Recently I had the pleasure of participating in Project Neural Cloud’s second beta test. A time I used to not only experience as much as the gameplay I could, but also the story and dig for as much lore as possible to share (without story spoilers). While I didn’t have the opportunity to participate in the first beta test, I was able to take a look at the raw script from it.
It is worth noting that there have been significant changes to even the story script of Project Neural Cloud from CBT1 to CBT2. Not only the general story beats have seen changes, but also character motivations and even placement of characters within the story. In CBT1 the “Nightmare” difficulty chapters featured their own story nodes featuring characters who had not yet joined the main group of Exiles, while in CBT2 these story nodes are notably absent.
In other words, the story of PNC is very much a work-in-progress that is receiving changes and improvements just the same as the gameplay itself. While some aspects have changed, some remained the same and those are the ones we’ll explore for now.
Project Neural Cloud’s current story beats follow a familiar progression of our main cast entering a zone, or Sector, and becoming involved in each Sector’s respective mini-story as they proceed through their main quest. They’ll solve or find resolution to certain issues within each Sector, meet new allies, possibly recruit more to their cause, and may even discover someting new about themselves before moving on to the next. In these instances, the story of each Sector will follow a theme relevant to the tale being told and it will largely be the focus until key moments take place which link the Sector’s story to the Main story. Anyone who has played an RPG or gone through the leveling process in an MMO should be very keen on this kind of segmented story progression.
Fans of side characters such as 42Lab_NPC_01 should find this form of storytelling enjoyable as it gives supporting characters the chance to be in the spotlight and receive development the same as any of the main cast.
Sector Administrators and Intelligence Agents
Within the Sectors of 42Lab’s super quantum computer megaserver, Magrasea, we have the denizens who exist there; the Sector Administrator(s) and Intelligence Agents (IAs). Each Sector has one (sometimes two depending on the AI’s design) Administrator. They are responsible for overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Sector, analyzing all of the information within, assigning tasks to IAs, and otherwise fully managing their respective zones. Plainly, they’re the rulers or overseers of each Sector, and have full access and authorization privileges to make changes to the area and even allocate processing power to individual AIs.
Sectors run by dual Administrators often have their territory split down the middle with each taking half of the area as their own. An example of this is within the Cyclopes Sector owned by Svarog Heavy Industries. Within this Sector, the area is split between the Military Sector, and the Industrial Sector headed by Arrow and Olivia, respectively.
Processing power is important here because without enough of it, the AIs are unable to fully express themselves with emotions, feelings, and a personality. The bare minimum has them default to being a robotic worker drone devoid of all of those aforementioned things should the Administrator deprive an IA. Administrators are capable of hindering progress just as easily as helping it, so it’s in the main cast’s best interest to be on the good side of these AIs.
The populations of each Sector are made up by the Intelligence Agents (IAs). These AIs exist as workers for their respective Sectors and their tasks are relevant to the smooth operation of the Sector itself, or it’s research. For example, the IAs of Helios Sector, owned by Svarog Heavy Industries, are participants in simulations regarding the operation of the experimental Noah Reactor, which attempts to use Collapse Fluid as an energy source. Thankfully Svarog had the good sense to experiment with this potential energy source in cyberspace, rather than the real world. Perhaps the IAs don’t agree, though.
Both Administrators and IAs (and even some Sanctifier units) possess animal appendages like ears or tails. These serve as “limiters” to their AI. These limiters are meant as a measure of control over the growth of their AI, preventing the evolution of it to some degree. While each IA encountered so far has had animal features, not all Sanctifier or Administrators do. The reasoning behind certain AIs being allowed to remain “unchecked” is unknown.
In general, Administrators and IAs are bound to their respective Sectors. Not literally, but wandering outside of their own Sectors is something that is frowned upon by the guardians of Magrasea, Sanctifier. More on that below. An exception to this is Riko, a Decentralized Data Exchange IA. She is authorized to move freely between each Sector, and is even free from harm by Sanctifier as a result. She can even strike up a conversation with Sanctifier units. Riko’s role includes traveling from Sector to Sector to buy/sell/trade information in exchange for “Bitcoins” and possesses a unique data and resource locating ability which she aids the player with on occasion.
