Elysia talks about the origins of Ebon’s Gate.
Erek talks about death mechanics and utilitarian invasions.
Jahadeem talks about his Death Index.
[Tape player starts]
Male: Buffalo Bill’s defunct, who used to ride a water smooth, silver stallion and break one, two, three, four, five pigeons just like that. Jesus. He was a handsome man, and what I want to know is how do you like your blue-eyed boy, Mr. Death?
Milax: A few years ago, before I had kids or even was married, it seemed like everybody I knew was getting married. I remember going to weddings or bachelor parties what felt like all the time, and an older guy I worked with told me at the time to enjoy it while it lasted.
“Right now,” he told me, “You are getting together because everybody is getting married. Soon, it will be because everybody is having babies. Then it’ll be because everybody is getting divorced. Then it’ll be because everybody starts to die.”
I didn’t know what to make of that at the time. It felt grim and pessimistic. I guess I didn’t make much of it. But now, years later, I’ve come to learn that, in a way, he’s right. Life is cyclical. We all start the same way and we’re all headed in the same direction. We deny this, of course, all of us to varying degrees and in different ways, but it’s true.
My first encounter with death was when I was six years old and it drove me to write poetry. My pet hamster, Digger, died. Well, it was actually Digger’s replacement, unbeknownst to me at the time, because my dog had eaten the original Digger while I was sleeping and my mom had stealthily replaced her before I’d realized. But that doesn’t matter. The emotional impact of her death was still the same.
I wrote an ode to Digger, which was the first poem I ever wrote. It’s the first time that I remember realizing that things could end.
The first time that I saw death really mattered to a person was when my grandfather, my mother’s father, died. We weren’t especially close and I remember not feeling too much at the time, but it completely changed my mother.
She quit her job, went to culinary school, remarried, sold her house, and lived on a sailboat for a few years. She realigned her life after that death to live differently. I’ve always found that kind of inspiring about her that my grandfather’s death affected this tectonic realignment in her whole identity.
I didn’t feel much until the funeral when they played “Danny Boy” and I sobbed like a baby. His name was Daniel. My second son’s middle name is Daniel.
My first real encounter with death was in my professional life. A student I taught was murdered by someone he knew. The story is long and unpleasant and complicated, but that experience changed me. It caused a tectonic shift in how I see myself and got me thinking differently about myself and the work I do even now, more than a decade later.
Of course, we all have stories like this about death in our lives. What’s always fascinated me about games is how many of them incorporate death as a mechanic to entertain us. I remember sitting down to play Mario Bros. on the NES as a five-year-old and getting killed by that little goomba that slowly creeps towards you at the start of the first level. That was the first time I died.
Like in Mario Bros., death usually plays an instructive role in video games. Dying in a game teaches us what not to do or what to do, and it helps us to improve as we learn how the game works. After dying in Mario, I remember thinking, “Oh, okay. Don’t do that again.”
Of course, some games take this to the extreme. Dark Souls, for instance, famously tries to kill you constantly and you can’t possibly progress without just dying all the time. Other games like Animal Crossing, which my spouse is currently playing and loving, are very different. Death just doesn’t exist. You’re just there to collect things and build a neat house and relax.
Gemstone has had a changing relationship with death over the years and the game itself is very much concerned with the idea of death. We have a Goddess of Death, festivals dedicated to it, and all these game mechanics that involve it. Most players spent their time trying to kill things in some form or another.
In today’s episode, we’ll be talking about death. We’ll discuss the origins of Ebon’s Gate or Night’s Gate or Ebon Gate or Lorminstra’s Gate, depending on how long you’ve played; how death mechanics in Gemstone have evolved over time; how some GMs brutally murdered players to keep the game running; and one man’s mission to track every single death that happens in the game.
With that, make sure your favorite cleric is nearby and welcome to the 15th episode of Town Square Central.
[“8 Bit Win!” Happy Victorious Game Music by HeatleyBros]
Milax: Joining us again on Town Square Central today, we have Elicia who is here to talk with us about the origin story of Ebon’s Gate and its connection to the concept of death in Gemstone. Elicia, welcome back to Town Square Central. We’re really happy to have you.
Milax: So, tell us about your understanding of where Ebon’s Gate came from and what that whole thing means.
Elysia: Okay. Well, let’s see. I love Halloween a lot. The whole holiday is fun. To me, it’s just centered around fun and family and costumes and games and, you know, it’s a good excuse to spend time with people you care about. I have always loved Halloween festivals and all of those things.
I said in the summer of 1998, I think it was — I’m looking at Erek and he’s looking at me over his monitor.
Elysia: With his hands in the air. Okay, I think it was 1998. I wanted to do a Halloween carnival in the game. He’s like, huh? [Laughter] I said, “Well, I need you to help me write code.” [Laughter]
So, I talked him into it and it started off as just — we thought we would just do a little carnival, right? You know, bobbing for apples, throwing darts at things, just little games that you could play and maybe win some prizes.
I went to the office to get permission to build it and Sue Fawn, who was our manager at the time, said, “Let me check. Let me make sure.” She went in and talked to them. She came back and she said, “Well, you can do it but we want it to be a paid festival.” I said, “What’s a paid festival?” [Laughter] We’d never had anything like that.
She said, “Well, we want to charge admission and put it up on the box office.” I said, “Well, I need to change the plans because it needs to be bigger and better than what we were initially thinking if we want to have it be a box office ticketed event.”
From there, we started to plan and build something a little bit bigger. It became sort of, well, we can’t just set out carnival games in Town Square East. Okay. We need to really come up with a theme for this.
We started sort of iterating through and we quickly arrived at Lorminstra. We had not that long before then had been forced to … (indiscernible, 00:08:25) very quickly and Lorminstra was the new name for the goddess who was the Goddess of Death and changing over to the afterlife and all that.
We started thinking, well, maybe we’ll name it after her, but I didn’t really want to name something that was supposed to be fun after her simply because there are players who take their roleplay really seriously and maybe they follow her and maybe that’s a huge part of their roleplay and I didn’t think I wanted to build something–
Milax: You don’t want them to define their roleplaying by apple bobbing.
