"So..." queried Applejack, curiously peering down at the white, rectangular box and the four oddly-shaped... button... things that lay on the floor before her. "What did'ja say this thingamajigger here was again, Twi'?
"I uh... I honestly have no idea what it's supposed to do," said Twilight Sparkle, shrugging her shoulders as she fixed her orange-coated friend with a nonplussed look. She was just as curious about the box as the rest of her six friends were.
"The mail parcel from Canterlot's new science and electronics division had labelled it as an... 'Ecks Box Three Sixty', whatever that is. Apparently, the letter enclosed in the parcel was written by Princess Celestia herself; this device here is a new prototype developed by the Canterlot University of Electrical Engineering, and they want us to test it out."
"I dunno, Twilight." Rainbow Dash commented, arching an eyebrow as she cautiously toed one of the small button things before picking one up and examining it closely. "I can't even begin to figure out how the hay these things work. I mean, there are so many buttons! How are we supposed to know which one does what?"
"Well Rainbow Dash, that's where this comes in!" Proclaimed Twilight, magically levitating a rectangular green case over into the middle of the group. "This is what the researchers called a 'video game'. They said it's some sort of entertainment device that is only compatible with the, uh... box."
"Ooh, GAMES? I love games!" Said Pinkie Pie, immediately perking up the very moment Twilight uttered the word "game." "Well, what are we waiting for? What's it say?"
The pink earth pony practically shot forward and grabbed the small green case out of the air, peering intently down on that cover, before her eyes slanted downwards in confusion. "Hay...low... Reech? What the hay is a Haylow Reech?"
"Gimme that, Pinkie," snapped Twilight, quickly snatching the case out of Pinkie's hands. "First off, it's spelt Halo. H-A-L-O. Secondly, we're here on official orders from the Princess herself. We must do our duty to the absolute utmost of our ability."
"Well, ah dunno, Twi'..." Applejack began uncertainly. "Ah mean, it's flatterin' an' all, bein' hoofpicked by the Princess herself, but ah'm mighty unsure on how we're gonna go about this. This thing even have a 'struction manual er sumthin'?"
"Well, let's take a look inside, shall we?" Said Twilight, gently prying open the case to reveal a disc and instruction manual within. However, a few seconds of browsing through the pages of the tiny little book revealed little about how to operate the box - it seemed that the instructions within the manual were meant for whatever content that was hidden within the disc.
"So uh... we're playing as these guys then?" Rainbow Dash asked, gesturing towards the five armored ponies who adorned the top of the disc, each one striding hoof-to-hoof upon a lone hill, a breaking dawn framing the outlines of their suits.
"They look kinda cool! Well, not as cool as me, but then again, nopony's cooler than me!" Proclaimed the rainbow-maned pegasus. "Still, I think we might have something pretty cool goin' on here, Twilight! Let's get it started!"
"All right, then it's settled! We'll get the game started and play it, and I'll record all our findings and report them to Princess Celestia!" Twilight beamed proudly as her horn sparked, and the disc began to float out of its casing, slowly moving towards the larger, white box that awaited in the corner... and then stopping there, as though confused.
"So... how do we put this disc inside again?" She asked, clearly stumped. She looked at the rest of her friends for any prompts or suggestions, but they all either shrugged, or gave her nonplussed looks, clearly not knowing any more than she did.
"Uhm, guys...?" A soft voice spoke up from the corner of the room, and Twilight looked over to see Fluttershy and her butler, Angel Bunny, trying to get themselves heard over the discussion the rest of them were having.
The yellow pegasus pony was standing over the parcel the Princess had mailed to Twilight, reading what looked like a book, with the words "User Instruction Manual" printed on the cover in large, block letters.
"I think you might want to give this a read first."
The half-hour that passed by was less than fruitful - apparently, the instruction manual dictated that a television set was necessary in order to use the box. In addition to that, it seemed that the box required a plethora of wires and plugs to match corresponding outlets on Twilight's TV set, otherwise it would not work.
It was all very confusing for those who were not technically inclined. Naturally, Twilight had to figure out everything herself as the rest of her friends gathered in her basement laboratory where her television was. Predictably, her friends either ended up watching her intently, or did nothing but laze around. Not surprisingly, Rainbow Dash fell asleep no more than ten seconds in.
"All right, that should do it!" Twilight said with an air of satisfaction as she finally reared her head back up. The last few wires that needed to be connected were in place, and the box was just about ready to work.
"Now, we should just press this button right here..." As she depressed a button adorned with a symbol that the manual stated represented the "on" switch. Almost immediately, a soft, satisfying ding! came from the box, a small green dot coming to life where Twilight's hoof had been only moments ago.
"Girls... I'd say we have power!" Twilight exclaimed, clearly overjoyed by the prospect of getting the Princess's newest device to work.
