Modems and Mazes Hat

Modems and Mazes

Life and Death Over the Phone


MUD2 (Multi-User Dungeon) is probably the most sophisticated MUA (Multi-User Adventure) in the world, with a big lead over its closest rivals. Although roughly the same age as Shades - about six years - MUD2 is a second generation MUA and was designed for portability and endurability. Thus, there are versions of its interpreter in both C and Pascal, and it runs on a VAX under VMS, an Archimedes and a PC clone under Unix, and an Atari ST under OS9. The same database will load on all these configurations... even Macintosh, BBC, or Spectrum with standard comm software.

In almost every respect of MUA technology, MUD2 excels. Its breadth and depth are unparalleled, its atmosphere compelling, and its management efficient.

MUD2 tackles detail in extreme depth being the only MUA (to my knowledge) that deals routinely with fluids (miscible or otherwise), heat, all audio-visual effects, smells and even tactile senses like consistency. If you drop an object from a height through several vertically placed rooms into running water, the system will consider impact damage, water damage, and will place the object either where it lands or further down stream depending on whether it floats or not - players in intervening rooms will see it pass. This form of world modelling adds a sense of realism to MUD2 which most other games cannot even represent in their definition languages, let alone emulate in practice.

The number of commands, spells and interactions MUD2 supports is also extensive. Many of its nuances are found only occasionally by the more enterprising players, and it has a dedicated band of enthusiasts whose main preoccupation is simply exploring the range of command possibilities the game might have.

MUD2's mobiles (or monsters) are again the most sophisticated I have ever seen in an MUA. MUD2 has over 160 different types of mobiles (some fly, some swim, some regenerate, some can cast spells). They are also multi-functional; for example, there is a sword that can be used for combat as expected, but it also continually makes comments about its wielder, its own prowess, other weapons, fights, and even the weather. It will inform its owner of when magic has been cast against them, and cure them of ailments (especially if they deafen themselves to avoid its endless chatter!).

Even mundane mobiles are very advanced. They incorporate other expert systems that enable them to fight (often better than the players); MUD2's thief knows not only how to steal objects, but how to score points for them (it carries them to a swamp room and drops them there). Most mobiles know which weapon to use, to drop useless objects when attacked, to attempt to steal useful objects from opponents in a fight, when to flee, and when to offer a withdrawal (MUD2 has a mechanism by which combatants can agree to stop fighting without loosing points). Mobiles are also capable of planning to achieve goals, e.g. if they can't go west because there is a locked door in the way, they should unlock it with the correct key and then proceed.

There are eleven levels in MUD2, which fall into two streams (magical/non-magical) and two forms (protected and non-protected persona ). Only magic-users who are not protected personae can reach Wizard. The distinction between fighters and magic-users is unusual, and although it does add something to the game, MUD2 could survive quite adequately without it, treating everyone as if they were magic-users. To switch from fighter to magic user there's a special object (The Touchstone) that must be touched but carries the high chance of causing death at lower level. Needless to say, there are some players who are none-too-keen on the idea while others look on it as a watershed that thrusts their play into a different gear. Protected personae are mainly explorers who don't want to be molested by other players. Conversion back to the normal stream is allowed at any time, at a cost of two thirds of the player's personae score. This ensures that people with no aspirations of reaching Wizard can play in relative safety, but that anyone seeking the top rank must risk.

Another safeguard that ensures unsuitable people don't sneak to Wizard status is a system of tasks. There are eight quests, seven of which a persona must solve in order to become a Wizard. Some require cooperation with other players, some test knowledge of the game, some test fighting ability and some are simply puzzles; most are in combination. It's nice to know that any Wizard you come across has a broad education in the game.

It's just as well really because Wizard powers in MUD2 are considerable. As well as object, mobile and room creation, wizards can attach to playing several beings at once). There is a full compliment of proof commands, and multiple snoops are possible. There are four levels of invisibility, so Wizards can choose to whom they are visible. Wizards have the ability to alter the manner in which players are described, and the messages given when arriving, departing or using magic.

Among MUD2's other features are: a command that draws birds-eye view maps; a safe start location where people can enter the game for a chat to see who's playing without risking assault; many-on-many fights; a wide range of spells with their effects properly handled (so if you're blinded and walk into a room where dripping water can be heard, you'll be given that part of the room description but not the rest); and delayed effect actions.

To novice players. MUD2 can seem imposing. This is usually because its sophistication, though concealed from newcomers in part, is nonetheless sufficiently evident. To ease the way, a pair of excellent handbooks are provided that answer many of the questions that enter newcomers' minds (but which reviewers don't always bother to read...). The game itself has special novice-level treasure that other players are discouraged (by its negative value) from picking up, and which is therefore often in play even when a reset (a system reboot) is due. Room descriptions are friendly in areas frequented by novices, and get increasingly forbidding the further away one travels; MUD2's prose is generally regarded as the finest of any MUA's. There is a tour facility which enables prospective players to be shown round various areas of the game with a running commentary (taking account of what's currently in the room being visited).

Fighting in MUD2 is of the automatic variety, with spells, potions and (breakable) weapons available for use. Death results in persona deletion, irrespective of who started the fight; although this is regarded as unfair by many inexperienced players, those who have played for longer realise tha1 it is the best approach to adopt - in terms of game management, it's essential. MUD2 is managed by its author, the most experienced of all MUA managers.

There is a full classification system in MUD2, which readily accepts commands such as "get food" (to pick up anything that might be edible). Unlike many of the first generation games, it allows multiple objects of the same type, however since its parser is underpowered on adjectives (it parses them perfectly, but not many are defined) that leads to objects with names like "key21". This can ruin the atmosphere.

Because of the game's high puzzle-density and large number of objects, it resets every 105 minutes; this is despite its average size (around 500 rooms).

MUD2 is programmed in a special MUA programming language called MUDDLE. This is the key to its success, since it gives complete control to the MUA designer without hardwiring essential functions into its interpreter. Object-oriented in concept, but reading like a hierarchical version of Prolog, MUDDLE's versatility should ensure that MUD2 maintains its lead position in the MUA world for some time yet.

In summary, MUD2 is well designed, has superb depth, is wide-ranging in its scope, and is easily modifiable. Its age belies its advanced features, particularly its mobiles and the facilities provided for the Wizards. Its atmosphere is carefully maintained by powerful room descriptions, and its gameplay is well thought out. Only its parser is less than satisfactory. Clearly, MUD2 stands and shoulders above all other MUAs. However, it has enjoyed only modest success compared to, say, Shades. This is almost entirely due to its being tied to BT by an agreement that was rendered inappropriate within a year because of reorganisations within the company.

Technical Information: 300, 1200, or 2400 Baud MNP5; 8 Nl; MUD2 has been re-written in C to run under Unix, therefore being much faster processing.

Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: tglate91.htm