The Game Archaeologist plays with MUDs: Your journeys, part 2

Updated ·11 min read

This is the end, my only friend, the end. Of our elaborate plans, the end. Of everything that MOOs, the end. No safety or aggro radius, the end.

Man, listening to The Doors early in the morning does not put you in a happy state of writing, let me tell you!

In any case, we've extended our MUD/MU* month here on the Game Archaeologist Channel to include a few more first-hand testimonies of Massively readers' favorite text-based MMOs. As much as anything else we've talked about in this column, it's vital that we not forget the roots from which our current MMOs were born nor neglect to take the opportunity to expose a whole new generation to a graphically simpler but textually richer experience.

So let's kick the tires and light the fires of nostalgia as we talk with five of the baddest MUDders you'll ever know!

Stonesie Stones: The builder

The MUD memory that comes to my mind when prodded is rooted in the community atmosphere that makes MUDs so rich. Their beginnings were little more than Dungeons & Dragons gamers and roleplayers working at transforming the text-based games of the day into an environment that appealed to their gaming style. That urge to create the game, to work toward creating, shaping, and expanding the environment in which one played, makes the game tangible to its players.

My MUD was -- still is actually -- Realms Of Despair. It is the flagship mud of the Smaug MUD code. An outstanding builder from RoD's history is Herne. He's well-known for writing what I refer to as Herne's Notes when I am suggesting them to new builders. It is a collection of advice, helpfiles and guidelines. It is by no means up-to-date on what can be done in programs on newer versions of the Smaug code, but it is a valuable reference for the beginning builder. Most if not all MUDs will have a help file to guide potential new contributors.

So I took a shot at it. I built the area that I had dreamed up and submitted it. The reaction I got was wonderful. I remember my enjoyment of the appreciation I was shown by the building community and the acceptance that it extended as its members reviewed my work, pointed out countless errors, and suggested changes. Furthermore, I remember the feeling of being accepted into a role I knew I was going to enjoy. It was like the real-life feeling of accepting a job you'll enjoy -- this was the in-game equivalent.

I love playing the MUD. The gameplay is challenging; the writing is wonderful. Much as one can appreciate Tolkien's novel over Jackson's movie, the written word invokes the reader's perception of the world he's experiencing rather than the designer's movie set of it. When that area I had written was finally installed into the game, I was euphoric. I loved the criticism of what others saw as its flaws. I loved the appreciation shown by the other explorers who were enjoying it. Much as an author must feel when his work is published, I remember feeling that I was an appreciated and important little piece of the game that had become an appreciated and important little piece of my life. I have built loads more since then; I am one of the go-to guys when a capable builder is needed. It always feels great to be needed, especially for something so enjoyable. I will always remember fondly the growth from being a casual MUD player to an actual mudder.

Loril Gemstone-Edelstone: The imagineer

As a player of Realms of Despair since 1996, and as an administrator (an immortal) for much of that time, I have seen and experienced so much that it's hard to pick just one story and tell it. I've never really played one of the MMO games, though prior to finding RoD, I lost countless hours on Atari, Nintendo, Intellivision, and Sierra PC games. I've watched my son play World of Warcraft, and yeah, I said "Wow!" but I can't help but think that many people must eventually stop being impressed by the latest release with prettier scenery and ever-more-realistic splashes of blood. I can't help but think that people must, by now, be experiencing a vague "Is that all there is?" And in these days when the prevailing notion is "online game equals graphical game," they don't have a frame of reference to determine what it is that they seek. They can't know what they don't know. Articles like yours help. Thank you for that.

I'm not sure that this is really what you want, but for me anyway, this sums up why I remain hooked on RoD after all these years: Our MUD has annual reunions. There, away from our game connection, I'd ask people to describe the healer room in our newbie school. Everyone remembered the Avatar of Thoric, a healing statue that honoured our founder, but past that, everyone saw something different in his mind's eye. In every, and I mean every case, the attendees were seeing things that weren't there in the room description. Their imagination filled in the blanks, providing detail of how they thought a healing room would look. To this day, I picture that room littered with large brocade cushions where the injured rested as they awaited the statue's healing.

Here's the actual room description that no one could provide in answer to my query (no colour as I pulled from a text file log):

The Academy Healer

This is a healer. You will find many of them throughout the Realms. Their purpose is to cast spells of armor, bless, cure blindness, cure poison, cure light, and refresh. The healer casts these spells randomly to the characters in the room. Some healers have programs that will allow you to purchase certain spells for coins. Others have programs that will give you a spell when you say a certain word or phrase, or do a certain social to them. It is important to look at mobiles to read their descriptions.
Many will have hints in their descriptions that will tell you what to say or do to get their favor.

