Xu Mingling followed the sorcerer while floating above Cape Town's streets. With a keen gaze, he noted that the visual quality was truly impressive. In no way did this world feel like a virtual environment - everything he could see felt real and alive.
In a normal game, the visual team will construct an environment using modular assets. Rather than building an entire house, the artist will make a wall, a floor piece, a column, and the individual assets like a chair, table, and so on. Then, inside the game engine, these assets are duplicated and arranged to form a complete structure. Because of that, when looking carefully, one will see that a piece of wall is exactly the same as the next piece. Any scratches, rust, dirt, or other notable textures are of course present on all of that type of wall. To avoid this obvious tiling, alternate wall textures may be created and swapped out every now and then. That is to prevent players from noticing how 'constructed' their surroundings are and breaking game immersion.
And yet Xu Mingling could see no evidence of asset cloning in DAO. Every asset seemed unique, as if made in the real world where exact duplication is impossible. The houses were tall and white, lined with patterns of dark wood - medieval European half-timbered houses. While at first glance they were all uniform, upon closer inspection the sizing and texturing were slightly different on each one.
A revolutionary game... he couldn't help but remember.
The sorcerer led Xu Mingling to the other side of town. From his flying position, Xu Mingling clearly saw she was approaching a large crowd of people clustered in a small plaza. At the center of the plaza stood a tall, macho statue of what looked like a typical Greek god. The manly statue raised a spear to the sky with one arm and stretched out the other. On that outstretched arm sat an idle female player. At the far end of the plaza was a portal of the same kind Luz activated to bring Xu Mingling here. This portal, however, looked properly like one used in an MMO. A blue light emanated from its center, and the metal rings surrounding that light rotated in perpetual motion.
It seemed that this was where Xu Mingling was supposed to have landed after finishing the game tutorial - Beginner Plaza.
That damned Luz... Xu Mingling cursed. Casting him off into the sky instead of properly on the ground, how big of a screw-up could you be?
As the crowd behind Xu Mingling approached the crowd in front, the sorcerer girl pushed her way through while shouting "Excuse me, let me through!" Xu Mingling easily floated above the others, casting his gaze around the area.
He locked eyes with a player in dark metal armor and rich blue cloth. This player had neat black hair, black eyes, and a handsome face... a face that looked particularly like a certain ex-servant's. An expression of shock flickered onto that face as he caught sight of Xu Mingling in the air.
"Whoa~" the crowded plaza clamored, also finally noticing.
"Here is the legendary knight Sir Rook, Venerable Master!" the sorcerer girl exclaimed, bowing in Xu Mingling's direction. Seeing Rook's confused face, Xu Mingling narrowed his eyes. The anger he felt about all this inconvenience resurged, and here was a perfect target.
Xu Mingling dived down until he was only a meter away from Zhong Huang's character, Rook.
"This sorcerer led me faithfully to you. She made up for your fault of not greeting me upon my arrival. Why don't you give her a suitable reward?" Xu Mingling said coldly.
A wave rushed through the onlookers as they eagerly took in Xu Mingling's message. For this NPC to so boldly order around Rook, whom even kings wouldn't offend, they must have an amazing position!
Meanwhile, the sorcerer girl grew terribly excited. Success! She knew that taking on this NPC's quest would lead to a great mission reward! Though, she didn't expect that it would come out of another player's pocket...
Rook, with only the barest of sighs, opened his magic bag. He looked around for any loot he'd picked up from the last adventure that would be useful for a sorcerer, and eventually took out a charged magic staff. This type of staff was pre-loaded with a spell, and could only use that spell until its power ran out. After that, it would need to be charged again. They were best used in the hands of magic characters who could recharge the staff with their own power. For Rook, this type of staff was just taking up space - he only brought it along to sell later.
"Here." He handed it to the sorcerer. Eagerly the girl grasped the staff and held it with shining eyes.
A Spirit Knight's Summoning Staff!!!
A Spirit Knight was a top-class level 370 mob, found in the most difficult dungeons of that level range. This demonic being was able to deal physical and magical damage, and had large health on top of that. One of the most dangerous and annoying mobs to encounter, but a great help as a sorcerer's tank! This rare and prized staff could easily be sold for hundreds of dollars.
"Thank you!" The sorcerer girl quickly stored the staff away, aware of the envious looks cast toward her by the crowd.
Xu Mingling watched the exchange with disinterest. When it was done, he told Rook, "Hey, hurry up and bring me somewhere else. There are too many annoying flies around here, I can't hear anything over their buzzing."
"Ah, yes." Falling back on years of habit as a servant, Zhong Huang easily went along with Xu Mingling's flow. Suppressing questions such as, Why are you flying? And, What took you so long? And, Why did you come from that direction?, Rook just said "Please follow me." Escaping the crowd, Rook led Xu Mingling to a small inn which could only fit maybe two or three groups of people. Xu Mingling ducked through the small doorway, still flying, not letting his bare feet touch the floor. Without paying, Rook obtained a key from the wide-eyed hostess and made up the stairs to one of the rooms.
Rook entered the first room at the top of the steps. The room was surprisingly spacious, with two beds on opposite sides of a window, a small round table in the center, and a girl sitting in one of the chairs.
Xu Mingling followed Rook inside the door and shot the girl a careful glare. Rook explained, "This is Chen Ai. In game, her name is Lillafrey."
"Hi Master Xu!" Lillafrey chirped, a wide grin on her lips.
"You were sitting on the statue," Xu Mingling said.
"Yep! While you and Brother Huang were talking, I went to reserve a room for us to chat."
"Hmph." Losing interest, Xu Mingling dropped himself onto the bed and sprawled as if he owned everything in the room. Finally able to relax, he complained, "Aaah, this game is so troublesome! Zhong Huang, hurry up and make contact with father. I don't want Gateway Media in my head any longer."
"..." A slight guilty look passed over Rook's face.
Lillafrey, sensing the bad direction things would take if Rook confessed now, took charge in distracting Xu Mingling. "Before that, Master Xu! You're really amazing! There isn't any other human character who can fly like you!"
"Hah?" Xu Mingling regarded Lillafrey with a slightly annoyed expression. "That's because I'm not human."
Lillafrey blinked. "You're not one of the other races, either," she said.
Every other race was completely distinct. It was impossible for a player to be an elf without pointy ears, or an elemental with a human form.
Xu Mingling snorted. "I'm a Celestial, apparently," he told her.
Both Rook and Lillafrey sucked in breaths of shock.
As veteran players, they knew a lot about the lore of the game. Even without directly seeking it out, quests and item descriptions painted a vivid picture of this world's history. From that, they knew of the existence of the legendary Celestials.