4. Reviews - UK.
Name: Federation II
Federation II's setting, the solar system of the future, is wide in scope but lacking in descriptive atmosphere. Referred to as 'dataspace' by its author, it consists of the Earth plus six other planets/moons. Despite this, the actual number of rooms it contains is not large, and movement in space is with standard compass points rather than being directionally based on pitch/yaw/roll. Most surprisingly (except from a programmer's point of view), the planets are stationary.
There are 17 player levels, although most experienced players stop at level 9. As well as pure monetary qualifications, other conditions need to be satisfied in order to reach the next level. These are intended to ensure that players don't try to run before they can walk, and include such things as having undertaken a certain number of trading contracts, and owning a warehouse ('whorehouse' in game parlance) on every planet.
There are no wizzes in Federation II. Game management problems are dealt with by the six richest players in the game, which ordinarily would lead to even worse management problems; however, the real power is wielded by the game's author, Alan Lenton, who used to be a MUD1 arch-wizard and is one of the most experienced MUA managers around. Consequently, Federation II runs smoothly.
The game is insensitive in some respects - it promotes the consumption of alcohol by having its social focus at a bar named "Chez Diesel" on Mars, and quaffing drinks will increase players' stamina; this might offend some people. On the whole, though, there is little of the overt use of non-violent contact commands ("kiss", "hug" etc.) seen on some other games. This is partly because of Lenton's managerial skills, and partly because Federation II attracts a higher proportion of female players than any other UK MUA.
Federation II lacks both depth and breadth - it has only 96 distinct commands. The overall aim of the game (reaching level 17) is virtually unattainable, so it is treated mainly as a social forum rather than as a "real" game. There is little interaction required by the game mechanics, and fights are infrequent (but see later concerning insularity). The 33 objects in the game are exclusively for giving to one of the 51 mobiles in exchange for points, or consuming so as to increase one's stamina. They are not used for solving puzzles.
Beginners choose their name and gender, then distribute 140 units between strength, stamina, dexterity and intelligence attributes. Intelligence as an attribute is unusual in MUAs - most games assume the intelligence of the persona equates with that of the player commanding it. In Federation II intelligence determines the power of the ship-board computer a persona can use.
Players proceed by buying spaceships (usually with a loan), equipping them (hull size, armour, shielding, drives, weapons, tractor beams, computers, power plants), then purchasing commodities (24 are technical/industrial, 16 are agricultural, 10 are leisure) from one planet and moving them to another where they're needed (there are periodic announcements of contracts that are to be undertaken). Players competing for the same contract race to get there first. Completing contracts gives players money, which they use to improve their ships, start their own companies, build factories and buy warehouses.
Federation II has two novelties not present in other MUAs. One is a bounty system, where players can place reward money on their enemies in order to induce someone to attack them; the other is an insurance system, whereby players pay a certain premium and in the event of their untimely death they are resurrected at their previous level. These two features tend to work against each other, and the insurance facility in particular means that players rarely lose their status once it is gained.
Players have the ability to describe themselves ("buy clothes"); ordinarily, this would be perilous to any coherence of descriptive power in the game, but since Federation II is deficient in that area anyway it doesn't really make much difference. Atmosphere, as perceived by the players (not as found on planets' surfaces), is engendered entirely by those players. Regrettably, the highest-level players form a clique that is very choosy about who can join, and they can make life very unpleasant for any upstarts they dislike. This makes the game very insular, a charge repeated many times by ex-players and professional reviewers.
When combat does take place it is non-automatic, and there are many weapon-control commands. Experienced players will invariably win, except against hordes of novices (in which case they will later kill them individually, having themselves been resurrected on an insurance policy). Players are only allowed one persona per account ID, but can have several account IDs.
Federation II does not have resets, and there is no automatic save to disc of players' scores. Thus, if the game crashes then points gained after a player's last explicit "save" command are lost.
Federation II is written entirely in C, is compiled directly (rather than working from a definition language), and it therefore runs very quickly but could never be used to implement any other scenario. Why is it of the first rank? It takes a courageous new approach to the standard MUD1 style of fantasy-based, combat-oriented, puzzle-solving world - it can run alongside such a MUA without poaching any players; it is portable, and available on several networks; it has a publicity director (Clement Chambers) and will thus continue to be in the news; it is continually being updated and improved (Lenton works on it full time); its author is one of the most experienced in the field.
"Federation II is a wonderful blend of space-trading game and adventure."-- Popular Computing Weekly [magazine]
"It sets you free from reality."-- Trancer [player]
"Reality is boring."-- Topcat [player]
"We all want an alter-ego, and Fed releases it."-- Penelope [player]
"I found the other players very helpful and quite willing to give vital information to help me on my way."-- Popular Computing [magazine]
"It boasts quite the best manual of any game I've seen."-- Popular Computing Weekly [magazine]
"Britain's most advanced multi-user game"-- CompuNet [promotional material]
"I feel proud an honoured to offer people this game. It's like partying without risk to the body. I'm giving them value for money, so they come back for more."-- Clement Chambers [marketing manager]
The idea is attractive, but fundamentally flawed. Gods can use their powers to do anything they like, without any interference from the equivalent of arch-wizzes. Unfortunately, what they like to do is prevent people they dislike from becoming gods. Although theoretically a seller's market ("which god shall I give these points to?"), it's actually a buyer's market ("give those to me"). There are two reasons for this: treasure is worth more if the receiving god is present when it is offered at that god's temple; gods who see mortals giving treasure to non-present gods have sufficient powers that they can readily persuade such mortals that it would be in their best interests to deposit their treasure elsewhere. Thus, unless there are several gods playing for most of the time, the treasure dedicated to each god will tend to be proportional to the period the god spends in the game. If a god needs more points to create something, it's just a question of sitting around in the game for long enough to get them.
This dominance of the idea that gods can create things is a shame, because otherwise Gods is a very well thought-out game, wide in its extent and with imposing depth to its world. Despite being first-generation, it has nevertheless stood the test of time, and its definition language is one of the clearest and most functional around. It is based on the notion of 'objects', which are items that have 'properties'. Properties are either 'mundane' (they return a simple value) or 'esoteric' (they run some code to return a value). Commands are implemented as properties of objects, thus making Gods one of the earliest object-oriented programming languages and pre-dating much of the work presently going on in the TinyMUD field.
Gods operate by changing objects' properties, but this is not yet fully implemented, nor is it likely to be in the near future. They can alter mundane properties easily, but esoteric properties are out of bounds. This is because they require programming skills, and there is no guarantee that they will be safe. Problems of unwanted interactions between independently-created objects are expected, and a facility to test/debug objects is necessary. It is interesting to note that these are issues which have always concerned Gods experts, but their importance is only now being recognised in the TinyMUD world.
Nevertheless, it is a pity that the central vision of Gods is still some way away even after all these years, and that what the game presently boasts as its major player-winning feature is actually no better than what is available as just one riff in MUD2. Gods' over-emphasis on object creation distracts attention from the many really quite splendid other features that it has. Its parser is good, it has a built-in class hierarchy of objects (although "get all" doesn't work), and there's a neat counting feature for similar object (eg. "You pick up thirty-one assorted rabbits."). The game is atmospheric - its large (2,000 rooms), North African seaport setting is rooted in historical fact (although elements from different periods are disconcertingly juxtaposed; this may be deliberate). Puzzles can vary with time depending on whether it is night or day, and commands that you use frequently can develop different affectations. Gods has the reputation of being a difficult, challenging game.
One of Gods' recent innovations is its treatment of fights. Some players like fighting, some don't, so Gods has two classes: fighters and non-fighters. Non-fighters cannot be attacked, receive no points for killing, but don't die if killed. Fighters can be attacked, do receive points for killing, and lose them for dying. Whether this will work in the long run is something which remains to be seen, though - the non-fighters would appear to be able to annoy and dispose of the fighters without taking any personal risk, and it may be that unimaginative non-fighters may find themselves at high levels without really having much knowledge of the game at all.
As well as a points value, treasure also has a monetary (alms) value. There is a commercial system in Gods which can be played as a game without reference to the deities. Money can be used to buy certain objects, for gambling in a slot machine (slot machines are not uncommon in money-oriented MUAs), and for buying drinks at a bar to regain stamina. As with Federation II, this "alcohol is good for you" attitude could offend some people, and Gods may attract another form of objection by its explicit use of "black magic" as a form of spell use which can be practised. That said, critics of this sort are likely to complain about the very name of the game anyway, irrespective of other considerations.
Gods tries to maintain an aura of mystique by keeping information from players until they gain experience. Thus, a newcomer (of 'scum' level) is only told how many points are required to reach levels 1 to 4, and has no idea how many levels there are altogether. Similarly, only those spells which can be used are listed. This works as an incentive to go up levels, but can be rather worrying when you first start to play. Another way in which Gods strives to provide atmosphere is by folding objects into room descriptions. This looks good, but newcomers find that they can't always tell what is gettable and what isn't.
Rather than limiting the number of objects a player can carry, or letting players carry as much as they like, Gods has a halfway solution which is perhaps more realistic. The more objects carried, the greater is the chance of dropping one. Thus, with your arms full of treasure you can only travel a short distance before something falls to the ground. Travelling light, you can play for hours and not drop a thing.
Gods runs on an 80386 processor under Xenix. The Lap of the Gods system to which it is connected consists of specialist multiplexer hardware and associated software, collectively known as The Butler. This has recently been upgraded so as to provide on-line help facilities, but the information it displays is rather hurriedly put together. This is reminiscent of the whole system - every feature imaginable can be expressed in one way or another, but somehow it's never used quite as fruitfully as it could be.
Day-to-day running of the Gods system is now by one of the game's gods, Heptaparaparshinokh. It appears to have no major managerial problems, perhaps due to the fact that it is, in part, an experiment on the way deities behave without higher deities above them. There is a guest facility for beginners, with a built-in tour available.
Gods has a client written for it, Hear-Gods, which consists of normal terminal software for the Atari ST with the addition of sampled sound-effects.
A version of Gods runs in Germany.