"Well come on, whaddya waiting for!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed as she excitedly rushed forward, grabbing one of the devices that the manual had called a "controller" up from the floor.
Twilight couldn't help but chuckle at her friend's inability to sit still. "Hold on a second, Dash. I still need to place the disc inside the box... There we go!"
The unicorn's horn lit up once more as a purple aura flared to life around both the box. Slowly, a tray began to extend outward, obviously meant to be some sort of receptacle for the game.
As soon as Twilight had inserted the disc, the tray receded back into the box, leaving the six gathered ponies to watch in wonder as the television screen turned a crisp, clear white.
Shortly after, a wisp of green began to encircle a lone silver globule that appeared on-screen. Merging with the aforementioned sphere, the green wisp etched a large, stylized "X" onto its surface, clearly some form of logo.
As the words "Xbox 360" materialized on the bottom of the screen with a low, futuristic hum before the display eventually faded to black, quite a few of the ponies assembled couldn't help but let out a rather long "ooooooh" of amazement.
Rarity gave a low, appreciative hmmm, watching the display intently. "Elegant, yet simple... excellent use of colors and form... not to mention a perfect mixture of showiness and elegance. My my my, these ponies know a thing or two about how to impress."
"Shhhh! It's starting!" Pinkie Pie suddenly shushed the white unicorn as the screen went dark, leaving the six mares staring at the screen in captivated wonder. Several odd, light-blue lines began to silently pop up on the screen, arranging themselves in strange, symmetrical patterns, before disappearing.
Rainbow Dash gave a rather odd stare at the vanished display, obviously disappointed. "Well, that wasn't what I was-"
And that's when the heavy orchestral score boomed right out of Twilight's basement-mounted surround-sound speakers. Fluttershy, not expecting the sudden sound at all, gave a startled squeak and almost darted to hide behind Rarity who was next to her, but the movement died halfway as her eyes widened in awe of the images that came to life on the screen next.
The only pony in the room whose eyes had opened wider than Fluttershy's was Twilight Sparkle - in fact, not only were her eyes as large as saucers, her jaw was hanging open as she watched the images of deep space appear on the screen.
Nebulae, asteroid fields, and ringed gas giants faded on and off the screen in rapid succession. From what she knew about astronomy, there were a few technical details here and there that were slightly off, but technical details be hooved, those images were beautiful.
The orchestral score echoing grandly in the background slowly built up to a crescendo, and though it seemed physically impossible, Twilight's eyes grew even larger than saucers as the panoramic view of the gas giant slowly moved aside.
Now visible was a bird's-eye view of a beautiful blue-green planet that resembled Equestria, yet with a few key differences. For one, Equestria didn't possess such a majestic northern aurora, and neither did it have such vast expanses of sea in-between the landmasses.
Yet this much Twilight knew - whatever that planet was, it was obviously a central figure in the game they were playing.
Dimming briefly, the planet they were gazing at was replaced on screen by yet another image, this time of a beautiful, yet somehow gloomy scene: a mountainous region riddled with the green of pastures, a darkened, grey sky hanging over it as a light rain fell. Across the centre of the screen, the words "Halo Reach" were hanging in highly stylized font.
As it was, the ponies sat staring at the screen, waiting for something else to happen, yet for several silent moments, nothing did.
"Umm, are we s'pposed ta do sumthin'?" Applejack asked tentatively, obviously quite lost, but nonetheless still enraptured with what she was faced with.
"Isn't it kinda obvious, silly?" Pinkie Pie said as though it was the plainest thing in the world, and her hoof pointed up to a line of text just below the title, words that were in a font so much smaller than the title that nopony else had managed to spot them. "It says 'Press Start to begin'!"
"Huh? It does?" Twilight looked closer, and noted with some embarrassment that yes indeed, it did say 'Press Start to begin' in a tiny little line below the main title. "Oh, heheh, I guess I kinda missed it. Rainbow Dash, you're the one with the controller right now, so if you'd be so kind?"
The cyan pegasus gave an excited grin. "My pleasure, Twilight." Lifting up the controller she held in her hooves, Rainbow Dash took a few seconds to locate the Start button, but once she did, the image on the screen abruptly changed again as she depressed it, changing to another bird's eye view of the planet they had all seen just a few seconds ago.
Overlaid over the image however were a series of words stacked on top of one another, obviously a menu of some sorts, with the topmost word highlighted by a translucent white bar.
Curious, Rainbow Dash gave the stick on the left of the controller she held an experimental downward push, and the white bar moved downwards once, now highlighting the second word instead of the first.
"I think I'm getting the hang of this!" The pegasus exclaimed proudly with a wide beam, and she quickly scanned over each of the words on the menu once before settling on the topmost one again. "Hey Twilight, that manual say anything about how we can select these things?"
