The launch of Crusader Kings 3 earlier this month was an exciting moment for many, promising hours of intrigue, backstabbing and battles - but for one fan of the series, the moment brought mixed emotions.
"Feeling very bittersweet about tonight and the release of Crusader Kings 3," a user called Mr_Minot posted on the Crusader Kings subreddit. "The last conversation I had with my little brother consisted of him begging me to start a new game of Crusader Kings 2 with him."
The post, made by Atlanta resident and mental health therapist Grant Sparks, explained that Grant's brother Lucas had also been a huge fan of the series, and the two brothers had put thousands of hours into Crusader Kings 2 together. Grant provided the war chest, Lucas carried out the campaigns, and together they conquered vast swathes of the world - with neither ever betraying the other. But, tragically, it all came to an end far too soon.
"The last time we spoke, he called to ask if I wanted to start a new game," Grant explained. "I couldn't do it, because it was the night before my semester started and I had to be at class at six in the morning. He gave me a hard time about it for a few minutes, because he was bored and just wanted to conquer some land with his big brother, but he understood.
"A half hour later, he got hit by a car crossing the street and was rendered brain dead on impact. He died a few days later, saving multiple lives with his organ donation. He truly was, and still is, and will always be, my hero."
Grant went on to explain that the launch of Crusader Kings 3 was difficult for him, knowing his brother would never be able to play it. Although he still intended to play the game, he knew that clicking play the first time was going to be "really, really fucking hard."
"I want so badly to tell him that I got him a copy for his birthday, and spend our two days of celebration at home, eating mom's friend chicken and conquering the world together. I want more than anything to celebrate the big 3-0 by giving him 'gifts' so he can hire mercenaries because he pissed off the French, again.
"I want to do all these things with him in this game, and I know that I can't."
It was a heartbreaking post, and community members immediately rallied around Grant to support him for sharing his story. A Paradox dev even chimed in to share condolences from the CK3 team. Yet something a little unexpected was about to happen, as some commenters suggested Lucas should be immortalised in-game - and so the community decided to memorialise him in their own way.
The first tributes to Lucas came in the form of naming in-game characters in his honour: Grant said several users contacted him to show pictures of their rulers, dukes, kings and emperors named after Lucas, while user ApprehensiveRespect posted an in-game counterpart called Lucas the Great. Seeing this post, another Reddit user stepped forward offering to make a mod of Lucas, and got in touch with Grant to discuss how to make the mod.
"I had read [Grant's] story previously, and he seemed to be genuinely happy and touched that someone was playing a game where his brother existed as a character," Katie Labounko, a software engineer from the Boston area, told me over Reddit. "I've done a little bit of simple modding in the past, and it occurred to me that I could make a mod adding Lucas to the game for anyone who downloads it."
About a week ago there was a user who had a brother named Lucas, who explained in a post that how he used to played CK2 MP with his brother that passed away a few days before the release of CK3. To pay respects to Lucas, I present to you his in-game counterpart; Lucas the Great. from r/CrusaderKings
The pair collaborated on what the mod would look like, with Grant choosing Lucas's culture, religion, starting location and traits. To finalise his choices, Grant compiled a list of Lucas's personality traits and then ran the list past his friends. Grant described Lucas as "quick to anger, but passionate in all of his endeavours," adding that Lucas had been "incredibly funny, smart and resourceful," with the ability to see the positive side of most situations. He was also a competitive person who thrived in the sales environment where he worked, and had been in-line for a promotion before his death, Grant said. As a result, Lucas was given the traits ambitious, wrathful and arrogant - along with compassionate, generous and gregarious. As for his educational and congenital traits, Lucas was made a brilliant strategist, and a herculean genius.
"Lucas has a lot of very strong traits, which might not be entirely balanced, but I thought it was sweet that his brother thinks so highly of him," Katie said.
Grant also sent Katie a rough physical description of Lucas, with Katie doing her best to create character DNA from the description. "His appearance is similar, which was surprising to me," Grant said. "It's not exactly him, but I recognised my brother when I saw the character."
While Katie said the mod was relatively simple to create, requiring only some tinkering around with the character and DNA data, it seems both Grant and the community really appreciated her work - with the vast majority of the feedback being positive, and nearly forty players having downloaded Lucas into their games so far. Grant currently has the mod installed, but is yet to start a playthrough with Lucas, as he hasn't quite worked up to playing the game with him just yet. He was, however, pretty surprised by the strength of the community reaction to his post.
"When I initially wrote the post on Reddit, I didn't expect it to receive much attention - when I went to bed that night it had about four or five upvotes and a couple of comments," he said. "Waking up to see all the people in the Crusader Kings community embracing my brother, pledging to honour him in their games, was truly an astounding and unexpected experience."
Rather touchingly, Grant showed the community response to the rest of his family, explaining his mum had been "floored" by the response, and that his friends had also been deeply moved. "She thought it was an amazing tribute to an aspect of my brother's life that he held very dear. CK was an important part of my relationship with my brother, one that not many of our friends understood. I think for my friends and family, seeing other people venerate this aspect of his life and mine was a relief and blessing."
On this note, I asked Grant what he thought Lucas would have made of being remembered in this way, and introduced into the game through a mod.
"I know he would have been embarrassed by all the attention, but he would also have been proud to be a part of such a loving community," Grant said. "The part of him that loves to play games where conquering the world is the main goal would also be a bit elated. He definitely had the ambitious trait!"
In the face of a personal tragedy like this, it's reassuring to see a game community come together to provide support for one of its members - and thanks to Katie's work, Lucas can now be remembered by all those who download him for their playthroughs. A fitting tribute for a dedicated Crusader Kings player, friend and brother.