Today we’re talking with an unsung hero in the annals of Vampire: the Eternal Struggle – the creator of the game’s first online platform. And if you are wondering about how long ago that was, the clue is in the name: Jyhad On Line. I never quite got to wrap this interview and wasn’t originally going to publish it, but George’s perspective on the early days of V:tES is unique.
Bindusara: What was the early Jyhad scene like for you?
George: I picked up Magic: the Gathering and played it with a few people in my grad school department. I was a big Anne Rice fan back then, and was really looking forward to the Vampire-based card game, so I bought Jyhad as soon as it came out. I really didn’t have much of a playgroup, I think there was one other guy who was interested so I played two-player with him. It was very casual, and was the base set with no expansions at that point.
I really liked the multiplayer aspect of the game, but I’ve only really played the game a handful of times face to face other than that. I did play a few more times later with the Bay Area play group, and maybe once or twice other places when I was travelling and borrowed a deck.
My first go-to deck was Brujah celerity 2-base damage because I liked playing with built-in permanent effects. I like playing permanents – decks like ‘Mata Hari equip the world’ are fun.
B: How soon after playing did you start working on JOL?
G: I didn’t start JOL! Somebody else on rec.games.playing-cards.jyhad had started playing a play by email game and called in Jyhad On Line, there was no server infrastructure, we all had our own decks on our own desk and it was honor system I guess that you didn’t stack your deck. This game ended up never finishing, the initiator bailed on the whole thing.
Previous to that I had done email servers for Titan and Machiavelli, because I’m an avid board gamer who never found another group after undergraduate, so I was always looking for virtual ways to play. In fact, my whole life was like that. I was a pain in the ass to play games with so I played every game solitaire even from 1st grade onward. I played 6-player monopoly solitaire, and everything else. When I learned programming (BASIC) when I was in 7th grade I used that to make command-line Mastermind and Yahtzee games on my mom’s PC which I played for hours, so I always was creating games like this.
I took the framework of the Titan server and created the first JOL server, and I think we tried to finish off game1 that had started email only honor system but it never did finish. game2 was the first game completed solely on the JOL email server. I’d say that this was probably pretty soon after the game came, but I can’t remember the exact date. May be able to look at this on the USENET archives though. There was a lot of interest in JOL even from the beginning. I don’t have stats on games per month or anything like that. L Scott Johnson was a major user back then and he even contributed code to the very first version of the game because I didn’t know too much perl. All that code has long since gone with the switch to Java but he played lots during the hiatus.
B: Not being a programmer myself, I can only imagine the complexity of making something like JOL. Are there aspects of JOL that you’re particularly proud of? Alternatively, anything buggy about its foundations that you can ended up building around rather than fix, for whatever reason?
G: Well, I’m proud of the fact that the basic server stuff that I wrote mainly in the Calgary airport while on a business trip still works very well. Defining a basic language of cards and decks and how they relate to each other has proved very robust. The deck construction stuff was pretty problematic. I wanted it to be text-based so it was easy to enter decks from elsewhere. But as new sets came out the mapping from card texts and abbreviations to card IDs was hard and never really foolproof. I would have made the deck construction tool more robust to use card IDs as internal representation.