Introducing the wizardsRichard Bartle talks about some of the
personalities of the Land of Mud
I THOUGHT I'd spend time this month introducing to you a few of the personalities, past and present, who have contributed to the history and lore of the Essex University MUD. The whole point about multi-player adventures (as opposed to multi-player anything-elses) is that you're playing in the same game as other people, possibly complete strangers in real life, but who you encounter during play and with whom you are likely to engage in conversation. If you spend a fair amount of time in the game chatting to other players, then, as with other similar forms of social interaction (school, work, holiday), you will strike up friendships and get to know folk.
You'll also get to hear of certain other players quite a lot, by virtue of their interesting behaviour. If you see someone acting really strangely, then you'll naturally want to talk to other people about them; if something terrible happens to another player, you'll want to pass on the bad (or good!) news; if a wiz is a soft touch, your friends should know, and similarily if they FODded you for merely daring to utter a meek request for a lit brand, you may wish to warn your acquaintances!
In MUD, with its strange ability to magnify the personalities of those who play, there are plenty of people to talk about. Stories about individuals are passed on, rumours circulate, myths form, and eventually certain players become part and parcel of the game itself, blending in with the unique MUD atmosphere almost as if they had been programmed in!
This short set of biographies, then, introduces you to some of MUD's classic players, who have made their mark in MUD's folklore for one reason or another, and whose names live on, even, as is the case with some of them, if they haven't actually been able to play for years. You will notice that they are all wizs: the reason is that you have to play for quite a while for people to get to know your personality, and even longer for them to relate stories about your endeavours to each other (rather in the manner of medieval bards, who wrote ballads about deeds of daring do, to be sung about the campfires on cold, dark nights, perpetuating the names of heroes long since departed). So to become some kind of legendary figure, you have to play for many hours; if you do play for that long then either you'll eventually make it up to wiz, or you're incredibly thick!
Oh, the reason some of these people have two names is because you're allowed two as a wiz. One is normally your real name, the other the one which you used to work up to wiz. For some, the personalities are distinct (SUE is much nastier when she plays as ENDORA!), but for most they're just synonyms. MUD players usually put names used in the game in capital letters, by the way, because if you see a splodge of messages whoosh by you can easily see who's mentioned in them! Also, it's an easy way to distinguish between MUD names and real-life ones. Anyway, on with the show... Here's four MUD players for you.
There cannot be the slightest doubt in anyone's mind about who is MUD's greatest player - SUE the witch, otherwise known as ENDORA. Sue was our first genuine (ie real, live) female witch, and was until recently the only one (PAULA turned out to be two people, only one of whom was actually female! The new witch is KRONOS). This has not been any kind of handicap for SUE, who plays MUD all hours god sends, and I mean ALL of them! As soon as MUD becomes playable at around 1am, she sits down at her micro and goes into The Land. She remains there for as long as she can before the need to sleep overcomes her (she only needs three hours a night, though!), but you can usually see her even in the not-so-small hours, like 6am or 7am, before they take away the computer for housekeeping.
SUE does this EVERY night, too! It's a matter of concern if neither SUE or ENDORA appear - people begin to wonder what's happened. She may be playing incognito as a mortal, of course, but sometimes it's more serious (she missed a couple of days this month when a horse fell on her..!). Such is SUE's dedication and enthusiasm for the game that she made it to wiz in an astounding four weeks, from complete novice. She was killed on several occasions, too, and had to restart from nothing. She has an intimate knowledge of the way MUD functions, and must have tried out virtually every command (swinging the cat in a small room, setting fire to the keg of gunpowder, lighting a brand from the dragon, etc). Few other people will have ever seen the message you get when you attempt to, say, walk the wolf, because they've never tried it.
The wizs don't always see eye to eye with SUE, because she has so much experience at play that if another wiz slips up, she ticks them off about it, and can appear quite bossy! The mortals, however, love her. She knows just the right kind of hints to give which don't exactly spell out the solution to a problem but rather point the way to a solution ("-well what do you THINK you do to idols?!"). She also protects them from the ravages of supernatural intervention ("I've just been attacked by the shark-in the forest!"). It is mainly SUE's uncanny knack of making the game FUN to play which has earned her the reputation of epitomising the Essex MUD.
Oh, I didn't tell you her real name, did l? It's Sue Thomas, and she's from Llanelli. We think. The suspicion is that anyone who can play MUD every night for five or six hours, for eight months on the trot without a break, is probably actually from somewhere in outer space!
JEZ the wizard, or ZAPHOD as he is occasionally known, was our first external MUD wiz. Being one of those people who has contacts absolutely everywhere, he heard of MUD fairly soon after we opened it to the public and took to it like a duck to water. After several months of glorious bloodletting, and suitably impressive telephone bills, this precocious 17-year-old (as he was then) made it up to wiz. Now, almost two years later, he is our most senior active wizard after me, and along with SUE is trusted enough to be allowed to use an arch-wizard persona called DEBUGGER. This is a very powerful character, used only for debugging purposes (you don't say?), to fix problems like people forgetting passwords, or some drunk wiz causing chaos (yes, it DOES happen!).
JEZ being a man with a huge circle of friends in the modem-using community (you could call them "hackers" if you didn't know the proper meaning of the word), he must have told just about all of them about MUD. It was mainly due to his influence, and that of one of his close friends, THOR (also a wiz), that MUD caught on outside Essex. People took his advice, tried the game, liked it, and told their friends. Whenever they looked in, JEZ was in there to greet them with a cheery "hiya", and eventually people got to know him more as JEZ than they did as his real name, Jeremy San. Nowadays, if he doesn't sign his letters "JEZ", most people do a double-take before they remember who he is! Talk about games taking over folks' lives...
