Estimated reading time — 31 minutes
My name is Tom. I am a sound designer for video games. I love my work and I have been doing it for quite some time. I used to work for a small indie game developer called Razor Games LLC.
My friend Jason, who hired me after I quit my last job for personal reasons, owned Razor Games. The company did very well and we had our share of small game development success but mostly did outsourced work for larger clients.
Jason’s brother Max was a producer at one of the largest game developers in the world. He often would outsource smaller projects to our company as a favor to his brother. That is where the bulk of our work came from.
We only had a dozen or so staff members at the company. I was close with several people at the company and considered them my second family. Jason was my friend of several years and was a rugged middle-aged man who had been playing games since he was five. Melissa was this quiet little blonde girl who loved fantasy books, game level design, and had been my best friend of several years. Tanner was this bearded teddy bear of a guy who worked as a game tester and had won my best friend’s heart. Melissa and Tanner had recently gotten engaged and I was elated for the both of them. The last person I was really close to at work was a guy named Nick. He was a character designer and an A.I. programmer. He was a dark-haired young guy and a prankster. The rest of the team was made up of various programmers, designers, and business-oriented people of whom I knew, but didn’t have as close of a relationship as I did with these four.
These people made my job the best job anyone could ask for. Things were great until two years ago when Max’s company laid off a bunch of employees due to a corporate restructure. Almost all of their development was kept internal, meaning we wouldn’t get any outsourced projects anymore.
I watched Jason stress out about possibly cutting into the company’s emergency fund to keep it afloat while he tried to find more work. Razor Games had received so much work from Max’s company that we were too busy to pick up but a few other clients. In the end, that hurt the company more than it helped.
For almost a year Razor Games survived on the emergency fund that it had built up. We had work here and there, but no big projects. Out of the blue late last spring, Jason landed a massive job for us.
I remember being in the conference room when he announced the job. Melissa, Tanner, Nick and I were seated together around the small conference table at our office along with the rest of the employees, eagerly waiting to hear what Jason had to say about this new job.
Jason had hooked up his laptop to the projector on the table and was about to take us through a slide presentation.
“Over this past weekend I accepted a large job from a game developer in Korea,” Jason started. His body energy was higher than it had been in months and the excitement in his voice could not be hidden. “The developer’s name is Violet Edge Digital. The president of development for that company is a woman named Mia Nasta.”
Jason flipped to a slide that showed a screen capture of their website. It looked very professional and sleek. I had never heard of this developer before but with so many different companies around the world, I didn’t give it a second thought.
“She emailed me last week with a proposition and the possibility of a massive payout,” Jason continued as he paced excitedly back and forth at the front of the conference room. “Her company has in the past made VR simulators for military and aviation training purposes and is now developing a VR headset system for commercial use to compete with Oculus, Sony, Samsung, and others. We all know there are rumors of a Star Wars VR game and others floating around the community.”
A series of several slides showed pictures of what was supposed to be their past work. They included everything from pictures of a flight simulator and a VR set hooked up to a military training simulator.
Jason stopped his pacing and put his palms flat on the conference table and leaned in as if he was going to tell us the world’s biggest secret.
“They want us to do something for them before anyone else has the chance to.” Jason paused looking at each of us in the eyes.
“Which is?” Melissa said in a drawn-out tone as she leaned into the table mimicking Jason.
Jason slowly stood straight up. “I know we haven’t worked in a VR platform before but they want us to create the world’s first VR horror game. The developer is swamped with finishing their VR headset so they have outsourced the creation of this game to us.”
I wasn’t excited. I personally didn’t like horror games or movies but work was work. Others seemed thrilled to take on the genre or be the first to do so in an emerging technology field.
“The bad news is we only have a few months to make it happen because they want a Halloween release…”
“No way! That’s insane,” Nick said cutting Jason off abruptly. “I’d have to pull insane hours to get that coding done in time as would everyone else.”
Jason raised his hand to silence Nick. “I understand,” he said calmly. “The bad news is we are on a tight schedule and we’ll all have to pull some stupid crazy hours. The good news is that they have concepts and basic designs for us already drafted and have paid us the first 20% of the contract.”
“Which is?” Melissa said mimicking her tone from earlier.
“$9 million,” Jason said with a smirk.
The room started to buzz with chatter with a few of the classic “holy shit” exclamations floating into the air.
“We’re going to have a good year,” Jason stated proudly. “But, we need to start immediately. Let me go over the design concepts with you all.”
Jason took us through the rest of the slide show. The storyboard was already flushed out. The premise was that the main character (or characters since it was to be multiplayer) had woken up in an abandoned building that represented something like a psych ward with no memory of getting there. The character(s) would have to fight his or her way through monsters and solve basic puzzles, like finding keys to open doors to escape. There were to be nine levels of increasing difficulty in the game.
The developer even had some pictures of character models they wanted to be included in the game. There were several monster models they had suggested, but two that they absolutely wanted to be designed and included. They had included well-sketched pictures of the monsters the team was to create.