Elysia: Right. I didn’t want to insult anybody or hurt anybody’s feelings, so we kind of kept going. We thought about her and we thought, well, I don’t really want to name something after Lorminstra directly. But, you know, she’s got this gate that you pass through and we were thinking about real life, so you’ve got Halloween and All Souls and All Saints and Dia de Morte, celebrating people that have left us and all those things. Different cultures do it differently.
We thought, well, let’s make this really fun. Let’s talk about the gate. We started out with, I think, Night’s Gate was the next generation of the name. But it just didn’t sound right. It didn’t sound like, you know. I don’t know. It just didn’t sound right, so we kept talking and talking–
Milax: It sounds like an ’80s sci-fi game, you know, Night’s Gate.
Elysia: It does! I know. Right? Or a really bad band or something.
Elysia: Somehow, we landed and Ebon’s Gate, and I could not tell you which one of us came up with the name but Ebon was a replacement for the word night, and Ebon’s Gate just stuck. It’s a color, right?
Elysia: [Laughter] So, it kind of stuck and we settled on it and we left it that way just because, like I said, the festival, if you went to the very first one, which there have been four iterations now, I think. I missed some of them because we were away for a while.
But the very first one was very centered on having fun but also celebrating. We had a graveyard. We had places where you could go and think and contemplate. We had ghostly versions of some of the town NPCs like the Flower Girl. It was definitely more themed around passing and celebrating people and having fun too. We had a lot of ghostly NPCs in the place and games you could play and merchanting and stuff, of course.
It was a short event. It was only open for a weekend. Back then, we usually opened it Friday as soon as most of us get home from work and ran it until late on Sunday night, but that was really it. It was sort of born out of just the desire to take something that was always fun in real life and bring it into Gemstone.
It’s hard to bring real-life holidays into Gemstone or any IP. You kind of have to — it’s like Great Father Winter and Well, right?
Elysia: You kind of have to–
Milax: You have to cheat it in.
Elysia: Find a way. Yes, you have to cheat it in. That one felt a little bit better to cheat in than most just because, in a lot of ways, it’s a very secular holiday for a lot of cultures. For some, it’s not. But for many, it is.
Milax: I think it’s also, though, part of good game design, though, is that you’re layering the elements of the game that you’re building onto players’ existing expectations and experiences, right?
Milax: It’s much easier to make a cool holiday out of something that is loosely connected to an already existing, cool holiday. Obviously, if you just say it’s Gemstone Halloween, that won’t resonate.
Milax: But finding a way to do something on-brand with sort of like the meta experience of players, I think it’s just good game design.
Elysia: Yeah. Well, that’s kind of you to say. Part of it, also, was that our original plan — and we did this for several years. Over time, things changed. This is a long time ago. We wanted to have a couple of holidays that could be celebrated in the game that didn’t really hugely clash with real-life holidays, meaning we didn’t want a Christmas season festival because everybody is busy at Christmas and New Years with our own families and their own children.
Milax: Right. Right. They have enough stuff going on.
Elysia: GMs are great, but they have lives too, and it’s really hard to ask people to be in there running merchants and doing things and building and QC’ing and all the stuff that has to happen during a season where they’re really busy personally.
Elysia: For a few years, we did a thing where, in the spring, we started the spring after the first EG. That EG was hugely popular and people seemed to really have a good time, so we built the Festival of Oleani, which we ran as sort of a May Day Festival, the first of May the following year. We ran that for several years thinking that we’ll do two big festivals a year and they don’t conflict.
The worst thing about the Oleani one was, it was in early May, and so people, GMs who were in school, were like, “I’ve got to study for finals.”
Milax: Oh, right. Right.
Elysia: But for most of us, that was an okay time. Then Halloween was usually an okay time because it’s before most people got spun up for Thanksgiving and Christmas with families and stuff. Yeah, that’s that. That’s how EG happened.
Milax: The name, I know that it started at Night’s Gate.
Elysia: Well, Lorminstra’s Gate and then Night’s Gate because we felt like we shouldn’t call out Lorminstra specifically.
Elysia: Like I said, there were carnival games there. [Laughter]
Milax: Yeah. It’s unbecoming of the Goddess of Death.
Elysia: A little bit.
Elysia: It felt a little bit — yeah.
Milax: Lorminstra’s Gate to–?
Elysia: Then we talked about — then we decided we’ll just say, “The Gate,” right? the gate doesn’t really have a name, so what is it? Is it Night’s Gate? You know?
Elysia: We don’t know and that just sort of morphed into Ebon’s Gate.
Milax: Lorminstra’s Gate to Night’s Gate to Ebon’s Gate.
Milax: To now, I think by popular usage, it’s Ebon Gate now.
Elysia: It’s so funny. Yeah. We came back and people were–
Milax: Since our last conversation, I have refused to call it anything other than Ebon’s Gate because it just feels wrong.
Elysia: Well, okay, so we have been gone a long time. When we came back, people were saying Ebon Gate. I’m like, “What happened to the S?”
Elysia: [Laughter] Everybody was like, “Oh, no. It’s Ebon Gate.”
Milax: You were like–
Milax: You were like, “I made this thing. It is not that.” [Laughter]
Elysia: I looked at Erek. I’m like, I’m not crazy, right?
Milax: Yeah, right.
Elysia: It was Ebon’s Gate, right? That’s how a lot of my old notes and my documentation said and everything. He’s like, “Yeah, but people kept swearing it was Ebon Gate.” I got to laughing so hard when somebody posted in Discord. They actually went and looked in their account at their old box office purchases and found the ticket. [Laughter] The ticket says Ebon’s Gate, so–
Milax: You were vindicated.
Elysia: Well, my memory is not quite as bad as I feared it was, so there we go. [Laughter]
Milax: Yeah. [Laughter] Yeah, and it is amazing to think about how much this has changed from, like, “Hey, let’s have a fall–“
Elysia: Oh, I know. I know.
Milax: A fall time bobbing for apples event to this, what is now, I think, the premier, big pay event that–
Elysia: Of the year.
Milax: You know it was a weekend, you said.
Elysia: I mean I’m going to butcher–
Milax: Now it was a month last year.
Elysia: I’m going to butcher his name.
Milax: Do it. That’s the whole point of this podcast.
Elysia: [Laughter] Wyrom. [Laughter]
Milax: Yeah, that’s right.
Elysia: I’m going to say it wrong.
Milax: No, you didn’t butcher it. You actually said that correctly.
