A brief (and very incomplete) history of MUDs

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Bill Wisner

Sep 28, 1990, 8:42:58 PM9/28/90
This is a somewhat modified version of an article I posted at the end
of June. Additions and corrections will be accepted.

The term MUD originally referred to a particular game, not an entire
class of them. MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) was created and written by Roy
Trubshaw at Essex University in Britain. It was written in BCPL on the
university's DEC KL10. The point of the game was to gain points until
you achieved the rank of wizard, at which point you became a wizard
and gained certain powers over mortals. Richard Bartle later took the
basic framework created by Trubshaw and modified it extensively. The
game gained some popularity in Britain when a guest account was set up
that allowed users on JANET (the British academic network) to play
during the small hours of the morning each day. When Bartle and MUD
left Essex, some people there implemented a new world using the old
MUD software called MIST. Later another game, LAND, was added. MIST is
still up today. The Essex KL10 is due to be taken out of service in
the near future, so the original MUD should soon be taking its final
bows. (JANET 00004960000001, IPSS 02342206411411 and then HO 0.)

When Richard Bartle left Essex, he took MUD with him and went commercial.
He's responsible for MUD-2, which currently runs on a British Telecom
VAXcluster and costs money to play. There are several other commercial
MUDs in the UK, but due to the number of games run by enthusiasts trying
successful. One that is doing well is SHADES. SHADES is a game on
Micronet, a British service that is roughly comparable to CompuServe
in the States.

The original MUD is commercially available in the United States on
CompuServe. They call it British Legends.

VAXMUD was written in FORTRAN for VAX/VMS systems. It's another
combat-based game but unlike MUD you kept whatever objects you were
carrying when you saved your character. The game is weakened by the
fact that the authors distribute the game in binary form, not source
code, and the provided scenario is very difficult to customize well.

MUNDI was written by some MUD players at Warwick University and never
distributed. It's mentioned here because it was probably the first
British MUD written to be efficient and networkable.

One player of the Essex MUD was Alan Cox, also known as Anarchy. He
wrote (with a bit of help) AberMUD, named after the University of
Aberystwyth, Wales, which he attended at the time. It was originally
implemented on a Honeywell mainframe running GCOS but was soon ported
to UNIX. Its poor design and implementation (all game information was
stored in a shared file, which meant that several processes were
constantly accessing the disc) did not endear it to many system
administrators. Nevertheless, it was the first MUD to gain widespread
popularity. After the source code reached the United States, several
people made enhancements and additions, notably Rich $alz. It now
seems to have found a home at St. Olaf University, where a few
dedicated hackers are keeping it alive despite its general grunginess.

In the early 1908s members of Lysator, the student computer club at
Linkoping University in Sweden were involved called Asgaard, named
after the mythical home of the Norse and Viking gods. The goal of the
project was to create an extendable multi-user adventure game. Within
a few years the project was fading away; the only concrete result was
a multi-user LISP called Runes, which had hooks to facilitate game

Milieu was originally written for a CDC Cyber owned by the Minnesota
Educational Computer Consortium. High school students from around the
state were given access to the machine for educational purposes; they
often ended up writing chat programs and games instead. I am uncertain
of the precise time frame, but I believe Milieu probably predates MUD.
Eventually, Alan Klietz ported the game from Pascal to C and wrote an
implementation that would run on an IBM PC XT running a multitasking
operating system called QNX. Alan and a few other people formed a
company called GamBits Timesharing, attached sixteen modems to an XT,
and started selling time on it. The game, now called The Scepter of
Goth (or The Scepter and The Phoenix, or just Scepter) was now
publically available. The GamBits system had bulletin boards, mail,
chat, and a few other games, but its primary attraction was Scepter.
The system was reasonably priced and managed to form quite a local
following. Scepter had the best atmosphere of any multi-user game I've
played. The primary setting was the town of Boldhome and outlying
areas. The game had AD&D-like mechanics, with character classes and
ability scores. Certain players were DMs, analogous to wizards in MUD
but more powerful. DMs could create, modify, or remove rooms,
monsters, objects and players using an online game editor. The game
wasn't programmable, but it was very extensible. In Scepter, DM states
was granted, not earned. Eventually, GamBits started licensing the
software to other sites, and Scepter became available in cities like
Chicago and Austin. After a few years GamBits sold the software to a
Virginia company called Interplay, which continued to license the
software. Interplay eventually became mired in a legal mess (various
of its executives were charged and possibly convicted of tax evasion
-- I'm fuzzy on the details) and today no longer exists. Scepter was
sold off to one of Interplay's creditors. Today, the game is more or
less history. Alan Klietz is said to be working on his latest project,
Screenplay and lurks out there on the Internet somewhere (hi, Alan).

Monster is a rather large and clunky MUD for VMS systems that got
posted to comp.sources.games a few years ago. It was written in some
truly ghastly Pascal and was prone to hog lots of system resources.
(Like AberMUD, it used shared files for inter-process communication.)

"TinyMUD 1.0 was initially designed as a portable, stripped-down
version of Monster (this was back in the days when TinyMUD was
designed to be up and running in a week of coding and last for a month
before everybody got bored of it.) The basic idea was to include the
minimal object-creation and locking features of Monster without
throwing in all the hairy stuff. Since then a lot of the hairy stuff
has been reinvented. It might be interesting to go back and look at
the Monster docs and see how much of its functionality eventually
showed up in TinyMUD." -- James Aspnes

TinyMUD has built up a considerable following, and today is perhaps
the most popular MUD on the Internet. Aspnes' TinyMUD went down when
he finally got fed up with it.

TinyMUCK and TinyMOO are derivatives of TinyMUD, as should be obvious
from their names. Their main difference from TinyMUD is that they are
programmable. (I can't get more specific here, since MUDs in the
TinyMUD vein have never been my particular cup of tea.)

LPMUD by Lars Pensj| of Sweden was the first MUD with a built-in
extension language, in this case a subset of C. Wizards in LPMUD can
create new rooms, objects, monsters and commands, driven by programs
of arbitrary complexity. This introduced a considerable level of depth
into the choices open to wizards, and brought some new problems too.
The original LPMUD is still up (milou.cd.chalmers.se, port 2000).

Ubermud is another programmable MUD. I've not played it so I can't
offer specific comments. The author seems to have mostly lost interest
now that the software is finished. Today, the code is used more as an
example of what can be done with MUDs than an actual production
system. (There are no public Ubermuds running today that I know of.)

YAMA (Yet Another Multiuser Adventure) is the latest project of Alan
Cox. (You remember him. Anarchy. As in AberMUD.) It is actually a
program for writing MUDs. It was written to be fast and powerful. It
has been aptly described as an assembly language for MUDs: it's
speedy, efficient, and a bitch to learn. Alan still considers it to be
beta testing and is not ready to release the code, so don't even ask.

And finally, the ever-popular VaporMUDs. There are at least two MUDs
that, according to their authors, are currently being written and will
be the greatest hoopiest most whiz-bang games to ever hit the earth.
I'll welcome these games when they arrive, but for now they're just so
much hoopla and hype. Regardless, MUD development goes on.

Bill Wisner <wis...@hayes.fai.alaska.edu> Gryphon Gang Fairbanks AK 99775
"Jesus, even Wisner has more tact." -- Greg Lindahl <gl...@virginia.edu>

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