on the platform, Maxwell checked a few things on a tablet clamped to a rail on one side, then grabbed something that was slung over the rail.  “Now you need the familiar piece.” He handed McLintock a mask to slip over his head, then slipped a pair of goggles over that.  “Can you see?”
“Good.  Okay, close your eyes then count to 10 and open them slowly, It might get bright.”
McLintock began counting.  A door must’ve opened from somewhere in the room because he felt a breeze on his arms.  Then he could hear birds chirping, and the distance rush of a waterfall.  He felt the light on his eyelids, and opened them.
He was in a lush grassland.  A butterfly flittered before him.   The sky was a pastoral blue, a few distant painterly clouds on the horizon.  He turned his head left, and saw the cliff from where the water was rushing.  He could see the mist rising high back into the sky, and catching onto…  the breeze.
It wasn’t a draft in the room, but the game world itself that was creating this sensation.  He could feel the air,  and noticed how it reacted in sync with the grass around him and everything else.  Incredible.  “Holy shit!”
Maxwell appeared before him, unchanged in his appearance from the real world, and clapped his hands.  “Ah, you’ve no idea how long I’ve looked forward to this reaction, my friend.  Thank you.”
“You’re welcome.  This is… how am I feeling the breeze?”
“We spent a solid 2 and a half years developing the sensors on the suits alone.  there’s multiple levels and in this demo, you’ll experience most of them.  Magnet, pressure, temperature, and micro tactile, all while being fully breathable.  The secret to the solution, I’ll tell you if you promise not to print or repeat it.”
“…is the layering of all these sensations on the outside of the suit.  We spent a good 16 months pulling out our hair trying to get direct skin sensation, but it always complicated the breathability.  Then we noticed that the human body was a quick study.  if the suit itself was properly tailored and uniform in sensation, the brain itself did the work of extrapolating the body to the new outer skin, often within 20 minutes.  And that discovery, my friend, catapulted the whole project with renewed vigor.”
McLintock let his hands brush the grass, and, indeed could feel the reeds, the serrations of the sides of the stalks versus the smooth flats of the backs, the hard beads of the grains-
“Now how does that work?  I can’t actually pinch them.”
“That is the micro-tactile at work, tiny magnetized ball bearings, that yes, know exactly where this reed is in the virtual space, and are creating enough polarized force to prevent your fingers from touching each other.”
“This is… I mean Calvin, this is incredible!”  He let the virtual reed go, and felt it tap against his hip as it swayed back and forth, eventually coming to rest in what McLintock deemed was an appropriate physical simulation.
“Now, try and pick up that boulder to your right.”
“Am I in danger of hitting anything on the dais?”
“Not at all the dais has actually lowered back to the ground and the rails folded away, so you have 50 feet of free motion in all directions, my friend.”
McLintock bent down and put his arms around the boulder, feeling every inch of the volume.
“Now how does this work?  Can’t be magnets.”
“Well it is, but on a different level.  what you are feeling now is the suit itself locking in place, via a different level of the metallic webbing, along the measure of the points in space that correspond with the outline of this boulder.  Now lift.”
McLintock tried.  he strained and it didn’t budge, so he gave up.  “Wow.”
“no, really lift, it’s not a fixture, it does move.  here’ I’ll give you a strength boost to ease the load a little.  Don’t want you walking out of here with a bad back and ruin the review.”
McLintock doubled down, and this time, was able get it off the ground a little and drop it a few inches over.
“So that, is a musculature mesh that we developed.  it works in tandem with outline mesh, but instead of contact, it tightens the movement against the muscles your body uses to “lift” a boulder.  Together, these two groups provide a majority of the realism that players experience in the Kingdom.”
Boom.  A brief wave of uncertainty, totally unrelated to the suit, swept over McLintock.  “The Kingdom.”  Maxwell’s Dominion.  The man who seemed obsessed with becoming a diety had a game with a suit that could lock your body’s physical movement?
Maxwell turned to him, seemingly noticing something.   “Are you okay?  We’re monitoring your vitals out here, and your heart rate just spiked.”
Keep it cool.  “Just excited.  I don’t know how long it’s been since this was ‘new’ to you, but it’s going to get a lot of heart rates up, I’m pretty sure of that.”
Maxwell turned away, seemingly satisfied.  “Haha, love it, my friend.  put that in your review.”  He waived McLintock forward.  “Come, physics test are neat, but a game they do not make.  I want to show you what the Dominion really has to offer.”
~ ~ ~ ~ ~