The first of the two that they absolutely wanted in the game looked like an emaciated man with pale shiny skin. His head was bald and contained no eyes or nose. The only facial feature was an overly wide mouth with thin lips and needle-like teeth. The fingers on his hands were replaced by long bone like claws. The creature’s knees bent opposite of ours, with the bottom half of the leg being a long bone-like spike that it walked on.
The second creature to be included looked like a fat baby with an overly large peanut shaped head and collapsed face. Its eyes sat back in the skull close together. Its mouth was small and puckered with sharp teeth. The hands and feet were replaced by a single bone spike-like protrusions.
The creatures were very grotesque but I could already hear the sounds I wanted to create for them in my head.
At the end of the meeting, each department received a folder with very specific and detailed instructions on what the client wanted. I even received a flash drive of sample sounds the client wanted me to use that Jason had received in an email. Most of the sounds were labeled as monster movement or monster growl. The sounds themselves were very well done and very complex. Sounds like these would have taken me a long time to get something so crisp and unique sounding.
The flash drive had over a hundred different sounds almost all exclusively to be used for the monsters in the game. It seemed strange that they would send already finished sounds to an undeveloped videogame to the developer. At that point, I decided to ask Jason what he wanted me to do.
Nick was standing in Jason’s office when I arrived.
“Am I interrupting something?” I asked as I squeezed around Nick to the side of Jason’s desk.
“Nah,” Nick said. “Violet Edge Digital is asking me to include some weird script in my A.I. code that isn’t needed regardless of whether they have a different operating system for their headset or not.”
“Just include it, Nick,” Jason said with a sigh. “I noticed it too. It’s in the instructions for anyone who is writing code. They stated it was unique to their VR system and insisted it be included. If it doesn’t work or screws up, we’ll go with what we know, but for now, include the script as instructed.”
“Fine,” Nick said sighing and walking slowly out of Jason’s office.
“What can I do for you, Tom?”
“I just wanted to make sure they want to use all these sounds. It makes my job easier but I figured they’d want us to design unique sounds from scratch.”
Jason rubbed his forehead with his thumb and pointer finger. “Yes. I know they’ve given us very specific instructions but at the end of the day they are the client and to make the deadline realistic, they sent us over what they had already started.”
“Alright,” I said as I started to leave. “I’ll group and organize what they sent me and create the rest of what they need according to their instructions.”
The next two weeks were insanely busy. Ms. Nasta sent Jason an email stating she was going to send two prototype VR headsets to us to test the game on. Jason spent some of the initial deposit on a few brand new computers with the fastest processors, largest video cards, and most RAM he could cram into them. Nate, our IT guy, spent the better part of those two weeks setting up the new computers in the testing room, or dungeon as we called it since it had no windows.
I spent those two weeks recording various sounds in my makeshift foley stage in my office. I followed the list of sounds that the client required of me, creating various initial sounds that I could later mix into something amazingly creepy and new.
A few days after Nate had installed all the new computers and the entire team was deep into their own portion of the project, the VR headsets arrived. It would be a month or two before we would have anything close to a playable alpha version ready but Jason wanted the headsets up and running in the testing room ASAP.
Jason pulled the packages into the conference room so we could all get a good look at this new VR headset we were designing this game for. Jason opened the first package.
“Well, shit. That’s not what I had imagined,” Jason said sarcastically, spilling foam peanuts everywhere as he lifted this old jet pilot-like helmet from the box.
“They want us to fly a plane with that thing or design a game?” Nick said jokingly.
“I don’t see that as a platform for a multi-million dollar developed game,” Melissa chimed in.
Jason sat the helmet down on the table and pulled an installation software DVD from the box. “Well,” Jason sighed, “let’s keep in mind that these are prototypes. Either way, I want them installed and ready by the end of the day so we can begin testing as soon as we have something ready. Nate and Tom. Take these down to the dungeon and get the software installed on the PC’s. The rest of you, get back to work so we can get something to test on these bad boys.”
I helped Nate carry the headsets to the dungeon and set them up. Both came with two controllers to manage the movements and actions of the player’s in-game character.
Nate ran the installation software on the computers as I connected the controllers to the headsets and the headsets to the computer.
“What the fuck is that?” Nate said suddenly.
“What’s what?” I asked looking up at the screen he was staring at.
“This screen.” Nate pointed to a pop-up window that was full of what looked like wingding text scrolling on its own but it clearly wasn’t wingding text. The window suddenly disappeared and was replaced by another that read “Installation Complete!”
“I’ve never seen that before. I’m gonna run a virus scan just in case.” Nate started the virus scan quickly.
“The computer isn’t connected to the internet so we should be ok and I don’t understand why our client would send us a virus if they wanted us to get their work done,” I explained.
The virus scan came back empty. Nate ran the installation software on a second computer and the same window with the same scrolling text appeared before being replaced with an “Installation Complete!” window.
