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AuthorIamA journalist and author who spent 5 years delving into every murky corner of the dark web for my latest book “The Darkest Web”. AMA!

Apr 10th 2018 by OzFreelancer • 11 Questions • 69 Points

Hi!

I'm the lead developer of Monster Crown, the indie Monster Taming RPG with true crossbreeds!

Remember being a kid playing your favorite Monster games and doing breeding/fusion? Ever wish the offspring were true cross-breeds, or even, new species? Check out Monster Crown:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWPFAD_oChU

We're live on Kickstarter starting today!

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/236602931/monster-crown-monster-taming-game-with-true-crossb

We've got great content and videos (and monsters!) coming all month. Be sure to check out our subreddit if you'd like to see more at /r/crownsgame

Don't ask me my favorite monster, that's mean - do you ask Dads who their favorite child is? (Ok it's Tanukrook)

My Proof: https://twitter.com/crowns_dev/status/983731529703620610

Q:

Hi Eileen,

As an expert in the Silk Road saga,

What would you say are the remaining mysteries, grey areas, irregularities surrounding the arrest of Ross Ulbricht and the shutdown of the Silk Road hidden service? What, from the "unknown", would you like to be certain about?

Has anything you've investigated on the dark web had a negative consequence in real life?

Peace x

A:

What keeps you going every day?

How do you decide when a game is "done"?

Will there be updates afterwards?

What will you do if the game isn't successful?


Q:

Well hello there, Mr Moustache!

There are so many unsolved mysteries from the Silk Road saga! The main one, of course, is who is the as-yet-unidentified rogue law enforcement agent, "Alpacino", who was feeding intel to Dread Pirate Roberts? And how much of Mongoose's story about that agent (whom he referred to as "Diamond") is true?

Then there is: what really happened with the 5 "hits" placed on FriendlyChemist, Tony76 and his roommates? Was it really Tony76 repeating the same scam over and over? How much did he get away with?

And of course, what ever happened to DPR2/St Exo?

I'm sure there's more, but they are the main ones.

A:

What keeps me going? Hm...

When I close my eyes I see the complete game. Anyone that picks it up has plenty of fun and has a plethora of content available to them. Have they seen everything yet? No.

I imagine the real grinder, the guy like me that punches 900 hours. I want that guy to be able to still find something he hasn't seen before. A monster form, an ability, a unique transformation.

Because I'm that guy too - I don't ever want to stop exploring. And in games like this exploration isn't just physical - it's deeply rooted in the breeding, the battling, the experimenting.

At the same time, everything is hand-crafted, we're not using procedural generation of Monsters or anything.

The game will be done when we have everything in our MONSTER CROWN PLAN BOOK implemented. We've defined everything that will be in the game already, we're past the point of adding new features/scope.

There will be monthly free DLC for years, absolutely :)

If it isn't successful I'll feel really sad for a bit, but I know when I release it I'll be proud of it - that's all that really matters.


Q:

If you don't mind me asking What was the worst thing you have come across?

A:

one more question;

what do you envision the 'end game' for this to be like? Is it just revisiting old areas and making contracts to breed new creatures, or is there something else planned/in the game already?


Q:

By far the worst thing is the hurtcore sites. People often talk excitedly about finding "red rooms" - basically your Hostel (movie) with webcams - but the reality is that torture streams or made-to-order torture invariably involve children in unimaginable circumstances.

And the people who carry out these crimes often seem so normal in their real lives. The UK guy, Matthew Falder, who was recently jailed for 32 years for participation in hurtcore was by all accounts, well-liked, jovial, had a girlfriend...

It could be anyone. It's scary :(

A:

MMMMM

How do I respond to this without a huge spoiler?

All I can say right now is that there's something else big in the post-game, not just treading the same paths :)


Q:

Thanks fot the AMA. Do you have plans to write a 3rd book? About the dark web or another topic?

A:

How do skills/spells/etc work? More specifically, do monsters learn new skills when they level up, or how are they acquired? And can monsters pass on their skills to their offspring through breeding?


