To enter the game, one first had to set up an avatar and game ID. When Fang Zhao had registered a Fiery Bird account after receiving the 10th gen, he had thought of a lot of IDs, but all were in use by others. The username "Fang Zhao" had also been taken, probably by a player who shared the same name.
At last, Fang Zhao entered "AliveAfter500Years". The system showed that this username was unused, and so he confirmed it. In his past life, Fang Zhao had wished to continue living on. He still remembered the regret of not completing all 100 steps but instead stopping at the 99th. He just had not expected that, when he opened his eyes, he would have jumped 500 years into the future. The vacant 500 years that he'd skipped could only be understood through images. Although he still had regrets, at least he got to see the developments after 500 years. If all his old friends knew this, they would surely have struggled to survive 500 more years. If any of them were really still alive, Fang Zhao could still meet them. Unfortunately, this was only an impossible dream of his.
As for his avatar, Fang Zhao chose his current image and made a few modifications. Fang Zhao could not remember what his body had looked like in his past life. He just based it on his vague memory and made some changes. Then he added two scars to his face. This was now similar to his image during the later part of his past life. His height and weight should be similar to his current body, so no changes were made to that.
When Zu Wen and the others saw the added scars on Fang Zhao's avatar in game, they laughed. "We know that Boss worships the martyr, even imitating his two scars."
Fang Zhao also joined in the laughter but did not explain.
Zu Wen and the others' in-game avatars were not entirely similar to themselves. In real life, Pang Pusong was shorter and more plump, but his avatar was tall and imposing like a bodybuilder. Zu Wen's avatar was 80% similar to himself. Only, he had added on a flamboyant and explosive hairstyle and two weird curving whiskers on his face. The others were mostly like Zu Wen, using their base avatars and adding a few minor changes.
The members of the virtual projects department formed a team and entered together. Other players did the same; the members of e-sports clubs also formed teams and entered together.
After they successfully entered, everything before their eyes changed. A mild scene of the Old Era emerged.
Crisp piano notes fluctuated to the opening scene as it changed. Before their eyes were a few materials that resembled what had been introduced in films, so many people did not feel any wonder and just anticipated the scene quickly passing. They had a pressing need to enter the game and flex their muscles.
"I heard the opening sequence is two minutes long?" someone said.
"That's too long, why can't we skip it?"
"Let's just wait, it is only two minutes."
The members in the team chatted with one another.
Very quickly, the sound of the piano faded and became hazy. A drawn-out note surged, slow and stifling. Along with it, the low sound of a string instrument rang out, making peoples nerves fray. It was as if some inharmonious noises descended from a distant place, similar to people yelling and also to the sound of activity produced by other objects.
The field of view started to shake violently, as if a huge creature was rampaging below the surface. The ground below made slight movements that rapidly became violent. Deep fissures appeared as a large portion of land in the distance sank in. A flyover with many cars on it fractured as large buildings collapsed. The bustling city turned to ruin in the blink of an eye. In the distance, coastal cities were swallowed by tsunamis, and huge ships capsized. Meteors rained down as volcanoes erupted and dust filled the entire sky.
The vibrato of a string instrument being strummed seemed like the cold shivers a person got. The rumbling of drumbeats were were like the large boulders crashing into the earth or a hidden sledgehammer, pounding away at people's hearts. The blaze of explosions emerged all around as the ground opened up. It seemed like a scene straight from hell; the entire world was finished!
A whimpering trumpet call carried a hint of darkness, and an emotional and gloomy string score played, showing the unceasing despair of a city that had fallen. The lifelike images coupled with the tense music battered the senses and produced a stifling atmosphere.
A segment of remixed electronic sound effects brushed across the ear, as if someone was running hastily beside, rousing the sensitive nerves of players.
The group of players that were originally talking had unknowingly ceased their conversations.
Faint piano notes slowly entered, as if it was an old man recalling all his fading memories. The combination of sounds and images showed the tragic world after it had been battered by that devastating power.
The field of vision started to broaden, cities shrunk, and tall buildings vanished. Displayed in front of all players' eyes was a reduced map of the world. The ground seemed withered and full of fissures. Below these fissures were flowing lava and blazes that threatened to burn everything down.
Its changes told everyone that, since then, the Old Era ceased and the Period of Destruction began.
