Essex Shows How to Play the Game Hat

Essex Shows How to Play the Game

That a female witch in Wales recently ran up a telephone bill of more than £1000 in three months is largely the fault of the University of Essex Computer Society.

Endora (or Sue in the real world) is one of the 150 people who have so far this year hooked up to the Essex University's DEC-10 computer and become hooked on MUD, the world's first multi-player computer game.

MUD, for Multi-User Dungeon, was originated in 1979 by a Computer Science undergraduate, Roy Trubshaw; when Roy left in 1980 to become a contract programmer in Belgium Richard Bartle, now a PhD student, took over the program and expanded it to its present form.


MUD makes use of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and database management techniques to provide an interactive game which, for the first time, allows more than one person to play at the same time in the same adventure, or simulated environment. "The essence of the game," Richard explains, "is that rather than wandering around the environment all by yourself, killing evil damsels and rescuing dragons in distress, or whatever, you find yourself in a land where there are other real people, too, with the same aims and objectives that you have and with whom you can communicate and interact in any way that is reasonable for that particular world."


Playing the game. Richard Bartle in the background.
Image size: approx. 51K.

A player in MUD starts off as a novice or warrior and the aim of the game is to gain enough points to work up through the ranks (superheroine, sorceress, legend, witch, or hero, enchanter, wizard) by locating hidden treasure, overcoming monsters and generally hacking and slaying, says Richard, either with the help of or in spite of the other humans wandering the landscape. Richard admits that the computer industry has attracted more than its fair share of superlatives, with almost every new product carrying the usual set of gross hyperboles, but he is serious when he claims that MUD could kill single-user games, or SUDs, stone dead. "MUD," he declares, "is an order of magnitude more fun to play than any other computer game."


Since last Autumn MUD has been opened up to players outside the University for a few hours after midnight, when the DEC-10 is is normally idle (This costs the University nothing, and there is no wear and tear on the system). Up to 36 people at a time can play the game as long as they have a computer, can stay awake long enough, and have enough money to pay the cost of the telephone calls that link them to the Essex computer. Regular MUD players get into the game from Japan, Australia and the USA as well as from all corners of the British Isles.

They start playing at midnight sharp and don't stop until the machine is taken away for housekeeping the next morning. Which is how Endor ran up her telephone bill. From somewhere in Wales she played every night for four weeks to reach witch, and continued to do so for some time afterwards. After three months her phone bill was into four figures. A computer games company is known to be interested in MUD, and BBC television is to feature the game later this year in a special programme on computers.

Richard A. Bartle (
21st January 1999: wivjun84.htm