[MUD-Dev] Graphic MUDS/Ultima Online

Koster Koster
Tue Jul 29 10:58:49 New Zealand Standard Time 1997


On Monday, July 28, 1997 9:25 PM, Adam 
Wiggins[SMTP:nightfall at user2.inficad.com] wrote:

Well, gosh, turn around and there you are discussing my game. :) Well, 
mine and a bunch of other folks' anyway. Hopefully nothing I say in 
this post will fall under our esteemed list-owner's rules about 
commercial mud boosterism; I'm just trying to respond within the 
context of the discussion, and self-critically as well.

> [Matt C:]
> > On Mon, 28 Jul 1997, Jeff Kesselman wrote:
> > > >Ah, but is it a MUD? I've heard claims on newsgroups that 
although it is
> > > >very pretty, it doesn't make for a very good MUD, in terms of 
the kind of
> > > >flexibility, language input, etc. that people expect from MUDs. 
Can you
> > > >tell us anything about that?

Does it have the amount of language input? Absolutely not. It is also 
far more lacking in environmental adaptability, because it's plain 
harder to make a limited graphical tileset adapt to circumstance than 
it is to make text do so. Those who are used to the flexibility, and 
yes, greater options (certainly less man-hours per nifty effect), that 
text provides will find it to be a shallower experience in that 
sense.

> The main point of the thread was asking whether Quake or Diablo 
qualify
> as muds.  I said no, because they are missing a very important 
aspect
> of a mud: permanency.

If you do not have a persistent world, you have no mud, is how I've 
heard it said. Of course, persistence is relative. Are the 
periodic-wipe-of-world-state-model muds not muds? PKMud? Heck, the 
original MUD? Let us not forget that many muds throughout the years 
have been based around a periodic full-world reset, some even to the 
extent of wiping character standings altogether.

While this sort of mud is far from as popular as the model which saves 
some form of standing, let us not forget that there are still many 
disparate approaches to "persistence" in muds today. Ex: early LPs 
that saved character attributes but not equipment. Classic Diku 
architecture muds (ROM, Merc, Envy, blah blah blah) which save 
characters and equipment and the like, but do not save world state. 
Evolved Diku models which save some elements of world state (say, add 
player housing on a Merc). Full world-state saving a la 
MUSH-derivatives, etc. What defines persistence?

Which is not, btw, to say that I disagree with the point made; simply 
want to toss a few more variables in the equation. :)

> (The artificially low number of participants per
> server is also a factor, IMO.)  What makes a mud a virtual world 
instead of
> 'just' a game is that there is an ever-changing world which the 
player
> can enter, interact with, and leave.

Many muds do not have a changing environment *save as a social 
construct among players*. Their database is static. They use respawn 
systems for NPC repopulation. Even in the case of world-state-saving 
models, such as MUSHes, the database is often static because of other 
concerns (workload, for one!). TinyTIM is a marvel of interactivity, 
but it does not change much once something is added. I don't know any 
publicly released mud architectures that are not essentially static in 
this manner.

So there is a changing player environment. This will happen anytime 
that you gather people together in a community, regardless of 
interface or setting. There is changing environment itself. The rooms, 
the details of interactivity with objects, the evolution of "toys." 
These aren't done much by anyone far as I know. Then there's that 
middle layer, of developing, changing, and evolving 
storylines/creatures/etc. And this is quite within technological 
reach, and has been for some years. Almost nobody does it, of course. 
Boy, should they. I'd love to see more discussion of this on the 
list.

>  When they return at a later time,
> effects of their previous visit are still in place: things they 
have
> interacted with stayed that way until changed by another character; 

No Diku-architecture muds do this. Are they less muds for it? I don't 
think so. This is only common to full world-state saving engines, 
which are far more expensive than a Diku-style mud for this reason, 
among others.

> their
> own character's skills, attributes, scars, and whatever else are all 
saved.

Many pkill arena muds do not do this. :) They have periodic wipes to 
set people at a level playing field for beginning the game again. Are 
they muds? Good question.

> Characters age independant of play-time, but instead in terms of 
game-time.
> The difference boils down to, I think, that a 'game' is a 
player-oriented
> world, whereas a mud is just a world.  When any given player or set 
of players
> leaves, the world continues on its merry way.  When all players 
leave a
> 'normal' game, the game ceases.  This is simulated in D&D by having
> the DM say, "Well, while you were gone..."  In a mud it's for real.