Still, the heavy string score continued; a few clear notes of the piano permeated in. The music also started reflecting two types of forces battling, one being the devastation of the disaster and the other a sort of unyielding tenacity in the face of such adversity. The tempo continuously increased as the pounding drumbeats and the music of both piano and string became more forceful. These two themes interwove as though locked in battle.
Small glowing dots like stars gradually appeared on the shrunken map. Every moment, new dots appeared, and some dots were extinguished. Some dots were bigger than others. In any case, the glowing dots were increasing on the map.
Every glowing dot represented a group fighting for survival. That was mankind's hope.
The acoustics augmented the entire image, and an oboe and a french horn alternated, like souls standing up from the ruins. The rumbling of percussion signified the graveness after the horrors, like the hell during that period. The process of refugees experiencing mortal danger and uniting together shook one to the core!
A momentary silence occured, and after brass, string and electronic music simultaneously rang out, seemingly from the ends of the Earth. The harmony was extremely aesthetic, with a steady rhythm. It hinted at something magnificent.
At the same time, on the world map, starting from the two poles, in the manner of a sweeping tide, the scorching earth and wastelands subsided.
Players watching this understood. This was the period of change in history. Starting from the two poles toward the equator, mankind set out to reclaim their world.
Just as everyone thought that it had ended, from the remote boundaries, a faint harmony reverberated. A string medley split into a number of different parts. Other than the obvious high-pitch melody, the middle part, which was harder to discern, combined with the reverberating high-pitch sounds and became impossible to differentiate. The tones that were as different as heaven and Earth had seemingly closed the large gap between them.
It was like being struck by an ice-cold lightning bolt that spread throughout one's core, and one could not help but shiver.
The ground below moved once again, but it was not the violent shaking of disaster. This time, things were emerging from the ground!
Twelve ash-colored stone objects rose from the ground. When only the tips were visible, players who were familiar already knew what they were.
Huangzhou's Cemetery for Martyrs's monument!
Yanzhou's Cemetery for Martyrs's monument!
The twelve largest monuments from the world's twelve cemeteries for martyrs rose steeply!
The murals and sculptures on them depicted hails of bullet's whistling past, crossing of swords, and slaughter, recreating the period of bloodshed that had lasted a century. The lingering fog was like a white blaze, as if they were the souls of the dead. With the epic backdrop of music, their determination never stopped burning.
This was not the hot-blooded fighting but the origins of the heroics during those times!
The music faded and the images stop changing. In the field of vision were only the twelve towering gravestones and the smaller gravestones behind them that were as plentiful as a sky full of stars.
All the players that entered the game had originally had their minds sets on explosions, guns, and killing, but at this moment, it was as if they had been doused with cold water as they all calmed down.
Facing the twelve solemn monuments and the numerous graves behind them, it was as if one had taken an icy-cold cup of alcohol—cold to the touch, but it warmed the body.
This was the message that Fiery Bird wanted to pass to all the first time players. It did not project just one form, but a whole entity! It was a period of history, a group of people.
In the 100-year Period of Destruction, the death toll was in billions. Great sacrifices were traded for the start of the New Era. The war that lasted a century, the degree of tragic and bitterness was not something that people in the living in the New Era 500 years into the future could experience.
A lot of people were under the impression that the opening sequence for "Battle of the Century" would be a segment to stir up the surging passion of the gamers or a frightful scene reeking of blood. But in reality, Fiery Bird's message that it wanted to give its players was this: There were many sacrifices during the end of days, many outstanding and capable people died in battle. These gravestones served as a warning. So many capable people could not even survive. Can you?
The most powerful way to convince them was to let them experience it for themselves.
Survival was an attitude. Now, all the players standing there, have they prepared themselves to enter hell?
Someone recovered. Sighing deeply, he said, "I felt as if the opening sequence left me dumbstruck. Anyway, who called me just now?"
"Nobody, I didn't hear anyone. In any case, it wasn't me," his team member said.
Other members also voiced out in succession.
"I didn't call you either."
"Was it your imagination?"
"I... I think I also... also heard someone calling me..." a timid voice said.
"When?" someone asked.
"At the time when the gravestones were rising up."
"You?" The question was directed at the last person to voice out.
A chorus of air exhaling could be heard. "Ssssssss."
"Recalling back, when the gravestones were rising, it did feel like there were human voices from behind," a member of the team hesitantly said.
"Now that you mentioned it, I think I felt the same way just now."
"Seen a ghost?"