JEZ must hold the rank of MUD's great gossip. If there's any hint of something juicy in the air, you can guarantee that JEZ is in the know about it. Two wizs have a secret assignation in Trafalgar Square? JEZ knows. Someone had to sell their micro to pay their 'phone bills? JEZ heard it first. If you miss a couple of weeks' play, then come back and want to know what's happened, JEZ will be able to fill you in on all the rumours, suitably embellished with his own observations to make them more scandalous.
JEZ spends much of his time in MUD talking, listening, and dropping names. Because of this, a lot of the singular MUDspeke terms have originated from his keyboard. One thing you can be sure of, though, is that whatever he puts between that initial "hiya" and the final "byeeee" it's going to be very interesting!
JEZ, in fact, follows all the goings-on in MUD with the devotion of a soap-opera fan. Probably more so, as he's actually in a position to alter the plot! So he knows the last time EGOR played and why he's not around at the moment. He knows what it was that made SUE and KRONOS fall out (and was the one who patched them up again). If there's anything approaching a scandal, JEZ is there, ears flapping, hoping to pick up some titbit of information which he can then loudly publicise...!
It follows, then, that JEZ is immensely popular. There's nothing people like more than a good gossiping session, and JEZ is the one to see about that! Even the people who are the butt of his stories tend not to mind, because he does it all very nicely, and besides, it's not long before he's dragging someone else's name through the dirt. Or through MUD, I should say...
FELICITY and CYNTHIA were the names chosen by Mark Longley, an internal to the University and an addict of science fiction (he reads about one a DAY!). He picked the names FELICITY and CYNTHIA because they were the most terrible names he could think of at the time (CHRISTABEL was too long, and someone was already using CHARLENE). The idea was that people would find the names such dreadful cliches that they would avoid him at all costs. So successful was his ploy that most people couldn't bear to talk to him even at a distance, and they dropped the obnoxious, lengthy versions in favour of the more favourable FLISS and CINTH depending on which he was using at the time. Indeed, the reason MUD has a flower in it was because you could then pick it up, give it to him, and say "Hiya cinth!"
After winning MUD's very first spectacular, and getting 25,000 points for so doing, FLISS soon made it to witch, and became one of the kindest, most responsible wizs of all time. It is common knowledge that SUE's great success as a witch is based on her trying to follow FLlSS's lead. Asking yourself "What would FLISS have done in this situation?" can be a good way to see sense (although FLISS himself would probably find that highly amusing!).
Mark left the university a couple of years ago now, but FLISS and CINTH still get mentioned from time to time, and there's always the entry in the graveyard. What's it say? "A spectacular life lead me here", of course!
EVIL the wizard was the first person to work his way up to that immortal status, rather than be made one straight away for debugging purposes. He also set a trend since (despite being called Phil Scott in real life!) he is Welsh. A surprising number of MUD devotees are of Welsh extraction although only four have made it to wiz so far at Essex; it must be their barbarian blood (the nationality breakdown is 40 English, five Scottish, four Welsh, one Irish, one American, one Czech and one Malaysian! I've put KRONOS down as English although she claims to be a Scot - ha!).
EVlL made it to wiz in real style. His thorough knowledge of the finer details of the MUD world is unsurpassed, except by myself and probably SUE, and he must still be about the only player who figured out by himself what you're supposed to do with the ox (stroke it, take it to the sacrificial blade, stroke it, kill it with the blade, stroke it again, then drop it in the swamp for the points!).
If you wanted to get to any room from any other, no matter how far away, he could give you the shortest route instantly. This was despite the fact that he laboured under a tremendous disability: east-west dyslexia.
It is for this that EVIL is best known. His entire in-the-head map of MUD, and all those he wrote down on paper, were flipped east for west. His misapprehension extended to commands, so if he wanted to go west from the start, which is to the left, he'd think it was to the right, and that the command for going to the right was west. So he'd get it correct, but in the wrong way! So absolutely everything was inverted, in a kind of "EVIL through the looking-glass". Indeed, when I finally found out about his error I put a looking-glass in MUD to celebrate!
He didn't realise his mistake for years after he'd made it to Wiz, and if people used left/right descriptions of rooms instead of west/east, he just thought they were barmy. Only when I drew a map of MUD on a blackboard did he finally discover his gaffe and to this day thinks a subtle change in the physics of the universe caused everyone in the world to swap east for west in their heads except for him, who remained unaffected due to his enormous and obvious intelligence...
These then were a few brief sketches of players in the Essex MUD. MUDs will always have their resident personalities no matter where they are or who runs them, because people ARE the game. That's what lifts MUD above the rest of the world's computer games, the real-live people who play.
Anyone who has played in the Essex MUD will tell you that although they are identical programs, they "play" quite differently. People brought up in the short lived MUD in Dundee are horrified by Essex's large number of killings - they're much friendlier in Scotland! Essex people are astonished by the easy-going wizs in Oslo, who have even been known to temporarily promote mortals so they can see what it's like being a wiz (gasp!).
The people make the game.
That's not the full story, though, because just as people can make an impact on MUD, so MUD feeds back into their lives. Not only does JEZ have a new name, but MUD is what brought EVIL back to do his exams after he decided to take five weeks unscheduled leave from the University. FELICITY'S one-a-day SF book habit was only abated for those days he played MUD - saved him hundreds of pounds! SUE, however, may be suffering from an overdose of MUD, so it's not always a guaranteed Good Thing.
For those readers with a Commodore 64 and modem, MUD is now running on Compunet.
Readers without access to Compunet can get details of how to access MUD from Richard Bartle, Department of Computer Science, Essex University, Colchester, Essex C04 3SQ. Remember to enclose an SAE.
21st January 1999: mafeb85.htm