M.U.D. Hat


It's midnight. The office is silent. Computer fanatics everywhere are settling down to a few hours rest. But scattered thinly around the country a small dedicated band of night owls is awakening. You can tell that thy're around because phones start to tinkle. And you hear the desperate cry of "What's wrong with the PSS exchange now?" and "Who knows where I left my password?" This is MUD. A nocturnal sport known to and lived by dedicated computer junkies everywhere. It's an Adventure, sure. But it's far more. ROBERT SCHIFREEN explains.

Linking a micro to a larger computer via the phone lines was first brought into the averave micro user's price range last year, by Micronet. This is a system which runs on the Prestel computers and offers up-to-the-minute information especially for the micro user.

The new piece of equipment introduced to the micro owner, to take advantage of this new application, was the modem. This converts the frequencies which the micro handles into those which the telephone system can cope with. After all, our phone system was designed for people to speak into and not for computers to squeak into at very high frequencies.

With the right sort of modem, you don't have to stop at Micronet. Many people are now discovering ways of linking their micros to large, mainframe computers. Ways both legal and not so legal - gaining access to a computer on which they do not belong for for which they have not paid, for example.

MUD stands for Multi-User Dungeons and Dragons. It's a version of the classic adventure game and runs on a computer at the University of Essex. The &D part is quite normal. It's the multi-user idea which makes it novel. More than one person can actually be playing the game at the same time. In fact, up to 36 people can play at one time.

Access is via the telephone lines and is perfectly legal. A special non-charged account has been set up especially for MUD players. The reason that dedicated MUDders are nocturnal is that it's only available (or rather the free account is onty available) between midnight and 6 am during the week. The reason for this is that if the computer was tied up with MUD during the day, access would be difficult for genuine university students!

Anyway, assuming that you have a suitable terinal (usually a BBC + modem + some scrolling software) you can access MUD.

Once you've logged in to the university's computer system, you type MUD to start the game. Each player assigns himself a character which they use when playing the game and you enter this at the start. Then comes the real multi-user part. Type WHO and the computer will tell you the names of the characters currently playing. Looking down the list, I notice that Denise the Witch is around, so I just type: "Denise, hello there" and my message appears immediately on that person's screen.

[Screen shot]

Your last game was today at 4:19:42.
Hello again, Bughunter!

Narrow road between lands.
You are stood on a narrow road between The Land and whence you came.
To the north and south are the small foothills of a pair of majestic
mountains, with a large wall running round. To the west the road
continues, where in the distance you can see a thatched cottage opposite
an ancient cemetary. The way out is to the east, where a shroud of
mist covers the secret pass by which you entered The Land.

*A playful rabbit snuffles round your feet.

The rabbit has just left.

This is real time - I've missed my chance to kill the bunny again!

There's no need to say who I am as the computer will do this for me. Whatever Denise happens to be doing, her screen will scroll up and say: "Bug Hunter tells you, hello there"

If I want to talk to everyone at the ame time, I can use the shout command. Typing: "Shout, who's out there?" will produce the message "Who's out there?" on all the users' screens. They can then choose whether or not to reply and whether to reply privately to me or to shout the message around.

Talking is one aspect of MUD and to some it is the main function. You can easily spend a whole night chatting away to people without actually progressing very far into the Adventure itself. Especially if you're new to the game and are after some tips from the hardened players.

This game is big. The program, including the very detailed text for all the locations, takes up around two megabytes. That's 2,000k or over 40 times the memory of a 48k Spectrum. Simply listing the program on paper would produce a wad about six inches thick.

Approaching one location, I find a magic mirror. Great, I think, I'll have that. But before I can type "get mirror", somebody else has beaten me to it! This is the other aspect of MUD. You are actually battling "live" against other players.

The only way to get the mirror back from Denise is to kill her. Of course, there's no guarantee that I'll win. She'll probably kill me instead and I'll have to start again!

Now, here's some of the background to the Adventure itself. Most of what follows was told to me one night by a player under the name of Whizkid. This is the beauty of such a game - there's always someone around to answer your questions.

