Rise and Shiny: Threshold RPG

Threshold RPG screenshot
It's the third week in a row I have decided to spend with a MUD, or multi-user-dungeon. I've explained it before, but in case you are not familiar, a MUD is a text-based MMO. That's right: you play by typing commands and exploring environments, all in text form. I started this exploration with Gemstone IV, an amazing MUD that seems to be the gold standard for MUDs. I am still playing it and finding out how amazing it is. I moved on to BatMUD, a slightly more basic MUD that offered a great client but frustrated me. Honestly though, my time with BatMUD was a little unfair and I need to revisit the game. It really has some wonderful elements.

Now that I have moved on to Threshold RPG, another ancient MUD from before the time of mostly graphical MMOs, I feel as though I have finally reached an understanding as to how MUDs work and what makes them incredible adventures still to this day.

Threshold is more basic than all of them so far, but that's a good thing in many ways. There's also a lot that is lacking, and several tweaks that need to be made.

Threshold RPG screenshot
I rolled a gnome character, going against my better judgment. I have never enjoyed gnomes as an optional player race; they always seem so silly. I am not a fan of steampunk, either, so the gears and machines that gnomes are classically involved with do not attract me at all. I just grabbed one and went with it. MUDs are wonderful at encouraging roleplay, and Threshold doesn't break that mold. In fact, the developers force roleplay and do not allow out-of-character chatter inside their game, except inside a few help channels. I would love it if more games did this, but it takes guts. Many developers do not have the guts to play hardball with their players, especially these days. I should note that characters can also be customized with descriptions on how they look, smell and even feel to the touch. It's tons of fun to come up with such details.

I want to point out that, as a writer and artist, I see roleplay as an opportunity to stretch my creative muscles. Roleplay is a pure exercise for the creative process. Think about it: you have to think on your toes, sometimes spontaneously coming up with facts and stories about your character. I absolutely love sitting around and chatting with other players, as long as they know how to roleplay. How you roleplay "properly" is simple: avoid the BS, keep the modern references out of the conversation, and take it seriously. But, you need to have fun with it. Stay loose. Don't worry about speaking in some sort of "thus, thou" way -- that can often come across as silly. How do I roleplay? I simply talk, listen to the other person and remember who my character is.

My gnome isn't a tinkerer. He doesn't like gears and fixing things, and he does not want anything to do with religion. He is, as most of my characters are, me. I quickly met up with willing players who were excited to see fresh blood in their aging game. I don't want that to sound mean, but many MUDs are like other independent games in their need for new players. The communities are often wonderfully grateful for new players, so take advantage of that in games like Threshold. For example, I've learned that when something like a tiny cat-like female offers to take you on a tour of the city, you accept the offer.

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I was shown where the docks were located, how to fish, how to access the map (which is an awful, awful map by the way) and how to interact with the game. Having the OOC channel separate but open was a nice touch. It seemed to make players respect the in-character chatter more. I was in a group and needed to go away from the keyboard for a while, so I asked in the OOC channel what I would say in order to signify that. I found out and moved back to the in-character channel and went on my way. It was surprisingly easy to maintain the balance. I would have conversations with players, half in the roleplay channel and the other half in the OOC channel. It didn't break immersion and felt sort of freeing that everyone was cool with it. We all know those hardcore roleplayers who essentially stick their nose up at anyone who isn't perfect. I want nothing to do with those annoying stuck-ups, and found none of that in Threshold. I did find some amazing stories and cozy evenings, chatting along with my new friends.

Fighting is pretty basic and easy to get out of in a pinch. In Gemstone IV, by contrast, monsters move from scene to scene and can be quite challenging. It might have been my newbie status, but mobs in Threshold could be avoided if needed. I was glad for this, hoping that if danger did come along that I would be able to get away from it. My character was an explorer, not a fighter. I even used some of my real-life yoga knowledge on my character, saying that he could often slow his breathing and his heart in order to calm down after a fight. Of course, he didn't know what this was called, but used it anyway.

"I could go on about the weaknesses of Threshold, and many other MUDs. But in my heart I believe that text-based adventuring is still valid, powerful and often moving."

I will be writing a future column about how truly important MUDs are, but I will use the opportunity to point out just how bad some of them are when it comes to modernizing themselves a bit. Some of my readers seem to think that I am talking about "zazzing" up MUDs by taking away text and replacing it with images, essentially making three-dimensional games out of them, but that's not what I mean at all. I will go into more details later, but one of the first things many MUDs need to do is to host a good-looking, inviting website. Threshold's website is, to be blunt, one of the ugliest things I have seen in a while. It's depressing. It makes me want to avoid the game. MUD developers need to be proud of how immersive and calming their games can be and let that pride be reflected in their websites.

I would also love to see MUDs get past those annoying in-game maps that are nothing but a series of letters and symbols to make an image. If you do not use a mono-space font, (I don't, because they are ugly) the maps come out crooked and confusing. What's the point? Host a real map, perhaps one that truly updates in real time, and make it pretty. There would be no spoilers or "weakening" of the hardcore aspects of MUDs if a great map was hosted. After all, the maps are already in-game -- they just suck.

I could go on about the weaknesses of Threshold, and many other MUDs, but in my heart I believe that text-based adventuring is still valid, powerful, and often moving. I will close with this, instead: Threshold is a lot of fun and perfect for hardcore players or casual players like myself. It's free (but gives out "perks" with donations) but it does take time to learn the very specific commands and controls to operate the game. There is no standard in MUDdom, so each one will take sometimes weeks just to learn how to play. MUDs need to work on that. But, within time, you will find it becoming second nature and actually quite fun to type out descriptions and words to make your way around the world. If you are going to give a MUD a chance, you'll be happy starting with Threshold.

Next week I am looking at The Pride of Taern, a neat looking browser-based adventure MMO. You can watch me stream it live on our Twitch.tv channel on Monday, the 28th of May at 5 p.m. EDT. See you in the chat room!

Each week, Rise and Shiny asks you to download and try a different free-to-play, indie or unusual game, chosen by me, Beau Hindman. I welcome any suggestions for games -- drop me a note in the comments or email! You can also follow me on Twitter and Facebook!
This article was originally published on Massively.