We didn’t think anything of it after that. The rest of the day continued on as normal. For the next month and a half, we worked 12-16 hour days constantly with only Sunday off. At the end of that stretch, we had a working alpha of the game.
Melissa and her team had pulled off some amazing level design and were about 5 levels into the game. I had the majority of the important sounds crafted and mixed by that point. The crew working on character models had the essential monsters done including the two that were specifically requested by the client and were now working on the extras.
Tanner could now test the game for bugs and issues that needed fixing. Tanner wanted me to play the game with him on the first test run. He wasn’t fond of anything horror and scared easily. Nick would often play jokes on him at the office and he hated it.
“I’m not looking forward to this so let’s get it over with,” Tanner said nervously as he slipped the large VR helmet over his head.
“Awwww. Don’t cry. I’ll be right here if you get scared,” I said jokingly with a chuckle as I slipped on my VR headset.
We started the game and the first thing I noticed was that the graphics were amazing. The 360-degree view immersed you in a way I had never experienced before.
“Damn the guys killed it on the textures,” Tanner said in awe. “The sound is pretty fucking awesome too.”
“Thanks!” I said dryly. I was so focused on the game before my eyes I wasn’t really paying attention to anything else. Tanner was right. The sounds in the game were almost too good. I guessed I had created better sound bytes than I thought I had. I was pretty damn proud at that moment.
We spent a few minutes in the game’s starting area trying out the basic mechanics and looking for bugs. Tanner noticed some texture tearing that needed to be fixed and I took note that the character run command was spotty. After messing around with the character mechanics we made our way through the first level.
The level was simple. We needed to locate a key to unlock the door to the next area. We spent a few minutes running around the labyrinth of corridors in the abandon psych ward looking for a key. There were several jump scares that involved the little fat baby like monsters dropping in front of you or jumping out from behind something. I screamed a few times and so did Tanner, which helped me loosen up and laugh at the situation.
As we rounded a corner in the game a vent above us dropped down slamming to the ground with a metallic echo.
“Shit!” screamed Tanner.
“Ha ha ha,” I cackled. “It’s just a vent cover.” I paused as the echoing of the vent hitting the floor dissipated. “Wow, I don’t remember programming that sound. Sounds really good though. Perfect reverb and everything.”
I watched as Tanner’s character walked over the exposed vent and looked up into the dark shaft.
“Holy fuck!” Tanner screamed as one of the larger monsters swung down out of the vent rapidly and jumped on his character.
A large thud hit the ground behind me. I couldn’t hear it but I felt the ground shake.
“Tanner?” I asked hoping he was all right. I tried to pause the game but the feature didn’t work. I took quick note of it and slipped my VR headset off.
Tanner was sitting up on the floor with his headset lying next to him rubbing his eyes.
“You ok?” I asked as I set down my own headset.
“Yea, dude,” Tanner replied somberly. “It just seemed so real like I thought I could actually feel the monster’s weight on my body.”
“It’s virtual reality. It messes with your senses.” I extended my hand to my friend to help him up. “You want to take a break?”
“No. We need to get this testing done so we can get the big issues fixed ASAP. I’ll be fine.”
“Ok. I’m going to take what I have to the programmers and make sure they get the ‘pause’ function working then get on creating the rest of the sounds since the ones in the game sound pretty damn good if you ask me.”
“Ok. Just leave the door open for me.”
Tanner genuinely looked frightened and I felt sorry he was the lead tester on this game. I took my notes to the correct departments and brought up the ‘pause’ function of the game not working properly.
It was another month before the game was in a very rough finished shape. The game was far from fully functional but the first several levels were nearly complete.
One afternoon I was sitting in my office mixing some of the sound effects I had created when I heard Tanner in the dungeon scream loudly.
“Who the fuck!” Tanner yelled in an angry tone. He wasn’t an angry type of guy so I knew something had caused him to blow a gasket.
I turned around to see Nick and a red-faced Tanner standing in the hall.
“Dude it’s not fucking cool,” Tanner yelled.
“What isn’t?” Nick said with palms raised up and a confused look on his face.
“Dicking with me while I’m testing that game!”
“What are you talking about?”
“I know it was you. You’re the only prankster in this office. You came in and blew on the back of my neck while I had the headset on. I could smell your breath.” Tanner had gotten up into Nick’s face.
Nick backed up to create some space between the two.
“First, I just came from my office and am headed to ask Jason a question. Second, I know I joke around but you know that I know you hate horror anything so I would never mess with you while you were testing the game.”
“It’s true,” I said in Nick’s defense as I got up out of my chair. “My office door has been open the entire time and I didn’t hear anyone go into the testing room. I think the VR is really screwing with your senses.”
By this time Jason had entered the hallway to see what was going on. Tanner’s face was calmer but still red.
“Tanner,” Jason called. “Take the rest of the day off and relax before you have a heart attack.
“Sorry, Nick. I’m just on edge because of the game. I’m sorry, man.” Tanner hung his head down and sighed.