"Umm... It's right there on the bottom of the screen, Dash..." Fluttershy pointed out quietly as Dash squinted at the screen where her friend's hoof was pointing, and then the blue pegasus gave a slightly sheepish smile. "It says 'A' to Select."
"Oh! Ah, heheheh, yeah, I knew that!" Rainbow Dash said flippantly as she looked over the menu of selections once more. "Let's see, 'Campaign', 'Matchmaking', 'Firefight', 'Options'... I think I'll go with the campaign, obviously the one placed first on the menu is the most important!"
"Can't say I disagree with that." Twilight said with a concurring nod, while Applejack and Rarity simply shrugged and opted to watch their friend give her first video game her very first shot.
Rainbow Dash gave the green 'A' button on her controller a confident push, and then another menu came up - this time with only four words, with the symbol of a shield and a knife next to it and a brief paragraph of descriptive text.
Rarity leaned closer and examined the words on the screen - apparently it had started out highlighting the second word, 'Normal', while the one above it read 'Easy', and below it was 'Heroic', followed by 'Legendary'.
"Face firm resistance from competent, determined enemies, but burn through enough ammo and you will eventually triumph." The white unicorn read off the screen, evidently some sort of descriptive text for 'Normal'. The top of the screen had a large label reading "Difficulty Selection"; perhaps this was where you selected how hard or easy you wanted the game to be, if the words she saw on the screen were any indication.
"Rainbow, could you be a dear and let us have a look at the other options?" Rarity said sweetly, her eyes burning with curiosity from within. "I'd like to see how they describe somepony who's... heroic.
"Uh huh. Ah'm wonderin' mahself, how does somepony describe somepony who's legendary without somehow referring to Princess Celestia?" Applejack wondered half-jokingly.
Rainbow Dash complied, and the ponies' eyes widened incredulously as they read the descriptions.
"Laugh as helpless victims flee in terror from their inevitable slaughter. The game basically plays itself." Twilight read off the screen, her eyebrow arching sardonically as she read the descriptor text for Easy mode, the symbol on the screen changing to display only the shield, the knife disappearing from sight. "Well, that doesn't sound too exciting... Or very noteworthy."
"Hmm... Fight against formidable foes that will truly test your skill and wits; this is the way Halo is meant to be played. Sounds more to me like the way a hero ought to be!" said Rarity, a slightly dreamy air to her voice. As Rainbow Dash placed the selector over Heroic mode, the single knife reappeared along with a second, identical one, crossing themselves over the shield on the screen.
"Whoa there, nelly. Dash, ah'm not likin' that look on your face." Applejack said nervously as Rainbow Dash placed the selector over the final choice - the rainbow-maned pegasus had a fervent, almost maniacal grin on her face, obviously relishing the challenge she was being presented with.
Over the two crossed knives and the shield on the screen, an unrecognizable, alien skull had appeared to overshadow them, obviously to symbolize just how deadly the choice was - as though the descriptor text wasn't enough.
"Tremble as teeming hordes of invincible alien monsters punish the slightest error with instant death... again and again." Rainbow Dash read off the screen in a single, excited breath, her grin not fading at all. In fact, it only seemed to grow wider. "Is that a challenge? If so, I'm takin' it!"
There was only a small, nervous "Eep!" from behind Pinkie Pie, as Fluttershy watched timidly from behind the pink earth pony. The description of Legendary mode sounded so scary, she couldn't imagine why Rainbow Dash would want to go through with it.
"I dunno, Rainbow Dash..." Twilight said uncertainly. "That looks to me like the hardest difficulty setting that the game has, and this is your very first try! You're sure you don't want to pick something a little easier?"
"Oh, please!" Proclaimed Rainbow Dash, laughing off Twilight's warnings and promptly proceeding to mash the A button. "How bad could it be? You're forgetting that I'm the coolest, fastest pony in all Ponyville! I can handle a little game like this no matter what the difficulty!"
"If you say so, Dash..."
"Oh, COME ON! I totally hit that guy like at least a billion times, why didn't he die!"
"Well, that one did get you good."
"I know, Twilight... Just lemme try this again... OH, YOU SON OF A...!"
"... Yeowch, nelly, that had ta hurt sumthin' fierce..."
"Ya don't say, AJ? This is a lot harder than it looks! … FOR CELESTIA'S SAKE, NOT AGAIN!"
"... Dashie, you're SURE you don't want to switch to something easier? It's been two hours and you've barely made it halfway past the second stage! Oh, look out for that one! He's got a... oh, nevermind, you just died again!"
