Mud's wonderful wizardsRichard Bartle introduces another selection of
characters from the Land of Mud
I THOUGHT this month I'd continue my series of articles on MUD with a few more embarrassing, anecdotal descriptions of players who have made their mark in the original Essex University version of the game. Five of the characters this time are wizs, the other three are arch-wizards. The prefix "arch-" here is granted only to those who have actually written a piece of the program which is MUD itself, and since there are only four of us, I decided I'd let you know something about the others (actually there's a fifth arch-wiz, DEBUGGER, which is used by JEZ, SUE and occasionally EGOR, in cases when none of the rest of us are around but where arch-wiz powers are required). I hope that after you have read this, any wrong impressions you may have picked up from earlier articles that I am the sole person responsible for the game will now be rectified!
There is no doubt that without Roy Trubshaw, ROY the arch-wizard, there can have been no MUD. MUD was Roy's idea, and Roy did all the ground work. He provided the basis of the system, I made it into a proper game.
The story of MUD's development will have to wait until another article - this one is about the people who have influenced the game. No-one can have done so more than the person who invented it, and that's why I'm starting off with ROY.
Roy the Arch Wizard
So what's the man like? Few latter-day MUD players have seen him, although he does make an appearance one or twice a year. Well the first thing to note about ROY is that he's filthy rich, a side-effect of contract-programming in Belgium for the past three or four years on a £25,000 salary after tax (swoon!). If I can drag him to the Micro Adventurer offices next time he's in Britain, maybe they'll get a photo of him and you can see what he looks like. Knowing their photographic skills, though, you'll probably have to wait...
Roy's main interest is low-level computer work. Not as low as BRlAN (see later), but much lower than the stuff I tend to prefer. Roy's an expert in all kinds of DEC equipment, and could probably build and program a PDP11 from scratch. Yes, THAT'S why they pay him so much!
It's difficult to list the contributions to MUD which ROY has made, because he wrote the foundations for everything. Even some of the most advanced, sophisticated things you can do in MUD, like snooping or conversing, were built out of functions designed by Roy. I estimate that about 25% of MUD is his code, but it's the most important and difficult part, which made my job on the rest of it that much easier!
Of all the arch wizards, ROY is the one best-suited to the job as he's always been one. Even I was once a mortal, believe it or not, but not ROY. Indeed, there was no way mortals could reach wiz when ROY left Essex University to seek his (considerable!) fortune, all that was my doing later on. It's just as well he DOES only return a couple of times a year these days, actually, as his fame and stature in the game among the players are so great that people can hardly believe it's him they're talking to, and come out with disjointed, mistyped, barely-intelligible garbage stricken as they are by awe of him.
This is all vaguely embarrassing to ROY who still finds it almost impossible to believe that people think his modest efforts are worth paying British Telecom a fortune to play. He'll probably try and buy every copy of this magazine which finds its way into Belgium, too, so none of his work-mates read any of my praising him to the gods..!
Roy and I will be slaving over a new MUD by the time you read this, but whether we finish it or not is another matter. After working on the original MUD for four years, though, I think it's about time I put my feet up. This time I'll be the one who writes 25%, and he can do the rest! Well, fair's fair, isn't it?
Of the four arch-wizards, only RONAN actually worked his way up through the ranks, the rest of us just made ourselves wizards. RONAN is his real name, by the way (he's Irish), and the persona he used to reach wiz was SHADOW. RONAN's claim to being an arch-wiz is based on about a page of code which made it easier for MUD to load in a newly-compiled database (or rather it made it easier for me to make MUD load it). It was one of those finicky jobs I'd meant to do for ages, but was put off by the awesome tedious aspects of it. RONAN's proven ability to digest entire manuals of mostly irrelevant information, sift out the usable bits, and then painstakingly try to force a program to do what the manual says it should, made his offer to write this bit of MUD too good to refuse.
RONAN's wiz career started a couple of years before he finally left the university (to program DEC-20's at Liverpool Poly). He and FELICITY together cooked up the idea of berserkers, which I incorporated into MUD at their request. Indeed, I think RONAN's berserk persona, DARIUS, was the first to reach the highest rank of berserker wizard, although he's been killed quite a few times since then!