As well as the constant chat facility, you're also playing a very large Adventure game. Each description, as you'll see from the photograph, is detailed and lengthy. It you're fairly experienced and don't need all the detail then type BRIEF and only the first sentences will be printed. If, on the other hand, you need all the help you can get then type VERBOSE, which is the opposite of BRIEF.

The object of the game is to collect treasure. Dropping it in the swamp will then give you the points associated with that object. As you collect more points, so your character will change. You start off as a novice and progress through characters such as wizard and necromancer. Of course, if you're a female character then you'll be a witch or a necromancess.

There are, in all, ten levels. Stamina is important. Its value ranges between 1 and 100, the higher the better. Stamina will help you in a fight with another player. A fight will also take up some of your stamina. To replenish stamina you must sleep.

One of the first words which many people type when playing an Adventure for the first time are naughty ones. But MUD will not allow this. Using bad language will destroy you and the computer will say: "In an attempt to keep this game uncorrupted you have been killed."

If you are killed in a fight with another player then you are dead. Your character has been destroyed. You will have to log in again and reassign the character or create a new name for yourself. If you die by self-inflicted means like jumping off a cliff then you can still continue playing under the same character.

Just like other adventures there are objects. But because you're not the only player, the objects will not always be in the same place. If Lacrima the witch picks up the sword and drops it near the well, then when you get to the well you'll find the sword there!

You can use the objects to attack players. For example, you can type: "Kill Denise with sword". Denise will then be informed that you are trying to kill her and can take appropriate action. If she has more points than you then she'll probably win the fight. Alternatively she can type FIEE, but you lose points for being a coward.

Talking to a player is easy. Just type the character's name followed by a comma and then the message. So to greet Lacrima the witch, just type: "Lacrima, hi there!"

You can also talk to selective players according to their experiences. For example, type "novice, hi there newcomers!" and all novices will immediately receive your your message.

If you re an inexperienced novice then you can, if you want, choose to enter berserk mode which, as the name implies, will make you berserk! Berserkers have a greater chance of survival if they get involved in a fight. You also have the ability to retrieve the "longsword" from the Excalibur-like rock in which it stands. But a berserker can't flee in a fight. He - or she - must stay and face up to the opponent.

If you have enough power, you can cast spells. You have the ability to summon another player to wherever you happen to be in the game. You can also chase them.

You may also interrogate the computer and ask it where certain objects are hidden. Wizards can even snoop on other players and see exactly what they're typing.

MUD is rapidly becoming a cult game among computer nocturnals. The night during which I played I conversed with around a dozen people, from as far afield as Tokyo!

The game is very user friendly. If you type a word which the computer does not recognise then it will try to help you. If you then feel guilty and type "Sorry", the machine will reply with: "Oh that's quite all right, no need to apologise".

To play MUD, you'll need a suitable terminal with some software and also a modem. Although not perfect, a normal Micronet terminal will work.

You'll also need an account with British Telecom's Packet Switchstream, PSS.

This is a national network of special telephone lines which you access with a normal local phone call and your own password. So although the game runs on a computer in Essex, you can phone it at local rates. You can find out more about PSS from your local British Telecom office.

The reason why a Micronet terminal is far from ideal is not the modem itself but the software. So if you use a BBC for accessing Micronet then you can buy some different software.

You'll need some which scrolls the screen, as opposed to Micronet which starts printing at the top of the screen again each time it reaches the bottom.

Although the normal Micronet software will work, you'll have to keep clearing the screen after each page otherwise the text will become unreadable. If you're using a BBC, the clear screen character is CTRI-L. On a Spectrum, you may be able to adapt the software to send the screen clear character, which is ASCII 12.

It's 6:35 am and the sun is now rising over the C&VG offices. I've been talking to Whizzkid, Denise, Lacrima and the like all night. and we've never actually seen each other or heard their voices.

Whether this is a good idea, I don't know. Personlly, I'm off for some breakfast.

Richard A. Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk)
21st January 1999: cvgjul84.htm