"Certainly a game I would recommend to anyone."-- ACE [magazine]
"You will find a coliseum and a set of dry docks close by each other, but this doesn't seem unusual in the game."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"The system of scoring is complicated."-- ACE [magazine]
"With the current generation of modems, I personally feel that objects should be readily apparent to players."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"Really, we can't explain what the games are like - you'll have to try them"-- Lap of the Gods [promotional material]
Six people from St. Paul's School worked on that section, and Cordrey organised them into a team to develop a MUA that would run on a home computer. The system was named MirrorWorld because it had rolling resets (as in the film "Westworld"). It went live in 1986. The St. Paul's group are now all MirrorWorld arch-wizzes.
The game is easy to enter, and provides guest facilities. The new user is well catered for with on-line help, but the authors seem preoccupied by the expense of telephone calls to the game, and the newcomer is somewhat bombarded with dire warnings of how costly it is to play.
Another of the things with which MirrorWorld is obsessed out of all proportion to its importance is the concept of rolling resets (or 'autosets', as they are called in the game). MirrorWorld was among the first MUAs to incorporate rolling resets, and the authors consider it their invention. The main reason for having rolling resets is to give a seamless scenario which doesn't have its atmosphere ruined by intrusive resets; however, MirrorWorld's alternative is to have a little man in a white coat appear to reset puzzles, which, although a cute idea, doesn't fit in well with the fantasy milieu. The downside of rolling resets is that they're difficult to implement for hard puzzles, and this betrays a hint as to the deeper nature of the game (or rather the lack of it).
From the outset, MirrorWorld was intended to run on a home microcomputer (rather than the mainframe that hosted MUD1), and it partially succeeded: the main computer is a BBC Master 128, but it has a 4mb RAMdisc and custom-built multiplexer added on. This modest CPU perhaps explains the overriding feeling that pervades all of MirrorWorld - its (spasmodically elegant) simplicity.
Everything about MirrorWorld is simple. The parser is so basic that it merely looks at words in the order they come, not even 'parsing' at all in the computational linguistic sense. It has only a dozen or so spells, and they are defined poorly or not at all - "blind", in particular, can only be implemented in an astonishingly inadequate way (teleportation to a special room).
There's a fragment of originality in the way that spells are time-based, so that lower-level players have a longer delay between casting a spell and its taking effect than do higher-level players. Unfortunately, people coming in using fast comms links have a similar advantage... The "nullify" spell is unique to MirrorWorld and its sisters, as it interrupts an opponent's spell if it fires during that spell's delay period. Otherwise, though, MirrorWorld's spells are depressingly ordinary.
The problem that MirrorWorld faces is its implementation. Along with most of the other IOWA games, it is written in a database definition language called 'Slate'. That Slate is sufficiently powerful to be used to define several disparate databases is to its credit, however it is a comparatively feeble language, rooted in old ideas and methods, and resistant to change. For example, when an "act" command was needed, Slate wasn't really up to the job, and the resultant hack makes MirrorWorld the most impoverished major MUA in this area.
Slate is a lot like a bad Basic. Variables cannot be declared arbitrarily - only predefined system ones are usable. Its subroutines have no parameterisation, and there is a confusion between commands, actions, and actions tied to objects (in an object-oriented fashion that would be more convincing if objects were arranged in an inheritance hierarchy). All this makes use of Slate difficult, but not impossible. However, no amount of fancy programming can get round the fact that too much is built into the Slate interpreter, and not enough is in the hands of the database designer. Modern features cannot be added to MirrorWorld without making alterations to the Slate language, and thus to the compiler itself.
These criticisms of Slate aside, it must be said that the language does work very well for simple MUAs, and that there are people willing to pay £3,000 to buy a complete Slate system so as to program their own MUAs in it.
Accepting that MirrorWorld is not really much of an intellectual's MUA, it nonetheless has some nice, novel touches. There is an arena for fights, where people go for mass combat and only one survivor is allowed to leave. There is a gambling module, which is another concept the MirrorWorld team implemented first, and which thus receives more publicity than it really merits. Also, the persona file stores more details about a player's status than is common, so eg. if your persona is crippled and you quit, it'll still be crippled when you return.
On the managerial side, MirrorWorld functions well. There are written and unwritten rules that the players must not transgress, which keeps everyone peaceful but can occasionally stifle originality (today's best wizzes are often yesterday's most misbehaving mortals; guidelines are a better solution than cast-iron rules). MirrorWorld is overseen by Pip Cordrey, who has arch-wiz status on Shades and is thus well qualified for the task. MirrorWorld is regularly updated.
There are 12 levels for normal players, with an unusually large number of points required to make wiz. Indeed, despite its age the game has under 20 wizzes in total. Wizzes can die in the game, which is something that is impossible in other games (and difficult to justify in this one). Some of the feminine forms of levels below wiz appear a little condescending, eg. male = peasant, female = washer-woman; male = potent, female = bewitched.
Although relaxing and pleasant enough to play, MirrorWorld is not a true heavyweight of MUAs. However, it has made an immense contribution to the genre, has an experienced programming and design team behind it, and has pioneered the concept of genuine choice between different MUAs on a single system dedicated to such games. After a rough period in early 1990, when its authors thought that it was better than it was and prematurely charged people to play game (which lead to their rapid abandonment of the system), MirrorWorld has bounced back and is again an entertaining place to spend an evening. Thanks to the tireless efforts of Pip Cordrey in publicising IOWA (and MUAs in general), it is likely to remain so for some considerable time.
"MirrorWorld has that feel to it that just keeps you playing on and on."-- ACE [magazine]
"The feeling you get is that you have visited this place sometime before."-- Confidential [magazine]
"Used treasure is repositioned by an old man who wanders round the game dropping things, which is a little less painful than being thrown off every 45 - 60 minutes!"-- ACE [magazine]
"[Resets] do nothing except drag you out of your fantasy world and plop you right back in the real one."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
"Make sure that your phone bills contain no surprises."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
"Though some players are not quite as friendly as on some games, it really is good."-- ACE [magazine]
"On-line entertainment for the nineties"-- IOWA [promotional material]
"If you have offended against one of the rules, the thing that the wizard or arch-wizard wants to hear is that you recognise that you have broken the rules and will not do it again."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
"[Cordrey] has something that only a handful of other men have: his own world."-- Confidential [magazine]
In every aspect of MUA technology (except its parser, which, although admirably capable of choosing implied objects, does not handle pronouns, adjectives or adverbs), MUD2 excels. Its breadth and depth are unparalleled, its atmosphere compelling, and its management sound.
In terms of detail, MUD2 (or simply MUD to most players) is the only MUA that deals routinely with fluids (miscible or otherwise), heat, all audio-visual effects, smells and consistency. If you drop an object from a height through several vertically-placed rooms into running water, it will consider impact damage, water damage, and will place the object either where it landed or further downstream depending on whether it floats or not - players in intervening rooms will see it pass. This form of world modelling adds a sense of realism to MUD2 which most other games cannot even represent in their definition languages, let alone emulate in practice.
The number of commands, spells and interactions MUD2 supports is also unrivalled. Many of its nuances are found only occasionally by the more enterprising players, and it has a dedicated band of enthusiasts whose main preoccupation is simply exploring the range of command possibilities the game might trap (eg. "play poker" for a poker object meant for stoking a fire, or "stick pin in doll" using a rolling pin rather than a needlework pin).
MUD2's mobiles are the most sophisticated of any MUA. It has a large number of them (over 160), and they are of many different types (some fly, some swim, some regenerate, some can cast spells). They are also multi-functional: for example, there is a sword that can be used for combat as expected, but it also continually makes comments about its wielder, its own prowess, other weapons, fights, and the weather. It will inform its owners when magic has been cast against them, and cure them of ailments (especially if they deafen themselves to avoid its endless chatter!).
Even mundane mobiles are very advanced. They incorporate expert systems that enable them to fight (often better than the players): MUD2's thief knows not only how to steal objects, but how to score points for them (it carries them to a 'swamp' room and drops them there). Most mobiles know which weapons to use, to drop useless objects when attacked, to attempt to steal useful objects from opponents in a fight, when to flee, and when to offer a withdrawal (MUD2, uniquely, has a mechanism that allows combatants to agree to stop fighting without either losing points). Mobiles are also capable of planning to achieve goals, eg. if they can't go west because there's a locked door in the way, they should unlock it with the right key and then proceed (Bartle's PhD concerned Artificial Intelligence planning techniques).
There are 11 levels in MUD2, which fall into two streams (magical/non-magical) and two forms ('protected' and 'non-protected' personae). Only magic-users who are not protected personae can reach wiz. The distinction between fighters and magic-users is unusual, and although it does add something to the game, MUD2 could survive quite adequately without it, treating everyone as if they were magic-users. To switch from fighter to magic-user, there's a special object (a "touchstone") that must be touched, with a high chance of causing death at lower levels. Some players don't like the idea, others look on it as a watershed that thrusts their play into a different gear.
Protected personae are mainly people exploring who don't want to be molested by other players. Conversion back to the normal stream is allowed at any time, at a cost of two-thirds of the persona's score. This ensures that people with no aspirations of reaching wiz can play in relative safety, but that anyone seeking the top rank must run risks.
Another safeguard that ensures unsuitable people don't "sneak" to wiz is a system of 'tasks'. These are eight quests, any seven of which a persona must solve if it is to become a wiz. Some require co-operation with other players, some test knowledge of the game, some test fighting, and some are important puzzles; most are a combination. When players makes wiz in MUD2, it can therefore be guaranteed that they have had a broad education in the game.
Wiz powers in MUD2 are considerable. As well as object, mobile and room creation (by fleshing out "blanks"), wizzes can attach to mobiles and personae (and thus play as several beings at once), there is a full complement of proof commands, and multiple snoops are possible. There are four levels of invisibility, so wizzes and arch-wizzes can choose to whom they are visible. Wizzes have the ability to alter the manner in which players are described, and the messages given when arriving, departing or using magic. As these powers are creative in aspect, they are not granted to mortals (because otherwise the game's atmosphere could be spoiled).
Among MUD2s other features are: a command that draws birds-eye view maps; a safe start location where people can enter the game for a chat and to see who's playing without risking assault; many-on-many fights; a wide range of spells with their effects properly handled (so if you're blinded and walk into a room where dripping water can be heard, you'll be given that part of the room description but not the rest); and delayed-effect actions.
