[MUD-Dev] [Biz] Bots Open Door to Gaming History

Michael Tresca talien at toast.net
Thu Mar 25 20:23:03 New Zealand Daylight Time 2004


From: http://www.wired.com/news/print/0,1294,62791,00.html

Could have application to MUDs.

Mike "Talien" Tresca
RetroMUD Administrator
http://michael.tresca.net

Bots Open Door to Gaming History
By Daniel Terdiman

Andre Torrez has found a way to use some new technology to get in
touch with an old friend.

He's been spending a lot of his down time -- in airports and waiting
for friends -- playing old-school Infocom interactive text games
like Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.

But he doesn't own the games himself. Instead, he's playing them on
his smartphone, using a bot that enables any AOL Instant Messenger
subscriber to play the games.

The bot, designed by 26-year-old Web programmer Andy Baio, is a Perl
script that acts as an intermediary between the games, which are
hosted on his server, and AOL's network.

So now, people like Torrez can keep themselves occupied, using their
AOL Instant Messenger clients to send text-based commands to the
games while they wait in line for movies or sit at home killing time
on their PCs.

"I just message it like another friend on my buddy list," says
Torrez. "But the friend isn't the game, it's Douglas Adams, the
writer of Hitchhiker's Guide."

For some time, the entire set of original Infocom text adventures --
including the Zork trilogy and Leather Goddesses of Phobos -- has
been freely downloadable online.

But it's taken people like Baio, and Timethy Toner, whose original
Perl script Baio modified, to take the games from their traditional
platform -- resident on players' PCs -- to what some consider a very
logical next step.

"Playing a command-line text adventure and reading a chat window are
really similar," says Matt Haughey, editor of the popular blog
MetaFilter. "Plus the way stuff like Zork works, works well in AIM:
You send a command, you get a response. AIM works that way
naturally, so it's a good fit."

Baio agrees. "Instant messaging and text adventures go together like
peanut butter and jelly," he says.

The system works by having an AIM user send a message to either
InfocomBot or InfocomBot2. The bots then prompt the user to type the
name of the game they want to play. It's quaintly reminiscent of War
Games.

Once the game has started, players enter their commands as if they
were carrying on a regular instant-message conversation.

"You type commands like 'go north' or 'examine sword' and (a) parser
responds with a description," explains Baio. "In essence, you're
having an ongoing dialogue with the game."

AOL is not involved in this project, except that players use AIM as
their way to interact with the games on Baio's servers. In every
way, players are using AIM as they would in a normal instant-message
conversation, except that they're communicating with a bot instead
of another person.

Meanwhile, Baio has made it possible for players to save a game and
then resume it later, something that Toner's earlier version of the
script didn't do very well.

"If I were to save my game, (anyone) could pick it up and play it,"
says Toner. Baio "made it so each user has their own save box. So he
made it that much more secure."

For now, the biggest problem may be the limits that AOL places on
how many messages any one account can send out. Thus, since Baio
posted his project, and hundreds have used it, many people have
found that they are locked out as Baio's account has surpassed its
messaging limits.

He says he's planning to find a way to work around those limits.

"I'm going to modify it to cascade across multiple bots," he
says. "I'll probably end up registering 10 more bots, and see how it
holds up."

Another potential problem would be if Activision, which owns the
Infocom library, decides to shut Baio's project down.

Activision was not able to make anyone available for comment.

Still, even if that happens, Baio says he won't be upset.

"If they ask me to take it down," he says, "I'll just replace all
the games with the best in free interactive fiction."

Actually, he says, he may do that regardless of what happens with
his Infocom bots.

"They're all noncommercial games created by hobbyists," he explains,
"but the genre is still thriving in the underground."

In any case, Baio is hoping that he'll be allowed to keep making the
Infocom games available to AIM users. And he feels he's providing a
valuable service in doing so, as he's helping to keep old and
somewhat forgotten games alive.

"Activision doesn't sell these games anymore," he says. "The entire
'abandonware' and emulation communities are preserving the history
of computer and video gaming. Otherwise, these games would be lost
to time."
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