"Thank you, Pinkie Pie, I kinda realized that..." Rainbow Dash ground out from behind clenched teeth as the game restarted itself from the last checkpoint, her in-avatar having just died to a diminutive enemy that had seen fit to suddenly charge her, brandishing two brightly glowing blue spheres right incinerating them both in a huge explosion.
"Hey Dashie," said Pinkie Pie, tapping Rainbow Dash on her shoulder. "Ya think I could give it a whirl?"
"Ugh," groaned the pegasus, clearly fed up with loss after loss the game dished out at her for what she estimated had to be at least the hundredth time. "Yeah sure, why not. It's not as if anything's gonna be different."
With a loud and resounding "YAY," Pinkie Pie grabbed the controller out of Dash's hoofs and started mashing away at the buttons, causing her character to leap all over the screen in a wild frenzy, shooting at nothing in particular and coming dangerously close to a few stray explosions.
In what could only be described as an utter miracle, Pinkie Pie's jumping spree prevented her from getting killed by any enemy fire whatsoever. Or, well, at least up till the point she bounded off a cliff to her rather quick demise... and a resounding outburst of laughter from Rainbow Dash.
"OH, CELESTIA HELP ME... I- wheeze I can't stop- pfft- LAUGHING!" Bellowed Rainbow Dash, who then proceeded to burst into a resounding cry of "BAAA-HA-HAAAA" for the umpteenth time, practically rolling on the floor in stitches.
Admittedly, Twilight was quite amused by Pinkie Pie's antics, and she had joined Rainbow Dash in her hysterics on the basement's wooden floor, while even Rarity had a hoof pressed to her mouth, desperately trying to hold her laughter in even as her body shook with repressed guffaws.
"Aww, phooey, this ain't fun anymore!" The pink earth pony pouted as she stuck her hoof out with the controller, obviously not wanting to play any longer. "Somepony else give it a try! I wanna see how you guys play!"
"Hmm... well, ah'm kinda curious on how this thingamajig here works. Give 'er here, Pinkie Pie." Applejack stated, taking the proffered controller from her friend as she gave the device a brief once-over, trying to figure out which button did what.
Five minutes later, the orange earth pony was hurling curse words that most of them hadn't known even existed up to this point. From what everypony could tell over the din, she was quite stuck trying to get a large, armored creature to turn around and reveal its weak spot. The fact that her enemy was repeatedly crushing her in-game avatar's virtual skull with what appeared to be a large, gray shield wasn't quite helping either.
"THIS CONSARNED SON OF A ***** KEEPS SMASHING HIS SHIELD OVER MAH HEAD EVERY TIME AH TRY TO GO AROUND HIM. CELESTIA **** THIS LOUSY PIECE A' ****." Applejack yelled, a vein throbbing furiously over her temple as her hoofs gripping the controller shook with barely controlled rage. Barely.
The rest of her friends were staring at her with wide eyes, Fluttershy and Twilight inching away slowly from the fuming earth pony. Rainbow Dash though was holding in a mirthful chuckle, but her eyes betrayed the smug smile she was hiding. "Told ya it's harder than it looks, AJ!"
"OH, SHUT YER YAP, RAINBOW." Said the raging pony, nearly screaming. "I KNOW HOW HARD IT- OH TO THE MOON WITH THIS!"
Applejack, totally fed up with her lack of progress, angrily shoved the controller into Twilight's hooves. "The hay with this, Twi'! I give up! You give it a try, you're the one Princess Celestia gave it to anyway!"
"Wow, geez, Applejack," Said Twilight, giving her friend an amused smile before relieving Applejack of the burden of the controller. "You've really gotta relax there. It's just a game!"
The sardonic glance that Applejack gave her quite frankly said otherwise, but Twilight simply shrugged sagely and calmly set about trying to overcome the giant mook that had Applejack stuck so.
"A-ha! I knew I was missing something!" The lavender unicorn proclaimed proudly as she ran right past it instead of engaging it directly, and was rewarded with the sight of a much, MUCH bigger gun than the one she was holding right now. Twilight quickly picked up the gun and spun her character around, placing the giant mook right in her sights.
"Gotcha!" She snickered playfully in a manner that was reminiscent of a certain monarch, and then pulled the trigger on her controller.
The resulting fireball-like object that spat out of her new gun's barrel streaked forward like a missile, blasting forward and slamming right into the giant mook's face. The resulting detonation yielded a massive conflagration that had every pony in the room either wincing in mock pain or going woooahin awe. When the smoke cleared, the armored creature was lying in a crumpled heap on the floor, obviously dead.
"And that, girls, is how you do it." Twilight stated with a satisfied air, much to Applejack's chagrin. She certainly hadn't considered trying that, distracted as she was with her stubborn attempts to overcome the large, armored creature with only what she had.