To new players, MUD2 can seem imposing. This is usually because its sophistication, though concealed from newcomers in part, is nonetheless imposingly evident; however, the game's reputation also has an effect. To ease the way, a pair of excellent handbooks are provided that answer many of the questions that enter newcomers' minds (but which reviewers don't always bother to read...). The game itself has special novice-level treasure that other players are discouraged (by its negative value) from picking up, and which is therefore often in play even when a reset is due. Room descriptions are friendly in areas frequented by novices, and get increasingly forbidding the further away one travels; MUD2's prose is generally regarded as the finest of any MUA's. There is a tour facility, that enables prospective players to be shown round various areas of the game with a running commentary (and which takes account for what's currently in the rooms being visited).
Fighting in MUD2 is of the automatic variety, with spells, potions and (breakable) weapons available for use. Death results in persona deletion, irrespective of who started the fight; although this is regarded as unfair by many inexperienced players, those who have played for longer accept that it is the best approach to adopt - in terms of game management, it's essential. MUD2 is managed by its principal author, the most experienced of all MUA managers. At present, MUD2 is top heavy with arch-wizzes, though; this is because several were appointed in preparation for an impending move to Prestel which was (as usual) cancelled by BT.
There is a full classification system in MUD2, which readily accepts commands such as "get food" (to pick up anything that might be edible). Unlike many of the first generation games, it allows multiple objects of the same type, however since its parser is weak on adjectives that leads to objects with names like "key21". This can be rather unatmospheric.
Because of the game's high puzzle-density and large number of objects, it resets every 105 minutes; this is despite its average size (around 800 rooms).
MUD2 is programmed in a special MUA programming language called MUDDLE. This is the key to its success, since it gives complete control to the MUA designer without hardwiring essential functions into its interpreter. Object-oriented in concept, but reading like a hierarchical version of Prolog, MUDDLE's versatility should ensure that MUD2 maintains its lead position in the MUA world for some time yet.
However, it has enjoyed only modest success compared to, say, Shades. This is almost entirely due to its being tied to BT by an agreement that was rendered inappropriate within a year because of reorganisations within that company.
"An adventure on a grand scale."-- ACE [magazine]
"MUD was, and still is, the multi-user game that others are measured by."-- PC Plus [magazine]
"MUD is the first of a new generation of interactive games."-- Daily Mail
"If you want a civilised entry into a game, try MUD, the Multi-User Dungeon."-- MUSE [promotional material]
"The game is very user-friendly."-- Computer and Video Games [magazine]
"Where MUD scores is in the atmosphere of the world you have to explore. It's not as communal as Shades, but ... it can become an obsessive exercise in politics, co-operation and the exercise of power."-- ACE [magazine]
"The atmosphere can be slightly daunting for a first-time player, but as a rule other MUDders are tolerant of newcomers and even helpful if you meet trouble."-- PC Plus [magazine]
"[In atmosphere] MUD is definitely better than Shades."-- Acorn User [magazine]
"I prefer to play [MUAs] in "verbose", even if I don't bother to read it all. It's handy for picking up the feel of the place. I rarely read the whole description unless it's my first visit to the room and I'm not in a hurry to get anywhere. I quite like the "unverbose" mode that MUD has, no other game seems to have that one."-- Wabit [player]
"One of the best things about MUD is the style of the text. The locative descriptions are long, well-written, and vividly evocative."-- PC Plus [magazine]
"Part of MUD's strength is the quality of the descriptions of each location, which are excellent."-- Acorn User [magazine]
"Deaths lurk around every corner."-- Computer and Video Games [magazine]
"Due to various political shenanigans at BT, MUD2 never got to Prestel."-- GM [magazine]
"Shades versus MUD: how about blank objects, levels of invisibility, far greater realism, atmosphere, better room descriptions, greater flexibility with everything..."-- Faramir [player]
"Just because we think MUD is a better game doesn't mean that all of the existing Shades players will drop Shades and come a running to MUD."-- Wabit [player]
"Novices and guests don't like MUD. They can't find any treasure. Shades is more exciting for a beginner."-- Acorn User [magazine]
"I honestly think that MUD's main problem is a lack of players, due to a lack of advertising and a general lack of anyone in charge being that bothered by the lack of players."-- Wabit [player]
"MUD has too many internal problems. The game itself is far superior to anything else on the market, and with a little forward thinking could still be the number one game. Although advertising would have helped, I don't see that as being the culprit ... the problems were actually caused by an internal political power struggle, and as there wasn't anybody strong enough to put people in their place, the struggle gained momentum."-- Wabit [player]
"It's an adventure, sure, but it's far more."-- Computer and Video Games [magazine]
"Some activities are, it must be said, a little unusual, but are in keeping with the alternative comedy theme that pervades the game."-- Atari ST User [magazine]
"MUD is expected to be one of the most popular innovations in home computing."-- The Times
"Despite its outward appearance as just another computerised fantasy, MUD is a great deal more than that, and what it promises is even more intriguing."-- Computing [magazine]
"MUD's success has been little short of phenomenal."-- Atari ST User [magazine]
"MUD has a devoted following (one regular player lives in Japan) among whom some must certainly be counted micro-junkies. One unemployed participant built up a £1,000 phone bill and got zapped by British Telecom."-- Mail on Sunday [magazine]
"If you buy your credits in bulk, it can be satisfyingly cheap to play."-- ACE [magazine]
"One player in Wales clocked up a telephone bill of £3,000 before she was cut off."-- The Economist
"MUD has been described as the greatest adventure in the world."-- Computer and Video Games [magazine]
"MUD leaves other adventures for dead."-- Personal Computer World [magazine]
"You haven't lived until you've died in MUD"-- MUSE [slogan]
Because it is the only MUA accessible at local call telephone rates from anywhere in the country, Shades has enjoyed tremendous success. It has introduced many people to MUAs who might otherwise have been unaware of such games, and for this reason alone it ranks very highly. It has been well marketed, and has good technical support, but it is five years old now and really shows its age. Because of the hard-coded way it is programmed, it is fossilised in 1985. Its infrequent updatings (minor changes every six months, of late) means it continues to shed old players while only attracting a trickle of new ones: its user base has been saturated.
Technically speaking, Shades is actually pre-MUD1 in sophistication. It has insufficient depth to handle even basic concepts like containers. Its mobiles follow a set track, rather than moving with some randomness, and they cannot contain/hold objects either; this means that at times the game works counter-intuitively. For example, there is a "thief" mobile which steals things, however he can't carry his booty so it just automatically appears in his lair. If you see him steal an object, and you kill him before he leaves the room, your treasure is still in his lair.
The game itself is not really all that bad, given its age. There are over a thousand locations now (which is probably too many, since each game can only handle eight players at once), and its database is the usual castles and buried treasure fare. The aim is to collect treasure and drop it in one location (the Mad King's room) for points. There are 14 levels, some of which aren't immediately obvious as being gender equivalent (eg. male = gallant, female = dauntless; male = soothsayer, female = spellbinder). This doesn't appear to bother the players (who call themselves 'Shadists').
Persona attributes are strength, stamina, power and fight skill, which is an unusual combination. All players start with identical statistics, but they can change (stamina goes up to 230: again, uncommon). Only the latter three attributes are used in combat, which plays a central role in the game. Blows in fights are handled automatically, with power being the damage you do, and chance to hit depending on the combatants' respective levels. Fight skill defines the number of blows that occur per round of combat; it can rise and fall depending on the outcome of the fight.
Shades has a problem with fights, after complaints from players lead to a misguided (from a managerial perspective) alteration to the way fights work. If you start a fight and are killed, you lose all your points; if you were attacked and are killed, you only lose half your points. If the winner started the fight, the reward is 6.25% of the loser's score; if the winner was the player attacked, the figure is 25%. This, in a game where fighting is a key element, is something of a surprise. It discourages inter-player fighting, which in turn means that anyone can reach wiz merely by playing for hours on end, whether they are 'suitable' in some sense or not. Once they have reached a high level, they are unlikely to be attacked at all - other high-level players will not attack because the rewards don't match the risks, and low-level players won't because they'd lose the fight (incredibly, Shades doesn't allow fights involving more than two players). There is a "berserk" command which could balance this, as it allows low-level players to flee without losing points (whereupon another can attack), however it is used infrequently because it doesn't work all the time.
As if this isn't bad enough, Shades has another means of ensuring that anyone can be a wiz if they really want to be: 'pacifists'. These are similar to MUD2's protected personae, but have no maximum level and a quicker advancement rate - only half that of non-pacifists. A pacifist can be attacked, but loses no points for fleeing. Pacifists can't start fights. Switching modes between pacifist and fighter zeroes your score.
Shades has many problems as a result of earlier managerial decisions. Although the situation is better now, there are still mistakes (eg. offering 10,000 points for the best map of the game). Despite having a MirrorWorld arch-wiz (Pippin) and a MUD2 arch-wiz (Lordant) on its books, Shades has always been a place where, if you complain loudly enough and with enough people supporting you, you'll get your way in the end. There are horror stories of people deliberately working up secret personae, gathering a coterie of impressionable admirers around them, then doing all they can to wreck the game as a wiz and having their minions leap to their defence every time there's a warning that they're out of line (receiving 50 letters telling you you're wrong is often enough to make even the most hardened arch-wiz think twice). By the time these trouble-makers have been ejected, they've worked up another persona and can start their disruption again. In addition, they probably didn't pay any money for what they did, having simply torn up their Micronet bill and waited to be cut off (you can get around 5 or 6 months' play for free this way).
One of the problems is that the game lacks logging facilities, so gathering evidence is always difficult. Another is that wizzes have feeble powers compared to other MUAs, and can't always keep mortals under control. However, since most mortals seem convinced that wizzes don't play fair, perhaps it's just as well there isn't anything really dangerous they can do.
Shades still has some oddities despite its age: there are mispunctuations ("moats bank" instead of "moat's bank", occasional American spellings ("center"), and room descriptions giving wrong directions. This latter point is extremely irritating, because Shades has no "exits" command (unlike virtually every other MUA) and thus you have to rely on reading the long descriptions of rooms to find out which directions you can move.
Atmosphere is player-driven. The players can be friendly at times, although stroppy at others. The room descriptions are not particularly evocative, and are constantly spoiled by out-of-place objects and events. Using rooms as a form of providing help is a neat idea, but it feels odd compared to the rest of the rooms (especially as there is a standard on-line help feature built-in anyway). Not really obviously (and perhaps politically unwise), the means chosen to give players back lost stamina is to touch a "little girl" mobile.
