With what do you want to light the torch? Say things in full, bedlamite!
October 20, 2018 8:40 AM   Subscribe

40 years ago (near enough), and inspired by Zork, Roy Trubshaw coded (in MACRO-10) the first version of MUD, the Multi-User Dungeon, at Essex University. With the work of Richard Bartle (previously) versions were recoded and refined over the next few years. Soon, external access to the university DEC-10 between 2am and 7am increased player numbers at their expense. Various incarnations and versions appeared over the next few years with MUD being hosted, between 1984 and 1987, by Dundee Technical College (which became Abertay University). MUD was one of several early games which inspired online adventure and virtual environment creators; MUDs and MOOs, such as TinyMUD in 1989 and the still-developing MUDII from 1985, proliferated. [Post title]
posted by Wordshore (29 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
I spent an amazing amount of time playing MUDs in my teenaged years. There were so many good ones (and later so many bad ones, pieced together from stock zones and duct tape). My favorites were always the ones that really went for it and did their own thing, vs. yet another Midgaard, but even those sometimes had charm.

Eventually I started operating MUDs played by veritable handfuls of people because jesus what was I thinking. Also, despite literal warnings in the source that CircleMUD is not a good project to use to learn C, I used it to learn C. It was great fun and also really stupid.

I never did finish my planned large-scale Dark Sun MUD (which required hacking the crap out of the source to allow for zones as big as I wanted them) ...
posted by tocts at 9:02 AM on October 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

Another MUD/MUCK/MOO fan here. Many memories from the 1980s and 90s, including introducing them to my students.
posted by doctornemo at 9:13 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Julian Dibbell's "Rape in Cyberspace" is about LambdaMOO and appeared in 1993.
posted by doctornemo at 9:14 AM on October 20, 2018 [5 favorites]

My favorite philosophy-of-gaming quote comes from Richard Bartle. (The full interview is from GET LAMP, and is available on archive.org.)
posted by ragtag at 9:35 AM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I've only played one MUSH, but damn if it wasn't one of the best. I played a Suk doctor to one of the Great Houses. Definitely wish it was still around, but I also don't have as much free time to burn as I had back in my thirties. Good times, good times.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 9:54 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

I owe my current career as a developer to the code I wrote for MUSHes starting in the 90s. I still keep hoping the format will come back; I really like text as a game medium, and it's so much more accessible for basically anybody to mess with than things that need graphics to work.
posted by Sequence at 9:59 AM on October 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Back in the winter of 1989/90, I was sitting in a computer cluster at MIT, with two people I knew at different workstations, typing away. Suddenly, they turned around to face each other, and said "Is that you?" They'd both been playing TinyMUD (as pseudonymous characters) and had started chatting online, not knowing who they were talking to. A mutual acquaintance came up(Jim Aspnes, who was I think one of the original developers? Something like that), then they started talking about other connections, and finally they figured out that they were sitting in the same room, typing with their backs to each to each other.
posted by LizardBreath at 10:42 AM on October 20, 2018 [17 favorites]

Not all that long ago, I discovered my old favorite MUD was still running. I couldn't remember my password, so created a new character. "finger"-ed my main character. Still there. Still with that pretentious .plan quoting some poem. "6508 days since last login" Finger-ed my best friend there. Her .plan still had that inside joke we all shared. "6512 days since last login"

I don't think I've ever been crushed by the sensation of time passing as much as I was at that moment. Real life souveniers, photos, relics and mementos are one thing. But a character in an online game is something else. Just sitting there with high level gear, bags full of stuff, and directories full of my half-baked code. All ready to go again as if nothing happened. If I could find Psyche again, she could login and go with me. As if we'd never parted. I got old and my warrior stayed young forever.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 11:02 AM on October 20, 2018 [18 favorites]

I got into MUDs way late in the game. 15 years ago? I was in elementary school! It was how I learned how to type. Incentives don't get any stronger than running away from monsters. I roped in a friend from school and we would meet up online after school and go kill things online via telnet. It was an absolute blast. I officiated an in-game wedding!