Interesting. We ought to get into the Bruno 
Bettelheim-Bartle-Costikyan-whoever-else-ya-wanna-drag-in debate here, 
the one about "play" and about "gaming," about "competition" and about 
"hobby" and about "dominance" versus "socialization." Many muds are 
not "worlds" in this sense, they are merely settings, merely 
environments. They acquire some degree of the social aspect 
inevitably, but it is not their focus.

> > > Let me just say this:  Its a game with a ver primitive and 
simpel combat
> > > system,

Well, lemme think. We've got a simple interface certainly, equivalent 
to typing "kill X" and leaving the keyboard. We do not have the 
"interventionary" style of combat. Latency is one reason why; graphics 
is another.

[An aside; since we do client-side prediction for a lot of stuff, we 
can "swallow" latency up to around 500ms without visible effect except 
when the prediction screws up. For those who have played, the lags 
you're seeing are from other causes, mainly server-side load. Now back 
to the topic...]

However, we have limb-based calculations, equipment damage, 
health-fatigue relationships figured into speed, variable speed 
attacks based on skill and weapons, weapon weight, range, etc etc. All 
in all, it's about as sophisticated a system as most muds use. It's 
just not really visible to you. You can feel the effects of it all 
with experience, of course, and "grow" into the system through 
experience. Can you lop off an arm in the midst of a fight? Nah, I 
don't like limb-based health, it makes fights too quick and 
contributes to "trophying" which I find repellant. :)

Hmm, don't mean to get up on a hobbyhorse of defending the system. I 
too wish that we had more interactivity in it, and more ways to see 
feedback, information like "Grogan's blow hits your breastplate and 
dents it deeply... you have trouble breathing now that your chest is 
constricted, and a haze falls across your eyes as you are obliged to 
gasp quickly and shallowly (increased fatigue from here forward, 
penalty to hit, possible subsidiary damage to chest if fight goes on 
too long)." But interface-wise, ugh. Not in a graphical system, not 
easily, and not for the general public. :(

> > > a detailed world full of lots of little "toys" to learn to play
> > > with and manipulate and rpetty good charcter-customization 
features.
> I hardly think a combat system is necessary.  Perhaps a better 
phrase
> would be a world full of internaly consistant systems, the most
> common of which are combat, spells, and guilds.  The 'toys' bit 
strikes
> upon a deeper point - level of interactivity.

You've missed two very important ones that are intrinsic to UO as a 
world, and to my mind are intrinsic to future mud development into 
virtual realities (which is, btw, where I think this genre is headed 
in the future).

UO has an economic system that goes from raw materials to finished 
goods, and players can make any step of it.

UO also has an ecological system that handles creature repopulation, 
behaviors, etc.

Both of these are intrinsic to the game, far more so than combat or 
spells or guilds. They are the simulation layer under that, and 
despite repeated calls for "mud evolution" not many take up the 
gauntlet to work on this sort of thing further. Yet I remain convinced 
that adding a simulation layer to muds is where the genre needs to 
go.

Now, I know the arguments against it; it's expensive (man hours, 
money, computation, space, etc). You can trick the player into 
thinking it is there when it really isn't, far more cheaply. (And in 
fact, we have used "cheats" many places where portions of the model 
were deemed less important to actually simulate, but we needed the 
appearance). But having a solid sim layer enables so much... and it 
renders future growth possible. For one thing, the next direction 
which I would like to take it is towards conquering that last barrier 
of "staticness"--changing the setting based on simulated environmental 
factors. Given a good model, there is no reason why roads could not be 
formed by players as they walk on the grass repeatedly and kill it. 
And so on.

>  Matt covered this (below)
> anyhow, so I've not much more to add.  The last bit - character 
customization
> - is also important, although I'm not sure what a really solid 
guideline
> would be.  At the very least you need something where you can 
choose
> a lot of options to personalize your character, then have that 
character
> use those abilities to grow, change, and learn new abilities, all 
of
> which are 'remembered' by the game.  This can include anything
> from your skill with long blades to scars to your character's 
birthday.

