Early MUD History Hat

From: Richard@tharr.UUCP (Richard Bartle)
Subject: Early MUD history.
Date: 15 Nov 90 19:00:55 GMT

abermud@ed.ac.uk (Alan Cox) writes:
> The history of MUDs all starts in the UK, about 1979. Roy Trubshaw, a
> student at Essex University, started writing MUD, a game written in BCPL
> on a DEC-10. Along with Richard Bartle, who tidied up the system and added
> a very crude database compiler for it, they produced a very good combat
> game for it.

Since most of this "early history" stuff got passed down by word of mouth,
here's how it "really" happened...

	The very first MUD was written by Roy Trubshaw in MACRO-10 (the
machine code for DECsystem-10's). Date-wise, it was Autumn 1978. The game was
originally little more than a series of inter-connected locations where you
could move and chat. I don't think it was called MUD at that stage, but I'd
have to ask Roy to be sure. Roy rewrote it almost immediately, and the next
version, also in MACRO-10, was much more sophisticated. This one was
definitely called MUD (I still have a printout of it). The database (ie. the
rooms, objects, commands etc.) was defined in a separate file, but it could
also be added to during play. However, the result was that people added new
rooms that were completely out of keeping with the rest of the environment,
and, worse, added new commands that removed any spirit of exploration and
adventure that the game may have had.

	In those days, memory was at a premium, and on Essex University's
DEC-10 we had something like 50K maximum (36-bit words) to use. The game
definition stuff took up too much memory, so Roy decided to ditch it. The
program was also becoming unmanageable, as it was written in assembler.
Hence, he rewrote everything in BCPL, starting late 1979 and working up
to about Easter 1980. The finished product was the heart of the system which
many people came to believe was the "original" MUD. In fact, it was version 3.

	I had been helping Roy with the game-side of things for some time,
starting with suggestions for version 1. Roy was mainly interested in the
programming side of things, rather than the design of rooms, puzzles and so
on. When he left Essex, I took over full control. At that point, there was no
objective for the players, and only primitive communication. There was
no points-scoring system, there were no mobiles, no containers, and even some
of the infrastructure was missing (eg. two people in a dark room, one with a
torch: the other still couldn't see). In terms of lines of code, Roy gave
me about 25% of what was in the final program (mind you, it was the most
essential 25%!). I added all the stuff about getting to be a wizard (which
was previously 'debug mode' so implementors - Roy and I - could test out new
room complexes we'd added).

	Roy's reasons for writing MUD were twofold: to make a multi-player
adventure game; to write an interpreter for a database definition language.
The language he developed was rather crude, and I had to hack it to get it
to do a lot of the things I wanted to do. This was partly because Roy didn't
know the kind of things that would be needed from a game-design perspective,
and partly because the multi-user aspect came to dominate the project.
However, the core of the database definition language (MUD definition
language - MUDDL) was all Roy's. I didn't add it, I added TO it.

	Although Roy had written the basis of the system, it wasn't really
a game, nor was it completely usable. Sometimes, the implication is given
that I merely modified his program, or tidied up a few loose ends, whereas
actually I wrote most of it (and unwrote some of it!). At other times, there's
the suggestion that Roy just knocked together a basic shell devoid of anything
really original or interesting; again, that's incorrect - Roy pioneered MUD
programming, and had to design everything from scratch. So the writing of
that first MUD was basically a team effort, and the way Roy and I expect to
see it described is "MUD was created and written by Roy Trubshaw and Richard
Bartle at Essex University in the UK", or words to that effect.

	At this time, there was an experimental packet-switching system
(EPSS) linking Essex University to ArpaNet in the USA. In Spring 1980, we got
our first few external players logging in and trying the game out (one of
whom I met recently by complete chance in a hotel in Annapolis, MD). There's
a reference to MUD in an article on Zork in the December 1980 issue of
Byte. Interestingly, it also mentions an earlier multi-player version of
Zork, but neither I nor Roy were aware of it at the time. I've never found
any other references to it, so I don't know how MUD-like it was.

	MUD only had one database for the first couple of years, then I
took out all the "generic" bits (eg. get/drop/quit commands, spells, common
objects like doors & keys) and put them into a set of include files. I
then wrote another game called Valley, using the MUD interpreter and the
include files, but with another set of rooms and puzzles. Although I'm only
a year younger than Roy, I was able to stay on at Essex and work on the system
because I became a postgraduate (and, later still, a lecturer) there. Some
undergraduate friends took the interpreter and include files (with my
permission), and used them as a basis for their own games. The first of these
was Rock (based on Fraggle Rock, the TV show), but others that spring to mind
were BLUD (very deadly), UNI (a simulation of the University, with spoof
monsters for the members of staff), and MIST (about which you know). After I
left Essex, I let them run MUD for two or three years for old time's sake,
but after a while its code was adulterated by a new bunch of well-meaning
undergrads, so I took it away; people were getting a false idea of what the
game was meant to be like (and besides, they'd removed my name from the
arch-wizard list!). The original MUD is back now, I understand, and will
remain there until the DEC-10 is switched off (if it hasn't gone already).

	The game was initially populated primarily by students at Essex, but
as time wore on and we got more external lines to the DEC-10, outsiders
joined in. Soon, the machine was swamped by games-players, but the University
authorities were kind enough to allow people to log in from the outside
solely to play MUD, so long as they did so between 2am and 6am in the morning
(or 10pm to 10am weekends). Even at those hours, the game was always full to
capacity. Thus, MUD became a popular pastime throughout the modem-using
computer hobbyists of Britain. I also sent copies of the code to Norway,
Sweden, Australia and the USA.

I could go on, but then we stop being early days and start being present
days, so I won't! Suffice to say that the original game was licensed to
CompuServe, where it still runs to this day, labouring under the name of
"British Legends".

Richard Bartle.

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