Glorious MUD Hat

Computer games

Glorious mud

"Interacting can mean anything from kissing to killing or stealing." Thus begins the instructions for Mud, the multi-user-dungeon game housed in a DEC main-frame computer at Britain's Essex University. Since the beginning of this year, computer users in Britain, Europe, Japan and America have been linking up with Mud to work and war with each other.

Home computers and networking are old hat, but Mud for the first time puts the two together to allow people to play games against unknown adversaries from anywhere in the world. The link, a public-access viewdata network called Compunet, is a rival to British Telecom's Prestel viewdata. It offers a range of services for an annual subscription fee of £30 and is reached from a home computer through a telephone line.

Mud is an adventure game with 430 locations. A player moves by giving directions (eg, N, SE) and is given a description of his surroundings (eg, you are on a narrow road with foothills on either side, ahead lies a misty graveyard), but no map. The aim is to find treasures and dump them in the swamp. However, up to 32 others are also after the loot, so tricky battles can ensue.

A player starts the game as a mere. mortal and, over days of fighting and negotiating with software-generated and human opponents, can be promoted through 10 ranks - eg, warrior, sorcerer - up to wizard. Each status carries certain powers, such as invisibility or "location-leapfrogging".

Home-computer users are beginning to complain that most games packages are too simple and too similar. Mud provides them with the unpredictability of human adversaries. Complexity and collaboration are the main pulls of the game. Century Publishing, which owns the rights to Mud, says players with higher status tend to assume responsibility for the ordinary players (who are announced as they enter Mud). Throughout the game players round the (real) world can chat on the screen. Some users arrange to meet face-to-face. One player in Wales clocked up a telephone bill of £3,000 before she was cut off.

Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: te230285.htm