The spells in Shades are the usual batch, but there is no "blind" and no "deaf" (some room descriptions contain sound references that would still appear audible to a deaf persona). The only original spell is "jaunt", which enables the user to teleport to the location occupied by another player. Most MUAs do not have such a spell, as it can be a most unfair way of stealing treasure that someone else has worked on, and there are problems of consistency that can occur when someone suddenly appears in a room (eg. it's a "falling off a cliff" or a "you can only get here if you're carrying a cross" room). Another point worth mentioning is that the more usual spell, "summon" (move someone to your room, rather than vice versa), is available to novices in Shades, whereas it is restricted to high-level players only in most MUAs. Finally, the incantation "where treasure" will tell you the location of every item of treasure in the game, thus (unfortunately) making novices aware of every major room and object right from the start.
Shades uses the normal fixed-time reset method, albeit using a shorter period than most MUAs (45 minutes - under half that of MUD2) since it gets played out quicker. The more people there are playing, the more treasure is worth (to compensate for its subsequent scarcity), but there is no time-based scaling.
There are two widespread clients for Shades. Named Ripper and Shadist, their principal function is as an aid to fighting in the game, however they can perform simple i/o tasks too.
It is widely acknowledged that Shades is a good game for people new to MUAs. It is easy to get into, there is lots of treasure lying around for novices to find, and there are no difficult problems to solve. The scenario is not threatening, and the players can be jolly, supportive and entertaining. For people who want a game rather than a place to socialise, Shades has its shortcomings, but it is by no means as awful as is often made out. It's a nice, easy, friendly, non-taxing MUA. It might not be the best programmed, the most challenging or the most innovative MUA, but its claims to be the most successful of the first generation MUAs are not made without some considerable justification.
Shades is popular because it's the only MUA with local-call access nationwide. It's a good game in that it's a MUA, but alongside other MUAs it looks very weak. It was in the right place at the right time, has been exploited marvellously, but is now, sadly, well past its sell-by date.
"Shades, already Europe's leading multi-user game, heralds the introduction of a new generation of interactive entertainment."-- Micronet [promotional material]
"There is nothing else like Shades."-- Micronet [promotional material]
"Shades is still fun to play."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"Shades seems to be the most popular MUG around at the moment if you're judging by sheer weight of numbers, though it has something of an advantage in being part of Micronet/Prestel."-- ACE [magazine]
"Pity that there's no real alternative available for people to show their disquiet. If something like Avalon was available at the same call rates, I doubt you'd see most Shades players for dust..."-- Nigel Hardy [Sector 7 author]
"Shades is better at coping with this [resets] than MUD, since there are eight games of Shades running on each Prestel computer."-- Acorn User [magazine]
"She stood close to me, put her arms around my neck and whispered, "It's not the treasure I want, silly boy. Take a look around." I did. I couldn't believe my eyes! We were in the Bridal Suite! There was a bed, the door was locked, and I was being cuddled again."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"I found that type-ahead didn't work properly."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"The location descriptions are atmospheric, and also vital to moving about the game as there is no "exits" command."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"Shades has an emotional immediacy - MUD seems a somewhat austere environment in which grand concepts are brought to grand conclusions."-- PC Plus [magazine]
"Shades has a more light-hearted approach. It is a teddy bear adventure. MUD manages to be rather serious until you meet some practical joker: then the fun starts!"-- Acorn User [magazine]
"Shades is a good place to start for the new player. It's friendly, and fairly easy to get going."-- ACE [magazine]
"First time users find it less daunting than MUD, while serious adventurers may find it less enthralling."-- PC Plus [magazine]
"If you are new to multi-user adventures, go for Shades. ... Once you have mastered Shades, the dizzy heights of MUD wizardhood still beckon."-- Acorn User [magazine]
"Shades is very basic, having no real depth or imagination. What little thought has gone into it has been wasted - who really wants to play football in a fantasy game? The players themselves are usually big whingers. They hate enthusiastic killers just as much as they hate people who talk too much. However, where Shades wins over MUD is how the game is actually managed. Ego seekers seem to be pushed to one side, and everyone seems to know exactly where they stand within the framework."-- Wabit [player]
"Shades (and Trash) is left way behind in the technical fields compared to (say) Avalon or Gods (I'll explain that: Avalon and Gods have much better parsers, much better commands, and much better things for immortals to do once they've made it). They [Shades and Trash] were written when even single-user adventures were in their infancy, and have stood the test of time remarkably well. But now they look just a trifle run down and archaic."-- Graeme [player]
"Shades has a more amateurish feel to it [than MUD2]."-- Acorn User [magazine]
"The game itself is rubbish. It has no life or realism in it. Role-playing is one thing, but that just wasn't believable. As for the players, yes, they have got lots more [than MUD2]. The only problem I found was that they didn't want to talk or interact more than what they had to. Eventually I was kicked off by a wizard for annoying too many people by chatting to them."-- Wabit [player]
"Having all the players start out equal is a design principle. Although it doesn't mean it can be achieved in practice, the mere fact that the goal is unattainable doesn't mean we shouldn't attempt to reduce the distance to it."-- Neil Newell [author]
"My viewpoint is not that fighting is the lifeblood of the game - it is an essential element, but just one facet of the whole picture."-- Neil Newell [author]
"The ultimate adventure multi-user game"-- Micronet [slogan]
Review, Summary and Quotes:
AberMUG runs on a Compaq Deskpro 386/16 under SCO Xenix system V/386 2.3.1.
Indeed, skills are a very important feature of Avalon. The gameplay works something like this: when players start, they are given a history of training in eight listed skills. All told, there are over 30 such skills, covering a wide range from perception to music, defence to riding. Personae may have up to 17 skills each, although why 17 rather than some other figure isn't made clear. Skills can be improved by use, and by learning them from other players. By acquisition and use of skills, players may do things which earn them money or gain them experience.
Experience is obtained by visiting new places, wandering around exploring, and even by simply chatting. This contrasts with the usual MUA scheme where points are obtained for finding treasure or performing specific tasks. In Avalon, treasure may be sold for money - gold pieces - and used to buy things. Almost anything can be bought, including houses, shops, taverns, animals, weapons, food and drink. Personae may use certain skills to create objects, eg. potions, which can be sold to other players for use on their adventures.
It is easy to go up experience levels in Avalon, at least initially, but it has many more levels than usual in MUAs so rising to a new level doesn't mean much - it can happen just by talking to someone for long enough. There is a MUD2-like task system to rise from the third-highest level ("ultimate") to the second-highest ("demi-god") and highest ("god/goddess"). Avalon employs the Gods system for its wizzes, with some modification in that gods/goddesses cannot lose their powers once they have been obtained. Nevertheless, it is still rather galling for many players to have to prostrate themselves in front of other players if they are to advance in Avalon. The gods also earned an early reputation for being heavy-handed and for ignoring new players.
The system of deities (of which their are currently eight) is interwoven with that of skills. There are nine guilds, each of which is devoted to a particular style of play, with primary and secondary associated skills, a persona as head, and (usually) a deity as patron. Deities favour different aspects of play, and players are encouraged to choose one as patron that they may advance in their chosen skills more quickly, via the appropriate guild.
There is some lack of forethought here in that to reach god level, a persona must identify with and follow the tenets of some other god, and thus when they become deified there will be two gods with roughly the same outlook, so one of them must change so as not to be supernumerary. To change requires alteration to Avalon itself, because at the moment it is built around a balanced system of greek-like "god of the ..." constructs. After several years, when perhaps twenty or thirty gods have accumulated, this will lead to an inevitable fragmentation into a collection of over-specialised deities without any having a wide enough brief to be attractive to players.
Game management is woven into the game, with a judicial system in place allowing personae to deal with offenders. Whether this will function remains to be seen - as with Federation II, most complaints will be about out-of-game actions (carrier loss, program bugs) that will spoil the atmosphere if discussed in a game context. Certainly, there have been problems: one of the authors is rumoured to have got into an argument with a player and deleted the entire persona file in a fit of temper.
Avalon is atmospheric, but the room descriptions show inexperience on the part of their authors. The purple prose falls over itself to use every word in the synonym library, and makes the mistake of telling players how they react to the scene. This form of unnecessary embellishment extends into the rest of the game, and can be very tiresome; for example, if you clap your hands it's reported as being done "merrily" even if you did it in anger, or to call for silence. The dialogue for learning new skills, although interesting at first, is samey, hard-wired, and looks too automated. The text also needs some minor polishing, eg. "a unworthy", "the principle currency".
Overall, the scenario feels patchy, with creatures from Tolkien (dwarves, orcs) alongside cities from ancient Greece. There are a large number of locations (1,600) compared to the small number of players it allows at once (5 external lines). Some of this size may be explained by the fact that Avalon incorporates some ideas from Mosaic, and thus has a collection of locations arranged in grid fashion. This may also explain why you need a steed to travel the distance between towns.
The magic (or magik) system is complex. Spells must be memorised, and some require the chanting of appropriate words before they can be cast (using a "chant" command - merely saying them won't work). A very bad move is that when players are killed they don't start from scratch; instead, their spirit roams the land shedding experience until another player reincarnates it. This fosters co-operation and friendship, which is its intent, but it also means personae are effectively unkillable, and that in the long run players are pretty much guaranteed to make it to god if they have enough friends. Having the game itself prevent unsuitable or troublemaking candidates from reaching the top is one of the tenets of good game management.
Avalon has several innovatory features, such as a page-based "read" command and a page/line-based "write", random-access style, and object creation (within a tightly-controlled framework) by mortal personae. When you leave the game, objects can be kept for when you restart (eg. that weapon you commissioned from a smith), and you restart in the room from which you quit. This means some objects can be kept unavailable for long periods if their owner isn't playing. There are no resets. Shouts in Avalon get level-dependent (but not gender-dependent) descriptions, which discourages newcomers from using this method to communicate. Combat is non-automatic, which makes life hard for people without macros or fast modems.
Avalon runs on an Archimedes, connected to modems via a multiplexer programmed by Blane Bramble (Comms Plus! magazine's UK MUA reviewer). The system crashes quite often, and has a reputation for never being up for very long. The game itself uses a language called Hourglass, specially designed for writing MUAs. It is highly flexible, although the authors' claims that "unlike other multi-user game languages it allows the user complete freedom in the nature of the system created" betrays a certain naivety; it may be true of Slate, but it certainly does not apply to MUDDLE or some of the American object-oriented definition languages now emerging.
