Then a wire-frame model appeared between myself and the screen, slowly rotating. It was meant to be a human male,
but it just looked like a muscle-bound freak.
This must be the basic model, I thought. Have to change that, then. I thought about advanced appearence options, and all of a sudden I was presented with a screen full of measurements, each one paired to a scroll bar.
Making a likeness of myself suddenly became a little more daunting.
Well, got to start somewhere. I very quickly got the hang of modifying the model. It helped to not focus on the scroll bars, but instead focus on the figure itself. I found that when I did that, I could just picture in my head what I wanted and the computer would replicate it. Within a matter of minutes I had made a ruff model of myself, and then the serious tweaking began.
When I was finally satisfied with my avatars appearance, I sat back (metaphorically speaking) to admire my handiwork. Six feet tall and 150 pounds of lean muscle: not exactly what is was in real life, okay, three inches and at least twenty pounds of muscle better than the real me, but hey, it's a video game, right? I had to put some effort into getting a devil-may-care appearance, but I thought I pulled it off pretty well.
Alright, I think we are done here, I thought to myself. As soon as the thought crossed my mind, the Advanced Appearances menu closed down and a pop-up appeared reading: Would you like to save this model? Figuring I might want to make another account using a similar avatar one, I thought, yes.
That was probably the longest part of the process. Name, Gender and Race went quick, because I saw no reason to name myself anything but David; I had no interest in being a girl, and , of course, since Suzy was an elf, it would only make sense for me to be one as well.
The Appearance menu contained the different options for clothing and cosmetics. The options were really limited for a beginning player, but I was fine with simple cotton clothes, leather boots and leather armor, which gave me the ENORMOUS +5 protection. Hurray.
For the style of play that I enjoyed most, it seemed obvious for me to pick Fighter as my class, and then on a whim I gave myself the Ranger sub-class. That set right up into the Specialties "Ranged" and "Wilderness Skills."
The items selection was just as limited as the clothing. Most of the options were actually greyed out, things like Magic Staff or Basic Lock Picking Kit, probably because they were specific to other classes, like Mage or Rogue. Instead, I was able to get 1 Hunting Knife, 1 regular Bow, 1 Basic Quiver, 20 Standard Arrows, and 1 Herb Bag.
And that was it. With the last menu filled in, the selection screen faded away to be replaced by the message: Would you like to save and enter the game as this avatar? A simple thought of yes sent the entire screen black, then made a small bar appear in the middle with a green band of light cycling across it, illuminating the words: Loading, Please Wait.
I was pleased to not have to wait very long; in fact, I was probably only floating(?) there for a few seconds before I heard a dinging noise, like a timer going off. Immediately I began to move forward until I was positioned at the beginning of a pure white tunnel that appeared to extend forever in a straight line. A monotone voice-over began, saying, "Preparing to enter Ether in five, four, three, two..."
I never heard the voice say "one" because the moment it said two I was being hurdled down the tunnel at an inconceivably fast speed. Initially I couldn't actually tell that I was moving so fast: I had no skin to feel motion on, and no visual reference points to judge distance by, but when I turned around just seconds into the tunnel to look behind me the black area I had been in previously had already receded to a tiny black dot.
Not to long after I began to notice little green spots on the white walls of the tunnel. Upon closer examination, they revealed themselves to be the 1's and 0's of binary code, the language all computers used. Just seconds after I realized what the green points were, the entire tunnel, including the floor and ceiling, was composed entirely of 1's and 0's, with smaller 1's and 0's filling in the gaps fractally until the individual numbers were too small to distinguish from each other.
Gradually, I became aware of shapes forming the selves from out of the numbers. The tunnels turned into a shape that I recognized quite well from a class trip to D.C.: the interior of a subway car. As the bright green of binary numbers transformed into dull grey benches with dark blue cushions, beige carpeting, and silver dulls for the support of both upright passengers and the car itself; brilliant, full-color advertisements materialized on the walls of the train. Displayed were descriptions of various player owned shops all promised to "be the best" in their field, banners about questing groups hiring new members, and blurbs concerning different regions of Ether or the "untold regions still as yet uncolonized".
Infinitely more interesting than the forming subway was the other avatars also being formed. That's when I discovered something: without me even noticing it, my own avatar had formed on me. The process must have been so gradual that I wasn't aware of gaining a body with mass. I grabbed my arms, my thighs and I could actually feel them, like when I touched myself in the real world. I waved my hand next to my ear and marveled that I could hear a faint whooshing sound. When I stood up and started walking around, not only could I feel the momentum of the train, but I also felt the weight of my body on my feet and legs. The strap of my quiver tugged at my shoulder, the weight of my hunting knife rested on my hips and the wood of my bow felt course between my fingers.
Around me my fellow new players were marveling at the realistic qualities of this game. In my car there was a red-bearded dwarf, a nymph wearing a dress made of leaves and, a cyborg of all things, the entire lower half of his body completely robot. I felt like I should strike up a conversation with them or something, maybe compare notes on our initial reactions, but no sooner had I thought that when the subway came to a gentle stop and the doors (which were so seamlessly joined to the rest of the car that I hadn't seen them before) slid open with a hiss, giving us our first view of Epic City.