No, not that dreary brown stuff = this M.U.D. stands for "Multi-User Dungeon", and is a mammoth-scale Adventure run on Essex University's DEC PDP-11 ... with a little help from a few hundred punters (one as far away as Japan). DAVID MACHIN's been going on-line for a while now. Here's his report...

WELL IT had to happen, didn't it? Just when everyone thought that games had finally reached a point where nothing else could happen, something did. Matthew Smith thought that he had found the last Manic gold mine, along came MUD, as evil-smelling as ever, and to quote from Mr Adventure himself, it really hits the spot!

No, the bugs haven't managed to mangle my memory map. Yet. What I am talking about is MUD, which stands for Multi-User Dungeons & Dragons. "Oh, not D & D again, old hat!" I hear you all cry. Maybe. But that isn't what makes this game special. The special bit is that you play this game over the phone using a modem, on a program around 2 megabytes long, and YOU ARE NOT ALONE! Indeed, around 36 hackers can play the same game at the same time that you are ... literally. That is to say, if you want the torch at the same time as old Elric over there, you'll either have to beat him to it or fight over it! To play the game you'll need a suitable scrolling dumb terminal, preferably 80 column (e.g. a BBC Micro with a dumb terminal program), a 1200 baud modem, and an account with British Telecom's Packet Switch Stream, of which more later.

The computer that the program runs on is a rather large (if old) DEC 10, located at Essex University. As you can imagine, a lot of the students have better things to do than simply play MUD all day (that's their story!), and if all the ports were occupied by manic mud-wallowers while the amiable academics were working on wonder-projects, they would begin to gibber over their patriarchal, coffee-stained keyboards. For this reason, the MUD program can only be activated between midnight and six o'clock in the morning. This keeps the nocturnal MUD-slingers away from the students, and so everybody's happy (till the hackers start messing around, and snaffling passwords!).

Once you have managed to log on to the system (and that would make quite a good adventure game in itself!), you are asked to enter the name that you wish to be called in MUD. This is rather like a CB'handle', and can be anything from 'Fred' to 'Bilbo'. You are then asked what sex you are, and, if the computer doesn't recognise the name that you have entered as someone who has played before, it asks you to donate a password for your character, so that other MUD hackers can't use your persona.

Once you have told the computer who you are, typing WHO gives you a list of all the people who are currently logged on to the system. You can follow anyone who is at the same location as you, attempt to kill them, and also talk to them, and I found this probably the most interesting part of the game. You can use the command SHOUT, followed by a message, and everyone in the adventure will be informed of what you say. However, they don't know who said it, only your sex. For example, if you typed SHOUT HELLO THERE!! the words "A male voice shouts 'HELLO THERE' " would appear on everyone's screen, no matter what they are doing at that particular time. Their screen just scrolls, and the message pops up. You can communicate privately with someone by simply saying the person's name, followed by a message. For example, 'SAMANTHA, ARE YOUR PERIPHERALS COMPATIBLE WITH MINE?' would inform Samantha that someone is trying to interface with her. (Draw your own conclusions.) Then if you wantto tell everyone at a certain location something, you simply use a quote, eq: 'HELLO EVERYBODY' would send your greeting to everyone at the same location as yourself.

Of course, you can also play the adventure, but you can easily find yourself doing nothing else but talk to people all night. When I have been playing, I have spoken to people all over the country, from all walks of life, and using all sorts of micros. The type of computer that the people are using does not matter. The couple of nights that I was on, I spoke to people using Spectrums, BBCS, Apples, a Commodore 64, and even someone with not one, but THREE QLs!! (None of them worked.)

The fights on MUD have to be seen to be believed. I don't know quite how the program works it all out, but the running commentaries that are given put Harry Carpenter to shame.

The descriptions of the locations on the game are extremely lengthy. Having the power of a mainframe to play an adventure certainly makes a difference. You can switch to a smaller description if you are more experienced, by using the command BRIEF. Typing SCORE tells you not only how many points you have got, but also how much experience you have, using ratings which range from novice, the bottom level, up to wizard, of which (witch?!) there were two when I played. The system is incredibly user friendly, and it has a very large HELP file, which will tell the user all he wants to know about playing the game ... apart from how to solve it.

To play the game, you need a suitable terminal, and a modem. You also require an account with British Telecom's Packet Switch Stream. This is far too complex to explain here, and would really warrant an article in itself, but the general idea is that you can contact the Essex computer using special data lines, specifically designed for the transmission of data, not voices. However, you access these lines using a normal phone, and normally at local rates. You also have to pay around £6.00 a quarter for the use of the PSS system. For more details ring PSS on 01-920-0661. I don't think that "normal" adventure games will ever be quite the same again. When you put down your phone, and reload your adventure disc menu, you can't really decide which one to play any more. They have all suddenly lost their appeal. With only one person playing, things just aren't the same!

Richard A. Bartle (
4th May 1999: bkoct84.htm