Elysia: Is it? Okay.
Elysia: He would probably tell you that DR is probably where they make their money. I’m sure he would. But I think, for a lot of the players–
Milax: They may pull in more money in DR.
Milax: But I — yeah.
Elysia: I think that’s probably where they make their big SimuCoin sales but I think–
Milax: Well, I think Wyrom himself–
Elysia: –for a lot of us, Ebon’s Gate is Gemstone.
Milax: Well, I think that he would actually probably agree with that. I think that — I mean I talked to him about it ahead of that event last year. I think that he described it as such. I think he very much thinks of it as like the signature event of the year. DR may be a bigger draw for that group of folks that really farm the arena and really try to pump-out–
Milax: To try to bump out bloodscrip to get what they want.
Elysia: It has a different purpose.
Milax: I think that that’s a thing that someone pointed out, so I didn’t love Rumor Woods in its first run and someone pointed out that, for a first event that is trying to be something different than what the other events are in Gemstone, it was great.
Elysia: Yeah, I think it did well.
Milax: Yeah, and I think that when you think about it through that lens that not every event is trying to please everybody–
Milax: –it totally changed the way that I thought about it. I was like, Oh, actually, a lot of the criticisms that I had sort of evaporate because I liked the DR-style events for a while. I like the Ebon’s Gate events for a while. But I think variety is what makes all of those things feel fun.
Elysia: It is and I feel like big, interactive events like EG would probably be diminished if we had them constantly, all the time.
Elysia: They wouldn’t be the same. Like this past weekend, they did the merch-a-palooza thing and that was so much fun. I know that they probably had planned to be working at Briarmoon, but it was still wonderful to run around and see everybody and go to places I hadn’t been in a while and see a bunches of merchants and get some cool stuff. I have a roltic horn now. It’s awesome.
Milax: A what now?
Elysia: [Laughter] A roltic horn.
Milax: That sounds more like an Erek thing than a you thing, but that’s okay.
Elysia: No. You know what it was? A couple of years ago when a new group of AGMs were hired and they built that little carnival that they ran for the weekend.
Milax: Oh, the Carnival of Freaks?
Elysia: There was a little petting zoon there and it had a roltic horn in it. It was really a rolton and it had a fake horn on it, but I loved it and, ever since, I’ve wanted a roltic horn, so I found the stuffed rolton and got it altered. Now I have a roltic horn.
Milax: That’s great.
Milax: I know I actually — I thought of Erek this past weekend because I saw someone. Some merchant came around who was specifically working on chairs.
Milax: My gut reaction was like, pfft, like, “Who cares. Whatever. It’s just the chair merchant.” Then I was like, “Oh, I know one guy who is very excited about this.”
Elysia: [Laughter] I was excited. I went and I got my chair altered. His is all done already. He got lucky with Spins at EG, so his chair is all done.
Milax: Well, I think that chairs are actually much more popular than I — like the fact that — I just assumed that everybody shares my feelings, right? I was like, “I don’t really care about chairs.” People love the chairs.
Elysia: You know there is something for everybody in Gemstone. That’s what makes it special.
Elysia: I mean there really is stuff for everybody in there.
Milax: Yeah, that’s true.
Elysia: You may not love violas but, trust me, lots of people do. The same for chairs. The same for all kinds of things. It’s just — you know.
Milax: We all have our beloved fluff.
Milax: Secret, beloved fluff.
Milax: Yeah, and it makes me a little sad to think that there was a dead flower girl walking around the landing at one point.
Milax: But I’m glad to have gotten….
Elysia: I regret that I haven’t seen the intermediary festival areas. I would have loved to have seen Feywrot. It sounded awesome. I don’t even know of the name of the one that was before Feywrot, but there have been at least four or five.
Milax: That would be a fun event would be to bring back those old spaces. They do that from time-to-time, right? They bring back old spaces.
Elysia: They do. I don’t know if they could bring back the first couple of EGs. The first one ran until — the original one that we built was about 160 rooms, not counting the interiors of the merchant shops. It ran until 2001, maybe 2002. Then there was another one. Those two probably took damage when they converted everything to GS4.
Elysia: Because a lot of things did. In order for anybody to even look at those, somebody would probably have to go do some prepare work, and I don’t think that we could expect that whatever happen.
Elysia: I have personally considered bribing Wyrom to make sure I don’t have any money on me. Just let me walk around Feywrot. I just want to look at it.
Milax: Yeah. I bet.
Elysia: I just want to see it.
Milax: I bet you could convince him. I bet you could.
Elysia: Maybe some time I can.
Milax: Yeah. All right, well, Elysia, thanks so much for–
Milax: –joining us on TSC again. It was great to have you and look forward to connecting with you again soon. We’ve got some more history to dig up.
Elysia: Yes. Endless. [Laughter]
Milax: Yeah. Nice.
Elysia: Take care.
Milax: Right as Elysia and I had wrapped our recording, Erek, who was sitting nearby to Elysia, not to me, overheard the conversation and started to chime in, so she brought him in to share his insights about death in Gemstone as well.
Yeah, anyway, I was talking with Elysia and she was saying that — she was like, “Oh, you should talk to Erek because he was involved in all the death mechanics and all that.” The idea for this episode started with, there should be a thing about death. Death is a big thing in this game. You die. It affects the way you absorb experience. You’re killing things. A central mechanic in the game is dying and killing.
Then I was thinking about, as I was just telling Elysia, the thing that has always fascinated me about dying in this game is that now you can basically die without consequence, really. You know? If you die, even if you don’t have deeds, it’s just not really a big deal. You can even get some of that, the death sting reducer. What is that called?
Erek: Grey salve.
Milax: Yeah, and you basically feel no ill effect whatsoever other than a little convenience bump or inconvenience bump.
Milax: Then I was thinking about how, in the past, there was a very real thing where, if you died without deeds, you could lose your character forever. Right?
Erek: Completely. Yep.
Milax: Yeah, and so what I wanted to do was find someone who had lost a character that way and get them to tell their sob story, but I couldn’t. I tried. I tried for a few weeks and I just couldn’t find anybody.
I would love it if you could talk to us about dying in Gemstone, in general, just maybe how that idea has evolved over time and where it started and what it is today, and specifically about the idea of going demonic and where that came from.
