A MUGS GAME Hat

In the first of our regular investigations in the weird and wonderful world of Multi-User Games, our ace MUGger Quadile looks at the grandaddy of all interactive games....

M.U.D

The story begins with a couple of students at Essex University, in 1979. One of them, Roy Trubshaw, discovered Adventure, the first single-user adventure game, written by Crowther and Woods to run on DEC mainframe computers. You can still play an expanded version of it as it forms the first part of the Jewels of Darkness trilogy from Mandarin Software.

Roy, however, was not satisfied. As far as he was concerned, there were two things wrong with Adventure. Firstly, he didn't like the way it was programmed. Secondly, and more importantly for all of us, he didn't like the fact that only one person could play at a time.

Roy made a few changes to the programming structure, and introduced a facility for several people to play at once - meeting each other in the game and interacting.

Enter Richard Bartle. He helped Roy with the original plans, and when Roy left college, he took it over while studying for his PhD. Essex University allowed him to let non-university computer buffs phone into the computer to play, and help develop the game. And that's how MUD, the Multi User Dungeon, was born.

Because many of the people who've written their own MUGs started playing on Essex MUD, most games have at least some 'borrowings' from the original.


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MUG NEWS

  • The Zone, where you score points by making love, is now available on the same network as Gods. Itís free while testing takes place: ring 01-256 8427 for details.

    Gods is also available in Germany now, would you believe it. If you want to play in German, at hideous cost, the number is 010-49-2235-42091.

  • New faces at the recent Adventure 88 convention were the Guildhall team showing a single-user version of their new game. Heavily geared towards role-playing, with character classes, and multiple magic systems, the game should be ready to go multi-user by the New Year.
  • Killing the same person three times in a row has been banned on Shades by Lordant the Arch Wizard. Perhaps heís celebrating his recent engagement to Heloise the Witch? On the same game, an attempt to hold a MUG Olympics has revealed an electronic equivalent to steroids - using ultra-fast modems to gain the advantage!
  • Rumours of a transputer-based megaMUG for the Prestel Network have been firmly denied by BTís Felicity Thorpe. But Prestel-based Micronet does plan to bring a new MUG online early next year.


The key aspects of MUD can be summed up simply. It's like a role-playing game in that you start with few powers and no points. Each time you play, your score is saved so you can continue where you left off. The aim is to go up in level until you get to Wizard, at which point you are granted vast powers to create new objects, move other players around at will, and even kill them if you think they are misbehaving.

You score points either by 'SWAMPING' treasure that you've found - taking it to the swamp and dropping it in - or by killing creatures. These can be other players, or 'mobiles'- a term Richard coined to describe the computer-controlled beings that wander around the land.

There's magic system whereby simple spells can be cast, such as summoning another player to your location, and a stamina rating to tell you when you're dead. You can keep your stamina up either by going to sleep (preferably somewhere safe!) or by eating miraculous wafers - very useful in the middle of a fight.

The original MUD is still remembered fondly by old-timers, but it was too good to remain locked away in a university computer. When Richard left Essex, he took the game with him, wrote a book about it, and then with the help of his publisher Simon Dally formed MUSE, to sell the game commercially.

"British Telecom put up the initial capital for us", says Richard, "which we still haven't paid back! The original MUD was available on the Compunet and Compuserve networks, while MUD II was designed for Prestel".

In fact, due to various political shenanigans at BT, MUD II never got to Prestel, but was launched on an independent system of its own. In spite of the game's fame, prices and lack of advertising won it little support

However, in the past year it has been available on the much better-known Telecom Gold network, and the game has found a new lease of life. Richard estimates there are about 2,000 players all told, of whom about 200 are regulars, with a couple of dozen playing every day.

Richard is critical of the Compunet experiment with the original game. In the days when it was free, MUD was a chaotic, anarchic thing, and many free MUGs are much the same today. When I say free, we're talking about free of charges for the game itself - no MUG is free when it comes to your telephone bill!

Because it was free, the game controllers didn't have to bother too much about what happened if people got killed unfairly by a deranged wizard souped to the gills on Thunderbird. So they lost all their points. So what? It's only a game. This sort of mayhem was abolished when MUD II went commercial.

When Compunet tried to bring back the anarchy, it backfired. Players who had invested a lot of money in their characters were fed up when they lost them 'unfairly'. Memorably, one player successfully sued over his dead character. "We don't have a killer problem in MUD II", says Richard. "There are players who play for the points, and enjoy the puzzles - they are adventure gamers. Then there are players who play just for fun, who like role-playing. If we did get any really destructive Wizards, we'd stop them".

" Some people reach Wizard and nobody knows who they are: people have done it using two accounts, with completely different characters".

It's theoretically possible to get to Wizard in 50 hours or so, but you'd have to know the game backwards first, and play continuously to do it. Six months is a more realistic assessment, assuming you played reasonably regularly. "The most important thing about MUGs is the interaction" says Richard. "Of course, the bigger the computer, the more mobiles you have and so on, that helps ... but it is interaction that counts".

"Multi-User Adventures should be ubiquitous. A way to be whatever you want to be - it doesn't matter what you are in real life. We have blind people playing, let alone the deaf. We've had celebrities playing. You can be completely anonymous, with a degree of freedom not available in the real world".


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MUD II: HOW TO GET PLAYING

You need a home computer. And of the common makes will do. You need a modem capable of 1200/75 or 1200/1200 baud rates (the speed at which data is sent down the phone lines) and software which will provide a standard scrolling terminal.

You can try out MUD II free of charge by hooking up your computer and modem and dialling Telecom Gold on the following numbers:

  • 01-583 1275 (1200/75 modems)
  • 01-583 1200 (1200/1200 modems)

When you are connected, type CALL 41 which takes you to the MUD area.

Then type in MUDGUEST when asled for your User ID and PROSPECT when asled for your Password. You will then get a few minutes free time to look at the information about MUD and play the game.

At present, you donít have to pay Telecom Gold charges on top of MUD charges, which makes it very good value. MUD itself operates a credit system, where you buy time in advance. For more details, get in touch with MUSE at 85 Linden Gardens, Notting Hill, London W2 or ring 01-229-1603.


Richard A. Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk)
21st January 1999: gmjan89.htm