Friday, 22 March 2013

MUD in your Eye…

To those who don’t know (is there anyone) MUD stands for Multi User Dungeon.
As a games genre, it has been around from the very beginning of on-line gaming, and almost from the beginning of multi-user gaming.

MUDs are predominantly multi-user text based adventure games:  the type of thing that is now referred to as ‘Interactive Fiction,’ although that label is generally reserved for stand-alone single player games.
The term MUD was originally coined in 1978 by Roy Trubshaw; a student at Essex University, in England; who wanted to make a multi-user version of the ‘Zork’ text adventure games he had played on the university systems. Although Trubshaw wasn’t solely responsible for developing the game to the form it was most widely known, and played, in he did coin the phrase and lay the groundwork.
People will disagree about what exactly happened next, but arguably the MUD game got its first major break when it was released on the pre-internet subscription-based ‘CompuServe’ dial-up computer network.
Both prior to, and after, the commercial  ‘‘CompuServe MUD’ release most MUDs were, and continued to be, run as hobbyist systems.

These hobby-MUDs were invariably run from Dial-up Bulletin Board Systems (or BBS for short) and although these were free to use accessing them often involved hefty call charges.

During the BBS era, and even after the CompuServe period, MUDs were still mostly only accessible to a niche on-line user base: modems were not a common item at the time. At ether 300 or 1200 baud, most modems were relatively slow to use, expensive to purchase, and could be even more costly to run.
Most home computer systems of the time were not connected to any networks, and the average home user had little idea, or interest, in the budding on-line computing phenomenon. But it was during this time that the, albeit niche, world of the MUD began to grow, and it did eventually start to spill out into the wider games-playing market of the day: which was still admittedly very niche compared to today’s mainstream industry.
Magazines like ‘C&VG’ were beginning to gain a decent readership, and they did run articles on the MUD phenomenon. Even Sinclair User got in on the act with this article published in issue 44, on November 1985. I remember reading these articles with interest and awe, but like many other readers a modem would not be a viable option for some years to come…
However, as the MUD gained in both notoriety and popularity a thriving user community began to coalesce around it.
A typical MUD in the heyday of the phenomenon would be invariably be a text-only multiplayer adventure game based on a standard phantasy type world, where the players would interact with the system through a text-parser. The parser was a command-line interface which took simple ‘spoken language like’ commands and translated then into game actions, or not as the case may be. But it also allowed the system’s users to chat with each other in real-time, and this aspect of the MUD became the real community maker. It was this community aspect that transformed the MUD from a simple computer game into something more. Many people grew some of the very first on-line friendships through MUD boards. In a lot of cases they invented their own, culture, etiquettes, and even language – MUDSpeke, although they were still very welcoming to newcomers. I know because by this point I was there… although due to telephone bills my on-line time was rather budget limited.
The Telnet based dial-up BBS and MUD world was already in decline by the time I was finally able to join. A new on-line phenomenon was very rapidly gaining in popularity; you may have heard of it, it was a little known thing called the ‘World Wide Web’ and it ran through a new strange type of loosely interconnected network called ‘The Internet.’ We didn’t fully understand it, and were all convinced it would never catch on…
But hay, MUD sticks.  The internet was far from the end on the multiplayer MUD. Instead of dying the concept took to the browser-based Web and grew in a myriad of ways, some more recognisable that others. Some MUDs have included graphics to varying degrees, and some adopted a more ROGUE like style of play. But even now the core MUD still lives on. But even now the core text-only MUD still lives on. I think it’s just that, for some, there’s something about the internalisation of text and imagination that can never be replaced by any form of graphics based medium.

There have been a good many browser based Web MUD’s over the years, one of the more notable of which was the officially endorsed ‘Disk World’ MUD. Based on the bestselling Diskworld series of novels by Terry Pratchet, this text-only multiplayer adventure put you into the strange and fantastical Diskworld, where you could meet and interact with its inhabitants. The web-based MUD was fairly successful, possibly based on its lucrative licence, but the old-style telnet based systems were still very much alive, and have survived up to the time of writing this very blog.

The following list gives some good varient examples of MUDs:
 BBS-Type MUDS –
 (not all modern browsers have retained telnet capability)

  1. Fusker MUD - (A MUD - Multi-User-Dungeon, standard type, Site)
  2. AnimeMuck - ( A MUCK - Multi-User-Chat-Kingdom Site)
  3. DvorakMUSH - (A MUSH - Multi-User-Shared-Habitat [or Hack] Site)
  4. Mongoose - (A MOO Site: a later Object-Oriantaed MUD derrivative)
 Web based MUDS – 
  1. DiskWorld MUD - (A web based Mud type site based on the Diskworld series of books)
  2. The World Called Hollow - (Another web based Mud type game that was quite popular)
  3. Ardwolf  - (A heavily formatted MUD that's best played with a dedicated client program)

A simple Google search can turn up a whole host of web, and even telnet, based MUD games. Try one, and you may be surprised by how addictive a text-based MUD can become…
The MUD and its derivatives, is a relatively underground, or hidden, genus but one that has continued to live on long past its hay-day and is still relatively popular.
And long may it continue…

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