Erek: If you go back far enough, you realize death sting is probably one of the weakest forms of problems that can occur when you die in Gemstone, back in the day. I can’t really tell you why because these mechanics were there when I — well, I guess all the way back in ’92 when I came into Gemstone III. The two major factors about when you died, one would be you would drop what you were holding. So, if you had a weapon and/or a shield in your hand, they would be dropped immediately upon you falling to zero hit points or getting a death.
The first thing that would happen is, if there was anybody that knew you or anybody around that knew where you were, they would try to come find you because the first thing that would occur, typically, would be something would pick up your weapon and/or shield and start beating you and start running around with it. And so, rescues were a big thing and usually involved multiple people because the creature that picked up your stuff would run off. You’d end up having to try to kill everything in the area to try to recover the item. It was obvious who had it because they’d be swinging at you, you know, the person that was trying that was trying to get–
Milax: Right. Right, would have a much fancier weapon than normal.
Erek: Oh, yeah. Now, the decay timer was a big deal because the decay timer actually depended upon your race and how much spirit you had. But if you weren’t kept, you could decay. And if you decayed, your body would decay to compost leaving all of your stuff where you had died. [Laughter]
Milax: Oh, I didn’t know that.
Erek: Yeah, it would all stay there and you would wake up in the closest cleric temple. That would be the Temple of Lorminstra or wherever. Back then, there was really only one. Then there would become this mad dash for item recovery that would occur if you had decayed, and so it was a big deal.
The other thing that would happen is if you would decay, of course, you would lose a deed. I think maybe it might have been two if you decayed. But either way, deed loss had a big factor to it because if you died, had no deeds, you were immediately sent to the character manager, if I’m remembering correctly. Yeah, Elysia is nodding at me. You were immediately sent to the character manager and forced to re-role. There was no passing go.
Erek: No collecting $200, and so you had to make sure that you had deeds no matter what. That whole lost their soul to demonic thing, if I recall correctly, that did not occur only if you died with zero deeds. It would occur if you died with zero deeds and died a spirit death, meaning you died because your spirit went below zero or at zero. I can’t remember, but those two factors would message the game that so-and-so had lost their soul to the demonic.
A lot of people mistakenly thought that meant, oh, well, they were a secret society character and died some kind of way that way, but that wasn’t really the case. It was if you died a spirit death and had no deeds when you did it. Now, I could be wrong about the deeds thing, so somebody may have to fact check me whether it was die a spirit death only or die a spirit dead without deeds, but I think it’s the latter where those two occurrences had to happen.
Milax: What caused you to have to re-role your character was just decaying without a deed, right?
Erek: Yeah, right, having no deeds. Yep.
Milax: And decaying.
Erek: When you died. Mm-hmm.
Milax: Wow, and so that had to have happened to actual people, right?
Erek: Oh, yeah.
Milax: I tried for a while to find people that that had happened to and I couldn’t because, you know, that was a while ago when that mechanic was in place. Yeah, do you have any stories of people that that happened to and how they reacted to it?
Erek: Well, it typically would happen if somebody rage quit. [Laughter]
Milax: Oh, yeah.
Erek: That’s really, usually, when you saw it because everybody generally knew that it could happen, and so more often than not, they always had deeds. Every once in awhile, you’d see a message, you know, “So-and-so lost their soul to the demonic,” typically was because they had suffered what we call a credit card death. [Laughter]
Milax: Yeah. [Laughter]
Erek: Where their credit card had melted and they couldn’t play anymore, so they decided to just end their character rather than try to continue. That was a typical occurrence way back when GEnie was $6 an hour or even AOL was a per hour cost and some people racked up several thousand dollars in GEnie bills in a month. It was common. Then, of course, then they’d maxed out their credit card.
Erek: They’d leave the game and that was a way to do it in grandiose fashion. That was the typical occurrence. I can’t recall an occurrence myself where someone did that accidentally. I’m sure it happened.
Erek: I actually caused someone to decay by accident–
Milax: What? [Laughter]
Erek: –when Claedesbrim opened. Yeah. When we opened Darkstone Castle, Claedesbrim was its name when we opened it. I had a spell stripping mechanic. I don’t think it strips anymore when you’re in Darkstone but, back then, it would pull spells off of you on occasion. It was the first time anything like that had happened where you had a mechanic in the game that, by an ambient system, the spell would get stripped off of you. Well, I was not very careful in what sort of spell effect I was removing when I coded that system.
Milax: Oh, I see where this is going.
Erek: I stripped the decay timer.
Erek: On opening night, I think it was either Bleeds or Blades was the character that they had died at the entrance. I can’t remember. It was probably a roa’ter that jumped on him and killed him because of the impact.
He was waiting to get help. There were people everywhere because this was the opening night. We had just let down the gate that was kind of keeping Darkstone away from the rest of the world and he was waiting to get some cleric to come help him.
Not 10 seconds, maybe 30 seconds had happened since he had died and that spell strip happened. I happened to be watching– [laughter]
Erek: –as I was overseeing the opening of Claedesbrim and poof, he decayed into compost….
Milax: Anybody today that complains about a GM acting sadistically should have been there when Darkstone opened because then really could have seen it.
Milax: It’s like, “Yeah, how do you like this new hunting ground? Bam!”
Erek: Well, but that leads to another discussion and that has to do with the intent for GMs when they create creatures. It tends to go through a little bit of a journey. When you first start creating creatures, you want to make something great, interesting, and lethal, and a real challenge. You might spend weeks if not longer coding up this great, wonderful monster of doom only to find somehow players figure out how to kill it immediately.
Erek: That was common. The newer GM who is a creature builder will say, “Oh, no my creature. Oh, no.” Then they’ll start adding resistances and gimmicks and weird things that keep you from instantly killing the creature, which makes it harder and harder. Then they wonder why nobody ever goes in their hunting area.
It gets back to the fact that, hey, look. People are here to have fun. A challenge is one thing but an impossibility just means someone is going to go play somewhere else and that’s no fun for anybody because you spent all the time building it. Creatures are intended to be killed. That’s the mechanic of the game to get experiences is a player versus an environment where people have got to kill your critter.
As I was teaching newer AGMs coming up who wanted to build creatures, you could see, after a while, they start to get it and they realize, “Oh, okay.” That’s where some GMs eventually got it and their hunting areas are challenging yet doable and some didn’t. Those tend to be the ones that nobody goes to anymore.