RONAN was a highly respected wiz, noted for his no-nonsense, business-like approach to the game. He was excellent at managing spectaculars, and was always fair and just (with a wry sense of humour - he perfected the art of erecting strange obstacles to players' progress, and delighted in watching them try to figure out what was happening).
The other point to note about RONAN is that he is just about the only internal wiz who was neither a member of the University Computing Society nor a user of other students' accounts ("naughty numbers"). All the time he spent in MUD came from his own, limited, academic computer time, which he should have spent sprucing up his programming assignments. Hmm, yes, I think that just about sums him up: he has formidable programming abilities (he never handed one in late), integrity (there are few internals who haven't "borrowed" a friend's account) and, of course, an addiction to MUD...
BRIAN the arch-wizard, or "Tubs" to his friends, won his spurs by writing some code for MUD which enabled it to be interrupted by another program. Essex MUD is only developmental, you see, and it occasionally, well, it sort of, well, hangs around in infinite loops ("deadlock" in operating systems talk). People are sitting around at keyboards with the interrupts off, and none of them are being serviced. MUD has an ancillary program, RESET, which, if you run it, chucks everyone out of the game. That chucking out stuff was written by BRIAN.
It's now superseded to a large extent, since MUD has become full of error-checking routines, and is presently reasonably aware when it has crashed, so it can dump everyone out itself. Still, BRIAN was a great help to ROY and I in MUD's early days, so his status remains.
BRIAN's secondary wiz name is DEGRIZ, after Harry Harrison's Simon Bolivar DeGriz, the Stainless Steel Rat. No, nobody knows WHY it's from there, it just IS. In real life, Tubs tries very hard to be normal, but labours under two monumental handicaps. First is what he calls his "efficient metabolism", which means that his body is so good at extracting the goodness from food that it gets out too much, and it has to be stored somewhere in fatty tissue (hence his nickname...). The second problem which he has not yet solved is that he has such a splendidly impish sense of humour, and innocent, harmless-looking face, that absolutely no-one ever takes him at all seriously.
BRIAN simply ADORES computers. He's a hacker in the true sense of the word. Nothing pleases him more than getting a new machine and leaping elbow-deep into the operating system software to hack around. He'll instantly try to crash any mainframe brought near him, and if he can get the back off any computer, big or small, it'll probably be days before you next see him (and the machine will never be quite the same again, either!). He's still mildly amazed that people will pay him to do this sort of thing, when really he'd expect to pay them - it's so much fun!
I've still not decided which of MUD's wiz's is the greater slob, BRIAN or Simon Dally (who plays as CENTURY the wizard). I think BRIAN has it, though - anyone whose idea of shaving is pulling the longest whiskers out by hand and dropping them all around him must surely reign supreme..!
The name of FOXY the wizard lives on in MUD not because of the way he made it to wiz, but because of the way he didn't. An internal, FOXY spent many long hours clawing his way up through the ranks. He always behaved impeccably, only killing people in self defence (well, NEARLY always!), and he knew the game inside out by virtue of enormous MUD sessions lasting all the daylight hours entire weekends. Everyone agreed that if anyone deserved to reach wiz at all, then that person was FOXY. It was merely a case of mistaken identity one assumes, when five people ambushed him in the graveyard and killed him with less than 300 to go of the 102,400 points needed to reach wiz.
Foxy the Wizard
The self-control exhibited by FOXY in not jumping from the nearest tall building, or sending letter bombs to all concerned, earned him great respect. He didn't shed a tear, just started again with great dignity and killed three or four of the rotten bastards with a handy sword, thoughtfully provided by a sympathetic wizard.
His eventual rise to immortality was not, it turns out, via the normal channels; rather he was elected to wiz for his work on ROCK, MUD's version of ITV's Fraggle Rock TV show. Real name Phil Fox, he's now a teacher at a nearby school, and occasionally returns to hack and slay in MUD when the little sods get too much for him. Perhaps memories of what a lot of weak people can do to one strong one prevents his throwing his weight around in the school..?
EGOR the wizard was the second external to reach that exalted rank, and also. for quite some time, the youngest. An accomplished programmer, raking in even more a year than ROY does (from royalties on his games), EGOR was sufficiently impressed by what he'd heard of MUD from his friend JEZ to give it a try. As usual, MUD worked its insidious way into the addiction centres of his brain, and he immediately took to it.