Exits: north south
An Avatar of Thoric stands here, overseeing your progress.
The Avatar of Thoric glows with an aura of divine radiance.
A large marble fountain gushes forth here.

That was from 2001. The room doesn't exist anymore, and today it wouldn't look like that because it contravenes our building guidelines. To paraphrase Sheldon from Big Bang Theory, MUDs run on the world's most powerful graphics chip, imagination. Nothing paints prettier pictures than those my own mind supplies.

Shadow War: The searcher

The days of MUDs being the primary source of online multiplayer worlds fell squarely on my days of light middle-school and early high-school. My first contact with the genre was revealed trough AOL and one of its many "500 free hours" CDs that it would send out to everything with a pulse. I remember searching through all the windows of the AOL interface trying to find a section on "game" -- I wanted to play! Sadly (for me), my parents did not keep AOL beyond the free time and went instead with a local dial-up ISP, so I was forced to find other virtual worlds.

I scoured the internet to find any information about online roleplaying games. In a short amount of time, I discovered what a Telnet client was, and then, MUD Connector. Truly, a treasure-trove of gaming information for my roleplaying and adventuring desires!

I was amazed to find out that there were more MUDs, based in more genres and IPs than I believed I could ever properly explore, and great tools to play the games in beyond the base black-and-white Telnet clients. Programs called zMud and Pueblo transformed my play and brought me deeper into these worlds.

I played as a Fremen in Dune, a wolf-brother in a Wheel of Time-based MUD, and a Predator in a text precursor to the AvP games. I played and enjoyed many more until I finally found a world to call home that went by the name of Aalynor's Nexus. It was a fantasy world set primarily in a city and its surrounding environs. The theme was of a small, final foothold of allied races fighting a losing war against a siege from the goblin army. I spent a number of years across multiple characters in this game, from an agile Orcish Warrior to a refined Paladin of the deity of death to a Mage who went mad from consuming too much magical power and went on a killing spree only to be tried and executed for his actions.

The times played and stories experienced in all of the MUDs I played are memorable, but my time in Aalynor's Nexus is the period I look back upon most fondly.

Andrew: The administrator

A little history first. About 20 years ago I got into programming when I wanted to make a graphic game based on a relatively unknown TV anime series called Star Blazers. I ended up making the game and playing it with my high school friends on a 286 with a 120-megabyte hard drive. A few years later, I joined a team of programmers to create an online game based on Ultima V, and during that creation while researching server to server coding, I found the genre of MUDs.

Mind you, I'd always been a huge graphic gamer, and the thought of text nearly made me gag at the time. Fortunately, I was also deep into D&D tabletop roleplaying, and as I began to delve into the artistic creativity and roleplayability of these textual worlds, I became deeply intrigued.

After a year, our graphic team lost funding, and I spent my time building what I thought would be the perfect combination of story, combat, history, and depth of epic roleplay that would capture the imaginations and creativity of the players. I found the difference between MMORPG graphic games and textual MUDs to be the difference between the movie and the book. While both have great advantages, the depth of immersion in a book normally far outweighs that of the film.

This thesis has really developed into the calling card of the game I now administer, namely, New Worlds Ateraan. We have moved away from the ambiguous term MUD and have taken on the new term, TORG: text-only roleplaying game. The game is text. No graphics, no sound, no avatars, no video clips. All of these images and sounds are created in your mind the same way as when you read a book or with table-top D&D, and the depth of immersion in this type of roleplay-enforced game is incredible.

Matthew Sheahan: Forced marriage

I admin one of the small but distinguished crop of 21-year-old MUDs, Lost Souls. When you asked about favorite moments, one of the first things that came to mind was my favorite system exploit on the part of a player.

This guy, Neuromancer of Whira, had always roleplayed being in love with the High Priestess at the Temple of Discordia, Dara. Eventually he joined a long-since-defunct guild (a term that means, on LPMUDs, something closer to "character class" than what it means to most MMO players), the Rainbow Guild. He advanced in it until he could use the "rainbow gold" power, which performed mind control.

He then used this on Dara, took her to the church, and attempted to marry her. The code refused to cooperate, seeing that the target of the marriage attempt was an NPC. So in a brilliant move, he used his mind control effect to have Dara attempt to marry him. The code looked to see whether the marriage "target" was an NPC -- nope, that's a player all right. Everything's kosher! Thus Neuromancer became the first and last player to successfully marry Dara -- or any other NPC -- in Lost Souls.

When not clawing his eyes out at the atrocious state of general chat channels, Justin "Syp" Olivetti pulls out his history textbook for a lecture or two on the good ol' days of MMOs in The Game Archaeologist. You can contact him via email at or through his gaming blog, Bio Break.