The virtual world conjured by the game is still pretty indelibly in my memory, it's very strange- I know how my favorite haunts are laid out, how to hop between planets, where to find other people. All mediated by text.
posted by BungaDunga at 11:36 AM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

I only spent a bit of time on TinyMUD, but I spent a bunch of time chatting with folks on a non-RP MUD/MUSH place. I think it filled the space IRC would've otherwise filled at the time.

However, I feel like I should drop a link to Brigadoon Day for Classic TinyMUD
posted by rmd1023 at 12:26 PM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I did fall in love with a MUD in the early 90s, and its map is still imprinted on my brain. It feels a lot like home to think of a little central town, shaped like a 田, and the roads off in the four directions. It was not a heavily gamified MUD, being more like text adventures, but not quite so freeform as a MUSH/MOO. I did a lot of writing and editing with ed, glorious ed. I have been using dgd to write a mudlib from scratch as a sometimes side project.

What if Stardew Valley, but a text MUD? EVE is sort of like what I'm talking about but it has too much of a ledgery/spreadsheet feel about what is yours and what you manage, not a more concrete walking around interacting with objects, building on a solid thing forever feel. But, would people really want to type GET EGG without graphics, though? Idk.
posted by fleacircus at 1:11 PM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

MUDs were a crucial part of my development as a person. I started on my first MUD in 1994 or so because my older brother, who had just gone to high school, played on it, and I wanted to be cool(!) like him and his friends. I was a 13 year old impersonating a Mage/Thief, and I derped my way through the world getting lost and repeatedly PK'd and corpse looted by players I later learned were alts of my brother's friends (thanks, guys!). I got a bunch of my friends to start playing too, and for a while probably half the player base consisted of weird adolescents from central Illinois.

I was doggedly committed to this in retrospect kind of crappy Envy (Diku --> Merc --> Envy) derivative. And then it died. I played other MUDs for a while, and then one day... it came back! Apparently the admin had graduated from college and lost the hosting, then brought it back for nostalgia. I was one of the earliest old players to rediscover it, got to talking with the admin, and he eventually made me a Builder, which let me create some zones that were...terrible. My friends started coming back and the whole thing revived. I got so good at the game that I could multi-play in two terminals with different alts and orchestrate elaborate clan war takeovers. Some of my best friends irl didn't know for months that the leader of their most hated clan was...yours truly.

At the time I was totally checked out from school, hated my family life (divorced parents, etc.), and was on track to start abusing drugs and alcohol. Around that time I was 16 and I drove to Maryland to hang out with the other admins and builders, who were all like 5 years older than me, and I guess this was back before anyone knew any better. It was hilarious and all above board. Through my connection to that MUD and relationships to the other players I was learning something about commitment, responsibility, agency, and discipline. I downloaded the Envy 2.2 codebase and taught myself how to code. I started submitting code snippets that the admin was patient enough to look at and sometimes even debug and install.

Eventually, that MUD disappeared again, but this time the admin gave me an ftp login to download the codebase. I ran it myself for a while, and then co-ran it with someone the original admin knew from his old job. The two of us went all in sprucing the place up, deepening the campy in-jokes, adding new zones. It was a great time for a while.

Eventually I lost interest, but you know what? About 20 years after I first discovered that MUD, I wrote custom analysis software for my master's thesis in C (I'm in a mostly non-technical, non-programming field), and I got my PhD this August (I guess maybe I should change my username to doctor_o now?). Looking back, I wonder whether I would have come this far in life had it not been for that silly Envy derivative.
posted by mister-o at 1:28 PM on October 20, 2018 [6 favorites]


AmberMUSH is the connecting thread in so many of my mad sexual choices while flunking out of a grad school in the 90s.

I ended up a good bartender, and I would have made a shit epidemiologist, so all for the good.

But SWEET ELVIS, that New Years snowed in in Minnesota. Or driving across Canada to hook up with someone from Amber in Buffalo, NY.

I twice crossed the US border on my way to get laid. That’s four border crossings round trip. Another century…

Am I just remembering AmberMUSH as being particularly populated with relative nutters (like younger me) back then, or were other online RPG just as crazy?
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:05 PM on October 20, 2018 [4 favorites]

Am I just remembering AmberMUSH as being particularly populated with relative nutters (like younger me) back then, or were other online RPG just as crazy?

