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Internet MUAs

Comms Plus! / June 1990
By Paola Kathuria

I was interested to read Dave Spink's letter in the last issue where he questioned the existence of computer addiction since it was for such a reason that there wasn't an article by me last month!

I just happened to be in Oregon, America, with nothing to do and no transport and was house-sitting somewhere which just happened to have a Macintosh and free local calls. I got hold of a modem, terminal emulation software, a list of numbers of local bulletin boards and managed to arrange an account at the local university (Oregon State University: OSU) on their mail/news machine in two minutes. Armed with all these jollies, cranberry juice and doughnuts, I set out to explore, emerging three months later blinking in the sunlight and much spottier.

The Internet

In this issue, I'm going to talk about the games I found while logging into OSU. Multi-user games on academic networks take on a new meaning in America since many sites are on the Internet. This is a network in its own right but includes other networks and it covers countries such as North America, Scandinavia, Germany, Australia and Japan. If one is on the Internet, one merely has to know a machine's Internet address and one can 'telnet' to it (similar to a remote login). To bypass actual logging in, if a 'port' is supplied with the Internet address, one goes straight into a game, say, or bulletin board.

MUAs

There are four major classes of multi-user games on the Internet: aberMUDs, TinyMUDs , LPMUDs and 'others'. Most Internet aberMUDs claim to be version 4. Since this was the game I am most familiar with (from Southampton University in 1988), I spent most of my MUA-time on here looking for changes.

aberMUDS

The combat text had been greatly improved. Whereas the version I had played had said "You attack the Ghoul", "You are wounded by the Ghoul", Internet versions now offer more MUD-like multi-line messages like (and I can't remember the exact wording) "The Ghoul delivers a vicious blow./ You reel momentarily and then land an almighty punch". There were many more rooms, new objects, puzzles and mobiles. Eating the waybread in the old version merely restored some stamina, whereas, in one version I played, it let you attach to a mobile temporarily.

What is also worth noting is that the best version on the Internet was in Sweden and that people in the US would play it but put up with the link problems which would regularly disconnect them. I found only two US sites that had aberMUD, but I got the impression that they appeared for a short while only.

TinyMUDs (Multi-User Dimension)

I first mentioned this game in Issue 3. It is quite different to anything I had seen before; I managed to collect much information on it so I will describe the game briefly now but go into it as a separate article later. I went onto the original Carnegie-Mellon University (CMU) game and found that it took a great deal of time to get into the ethos of the game. I was used to collecting treasure and killing mobiles to gain points to achieve Wizdom, whereas the welcoming message to CMU TinyMUD told me that the killing of players was discouraged. Experience levels don't exist although one could 'pit' 'treasure'.

The emphasis on Tiny-type games is on building one's own rooms and interacting with other players. The game does have mobiles, which are called robots and these are programs which log into the game and play through the same interface that human players use.

Interaction is done a lot through actions, which could be user-definable and not necessarily restricted to 'hug's and 'kiss'es. Building is achieved by obtaining the sufficient amount of pennies necessary to create your own objects and rooms. Pennies were found either lying around (I never saw more than one at a time), by asking one of the 'bots for some pennies or by dumping treasure (although I never saw the pit). It is the building side of the game which is the most interesting, letting people create and mould objects and rules on the fly. Rooms had to be 'linked' by linking any unlinked exit to an existing exit with the 'owner's' co-operation.

As you can see, this isn't easy to explain briefly so I shan't go on except to say that one day I was wandering around CMU TinyMUD (now dead due to the database exceeding the disk size) and came across a room with an intriguing name. When I 'look'ed I saw "dir1 dir2 dir3 dir4 dir5". After typing "dir1" I was then presented with another list of about 35 names (trying the other directions I was presented with similar sized lists of different names). I picked one name and typed it in and was suddenly taken into someone's domain. The size of each domain was limited only by the owner's imagination and the number of pennies they had had available. When it dawned on me that each room beyond the numbered portals were actually links to created kingdoms and the like, the [huge size] of the game took my breath away.

TinyMUD is only one game. Given that the game is essentially user-extendable, there were many games of this type on the Internet, each with its own theme. From a list (May 90) of Tiny-type games, there were 20 such games available and these included BloodMUD and the popular Islandia. No longer on the list is PythonMUD, but I had a look at it when it was up. From what I heard, I gather that one is able to step into a special room in one game and appear in a room in another game at a different site. Freaky.

The sources (in C) are public domain and a handful of Tiny-type games have appeared on the UK academic network (JANET). Details of these will appear in a later issue when I find out which of these are legitimate.

LPMUD

LPMUD originated in Scandinavia and games of this type have characteristics of both aberMUD and TinyMUD. Some rooms have been taken from aberMUD but the game is user-extendable. In the version I saw, only wizards could create new objects and rooms. By limiting creation like this, the feeling of chaos that one is prone to encounter on Tiny-type games is reduced. My list contains three LPMUDs; two in Scandinavia and one in the US. The most notable feature of the game is that the game is object-oriented -- written in C++, I think. I didn't get a chance to look at these properly but there are a few LPMUDs on JANET now -- again, details of how to get on to these will appear in another issue.

Update on MIST

At the time of writing, Mist is no longer running at Essex, according to one of the administrators. However, the game will make a reappearance for a fortnight from July 1st with possibly two other games that have at some time run on the DEC at Essex. This will be a kind of farewell tour since, at the end of this period, the DEC is going to be disconnected. Mist will be managed solely by arch-wizzes. It is unlikely that Mist will reappear at Essex after this time.