To the beginner, Avalon is intimidating. This is no fault of the players, more a consequence of the sheer amount of information presented. It is almost as if reading a manual is necessary before play can begin. Instructions on how to use simple commands, such as communication, are buried deep in the help system. There are no automatic tours; newcomers have to rely on a deity to show them around, which, of course, will thenceforth colour their outlook in that god's favour.
Avalon actively promotes role-playing. It feels less of a MUA, more of a single-player role-playing game such as the later ones in the Ultima series. The other players are constrained by their skills, their patronage and the requirement that they role-play, to such an extent that they can appear little more than the mobiles which feature in SUAs. It is a worthy experiment, nonetheless, and if Island of Kesmai can flourish under such limitations, so can Avalon.
"Players may choose to worship the gods in the land, although quite what good this will do depends on who you choose to worship."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"The main thing that is different is the idea of skills, and being able to learn different skills to different levels of competence. This allows for every player to be different and an unknown quantity."-- Wabit [player]
"Implementation [of skills and object creation] is not quite how I would like it to be, but it's a good start and a definite step in the right direction."-- Wabit [player]
"Most of the 'usual' role-playing skills will be implemented (hiding, stealing, archery), as well as some more unusual ones (juggling, tightrope walking)."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"I really object to being told how I view the location. Besides, it's stupid to have a description that states you "pause to survey your surroundings" if you are legging it through the location, or one where an old woman appears and disappears every time you do a look... These little things really bug me!"-- Wabit [player]
"A multi-user game's atmosphere is to a large extent formed by its players, and Avalon wishes to encourage a tolerant and constructive environment."-- Hourglass Communications [promotional material]
"In five hours, no-one hardly said a word to me, despite the fact that I tried on many occasions to chat."-- Jhary [player]
"Avalon is not simply a multi-user game, it is a way of life, a living world unlike anything that has existed before."-- Hourglass Communications [promotional material]
The driving motivation in Bloodstone, which worked in part, was compositionality. Objects were made up of other objects, and these of others, and so on until the author got bored. For example, human beings were made up of 260 parts, including eyes, finger joints and so on, but excluding individual hairs on the head. A rose bush was made up of roots and branches, with thorns and flowers on the branches, the flowers being made up of a stamen and petals. Although always present, such details were not always given, however: "some flowers" or "many petals" would be described. In this respect, the game was able to ensure that players weren't completely swamped with information.
Despite this level of detail, Bloodstone was intended to be set in a continent with 12 separate countries, in which were towns and cities and 37 different races of creatures. All these would work independently, with players being able to have jobs during the day and be family men at night. Female personae could become pregnant and give birth nine months later to a child.
Mobiles were to have artificial intelligence (AI). Because of the way bodies were made up of parts, it was possible to get eg. a broken arm in a fight. A mobile might be able to figure out it needed a splint, and proceed to make one. Getting this alone to work as a general principle would be worth a PhD in AI...
There were initially 20 spells, including "polymorph" - change into a different kind of creature. This, as a side effect, would allow communication with other creatures of that kind (which seems unrealistic).
Everything was interlinked. If bricks were removed from a wall, it might collapse, bringing the rest of the building down. Small-scale actions could have large-scale effects. There are, however, well known problems in the AI field of object representation concerning this kind of activity. Either the programmer has to list explicitly all effects of players' actions (which is difficult and tedious) or the game's interpreter can figure it all out on-the-fly as it happens. This latter approach, where there are a set of physical laws that are applied to everything that has moved after a command has been executed, is workable but vulnerable; there can be long delays as effects are propagated throughout the universe being modelled, and some effects may take considerable time to dampen down and disappear. Pulling a petal off a flower may seem innocuous, but if it makes you weigh just enough that the snow bridge upon which you're standing collapses, and this in turn starts an avalanche, there can be wide-scale devastation that is almost impossible to sort out.
Bloodstone had a 25,000 word dictionary; this was quite a feat, but the authors never made apparent which words were actually functional and which were merely ignored. It is quite difficult to think of even 1,000 words that could feasibly be of use in a MUA. Again, Bloodstone appeared to be going for overkill in an effort to impress potential customers.
Originally, the game was intended to run on transputers, but apparently these slowed it down. It finally ran on a custom-built 80386 machine running at over 6 mips (but rather flakily).
Although there were plans for graphics-based clients on the Atari ST and the Amiga, Bloodstone's normal display was rather poor. It didn't word-wrap, and the text (built up from object descriptions) contained such blunders as "a blood" and "it feels has a firm, warm texture".
Bloodstone was envisaged as a game of life, yet there lay its central problem: it had no gameplay to speak of. It was a simulation to incredible depth, but there wasn't really much that players could do, it was too open-ended. Even given the extravagant claims its publicists made, it probably could have been forgiven all but that.
Bloodstone was a grand concept, but doomed to failure. Its reliance on compositionality ensured that it would be stuck in a morass of intricate inter-relations between its components unless it sacrificed some of its depth (and thus some of its claim to originality). Some application of AI techniques may have alleviated the problem (eg. lazy evaluation - expand a rose object from a template only when it is actually in use), but the best approach would probably have been to represent objects at a higher level of abstraction. In the end, depth is useless unless there's a reason for it. Bloodstone's depth didn't pass this "so what?" test.
Bloodstone has been included in this review because although it is currently down, it is not out, and it may return in the near future. Hopefully, this time it will make less boastful claims, and advertise only what it does do rather than what it could do given a team of thirty programmers and a Cray 2 for four years. It's a very nice idea, but the programmers set their sights too high initially.
"I see that Bloodstone has gone down the pan. And just as MicroLink were about to 'start serious promotion'. Pity they didn't do that when it started, or they may have been able to get more than 4 users on and brought in enough dosh to keep the thing alive."-- Nigel Hardy [Sector 7 author]
"The game is revolutionary in that it is massive and has huge expansion potential."-- Popular Computing Weekly [magazine]
"If you pull a wing off a fly, that creature will be missing a wing forever and will probably die."-- Popular Computing Weekly [magazine]
"Mobiles are equipped with artificial intelligence and will probably strap a broken arm into a sling."-- Popular Computing Weekly [magazine]
"It looks set to take the lead in the multi-player game market."-- Popular Computing Weekly [magazine]
"Reports from UK-wide testers were proving enthusiastic."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"It combines all the necessary detail and commands to be able to walk all over the opposition and should be sufficient to convert players of Shades and MUD."-- Popular Computing Weekly [magazine]
"One of the early gripes [with MicroLink] has been about the late arrival of its multi-user games."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"It puts everything else into the shade."-- Derek Meakin [MicroLink chairman]
"We feel we have a powerful enough parser for anyone."-- Robert Muir [author]
Trading gets players money, which they can spend on objects. Houses can be commissioned, and are built over a period of time, so it's possible to go and watch the construction engineers at their task. Like all IOWA games, Empyrion has no sudden resets.
There is no conventional scoring system in Empyrion. Rather, it is skills-based: players progress by acquiring and practising survival skills such as gun combat, medicine, bribery and street-wiseliness. What they progress to is not apparent; there are a collection of energy beings called "eternals" with gamesmaster status, but how exactly one becomes an eternal - if indeed it is even possible - is not clear.
Eternals are capable of shape-changing, and are worshipped as gods in the city. They are able to create and alter rooms, objects, system messages and puzzles on-line; little is built into the interpreter. In this sense, the game is player-extensible, but only by selected players.
The city has a legal system run by the hage administrators and a group called "the sandmen" (as in the movie Logan's Run). For breakers of city law they can impose fines, brainwash out skills, or order executions. This is part of playing Empyrion, and is not to be confused with game management - that's handled externally.
As with Avalon, and increasingly in new MUAs, some objects can be reserved for individual players and left in a safe place so that the next time that player plays, the object is available. Despite its SF setting, Empyrion does have a magic system, "the force" (as in the film Star Wars). Players expend psi points using it and have to spend time "recharging" afterwards. Because of its large scale, vehicles are commonplace in Empyrion to enable players to move between places that distant from one another.
Empyrion runs on two machines, one for the game itself and one for mobiles. The mobiles are therefore more akin to bots. They are written in Prolog, and are supposedly able to learn.
"It certainly sounds good."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"In Empyrion, practically everything is editable on-line by the gamesmasters."-- Confidential [magazine]
"Empyrion is a fascinating new game that should have Sci-Fi buffs sitting on the edge of their chairs."-- Confidential [magazine]
Unlike MUD1's original database, MIST uses the berserker option. This makes for a fight-oriented game. Management is easy, however - whichever student is in charge any particular year usually assumes draconian powers, and it's not unprecedented to delete the entire persona file (which would not be an option in a commercial game).
MIST is dated by its MUD1 interpreter and the weakness of the MUDDL language. However, the age of the hardware upon which it runs is its final executioner - Essex's DECsystem-10 will be switched off and melted down for scrap sometime within the next few weeks.
"MIST doesn't have any rules as such, it's a pretty anarchistic place as games of this type go."-- Michael Lawrie [author]
"Rules for general behaviour are laid down by the wizards and you would be well advised to follow them."-- Michael Lawrie [author]
MUAs represent rooms as a network of nodes connected bidirectionally. The central theme of Mosaic is that a better approach would be to use a point-based co-ordinate system instead. What normal MUAs regard as a "room" in Mosaic would be nothing more than a collection of points that share a common name.
The primary advantages of a Mosaic system over normal MUAs are: room descriptions can be generated automatically; interaction over distance is possible; it is more realistic.
That viable room descriptions can be generated on-the-fly is not in doubt. Work at Essex University established that "bookkeeping" information (number of exits, large nearby buildings, views from windows) can be folded into a piece of atmospheric text to produce readable complete descriptions. However, this work was in a normal MUA environment, not in a point-based one. A prototype of Mosaic ran into problems in that too much information was provided to the players, with many objects visible some considerable distance away. The solution it adopted was twofold: to provide a command whereby players could restrict how far into the distance their "look" command proceeded; to prioritise objects so that things like advancing dragons would be included in a description and distant mud huts excluded. There was no command to set priorities for each user, however, nor was there one to select the cut-off point of priority totals above which no further information was given.