A lot of stuff that Afur did up on Aenatumgana and in The Rift was way over hard when it first came out. Then it eventually became more balanced and still challenging, still a lot of gimmick but doable, and some people like that challenge, right?
Erek: Back then though, if you’re up in the The Rift or on Aenatumgana or some other place that takes a long time to get to and you die, and if you had a mechanic that required someone to come get you–
Erek: Because only so many characters had self-life keep at the time, right?
Milax: Well, and gear generally was scaled down then, right?
Erek: Well, yeah. Well, I mean, okay. Think about it. The combat system, if you talk about specifically after deicing, the combat system at its core with its critical rankings and the AS versus DS and all the other systems had not changed in more than 25 years, right? At its core, that combat system was based off of a 20-level game.
Erek: Then, of course, we extended it and expanded it, et cetera. There’s very little that’s changed there. If you happen to be lucky enough to have 10x gear and 10x miscellaneous DB item that you could wear boots that give you plus-50 DS, which exist–
Erek: –those things made you not invincible at that time but, if you lost them, they were devastating to lose.
Milax: Oh, I can’t imagine.
Milax: I can’t even imagine that.
Erek: Now, at one point in time, we had tried to come up with a way to, okay, well, how can we make it so that gear isn’t so important? Because I think one of the things that really kind of blew everybody away when we were building out the game was, we didn’t think people would get so attached to gear.
Erek: When they lost, and item loss became a real thing, especially when someone had been working on a project piece of getting things altered, et cetera, they were less common to have. The loss of a single item could cost someone to just basically quit the game.
Erek: Which is no fun for anybody, so I think, over time, especially as the norm of other games came out and didn’t have that mechanic, it became the norm to relax the item loss aspect of it and make it just a little bit more commonplace. But I think it’s, in way — well, this is basically my opinion but it swung a little too far into the “death is meaningless” type category with salve and all those other things that make it easy for someone to just, you know, rub a few applications of salve and keep going. But it’s not my product anymore to worry about, so I don’t mind any of that.
Milax: Well, I think that the challenge is that you’re going to have people, no matter where you land, you’re going to have people that disagree with you on that because I know people who want essentially hardcore to be the way that the game exists. That if you die, it’s over. You know? They want their encounters to critters that they’re fighting to be insanely challenging and difficult and they’re hungry for more, harder, stronger stuff.
Then I know people, too, that just want to explore and have fun and they’re not looking to challenge themselves every time they go out to try to get experience. I think that trying to satisfy both those players is tough. I’ve never capped a character. I’ve never hunted in The Rift or in these super challenging areas. My highest character is 72, and so the area that I’ve been hunting in recently is in the — I think it’s the derelict village in the Red Forest.
Milax: Where the Ilvari sprites and pixies are.
Milax: People said, “Oh, my god. I hate that area. It’s terrible. It’s so hard.” I love that area. I love it because if you are not quick and if you do not react really fast, you will get killed by these really obnoxious little fairies that play tricks on you.
Milax: But they’re really easy to kill when you actually hit them. You know?
Milax: And so, I think, to your point, when you were just talking, Erek, about sort of designing these tough creatures that also can be killed, that area feels like that to me. It’s probably because it’s what I’m in right now.
Milax: But if you’re not careful, you will definitely die, and I have died in there a fair amount. But it’s just enough to keep me on my toes without repeatedly knocking me over and making me not feel like it’s worth it.
Elysia: That’s the best kind of area. Those are the best kind of creatures.
Elysia: We tried really hard with Elven nations. At that point, we had a pretty, I think — and I say this as an observer–robust and very skilled team of creature builders by ’99, 2000, 2001, when those critters were being built. I think they’re some of the best in existence for that reason. Like the Griffin’s Keen, the forest that you were just talking about with the sprites and the pixies, they’re great areas. The creatures are fun. They’re challenging. They have unique mechanics and unique personalities–
Elysia: –which is kind of awesome. They’re not just, you know, “Oh, hey, it’s another undead.”
Milax: Another zombie.
Elysia: Doing the same things. Yeah.
Milax: Yeah. No, no, that is, I think, the fun part of hunting something and I talked about this in a much earlier episode about why I love kobolds so much.
Milax: It’s like, they’re fun. You know?
Elysia: They’re fun.
Elysia: We need kobolds. That’s what I say.
Milax: So, listen. The creature–
Elysia: We need level 100 kobolds.
Milax: The creature that I want someone to write into the game is a kobold bard that does not actually fight at all.
Milax: It could even be in the Kobold Village. It doesn’t need to be a hard creature, but just a kobold bard that just runs around singing terrible songs and trying to rally the troops.
Elysia: There you go.
Milax: And doesn’t even actually attack you.
Elysia: [Laughter] So, the one story that he didn’t really tell was how the community handled those death mechanics way back in the day. This is pre-AOL days when there were fewer people in the game. There were few people playing and you died. If there wasn’t a high enough level character online to come get you, people would log off.
Elysia: To avoid that, right? Because you’ve got that decay timer.
Elysia: They would post a message on the board.
Erek: They’d go sit in the gaming chatroom.
Elysia: There were also phone trees. [Laughter]
Milax: Right because this is not like high-speed Internet days, right?
Milax: You have to really sync up on when someone was going to log in to get you.
Elysia: Correct. Yeah.
Elysia: And so, there was a lot of community around, “I died in the game. I’m in X place. When so-and-so or so-and-so–” because there was a time where, what, there were like two people that could go. Strom and–
Erek: Strom and one other.
Erek: Maybe Lady Don. It’s true. There’s a character by the name of Lady Don. Her and Strom were the only ones that could fog to someone.
Elysia: Yeah, so you had to wait.
Milax: Yeah, and the tradeoff there is that when these stakes are so high, it makes the rescues feel that much more dramatic and exciting.
Elysia: It does. I will tell you, also, at least at that time, it drove community because–
Elysia: –I started playing in those days and I did not hunt alone. I just didn’t hunt alone. I hunted with my friends.
Elysia: We had a spot that we hung out and whoever was in the room, “Hey, are heads are clear. Let’s go.” And we would all group up. Everybody had a job. I was an ambushing bard and I legged everything and the casters would then blow its head off. Then we’d loot everything, go back to town, and split it. It was very, very community-driven.
