MUD1: The abandoned edifice   7 comments

I. The lurker in the maze

I haven’t run into anybody while playing MUD1, although I know there exist other players because I’ve seen objects moved to other positions. Still, I feel like a digital archaeologist visiting ruins. I have to keep in mind while poking at design aspects the intent is for there to be other players roaming around.

Roy Trubshaw's original map of the starting area, from Richard Bartle's website.

Roy Trubshaw’s original map of the starting area, from Richard Bartle’s website.

For instance, the first area I wandered into was a graveyard maze. There are tombstones with descriptions colorful enough I wonder if they are player-created (maybe previous players who made wizard or witch have the honor?).

Road opposite cottage.
You are standing on a badly paved road with a cemetery to the north and the home of a grave-digger to the south. An inscription on the cemetery gates reads, “RESTING PLACE OF LOST SOULS”.
*n
You are lost in a misty graveyard.
As you stride past the dark, marble tombstone of Tank the wizard, a frantic voice in the distance shouts “I need an exit… fast!”
*ne
You are lost in a misty graveyard.
There stands before you a black tomb with crossed axes emblazoned on it; inscribed on the tomb is: “Druss the wizard”.
*nw
You are lost in a misty graveyard.
A headstone to the east bears the inscription, “OK, so maybe the dragon WAS a bit of a handful…”.

However, I’m not sure yet if there is a sensible mapping process, because leaving the graveyard and entering again led me to an entirely different room to start. In normal circumstances this would be another maze to sigh about, but with other players there’s an extra dimension.

The graveyard was put to great use by Gwyn the Wizard in his mortal days while he was working his way up to that exalted rank. It’s quite easy for novices to wander in accidentally, and it takes them a while to find how to get out (you type the direction OUT!). So Gwyn would wait at the the start of the maze, slaughter anyone who wandered in, then run deeper in and go to sleep. Going to sleep gets you back lost stamina points from fights, and is usually very dangerous in case anyone stumbles across you. But who is going to find you in a maze?

[Source. Going south also leaves the maze, at least as the code in MUD1 stands now.]

I’ve played MUDs before where formless, undescribed rooms became sites of memorable events or epic confrontations. A MUD is less obliged to make every room “mean something” in itself when the players can impose their own meaning.

Also, after enough wandering there was a message about being able to pry open graves. I’ll have to explore further.

II. Combat

The lurker in the maze wouldn’t be possible without a combat system.

Since players with more points tend to be more popular targets for those with an urge to kill, they have better attributes than those they started with. MUD generates a random set of characteristics for you when you start – your “persona”. These are strength, stamina and dexterity. The other Dungeons & Dragons abilities are up to you, so if you’re thick in real life you’ll be thick in the game. The abilities are used mainly in fights, where stamina is how much damage you can take, strength determines how much damage you do when you hit, and dexterity is your chance of hitting. They crop up in other places too; for example dexterity is used to see if you manage to steal from another player successfully.

Richard Bartle

Here’s what the stats display looks like for a beginning character:

Score to date: 36
Level of experience: novice
Strength: 57 Stamina: 23 Dexterity: 38 Sex: male
Maximum stamina: 55
Weight carried: 1000g (max. weight: 57000g)
Objects carried: 1 (max. number: 5)
Games played to date: 3

As far as I can tell so far, there are no weapons/armor/other combat augmentations. There is a spell system which may be usable in combat but I haven’t found any spells yet. It also may be the intent is for the variety to come from multiple players targeting each other at the same time. From the stories I’ve heard MUD1 was never a free-for-all but rather a place where individual players would snipe at each other, but for the current evidence I’m not sure.

I obviously haven’t tested the inter-personal combat, but here’s my battle against a zombie.

*kill zombie
*You narrowly duck a pathetic punch from the zombie.
*Your weak punch is no problem for the zombie.
*You comfortably duck a limp cross by the zombie.
*You smite the zombie with a weighty thump!
*The vigour of a punch by the zombie sends you sideways.
Summoning strength you bear up, and charge back into the engagement.
*Your wild return lunge at the zombie is easily ducked.
*You effortlessly duck a tame cross from the zombie.
*You beat the zombie with a vicious punch!
*You are wounded by the energy of a blow by the zombie!
Gritting your teeth you concentrate, and start into the slaughter.
*Your counter swing sends the zombie reeling!
*[54]
Your last cross did away with the zombie!
You are victorious – this time…

Notice the whole thing runs on automatic after typing KILL ZOMBIE. It’s possible to flee but otherwise the sequence above was entirely non-interactive.

III. The house that delivered Death

Zork had a central house, and MUD1 feels obliged to follow suit.

Warning: probably incomplete.

My house map so far; click for a larger view.

I am not certain the items on the map are in their “starting places”, due to mystery players moving objects.