The rest of the level progressed fairly well - Twilight would always approach every situation she came across slowly, analyzing it thoroughly before moving in for the kill. Soon enough, it became clear that there was an obvious pattern to every battle she approached - the lavender unicorn was obviously following some sort of carefully calculated procedure devised by watching her friends play through the game.
It was all well and good until she reached what seemed to be the end of the level - her in-game avatar was advancing up a series of floors alongside its compatriots, when all of a sudden a barrage of green blasts of energy streaked out of nowhere, and completely vaporised her character and its allies right where they stood.
"... What in the Princess's name just happened?" Twilight gaped, staring numbly at the screen, her jaw hanging open for just a brief moment before she shook her head back into focus. "No, there's got to be a strategy for this one here, there must be something that I missed..."
Yet, much to her gathered friends' endless amusement, it seemed whatever the purple unicorn tried was doomed to failure. Even the slightest movement out of cover was instantly punished with a barrage of green energy blasts from whatever was aiming at her - they came so fast and so furiously that Twilight didn't have any time to even look at what was shooting at her.
"What... What is this?" hissed the lavender unicorn from between clenched teeth, her jaw clenching as her heart rate began to quicken, her eyes narrowing in frustration. "How am I supposed to even FORMULATE a strategy if I don't know who my enemy is?"
As the deaths began to rack up alongside Twilight's failed attempts, she began to grow more and more frustrated at her apparent lack of ability to get around whatever was in her way.
"This... is... impossible..." said Twilight, her voice half-strangled by her growing rage. As her left eye began to twitch madly, her mane came to life with white-hot flames of anger and mad rage. "I did EVERYTHING RIGHT. I'D RATHER FIGHT NIGHTMARE MOON FOR A THOUSAND YEARS THAN DEAL WITH THIS SH-"
"Ah think I know what ta do, sugarcube. Lemme take it from here." Applejack said as soothingly as she could, deciding not to point out how her friend's anger was almost as bad as hers, but it still felt like a giant burden being lifted off Twilight's shoulders as the unicorn passed the controller back to her friend.
Watching Applejack play this particular part of the level gave Twilight some sudden insight - Applejack had immediately hit a button that made her character break out into a gallop the moment she moved, in contrast to Twilight's slow and cautious peeking out from behind cover.
In this case however, it proved to be what saved her. Applejack's galloping had her moving fast enough that she was leaving the green blasts of energy in her wake, and by the time she got to the next floor, they managed to get a look at what had managed to kill Twilight several times over - it was a gold-armored alien, brandishing a weapon just about as large as a pony on its shoulder.
"Get him, AJ! Get him!" Rainbow Dash yelled excitedly as Applejack charged her character forward, firing her weapon madly. However, instead of returning fire, the alien instead ran away in a surprising burst of speed, disappearing around the corner and sending Applejack's fire flying wide.
"Consarnit, I almost had 'im!" The orange earth pony swore, and sent her character sprinting forward again in an attempt to catch up... only to find herself losing control of her in-game character as what appeared to be nothing more than a shimmer wrenched her character backwards and drove two small, shimmering blades deep into its spine.
"WHAT THE HAY!" Applejack exploded. "WHERE IN EQUESTRIA DID THAT DAGNABBER COME FROM!"
The very moment the game had respawned her, Applejack began recklessly charging again, sprinting forward... and then the very same shimmer appeared in front of her, cutting her down in a barrage of bright bolts that sent her character crumpling to the floor, dead.
"Ah, come on! Ah can't even see the darned fella! How am ah s'pposed tah fight him!"
A soft, polite cough from beside her shook her out of her concentration, and Applejack glanced at Rarity, who had her hoof extended politely. "If I may, Applejack, I think I might be able to help you with this. No offence to your eh... 'wit', but I spotted those shimmers long before they even got close to you. I just thought you'd have seen them as well, so I didn't think to point them out."
Applejack gave the white unicorn an almost skeptical glance, almost hesitating to hand the controller over. Rarity, getting her hooves dirty with this sort of thing? It was quite the laughable notion.
Still... she knew her friend had an eye for detail that anypony else in the room could not even hope to match. Perhaps she could help her get past this apparently insurmountable obstacle.
"All righ', Rarity. Ya got an eye for detail, so maybe you can help us get past this here part." Applejack handed over the controller, and Rarity accepted it with her usual poise and grace, turning to face the screen with the same kind of focused expression that she always wore whenever she was doing extremely delicate work on her dress designs.
What happened next made almost everypony assembled have their jaw drop in utter amazement. It seemed as though Rarity was blessed with a form of precognition that allowed her to know just where the shimmers would appear even before anypony could even begin to try spotting their presence.