EGOR has an annoying ability to exploit any bugs or feaures he finds in programs. Any fool can unearth a bug - EGOR's skill comes in applying it to maximum effect. MUD, of course, was no exception. The duels which he and JEZ used to have, stretching MUD to the limits, were pretty exciting to watch, although there's little mortals find more frightening than two mighty wizs battling it out for supremacy above their heads. These duels heralded many changes to the game; for example there used to be a sneaky way you could come in as another player, and when EGOR discovered it, he instantly came on as JEZ. Rather than let on, though, he shouted insults at everyone and picked off a few novices, then quit. When the real JEZ rolled up some time later he was set upon by an angry mob, and was lucky to escape with his life.
Like all good hackers, EGOR always told me how he did things, so I could patch over the hole (after he'd had his fun...). Many of the things I already knew about, and had been trusting people not to do - but EGOR went ahead and did them.
EGOR doesn't play MUD too much nowadays, since he has to spend a lot of time programming to keep up his amazing income (and pacify his agent!). Also, he was indirectly responsible for AZAX getting the wiz mode password when not entitled to it, so was a bit disgusted when he found out. He still pops in from was a bit disgusted when he found out. He still pops in from time to time to say hello and try out some new bug he's thought of on his sparring partner JEZ, although sometimes people think he's back when he isn't (EGOR's real name is Andrew Glaister: when an IGOR turned up a couple of weeks back, everyone welcomed him and happily provided him with the wiz mode password, not realising he was a complete novice, and IGOR was his REAL name!).
The semi legendary Jez the Wizard
If you had to think of a word to describe AZAX the wizard, that word would surely be "irrepressible". AZAX is a relatively recent wiz, being number 44 on the list of 53, but he has already made a huge impact on the game. He is seemingly driven by the urge to bend as many rules as possible without actually breaking them, and his chosen method to achieve this end is by whinging. Whinge, whinge, whinge, he never stops! On every topic he goes on and on and on! It's amazing, if he wants to know the answer to some questions he'll keep on at you for hours until you give in. He speaks for so long and with so little content that it takes him ten minutes to get out what other pepole would phrase as "goodbye". He used so many suspect ploys to get to wiz that no-one would believe he deserved it, and I had to bust him to novice again and make him work his way up from nothing before anyone would reluctantly accept his status among the immortals.
For example, one day he transferred thousands of points to PAULA by kissing her continuously for over four hours. Every time you kiss or hug someone in MUD it docks some points off you and gives generous portion to the person you kissed or hugged. Normally this is about 50 points, but AZAX managed to get rid of 70,000 by repeated kisses (this was before he found out it was the male half of PAULA he was smothering with affection).
Of course, it was enough to put PAULA at witch (and, if it had been in real life, to have put AZAX in hospital!). He then convinced her to flex her new muscles by making him a wiz, too, and kept badgering at her until she yielded, forced by the weight of whinges. OK, so it only took two minutes, but he's pretty persuasive with people he's just assisted! Well I could hardly let it stand, could I, so I had to zap him one. Then I had to disappear for a few days to stop him pestering me every moment of the day.
Sue the Witch - the nicest person in MUD
Even as a wiz things aren't much better. He is currently on at me to get a third wiz name, PURITY, which he insists he is entitled to because that s the name he used to get to wiz in the (legal) version of MUD which runs at Oslo university in Norway. Myself, JEZ, and SUE have had to show great resiliance to his waves of high-powered whinging, and SUE's fortitude in particular has been admirable. You have to be careful, though, because when AZAX doesn't get his way he can suddenly snap and throw a mad tantrum. These have to be seen to be believed! He runs amok under some weird name (the last one was KHAN), devastating everything indiscriminately, spreading death and destruction wherever he goes and impervious to any sense of reason. Indeed, even the only person whose words he seems capable of understanding while in such a state, INNOCENCE the witch, can do little with him until he calms down. You just have to leave him to it and get him afterwards when he returns to comparative normality! The Hulk has nothing on this boy!
