Tuesday, September 9, 2014

MUD's Aren't Dead

With the recent 20th anniversary of the Realms of Despair there has been much celebration and nostalgia of the game's history and introspection about the future of it. A large part of the feelings of the future of the game and MUD's in general have been pessimistic with concerns about the number of players - both retaining older players and recruiting newer plays along with the competition of other games.

Around the same time I've been reading as much as I can about MUD's in general and the academic analysis of them. The most proficient writer in recent years is Michael "Drakkos" Heron. He is one of the people responsible for the new Imaginary Realities Journal. I've already written about my feelings on some of his writings in an earlier post. Today I want to write a few comments about his paper “Likely to be eaten by a Grue” – the relevance of text games in the modern era which is all about why text games are still important today.

The first point he makes about why people play the games is summarised in the quote below:
These kinds of games are fun in and of themselves.  They are not fun because they hark back to simpler days of game development and remind many of us of the games we played when we were younger.  If that were their only appeal, we would never have played them in the first place.
I love that quote. It really expresses how I feel about the subject better than I could ever say. The paper then goes on to talk about the advantages of a text game over other games, mainly:
  1. The low cost - it costs little in money to play/make a MUD. Along with this it is (at least in theory) possible to quickly modify and update parts of it.
  2. The ergodic nature of a MUD over other games adds a different dimension where your actions and choices early on can affect you character long into the future.
  3. Accessability - MUD's are accessible to people with disabilities with the text nature of them easy for other programs to interpret.
  4. The players generally have a higher than average level of literacy. While there is the odd exception to this rule this higher literacy and intelligence can lead the game to be better than many others.
  5. The use of imagination is required to visualise the world in a way that graphics which become outdated quickly can not. For example consider the following room in the Daichall area:

For Her Pleasure
Pain wracks every vein of life that enters this hellish domain. Lifeless eyes stare from every corner. Bodies lie heaped upon the ground, each torn from life in macabre defeat. The shrieking of countless souls rips through the air and shatters any hope of escape. No suffering goes unexplored in this place and whole new worlds of torture are opened for the victims who enter. Knelt nearby, a lone paladin still clutches a holy cross, fingers locked forever in rigor mortis, his plea unheard. Perhaps not even the gods themselves can wield power over such wretched despair. A crimson light seems to filter up from the
floor, though no source is apparent.
Exits: none
So what can be done to modernise MUD's without losing their history and charm of what them popular in the first place? Obviously there are ways to promote games through various MUD related sites and social networking sites. The Realms of Despair does a great job of this through the use of votes on the topmudsite and has twitter regularly updated along with facebook and google+ groups.

Then there is the aim of getting new players to go from experimenting with a new game for the first time through to making it past that early newbie stage to becoming proficient at the game before reaching the final mastery stage with several avatar characters. The Newbie Council and Guild/Order/Clan structure does a good job helping players through this though of course there is always room for improvement.

The most exciting part of the paper to me though is discussion of the use of MXP protocols. Basically this newer protocol goes beyond what is possible using telnet. There is potential to include some graphics, buttons and I can even imagine going down a path to making keyboards almost optional which would also make it easier to play on a tablet. The best part of the potential in this is that it would allow players to merge the old methods of playing with newer ways.

This is already available to a degree in the game though taking a quick survey of half a dozen players about it responses varied from it being the greatest addition to the game in recent times, to it being no big deal to what is MXP? The other big advantage of using MXP well in a mud is it will give it an edge over other MUDs. In short more accessibility can lead to more players than what is available to mere traditional means of recruiting and advertising.

Finally to end this post a quote from  Michael Darkkos Heron:
"I make this case for text gaming not because we lack the technology for graphical games, but because text games have a charm and appeal that is unique.  I make this case because text games are fun, and more people owe it to themselves to find out why."

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