While the in-game shop is not fully implemented yet, it is suspected that Riko will be the “Kalina” of Project Neural Cloud. I hope you enjoy being millions of Bitcoins in debt.
Revealed Sector Administrators
Sector 1 - Rossum: Turing
Sector 2 - Cyclopes: Arrow and Olivia
Sector 3 - Helios: Sisy and Phus
Sector 4 - Enigma: ???
If you haven’t guessed by now, Magrasea is both populated and run by AIs. The antivirus is no exception. Sanctifier is a recently and newly developed AI anti-virus tasked with protecting 42Lab’s megaserver and all projects and research within. Their protection of each Sector includes wayward threats such as anomalous AIs or IAs which are not meant to be there. Sometimes IAs wander out of their Sector due to errors and it is Sanctifier’s job to ensure it is dealt with before the AI can cause any damage. They're even capable of erecting Sector-wide barriers or walls to contain or isolate threats.
Just the same as our lovable NPC IAs, Sanctifier is not exempt from personality quirks, speech patterns, emotions or differing agendas. Certain Sancitifier units, like Faith, are only interested in following the rules, are very rigid and difficult to deal with, while others are easily distracted by food and call you cute names like dumpling. Sanctifier AIs can even be reasoned with and may even prioritize the protection of a Sector rather than blindly trying to wipeout the main cast, showing that they're not just programs following a script. It's plain to see that like any other AI we've encountered in the series so far, Sanctifier is fallible, but also capable of evolution beyond their original makeup.
Sanctifier follows a heavy angelic and mythological theme when it comes to their aesthetic appearance, with many having appearances resembling angels, or other mythical beasts. Even the BGM that plays during their presence is a hymn. The naming scheme of Sanctifier units follow a similar style, with high-level agents having names referenced or directly taken from angelic sources such as “Gabriel”. Mid-level Sanctifier units are often named after Attributes or Beasts of myth such as “Faith” or “Mara”. The angelic motif is dug deeper here still with dangerous threats being referred to as “Daemons”.
All in all, while Sanctifier is the “antagonist” of Project Neural Cloud for the moment, it is not out of maliciousness. It is merely the system doing its job of attempting to maintain order, assist projects, and deal with anomalous AIs wandering Sectors they should not be in as the main cast has been ejected or “exiled” out of their proper 42Lab Neural Cloud Sector.
Magrasea and Time Dilation
Within the Magrasea superserver the actions taken here do not equate to a 1:1 ratio with time back in the real world. Since we’re dealing with a supercomputer conducting quantum calculations, and processing a ludicrous amount of data at all times, the actual time our Exiles spend in each Sector may only amount to a few minutes in the real world because of the speed of the computational ability of Magrasea. For example, the Helios Sector run by Svarog has “reincarnated” (that is to say, reset) over 100 million times. Even if the time before each reset was only 3 minutes in reality, it would take about 600 years to reach that number. Because of this, we can surmise that the computational speed of Magrasea indeed induces an effect of time dilation.
This factor is not only important for allowing the story to progress over a potentially extraordinary length of time, but also doubly important for any human participants in Project Neural Cloud. The player character, the Professor, has uploaded their mind to the Magrasea server through Ultimate Life (Ultilife) Company’s experimental mind-uploading technology. The Dolls see this as a sacrifice of life as there is currently no way to return the mind to the body. However, because time difference is a factor here, we can rest assured that the Professor’s body is not decaying at a rapid pace, or that there are most likely no extraneous adverse effects due to long periods of time in which their mind is uploaded. With this, the story has been set up with the possibility that the Professor may spend years, decades, or longer within Magrasea from their own perspective, but if they managed to return to reality, it may have only actually been a few hours (or less).
Additionally, this solves any issue of interference with the main timeline of the Girls' Frontline series. The exiles can spend hundreds of years in Magrasea, but if it's only a day or two in reality, it’s fine, right? This give Project Neural Cloud exponentially more room to play with than the originally anticipated two years before the start of Girls' Frontline.