Glorious MUD Hat

Glorious MUD

If you thought MUD was just for pigs, Andy Mitchell shows you it can also mean good, clean, and now more colourful, fun.

When it comes to dungeons, you can have any colour you like providing it's 'MUD' brown. Unhappily, Hobson's choice is usually the order of the day when you log onto a MUD, but if you're looking for a horse of a different colour then we have good news for you. This month we've been whisked over the rainbow to take a peek at one magical world that's about to burst into colour.

Just think how computer hardware and software has developed over the last fifteen years. The tacky Spectrum has been transformed into the blistering fast Pentium PC, and the pixels from that sedate bat and ball game have been reassembled into a world of cordite and mayhem called Doom. Everything, it seems, has been leaping forward at an astonishing pace. However there is one corner of the picture which has stubbornly stayed in the shadows. (Or should that be 'Shades'?) The imaginative world of text adventures, so beloved by the enthusiast, has finally been driven off our screens by the new generation of exciting graphic games, but its half-cousin - the MUD - still survives. Ignoring everything that the new pixel-conjuring magicians can produce, there still exists a multitude of text-only Multi-User Dungeon games that are alive and thriving on the Internet. Thousands of people logon each day to do battle with ASCII monsters and to collect monochrome treasure. And to think that all of this takes place without beer!

In my opinion, MUD-wrestling is not much fun when you're fully clothed, and it's about time someone got serious about giving the genre a modern face-lift. Is anyone going to claim that computers were easier to use before Microsoft Windows or the Apple Macintosh mouse came on the scene? Would you rather type the command 'Pick up antique phonograph', or would you prefer to simply point at a picture of the object and press a mouse button? MUDs are fun, and interacting with other players from all around the world is fascinating, so why saddle the whole thing with a control system which belongs in the Science Museum? Happily there is a group of three ex-students who not only think it's time for a change, they have done something about it.


The new interface with mail feature.
Image size: approx. 21K.

These three students, from Oxford's Brookes University, found MUDs on the network, fell in love with them, then decided to set up one of their own. The three worked on turning the basic game engine they had been given into one of Britain's few major MUDs - Terradome. Having established the game and built up an army of regular players, they then went on to spend more time than their studies should have allowed, counselling new players and acting as unpaid referees and system managers. As the game is available 24 hours a day they roped in other players from across the globe to share the responsibility. While Britain slept, players from as far away as Australia could find themselves playing a game running in Oxford, while receiving help from the duty referee in America or Norway.

The original game has been available on the Net for a few years now and already it has 1500 registered users, and is growing at a rate of approximately 200 new players per week. 24 hours a day you can be sure to find up to 30 dungeoneers stumbling around its 2000 rooms, searching for the 1200 strange objects which are to be found there. The game is set amidst the traditional landscape of mountains, glaciers, castles and dark dungeons, and the players spend their leisure time carrying out quests and learning arcane spells.

Playing games like these is fun enough when you are on your own, but when you can also meet and chat with other players within these magical surroundings the whole thing becomes a virtual world of possibilities. Dave McGhee - the leader of the three-man Terradome development team - decided that newcomers were being dissuaded from playing such games because of the problems caused by the confusing game commands. With this in mind, the team set out to create a front-end which would simplify things.

The three guys responsible for the new look MUD are: Dave McGhee, now a network consultant for a small electronics company. Steve Gray, who is the software designer and coder of the interface, and who also works as a programmer and systems developer alongside Dave. The final main contributor is Nick jackson who is a primary school teacher, and it is his task to develop the links and hooks between the original Terradome game and the new interface. Behind these front men are a host of part-time enthusiasts who are responsible for collecting and assembling the vast number of suitable graphic images which are needed to portray the thousands of locations which make up the Terradome MUD. In the main these extra workers are regular Terradome players who have volunteered to scour the network for images which can be formed into the library of graphics required. In this way players from all over the world are contributing to the project without ever having come face to face with each other - except at the opposite end of a virtual sword!