“Forget it,” Nick said calmly with a smile reaching out to grab Tanner’s shoulder. “Go take a break. I’ll do the rest of the testing today since I’m ahead on my work.”
Tanner looked exhausted as he walked off.
“Well, I guess there goes the idea of having a scare video compilation for promo purposes,” Jason said with a defeated tone as Tanner left.
“Promo video?” I asked inquisitively.
“Yea I was trying to convince Ms. Nasta that we should shoot a promo video of our testers getting scared shitless playing the game. I can’t get her to answer her phone during the middle of their day and the only email reply I got back was that they liked the initial alpha version I sent them and that she disapproves of the promo video idea.”
“You should do it anyway so we can watch it as a group for our launch party when this thing is finished,” Nick said smiling.
“I probably will,” Jason said. “What were you going to ask me, Nick?”
“I still haven’t solved our A.I. issue,” stated Nick.
“You have an A.I. issue?” I asked him.
“Yea, it’s weird. Most people testing it and myself have noticed that sometimes the monsters won’t attack you and will run away like they want you to progress in the game or something. They should be programmed to run away when they are under 30% health but not while at full health. I just haven’t solved the issue yet.”
“Go hop on the game and see if you can figure it out. As far as I know, the other programmers haven’t figured out how to get the game to pause either so you’re not the only one with some issues,” Jason finished.
Nick nodded and headed into the testing room. I went back to working on the last few sounds I needed to create. Before I left that night I asked Melissa to check in on her fiancé and let me know if he was ok. I had never seen Tanner like that before and it worried me. She eventually sent me a text saying he was fine and had calmed down. It was a big relief for me.
A week or two went by and I listened to several other people scream and fall out of their chairs in the dungeon from my office. Everyone seemed to be very pleased with the job we were doing with the game. Most people commented on the excellent sound and graphics. Plenty of people who tested the game also felt as if they could feel the monsters grab them or push them even though we all chalked it up to being immersed in a visually encompassing game.
I was finalizing the last sound in my office and Melissa was testing one of the game’s levels to check for any tears in the texture or glitchy spots in the dungeon next door when I heard her shout.
“Shit!” Melissa screamed.
I whipped around in my chair so fast I nearly flung myself out of it. As I stood up Melissa exited the testing room holding her left arm. A crimson streak of blood was dripping down on the floor.
“You ok? What happened?” I asked as I rushed to her.
Jason had entered the hallway at that point as well as Tanner. Both were speaking over each other asking her if she was ok.
“Yea I’m fine,” Melissa replied looking at her arm.
“You’re bleeding,” Jason mentioned as he pointed to her arm.
“I know. I’m ok.” Melissa was definitely calmer than the others around her.
“It looks bad. I’ll get the first aid kit,” Tanner said as he rushed off.
“What happened?” I asked again.
“Something scratched me. I was playing the game and I was on the 7th level when I was attacked by one of those bigger monsters with the bone like fingers. It swiped at my left side and I swear I could feel it cut me so I grabbed my arm and that’s when I felt the blood and the pain.” Her right hand was covered in blood. Tanner had returned with some paper towels and the first aid kit.
“It’s just a game,” Jason said. “Everyone is falling off chairs and sensing things that aren’t real because it’s a VR game. It’s supposed to immerse you. It’ll mess with your senses. You probably had a knee jerk reaction to what your brain sensed as an attack and when you grabbed your arm you scratched yourself.”
“I guess it’s possible,” Melissa said with a sigh as Tanner began dabbing the blood off her arm.
“You know what?” Jason stated with an exhausted tone. “We all need to take a long weekend off. We’ve all been pulling 12-16 hour shifts and I think we’re all burnt out.”
Jason wasn’t wrong. I was tired. My friends were tired. Jason himself was tired. He had been trying to get a hold of Ms. Nasta for several days voicing concerns over the pause function still not working properly and other business-related issues. The only thing he was able to get back from her was a few short emails that said they approved of what we were doing and we should push forward.
We all took a long weekend. When we came back we pushed right back into the thick of things. Around the end of August, we had a nearly finished beta. All of the sounds required of me were mixed and incorporated into the game. Since I was available, I ended up helping Tanner with a lot of the testing. Since the VR headset was not commercially available we couldn’t have an open beta so Tanner and I were going to put in some long nights.
The game itself looked amazing and sounded just as good as it looked. Tanner and I had begun to laugh when we were attacked by one of the emaciated man-monsters or fat baby things. We knew where all the jump scares were on each level so we could anticipate them and make fun of each other if we jumped. Because the immersion of the headset was so good, we still felt like the creatures were breathing on us or could feel the impact of one of them hitting us. We knew it wasn’t real but our brain didn’t. Testing for several hours became the norm for us. Every now and then we would have to stop, especially after a long session because we would feel queasy. We figured it was because we weren’t used to playing in a 3D immersive game.
One day Tanner was out for a doctor’s appointment so Nick tested the game with me.
