Adventures on the magic network Hat

Adventures on the magic network

Richard Bartle introduces Compunetís Multi User Dungeon, MUD.

With the increasing popularity of adventure and strategy games as opposed to arcade extravaganzas, one of the most interesting new ideas in the computer world is MUD - the Multi-User Dungeon.

This is a new kind of adventure game where instead of playing alone, you interact in real time with a number of other players. All your actions influence theirs, and vice-versa, so that if you were to, say, walk into a room and find a sword lying on the ground and two other people in the room, the chances are that one of them will pick up the sword before you do - and very likely attack you with it.

Systems like MUD obviously require bigger computing power than any home micro can manage. In fact the original MUD was programmed on a DEC-10 mainframe computer at Essex University.

Commodore's Compunet system uses a similar host computer, so it's no surprise to find that MUD is now available to Compunet users via their Commodore 64's at home.


This makes it possible for you to play against other Compunet subscribers living hundreds of miles away from you, all through the magic modem. As we've seen in previous articles, Commodore's Compunet modem comes with one year's subscription to the system for just under £100. Once you've entered the system, MUD can be found using GOTO 106850 and BUY MUD.LINK. Yes, it costs money to play, MUD - charges include £5 per month for membership of the closed user group; £3 per hour while playing; plus phone charges. It's not cheap.

However, once you're in you can play in the greatest adventure you've yet seen. I'd be even more enthusiastic in my praise of MUD if I hadn't co-written the game, so I'd better not go too far over the top.

The basic fact is that MUDs are just incredibly more fun to play than ordinary adventures. The maximum number of people able to play on the Essex University system was 12, and you used to have to stay up past midnight to get a game since the Dec-10 was in use during the day. Compunet's MUD can be played at any time of day or night, and with up to 36 simultaneous players.

With all those players, MUD gets pretty hectic. Although the MUD is a text-only adventure, the main attractions are the immense vocabulary, comprehensive descriptive passages and powerful interaction. You have to keep your wits about you all the time - other players can steal your possessions, or set upon you if you look like, an easy target.


Richard Bartle, wizard.
Image size: approx. 18K.

The objective of the game is to collect treasures and hide them in a swamp, thus removing them from the game. Collecting treasures also scores points, and allows you to move up levels. You start as a Novice and finally become a Wizard, endowed with magical powers which enable you to influence the actions of other characters, become invisible and observe the action unnoticed, interfere with the course of the game in various mischevious ways, and reincarnate yourself if you are killed using a special password.

Another feature of MUD is puzzle-solving; if you can figure out how to make the unmade bed, or how to translate the mysterious runes, there are more points to be picked up. It's also possible to play as more than one character; though there are around 40 wizards on the Essex system, many of them also play as lesser characters too.

MUD, of course, isn't the only game available on Compunet; software can be downloaded and run on your own 64. Commodore plans to sell around 10,000 modems in the next three months, and although this figure may be optimistic, business users will probably start showing interest later on, once more services become available to suit their needs. Given the popularity of MUD, though, business users might be well advised not to let their employees spend too much time on the modem!

Century Publications, licensees of MUD, have plans to release a version as a game for stand-alone computers - it could provide a useful "taster" for those of you who want to see the game before deciding to buy a modem.

If you want to find out more about how you can play MUD on the Essex system, contact Richard Bartle, Department of Computer Science, Essex University, Colchester, Essex, C04 3SQ, enclosing a s.a.e. Contact Compunet at Metford House, Clipstone Street, London WIP 5DF.


the Land of MUD
Image size: approx. 21K.

Copyright © Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: chfeb85.htm