In Mosaic, the world is divided into 1m cubes. Each cube has a surface type, eg. grassy plain, which determines how it is described. Objects can be seen at any distance, but can be occluded: line-of-sight calculations and adjustments for atmospheric conditions are done automatically. Descriptions are player-relative, so players can not see what is immediately behind them (there are objections to this aspect of "realism" - just because a player is generally facing west, that shouldn't mean they can't keep glancing around and picking up high-priority objects approaching from the east).
A big play is made of Mosaic's ability to reduce the amount of text necessary for a MUA, however in some ways it increases it. Objects (which are not made up of 1m cubes) need different descriptions depending on how far away they are and the direction from which they're viewed; what looks like a house from a distance may look like a pole from the side and look like a billboard close up. Objects can also have different descriptions depending on the time of day, whether they're inside or outside, and the lighting. So although Mosaic requires less text for describing rooms, it needs more for objects. Interestingly, there is no provision for describing objects on-the-fly based on whatever properties they have.
Physical features in the game, eg. hills, can either be constructed from unit blocks or calculated at run-time from (fractal?) planar functions. Distant objects can be modelled by placing appropriate surfaces at the edge of the game world, eg. the sun, clouds, and mountains.
Movement can be fine-tuned, so that a normal "north" command may move a player 5m north, or 4m through marshland; a "run north" may be 10m and 8m respectively, whereas "north very slowly" could be 1m in both cases. There is great scope for combat in this system, since combatants can move around as they fight, terrain advantage can be taken into account, and weapon length can play a part - someone standing behind a bar holding a polearm would be unassailable from even the most magic of swords. There would be no need to flee - players would simply move away and hope their injuries weren't so great that they could be caught again.
Cordrey's articles on the subject include some suggestions for player properties. Although some of these are perhaps conceivably of use (height, weight, build, weapon skills), others are rather eccentric (body temperature, blood pressure, blood sugar level, endocrinic activity) and would simply get in the way of playing the game. There are also suggestions for more accurate physical modelling, such as handling gravity automatically, however at best this would be a case of moving objects down until their z co-ordinate matched that of a surface; questions of objects being overbalanced or knocked over by having a new mass land on them are unlikely to be addressed because these are currently research issues in AI robotics.
Mosaic, like MirrorWorld, is a one-concept system - everything revolves around this 1m cube idea. In reality, though, it's less flexible than the system employed by normal MUAs, since their nodes can be strung together in arbitrary ways including a co-ordinate system, whereas Mosaic is held rigidly to uniformally-sized blocks. Perhaps a better approach would be to overlay the rooms in a normal MUA with a co-ordinate grid, thus gaining the best of both worlds (Avalon, which has a Mosaic segment, may do this; a single-user version of MUD1 released around 1987 certainly did).
Implementation of these ideas can need a good deal of computer power. Line-of-sight calculations are required every time an object is moved, so its new position may be reported to all players, and this can be very cpu-intensive. The first implementation recalculated the entire database every time an object was moved, to check for consistency, but this approach had to be abandoned because it proved far too slow.
All in all, Mosaic is a neat idea but it's too restrictive and too slow for MUA programmers' liking. However, in one respect it would be fantastically successful - graphics. The co-ordinate system it envisages is precisely what is required in a graphical MUA, and many of the problems that arise from textual descriptions (eg. information overload) would disappear if the information was represented visually. However, Cordrey is vehemently anti-graphics, so no work has yet been done in this area.
"You never know, we may change the face of tomorrow's adventuring."-- Pip Cordrey [author]
"Not only should this form of system make games more realistic, but it also means that games (especially combat) should become more tactical."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"The real advantage is that it is no longer necessary to sit scratching ones head dreaming up room descriptions, the system will do it for you. What is more, these descriptions will be accurate."-- Pip Cordrey [author]
"Mosaic really is a progression from the early free style, free space tabletop game."-- Pip Cordrey [author]
"In current MUGs, if two players both decide to get the same object, the one who enters the command first gets it. With Mosaic, the system can determine the distance to the object (and possibly how quickly the player can cover the distance), and delay the action accordingly.-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
Experience points are gained by solving puzzles, or by finding objects and selling them to a trader (ie. back to the game). Experience points can, unusually for MUAs, be spent, either in the anachronistic casino (playing a card game based on baccarat) or on spells. Later, experience points may also be exchanged for goods in shops, eg. food. The ability to swap experience for spells, though, gives a more interesting trade-off: players who do it will not go up levels as quickly (because they spend some of their experience points), however they may survive longer in the long term.
The magic system is not fully implemented, but the spells Prodigy has at the moment are mainly combat-oriented, with no "blind" or "deafen" spells (a hang-over from the original Slate implementation). However, it does have its own unique spell, "charm", which stops its victim (usually the person who cast it) from being attacked by mobiles for six seconds.
When finished, Prodigy will have 160 extra locations, more puzzles, and more objects; Bramble has delegated editorial control to one of the players. The database definition language it employs is under wraps, but although it is better than Slate it clearly has its problems, in particular its running speed. As is normal with a new implementation, Prodigy is shaky at the moment and prone to bugs and crashes. Its spelling and punctuation are in need of being proof-read.
Fights are novel in that players can use two weapons at once, but they are ultimately fruitless activities because the worse that can happen if you lose is a loss of 25% of your points. This makes attacking powerful players unattractive - if you plan an ambush and beat them, they're still pretty well as powerful and can thrash you on their own terms as often as they like at a later date. That said, fights are complicated by weapons having different properties: attack, defence, parry, speed and damage. They also have an aura (ie. alignment), which if different to the player's own will cause a degradation in performance. It is therefore essential in Prodigy to choose the weapon that best fits your needs - more realistic than most MUAs.
Prodigy has parser capable of accepting adjectives on the object (eg. "get tabby cat"), and it has a pronoun ("me"). It will auto-abbreviate names, which are unique to the shortest unique string possible (Avalon does a similar thing to four letters), so "Geolin" can be shortened to perhaps "Geo".
Uncommonly among non-academic MUAs, Prodigy has its own in-built mail/notes system as part of its command set. Almost invariably in other MUAs, this function is carried out by an external program, being an activity not conducive to maintaining atmosphere. Nevertheless, it does appear handy, and may find its way into other MUAs after a while.
"Parody is a fascinating game to play."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
"The quickest way to get to Mage is to ignore spells completely, IF you can survive without them!"-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
"The story line is a strong one, and the senior players are attentive and available."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
"'Oh good,' I hear you say. 'Maybe we'll see some serious additions to the game with someone else writing.' But no - having seen one of her puzzles it seems the game will continue in a similar vein to its currently confused setting."-- Blane Bramble [author]
"Memory is fairly limited on the current machine, and if the memory limit is reached the game will probably flame-out (crash and burn)."-- Blane Bramble [author]
"If you are keen on fantasy and AD&D then you should investigate this game."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
The gameplay is clearly an attempt to rationalise the idea of rolling resets. Instead of a man in a white coat, Quest is run by a computer-generated wizard called Taliesin. He creates and recreates the world, recycling treasure by placing it back in play. Points are scored by dropping objects down a bottomless pit, or, for higher-level players, giving them to Taliesin's apprentice. This mobile is supposed to be a comic figure, and will either pass the treasure on to Taliesin for reprocessing, drop it, or give it back to the player.
Quest claims to be the first MUA with gambling, since it has a system where players can bet points on the results of gladiatorial combat in an amphitheatre (although they can't themselves participate). When players do fight, whoever is defeated will lose half their points if they were attacked, or all their points if they started it.
As with most MUAs, players can die silly deaths in Quest, eg. by falling from a great height. The standard practice in this event is to quit the player from the game and to fine them a small percentage of their points (possibly 0%). Quest makes them lose the number of points since they last did an explicit "save" command, since it has no automatic saving of score. This can irritate players, who object to having to type "save" every so often while they are exploring.
Players in Quest can pick up objects, mobiles and each other. This latter feature is generally regarded as inadvisable in MUAs except when undertaken by wizzes, since it effectively renders a player captive and immobile. Nevertheless, in Quest it is thought to be a pretty nifty trick.
It is possible to send messages from Quest to players in MirrorWorld. However, given the overall shoddiness of Quest, prospective players will probably be in MirrorWorld anyway...
"There are some nice touches to the game."-- ACE [magazine]
"Along similar lines to MirrorWorld, the game has managed to introduce ideas of its own, and so has avoided the problem of being thought a MirrorWorld clone."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"It certainly is a step onward from the original game he [Harling] wrote, including some very imaginative features."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
"The thing that is most unique is that it has a strong storyline that makes the whole universe plausible."-- Confidential [magazine]
The game has a reputation for good, atmospheric descriptions, a usable MUD2-style hierarchy of object classes, and a superbly detailed combat system. Unfortunately, there is no guest account and you need to be a subscriber to CompuNet to play it.
Realm runs on a 1mb Atari ST.
"For my money, one of the best multi-user games."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"Realm is just the sort of game I'd hoped to see on CompuNet one day. A true, traditional MUG in the style of MUD and Shades."-- Alan Wright [player]
"I liked it because it is very fair to slow, stupid beginners like myself."-- Alan Wright [player]
"A world where magic works and heroes are as common as the monsters they slay."-- Martin Hardcastle [author]
The objective is to collect trash (as opposed to treasure) and dump it in an atomic furnace. For this, the players receive credits which can be spent on restoring stamina, buying things, or on psionic powers. Psionic powers are intended to be an encouragement to role-players, so ones playing evil personae might concentrate on increasing their telekinesis or pyrokinesis psionics, whereas good personae might focus on a power like faith healing.
Although this may appear to be a standard MUA with just the names changed (psionics=magic, trash=treasure, atomic furnace=swamp), there is actually a fairly interesting structure lying beneath it. Players go up levels not by accumulating credits, but by increasing their "promotional prospects". By solving puzzles in the game, a player's promotional prospects are raised a few percentage points. When the total reaches 100%, the player goes up an experience level - there are 12 in all, the top being 'Lord/Lady'. Although credits can be used to increase your chances of survival, they aren't intrinsic to rising levels.
Because of this puzzle-centred outlook, and the fact that higher-level players get no reward for solving easy puzzles, Trash should attract the more serious players who like ordinary SUAs, rather than just pure MUA addicts. However, its self-conscious humour tends to drive such people away. Nevertheless, Trash does have a larger number of puzzles than is common in MUAs, and ensures that players need to have solved virtually all of them before they reach the top level.