Q:

I’ve started writing some thriller fiction - sort of “ripped from the headlines” novels, dark web based. Also I’m in talks with a couple of different TV networks/production companies about being a dark web consultant on their shows and am doing a 48 Hours show with CBS.

There are some things going on in the Bitcoin/crypto space that could possibly have a book in them. I'd like to find out more about the initiative by Brock Pierce and some other Crypto Bros creating their own crypto country, Peurtopia or something. I've only read vaguely about it, but maybe theres a possible book there.

I am a master procrastinator when it comes to picking a project to work on! :)

A:

Great question (btw, thank you for stopping by, the famous SIRALIM dev!)

Monsters have a set of skills that are available to them as they level up. You'll be able to choose six skills from their learnset to "remember" at once. You can swap them at any time.

As you breed, this learnset just grows and grows :)

All skills are passed down in the form of movesets and in the form of learnsets. This compounds over the generations so a 5th-6th generation monster can have a truly formidable set of skills available.


Q:

Has wider use of cryptocurrency had any notable effects on how the Dark Web operates?

A:

Have you scrapped monster designs before and if so what was your least favourite?


Q:

Most notably, during the Bitcoin bubble of December, Bitcoin became almost unusable for small/instant transactions because of the high transfer fees and slow transfer times. That also meant tumbling coins became unfeasible and there's also a lot more power going into blockchain analysis, so Bitcoin began to fall out of favour as the currency of choice for the dark web and people began scouting around for a replacement. Monero was the favoured one to come out of all that, but now that Bitcoin has corrected, I don't think it is as urgent to find a replacement currency.

A:

Oh absolutely we've had to scrap em!

Makes me sad every time, but if it means the sum of all Monsters in the game is a better crew for players then in the end I'm happy!

Shad is my co-creator and a much better Monster Designer - we've never had to scrap one of his designs (but maybe he scraps them before I see them).

Here are two scrapped designs, from way back when we began development in early 2016:

https://i.imgur.com/W4S4vHe.png

The top one wasn't too bad but didn't have a strong concept.

The bottom was one we "grew out of". As the game evolved and we refined our "Monster Bible" of the nature of these Monsters, we realized something robotic didn't fit in our world.

His name was Rotowl - sorry Rotowl, you are now in scrap


Q:

Has wider use of cryptocurrency had any notable effects on how the Dark Web operates?

A:

Who is Shad? You don't mean Shadman, do you?


Q:

Is it possible to accidentally stumble upon the dark web or does one have to actively search for it? Do you ever worry about your safety?

You can't accidentally stumble upon the dark web - you need to download special software and then know exactly what you are looking for.

I've sometimes worried about things and certainly received a lot of threats over time, but try not to dwell on things too much.

A:

Nope, just my team mate!

Shad_Noise is a common handle he uses.


Q:

Hi

I really enjoyed your new book. Any update on the guy running the fake murder for hire site?

A:

Do you forsee some sort of competitive scene arising out of this game? Even if you don't, for multiplayer, how will you handle the "legendary" Crownies, that will presumably be more powerful than your garden-variety Laz? How will you avert the "No Contracts, Pursuit Only, Nio Kio" syndrome?


Q:

Thanks! Yes, I'm still in touch with him from time to time but if I told you more than that I'd have to kill you... ;)

A:

haha! No Contracts, Pursuit Only, Nio Kio is wicked. I love that.

Well we actually have some network play ongoing as we speak. If you get a chance to try that out you'll see that everyone is ranked on "toughness".

The game calculates you and your team's toughness and displays it next to your avatar online. So if you're playing online, be sure to choose someone with a similar toughness level if you want a fair fight!

Originally we played with the idea of limiting a team you carry with you to a specific level of toughness, so you could have 2 very tough monsters, or instead 8 very weak ones. Ultimately we didn't want to limit people and we always try to offer choices, rather than restrictions, so we opted for a visible "toughness" indicator to help you choose your matches wisely :)


Q:

The emotional and psychological stress of a project like this must've been brutal, and anonymity can amplify the very worst in people, especially when communities of like-minded people become toxic echo-chambers. How did you deal with what you've seen, the threats, and the kinds of people you talked to in your work. Are you ok? Do you have a pup to snuggle?

