[MUD-Dev] Where are we now?

Koster Koster
Wed May 2 09:23:06 New Zealand Standard Time 2001


> From: Greg Munt

> I've been quietly ignoring muds for about two years.

> I'm not sure why.

> I think I just got plain bored re-re-rewriting a core. Or maybe I
> got disillusioned by the "quality" of players that any mud ends up
> attracting.  Hatred and lust seem to win out every time. I hate to
> sound arrogant (no, really!), but the intelligence of the average
> player seems to verge on zero.

By this you are saying that the intelligence of the average human
verges lower than that; after all, mud players are people who have
gotten past a significant number of technical and educational
hurdles. Is this really what you mean?

To me, one of the major signs of burnout in a mud admin is when they
start this sort of us vs them thing going. Yes, we often see the worst
side of players; we see the nails that stick up out of the wood, we
hear the squeaky wheels and the grindingly loud ones. And it gets
tiresome. But despite the many protestations of those on this list who
say they are doing this purely for their own sakes, I still believe
that we do it for the players. And you can't do it if you don't take
them as a whole and respect them and appreciate them. You take the
screeches and the scratches as part of the territory just as you do in
the real world.

Now, if you have come to just dislike people, well, that's a whole
bigger issue. And it's certainly true that in the real world it's
usually easier to ignore or walk away from those people that represent
sgements of humanity we just don't like. In a mud admin role, you
don't get to ignore those people, just as politicians and cops and
doctors don't get to.

> I returned to DevMUD yesterday. It was pointed out that this is a
> relic of the ever-increasing sizes of the groups that players
> form. It was even suggested/implied that humans weren't *meant* to
> be in groups of much over 100 - cf human tribes, etc. Look what the
> 'large groups' who visited north america did to the native
> population a couple of hundred years ago.

What gets lost when you go up in that scale is a certain type of
community; I'd say the thrust of history very much argues against the
notion that humanity shouldn't be in large groups. The atrocities of
one large group versus another large group are largely failures of
empathy, and part of the human condition is that we find it easy to
lose empathy for other groups--it often takes just a few
propagandistic posters and a few lightbulb jokes.  Fortunately, a few
Picassos painting Guernicas or a few Spielbergs making Schindler's
Lists can restore it.

How many player-admin relationship problems are because of the lack of
someone providing that empathic bridge?

> Do large groups vanquish our humanity? Are commercial muds catering
> for the selfish, mindless, destructive throng that is caused by
> simply having so many users? Are the perpetually small free muds
> actually a Better Thing?

Let's reverse the question, since I don't think it has any easy
answers.

Do small groups vanquish our humanity by permitting us to believe
ourselves superior and better than everyone else? Are small muds
catering to the selfish, cliquish, destructive mindset that is caused
by simply associating only with those we deem acceptable? Are the
large playerbase muds where we meet a better crosssection of actual
humanity actually a Better Thing precisely because we DO see more of
the range of human personalities, behaviors, expressions, and
attitudes?

Does MUD-Dev?

To tie it back up a little bit--do we, as admins, by consistently
saying, "players like this" and "players always..." and "what players
want," simplify and label and stereotype and objectify to the point
that we come to see them as Other, that we come to see them as not
worth having? Is that how we burn out? Because we want the comfort of
only associating with those who don't have "an intelligence verging on
zero"?

Now, of course, those who know me know that I am only half-arguing
this. I'm always labelling and classifying; I'm very into taxonomy and
analysis, and that relies very strongly on labels. It's just that I
have grown very very suspicious of any attitude that says, "Players
are by and large stupid" or "Players don't know what they want" or
"God, players are whiny these days."  To me they are the sign of a
loss of respect and empathy for players, and a loss of understanding
of what drives people, and frankly, the loss of the knack that makes a
good mud administrator or designer.

Even if you make your mud for yourself, the basic premise of it is
that a player logs in and a player logs out, and there is some
intervening experience. You are in charge of crafting that
experience. Even if you make your mud for pyschological investigation
or for the purpose of virtual torture, you need to understand what
makes people tick--what makes your players, your subjects, whatever
you wanna call them, tick.

At Origin, there was a practice for a while of making every member of
an online game development team sit for several hours with an admin
and watch them do their job. I've often wished we could get every
player to spend an hour doing that job too.

> Okay. That wasn't actually my reason for posting. I wanted to ask
> what has changed in mudding in the past two years. It was mentioned
> on DevMUD yesterday that free muds just haven't really changed at
> all - but commercial muds have. Indeed, they have sucked out the
> skills that free muds need to grow and thrive, and left nothing but
> a stagnancy.

Nonsense. What free muds need to grow and thrive is talent. There's a
decided lack of talent in the commercial online games industry, so
strongly doubt we stole all of it. If we did, then maybe this is all
harder than we thought. :)

Free muds haven't changed hugely over the years period. Consider these
facts:

  - muds were commercial very very early in their history

  - it took slightly over half a decade for them to start messing with
  graphics and non-hack n slash gameplay

  - it took over decade for them to embrace user-generated content

  - it took until the early nineties for them to start generating a
  critique and a sense of best practices; also until then to
  intentionally design a full PvP experience

  - it took until the mid-nineties for serious exploration of
  simulation; and for muds to finally achieve some measure of
  awareness in the larger world, along with a "larger" audience made
  up almost exclusively of computer geeks and sci-fi geeks

We've always bemoaned that on this list. Hell, I seem to recall
writing such a moan myself during my first year on this list (was that
'96? I don't remember). Muds stagnate, muds don't advance the state of
the art, and worse, when we do, nobody notices. Boo hoo hoo.

Well, guess what. By and large commercial muds are in the same
boat. Yeah, UO tried some new things. EQ recreated an old experience
and did better in the market anyway. AC tried a few more innovative
things and failed to do as well as either of the previous two. The
next batch is bringing such radical, brand-new, innovative ideas to
the table as safe zones (!), territory-based team warfare (!!),
character aging (!!!)... Forgive my sarcasm, but the commercial world
has plenty of mining of old ideas (and old mistakes) to go before they
revolutionize muds.

Now, that's not to say there aren't gems of ideas in the commercial
mud world. Small innovations or big ones. Some of them are solutions
to problems that only exist on larger scales. We've talked about some
of them on this list. But the problem of slow progress is across the
board.

That's why this list is here. It's certainly why I do things like the
timeline and the laws and writing essays or whatever. For all I know,
the makers of many of these "redux" games and inventors of many of
these "redux" features don't know that they are reinventing the wheel.

Now, if we get a better understood common definition of "wheel" along
with known parameters for operation and the like, we're more likely to
have someone invent shock absorbers. But too many people just say,
"uh,that round thing over there." And we advance only when someone
thinks, "Hey, I could use that round thing as a fan or a
merry-go-round."

The recipe for advancing the field is a) share knowledge of what's
been done b) innovate on it c) go back to step a).

-Raph
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