Muddy waters Hat

Muddy Waters

Martin Croft talks to Simon Dally about his interactive adventure being launched by British Telecom later this year.

Few computer literates can have survived the last 12 months without having heard of MUD - Multi User Dungeon - the play-by-modem interactive adventure game.

MUD is already running on the Compunet database and now, through a licencing deal with British Telecom worth well into five figures, it will be available to ordinary phone users in an enhanced form - MUD 2 - before the end of this year.

Simon Dally is the man largely responsible for MUD's new-found recognition. He was senior editor of Century Communications when the game's two authors Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, decided to go commercial after four years of running MUD on the University of Essex computer. Simon saw the potential of the game and signed a licensing deal for Century.

Now Simon Dally is managing director of Multi User Entertainment, a new company set up specifically to develop and market games like MUD. Bartle and Trubshaw are directors, and the firm has financial backing from Century.

The heart of MUD is the database, which runs on any mini computer. Players can access that database via their modems, turning their micros into remote terminals for the mini. They can then communicate with the game by typing in the standard range of commands that can be found on just about any adventure game.

But the important thing about MUD - what makes it unique, certainly in this country, and possibly the rest of the world as well - is that more than one player can take part at the same time. This means that characters in the same area of the Land of Mud can talk to each other, even though the actual players may be hundreds of miles apart.

In addition, certain of the puzzles within the game require co-operation between players. The most obvious example is the getting the crown, the most valuable treasure in the game. It is hidden in the swamp, which is a maze. But the usual method of solving mazes - leaving objects in each location so as to be able to tell them apart - won't work as inanimate objects sink into the mud.

The only objects which do not sink are people - other players' characters. So to solve the riddle of the swamp, a group of players must act together.

Of course, only one of them can score points for the crown - but then, diplomacy is half the fun of the game.

Treasure is important because players score points for it. The more points scored, the higher up the status ladder the players climb. The ultimate objective is to reach the exalted rank of Wizard - which enables you to have enormous fun teasing less powerful players.

Up until the time Simon Dally left Century, his career was moving along conventional lines. After leaving Oxford University he joined Weidenfeld, the publishing house, and after 18 months was given the editorship of their books list covering sports, games and leisure. His publishing philosophy is simple.

"It doesn't matter what books you do, it's how you set about marketing them."

Simon then moved from Weidenfeld to Harrap, where he was in charge of their general books list. Later, he went to Century to edit computer books.

But while Simon was moving up the publishing ladder, his real interest lay elsewhere - with games.

"I've always been a games player - bridge and chess to begin with, then Diplomacy in the mid seventies, at the same time as Richard Bartle was running his diplomacy magazine, Sauce of the Nile." He became interested in micros pretty early on. "I had an Atari games console imported from the States in 1978, before they were available here."

His first professional involvement in computing came when a fellow editor at Harrap went to Addison Valley to set up Acorn User - Simon was asked to invent a competition for the first issue, and he has been setting the puzzles for the magazine ever since.

Simon now has three micros - a BBC B, a Tandy Model 3, and a Tandy Model 100 which sits on his desk at work. With an acoustic modem, he uses the Model 100 for all his business needs.

"I came across MUD because all the teenage authors I was seeing at the time were talking about it.

"I must admit that I had no idea it would attract as much publicity as it did last year - I hadn't even played it when I signed up Richard Bartle."

Multi User Entertainment was set up because, as Simon says, "It dawned on me that the only way to get MUD off the ground was to create a company for it.

"Century did a lot to help set the company up, and are shareholders along with myself, Richard and Roy.

"MUD is still the best game of its kind - and MUD 2 will amaze the world," says Simon.

The present MUD contains about 400 rooms, but the new one wiL have around 1,000. The idea, according to Simon Dally, is to have some 10 rooms for each player - so MUD 2 wiLl be able to handle up to 100 players at the same time.

Another difference is in the mobiles - that's the term used to refer to the wandering monsters that can be found in the game. In MUD, they just run around being general nuisances and giving players the opportunity to pick up some more points (if they are brave enough!)

MUD 2s mobiles, however, will be far more powerful, and will also be given artificial intelligence, so that they will act in much the same way as player characters. This means that you will be able to talk to them, trade with them, even ally with them. Obviously, this opens up far more possibilities.

MUD 2 will be launched in September and British Telecom will initially be running the game with 36 lines, increasing to 100 when demand justifies.

If you want to play MUD 2, you will need to register with BT and get a modem. Baud rate will be both 1200/7S and 300/300. The game will be running between 6.00 in the evening and 8.00 in the morning - basically during the slack period outside the business day. As such BT are very keen on the idea - it maximises the use and profit of their own minicomputers.

To register, you will have to buy a MVD starter pack. (This will probably be called a MUD Pack!). It will contain an introduction to the game, a rule book, a map of MUD, and a certain number of free credits. The packs will sell for around £20.00.

Once the initial free credits are gone the cost of the game will be approximately £2.00 per hour.

"It's a big step to take the plunge and become your own boss, but I'm fascinated by what I'm doing now - it's akin to setthg up my own publishing company, " Simon says.

"I know the BT venture is just the start of something truly enormous."


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Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: pcwmay85.htm