Phil South looks at the exciting, international world of multi-user gamesOnce upon a time there was a magical kingdom, populated by people who lived for adventure. These people lived ordinary lives during the day but at night they became wizards, fighters and monsters, trekking through uncharted territory, meeting interesting people from all walks of life... and killing them.
These people I've mentioned aren't homicdal maniacs, they're just ordinary Joes like you or I. But they do use their modems to join others in computer-driven multi-user games, games that bite back because the opponents aren't simulated artificial intelligences, they're real thinking, breathing humans. And like humans, if they don't like you you'd better watch your ass.
Multi-user games used to be called, multi-user dungeons, after the first such game which had that name. MUD was written by Richard Bartle and was launched by BT in the mid-80s. Eventually, much like Micronet later, the service was run down and disappeared.
The game then went over to the US where it went crazy under the name of British Legends. The creator of the program continued development to the degree that now we have MUD 2, but more of that in a moment.
In a time well before the word, let alone the concept, of cyberspace became a fashionable thing to talk about, real people lived an electronic life in addition to their real one.
Late lamented MicronetBT were the first to really do something about this in the UK. First MUD, then Shades on the late lamented Micronet, closely followed by many others, half as good and a third as short-lived.
Then an allied stream of games turned up - online ones, which although not necessarily featuring multiple users, did enjoin users to use them online.
Such games only have limited popularity in the UK - unless the call is local you can only really play for a very short time, unlike in the USA where local calls are free and online/multi-user games run riot over thc Net.
Now in the 90s we have a lot of more sophisticated games on computers, and multi-user games have had to be more sophisticated to keep up.
One system in the UK which exemplifies this approach is Online. The system operates via the Tymnet and Dialplus networks across Europe, enabling users all over the EC to dial it up via a local phone call. Costs are just £2 per hour network charges, plus Online's charges which are £2 per hour for non-members or £10 a month all-in if you subscribe to the system.
If you're in the London area it's a local call and you don't pay the network so that works out at about 86p per hour instead of the £2 you'd pay if say you called from Europe or other far-flung places in the UK.
The games on the Online system are Air Warrior, a multi-user flight/combat simulator; Federation, a multi-user adult space fantasy; MUD 2, the sequel to the original MUD and finally Internecine, a futuristic battling game run by Email. This is just like the play-by-mail RPG games, nut being played by Email it runs that much faster. It is is like a futuristic game show, much like Stephen King's The Running Man, where the contestants fight each other in an arena using all manner of weapons.
And there's more...CIX has its own online game run via the Internet, based on the Discworld novels by Terry Pratchett. Many other MUDs and MUGs are run on the Internet.
For example Lee Bohan (at least I think that's his name, firstname.lastname@example.org is his email address and he signs himself as Lee), told me in a recent Email message: "If you like multi-player games, but are sick of the delay of the ones in the USA, there is now one here at Aston, called Magic Moo.
"It can be accessed by telnet on dougal.aston.ac.uk port 7777, and although not the busiest in the world, is fun."
For more details about Online, call them on 081-558 6114.
Although some of the games are text-based, most these days are graphic. Air Warrior is a graphic simulation of flying in an attack aircraft, and all the other players are seen as other aircraft.
Although Federation is a text-based trading game, originally written by Alan Lenton, it now has a graphic front end called FedTerm, so it's now more of a graphic role-player.
The games, especially the graphic ones, are specially designed to work despite the great distances involved. Air Warrior, for example, will work on a 1200 baud modem upwards, and has been carefully optimised to make sure that the action never stops despite the distance between you and the game.
This works in much the same way as games which operate in two-player/two-machine configurations over a serial null modem link. As well as all the games, the Online system also has Forum, its own conference service and Email system. The PC and Amiga are served as far as graphic terminal programs and ways of playing the game are concerned, but of course you can log on with any machine provided you want to use text-only games and services.
21st January 1999: acaug93.htm