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Free for All: Interviewing Achaea's Matt Mihaly for MUD May

Free for All: Interviewing Achaea's Matt Mihaly for MUD May
Beau Hindman
Beau Hindman|@Beau_Hindman|May 29, 2013 9:00 PM
Achaea artwork
MUD May has been a very enjoyable experience, but the main thing I learned is that a month is not long enough to cover all of MUDdom. Not by a long shot. The fact is that MUDs have a much longer history than graphical, 3-D MMOs, and here we are on an entire site dedicated mainly to those! We owe a lot to MUDs, but I always try to point out to current or former players that we should not refer to these games only in the past-tense. They are still alive, filled with players and ongoing. That means they are just as viable and worthy of mention as World of Warcraft. How many of our favorite 3-D MMOs will be around for two or more decades?

These wonderful games do need to improve in many areas, though. Some MUD developers are attempting to bring these text-based MMOs into the future, none better than Iron Realms Entertainment's Achaea. I sat down with Matt Mihaly, the CEO and Founder of Iron Realms since 1995, for an interview to talk about Achaea and the future of MUDs.

Achaea web client screenshot
I've been playing Achaea off and on already and will be dedicating a future column to it, so I was eager to talk to an expert on the game. Matt has been with Iron Realms for many years but branched out for a short while to have a hand in the short-lived Earth Eternal. Working on a graphical browser-based MMO is a much different experience from working on a MUD, and Matt returned to Achaea after Earth Eternal's demise. Some of the tricks of the 3-D world must have rubbed off on Matt because Achaea is doing more to ensure its survival into the future without giving up what makes it special.

One of the most important steps MUD developers can take to help waterproof the future of MUDs is to create websites that are helpful, inviting, and informative. Because MUDs rarely get the press they deserve, the official website is going to be the first impression that a new player has of the game. It's easy for us to forget just how many players find a game through a random search or by reading an article like this one. If the game in question is hosted on a website that looks as though it was created for free in 1999, then it's likely that new player will not take the game seriously.

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Achaea's website is fresh and clean if we compare it to the vast majority of MUD websites that I have come across. It also does something that very few MUDs are doing by hosting its own in-browser HTML5 client. I love the fact that a new player can make a character without having to leave the official site, but I had issues with the lack of font and background color options. Matt invited me to play with the beta of a newer client that offers many more options like font size, color, and background. There are a few bugs still to be worked out, but I was able to get the classic black text on a white background that I prefer. Hosting a client right on the official site does away with most of the issues that come along with downloading a separate client to run the MUD and then figuring out how to sign in. Sure, those might seem like small issues to someone who has figured them out already, but remember that we're talking potentially new players here. Every little barrier to entry is still a barrier. That HTML5 client also allows players to enjoy the game on a Chromebook or tablet without having to download something else.

"Matt seems concerned with the newbie experience in Achaea, despite the fact that the game has one of the most well-written, immersive, and newbie-friendly tutorials of any MUD I've tested."

Matt seems concerned with the newbie experience in Achaea, despite the fact that the game has one of the most well-written, immersive and newbie-friendly tutorials of any MUD I've tested to date. After that tutorial, the mechanics do become much more foggy, but there are at least two or three different sources of help for confused newbies. I've been enjoying talking to in-game helpers and friendly players who balance out-of-character speak with in-character roleplay. Some MUDs enforce roleplay more than others, but as Matt pointed out to me later, many players would not be as willing to invest heavily in a roleplay conversation with me until I had established myself a bit more.

I can't blame them. Roleplay can vary from player to player anyway, so it can be hard to tell whether a new player is going to add to the immersive aspect of the game-world by building a character or if he is going to just start climbing in levels. I found that roleplay is usually rewarded with roleplay, but I prefer a clearer line between the two. In ThresholdRPG, for example, there is a very distinct OOC channel that runs along side the in-character chat, but in Achaea the lines are more blurry.

Perhaps the PvP-heavy gameplay is to blame for the seemingly less common roleplay in game? Whatever the reason, I still found friendly players and helpful volunteers who wanted to make sure I knew what was going on.

Welcome to Achaea video from The Iron Realms on Vimeo.

The complexity that is built into Achaea's gameplay and community is one of the big turn-offs for many new players. It can still be a turn-off for me. But as I pointed out to Matt, figuring out how a specific MUD works and how the community behaves is part of the fun. How do you offset the confusion that a new player feels? Achaea is downplaying some of the overwhelming complexity of its systems by featuring a list of basic tasks and clickable and helpful links that will walk a player through many new experiences. While many MUD vets will frown at the thought of a "dumbed-down" MUD experience, there is nothing to worry about. Many more layers of gloss can be applied to games like Achaea, and the essential hardcore experience still shines through easily.

I'm barely touching on everything that Matt and I covered curing our interview, so be sure to watch it. I'm also embedding a new trailer that Matt has worked on, one that explains some MUD basics in a way that more MUD developers need to adopt. I want to see MUDs get the same "youth" attention that systems like Twine are receiving. Or better yet, look at the love for choose-your-own-adventure style games like Game of Thrones Ascent or even popular BioWare games like Mass Effect and you'll see just how MUDs might be primed for a renewal.

Iron Realms and Matt are actually concerned with staying relevant and modern while keeping the essential MUD experience the same. I have been looking for an example of a MUD that is actually conscious of the world around it and that seems to want to bring these wonderful games into the future, and now I have Achaea to point to. It's very complex and as old-school as they come, but it's attempting to keep modern players in mind.

MUD May has been a joy, but I'm not through with MUDs. Keep an eye out for more coverage and livestreams featuring the games as I continue to explore. Thanks to Matt and all of the players and developers who took the time to make this MUD May worth repeating!

Each week, Free for All brings you ideas, news, and reviews from the world of free-to-play, indie, and import games -- a world that is often overlooked by gamers. Leave it to Beau Hindman to talk about the games you didn't know you wanted! Have an idea for a subject or a killer new game that no one has heard of? Send it to beau@massively.com!
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Free for All: Interviewing Achaea's Matt Mihaly for MUD May