A:

I see! I like that solution--very elegant. That way, people can choose the "tier" of combat they want to enter... it makes sense, and a high-toughness team can indicate progress through the game, rewarding singleplayer progression. I assume there's some way to prevent a person, then, from coming into a server with a high-toughness team and beating up on people still in the Monster Crowns version of Little Cup?

Could you further expand on other online multiplayer features you may have planned for the game?

Could you describe, generally speaking, what genre or era the game will take place in? From what I've seen, it seems to be a mix of our modern era, but with the primitiveness that living in a world of dangerous monsters would enforce.


Q:

The emotional and psychological stress of a project like this must've been brutal,

Honestly, for most of the book, no. It only got truly brutal when researching "Darkest" which, although the shortest section of the book, took the longest to write, because I could only do it in the shortest of spurts before I needed to take a long walk, or a shower, or look at cute animal videos (and we all know what a vortex that can be)

and anonymity can amplify the very worst in people, especially when communities of like-minded people become toxic echo-chambers.

One of the fascinating things for me to see how these underground communities survive and regulate themselves, when there is total anonymity. Most of the communities I interacted with were more polite and constructive and less toxic than places like Twitter, Facebook or (dare I say) Reddit. Certainly I've copped more abuse here than on any of the DNM communities I've been a part of.

Some of the communities have robust debates, philosophical discussions and are populated with really interesting characters

How did you deal with what you've seen, the threats, and the kinds of people you talked to in your work.

Most of the threats I received over the years were hollow, or very general in nature. The only truly personal, targeted ones came from the owner of Besa Mafia murder-for-hire site, but by the time he was making them he didn't realise that I had access to the back end of his site and could see all his correspondence, so I was always one step ahead of him.

As for what I've seen, I was very careful when researching "Darkest" not to view any photos or videos, instead relying on descriptions in court documents or from law enforcement officers who did view them. Even that was emotionally scarring enough.

Are you ok? Do you have a pup to snuggle?

Zonker died nearly 3 years ago at age 17 and I'm almost ready to fill the gap he left, but not quite

A:

Thank you!

Well we don't plan to split the server into sections, but we do plan to offer powerful sorting, so you're all on the same server but ideally you'd sort by "closest to my toughness", and work your way down the list (assuming you haven't pre-arranged with a friend).

The mutliplayer features will include:

  • Battling
  • Trading
  • Breeding

You'll be able to do all three online!

You nailed it about the era! The world is dangerous and full of monsters. There was also a huge civil war 20 years ago. The areas farthest from the three kingdoms were least affected by the war and have the most up-to-date technology.

There is one island, unharmed by monsters or the war that is quite advanced - Hewston!

But you're right, a large portion of the world is similar to turn of the century era, and very poor areas, like Mill Town can have very little to offer from a technology perspective.


Q:

I am absolutely shocked that the guy that ran multiple CP sites got less time than Ross. That doesn't make sense to me personally.

A:

Have you ever seen a ghost?


Q:

Me either. Different jurisdiction I suppose had something to do with it. Maybe in the USA Lux would have received a similar sentence to Ross

A:

No but my fiancee swears that she did.

Well not a ghost, but a white, whispy apparition that appeared only for a moment.

I believe her, but I also read a lot of creepypasta so I'm naturally inclined to believing all sorts of spooky stuff!


Q:

Appreciate the response, and yes the murder-for-hire was a confusing aspect (even though nobody was actually hurt).

It blows my mind Ross is sitting in Supermax prison with the 2nd OKC bomber and the Shoe Bomber and the worst of the worst.

The 'powers that be" were scared and needed an example to be made of him it seems. They have no idea what is coming next with decentralized networks and smart contracts, there will be no DPR to hang.

Good luck with the book!

A:

Is it going to be early access?


Q:

The 'powers that be" were scared and needed an example to be made of him it seems. They have no idea what is coming next with decentralized networks and smart contracts, there will be no DPR to hang.