On the map is my first solved puzzle, which simply involve moving a bookcase to expose a staircase going down. At the bottom was the previously mentioned zombie as well as a door I can’t get through yet. The door has runes on it that kill me if I try to read them. I can’t think of any other MUD I’ve played that has this kind of deathtrap, but it does fit in with the late 70s text adventure genre.

I did manage to get through the door via a hint from a tome (“DOOR: be polite when entering.”) where I found a “sorceror’s room” with a large number of objects that I haven’t got a chance to play with yet, because there was a potion that killed me upon drinking it (in real time via delayed reaction; I left the keyboard briefly and returned to find my character dead).

Attempting to go from the second floor to the attic causes another instant-death.

Fitted cupboard.
The cupboard appears to be bereft of any shelving, there are scratches on the wall but there is nothing here which can explain them.
A heavy stepladder leads upwards to the ceiling.
The cupboard is unlatched.
*u
The cupboard is very small, and as you ascend the ladder you suddenly realise that you are running out of air! Try as you might, you cannot break your way out of the place, although you bash at all the walls, and the ceiling and floor. Eventually you suffocate. Now you know how the scratch marks on the wall were made!

IV. Goal

I am fairly certain the idea of going for “wizard” is dead. Richard Bartle himself chimed in my last post to call MUD1 “essentially a museum piece” and the scoring seems to be engineered toward social interaction.

I also still haven’t found anything resembling a treasures list and will probably pass on that as objective.

That leaves the “newbie quest” list, of which I’ve only done “Find a stick, find a fire, and make a fire brand” and “Find the sorcerer’s room” so I’ll try to make a run at the rest. The list, again, was: Find the mausoleum / Find the portcullis and open it / Find the golden apple / Find the mine entrance / Flood the mine / Find the jetty / Find the attic / Find a light source other than a fire brand / Get into the badger’s sett / Find the magic spring

I might want to actually try some of the mausoleum (rather than just find it), because of this Bartle comment: “The mausoleum is the only place in MUD1 (or MUD2) that has actual puzzles in it. I put it in specifically because people wanted puzzles and I didn’t, so I showed them what a pain the world would be if it were all puzzles by giving them the mausoleum.”

Well, puzzles can be a pain when multiple players are there to mess things up, but they might work solo? I do find his remark puzzling, though, because I’m fairly sure the door-opening was a puzzle. Perhaps he means elaborate logic puzzles? We’ll see, I guess.

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Posted February 12, 2015 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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7 responses to “MUD1: The abandoned edifice

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  1. It’s easy to map the maze, and the maze itself is not very complicated. Those names on the tombstones are indeed the names of people who made it to wiz level.

    There are weapons, but there’s no armour. There are also wafers, which are the equivalent of health potions. Spells come with your level: you don’t find them lying around, you just gain the ability to cast them. Casting spells, retaliating with weapons and scoffing wafers are some of the things you can do manually during the automated combat, plus more creative things (dropping heavy objects that are impacting on your dexterity, for example, or trying to give them to your opponent).

    MUD was never a free-for-all in combat because it has permadeath: newbies fight each other, but they soon learn it’s a losing strategy.

    The deathtraps are what we called “silly deaths”: slaps on the wrist. You don’t get permadeath from those, you just learn not to do it again. You can actually get from the cupboard to the attic; the problem is getting back out again (but according to your map, you already know of an object that will help you). The potion will indeed kill you, but you get plenty of warning that you’re feeling ill so you can vomit it up.

    There’s no such thing as a “treasures list”. If it looks as if it’s worth something, it probably is. Take it to the swamp and drop it, and you’ll find out. On the newbie quest list, by the way, you won’t be able to open the portcullis because it takes 2 players.

    The puzzles in the mausoleum are out-of-context puzzles, so yes: logic puzzles, what-do-those-letters-stand-for puzzles, things like that. What you’re calling puzzles weren’t called puzzles back when we wrote MUD, we called them preconditions (following AI terminology).

    Richard

  2. yes vomit is a verb, it is helpful with the potion and if you go petting snakes,.

    • Is there some reason to pet a snake? Is it part of a puzzle sequence or some such?

      Alas, as predicted from my first post in this series, I did stop this short – the 1978 content was fairly small, it was not really a full experience w/o others playing, and at the time I was on I didn’t see anybody.

      While you’re here, what’s up with the maze? I noticed there’s a map on the site I linked but it doesn’t seem to match the maze as is now. Did they simplify down to it just being a random set of rooms because people were getting annoyed/lost, or is there a method to reach something?

  3. No, there is no reason to pet the snake, but if you try to pick it up, it will bite you and poison you. The game has a few red herrings in it, to keep things interesting.

    As far as the maze, I’m not sure if the CIS version of the maze was different than the Essex version of the maze. The one that is up now, (The CIS version) has a specific path to reach the goal. You can find it by trial and error, or most people find the item in the game that will guide you through the maze. There is only one path so once you have learned the path you don’t need to use the item again.

  4. If you have any other questions I’ll stop by and answer them. Enjoy the website, it is very interesting!

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