"Here goes nothing..."
Spike tapped one claw-tip hard against the spot, piercing directly into the stone like it was butter. A moment later, it split jagged across three different faults, all centered on the tiny piece of impure dirt at the center. A trio of windows popped up, and he had to restrain himself from cheering.
By using [Craft] without the skill, your Mastery increases by 10%
A skill has been created through a special action! Through fastidious shaping of stone, a skill to carve the world, [Earthshaper] has been created!
A skill has been created through a special action! Through discovery of your own finesse, a skill to sharpen your heritage, [Dragon's Claws] has been created!
> Figure out more skills
'Heritage', was it? That... There was a faint pain in his heart as he looked at the final window. It had been a long time since he really thought about what it meant to be a dragon, his 'heritage'. Most of those thoughts had been about how decidedly un-dragon-like he was. Maybe this was a sign that he'd be changing that? Maybe he'd become a proper dragon without having to abandon his friends... Or he already was one. He'd have to discuss it with Twilight, but for now, skills!
[Earthshaper] (Active and Passive) Lv 1 EXP: 0.0%
A skill given to those for whom working with dirt, rock, gems and all the other products of the earth comes naturally.
Passively improves the quality of your work with all earthen materials by 10%
Passively reduces the difficulty of working all earthen materials.
When used as an Active skill, you may consume Stamina to double the passive benefits of this skill and increase the speed at which you work. Stamina costs and speed increases vary.
Stamina? He had Stamina? I mean, obviously he did, he got tired... He got tired more often than he'd like, frankly. But the game hadn't said anything about it... Maybe it was a hidden stat, derived from one or more of the others? That would make it like his Defense Total in O+O, or the sprint meter in King Blaster... That made a lot of sense, since Stamina was normally something you only think about when it's gone. And maybe his new nature would make it easier for him to stay awake! Wishful thinking, but hey: This was already like a wish come true. And part of it...
Well, part of it was this.
[Dragon's Claws] (Active and Passive) Lv 1 EXP: 0.00% MP: Varies
To a dragon, their claws are proof of their dexterity and skill. They hit harder than the hooves of a pony, have more control than the hands of a minotaur, and show the claws of a griffon to be the mockeries they are. None shall face the claws of a dragon unscathed, and this skill is that fact given form.
Allows for precise control of your claws, as well as the ability to retract the tips and edges safely.
Passively increases all other effects that benefit your claws by 10%
When used as an Active skill, your claws are enhanced to strike vicious blows or work even the most durable materials, dealing increasingly more damage based on the MP spent.
This skill will grow with DEX and skill levels, gaining new features over time.
He whistled softly as he read over the details, and then flipped back to Earthshaper's description. Nothing about it had changed, but... He had a feeling that as long as he worked with his claws, these two would combine awesomely. Right now it would just be another single percent, in total, but... Shining Armor had taught him the importance of force multipliers and stacking numbers, especially when it came to building game characters. Even a simple base like 10% of 10% could quickly grow, especially if he found a way to work on increasing both skills together.
Maybe he could go out with Rarity, hit the quarries, and dig for the gems the long way around, through the stone instead of the relatively-soft dirt she usually directed him to. While he was at it, he could incorporate gemstones into his Cooking (which he was already thinking of as capital-C "Cooking") more often. And by Observing every gem for the weak spots, value, and other details (he was hoping for flavor), he could 'optimize' his training, as Rainbow Dash would put it. There weren't a lot of things she would get nerdy about, but training and exercise topped the list (with Daring Do as a close third).
This felt like good progress: It left him with a long-term plan and the means to accomplish it.
Careful planning caused your WIS to increase by 1!
He stared. He blinked. Blink. Stare. Blink. Smile.
"...Oh, so it works like that, huh?"
Even more big news: Normally in games, especially in more 'crunchy' ones like O+O or Unicorn Alley, stats were fairly fixed unless you got more for levelling or used some super-major artifact. But if he could just get stats by exercising them... Well hey, that was how it worked normally, right? So now he could think of all that work in his original skill plan as being stat improvement too. The plan he had already made would cover Dexterity, for sure, and maybe Strength. Vitality, if he worked himself hard enough.
Speaking of Vitality, he totally had a way to drain his own Stamina at will now, so that might be, in the words of Button Mash, "bah-roken". Wisdom from making plans and strategies, probably Intelligence from... studying? He'd have to ask Pinkie how you improved Luck, though: Even if she didn't know what was going on when he asked, she'd almost certainly have an answer. So the good news so far was that he had learned a ton in just an hour or so, but he had a feeling that was only because he knew so little to begin with: Large gains relative to a small base.