We use a classless, levelless system. Skills atrophy from disuse. It's 
not to everyone's taste. It seems to be working, so far. Whether it 
will retain the totally goal-oriented players is yet to be seen, since 
it does not provide a long string of milestones, but rather obliges 
the player to create milestones for themselves at intervals.

> > Well.. thats not what makes it a mud, IMHO. Its the level of 
interactivity
> > between players (and NPCs), as well as manipulation of static 
objects -
> > quake would be a mud, were it not that the scenery is only 'cover' 
- you
> > can only manipulate very, very limited parts of it, in absolutely 
set
> > ways. This is quite an interesting point to explore in a more 
civilised
> > environment than usenet.

You can't modify the environment on MOST muds. :P You can manipulate 
some objects in limited fashions. They tend to go back where you got 
them from, or reappear there as a duplicate. In general, environment 
modification requires "immortal"/"wizard" capability and is a slow and 
tedious process. At best you can move a few objects around, like in 
Quake, only the objects are more varied.

> Yeah.  I'm tempted to say, "Many muds aren't much better than 
Diablo.."
> but actually that's not really true.  Even stock ROM has a lot more
> widgets to tug on than that.

Ah yes, but they are still widgets. :) None of those actually turn a 
more significant knob.

Many have compared Diablo to Gauntlet, but what it really is is 
Hack/Rogue/Moria, with a lot fewer random factors and features. No d's 
you can turn into D's with a potion. :( Now, if you truly made 
Hack/Rogue/Moria as a mud, its feature set and capabilities would 
certainly rock the world of hack n slash muds a lot. :) It's got a lot 
more widgets than most ROMs.

>  Ultima Online I've yet to actually play, but
> I've heard very good things and of course I have every confidence in 
our
> friend Ptah, since he was the creator of one of the best muds to 
ever
> grace the internet.  (IMO, of course..)

Well, thank you. :) LegendMUD is still around, by the way 
(telnet://mud.aus.sig.net:9999 and http://mud.aus.sig.net), and we're 
still working on its goofy Diku-becoming-an-LP sort of system, though 
I have a heck of a lot less time to devote to it. For the record, 
Sadist aka Wyrd Dragon aka Rick Delashmit, lead programmer on Legend, 
is also a lead programmer on UO; and my wife, Kaige aka Kristen 
Koster, is also a designer on UO.

> > > How GOOD a MUD it is i wont address, but the goal abnd work was 
clearly
> > > fuocused on building a world ratehr then a game, whcih is why I 
consider it
> > > a MUD but not NWN or DSO.

Not sure what this last sentence means. Does it mean that NWN and DSO 
are focused on being games?

As far as it being a good mud... well, it's I suspect, up to par with 
run-of-the-mill muds in most ways. In other ways it's a heck of a lot 
more ambitious. Bt then, doing ambitious stuff is why I came here 
where the funding is. ;) In other traditional areas of "mud 
measurement" it's gonna fall way way short. A discussion of what 
exactly the metrics are for something like this would be quite 
interesting. How do we evaluate and judge muds?

UO is certainly focused on being a world first, and a game second. The 
social aspects also fall secondary to this. Hence the lack of 
easy-to-implement, obvious social enhancers such as long-distance 
communication, embedded mail system, and global chat spaces. All of 
these things are major social enhancers, but (usually) outside the 
fiction and reductive of a game OR world experience.

One reason btw why we went with this approach was that a focus on 
world tends to capture the "explorer" types as Bartle defines them, or 
in Bettelheim's terms, encourages open-ended play. Or to put it in 
other words, having a varied, evolving setting (even though it only 
evolves in that "middle layer" of NPCs/creatures/economy) encourages 
roleplay, encourages exploration, encourages alternate styles of 
achievement, and rewards it with changed circumstances rather than 
with a milestone.

The problem with "game" style design in a mud setting is that you run 
out of game. Games are finite. In a fiscal sense, you wanna keep folks 
around as long as possible, of course, to get their money, and the 
more "infinite" the game is, the better. Remember that most mudders 
only play for around 3-6 months, and even dinos tend to give up after 
2 years or so.

> > This is probably another qualification towards the mud side - 
although
> > plenty of muds are 'just games' (read: Lots of stock muds are this 
way,
> > and many never get changed significantly).