"D*mnit! Stop talking about this, I'm starting to get goosebumps!"
A bolder member poked fun at the others. "HAHA, do you have that little guts? Are you guys afraid?"
"I'm not scared, it just... just feels strange. There are some shivers, yet there is some excitement. I don't know how to describe this feeling."
Actually, similar dialogues happened in many teams.
Some teams had members who were music students that had studied symphonic structures before. They had joined their friends and entered the game. One reason was to kill time, and the other reason was to listen to this year's Fiery Bird's game's background music for the opening sequence. Yesterday, his classmates that studied music were already discussing which great master had composed the background music for the opening sequence. Teachers had also mentioned before that the opening tune from Fiery Bird's previous game ten years ago had been taken and used as an examination topic. Who knew whether it would happen for this year's opening sequence's background music. Thus, they were listening to it even more seriously.
Music was a component of a game's soul. Only those companies that did not take manufacturing seriously would skimp on this. Companies that were completely devoted to manufacturing games, such as Fiery Bird, would be willing to put a lot of effort in the music.
Many composers were anxious to prove themselves but, in the end, had been refused to be seen by Fiery Bird. Those that were invited were reputable people within the circle, and the piece that was finally chosen would have to beat at least ten other pieces by famed masters. The background music of the opening sequence was of utmost importance. These music students would naturally not let it slip by. Because of the simultaneous release worldwide, time zones were different. In some places it was in the wee hours, so some had set alarms to get up in the middle of the night to log on. Others had simply stayed up because they had to experience it for themselves immediately.
Those in the industry had reflexively begun to analyze it after hearing it. Many people who had studied music knew that, when depicting disasters in movies or documentaries, music was used to achieve a larger and more shocking impact, often using incompatible harmonies and combinations that would provoke the sense of hearing. But mainstream studios used electronic remixes as their main form, and even if it was orchestral music, many used electronics to imitate the sounds, thus using these sorts of techniques to manufacture music that can batter the audio-visual senses.
But the opening tune was classical yet modern, a fusion of musical instruments and electronic music. The musical style was different from the music of those disaster movies, but it still built up the same shock and effect of provoking the senses!
To be able to perfectly make it work, this was no easy skill. Definitely not a youngster...
That was not right; to be able to mix classical and modern and blend electronic music with traditional musical instruments so perfectly, the manner and the shocking intensity it had was not weak at all.
They all remembered a person. The one who had started a new wave of people being interested in symphonic structures.
Professionals in this field with interest in symphonies had all heard Fang Zhao's four movements of the "100-Year Period of Destruction," and the music from the opening sequence made them remember the third movement in the series, "Mission." But these two pieces were entirely different. The core of the former was "movement," like the dazzling flames from the dynamic explosions, whereas the latter's theme was "calm," like the spirit fires within the gravestones, quiet yet brave.
"Fang Zhao? Is it him?"
This was what many music professionals were thinking.
However, the pure game players would not take notice of this. Although they might have calmed down after the opening sequence and music, they were still eagerly anticipating the game. However, this time, their vigilance had been raised. Especially the experienced members of the e-sports clubs. They might not have been reliable elsewhere, but when it came to games, they had keen perception.
"Following this might be an arduous journey."
Over at the virtual projects department's side, Zu Wen and a few others who had been excitedly hooting a moment ago had become quiet too. They were also aware of the message that Fiery Bird were trying to transmit.
Zuo Yu shivered a little. When he saw the opening sequence and heard the background music, he felt uneasy. He knew that the background music had been composed by Fang Zhao, and as Fang Zhao's bodyguard, he had been with Fang Zhao through the entire journey of gathering materials. Now he finally understood why Fang Zhao had gone to the cemeteries to gather materials, because for Fiery Bird's opening sequence, the finishing touches were the gravestones!
How many hot-headed people could be subdued?
However, whatever Fiery Bird did, there was always a motive. Zuo Yu had also detected the message. The going was going to get tough.
"Boss, ready to go in?"
The others all looked at Fang Zhao.
The entrance into the game was at the bottom of the twelve gravestones.
"Wait a moment," Fang Zhao said.
Before entering, there was actually a choice. Whether to enter straight away or choose to pay one's respects before entering.
Impatient people would choose to enter straight away. As for others that wished for the martyrs to bless them with good fortune, they would choose to pay their respects. In their group, some wished to enter straight away, and some wished to pay their respects, but ultimately they all looked toward Fang Zhao. They had chosen to enter as a group. If they were to enter, they would do it together.