The game does have some background information to justify why players are performing their trash-seeking tasks, concerning endotropic levels of small dimensions within the multiverse. These "small dimensions" are actually pocket MUAs in the overall Trash scenario, and have a theme running through them. Some are generic, eg. "Heavy Citadel of Metal" and "the Pyramid of Tutan", but others poke fun at specific targets: "Shades of a land" spoofs Shades; "Cabbages and Caves" does AD&D; "Off-Centre Earth" is Lord of the Rings and "Starship Wantarise" is Star Trek. So why hasn't Trash been as successful as expected? Part of the reason is its gameplay - not everyone is an adventure fan, and if there's no alternative to problem-solving then they won't play. However, the main reason is its setting - the forced atmosphere of crazy (ie. unfunny) humour grates after a few minutes, and the strange logic of the game is too much of a departure from reality for many players to consider fair. It may seem a good joke for players to get a spaceship from a spaceship tree, but it's not really the first thing you'd look for if you wanted to undertake interstellar travel.
Trash runs an an IBM AT.
"With a name like that, no-one can prosecute it under the Trades Descriptions Act."-- [Traditional]
"The whole game is puzzle oriented, and takes one step closer to being an adventure game for multiple players. Here, the distinction between a MUG and a MUA becomes more pronounced."-- Ace [magazine]
"The puzzles range from easy to incredibly annoyingly difficult."-- Confidential [magazine]
"Trash is one of the strangest multi-user games around, combining fire-breathing cabbages and inflatable hovercars with Matthew 'Ambushbug' War's own inimitable style and humour."-- Third Millenium Systems [promotional material]
"Where else could you grow your own spaceship, meet fire-breathing cabbages, teach machinery to hum in tune, cause pink blancmange to rain from the sky, clamber through a giant statue and drive around in an inflatable hovercar - while clearing up rubbish!?"-- Third Millenium Systems [promotional material]
"Couple the puzzles with large doses of humour and you get a game that's both satisfying and highly enjoyable."-- ACE [magazine]
"Anything and everything may happen in the game, and though there is always a certain logic in the background it may not be easy to find."-- Confidential [magazine]
"Trash has been MUGICK's first big challenge, and I'm very pleased with the results. Matt has really made MUGICK do some very strange things indeed!"-- Neil Newell MUGICK [author]
Everything in Void is there as an aid to role-playing. It is not really a game, since there is no real goal; instead, it is a framework to promote imaginative interaction between players. There is, for example, no combat, and thus the speed at which players progress through its twelve levels is dependent directly on the amount of time they invest in accumulating points. Alignment is explicit, either good or evil, and is not monitored by the game (Avalon, on the other hand, determines alignment by what players do, not by what they say they'll do).
The emphasis on role-play is a pity in one way, because Void actually has quite a good game system underlying it. Players' stamina decreases with time, and is replenished by food and drink. Magical power, on the other hand, increases over time and is reduced by the use of spells. Spells for each player are kept in that player's personal spellbook, and even at the highest level (arch angel or demon lady/lord, depending on alignment) not all spells are available. Thus, other players are unknowns - a rather attractive and realistic idea. One-off spells can be obtained by reading appropriate scrolls.
Points are of two types, magical and social. The former correspond with points in other MUAs, the latter are just things that players get a few of each week to give to their friends - there is no gameplay reason for having them. Magical points are obtained in Gods-like fashion by offering them to the ruler (ie. creator - usually an ex-Zone player) of the world you're in at the time, at some appropriate location.
Void has more depth than you'd expect - it can handle smells, for example - but it is selective in that interaction between players is handled in a far more detailed fashion than the rest of the game. It has, for example, a modern switch facility, so that a string containing, say, "/Fred" will expand to "Fred" for everyone except Fred, in which case it expands to "you". This can be used to good effect in emotion commands, eg. "Growl at /Fred".
The reason for this degree of attention to inter-persona messaging is because it is Void's raison d'être - the whole point of playing is to role-play in imaginative ways with other players. Some of it is sexual, but on the whole it is good-natured and fun, rather than the sometimes sordid behaviour which goes on in Zone. A side effect is that some desirable commands usually left out of MUAs are present in Void for effect - "dress" and "undress" are there, which means "wear" is also present and is distinct from "get". Cash is part of the game, and can be spent on various services, such as the "ogram" (sending a message to another player by means of a transient messenger, eg. a kissogram). Perhaps surprisingly, perhaps not, Void has a larger proportion of female players than most MUAs.
There is some humour written explicitly into the game, which can be intrusive. Players can create their own prefixes, although there's no problem with that because virtually anything they choose can be fitted into the scenario, and even misspellings only add to the general feeling of fun.
Player names can be abbreviated to minimum uniqueness, although there are problems when this conflicts with command names, and when other players enter whose entire name is someone else's minimum. Void's players form a small, tight-knit yet gregarious community, however, and if people do mess it around they can usually be persuaded in friendly fashion to be a little more thoughtful. Whether that would be possible with a larger user base seems unlikely, though.
There is a bulletin-board in Void that can be accessed from within the game. Normally, this would be too dangerous for players to use - while they're in the BB, their persona could be being attacked. However, since Void has no fights, it's safe to have one there.
Void has an unfriendly rivalry with Avalon, which it sees as poaching its players - the game was deserted for a time when Avalon came out, and is only now recovering due to Avalon's fragility. Some of Avalon's programmers and gods are regarded as particularly arrogant by Void stalwarts.
Void is hard-coded in Pascal, with text and object/room definitions written externally in a simple database definition language. It has just four external lines, and runs on two IBM ATs.
"The availability of different realms is an interesting alternative to offering several different games."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"There are quite a few touches of humour in the game."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"I like it! Wonderfully inventive and atmospheric."-- Lizandith [player]
"The main idea of the game is enjoyment, and how you achieve this (as long as it doesn't stop someone else enjoying themselves) is up to you."-- Void [promotional material]
"I try to take a back seat and let players get on with role-playing. The best way is for me to play as well. I think all this "I'm the coder" rubbish puts people off."-- Clive Lindus [author]
"This game is truly run for the players: no charge to play, and relying on players' ideas to improve it. Before you worry about Avalon, spare a thought for Void - I think it deserves its fair quota of players as well."-- Clive Lindus [author]
In Zone's case, at least originally, it was intended to be controversial only in that it was thought-provoking; more cynical approaches to generate publicity by explicit lewdness had been suggested, however - most notoriously CompuNet's now-abandoned After Midnight project. Zone has given way to pressure to a minor extent in that it now asks players to state their age, and won't let them play if they say they're under 18; however, it has no way of verifying that people are telling the truth, and there have been suggestions that the question could really be intended as more of a gimmick to entice new players than as a demonstration of Lap of the Gods' responsibility.
The game itself (and it is a game) is set in an old mansion, its grounds, and a temple (dedicated to Sappho, a Greek poetess whose behaviour gave rise to the word "lesbian"). Compared to other MUAs, Zone has a small database and few items of treasure. Points can be scored by taking objects to the temple altar and offering them to Sappho, but the main way for players to increase their score is to do just that - score with the other players.
Zone has a command "make love to ... ". Players have to get into the right mood first by use of "cuddle" and "kiss" type commands, and the process can be speeded up by consuming alcohol. Points are awarded depending on location, participants, deflowering virgins, and who issued the "make love" command. If a persona is being made love to and doesn't want to be (ie. is being raped), there is a "stop" command - but it costs points to use.
Lovemaking uses up stamina, which can be recovered by consuming food and drink. Alcohol intake can have advantageous effects, but too much will cause disorientation, and, beyond that, death. MUD2 has a more complete treatment of alcoholic beverages (and, since it deals with liquids properly, allows drinks to be diluted), but there is no advantage gained by drinking in that game. In Zone, it's practically mandatory.
There are twelve levels, the top being master/mistress. There are arch-wizzes for game management purposes, although since mortals can do pretty well everything except swear in Zone their position isn't very taxing. A nice touch is that the game leaves its own messages of congratulations on the Zone bulletin-board when someone reaches master or mistress. Although there is no combat in Zone, players can lose points by seducing or being seduced by a player of a much lower level. From a gameplay viewpoint, then, lovemaking is Zone's equivalent of combat.
Although Zone is a MUA in the traditional sense, these aspects of it have been neglected in favour of its role-playing side. New objects are added occasionally, but as props rather than as tools or treasure. For example, kittens are a recent addition to Zone, but there's no way to score points from them. Other objects have shared a similar fate. This is a shame, because, like Void, Zone has some nice touches. Its parser is capable of distinguishing between "drink cocktail" (meaning all objects present of class cocktail) and "drink a cocktail" (meaning just one cocktail). Furthermore, it doesn't execute all the bindings at once: there's a time delay. Thus, if you "drop all" and then move after two objects have been dropped, the remainder of the "drop all" will be abandoned.
Although shallow in areas of gameplay, Zone provides many facility which can promote role-playing by the players. As well as "dance with ... ", "dress", "undress" and "hold hands with ... " commands, Zone has the latest switch feature in its strings (as in Void, but with possessives handled too). Magic is also like Void's, with spells costing magical power, and magical power replenishing with time. It has two first-level spells, "where" and "summon"; "summon" doesn't work on mobiles as they follow set paths when they move, and would therefore become lost if derailed.
Atmosphere is therefore all there is in Zone. The players, and the way they choose to interact, are the only reason for playing it - as a game, it's very thin. However, that makes it very vulnerable: 1990 has seen many of Zone's customers departing for Void. They can't be lured back, because this kind of sexual role-playing is virtually database-independent, and Void has a major advantage over Zone in that it's free. The only way that Zone can survive in the long term is by having more publicity than Void (eg. switching to the Playboy bulletin-board), or by dropping its charges.
Zone is written in SuperBasic and runs on a Thor (a Sinclair QL clone with 3«" discs).