Now, after three years in development, the first Windows interface for a MUD is about to be offered to the game's users. The original game will still respond to those players who wish to continue using traditional text entry, but users of the new software will have all the comforts of a 'point-and-click' system. In addition, built-in 'hooks' will enable the GUI users to receive graphic images on their Windows-driven screens. A central panel in the middle of the display will feature the familiar text screen and this will contain the written descriptions of the location, objects which can be seen, and the conversations which are going on around you.


The new interface still uses text-based descriptions of the scene around you.
Image size: approx. 86K.

Other windows will display graphical images of the objects and it will be possible to simply pick up one of these by selecting it with the mouse pointer and transferring it to the inventory window. Images of the other players and the computer controlled characters who are nearby will also be displayed.

Pull-down menus of useful commands will be incorporated, instead of the endless number of shorthand keys and code words which text-only players have to master. Think how easier life will be when selecting stock actions and responses from your most useful command list, instead of wrestling with the keyboard.

To get around the problem of the slow transmission of data over the network, copies of all of the graphics which are required will be held on the user's local machine and these will be displayed in response to commands from the game server. To begin with the graphics will be simple, scanned images representing the location the player is currently in, plus line drawings of objects and the other players. Future enhancements are planned to include animation and zoom features.

As regular players of Terradome will know, this is a world which is constantly changing with the addition of new locations and objects. To enable the new interface to cope with this, players will be able to download the graphics required from a special FTP site. As well as graphics, sound effects are planned to be introduced, and they too will involve an initial download plus routine updates. If all goes well, plans for voice-operated commands will be incorporated, plus the ability to have spoken descriptions in addition to text.

Moving through each of the game's 55 zones is carried out by simply pointing at the compass icon and selecting the direction desired.

Bulletin boards scattered through the locations are an exciting existing feature. Some of these boards are used by the game managers to make announcements while others are for the use of the special interest groups to pass on messages to their members.

An example of the new interface can be shown by picking up the 'eye' icon and placing it on the graphic symbolising the bulletin board, and the board's messages will now be displayed.


What is a MUD?

MUD stands for Multi-User Dungeon. Multi-User Dungeons are "interactive multi-user realities". Still none the wiser? Well, think of them as multi-user adventure games. They are places where people can 'virtually' meet on the Internet and play games, solve puzzles, role-play, or just chat. All this takes place in a virtual world which, in some cases, the players can construct as they go along. Until now most MUDs have been text-based, but more are starting to involve some form of graphical interface, and many have Web pages which offer a gateway into that particular virtual world. is a link to a whole conurbation of MUDs, such as the sprawl.
Image size: approx. 15K.

An example of how ambitious the new interface is, can be seen in the features which deal with communication beyond the boundaries of the single Terradome game. Although the interface is only designed to work with the Terradome game system, the aim is to encourage other groups to create alternate Terradome worlds throughout the Net and then allow players to travel between them in one big game. It will be possible to hop from one world into another, then hop back again and continue with your quest. All of this will be done without ever having to log in and out of the separate games. By this means a thousand worlds may flourish. The existing mail facility - which allows players to leave messages for each other - has been updated and included in the new interface. Not only will players now be able to mail one another within the game, the 'hooks' are in place to mail to characters in other kingdoms within the distributed Terradome worlds.

Who am I?

One of the fun aspects of MUDs is the creation of your alternate persona. To get maximum fun out of the game you should do more than merely think up a silly name to travel under. A committed player will also concoct his/her own personality and have a clear idea of their physical appearance. During their time within the game it is essential that they follow the personality traits which they have adopted so others will come to know what reactions to expect from them. To help other players see what you look like, the new interface allows you to create an identikit face of yourself and this picture will be displayed when you encounter strangers. As the face you create will be made up from a library of known parts (e.g. nose 23, eyes 33, beard 15 etc.), the game can send the

Richard A. Bartle (
1st February 2000: ictjul95.htm