The white unicorn would turn to face what looked like an empty patch on the screen devoid of enemies, before letting loose with a barrage of fire that would be rewarded with the crumpled corpse of a grey-armored alien. None of them even managed to come within five feet of her character before being cut down mercilessly by Rarity's keen eyes and ensuing hail of bullets.
"Well, I do believe that's all of them!" The white unicorn proclaimed proudly as her character cut down what seemed to be the last of the hidden aliens, and she handed the controller back to a slack-jawed Applejack, giggling. "Oh, really, Applejack, do close your mouth, you'll attract flies like that! Oh, wait! There's one more!"
Before anypony could react, Rarity snapped her character's targeting cursor just a teensy bit to the right and let out a blast from her weapon - there was a cry of pain as another one of the invisible aliens abruptly materialized in a crumpled heap at her avatar's feet.
"There! Now that's the last of them!" As she offered the controller back to her friend, Rarity couldn't help but let out a giggle as Applejack continuously blurted gibberish as she attempted to fix her jaw back in place.
"... Ah don't even know how y'all did that, Rarity, but ah'm not about to ask." Applejack muttered, finally working her jaw back into place and unexpectedly pushing the controller back to Rarity. "Ah'm mighty impressed with how ya got past those fellas. Ah'd like ta see how ya play the rest'a this here level."
Looking nervously at the controller she was being offered, Rarity gave an apprehensive grin and a giggle. "Eheheheh, I don't know, Applejack, but... if you insist!"
The white unicorn's progress on the rest of the level was a visual spectacle to watch, at least on-screen. Rarity's expression of intense focus only seemed to deepen with every failed attempt she made, a stark contrast to what had happened with Twilight and Applejack's increasingly frayed nerves.
The next floor that her character ascended to had her facing the gold-armored alien that had killed Twilight so many times over, but this time it had its back to a sheer drop where the floor ended in blasted wreckage, and it was flanked on both sides by several of its more diminutive subordinates.
The ensuing chaos was spectacular. Brightly glowing orbs and green blasts of energy flew left and right with Rarity right in the thick of it. Yet, with impossible skill and grace, she avoided each and every one of them, practically threading the needle with every maneuver.
As expected of her, the unicorn ended it off with a grand flourish, hurling what the game called a 'plasma grenade' at the gold-armored alien. The brightly glowing sphere landed directly on the alien's helmet, where it immediately latched on with a loud BEEP! and a steadily growing whine.
The alien immediately stopped in its tracks, letting out a loud roar of panic right before a second plasma grenade landed right next to the first. Upon seeing this, Rainbow Dash immediately erupted in laughter right before the alien vanished in a huge, blue-white explosion that finally signified the end of the level.
"Oh man, did you SEE that alien!" The rainbow-maned pegasus howled in laughter, practically on the floor in stitches. "I could practically hear him squeal! Oh man, this is the best game ever!"
"I must admit, Twilight, this... game device that Princess Celestia sent you is quite possibly the most fun I've had in a very long time!" Rarity said, an excited smile stretching from ear to ear across her face.
"Glad to know you guys are having fun with this, I'll have to remember to include this in my report to the Princess!" Remarked Twilight, already making the mental notes in her head on what exactly to write in her regular letters to her mentor.
"Hey, wait a minute! We've still got one more pony here who ain't given it a try yet." Applejack suddenly said. "Fluttershy here ain't even so much as touched the controller!"
"Oh, no, that's quite all right, everyone... I don't really..." The meek pegasus murmured shyly as every pair of eyes in the room turned to look at her, squeaking a little bit under her friends' combined gazes. "I mean, it's just that..."
"Aww, c'mon, Fluttershy!" Pinkie Pie said encouragingly as she gently nudged her friend from behind, prompting her to pick up the controller. "Just give it a try! Remember the hop, skip and a jump? It's just as easy!"
"Yeah, c'mon, Fluttershy!" Rainbow Dash said with a grin, obviously wanting to see this too. "I wanna see how you handle it!"
"Well, umm, all right then, I suppose I can give it a shot..." Fluttershy muttered quietly as she meekly took up the controller in her hooves, giving the screen an look of quiet uncertainty. The next level was already underway, and her character's avatar was climbing along a rocky cliffside with another armored pony, the night sky casting a foreboding veil of darkness over the two.
Moments later after exchanging a few words, the two armored ponies had split up, and Fluttershy's avatar had leapt down the cliffside, descending in a controlled slide down the rocks while her companion stayed atop on the cliff overlooking the area. Just as her character reached the end of its slide down the cliff face, control was returned to her, and Fluttershy almost immediately began moving.
Unlike Applejack's reckless charging forward or Pinkie Pie's random jumping, Fluttershy lowered her character into a low crouch, sneaking forward quietly in an attempt to draw as little attention to herself as possible.