“Have you had a consistent experience with the monster A.I. when you’ve tested the game?” Nick asked me before we began.
“The monsters always seem to be where they should be,” I replied.
“No. Let me show you what I’m talking about.”
We both slipped on our headsets and started to play on level seven. We pushed through the mini puzzles and hordes of monsters until we reached where you were to retrieve a key to open a door to level eight. The key was on a string dangling in the middle of a massive open room full of the baby like monsters and the emaciated man creatures. The creatures patrolled around in groups. We had designed this room to be a wave-like boss encounter.
“So every level I’ve completed there is this issue where the first time through the monsters around the key should aggro at 20 yards but they don’t. In fact, they’ll actually watch you instead of attacking.” Nick maneuvered his character to the middle of the room and stood by the key.
I watched with my character from the edge of the room.
“Come here,” Nick said.
I walked my character passed several of the monsters to Nick’s character. “What the hell?” I questioned in awe. The monsters let me walk past them. Instead of attacking they faced our characters. We stood in the center of the room with a dozen or so of the grossly disfigured creatures just watching us. They either swayed side-to-side or paced slowly back and forth in a small pattern. Their blank stares and creepy sounds, some of which I couldn’t remember if I had created or not, sent an ice-like chill up my spine.
“Dude, this is really creepy,” I told Nick as I shuddered.
“I can’t tell if they’re bugged or what is going on but I didn’t program this. This isn’t anything compared to what I’m about to show you.”
Nick grabbed the key with his character and placed it into his inventory.
“Watch what they do now,” said Nick.
We began to make our way back through the level towards the locked door, which would take us to level eight. As we walked back through, the monsters from the key area followed us through every corridor. They stayed their distance but they were definitely following us.
“They’re just following us,” I gasped in disbelief. “I know these things are just digital images but right now they’re giving me the creeps.”
“They’ll follow us right to the door.” Nick unlocked the door and our screens went black to indicate we were loading into the next level.
“The issue is that I don’t know how to solve this.” Nick slipped off his VR helmet. “The first time through each level the creatures won’t attack you unless you attack them. I’ve tried programming different ways and I just can’t fix it. The second time through a level they’ll act properly with regard to gameplay.”
Nick restarted level seven to show me. Sure enough, when we reached the area where the key was, the monsters attacked us when we were within their 20-yard range.
After we finished the second session Nick and I got ready to call it a day. We both felt a little motion sick from playing the game.
“You ok?” Nick asked as I leaned forward in my chair after removing the VR headset.
“Yea. I just need to rest for a second. The 360 view makes me feel queasy after I play the game for a while. It’s weird I haven’t gotten used to it yet after doing more testing this past month.” I concentrated hard to get my world to stop spinning.
“Yea, makes me wonder how this whole VR thing will go once it becomes commercially available,” stated Nick as he put away his equipment.
The next two weeks for me were intense. Tanner and I did a lot of testing on the last two levels. Ms. Nasta had emailed Jason asking for a push on the delivery so Violet Edge Digital could release some game footage as promotional material. However, they wanted to record the footage and forbid us from doing it. We were almost finished with the game and as strange as that seemed, Jason wanted to push forward to our big payout.
I had started to develop more and more motion sickness as I played the game. It would often be a combination of head-spinning followed by a stomachache. The sickness intensified after each session in the final week.
That Friday was the last test session. I stumbled into my office wondering how I was going to make it through the day. To make matters worse it was a cold day. Everyone at the office arrived bundled up in warm jackets and scarves.
“Jesus,” exclaimed Tanner as he stood in my office doorway. “You look like shit.”
“Feel like it too,” I said with my head lying on my desk. “We need to complete the last level so Jason can send a final copy Monday morning.”
“My head is spinning and my stomach feels bad too but at least I can still stand. Go home, dude. I can grab one of the other guys to help me with this. Jake in programming is free I think.”
I peeled myself off my desk, drug my half limp body down to Jason’s office to let him know I was going home, and then slept the next few days away in my own bed. I didn’t sleep well Friday or Saturday Night. It felt like my eyes and stomach were going to explode as if something was ripping at me from the inside. I somehow made it to Sunday where the pain subsided and I could finally rest. Monday morning arrived with no pain or dizziness.
I arrived at the office early at the same time as Jason and Melissa.
“Feeling better?” asked Melissa with a smile.
“Way better,” I answered enthusiastically.
Jason turned the door handle to the building and it gave. “Damn it,” he stated in an annoyed tone. “Tanner and Jake left the door open when they left on Friday.”
We entered the building and made our way to our offices.
“Tom, can you look around the offices to make sure everything looks like it’s here and Melissa can you check the dungeon to make sure all the equipment is accounted for?”
“Yea just let me get my stuff put up and my computer turned on,” I shouted back. I hit the power button on my PC tower but no lights or spinning disk confirmation noise happened. I tried again. Still nothing.
