Man, I thought they were just cribbing from D&D...
October 8, 2010 11:59 AM   Subscribe

"We put in a level system because that led you out of the class system," he says. "There was nothing stopping you from going up a level because you were a girl, or because you were slightly socially inept, or because you are from the North of England. It was a kind of meritocracy where everybody could succeed." Richard Bartle talks about the design of the original MUD.

Some background: Richard Bartle, the first MUD, & MUDs on wikipedia. Richard Bartle previously.
posted by juv3nal (14 comments total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
See also this anonymous Wikipedia comment, via an AskMe about the origin of the video game term "boss":
If anyone is interested, here is how the Boss was created.

There were other Dungeons and Dragons type games on Plato. A player started on the outside of the dungeon and went in was attacked by monsters. If you got out of the dungeon, you kept the gold you had accumulated. Your player was saved from one day to the next, from one week to the next. If you died, then you lost everything. The dungeons had a finite size, and people would play the game for hours (which suprised us) and sooner or later would go into every corner of the dungeon. The character got stronger by gathering magic swords, etc. At some point, the character would be so strong that he could kill everything, at which point the player would lose interest in the game and quit.

We noticed that people created characters and spent time naming them and getting "attached" to them, and kind of treated them like a person. So, we asked something like, "Suppose that the character is real. Why would a real person keep going into the same dungeon over and over again?" And, then the answer was simple: To bring out something really spectacular.

So, then we said, "Hey, what if the player had to 'bring out an orb'?" And then we said, "Yeah, but if the orb is worth anything, then something really neat has to defend it." So, we put the orb into a "treasure room" and decided to stack a bunch of smaller monsters on top of a really big monster in the treasure room directly in front of "the orb". The character had to defeat 30 smaller monsters before confronting the "Golden Dragon"--a monster with probably 1,000,000 hit points. If he defeated the Golden Dragon, then he got the orb. He would then have to fight his way out of the dungeon.

In retrospect, what we did was create a video game that was a story. It had a beginning (the character initially enters the dungeon and builds up strenght), a middle (the character explores the dungeon), a climax (he finds the orb and battles the monsters, before confronting the Golden Dragon), a denoument (the character, weakened by the battle, staggers back through the dungeon, avoiding monsters and finally to safety), and an end (the charcter after leaving the dungeon with the orb is enshrined in a hall of fame). We did this in 1974-1975.
And here's a 2007 Guardian interview with Bartle about early and modern virtual worlds, along with a companion piece addressing the intersection of PLATO and MUDs.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:08 PM on October 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Wow, it's like a lifetime of knowledge flooding back to me. Jesus. Every time I'm reminded of MUDs, all I can think is "thank god World of Warcraft didn't exist when I was in high school."

Also, reading the lineage of MUDs is like the begat sections of the Bible: AberMUD begat TinyMUD, LPMud and DikuMUD, and DikuMUD begat CircleMUD, SMAUG and Merc and Merc begat ROM...

ROM forever
posted by griphus at 12:11 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

Oh man, MUDs are the very reason I never even looked at MMORPGs like Everquest (and now World of Warcraft). I had times in college where I would dream in ANSI, and I watched at least one friend play his way right out of school (Once he got on probation, he basically said "fuck it" and stayed on his computer for the rest of the semester). The idea of such a powerful world being rendered in 3D scares me.

