- MUSE has been through lots of problems since I last spoke to you. What
with Simon's death, problems getting Simon's shares back from his brothers,
and getting out of the contract with BT... MUSE has also moved away from
running MUD directly and started to license it for other companies to run.
Who is involved in MUSE now, and is MUSE planning to set up other versions
of MUD run by other companies?
- Well there's only me fully employed by MUSE, but Roy Trubshaw is still an
active director. Also, there are 10 shares owned by Simon's employers of
7 years ago, but they don't really want to be bought out in case we make
some money; they resisted all offers we made them, but then the offers
weren't very high! As for other versions for other people, well, yes we are
planning on that. There will almost certainly be an incarnation in the USA...
As for the UK, I guess the people who were interested at the same time as
Roger would still be interested, but I haven't spoken to them for a while;
I needed some hardware and it took 6 weeks to arrive. There's a single-site
incarnation due sometime soon, too - a part of the Post Office Research
Centre is willing to pay for a 5-player version. Otherwise, though, there
no immediately obvious are signs of people in the UK wishing to take up
- So you're still working full time on MUD? Do you intend to continue full
time? Is the revenue from British Legends still funding most of your work?
I assume the UK side is making very little.
- I intend to continue working on MUD2 full time for as long as I possibly
can! The US side is still my primary source of income, yes, although it's
dropping gradually, which is to be expected as BL has been on CompuServe for,
what, 6 or 7 years now! It's holding up rather well, given that it isn't
advertised. There's also some uncertainly about its future, which should be
resolved soon. My income from the game in the UK wouldn't pay for the cost
of the phone call to answer your questions here!
- ONLINE is reported to have MUD1 code. How? Why? What are they doing with
it? Will they be running an incarnation of MUD2?
- They have the code on a non-exclusive basis to write a version for UNIX. I
sent them a copy of the code last Autumn, but I've heard nothing since. They
told me they think MUD1 is easier from a game management point of view;
they're not interested in running an incarnation of MUD2.
- MUA's don't seem to have "taken off" much in the UK, why do you think this is? What do you think can be done to improve matters?
- Lack of access. If people could afford the phones, or had the modems, and knew about MUAs, they'd be a lot more popular. The on-line community in the UK is comparatively small. The main mountain we have to climb in convincing people to play is the cost of telephone charges. It's within BT's power to devise a number that was like an 0898 number but with a much smaller premium, so people could dial from anywhere in the country at a
reduced rate, say not much more than the cost of a long-distance call. If these numbers were restricted to cheap rate
times, that would answer BT's worries that people were tying up lines in the exchange at a lower cost than normal vice users. OK, that's something that would help MUAs take off in the short
term. In the long-term, BT needs a way of charging people by data sent rather than by time used. When digital exchanges are in, there's no such thing as "tying up a line", so it ought to be possible for people to say "this number is for data transfer, charge people who call it for the amount of bits sent, not the amount of time they use it". If I only get a few bytes sent up and down the line every couple of seconds, why should I pay the same as someone using the whole bandwidth? That's what I'd like to see things working like, anyway. BT will eventually set up such a system, but not for ages. It's one of those things that anyone in BT who has thought about it knows and accepts will happen, but BT is a large beast and
getting it to behave how you want is next to impossible. We may instead see a Prestel-like system where the network is just provided and anyone can pay to hang an X.25 system off it, but, again, the management at BT will have to work the failure of Prestel out of their system before they take that approach.
- Do you think that the removal of Shades from MicroNet was bad
for MUA's as a whole? Lots of smaller games seem to have folded
and there are less games springing up, has the climate changed or is it just that all the people wanted to try their hand have tried and failed?
- I think the removal of MicroNet was bad, and I think the way Shades was run on MicroNet put a lot of people off MUAs. But I don't think removing Shades from MicroNet was in itself bad. It's just that there should have been more than just Shades on
MicroNet... The climate has changed, though, yes - what incentive is there for people to buy a modem nowadays?
- Most of the UK based games are pretty basic... I know any multi-user adventure is good compared to a single user one. but why is it that there has been no real competition for a game as good as MUD?
- That's like asking an author why their books are better than those of other people! How can I answer without appearing arrogant?!
- Maybe it's because they are all 'back-room' projects... There's no serious money or resources behind them....
- Maybe, but I don't believe that's the reason. It may contribute, but it's not the main thing.
- What do you think the 'main thing' is?
- Most people who write MUAs do so with a first attempt, and they don't rewrite. What we all know as MUD1 was the third rewrite of MUD. What we know as MUD2 was the fourth, after I'd pushed MUD1 as far as it could go. MUD2 is a different generation of game. Most first-attempt MUAs are of the same order of power as MUD1, but people never rewrite after they've found the limitations of their system. I guess it's motivation
they lack - it's no small matter to start again from scratch and redesign something you've spent years working on. Because Roy and I have a stronger motivation than most, that meant we
were prepared to rewrite so as to push the frontiers of MUA programming back. We also had a head start on everyone else because we began it all. Having a PhD in AI helps too!