I stuck my head out of my office as Melissa walked into the dungeon. “Jason, my computer isn’t turning on, is yours?” I called out.
“Damn it. No!” Jason called out in reply.
I heard the click of the light switch in the testing room.
Melissa’s scream was deafening. Her body tumbled backward out of the testing room as she backpedaled feverishly nearly crashing into me. She didn’t stop scrambling backward even as she fell to the floor and hit the wall opposite the door with force.
I stood there stunned as her screams mixed with cries and the sound of her trying to choke back vomit. It felt like an hour had passed before I ran into the testing room without any thought to confront what had frightened my friend.
I covered my mouth as my eyes grew ten times their normal size. I couldn’t comprehend the grotesque bodies before me. Two piles of muscle attached to bone, with their entrails pulled from what would have been their stomachs as if they had been gutted lay on the floor. They lay there motionless in pools of what was probably their own blood surrounded by busted equipment. I couldn’t make out if it was Tanner and Jake or these two bodies were completely alien.
Reality hit me like an angry fist. I stumbled back the same as Melissa. I caught myself on the doorframe as Jason came running down the hall. Melissa was still on the floor sobbing her hands covered in vomit.
“What the hell happened?” Jason said as he gasped for breath.
“Tanner… Jake… I think they’re dead.” I stumbled through my words fighting back my own gagging at what I just saw.
Jason quickly turned from us and looked in the room.
“Oh my God,” Jason said in a sedated voice. “Call 911. I need to lock the door and keep the others out before they arrive. I don’t want them to see this.” Jason moved in a panic. I gathered myself and frantically called 911 before returning to Melissa to get her calmed down and cleaned up.
Jason kept the other employees out of the office until emergency services arrived. Within minutes our office front had become crowded with cops and paramedics. Outside was a sea of blue, red, and white lights. The cops immediately sealed off everything and asked us some questions. Jason offered to pull security footage from the weekend to see if it was possible to catch whoever had done this to Tanner and Jake, if that’s whose bodies were in the testing room.
Our office computers didn’t work but Jason kept the security cameras running on a computer in a supply closet that was hooked up to a separate power supply than the rest of the office.
The footage he pulled from the security hard drive was weirdly disturbing. Even the police were perplexed. Jason pulled footage from Friday night first. Everyone except for Tanner and Jake, the guy who took my spot for the evening, was gone by 5:30 pm. There were only two cameras installed in our office. One covered the front door from the outside and the other looked over the main hallway. Jason bought good cameras though. They could zoom in to show explicit detail of anything in their view.
Jake and Tanner could be seen entering the dungeon to finish testing the game with their coats at 6 pm. It had been a cold day and the testing room was often kept at a cool temperature because of the number of consoles and computers inside of it. Two hours passed before any movement was caught on camera.
Almost two hours after the two had entered the testing room, both exited the room. They were both wearing their coats and moving in a strange manner. Tanner was walking as if he couldn’t balance on his own feet. His face looked as if it had been squished from the sides and his right foot was being pulled behind him as if it were completely dislocated from his leg. His knees appeared to be bent slightly backwards but it couldn’t clearly be seen at the angles the camera was filming from. Both his hands were tucked away in the sleeves of his coat. Behind him, in his right hand, he could clearly be seen dragging one of the prototype VR headsets from Violet Edge Digital carelessly along the ground.
Jake was following behind Tanner half hunched over. He too was walking as if he couldn’t control his own movements. His hands were folded under his arms as he swerved side to side down the hallway as if two different people were driving his legs. In his arms, he cradled the second prototype headset.
Jason switched to the outside camera as the two exited the building. As Tanner put his hand up to push the door open gasps of confusion and shock filled the room. The hand that Tanner used to push the door open didn’t have fingers. In their place were long boney looking spikes just like the emaciated man creature in the game had. As the two exited the building the grotesque hand was pulled back into Tanner’s coat sleeve. As they turned to walk away down the street several humps appeared on each of their backs under their coats. The protrusions moved up to the coat necks as if something had scrambled from their butt to their neck.
There was no other person in any footage the rest of the weekend till we arrived that morning. There were several “What the fucks?” floating around the room at this point. The police demanded a copy of the video, to which Jason quickly obliged.
The office remained closed for the next few days as the police continued their investigation. I sat at home in the dark waiting to hear if it was ok to return to work or if I needed to give another statement to the police. I felt numb. I wasn’t sure how to feel. Jason called after the police investigation at the office was over. I could hear the sadness in his voice as he informed me that the office was closing. He had paid everyone his or her portion of the initial deposit from out client and shut down the office. He explained that too many people didn’t feel comfortable working at the office where their coworkers had just been murdered.
The next phone call was from Melissa. She was in tears as she told me that the investigators confirmed the dead bodies to be Tanner and Jake by DNA and dental records. I knew she wasn’t taking it well and I tried to hide the fact that I didn’t take that news well either.