Our MUD of choice was an EmlenMUD, Aturion Dynasty, and actually had a small ANSI map in the upper left corner of the screen that updated in realtime. To this day, this is the only MUD I have ever seen with this feature. Every once in a while, I check google to see if I can find any remnants of the userbase there, but it's become little more than a footnote in the history of MUDs.
posted by mysterpigg at 12:42 PM on October 8, 2010

That's pretty awesome that they had that kind of theory going on in their design logic. It's also pretty sad to see that since then, as multi-player online games have become more team-focal, that we've seen sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. reassert itself over the theoretically meritocratic game system.
posted by yeloson at 1:00 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

I've co-run a larger (~100k non-virtual rooms, ~20k players) MUD for the past decade, and keep finding new reasons to appreciate Bartle. He was so cognizant and prescient about social gaming, it's difficult to not see his presence and influence in increasingly many places. His article about the different types of people who play MUDs (expandable into other types of games) and their motivations is widely applicable to the fun-ness and stickiness of games. Despite the meteoric rise of casual gaming and the game-ification of everything in modern life, studies addressing the draw and nature of multiplayer/social games are relatively few. Although their work is not exactly steeped in scientific rigor, both Bartle and Raph Koster (involved in LegendMUD, Ultimate Online and Star Wars Galaxies) have a lot of interesting things to say on the subject.
posted by zevious at 1:14 PM on October 8, 2010 [3 favorites]

I was a PK who played an underpowered race and class and got by by wits alone. Eventually I was given access to build areas and work on the source code in a large part because of the same networking and politicking that got me by as a PK. Screw The Art of War, the best guide to multiplayer game success is How to Make Friends and Influence People.

Oh, and other than that revelation and awesome touch typing skills, mudding also destroyed my entire life while I was in the prime of my youth so it took years to build back up and subverted what could have been a career and lost me the one girlfriend I have most regretted losing and was responsible for about 70 pounds of weight gain.
posted by idiopath at 1:20 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

mudding also destroyed my entire life while I was in the prime of my youth so it took years to build back up and subverted what could have been a career and lost me the one girlfriend I have most regretted losing and was responsible for about 70 pounds of weight gain.

This should be a t-shirt.. or a black box warning label... or required testimony at a 12-step program... or something.
posted by hippybear at 1:28 PM on October 8, 2010

If everybody can succeed, that isn't meritocracy.
posted by Yakuman at 1:34 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

mysterpigg wrote:
I watched at least one friend play his way right out of school
A friend of a certain age remarked recently that there's a small segment of people who can say "I nearly failed out of school because of MUD's." It's a snapshot of a small moment in Internet history, and I'm really happy to have been part of it. (Though, yes, it did contribute to some really poor school performance. I'll claim, though, that running a MUD was Hard Work, dammit, and much more useful Real World training than many of the classes I was taking.)
posted by merzy at 1:43 PM on October 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

You know, I went to a large high school (5000+ students, about 1500 in my graduating class) and I played in a small MUD (several hundred total users, no more than 15-20 on at once) and I actually got to feel like I was, well, someone. I never had the discipline to get my character to a particularly high level or anything, but I just felt so much more comfortable in the MUD than I did in real life. Then one day I got greedy, fucked up, broke a cardinal rule of the MUD, got deleted and never went back. In retrospect, I'm kind of glad that happened.
posted by griphus at 1:53 PM on October 8, 2010

I had over 365 days on my main character on Stickmud, the second time I was deleted. I was coder for 2 separate guilds, and for most of my mortal life on the MUD, I spent my time fighting for my life from the time I logged in, until the time I logged out. It was both amazing and horrible.
posted by Cathedral at 2:22 PM on October 8, 2010

Judging by the history and where we are today, the one thing that many modern RPGs lack that so many of these games had was consequence. No rezzing, no respawning, no mercy. I remember UO in the days where the PK ran free and anyone was a target. It made for some great and terrifying moments. I'll never forget watching one of my friends run for his life around a bank before pausing in the shadows to slap a disguise on. Narrowly escaped with his life. Then came the day someone saw his name on the Most Wanted list...
posted by NBJack at 2:52 PM on October 8, 2010

PDF of slides from the Richard Bartle GDC talk in the main link.
posted by juv3nal at 3:11 PM on October 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

If everybody can succeed, that isn't meritocracy.

Everybody can succeed != everybody does succeed.
posted by kmz at 10:09 PM on October 8, 2010

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