"In Zone, the idea is to make love, not war."-- Lap of the Gods [promotional material]
"It is friendly in the Zone - make no mistake about it. The nature of the game dictates that all players interact to a great degree after all!"-- Ace [magazine]
"I talked to a teenage girl who said that she had never been pressurised into participating in anything in Zone."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"Fi [a female Federation II player] wasn't very impressed with Zone's being oriented around sex, rather than its being a side-line as it is in some other games. We wondered if perhaps young people came away from Zone with inappropriate ideas about relationships?"-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"In the first 6 hours of being on-line, the game had a player logged in for 5.75 hours. ... Over the next month, the players proved that even a game with 65 rooms and a trivial amount of treasure could be popular."-- Chris Butterworth [author]
"Since some people are a little touchy about the subject of making love, you must be 18 or over to play this (and not touchy)."-- Lap of the Gods [promotional material]
"(Almost) in the words of one famous MUG - 'You haven't lived until you've screwed in Zone'!"-- Jhary [player]
"[It is an offence to send] by means of a public telecommunications system a message, or other matter, that is grossly offensive or of an indecent, obscene or menacing character."-- [Section 43.1(a), Telecom Act 1984]
"British Telecom is concerned about the use to which a network is put but it is not the guardian of the nation's morals."-- BT spokesman [quoted in Popular Computing Weekly magazine]
"The whole process is a product of the state of arousal of the players, how drunk they are, and the state of their undress."-- Ace [magazine]
"We are certainly going to go down this [on-line pornography] route when we have cleared some of the other things off the lines. At the moment, the government is just washing its hands of this sort of thing."-- Terry Lewis [MP for Worsley]
"The game is ADULTS ONLY, as it involves large amounts of drinking and sex - which can make for quite funny games. A bit weird to get used to..."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"It is NOT a dating agency, and anyone using it as such faces ... legal action."-- Lap of the Gods [promotional material]
"On-line porn is freely available to youngsters."-- Headline in Popular Computing Weekly [magazine]
Name: Chaos World of Wizards
Chaos is in its early stages at the moment, and is therefore fragile and incomplete; however, even when it is finished it is likely to be very shallow and not especially broad. A manual for its design language is promised, but at present the only information available is the rather limited help coded into the MUA itself. This shows that rooms and objects have two buffers, for long and short descriptions. One buffer is selected, and text is appended to it a line at a time. A "clear" command will empty a buffer, but there are no other editing commands. When both buffers are full, the player can either "makerm" or "makeobj". Judging by the small number of commands listed, it seems that the on-line definition language works by currying object types into the commands, eg. "killrm" works on rooms but not objects. This implies that the system makes a fundamental distinction between rooms and objects, and thus is both inflexible and limited in the long run.
Given that this is the central feature of Chaos, it is surprisingly weak. The only property of an object that can be set is its value, and therefore the only use objects can have at present is as treasure. There are no instructions on how to link rooms together, but there is a "rmexit" command mentioned which may do it. All these features, and many more, are present in MUD2; the two ways that Chaos differs are that objects are created permanently, and that anyone can create them, even novices.
Because the game is in its infancy, much of the hype surrounding it is of the "eventually, you'll be able to..." kind. Some of these claims are reasonable, but others show a deep misunderstanding of how people play MUAs. Chaos is envisaged as combining the object-creation part of a MUA with the actual playing of the game. Thus, players can fight one another conventionally, but will have to create any weapons themselves. They can create spells to use against one another, and design counter-spells for defence. Unfortunately, all this is idealistic nonsense: either the spells or weapons will all be of maximum devastation, or there will be a limited number of predefined types which players can combine in strictly determined ways. The suggestion that players will willingly create low-damage weapons so that they can role-play with them better is ludicrous - some players may do that, but it only takes one not to and the whole game is compromised.
Cordrey sees the game as evolving, unlike TinyMUD, by introducing a form of meta-combat where players can destroy or take control of one another's creations. This seems a suitably grand thing to do, but it reduces the MUA to a simple strategy game in a godlike setting. It also makes the game very difficult for newcomers who wish to build their own rooms yet are powerless against the might of long-standing players. People will also find it difficult to play the game like a normal MUA if such large-scale events are happening all the time, especially if they can't take part in them at that level.
There is no requirement that Chaos rooms are all from the same milieu, so SF worlds can coexist with fantasy ones. This is attractive, but not when objects from those worlds cross over - a SF weapon against a roman shortsword would be no contest, for example. Some of the other suggestions, eg. that players should create room complexes and then play in them normally, are also naïve - the urge to cheat is too strong. Besides, if people wanted to do that then they'd be better served by a SUA-design program, of which many are on the market.
Finally, Chaos is promised a means by which players will be able to create mobiles, program them, and give them their own personalities. Like spell-creation, this involves writing program code, and that involves either highly advanced exception-handling or completely infallible programmers. Unfortunately, neither solution is likely to be available.
Chaos World of Wizards runs on a Sun workstation.
"As well as a peaceful distraction from the mayhem of playing a 'real' MUG, Chaos should be an interesting long-term project as the game unfolds in the way the players themselves wish."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"One of the problems with MUPEGs is that they become disjointed and dog-eared if not adequately controlled. Some of the games now have a committee which authorises players to link their particular development area with the body of the game."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
"If this [acquiring other players' creations] is well implemented it could make Chaos extremely interesting as alliances shift and diplomacy replaces treasure-hunting."-- Comms Plus! [magazine]
"Since I first introduced the idea and later wrote about it in Confidential, a number of traditional MUGs have adopted some of the ideas and are introducing MUPEG-like features."-- Pip Cordrey [owner]
Rock was lost for several years, but was discovered on some ancient back-up tapes and reconstructed.
For further details on MUDDL, see the review of MIST.
"Rock is based on ITV's Fraggle Rock, and is generally regarded to be impossibly deadly!"-- Micro Adventurer [magazine]
"Even at Essex University, different types of MUD have sprung into existence, with Rock being the first 'unofficial' MUD."-- An Introduction to MUD [book]
Name: Sector 7
The main purpose of writing the game was to learn how it could be done. Hardy had no wiz experience in any games, and used Shades as a model. Nevertheless, Sector 7 has some features beyond Shades' capabilities, including on-line editing of objects and rooms.
Sector 7 is written in GFA Basic and runs on a 1mb Atari ST with a 40mb hard disc, multiplexed by an IBM PC.
"It was originally written as an exercise for myself, to see if I could do it; the feedback at Adventure 89 where I demoed it was enough to keep me working on getting it going."-- Nigel Hardy [author]
"It can be used as a simple introduction to MUGs which won't cost much."-- Nigel Hardy [author]
The MUAs presented in this subsection exist, but little is known about them - a flier, a message on a bulletin-board, a magazine article. They are included here in case they reappear in the near future. None were available for playtesting at the time of this report's writing.
Only those parts of the review header which can be filled in are given. All are of the third rank in importance.
AMP pioneered the use of shape as a property of objects to determine whether they fit inside containers.
Name: Daemon Adventure
Great play is made of the fact that the game has many mobiles, and that these are programmed to perform tasks. Some are friendly, others are not, and they may even fight one another. None of this is new to second-generation MUAs, so it hints at Daemon Adventure's having been written by a player of Shades, MirrorWorld or similar.
There are no resets in the game, and the persona file keeps location and inventory details; although standard practice in SUAs, this rarely works in a MUA, as it removes objects from play and thus renders some puzzles unsolvable. How areas are reclaimed once played out is not explained.
Daemon Adventure boasts a fast response time and "the latest in multi-user software techniques", allowing it to support 50 players at once.
"The multi-user, multi-world, multi-game environment."-- QuestRole [promotional material]
Name: Future Life
"Future Life is a game written by Slime, which nobody (least of all Slime) knows much about yet."-- Lap of the Gods [promotional material]
The eventual goal of players is to find out what happened to the missing mage. This is uncharacteristic of MUAs - it would seem that once one person has learned the secret, the game should be effectively over for everyone. Even if it involves elevation to a higher plane (ie. a wiz level), keeping the secret will inevitably prove impossible.
Mage is written in C and runs on an unmodified AT clone.
"The very best may undertake the greatest challenge - to discover exactly what has happened to the missing mage."-- Mage [promotional material]
"Although still in its infancy, the game will add another dimension to the growing world of Pip Cordrey."-- Confidential [magazine]
"Since the station is in a constant state of breakdown, it is no surprise when the same equipment repeatedly malfunctions, and the story holds together very well."-- Pip Cordrey [author]
Mobiles are intended to have AI capabilities, but Alderton is rather offhand about this, and appears to labour under the misapprehension that a command along the lines of "ask <mobile> about <object>" is enough to ensure success in that area.
Full sensory abilities are hoped-for in Strata, including scent, taste and audibility for all objects. Along with many of the other features announced in the Adventure 89 flier, these are only impressive to players of first-generation MUAs - MUD2, for example, has them already, and has had for some time.
An interesting suggestion is the inclusion of pseudo-mobiles - messages appearing on the screen appearing to indicate the presence of mobiles passing through, but actually just there to give an impression of a bustling, crowded environment.
Strata has a distinction between money and score (similar to that of Empyrion - indeed, it is possible that Strata actually is Empyrion under an earlier name). Money is used to buy things, but only by obtaining enlightenment points can progress to the top level (entitled 'Etheral') be made.
Resets in Strata are of the rolling variety: Alderton sought advice from the authors of MirrorWorld, Zone and Gods before embarking on his project. The game has humour explicit in its descriptions, which makes them fun the first time you read them but aggravating after the umpteenth. However, with a projected 8,000 rooms it is unlikely that rooms will be visited all that often anyway...
Strata runs on an Atari ST with a 32 megabyte hard disc.
"I hope, when all is working, to have roughly 8,000 locations with full descriptions including smell and listen. I have noticed people try to comfort me when I tell them this, but I'm not insane (!). It is technically possible..."-- Nic Alderton [author]
The game runs on a DEC computer, most probably a PDP 11.
"It's a pity there aren't a few more players around, although MUGs do tend to go through periods of popularity. Even so, perhaps I'll make Wanderland the site of my third witch."-- ACE [magazine]
A problem with Shades (Warlord comes from the Shades stable) is that players with fast modems have an advantage over ones playing at slower baud rates. This is something of a preoccupation with the author, and hence Warlord is designed to reduce any such advantage to a minimum. How this is done exactly isn't clear from the flier, however.
The top level of the game is 'warlord'.
"The fighting tends to be fast and furious."-- Third Millenium Systems [promotional material]
"Preparation, skill and anticipation are all vitally important if a player is to attempt to achieve the role of The Warlord."-- Third Millenium Systems [promotional material]
16th June 1999: imucg4.htm