- Can you see a 5th version of MUD on the horizon?
- A 5th version, well, yes, I'm working on some ideas I have. There's a possibility I might have access to a programming team, which would make life easier, but it's some time in
the future yet.
- It seems that MUD as we know it could never be a "finished" product. Do you intend to keep working on it or are you planning similar games, built around MUDDLE, with different settings?
- I intend to keep working on it until MUSE makes enough money that we can employ someone else to work on it! I do have well-founded ideas for a different database, but I'd need a guarantee that someone would take it before I started work on it - it's a non-trivial task, equivalent to writing a novel.
- Is there a MUDDLE "developers kit"? Surely there are lots of people who would love to try their hand at producing databases for MUSE?
- I've been aiming to provide one for some time, but the problem is that you need rather large machines to run it! I could maybe put together a single-user version, which wouldn't need all the overheads, but you'd still need several megabytes of RAM to test a full-blown game.
- I assume that the financing for any expansion or new scenario
development hangs on the success of MUD2 in the USA?
- Yes, that's right, unless Roger strikes gold in the UK! That's unliikely in the short term, though it looks like he'll make enough to keep going until MUD really takes off here.
- Did you expect the relaunch of the MUD2 game in the UK to be
more successful than it has been?
- Initially, I expected it to be a complete flop. When Roger presented me with his plans, I became more optimistic (although I knew the 1st November deadline was unrealistic), and it turned out to be better than I had expected. But then I'm a pessimist, whereas Roger is an unbridled optimist!
- You've often spoken of a "federation of multi-user adventure authors" or some such. Do you feel such an organisation is needed and if so, why?
- Yes, I do. There are two big issues which will face the MUA community soon, and I feel we ought to be organised.
1) "On-line sex available to under-12s!"
Newspaper sensationalism could get us all shut down if one game
decides to play porno. That game would then get a reputation and be able to make a mint in the USA, but BT would be only too happy to improve its image by shutting the rest of us down. We need some kind of organisation to unify our response to this, preferably with a charter that all affiliates must adhere to, which would explicitly require games not to be overtly pornographic or racist, sexist, etc. We can at least then say the maverick wasn't one of us. Unfortunately, virtually all MUAs would, taken out of context, fail an objective "no violence" test! Still, this is something such an organisation would be able to debate before setting its charter in stone.
2) Sometime soon, a Large
Multinational Games Company will discover MUDs, and it will write one. Because of its huge backing, its MUA will become the definitive one. However, because such people have no idea of the way that MUAs are different to normal games, they'll probably only give it a short life-span, and then move on to something else. Result slash-and-burn agriculture. They soak up all potential MUA players, educate them to play their interpretation of what a MUA should be, then move on to something else. Unless there's some framework for us to act as guardians of the knowledge that has been evolved over time about MUAs, that'll snuff us all out.
I might add, by the way, that some people in the USA are already proposing starting a "MUD society" (they call MUAs MUDs) for people to affiliate to. Unless we act soon in the UK, we could find ourselves obliged to join an organisation set up primarily for US college players who don't have the same kindnd of experience of MUAs as we do.
- NetSex/TnySex has been quite a talking point on Usenet recently, the reactions bear out what you're saying - some people are quite worked up about it.
- Yes, they are, but then they're having the debates we had around 1985. The MUA phenomenon has been in the USA since '88. They've now started to discover some of the problems associated with such games, and it's nice to see they're reaching the
same conclusions as we did.
- Have you approached any of the other game managers and suggested starting a UK federation of MUAs? Or a UK branch of the US one?
- I haven't, no, because I'm the wrong person to do it. People would see it as empire-building. "Oh, he co-invented MUAs, he's just trying to get a grip on other people's games as well" Incidentally, the main function of a MUA society would be to organise a yearly convention, as I see it. Another
reason I don't want to run it myself!
- One or two last questions. Do you play MUD for fun at all or just to test things?
- I do play for fun sometimes, yes, if there's something special going on that I want to participate in. Mainly, though, I'm either testing or sitting around just to 'be there' if any
newcomers appear and see an otherwise pretty well empty game.
- Have you ever "made wiz".
- On a number of occasions.
- Have you got anything you would like to say?
- Well, I've a question for your readers to ponder on... I'm often told that MUD is addictive. People play the game compulsively, and get upset if they are kept away from it for
extended periods. Is it therefore immoral for MUSE to provide such a game, given that addicts are forced to play once hooked? We can have a panel discussion about it sometime!