FurryMUCK regular here, which I feel sort of disqualifies me from answering this question.
posted by radwolf76 at 3:39 PM on October 20, 2018 [9 favorites]

Now this is a bunch of people with who i am curious if one of you also played TrekMUSE. (Multi User Simulated Environment) where you learned how to pilot a 3D environment in your head in a dogfight with a whole host of ships trying to maintain your helm, engineering, weapons, science, and communications. You had to attend Starfleet, take a metric ton of courses and test out of them - and yeah, the goal was to do your post on one of the bigger simulated ships and not just on the simulated simulator....
posted by Nanukthedog at 3:44 PM on October 20, 2018 [6 favorites]

I was on a MUD... but for the life of me I can't remember its name. Imma watch this thread, because I'd know it if I heard it again, but all I can remember is I played a centaur.
posted by The otter lady at 3:55 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

Am I just remembering AmberMUSH as being particularly populated with relative nutters (like younger me) back then, or were other online RPG just as crazy?

I wasn't on Amber, but I mean, especially the games that were largely populated by high school and college kids, I think a lot of places were like that, yeah. I have made dubious choices for relationships with people I met on MUSHes. But I also know some people who found their spouses there, and I also, like, made plenty of dubious relationship choices elsewhere. After witnessing the same sort of relationship drama happening often when I was in law school, I think the only thing that really distinguished it was the fact that lots of us had to spend a lot of money on long-distance bills and travel.

When you pick up a hobby that you routinely spend 4-8 hours doing with the same set of people, especially when the bulk of the population is between the ages of 16 and 22, this in retrospect was probably not very surprising.
posted by Sequence at 4:21 PM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

Lambda, Jay's House, Dhalgren, Flame - I was certainly a MOO person back in the days. I wrote my own custom client for Win16 and later Win32 and a lot of MOO code behind the scenes.

It is a bygone era, but it turns out my Lambda character and password wasn't hard to remember - that was an interesting peek down memory lane. Thank you for the post, Wordshore.

I suppose the MMORPGs are the spiritual successors, but they just never interested me.
posted by bcd at 4:56 PM on October 20, 2018 [2 favorites]

I remember as a pre-teen being very much into Sonic the Hedgehog, and getting into FluffMUCK which was (and apparently still is) a furry themed MUCK that was then the place where a bunch of Sonic fans would get together and role play as their Sonic universe OC's. There was a *lot* of sexual content that sailed gracefully over my head at the time.

I also remember that there was a splinter MUCK that was specifically Sonic themed, and that I was able to successfully guess the password of the player who had claimed the Sonic username (it was "Sally"--maybe don't make your password your character's girlfriend's name?)
posted by JDHarper at 4:59 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I haven't thought about MUDs in ages. A high school friend of mine was on Stick in the MUD (stick.org) and that's how we kept in touch in college. I helped someone develop another one while I was out of work around 2001 or so and was on them all the time. I remember the MUD scene died down shortly thereafter (or maybe we all moved to something else). My Metafilter name is actually a legacy from those MUD days now that I think about it.
posted by Jugwine at 5:02 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I learned to program on Lost Souls MUD in high school. I still remember sitting at the computer desk in my dad's basement at the beginning of a long summer, staring at the docs for their variant of C, and resolving: I will master this. And I did. I still draw on that feeling when I'm diving in to a new programming language or codebase or job.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 5:24 PM on October 20, 2018 [3 favorites]

I remember being like 15, on a dnd themed MOO, where I realized that all the objects had a number associated with them, and lower numbers lead to some weird stuff. I gave myself some sort of half assed god mode using an object... I remember I could teleport and modify objects but I couldn't create stuff beyond the normal limitations, or something like that. I ended up telling the admin, who gave me legit access to do that, but I lost interest at some point.