Just as she had taken a few steps forward, the voice of her character's companion suddenly came on over the speakers, his voice muffled by the distinctive crackle of speakers.
"Elite spotted up ahead. Take him out. Quietly."
The excitement and tension in the room was almost tangible. Nearly everypony held their breath as they watched Fluttershy creep up the grassy knoll, the silhouette of an armored alien similar to the ones Rarity had killed in such numbers in the level before appearing in the moonlight.
Just as Fluttershy's avatar was right behind the alien, the camera abruptly shifted to a third person view as the armored pony suddenly pounced upon the alien, driving a large, serrated knife right into its collarbone before viciously yanking it out in a crude gutting motion, sending gouts of purplish blood spurting into the air.
The alien fell to the ground silently, and the gathered ponies stared wide-eyed, before turning to look at Fluttershy, who had an equally shocked expression on her face.
"I... uhhh... I didn't know that would happen, I swear!" Squeaked the yellow pegasus, having dropped the controller in horror, apparently mortified by what she had just done. "I read the manual and it said that the Right Bumper was for melee attacks, so I thought maybe I could just quietly, umm... 'put him to sleep' from behind, but I wasn't intending to kill him!"
"Fluttershy..." Rainbow Dash began slowly, a grin slowly forming on her face. "I had no idea we could even do that in the game, but you just made this whole experience twenty percent cooler for me!"
"Umm... really?" Fluttershy said hopefully, eliciting an excited nod from Rainbow Dash.
"Uh huh! Go on, keep playing! I wanna see how this turns out."
"Well, all right, if that's what you want, Dash..." said the yellow pegasus, slowly picking up the controller once again.
As her movements grew surer and steadier by the minute, her friends gradually edged closer and closer towards the screen, staring transfixed as Fluttershy continued to move her character through the level.
Soon enough, they came to a point where her avatar was on the edge of a cliff, overlooking a small clearing where several enemies the game referred to as "Grunts" were obviously taking a nap, while a few more were idly strolling around.
Her avatar already had its sniper rifle out, and they watched as Fluttershy slowly moved her admittedly tiny aiming cursor to rest on one of the aliens who was idly strolling about.
Rainbow Dash squinted skeptically at the screen, quite unable to understand how they expected Fluttershy to hit anything with an aiming cursor thatsmall. Surely there was some way they could make either the targets or the cursor larger, right? The rifle that Fluttershy's character held had something mounted on it that looked like some sort of telescope, maybe she could zoom in or something?
Yet before Rainbow Dash could even open her mouth to make said suggestion, the impossible happened right before her eyes.
In an unnatural display of speed, precision, and coordination, Fluttershy twitched her character's reticle around in four abrupt jerks, firing her sniper rifle in rapid succession until the magazine clicked empty.
Four times she fired her sniper rifle without zooming in with her scope, and four times she scored perfect headshots as four alien bodies slumped dead against the ground.
There was the sound of three sets of jaws hitting the floor in rapid succession. Twilight Sparkle, Applejack and Rainbow Dash could only watch with their mouths agape as Fluttershy's character reloaded the sniper rifle and then fired four more times, scoring yet another four unbelievably accurate headshots in record time without even using the rifle's scope.
"What... how... But I... That can't..." Rainbow Dash could only splutter incoherently, unable to believe what she had just witnessed.
"Sweet mother o' mercy..." gawked Applejack, completely slack-jawed once again by Fluttershy's mind-blowing display of skill. As for Twilight, the lavender unicorn was staring at her normally timid friend, only to find an expression that was frighteningly similar to The Stare plastered on Fluttershy's face, the full force of it directed right at the TV screen.
Even as they watched, Fluttershy proceeded to breeze through the rest of the level, performing flawless headshots on every enemy she came across - even when her sniper rifle ran out of bullets, she simply switched to her character's pistol and continued executing headshots like they were as easy as second nature.
Even if they had energy shields like the large, armored aliens carried, she always managed to disable them with perfectly placed grenades or barrages of plasma fire before executing them with a flawless slug to the skull.
All in all, it was like watching a machine play, and within ten minutes, barring the cutscenes, she had cleared the entire level, without dying a single time.
Twilight was so completely bowled over by what she had just seen that she could barely even form a coherent sentence.
"F-Fluttershy, how in Equestria are you doing that!"
Not taking her eyes off the screen for one moment, Fluttershy took a slow and deep breath, preparing herself for a long tirade of words ahead.
"First off, it's easy to see the enemy formations are structured in a rather rudimentary fashion. Seeing as the smaller ones provide support fire for the larger command unit, it's plainly obvious if you remove the leader from the equation first, everything else will more or less be easier to deal with."
"Secondly, it's obvious the trajectory of each bullet fired varies only slightly with each shot if you're using this particular weapon, so with minor directional adjustments, it's a simple matter to deal out maximum damage in record time."