Hearing Fang Zhao say "Wait a moment," they all knew which choice he had made.
"Makes sense. Boss respects the martyrs very much," Rodney said.
Fang Zhao did not speak, glancing at the twelve gravestones ahead. He had visited each of their originals. Compared to other people, he felt differently when it came to these gravestones.
After the opening sequence had ended, only the area they were at was lit up. Elsewhere in the distance had become dark. And just like in the worship district back then, behind the giant gravestones were countless smaller tombstones that seemed like the reflection of stars on the surface of water.
With wine, there is no difference between heaven and Earth. Let's drink, old friends!
As per the previous time, Fang Zhao chose alcohol as an offering.
Long time no see, the world I once had.
Zuo Yu eyed Fang Zhao, not knowing whether he was imagining things, but he always felt that the expression in Fang Zhao's eyes when he was paying his respects was a little frightening.
The others were also very curious about Fang Zhao's worship method. They wanted to follow that method and pay their respects, but they were stopped by Fang Zhao. In the end, they all used their own accustomed methods to pay their respects.
Zu Wen even threw in a few bows. As he paid his respects, he said, "May every martyr bless me. Don't let me be too unlucky, don't let me die of hunger..."
After a few long-winded sentences, the team formally entered the game.
As a team, they were all randomly assigned to a place.
Zuo Yu looked at his surroundings. "Warehouse?"
This was a warehouse for junk items. It was quite empty, and it seemed like someone had rummaged through it. A few cases for storing junk items had been flipped over.
"We get guns right at the start?" Checking his equipment on hand, Zu Wen realized he now had a gun. "This should be Fiery Bird's so-called welcome present, right?"
Yesterday, Fiery Bird headquarters had announced online that "There will be a small present for everyone at the launch of the game. We hope everyone will like it."
"It will be good if we get a gun, hehe."
"How do I only have a knife and no gun."
"Mine is a gun."
"This gun is too old."
"With these little bullets, what can we even kill?"
A standard police issue handgun from the Old Era—according to its model, one magazine held about 15 to 20 bullets. That was not a lot; this would be troublesome.
"Don't tell me there might be items hidden in other places?"
Zu Wen, Rodney and a few others discussed searching the other areas of this warehouse.
"Lower your voices," Fang Zhao said.
Zu Wen laughed and replied, "Got it, got it. Boss, your nerves are getting the better of you. It's just a game; what matters is that we have fun. Don't be so solemn. After all, we have three lives." He listened cautiously and did not hear any suspicious sounds in their surroundings. The few technicians had played games together for a long time and knew how to coordinate and warn each other. Furthermore, when they played shooting games, their roars and cries were even louder. Since it was their first time playing a Fiery Bird game, they were too excited. The wanted to enjoy it first.
After all, it was a game, and things did not happen according to reality here. Upon entering the game, players had three lives, but after those three lives had been used up, their next death would cause them to be barred for a week before they could re-enter. Of course, lives could be bought with money, but only after the second day would players be able to log in once more. This was the strictest Fiery Bird had ever been regarding the value of lives in their games.
In short, the three lives let Zu Wen and the others feel relaxed. They could continue playing even after dying once.
Fang Zhao wanted to check the surroundings but was stopped by Zu Wen and the others. "Boss, just take a seat here. Let us handle the scavenging." They had to look after their leader well.
Zuo Yu stood guard besides Fang Zhao and nodded. "Yeah, Boss, you just sit over here. Let them go search for food, don't worry. If any bandits or savage beasts or whatever come along, I will take care of them."
"There's a small kitchen over here!" At the back, someone had entered into a room.
"Eh? Is this a decompressor from the Old Era?"
"No, I remember from the information given, this is the Old Era's microwave."
Fang Zhao listened to the other's discussion and reminded them, "I advise you guys make as little noise as possible."
The few over there were probably too excited and did not make much of it.
Fang Zhao did not continue nagging. he quietly sat on a box nailed to the floor.
Zuo Yu wanted to say, "Boss, don't be too nervous," but Fang Zhao was facing the steel door in front of them, seemingly deep in thought, so Zuo Yu did not say it out loud. He kept thinking that, after the boss had entered the game, there was something slightly wrong with his state of mind. The expressions in his eyes seemed very penetrating, but maybe it was just the two scars on his face.