Anyway early text based communications are probably part of why I'm a good writer, and a horrible punster.
posted by gryftir at 7:16 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I still fondly remember playing DuneMUSH. The university had a limited number of 1200 baud lines, so occasionally I got knocked down to 300, which was...less than great.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:31 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

The [post title] link is interesting, and contains a link to a MUD book that's kind of hilarious. Hard core PVP in those first days..
posted by fleacircus at 9:27 PM on October 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

I played a lot of Realms of the Dragon MUD, and a little of PernMUSH and AmberMUSH and a couple other classics. There are still a bunch of MUSHes around in various forms, text-based roleplaying rather than hardcoded combat. I can recommend TenebraeMUSH for those who want a Pathfinder/D&D fix with a friendly playerbase.
posted by PennD at 1:22 PM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

A MUD called Marches of Antan took up a lot of my life during college years in the mid 90s. I miss it terribly. In the early 2000's I connected with a former wizard who was running the code again on a machine in a bar in the Bahamas, but then I lost track again. I still google it every few months hoping it will resurface somewhere and I can relive those glory days of my twenties. Marches of Antan was so well done-- based on the works of James Branch Cabell. I even wrote for the in-MUD newspaper. Good times.
posted by seasparrow at 2:25 PM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Mostly WoD MUSHes here, starting with DarkMetal, and some Blank-by-Night games as well. And.. I can't remember what it was called, StoryMUX or something? It was a chat MUSH/MUX but populated mostly by WoD MU* players, I think.

Plenty of Diku/Circle/ROM hours, too, the occasional LambdaMUD or MOO. Mid-90s through early 00s, probably? Before that was Sierra Network and Prodigy, after were stretches of MMO games, but the MU* are what I gravitate back to in my mind to this day.
posted by curious nu at 7:53 PM on October 21, 2018 [3 favorites]

MUSH/MUDs changed my life. Due to the friends I made playing PernMUSH/AmberMUSH/etc, I ended up moving across the country (to live with people I hadn't ever met in face to face!) and into a new profession.
posted by tavella at 9:08 PM on October 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

Obligatory link about Bartle's taxonomy of player types (I am definitely an explorer).

If anyone's interested in checking out MUDs and looking for a Win client, MUSHclient is pretty good, free, and still maintained.

(Every time there's been a thread here about MUDs, I've wanted to add a comment about their significance in my life, but it'd be too late and the thread would have already closed. I am not letting this one go by!)

My brother introduced me to MUDs when I was away at college. This was back when the internet wasn't as common in homes; he was on dialup and I had access to wonderful college ethernet. He walked me through the character creating process and then I wandered around the world with his character for a bit. Very early on, an imm popped up and reprimanded us for something against their policy (don't recall anymore what it was -- picking up equipment that we weren't allowed to use? no idea). I remember wondering about the tools that allowed them to see us playing and how they could just appear out of thin air.

Anyway, I'd grown up playing -- or mostly watching my brother play -- Zork and other Infocom games and RPGs so it was pretty neat to be able to hang out with him in a game online, but I didn't really play for long, mostly because of school commitments and fandom of other things.

Later on (post-college, but still dialup era) there was a period of time where I had extreme insomnia. One night, I found The Mud Connector (it's still online!) and tried a few different MUDs (including the one my brother had introduced me to) before coming across one that seemed interesting, especially because it was supposed to be open to newbies and player killing wasn't allowed. I'll keep it nameless here but I joined, started playing and was hooked.

I spent a lot of my evenings/late hours on there via zMUD (and later CMUD), exploring the zones and drawing maps, especially of the neat custom areas. The imms and players were helpful and friendly.

After playing for so long and going through all the available zones, I got to help test out some new zones; it felt so exciting and gratifying to be able to give feedback and have the builders listen and even make changes based on my comments!

Then somehow I made it onto the staff -- I became an imm who could pop into rooms, and was able to see how the game worked from the other side, which was even more exciting, and made me appreciate the game more as well. It was such a big deal to me, and in retrospect it's hard to explain how much it still means to me. Not just as a personal achievement but more importantly: being able to contribute back to the game and help other players; feeling like I was always welcome; that I was a part of something good; getting to know the interesting people on staff, and chatting with them nearly every day for years. I learned so much from the folks there and still keep in touch with a few of them; one is now a dear friend who is also a MeFite (shout out to CancerMan).

So, thanks for this thread, and thanks to my brother for introducing me to MUDs, because I honestly don't know if I would have ever tried playing one otherwise. I'm fortunate to say that a MUD changed my life, too, for the better. Would never have predicted it in a million years.
posted by rangefinder 1.4 at 1:05 AM on November 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

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