I was numb for a few weeks. Halloween came and went. That was when we were supposed to be celebrating a big payday and having a release party. I took a job at postproduction company creating sound. Melissa and I stayed in touch. I wasn’t going to let my best friend go through something horrible alone. Nick took a teaching job at a tech college and left town. We stay in touch through social media although it’s not the same as hanging out. I didn’t hear from Jason after his phone call to tell me he was shutting the company down until a few weeks before Christmas.
He called me and asked me to meet him for coffee one afternoon. It was a cold day much like the last one I spent at the office before my friends and colleagues were skinned, disemboweled, and murdered.
I found Jason sitting at the designated coffee shop alone. He still had his coat on. There was a laptop sitting on his table and he sipped from a shaky cup. Bangs had formed under his eyes and his hair was disheveled.
“You look like shit,” I said sarcastically as I sat before him.
“Good to see you too,” He replied with a half smile. “I don’t sleep much anymore.”
“Why? What’s going on? I haven’t heard from you since you decided to close down Razor Games.”
Jason shifted around in his seat. He twitched his head side to side as if he was looking for someone.
“I’ve been working for my brother. Long days and nights.” Jason paused and gazed out the window.
I knew he had something else to tell me.
“Remember when Nick said I should tape people testing the game to get some reaction shots for promo or our release party?” Jason quietly stated.
“Yes,” I replied tilting my head down.
“Well, I did. I set up the camera in the room and connected it to the computer in the closet that was recording surveillance footage. I wanted it to be a surprise for our release party. I figured we’d have a drink and share some laughs at everyone getting freaked out and fall off chairs while testing the game. With all that went on and because I had set it up months ago, I forgot it was there until a day or two after the incident. I pulled the footage from the hard drive. You need to watch some of the footage.”
Jason opened up the laptop still twitching around like a paranoid crack addict.
“Remember people saying they felt like the monsters were actually hitting them? Watch this video.”
The first video was of Tanner and me testing the game a few months ago in the beta. We were laughing in the video after just being scared by one of the monsters in the game. Our heads were turning as we were looking around with the headsets on. Suddenly Tanner screamed and an indentation on his shirt by his stomach appeared as if someone had pushed hard on him. Seconds later he could be heard saying he was jumped on by one of the creatures in the game. Jason showed me several more videos of various testers being pushed and pulled by some invisible force. We had always chalked the feeling of something physically touching us to being immersed in a VR experience.
“Do you remember the day that Melissa cut her arm?”
My eyes were wide and my heart was pounding at this point. I shook my head in confirmation.
Jason pulled up a video from that day. Melissa was sitting in the chair. The VR headset covered her face and her hands were moving with the controllers as she tested the game. A small indentation appeared on her arm and quickly moved down her skin followed by a trail of blood as if someone had scraped her hard. Melissa grabbed her arm in pain as she had done that day.
“Something was in the room with everyone,” said Jason. His bloodshot eyes did not blink. “You need to see the video from that last Friday night.”
I was afraid of what I would see but I wanted to know what happened to my friend.
“Play it.” I knew I would regret my decision.
The video started as Tanner and Jake sat down to begin testing after everyone else had left. Jason fast-forwarded 20 minutes into the video. Jake could be heard saying he didn’t understand why the monsters were following them instead of attacking. He made reference to the glitch Nick had shown me where you would have to complete the level before the monsters would act normal on the second playthrough. Tanner exclaimed that he was going to unlock the last door of the game and then they could run through the level again. Tanner started to say he was finished and that he was going to reset the level before his words were cut short.
Tanner dropped his controllers and grunted in pain gripping at his stomach as he did so. His body slouched back into his chair. His stomach began to bulge. It began to ripple and swell as if something was struggling to get out. His grunts became mixed with wails of pain. His body violently contorted. Jake’s body soon followed in the same contorted motions accompanied by his own screams.
I clasped my mouth in horror and disgust.
“I don’t want to see the rest of this.” I could feel a tear form in my eye as fear began to grip me.
“You need to see it!” Jason said in a stern whisper.
Both bodies writhed violently, their stomachs swelling and collapsing as if something was pushing from within. Finally the bodies came to rest in their chairs, their VR helmets still on, and stomachs swollen to unrealistic proportions. I watched in horror as my friends’ stomachs burst open. I could feel the vomit in my throat as I watched and heard that horrific sound which I’ll never get out of my head. Two large thin membrane sacs emerged from their bodies pulling entrails with them as they fell to the floor. A clawed hand punched through the thin veiny membrane as the screen cut to static.
“That’s it,” Jason said as he closed the laptop.
“What the fuck is this? Why did you make me watch this?” Tears were trickling down my face. I was disgusted and angry at what I had just seen. “Please tell me this shit is fake and that you’re just being a shithead so I can move on.”
“It’s not fake. I didn’t tamper with any of the footage. I saw the same shit you did.”
“No… we saw them walk out of that room.”
