Game with cult status Hat


Image size: approx. 45K.

Map of Mud
Image size: approx. 64K.

Game with cult status

Ever sat down with one of those frustratingly difficult adventure games and tried and tried again to crack the magic codes? How you wish for a wizard to come along and give you the answer.

Better still, what about contacting a player who has already been that way before to discuss tactics and even gang up against the evil forces? Well all these things and more are possible in Mud, a network game which has leapt into the big time from Essex University onto Compunet.

It is truly a multiple player game. Just dial the mainframe, log-on and begin wandering around - you never know who you might bump into.

Mud runs on a big core DEC 10 at Essex - although access is strictly limited - where it is the brainchild of IT lecturer Richard Bartle and programmer extraordinaire Roy Trubshaw. Over the last two years they have developed Mud into a real cult, the next generation game beginning to push back the frontiers of artificial intelligence.

Access had been via PSS (Packet Switchstream) and codes were kept strictly with the elite of the modem fraternity. But now Century Publishing has acquired the rights and launched it on Compunet - although at £3 an hour and £5 a quarter membership, it can work out quite expensive.

Century have to pay bureau charges to the ADP Network Services company and the game is only open from 6pm to 9pm, but it is early days yet.

Addictive is a word bandied around about many games. But Mud is THE addictive game. It's refreshing, it's always different and it involves you and as many other players who happen to be logged on at the same time.

Addictive it certainly was to one player in Wales. She clocked up a reported £3,000 telephone and PSS bill before there was a knock on the door...

But Mud represents the next big breakthrough in computer entertainment and charges are bound to fall as Compunet becomes more popular. The game may well appear on other systems too.

Simon Dalley of Century says: "I first saw Mud last spring. The moment I saw it I knew here was the game of the future.

"It's so exciting and absorbing actually playing with and against players you have never met before in your life. That's the beauty of network games. "The other important thing about Mud is that the thoughts behind the game can obviously be expanded to other applications. Central to the program is the system's ability to recognise and broadcast locations to all other players so people can meet, say in a particular room, and hold a conversation".

What of the game itself? On Compunet Mud opens with a hi-res graphic of a thatched cottage opposite an ancient cemetery. From then on the magic of Mud opens up.

You begin by standing on a narrow road. There is a wall running on one side and small foothills leading to mountains on the other.

At this point you can announce yourself to the other players using a CB handle if you wish. They can come back along the road and talk to you or you may even get some help from the wizard.

Now the wizard isn't just a random happening in the game. It involves a real player - a sort of chess master - who has reached a certain level of skill and is able to assist by wandering from place to place looking for mere mortals to help along the way.

Century in fact employs two wizards to roam the mountain lanes. As the action unfolds so does the strength of Mud because embodied it is a sophisticated teleconferencing facility.

You can ask players what they are carrying and even try to steal items from them. You can follow players around and give items you don't want to them.

You can hold conversations and prefix a player's name so no one else can hear. But that player could reply making sure that everyone in the particular scenario can hear!

The game gets even more interesting when the wizard decides to get up to some tricks. His magical power means he can move objects - even mountains.

As the game progresses you accumulate points in battle or by finding treasure. The more points you get the more prized status you get.

Status in Mud moves from Novice, Warrior, Hero, Champion, Superhero, Enchanter, Sorcerer, Necromancer, Legend and finally to Wizard.

Players tend to sign on with their status level so when you bump into somebody, you know whether they are superior Mud beings.

So that's Mud. There is Valley and Rock too. And I am told Mud is being rewritten so that it can run on other machines.


Following Mud...

Having seen Mud snatched from under its nose by Compunet, Viewfax 258 is determined to introduce its own interactive multi-user adventure game this year.

"We have a team currently developing a similar type of game to Mud", Viewfax managing director Lindsay Reid told TeleLink.

"We will launch it within the next few months - provided we go ahead with our plans for a Prestel gateway".

The gateway project involves Viewfax spending more than &#a63;50,000 on a remote computer. But Reid is confident a Mud-style game could go a long way toward recouping the cost.

"We would run it like a pay-as-you-play arcade game", he said. "It would be exclusive to Prestel users on Viewfax and players would be debited directly through their Prestel bill. By making sure we got our money in via British Telecom we would avoid credit card rip-offs".

"Assuming everything goes according to plan we would operate the game linking a computer to the Prestel network via Gateway, with sufficient ports to take, say, at least eight simultaneous players. If the game is good enough, I'm sure it would attract many more.

"We've been trying to decide whether, if we go ahead, we can put constraints on players, and if so would it be fair to do so.

"I looked at invoking a time out procedure once a user had been on for a period, but unless we had a save game file, I'm sure there would be an instant and frustrated reaction.

"A solution may be to operate the game in blocks of quite long periods, and for prospective players to book their 'court' in advance".

One obstacle to this interactive application is the PSS charges which would be levied on Viewfax, as it is currently this network on which gateway links are established. PSS charges are partly levied on the amount of data - and not the time - flowing across the network, which leaves any gateway operator having to make sure he gets his sums right.

"We are having discussions with a number of parties about this, but it is likely the whole procedure wuuld take some time. Certainly this is the type of service we would like to be able to introduce", said Lindsay Reid.

A full review of Mud appears on Viewfax page *258. Other information can be found in Clubspot 810's networking pages operated by the Association of London Computer Clubs.

Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: tlljan85.htm