Agree 100% Thanks for engaging :)

A:

Backers can get a demo/beta right now, but we won't be doing early access. We want the game to blow you away on release and releasing it early in some form could lessen that.

Personally I'm not terribly interested in Early Access (not to say anything ill toward the genres where it really shines).


Q:

home boy hired people to kill someone. Your "im bitterly dissapointed" schtick is weak in the context of everything you write about.

A:

What's your favourite food?


Q:

Thats what bitterly disappointed me. I believed in Silk Road and the vision of a violence-free marketplace for consenting adults. I thought that it was truly a step toward drug law reform and a post-prohibition world. I still believe the DNMs can provide a safer way to purchase drugs by those who wish to do so, but I'm less rosy-glassed about it now,

A:

Hm... maybe party mix? No... Black forest cake!


Q:

Did you ever see anything that made you laugh or smile on the dark web?

A:

Simple question: Crossplatform multiplayer or not?


Q:

Plenty! Silk Road in particular had great forums full of interesting, engaged people having great conversations and there was loads of banter on some of the IRC channels.

There's also the ubiquitous Cat Facts site that always seemed a little incongruous on the dark web :)

A:

Absolutely! :)


Q:

Hey, thanks for the AMA! I've added your book to my "To Read" list on Goodreads. Sounds really fascinating! I've never even heard of some of this. Unfortunately, I'm a broke college student and $20+ for a book is a little steep right now, but I would definitely like to read it.

My question is: how did people tend to get involved in this kinda stuff? Do they deliberately seek it out?

I'm also wondering about your safety. Do you take any precautions or did you while writing the book?

A:

My question is: how did people tend to get involved in this kinda stuff? Do they deliberately seek it out? I'm also wondering about your safety. Do you take any precautions or did you while writing the book?

Yes, certainly people actively seek out dark web activities. It takes very deliberate actions to get involved - you won't just "stumble across" it.

For people who want to do drugs, in many ways the dark web offers a safer alternative to those who were going to buy drugs anyway, by providing harm reduction advice and sellers who had public feedback, in much the same way as eBay or Amazon does. For people who want to get involved in the perverse activities, it offers a meeting place that can't be shut down by the authorities.

I've also worried about my safety some times! My most active precaution was to be up front and honest in all my dealings with people. Nobody ever felt I was trying to trick them into revealing themselves or anything and people who spoke to me generally spoke to me knowing exactly who I was and how I was going to use the information they gave me.


Q:

Where can I get my hands on that book? It sounds extremely interesting and I really want to give it a read.

A:

Ooh, thank [email protected] The Darkest Web is available with free worldwide shipping from Book Depository.

It's also available direct from the publisher, Allen & Unwin.

At the moment, Kindle is only available if you have an Australian Amazon account, though I hope that will change soon


Q:

Did you find anything that still disturbs you to this day? And is it true that there is a $3,000,000 bounty on Ajit Pai’s head? And also, how can I be assured that people like Matthew Falder are being arrested and taken out of society

A:

Did you find anything that still disturbs you to this day?

I still get sick to my stomach and have nightmares about a little disabled girl with mutism who was being abused and who has not yet been located

And is it true that there is a $3,000,000 bounty on Ajit Pai’s head?

I don't know

And also, how can I be assured that people like Matthew Falder are being arrested and taken out of society

The international task forces working on this are doing an amazing job (and, I might say, Australia is leading the charge). They have the most horrible job you can imagine and they have undertaken some very contentious methods - most notably, after arresting the administrator of Childs Play (or was it Playpen, I get them mixed up), they ran the site for a year. This, however, enabled them to get close to the people actually producing the exploitation material and tracking them down, saving the children and arresting the perpetrators


Q:

Sounds like an awful experience to have seen some of the stuff there, would you agree with this sentiment?

A:

It would be most awful for some of the police officers I spoke to. When it comes to the child abuse sites, there are people who have to watch the videos or view the pictures over and over in the hope of spotting something in the background, or some sort of identifying feature on either child or perpetrator that will lead them to find them and make an arrest.

In some cases, law enforcement took over the sites and actually ran them in order to try and find the people carrying out the abuse.