Hunting by yourself was a little bit — people just thought you were kind of reckless and dangerous for doing such a thing. It’s not true anymore, but back then it was.
Elysia: The death mechanics were a community driver, I guess is what I’m trying to say, in more ways than one.
Milax: Yeah, well, and it is interesting to think about what the purpose of death in the game is. You know?
Milax: I think that, to some extent, it’s to add a feeling of risk to hunting, but then you have to weigh how much risk and what kind of action is that risk driving. Yeah, it’s interesting to think about.
Milax: Yeah. Well, Erek, thank you for the surprise conversation and for sharing with us the time that you intentionally caused another character or a player’s character to decay just out of spite.
Erek: There are so many stories we could continue to tell.
Milax: In the vein of you just doing malicious things to people? [Laughter]
Erek: Well, that and all the goof-ups we used to do.
Erek: Think about it. At the time, most of us were just out of school. Nobody had had a programming job before.
Erek: Here we were cutting our teeth on a live product. [Laughter]
Erek: You know? Trying to make it work and build it while we were learning. Some of the stuff, I mean ask Astild or Nigen (phonetic, 00:42:03) or any of the guys that are now looking at that old code. It is so spaghetti; it’s amazing the stuff even runs. The other thing to note is tools have changed, tools and capabilities and systems.
Erek: It might surprise — this is completely off topic but it might surprise you to know that at one point in time, prior to us moving to Unix, if about 3,000 items were loaded into the game at once, it would crash – just 3,000.
Milax: And now there are definitely players who have that many items just on one account.
Erek: I’m sure there are hundreds of thousands of open items now.
Erek: But, yeah, part of if you were a GM and you were on duty and you were set to do things like answer referrals and whatnot, one of the main things of your job was to watch–
Erek: –the resource monitor. If more than, I think, about 2,800 items, we’re starting to get really nervous.
Erek: You’d call out to the other GMs and say, “Okay, we’re at 2,800.” What will happen is, if they were off working on an area, they would leave it so that it would unload and leave memory. But that’s when, in the early, early days, you’d see all the invasions because we would go invade Wehnimer’s Landing and try to get everybody to leave what they were doing.
Milax: Oh, that’s so funny.
Erek: And get into town.
Elysia: Come back to town.
Erek: Now, granted, that could actually cause more problems because the more creatures you created, the more items you were creating. But I guess if you want to tie it to death, in a way, you know killing, the rampant killing of players was a way to keep the game from crashing. [Laughter]
Erek: At one point in time–
Milax: You were sacrificing a few to keep the entire world alive.
Erek: [Laughter] Yes.
Milax: That was great. I did not know that about invasions and I really love that because that’s an amazingly delightful detail. It’s like, “Oh, crap! There’s too much stuff.”
Milax: Blow up a landing!
Elysia: Kill everybody.
Elysia: Just kill everybody.
Erek: It would literally — and the worst ones were when the GM who was on duty only had time to basically, you know, scream in caps the number of exists that were loaded in the game at the time. If you saw 3,000, it was a — we would delete clothing. That’s one reason why you never saw Banthis with anything other than a burlap sack is because he had deleted–
Erek: I had deleted all the clothing except for what had to be carried in the sack.
Elysia: You got tired of remaking clothing.
Erek: Yeah. [Laughter]
Elysia: I wore a dress. He wore a sack. You know, I mean–
Milax: That’s good.
Milax: Well, Erek and Elysia, thank you both very much for joining us to talk with us again on Town Square Central. It is always a pleasure. We’re going to find an excuse to get you all back again soon.
Erek: [Laughter] Yeah, right.
Erek: I enjoyed it. Thanks.
Milax: Thanks, guys.
Milax: Joining us now, we have Jahadeem, whose death index catalogs every death that happens in Gemstone: who died where and when. Jahadeem, thanks for joining us today to talk about the death index.
Milax: Tell us about your project, which you’ve called The Death Index. Tell us how you’ve come to be involved with this and what it is.
Jahadeem: Well, first of all, what it is, basically, a list of deaths as they occur in the game, in prime specifically, and it kind of came out because when I started back up into the game probably around two years or so ago, there was somebody that had a Twitter death thing, a poster that kind of died and people were talking about, “Oh, hey. Whatever happened to that thing?” I was like, oh, I could probably pull this off pretty easily. Let me see what I could do.
In some of my spare time at work, here and there, I tossed something together. I was like, okay, well, here is this thing, which was even better than that one in the sense that you could search through stuff, see how many deaths were at different places over certain times and so be it.
Milax: Let’s start at the beginning. How did this project come to be for you?
Jahadeem: People were talking about, hey, there used to be this way for us to see people dying and, when they were dying, while we weren’t in the game, in some cases it was people wondering how many people were dying during an event that was going on during, like, a KST, Kenstrom event in the landing….
Milax: And the answer, of course, being a lot.
Jahadeem: Yeah, and people multiple times.
Jahadeem: The thing is, people generally aren’t unhappy about dying. A lot of them seem to wear it like a badge saying, “Hey, I was at this event and I died so many times.”
Milax: Yeah. Yeah.
Jahadeem: But I’m not upset about dying. It just means that I was there and I was proactive and I was working the event that was — it’s just one of those things. It’s like instead of getting something for being at the event, your death showed you were at the event.
Milax: Yeah, it’s your proof of participation.
Jahadeem: Yeah, exactly.
Milax: How exactly do you get all of the information that this index has, because I’m looking at it right now and it’s tens of thousands of just all this data in here? How exactly do you gather all that?
Jahadeem: There are now millions of records between deaths and other things that I’ve collected. It’s a client that I ended up writing. I was going to use Lich like everybody else uses. But the problem that I have with Lich is it does more than just connect to the game at its base code. That causes some overhead that I wasn’t comfortable with. Plus, I don’t know Ruby well enough right not to have patched into what it was doing.
I actually wrote a client in PHP, but that client’s sole purpose is to connect to the game. Then I have a library written that says, “Okay. For everything coming at me from the game, look at it,” and it’s basically sitting there looking for, in one case, deaths. In another case, I’m looking for logins and logouts. Then, actually, it also runs, approximately every 15 minutes, specifically … (indiscernible, 00:48:11) to try to get an idea of not only how many people are in the game over time but individual people over time, so that I could get a little bit more accurate.