One reason why there may be so many is that when you beat one, but 
have not exhausted the desire to play, you must find another, so that 
you have fresh milestones to conquer. Many muds try to compensate for 
this by adding levels, races, and other small milestones (beat the 
game as a thief! Beat it as an elf! We have 10,000 levels--at which 
point the milestones become insignificant or repetitive enough to be 
meaningless).

It is difficult for a player of any <game> (using game in a broader 
sense now, as in game design, as opposed to "game"-style <game> 
design, boy I hope that made sense) to make the transition between 
methods of approaching the game. For one thing, not many games have 
the flexibility to be played in truly different ways. One of the 
reasons why Sid Meier is a master game designer is that he has a knack 
for open-ended play that has milestones that can be freely ignored. 
Yet it is rare to see a Civ player who plays once for conquest and 
again for cooperation and again for mastery of a particular area and 
again for social stability etc etc etc... the game design supports it, 
the *individual player* does not. But the *audience* does.

> > The goal of 'building a
> > world/environment' is something that appears to have evolved 
amongst the
> > readership here (not that its a bad thing by any means! Its a 
huge
> > conceptual step forwards, IMHO).

It's also a really old conceptual leap forward. :) I'm glad to see 
that this list is embracing it, but I remember arguing with Orion 
Henry and Mike Sellers (who did Meridian 59 and is now freelance I 
think) and others about it on the newsgroups a LONG time ago. Like, 
over two years. "What is the MUD State of the Art?" I think is the 
question I posed back then... it is STILL a valid question to ask, 
because I suspect that if the mud community gathers as it has on this 
list, and actually manages to make all the disparate great ideas come 
together, we'll see some mud evolution.

> I've always thought this way.  It was more a mistake than anything I 
guess;
> when I logged onto my first mud, saw the way I could interact with 
the
> environment and actually have things *stay* the way I put them; 
heard
> the immorts talk about building their zones; heard all the stories 
of
> the incredible happenings (most of which were no doubt greatly 
exagerated)
> I got this picture of this horendously complex, completely 
consistant
> and self-maintaining world.  Of course, that was hardly the case - 
as I
> recall that mud crashed not less than every five to six hours, and 
was
> about the furthest thing from consistant there is.  Still, that's 
the
> feeling I got when I first played it, and that vision has stuck 
with
> me ever since.  So to me it's actually kind of amazing that others
> play the game and consider it just a big game of Zork with lots of 
people
> around to talk to.

That vision is exactly what I wanted to bring to UO. And lemme tell 
ya, on a personal note, it's great for me to log into this game and 
try to go make a living as a tailor who wants to be a bard, have the 
character respected and in demand for the character's skills 
(everybody wants to look special, so everyone wants custom dyed 
clothes), be frustrated because there's a shortage of dyes in town, 
ponder getting backing to bring a trade caravan into Trinsic to see if 
I can make a killing on dye pots, and go kill a bear in the woods that 
I KNOW won't be there tomorrow. There's something oddly liberating 
about how different it feels to take for granted sim-based design 
rather than static environments. How many of you are working on this 
sort of thing in a text environment, where it could be pushed so much 
further than in graphics? (The possibilities boggle the mind there)... 
I'm curious, because I'd love to see what designs you come up with.

A thought:

Game design is an art and a craft, and like all arts and crafts, it 
has techniques and approaches, and that implies that it can support a 
criticism; said criticism exists though it is not very sophisticated. 
Mud design is also an art and a craft, and it also has techniques and 
approaches, but there is no criticism, no self-evaluation, no 
standards defined, no study of what has gone before. And without 
self-critique, it cannot improve except in fits and starts. If this 
genre is to evolve into more than game design, which I firmly believe 
it has already begun to do, then it will have to support at least the 
critical apparatus of game design, and preferably the critical 
apparatus of many disciplines that most people do not bother to link: 
server design, and writing, and hypertextual theory, and art (for 
graphics are coming *and will dominate*, it's not worth fighting 
over), and psychology and sociology... Game designers today generally 
do not know even the short history of computer game design; we must as 
a community educate ourselves and each other if we want the community 
and its art and craft to grow.

-Ptah at LegendMUD
aka Designer Dragon
aka Raph Koster, Creative Lead Designer, Ultima Online





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