Yeah, the quest had even said this was a little boost-along to smooth out the early game, like the scaling experience in a lot of games. Any time now this parade of sweet discoveries would fade into the longer slog of working up individual skills or desperately studying his own menus for hints and clues... Weirdly, that had its own kind of appeal to it. The last time he made a character (for a superhero game that Shining brought as a breather between campaigns), he spent nearly two days poring through different 'splatbooks' to find the right mix of fun and useful for the sake of the group. This was even better, because he'd be improving himself, for real.
Checking his Time... There was a good twenty minutes left before the souffle finished, so he could spend the rest of this time messing with menus. At the very least, he wanted to get drawings of them all down, or at least written lists, so he could talk about it with others more easily. Starting from the top, then...
> DIFFICULTY AND MODES
> HUD MANAGEMENT
> DUNGEON OPTIONS
> CONTROLS / INTERFACE
> SFX VOLUME > BGM VOLUME > DIALOGUE VOLUME
> LANGUAGE (DISABLED)
> COLOR BALANCE
> ASPECT RATIO
> VISION TYPES (DISABLED)
> PARTY OPTIONS
> COMMUNICATION OPTIONS
> FRIENDS LIST
Yeah, that looked like everything. Another disabled menu, too: But hitting this one told him he needed INT 101 or any of... a bunch of unknown alternate requirements. What caught his interest the most, in the end, were the Game and Social options. Experimenting with Audio had been fun, but while he was in that menu, Spike turned off the subtitles and music he had left on earlier. And Video didn't have many options to begin with, plus neither of them were things he wanted to mess with. But the Social options implied he could make a party, just like in a tabletop game, or that one fancy multiplayer game he saw in Canterlot last year... Plane of Battleforge or something like that.
Now that had been a cool idea for a game: There were a dozen cabinets all placed together, and anypony could sidle up to an empty one and pick up their character from the last time they played, dropping into a connected game with everypony else at the same arcade. Allegiances formed and broke in mere minutes, but the progress made was stored forever in the magically-infused crystal nodes that made it all work. Spike hadn't gotten a chance to play, but he had seen a lot of things similar to what his ability was showing him: Menus, parties forming, inventory that didn't care about size or shape or weight, skills being levelled with use.... It was enough to make him wonder.
Well, maybe he could look into that game and its makers next time he was in Canterlot. For now, he would make do with what he could learn by himself, from himself, of himself.
"Game, Difficulty and Modes."
Another one of the small pale-yellow alert boxes.
NOTE: All contents of this menu are for reference only. There is no user-controlled ability to change the difficulty or mode of a particular scene. Instead, they change contextually.
And then it listed a lot of things he couldn't see, obscured under a strange haze and a wall of ???. That was... Less useful than he had hoped. So apparently his game did have difficulty, but not in the "Are you playing on Hard Mode" sense, instead more like "Stage 7-2 of this game is harder than Stage 8-3 even though it's earlier, because 7-2 is an underwater level". It would change on its own, and he had no clue what that change even did. So one mystery down, another up, no net gain of information: This really was like one of the arcade's nastier puzzle games.
The next piece of the puzzle was "HUD Management"... Ooh, he could make his HP and MP visible in the corner of his eye, that was kind of nice. It would also make his... Stamina...
"Really? It's not even on my character sheet but I can make it visible here? Gah, I hate when menus hide stuff like that! Step up from not being able to see it period, I guess."
"Dungeon Options" was all ??? again, probably because he'd never so much as seen a dungeon, unless the one under Canterlot counted (he was pretty sure it didn't). Games tended to use dungeon less to mean "deep underground multi-purpose prison" and more to mean "contained adventure space", which Spike preferred. Seemed like his menus agreed, but he wouldn't be able to see how or why anytime soon. It's not like he'd stumble into a dungeon on the way across town... Right?
The Game category ended with what Spike guessed might be the biggest, most important section of them all... And he was right. Just looking over the "Controls / Interface" section (although it took him a moment to realize he was not supposed to say "slash") revealed such fantastic concepts as "Subvocal Command" and "Focus-Based Buttons", not to mention controls for changing his handedness, tail prehensility, and tongue articulation. The good news? The first two worked, and turning them both to 'ON' allowed him to control his menus and use his skills without anypony else being any the wiser. The bad news? All of the others were locked behind assorted levels of DEX, INT, VIT, and unknown ???-coated prerequisites.
And so all that was left of his menu adventure was the Social options. He wasn't surprised when the Friends List ended up being empty: Which is not to say that he had no friends, but rather, this interface probably had some special way of declaring a person a "friend" officially, in the system. Communication Options had a lot of submenus that were locked down behind more stat and (he assumed) skill requirements. And Party Options... Brought up a message telling him to form a Party first. To make up for that small setback, however, it told him how. The error message spelled it out right there:
To access Party Options, first form a party with others using the command "Invite NAME". Note that some features are only available if members are within certain level ranges.