“The hell we did. Think about it. They were skinned alive. The coroner confirmed it was their bodies. You know damn well that whatever looked like Tanner and Jake leaving that office wasn’t them. The distorted face… The clawed hand on the glass door… The dislocated feet… the strange movement under their coats!”
I threw myself back in my seat and stared at the ceiling for a few seconds as I sighed.
“What are you suggesting?”
“This is going to sound crazy. I have been doing some thinking. What if we did exactly what the client wanted us to do?”
“What do you mean?” I asked in confusion.
“Violet Edge Digital doesn’t exist. Their equipment got ‘stolen’ so I tried to do a follow up with them from my home computer to let them know what happened. All of Mia Nasta’s emails to me are gone. If I send an email to what I remember was her email, it gets kicked back as not being able to be delivered. The police were also trying to do a follow up with them to find out exactly what the VR headsets were labeled or a serial number or something so they could report the equipment as stolen and they couldn’t locate any company anywhere named Violet Edge Digital that was based in Korea. They couldn’t find anyone named Mia Nasta either. They checked my emails and my phone calls to her office. There is no record of any of it regardless of how sure I am that I had those conversations with her. Their website is none existent. There is absolutely no trace of our client except our word.”
Jason took another nervous sip from his drink.
“All of our equipment that was in the testing room that was hooked up to the headsets was burnt from the inside out. All the game data and software was lost. All of our computers were wiped clean except for the one in the closet with the surveillance footage. It was the only one not connected to the internet. All of those folders containing instructions are gone as is the flash drive that had the sounds on it I gave you.”
“So? What does all this mean? We worked for a nonexistent company?” I was getting impatient at this point.
“Before I closed the company’s bank account the rest of the money promised to us was deposited. I had someone trace the money to see where it came from. It had passed through so many bank accounts both here in the US and offshore that it was impossible to tell. That money probably passed through 1000s of accounts.”
“What did you do with it?”
“I gave it to charity. I want nothing to do with it. I was already freaked out by that point. The morning I called you to meet me I got this in the mail. It’s a letter with no return address.”
Jason slid an envelope with his home address on the front across the table. Inside was a letter. It was on a plain piece of paper. The letter read:
Thank you. This is everything we needed.
See you soon.
– Mia Nasta
“What if…” Jason started before pausing. “What if we weren’t actually programming a VR video game? What if those creatures weren’t made up?”
“You can’t be serious,” I stated sternly.
“Think about it. The weird script they wanted us to include in the code that no one recognized. The feeling of people being physically touched while playing. You saw the video! What if we weren’t programming a game where a player escapes but in reality programming a way for those creatures to escape? Remember the pause feature not working? You can’t pause what’s real. People always said the visuals and the sounds were too good and contained things they didn’t remember programming. What if we weren’t looking at a game but a real world with our game overlaid on it?”
I sat in silence.
“Nick said the creatures wouldn’t attack you until you had opened the door to the next level right? You ever read Dante’s Inferno? There are nine levels of hell. The client wanted nine levels that looked like an abandon psych ward. Mia Nasta… Think about it. That name is an anagram.”
Jason’s ideas up this point seemed possibly valid but he was reaching for straws to me with his last statement. He was mocking our friends’ death at this point.
“Jason, enough!” I shouted as I pounded my fist into the table in anger. I stood up quickly. “I don’t want to hear this mockery of our friends’ death. Yea some strange shit happened. Yea maybe you have some good points but you can’t seriously believe that we programmed a way for imaginary monsters to enter our reality. If that is the way you want to cope with their death fine but I won’t entertain that idea because it’s insane.”
I stormed out of the coffee shop.
“We made a way for them to come into our world!” Jason shouted as I walked away.
I walked the whole way home without stopping, furious at the thought of what Jason was suggesting. It was a complete fairy tale and probably his stupid way of coping with things. I wanted none of it.
His idea seemed stupid at the time but the reason I’m writing this now is because I believe him. Everything he said. It makes sense to me now. I’m writing this and posting it anywhere I can to warn people.
That night I was on Facebook looking at old photos of my friends reflecting on good times at Razor Games. Then I noticed it. In the suggested ad column on the right side was an advertisement for Razor Edge Incorporated’s new VR headset system. It looked strangely like the prototypes we had from our client.
I clicked on the ad. The VR system came complete with the world’s first horror VR game guaranteed to be the most realistic horror simulator ever. The game was titled ‘Ascent from the Abyss.’ There were screenshots of the game. The monsters, the graphics, and the premise were exactly the same. There was a demo video available. The gameplay was exactly the same and so was the level that was demonstrated. It was an exact carbon copy of our game.
We never titled the game. We never gave our client a final copy either. I don’t know what is going on but if Jason is even close to being right, we need to warn as many people as possible.
It’s the holiday season, and if this VR set and game catches any traction, God only knows what will happen.
Publisher’s Note: This pasta was the third-place winner of our Gaming Creepypasta Challenge. Congratulations! The first place winner can be viewed here, and second place is here. Thanks to everyone who participated!
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