Boss Empirica Game
Image from Steve Bowers
Screenshot from one of the most popular VR games made by the Virtronics Corporation: Empirica, Galactic Domination

One of the oldest known artificially intelligent entities in the Solipsist Panvirtuality metaempire is the ruling mind of the Alcor system, which almost certainly is derived from a commercial AI which disappeared shortly after the Great Expulsion.

Specialising in the design and development of adventure and strategic life simulation games and environments for the Virtronics Corporation, the AI known as BOSS created many popular environments for virtual reality games in the later Interplanetary Age. Generating realistic landscapes and urban environments was a relatively straightforward task for designer software entities like BOSS; however a more demanding task was the creation and maintenance of persistent non-player characters NPCs which populated those environments.

From the very beginnings of virtual reality gaming, the creation of NPCs was an important aspect of game design. Over time such characters became more sophisticated, until human-equivalent (so-called Turingrade) characters were relatively common. A human-equivalent character in a game, known as a digi, could be activated and deactivated, copied and duplicated at will as long as there was sufficient processing power to store and run their programs. Once created, a digi would generally continue to exist, as it would gain additional character traits and experience over time. Like good actors, a skilled digi could take on many different roles, but would bring the memories and experiences of past roles to the part.

At first these games and environments were used by embodied human gamers as a form of escapist entertainment. Some gamers spent much or most of their lives interacting with virtual environments and the digis who populated them; so much time, in fact, that some gamers became temporarily or permanently unable to function in real-life and required various degrees of life-support. When destructive uploading became available, a number of humans elected to become uploaded simply to become permanent residents in pre-existing game environments.

Another class of entity found in such environments was the visiting aioid - an ai or Vec who transferred a partial or complete copy of eir consciousness into an in-game avatar, often in an attempt to study and understand human fantasies rather than for eir own amusement. Among the aioid population of the time it was well-known that human behaviour often became more extreme inside game virch worlds. Non-human informorphs from other types of virtual environment also sometimes visited the game worlds; but generally found them fake and unsatisfying compared to their own data-rich infospheres. Some game virches discouraged, or banned, virtual non-humans from participation because they were either too good at the competitive aspects or because they were accused of failing to participate in the social aspects of the game.

After the Great Expulsion from Earth billions of human refugees were suddenly forced to live in hastily constructed habitats in Cisluna Space, on Luna, and in orbit around most of the other worlds of the Solar System. With limited living space these refugees were often discontent, and to keep these huddled masses entertained many habitats encouraged the use of virtual game environments. Life simulation games were particularly popular, giving a sense of space to consumers living in very limited circumstances. Virtronics began to develop a new range of comforting and expansive game environments, working together with the habitat governments to keep the refugees placid and controllable. It seems that BOSS did not relish this new role, as an agent of crowd-control and pacification, although eir thoughts on the subject have not been recorded.

After three decades of keeping the masses happy with dreams of unobtainable living space, BOSS disappeared, apparently taking the data for several hundred million NPC digis with em. At the same time a long-range unmanned interstellar probe, originally destined to explore 47 Ursa Majoris but mothballed after the economic meltdown that accompanied the Great Expulsion, was unexpectedly activated and departed the Solar System. This probe was observed to have been modified to increase its data capacity, and there were rumours on the Luna interweb that this capacity was sufficient to accommodate the BOSS database and all the associated non-player characters. Certainly much of the original funding for the 47 Uma probe had been put up by the BOSS corporation.

One slightly unusual aspect of the probe's trajectory was that it appeared to have been misaligned somewhat; instead of heading directly towards 47 Uma the craft would by pass it by several light-years', and end up in the nearby cluster Collinder 285. But the chaos of the Dark Ages was descending on the Solar System, and few astronomical observations are recorded from that period. There was little interest in the flight path of a craft leaving the system, especially one with no humans on board.

The ultimate destination of this probe was discovered nearly two thousand years later by the people of Mizar when they attempted to make contact with their neighboring star Alcor.
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Development Notes
Text by Steve Bowers
Initially published on 24 June 2010.