Milax: The project, for folks who haven’t seen this, it’s a pretty simple interface. Well, I don’t know what the technical term is, but it’s pretty simple to look at because when you load the screen, the first thing that comes up is the deadliest dates, the deadest characters, and the deadliest locations, right?
Jahadeem: Yeah. You got a lot of stuff in here.
Milax: Yeah, and you can find out all kinds of things. You can find out which region in the game has had the most or the fewest people killed. You can find out who has died the most, who has died least, and then you can also — this is the one that I think is really interesting. You can find out which dates have had the most deaths.
Milax: I think it’s just interesting to think about all of those things. Let’s talk through some of those numbers. What is the deadliest area in Elanthia according to your death index?
Jahadeem: Well, right now let’s do maybe over the last 60 days is probably good.
Jahadeem: It’s probably going to be the landing. It usually is. Yeah, even with Duskruin happening in the last 60 days, the landing is still number one. It’s probably because of the sheer number of people that are either there or interact there, it being the original starting place of the game. All of that factors into it.
But because Duskruin was within the last 60 days, Duskruin Arena quickly shows up pretty high. In fact, it’s number 2 in this case in the last 60 days. Then after that, you start getting into Ta’Illistim and Teras Isle. Then it kind of just quickly goes down from there.
Milax: Yeah. The landing is ahead by a lot. It’s at almost 3,100 deaths in the last 2 months.
Jahadeem: Yeah, and the thing we have to remember is that these locations are based on purely what the game gives us back for the locations of the deaths when we see them on the screen. The landing area is more than just the town.
Milax: Oh, right.
Jahadeem: We’ve got to kind of remember that there’s a certain length to that.
Milax: Then the least deadly place in the last two months, we had one person die in the last two months in Black Swan Castle and one person die–
Jahadeem: Yeah, that’s–
Milax: There’s no way I’m going to say this right, but Cysaegir. How do you say that? People are going to make fun of me for this.
Jahadeem: Oh, I don’t even–
Milax: Cysaegir. Oh, yeah.
Milax: Cysaegir, that sounds fancier. But anyway, we’ve got–
Jahadeem: Who knows?
Milax: We’ve got 3,100 at the top for the last 2 months and then one at the very bottom, so we’re definitely very top-heavy with deaths. In that same window, let’s talk about the players who have bit the dust most often. In that same window, who do we have coming in at number one for the most dead character over the past 60 days?
Jahadeem: It’s probably going to be somebody who does a lot of Duskruin. Probably Helsfeld.
Milax: Helsfeld, yeah.
Jahadeem: One L.
Milax: Two hundred and eighty-seven.
Milax: So, what is that–?
Jahadeem: I’m clicking on that myself and it looks like a majority of that is Duskruin Bank Heist.
Jahadeem: This guy either dies a lot in Duskruin Bank Heist or does so much of it that a certain percentage of it is just going to be death.
Milax: Yeah. Well, and that works out to almost five per day in that period, which is a healthy number of deaths.
Jahadeem: You’d think that.
Milax: The second place in that period is Bromn. Bromn, who has only 147, right? So, half as many deaths in that same window.
Jahadeem: You look at that guy and he’s just dying in Teras Isle.
Jahadeem: It’s like somebody has got — and then you go down to the third guy and here we are back at the Bank Heist again. [Laughter]
Milax: Yeah, so I imagine that during Duskruin, we probably see pretty huge spikes with deaths in that part, obviously.
Jahadeem: We have seen and that goes to one of the guys that we’ve seen die the most, like almost forever.
Milax: All time?
Jahadeem: I think this guy, Nisugi.
Milax: Oh, yeah, Nisugi. Oh, my god.
Jahadeem: I don’t know if he stopped playing or something because the last time seen him die, we didn’t see him die any time between — we saw a death in mid-March of 2019. We didn’t see him die again until December, mid-December of 2019, and we haven’t seen him die since. But before that, he died so many times in the Bank Heist and Duskruin that it’s like, I can’t even look at it.
Milax: This is all Bank Heist.
Milax: So, for folks who haven’t used this resource before, you can click on your own character’s name and see all of the deaths that have been logged for you. Nisugi has died — so for all the data of all time, has 1,318 deaths, which is 500 more than the second-place death in that same window. Almost every single one of them is in the Bank Heist.
Jahadeem: Oh, it’s crazy, but I guess he wanted to go….
Milax: He was really committed.
Jahadeem: –equipment, and he did something.
Milax: He was really committed. Wow.
Jahadeem: It amazes me because then you start getting rid of Duskruin and it’s like, again, it’s all the landing and Ta’Illistim, pretty much.
Milax: Yeah. If we look at deadliest locations all time, you’re right, we have landing and Ta’Illistim. Then we’ve got — it’s basically like a popularity contest down from there, right? Because then we have Icemule.
Jahadeem: Oh, yeah.
Milax: Then we have Duskruin, which wouldn’t really count. Then Teras, then Ta’Vaalor.
Milax: Then we have some of the intermediate areas like the Trail to Solhaven, Trail to Icemule, Solhaven, River’s Rest, Reim, Sanctum.
Jahadeem: Yeah, it’s crazy.
Milax: Then at the very bottom, what’s our least popular town to die in?
Milax: It looks like Zul Logoth.
Jahadeem: Yeah, Zul Logoth is 29th; 1,710 all time is what I’ve got in the database.
Milax: Wow. Then let’s also talk about the deadliest dates all time. What date in Elanthian history was the deadliest?
Jahadeem: Well, what I have in the database, it looks like February 17, 2019, or 51-19 if you’re going by game dates.
Milax: Which would have been squarely in the middle of Duskruin, right?
Jahadeem: If I had to take a guess without looking, I would imagine that’s during Duskruin and probably over a weekend.
Jahadeem: If I had to take a stab.
Milax: That’s a lot. I’m going to look up my character really quickly and see my stats here.
Milax: This goes back to — how far back does this data go?
Jahadeem: I kind of ignore anything before June 23, 2015, because there was a problem where they had not implemented in the game yet the location in the deaths. Then pretty much from August 15, 2018, to now, I have almost everything with some minor exceptions of little mishaps that happen either because I’ve changed a piece of code that didn’t work as I expected or something, some other crazy thing happened. I have to be honest. I don’t believe for a second that I get 100% of this stuff anyway because I don’t believe that the game server always sends everything out to the game clients.
