Hackers' heaven Hat

Hackers' heaven

Dungeons and dragons isn't much fun on your own. David Janda taps in on the real action for 32 players

MUD (Multi User Dungeon) is an adventure game with a difference. First, it is played on a mainframe computer so you need access to communications equipment to play it, and secondly, it's not just you and the computer - up to 32 people can play the game at the same time! Although the game is difficult to access for the normal user, it is one of the most widely discussed around. It's also very addictive. To understand why it is necessary to understand present day one-to-one adventures.

In most adventure games you take on the role of some character who has to achieve a certain goal. You control the character's movements by giving the micro commands such as 'North' to move North, 'Look' to describe your surroundings and so on. You doubt come dangers (such as dragons) and a fight is normally inevitable.

In most of adventures, there is only one main character - you the player. It is very important to realise that although the computer can generate events randomly these games can become predictable after some playing.

Steps have been taken to remedy this situation. The Hobbit and Valhalla are two adventure games with computer controlled characters who move around acting out their own roles. You can even talk to them although the conversation is pretty bland.

In MUD the other 'characters' are real people who, like yourself, are playing the game and trying to reach certain goals. Up to 32 people can play at the same time and each is trying to get more and more points, with the aim of reaching the ultimate status of Wizard.

The whole game is interactive, and what you do may affect the game some way for another player. Taking a piece of treasure from a certain place means that it won't be there for anyone else to take.

Players can talk to each other, fight, give assistance to one another, steal from each other and more. And because you are playing with (or against) other people, who can make their own decisions, the game is so much more enjoyable than the 'dumb' adventures available. As you are dealing with real people, the number of different situations that can arise is unlimited, and are going to get a different game each time.

MUD was originally conceived and partly written by Roy Trubshaw in his final year as a student at Essex University. The program was completed by Richard Bartle with help and encouragement from several people. MUD runs on a mainframe computer called a Dec-10 which is used at the University for academic purposes hence the limited time allowed for playing the game. The Dec-10 is a multi-user computer which means that many people can use the system at the same time. As far as MUD is concerned, this means that many people can play at the same time.

When you play MUD for the first time, you must give yourself the name of a character that you will use throughout the game. You can save your character's status and score (but not treasure) so you can resume playing with the same character some other time. If, however, you get killed, you have to start from scratch - either re-create your character or start with a new one (listing 1).

You play an adventurer exploring the dungeons and caves in the land. You start off with the rating of novice, no points and a set amount of strength and dexterity. Success in MUD depends on the amount of points you accumulate. Points can be awarded for finding treasure, performing certain tasks, killing other players and suchlike. As your score rises, so does your rating and power to do things.

Moving about the game is done by using the standard commands N, SW, E, U and so on. As you make your journey the computer will keep you informed of events by describing what location you have arrived at, who is fighting who and so on. You can also 'hear' what people are saying in your room or location, and if someone uses the command SHOUT everyone hears!

Interaction between players done at several levels depending on what rating you have. When you're a mere novice you can talk to other players in your location, communicate to another player telepathically or shout to all players in the game. Fighting another player or beast is the most violent interaction, and a blow-by-blow description (see listing 2) is given of events. Again, depending on player's rating it is possible to steal from people, follow them, lose them, refuse help and even kiss them!

Things can happen very fast when playing MUD. A game can last hours, or if you are unlucky, seconds! The display can get cluttered, and as you are typing in a command the computer is keeping track of you.

For beginners it is best to seek advice and help from a Wizard. If you are lucky, they will take you under their wing for a while and try to show you the ropes, on the other hand they just might kill you...

Running costs

Locations are many and varied, with lots of objects - some which have magical qualities, and many which are useless. You have to find out.

On my first night I got into a fight with Anana the necromancess. Miraculously, I won and my rating jumped up to Superhero, whilst Anana lost all points which took three months to accumulate... MUD is like that. The very next game I was set upon and lost all my points as well as my life.

MUD is so different to the normal run of the mill type of adventure it's very hard to describe the atmosphere you feel when playing this very addictive game. If this were a software review it would merit ten out of ten on all counts.

I would like to thank all the players on MUD for their help and advice especially the wizards Gnot and Petal and Anana the necromancess.

MUD is currently available on two systems, the original version is on the DEC-10 at Essex, and a version is now on COMPUNET which is a Viewdata service for Commodore users.

Accessing MUD on COMPUNET requires the Commodore modem and software. You also need to have a subscription to COMPUNET.

To play MUD on the Dec-10 at the University of Essex requires a modem, acoustic coupler or hard wired, and the necessary software to drive the modem. The major problem is that the Dec-10 communicates at 110 baud. Many modems and communications packages do not support this rate, in which case the second option needs to be taken.

It is possible to access MUD if you have a PSS (Packet Switched Service) account with British Telecom. Baud rates are buffered, so you will be able to use your existing equipment without worry. The problem here is that a PSS account costs. The costs (all approximately) are £20 per quarter, £1 per hour's use plus the charge to your local PSS bureaux.

Once you have linked up with the Dec-10 you must log in. This requires a PPN and password, which can be obtained by writing to Richard Bartle, Computing Dept, University of Essex, Wivenhoe Park, Colchester C04 3SQ. Please note that the Dec-10 is used for academic purposes and access to MUD by the general public is granted by kind permission of the University authorities. You should NOT abuse this privilege in any way as the service can be discontinued by the University if people try to 'Hack' the system.


Listing 1. Logging on to MUD and creating a character.
Job 41 701104.000 at Essex TTY1 73
[LGNNOC No operator coverage]
Password: -----
ESSEX UNIVERSITY: Multi-User Dungeon
This Mud created: 26th September 1984 at 20:14:15
Welcome! By what name shall 1 call you?
Creating new persona:

What sex do you wish to be?

Give me a password for this persona of up to 9 letters, please.


Hello, Bloggor!
Listing 2. A real-time fight with a zombie, notice someone else in trouble.
A horrifying zombie blocks your way!
*The furiosity of a clout from the zombie sends you reeling.
But courageously you revitalise, and hurl yourself into the carnage.
Your follow-through blow sends the zombie flying!
*You are stunned by the momentum of a blow from the zombie!
Indomitably you revitalise, and start into the engagement.
Your hasty follow-through thump at the zombie is narrowly sidestepped.
*The speed of a slash by the zombie sends you sprawling.
But courageously you revitalise, and start into the contest.
Your weak return thrust at the zombie is comfortably avoided.
*You narrowly elude a limp thump by the zombie.
Your pathetic cross is easily matched by the zombie.
*You comfortably elude a poor blow by the zombie.
You beat the zombie with a furious whack!
You are troubled by the force of a blow by the zombie!
With tremendous wili power you concentrate, and hurl yourself into the fight.
Your hasty follow-through slash at the zombie is easily avoided.
*You are numbed by the weight of a cross by the zombie!
Summoning strength you pull yourself together, and launch yourself into the slaughter.
Your next whack sends the zombie staggering!
A female voice in the distance shouts 'Help!'
*You easily parry a clumsy lunge by the zombie.
You wallop the zombie with a severe blow!
Your last thump slayed the zombie!
You are victorious - this time...


Listing 3. Help from a friend.
*Petal the wizard has just appeared with a crash of thunder.
Petal the wizard says "I'm following you, sweetie"
*"Look man, it's my first time on MUD, give me a break.
Petal the wizard says "sokay, im here to be nice to you.. "
*Petal the wizard says "we witches are friendly souls.."
"please help then
Petal the wizard says "go east, then south then south"

Richard A. Bartle (richard@mud.co.uk)
21st January 1999: wmdec84.htm