This is where his irrepresibility comes in. Despite the awful repercussions which follow such actions, like removing his wizard privileges, changing his password, not speaking to him, or FODding him whenever he appears, he just bounces back as his normal, mischievous self, good ol' irrepressible AZAX. You can't help but admire the way he takes it all on the chin! He's also quite fun, really, and you can't dislike him for long, he's just so enthusiastic all the time. l personally find his rule-bending activities a great help, because at least he tells me about them (well, gloats about them) so I can plug the hole before anyone else exploits it. You can't transfer points by kissing people anymore if they have more than you, for example. Very handy!
For reasons of personal safety I'd better not tell you his name in the non-MUD world, but he's a teenage American living in London. Aha, so THAT explains it!
Paula - the female half of Paula the Witch
PAULA achieved the staggering feat of making it to wiz without anyone realising she was actually a he 80% of the time. The female part really was called PAULA, the male part was her boyfriend, BARRY. The two of them formed an excellent partnership, and whereas it is usually the case that a lad pretending to be a lass will be found out, if BARRY got stuck on anything feminine he was supposed to know but didn't, he just summoned PAULA to the terminal and let her handle it. Since his occupation is a photographer, it was a cinch to supply inquisitive players who asked for evidence with photo's of PAULA, who is quite obviously female when you see her (take a look at that group photo again and see, if you don't believe me!).
PAULA (also PLONKER, and now DESIREE) plugged the gap in MUD's elite left by SUE when she was recovering from her phone bill over the summer, and in effect "ran" the game as senior wiz for a couple of months. Particularly vicious play with berserkers during this period ensured that none but the "best" made it to wiz, although the policy didn't make PAULA too many friends among the "non-best"!
Barry - the more masculine part of PAULA
PAULA's secret dual identity was eventually learned by two wizs almost simultaneously. SUE got into a conversation with BARRY about dress sizes while PAULA was elsewhere, and as BARRY knew less than nothing about such matters (can you blame him?) SUE sussed he was male. About the same time, JEZ invited PAULA to tea in London; they agreed, but when they turned up together they had to admit that JEZ's sharp eyes were correct, and that they were indeed two people...
PAULA doesn't play too often now, due to the enormity of a certain telephone bill, but should be back with a "midnight line" soon (£100 a quarter, as many calls as you like between midnight and 6am for free). If you ever get into conversation with her about dress sizes, though, don't be too surprised if her modem suddenly seems to go dead...
The mortals' all-time favourite wiz is INNOCENCE the witch, also known as DAV (as his real name, well, his non-MUD name, is Dave Watkins). INNOCENCE was liked by one and all even as a mortal, due to his astonishing generosity. There can he few players who are willing to give treasure to beginners while they themselves are mortal! INNOCENCE was still dishing out goodies to the poor and needy even when only a few hundred points short of wiz himself. Robin Hood has nothing on this guy!
Now a wiz, INNOCENCE's good nature is still intact. He makes certain he's not a soft touch, though. Indeed if INNOCENCE does give you treasure then there's usually a fair chance he thinks you'll get yourself killed within the next few days!
INNOCENCE also extends the length of time between MUD resets, by retrieving all the objects which have been dropped in the swamp by lower-level characters, but which enable the better players to go further afield. So if the parasol and umbrella have both been swamped (MUDspeke for "dropped in the swamp", points having been scored for them), which effectively prevents anyone from getting off the cliff except by the most devious route imaginable, it's INNOCENCE who responds to the mortals' plaintive "wish" commands, and plonks the necessary item where they may at least be able to recover it.
INNOCENCE is also capable of cooling down hot-headed wizs, even AZAX. This ability is looked upon with awe by the other wizs, who have difficulty not getting into an argument with AZAX just by saying "hello, nice day". It is indeed of invaluable assistance, and is probably due to his occupation - teacher! Some of his pupils play MUD, too. How's that for corruption of the young?
As you may have guessed, INNOCENCE's unnatural aura of responsibility and likeable authority has a deep psychological explanation. It's due to the fact that he hasn't got long to live as the rest of us, sadly: at 40, he's about the oldest wiz we have!
READERS wanting to learn more about MUD should write to Simon Dally, Multi User Entertainment, 6 Albemarle Way, London EC1.
See News Desk (page 6) for further information.
21st January 1999: mamar85.htm