In the earliest days of the commercial internet, MUD’s or Multi-User Dungeons ran rampant, as hosts of fantasy and science fiction fans began rolling characters for play within a truly interactive role-playing environment.
Using telnet clients – more popular examples being MUD specific telnet clients such as Zmud or Gmud – users could connect from anywhere across the world in what was, at the time, a historic first opportunity for role-players of all walks of life to play together in real-time.
What Is it Like to Play a MUD? Character Creation, Race, Class, and Re-Rolling
The process of playing a MUD is simple. From a popular website or an internet friend, a user might determine the telnet address of a particular MUD, as well as the preferred port of connection (MUD administrators and coders might assign different ports of connect to different builds of the MUD).
For example, port 6969 might be the playable, standard realm – while port 7984 might be the builder’s port – connected to by staff who wish to create new areas and items in a partitioned realm that could be transferred over to the playable realm when tested and complete.
Character creation is simple, a character name and password are chosen by the user followed with a questionnaire format character creation process asking the user to determine classes, races, skill and statistical aptitudes, and finally a randomly rolled character sheet is offered that can be re-rolled until the player is satisfied with their avatar.
Text-based descriptions are delivered to each player describing the room they are currently in, the items, characters, and creatures present in the room, and the possible exits that they might take.
Later editions of most MUD’s would allow for a primitive ASCII mini-map to be presented as well. Bright neon colours can be coded into room descriptions as well as item and creature descriptions to allow for a memorable visual experience as well as to spur the imagination.
Building and Coding the MUD – Staffers, Community Built and Contributed
Most MUD’s are extremely community oriented, with a small and stable player base that could be counted on to contribute both to the social atmosphere as well as to help with rooting out bugs and balance issues. However, the adminstrators of a MUD – comprised primarily of two factions, builders and coders – are the backbone of MUD creation.
Builders are privileged users who used their creativity to forge rooms, items, monsters and NPC’s (referred to as “mobs”, short for mobiles, a term still largely used today in MMORPG’s). Builders might create areas out of nearly any theme that one could possibly imagine – from ethereal and metaphysical dreamscapes brimming with phantasmal warriors and sea-creatures to post-apocalyptic wastelands populated by the mutated living-dead and unscrupulous gunmen.
Using the proprietary build-system of whatever codebase the MUD happened to be founded upon, builders literally build the world in which a player might find themselves, replete with loot, dangers, and atmosphere.
Coders are conversely the programmers of the MUD – responsible for creating, tweaking, and maintaining the codebase (largely based on the C programming language) and implementing structural changes. An experienced coder might be able to add random weather patterns to the world – rain being more prevalent in certain areas of the realm, perhaps – and that very same rain might have the potential to dull fire spells, for example.
Coders can determine a great deal of the mathematical process behind the MUD and experienced coders are always in high demand.
The Legacy of MUDs, Predecessors to the Modern MMORPG
While many people still engage in the practice of MUDing, it has largely fallen prey to technological advances in the field leading to graphical MUD’s and finally, with Everquest initially and now Blizzard’s World of Warcraft, to the advent of the Massively Multiplayer Online Role-Playing Game (MMORPG or simply MMO for short).
The fact that MMO’s are founded almost entirely on the basic framework provided by early, text-based MUD’s escapes many modern players, unaware of the existence of these digital predecessors.
Attacks in modern MMO‘s take place on a timed pattern that was developed and implemented in MUD’s, monsters or mobs “spawn” at certain places, at certain times, in a certain amount of “ticks” – both of these aspects having been directly lifted from the MUD experience.
Multi-User Dungeons are still abound, both in text and graphical form, pay-to-play or completely free of charge, and compromise a large subculture of users who like their fantasy and science fiction adventures to take place beyond the confines of the physical world and limited only by their imaginations.