It’s nineteen-ninety something--two or three, I think--and I have these glasses.
This is important.
-- CYBERDELIA MUSIC --
They’re made from lurid dayglo cardboard and they came with a video cassette. The video’s called ‘VR Cyberdelia’. It’s a music video, only not the kind they play on Top of the Pops, or the ITV Chart Show. It’s rave music, the sound of the underground, with spaced-out, trippy visuals. It’s not as hard or as good as some of the stuff I like, but the visuals, the sights accompanying the sounds . . .
It’s MTV on acid.
On something, anyhow. Screensavers gone wild. Computer generated imagery flashing subliminal Spectrum loading screens and Amiga demo disks mashed together with soothing waves of plasma and crystalline reflections. It’s like someone pointed the camera lens beyond our physical dimensions and now, in fragments of colours the human eye can see if not comprehend, we can watch the vibrations that tickle our inner ear, sound-waves playing in their own environment, as surely and as clearly as if David Attenborough was narrating the footage.
But those cardboard glasses, those 3D-looking glasses are in fact 5D, 7D or more-D. Omnidimensional glasses that expand your senses as they expand your mind.
In reality they lenses are prismatic, or some such. They make abundant lens flare, conjure fireworks from light fixtures, and when you slot VR Cyberdelia into your VCR they make TVs appear in your darkened room, eight new screens surrounding one that really exists in a dazzling halo, reflecting its graphics in all colours of every rainbow.
And it’s cool. To a techno kid like me it’s really cool, and I’ll watch that cassette so many times it wears thin and corrupts. Every glitch is like a cat’s lives, refracted nine times over.
-- MUSIC STOPS --
And then . . .
-- REZ MUSIC --
It’s many years later, and onto the nascent and mewling Internet is released footage of a Sega game people claim will change everything.
It’s called The K-Project--K for Kandinsky, the abstract painter whose art was a physical representation of music, of sound. The game is synesthetic, blending sound and visuals, one reflecting the other. Music triggers lightshows, lightshows trigger music. Actions in the gameworld prompt instruments and musical motifs. How it works isn’t entirely clear; it’s a shooter of some kind, but the RealVideos are blurry, indistinct. There’s nothing to latch upon, no characters or designs. It’s hard to tell what’s going on, as abstract as anything Kandinsky painted.
And I watch the videos too often, and they never wear through. Rumour has it The K-Project will have a different name by the time it’s complete and reaches British shores: a name more in line with the dance music culture I adore, that the K-Project sucks in and spits in hallucinatory rainbows.
The rumours prove correct. When released, the game is called Rez.
-- FEAR IS THE MIND KILLER --
I connect the Dreamcast to my sound system. It’s stereo; the cables are white and red. The room fills with swirling ambience, the ticking of one menu option moving to the next . . . but it’s not enough. The controller, rattling with Madkatz Force Pack vibration throbs, but it’s still not enough.
I dim the lights and put on the glasses.
-- REZ AREA 4 --
Squashed between a floor of bass sound and a wall of colour I’m the digital Indiana Jones delving intrepid into the system. Viruses fall with a wave of my hand; I’m sat in lotus position in my protective bubble, encircled by code like a hamster in a utoplastic ball running Straylight. Walls shimmer and crack, the ground rises and falls, mechano-organic lightships puffed on solar winds and solid state tides blot the sky with missiles, and every payload, every stroke and potential flatline is spotted, targeted, and dealt with.
Because I’m in the zone. Heart beating to the bass kick, eyes drying, dusty, fixed to the phantom screens, I’m sat cross-legged as my avatar ascends to the next form: a pulsating, spherical sound wave. From log-in through decryptions, maximum lock-on, maximum hitcount, racking up a high score above and beneath a grid the world of Tron can only dream of. The landscape mutates; it contorts as I melt ICE and unspool code. Towering wormlike monstrosities fire laser beams, curled, surrounded by nautili; everything’s a spiral, a Mandelbrot nightmare, except me, the Hacker, actual intelligence in an artificial world.
Things get serious in Area Five. It’s late--late enough for the neighbours to complain--but I’m too deep into the system to quit. I spin and dive into digital seas, and when I break the surface the sky opens in peach-gold sunset, soon darkened by a viral ship big as an Imperial Star Destroyer. It appears and falls gracefully over. It’s surely too big to move in such a way, but here in the bowels of the system physics operate to the whims of the incarcerated AI. The ship is exactly as heavy as it needs to be, and so it drifts with the ease of a feather.
The music flourishes, that Californian Soul. The ship becomes a dark tower choking space with viral craft. My omega beams move at sharp angles, hunting and seeking and ultimately destroying as I’m taken on a brief tour through history. This is the Earth that was, the game seems to say, and how it came to be.
And this is how things will be from here on in. Life is an aberration, or if not that, a facilitator, existing only to create new virtual worlds in which the next evolutionary link might flourish.
All this and more it tells me as holographic forests grow, fall, and are disassembled.
Security breached. Data analysation 100%.
Past metal falcons with wings outspread and far above the Earth within, every item collected, every enemy appearing only to dissolve in fire. I evolve into 2001’s star child, the ultimate human form, and enter into our final confrontation.
It’s Earth versus the almighty artificial intelligence.
My presence unwanted. Why am I here? What do I want? Our conflict is like a greatest hits compilation of our recent, meaningless skirmishes. Enemy bosses reappear as coarse reconstructions of their former selves. Overextending itself, the system has fractured.
I repel them and plunge deep into the core as some forgotten processor or memory chip begs:
I claw back fragments, exorcise the virus and resurrect the ghost in the machine. She--undoubtedly ‘she’--turns to face the dawning sun, reaches for it, examines her half-formed hands, her half-formed form.
Black diamonds give chase, charging like current along an electric fence that seperates us. They open fire, desperately ramming into me, and I unleash my Overdrive, smartbombing them from the sky to claim the polygons scattered far below. They’re final pieces that might complete. They’re the final pieces that will give her life.
In that moment I am not sat on a carpet in a lounge in the South-West of England. I am not wearing cardboard glasses. My legs are neither cramping nor tingling with pins and needles. I do not look ridiculous wearing a relic from the days of VJs and 2 Unlimited.
Her skin is silicon and light. In her hands are cupped the beating wings of a thousand pink butterflies, which she sets free to other networks. She never thanks me--the music, the colour, the joy of it all is thanks enough. And as the game’s eye wanders from her expression and out to the butterflies dancing away from dawn I hear their colour, I see their joy, I feel the music . . .
I remember to breathe.
(This is important)
And mission accomplished, I log out.
-- FEAR IS THE MIND KILLER --