Jahadeem: I honestly believe there are times when it hiccups and doesn’t send us stuff. This is the best any of us, I think, has gotten in getting this information together.
Milax: It is also interesting. I’m looking at my own character history here and it’s basically like watching. It’s like reliving the leveling path that my character took. Right? I’ve got all these deaths on the landing. Then all these deaths in the Icemule region. Then I moved to Ta’Illistim and then back to the landing. It’s just funny to sort of retrace it and be like, “Oh, yeah, it does make sense that I died a bunch of times there.”
Jahadeem: Yep, I see….
Milax: Then I have some that are really random. Like I have one that just says–
Jahadeem: …You died in Ebon Gate. [Laughter]
Milax: We don’t need to talk about that. I don’t even know what happened there, but the weirder one is I have one that says Elanthia / April Fool’s for the location.
Milax: Which I don’t know what that means.
Jahadeem: Okay. There are two — I think two times of year that they do this. Yeah, April Fool’s and Halloween, there are times when they change the death messaging.
Milax: Oh, okay.
Jahadeem: For the game.
Jahadeem: Unfortunately, they do so in such a way that the death messaging cannot be used to tell what the location was at that time. It’s random.
Milax: Okay, so that’s just saying it’s the special messaging for that event.
Milax: Gotcha. You’ve also done work. You’ve also done some census work on characters in Elanthia, so can you talk a bit about that?
Jahadeem: Well, what I have for that is, I probably have about two years or so of who data running almost every 15 minutes with a minor exception of a gap here and there. But I have a pretty good amount of who data to the extent that, if you look at the census page right now that anybody can get, it tries to show the last 30 days. In fact, even on here, you can kind of see where I have a small gap. But you can also see where all of a sudden Vrom — whatever we want to call him this week–
Milax: It’s Vrom. Every week, for the record.
Jahadeem: You could kind of see in here because recently you were saying, oh, almost 400 more people on average a day. I was looking at my chart and I’m like, well, look at that. I could kind of see about 400 more people, character names, on average a day.
Jahadeem: It almost looks like a rollercoaster.
Jahadeem: Really. Right now, we’re at a very high point of the rollercoaster.
Jahadeem: Again. The hope is, obviously, that people stick around because we all like seeing these high numbers. We want to have more people playing the game with us. We want to have more people in our community.
Jahadeem: That’s what’s kept this game running is us players and the community. I would like to think that Vrom and the powers that be at Simutronics know that.
Jahadeem: And are happy with us. I kidded with them when I shared with them last night a few of these again and said, you know, I’ll have stuff until you guys shut me down. He’s like, “No, not yet.”
Milax: I think that this is affirmation, to your point, that the initiatives that they’ve been rolling out for the last few weeks are working at bringing people back in. It does raise the question of, how do you keep them? What are you going to do to keep folks around? I think you’re right, 100%, that we are all going to enjoy the game more the more people who are around.
Jahadeem: It’s amazing.
Jahadeem: It’s just an amazing thing because how many games have lasted for this long, are play to play and, in this case, text-based, and it’s like, could we all be playing another game that’s cheaper or graphical? Yes, but this game keeps us all happier because we have those people around us that are like-minded that care about the game as much as we do.
Jahadeem: And are there to play with each other and especially now more than ever with what’s going on in the world.
Milax: This is an awesome project and everyone should go out and look at Jahadeem’s Death Index. Again, it’ll be linked in the episode notes. I’m going to load here to see, before we part, who our most recent death is. So, Myllo. Myllo, it’s all right, buddy. We know you just died on Teras a few minutes ago. It’s going to be okay. Get some salve. Rub it on there and get back out there and get hunting.
Jahadeem: Yeah, but just before that, look who died. The new major of the landing.
Milax: Oh, yeah, Leafi. Come on Leaf. What kind of mayor is dying that often?
Jahadeem: Let’s just hope she doesn’t accidentally poison us all.
Milax: Yeah, or get our legs cut off again.
Milax: Yeah. Jahadeem, thank you so much for talking with us today about the Death Index and the census project. It’s exciting. I’m excited to see some potential growth here and then we will look forward to talking to you again soon.
Jahadeem: Cool. Definitely. Thanks. Thanks for everything.
[Tape player starts]
Male: Two, three, four–
[“The Ultimate Jedi Who Wastes All the Other Jedi and Eats Their Bones” by the Mountain Goats]
Despair not for the end that waits for you,
Fear not the fire in which your flesh must burn.
All the Jedi from all the planets in this putrid universe
Get eaten by this last one and now it’s your turn.
They get eaten by this last one and now it’s your turn.
Bones, bones, bones, bones, bones.
Bones, bones, bones, bones, bones.
The ultimate Jedi who wastes all the other Jedi has eaten up all their bones.
All their bones, bones, bones, bones, bones.
[“8 Bit Onward!” Upbeat Adventure Game Music by HeatleyBros]
Milax: Thanks for listening to today’s episode. Thanks especially to Jahadeem, Elysia, and Erek for appearing on the show today. You can find a link to Jahadeem’s Death Index in today’s episode notes.
If you like Town Square Central and you want to support it, you should consider becoming a patron and Patreon today. A shout out to [names spelled phonetically, 01:01:32] Efra Loctar, Lycel, Worklade, Helman, Darren, Heather Anne, Lexvaba, the town crier, and Conrad for being patrons of the show. The link to support the show can also be found in today’s episode notes.
I’d also like to give a very special shout out to Doug who has helped me numerous times on the Discord resolving technical issues that I am not nearly smart enough to figure out on my own. Doug, you’re amazing. Thank you.
That’s everything we have for today. Catch you next time on Town Square Central.
[“8 Bit Onward!” Upbeat Adventure Game Music by HeatleyBros]
Milax: Not the original way. I just want to be clear. I’m not trying to start a feud here.
Elysia: Oh, no. No, he’s cool. Don’t worry.
Erek: No, it’s okay. It’s all good.
Elysia: But no. When you think about — when you think about the way that–
[“8 Bit Onward!” Upbeat Adventure Game Music by HeatleyBros]