"Last off, if you look carefully, each enemy moves in a rather predictable fashion. They usually move forwards in a direct charge, but if they decide to move from side to side, it's a simple matter of anticipating movement and adjusting your character's orientation for maximum effect."
A sudden realization of what she had just said dawning upon her, Fluttershy quickly hit the "start" button to pause the game and stare sheepishly at her friends.
"I mean... uh... it's as good as anypony's guess, really."
"No, no, Fluttershy, you're not getting me." Twilight said insistently. "That aiming, that coordination... Nopony here even remotely has the capability to do what you just did! You just cleared an entire level in TEN MINUTES without dying AT ALL! How are you doing that?"
If anything, Twilight's manic questions were only serving to make Fluttershy even more flustered, and her face turned crimson, shrinking back even further into her mane.
"Well, I don't know, really..." She muttered quietly, barely audible. "It's... it's like they were moving in slow motion..."
"Uhm... slow enough...?"
"But ah still don' get it, Fluttershy!" Applejack insisted, still clearly gobsmacked. "Ah mean, I know mah reflexes are decent an' all, but that stuff ya pulled was just... Wow! Ya gotta tell us how ya did it, sugarcube!"
"Yeah, I still don't believe it!" Rainbow Dash added, nodding her head vigorously. "I mean, come on Fluttershy, even you've gotta see that! That was WAY more than just twenty percent cooler, that was like... TEN TIMES twenty percent cooler!"
"Uhm, well, it's just that, you know, with the way you guys were playing..."
"What's wrong with our play style?" Twilight asked quizzically, jumping at the chance to find out what flaws there were in her strategy.
"Yeah, what's wrong with it, Fluttershy? I need to find out how I can beat those levels in ten minutes flat!" Rainbow Dash exclaimed, eager to find out Fluttershy's secret as well.
"Uhm, well, you see, I'm not saying that your play styles are bad, it's just that, well, they could be a teeny, tiny little bit more efficient..."
"Like how so?" Applejack came up in front of her to join Twilight and Rainbow Dash in their little 'interrogation', and Fluttershy found herself quailing under the combined gazes of her three friends. "C'mon Fluttershy, you know you can tell us!"
"Oh, all right, since you really want to know...!" The yellow pegasus pony drew in yet another long, deep breath, preparing to lecture her friends.
"Twilight, your strategies are too rigid, they allow no flexibility for changing situations. Once you have a plan, you stick to it throughout the entire way from start to finish, but that leaves you vulnerable the moment there's an unexpected change in the battlefield, which happens all the time. Also, you can't always just formulate and implement a plan sometimes, there are some occasions where you just have to wing it and improvise."
"Rainbow Dash, you have a good grasp of the basics, but your reflexes are off. You're constantly moving straight and turning around as though you're flying in the air rather than circle-strafing like you have your hooves on the ground. Your aiming clearly calls for a lot of practice, seeing as you emptied three magazines at a single grunt and managed to hit it no more than a few times. Barring that, you toss grenades far too often!"
"Applejack, you have a tendency to keep charging into firefights even when you clearly stand no chance head to head against your opponents. It may save you sometimes when you have to react quickly, but even when your shields are down you don't make any attempt to move back into cover to recover, you just keep fighting until you die even when it's clear you're fighting a losing battle."
"Pinkie Pie, you were shooting in random directions and jumped off a cliff. I think that's all I need to say."
"And Rarity, while your performance was significantly better than all four of them combined, I have to say that you have a weakness for choosing the flashiest methods of doing things, even when there are more efficient, pragmatic ways to go about it. I think there were far too many explosions in that last part of the level you were playing, and there were a few times where you ended up jumping onto your own grenade."
At that reminder, Rarity flushed a deep crimson, realizing that Fluttershy was right. There had indeed been a couple of her deaths caused by none other than her own ill-thrown grenades.
"Uhm, but, well, you know, you can always play however you like it, no need to take my word for it..." Fluttershy almost immediately backed down once she had finished, blushing furiously as she hid her face as best she could behind her mane.
The rest of her gathered friends were still gathered around her in a semicircle, staring at her with eyes wide as saucers, rendered utterly speechless by the startling new revelations of their timid little friend.
Dear Princess Celestia,
Today, I learned that no matter what, you should never judge a book by its cover. Even the most unassuming of ponies can reveal talents that you would never have suspected they ever had.
Today, my friends have taught me that if you take a good look beneath a mask of quiet, simple modesty, something truly remarkable may lie in wait.
p.s. I have sent you a video log of the first test session we held today. Fluttershy's portion is especially interesting! I eagerly await the next game you'll be sending us!
Ever Your Faithful Student,