Monday, 1 January 2007

The state of hobbyist MUD development

While it is summer here in New Zealand at the moment, the weather hasn't been reflecting it. I have been taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by the gray skies and occasional rain to look at a few things on the internet which I find interesting, but never seem to have the time for. In this case, the current state of MUD development discussion.

One of the topics which many opinions were shared about back in the day was what the term MUD covered. Some thought that it should just refer to text based games, as it originally did. Others thought that it should include all similar networked multiplayer games, specifically graphical massively multiplayer ones. However the most vocal of these tended to run their own text MUDs and their insistence on this was most likely because they felt not establishing this link diminished their own games. But my interest for the purposes of this post is networked text based games and discussion about their development which I hope this post covers. If I use the term MUD below, it is with regard to text MUD development.

Five years or so ago the MUD-Dev mailing list was the best place for technical discussion. However the discussion there turned towards the business and design aspects as "massively multiplayer" games became more and more popular. But it was mostly a mix of commentary on the state of the industry and personal opinions often directed by frustration with the design of the current games people were playing. Eventually the list died out although it has since been been relaunched by someone else as MUD-Dev2 although discussion on it is still sparse. The online periodical Imaginary Realities was another interesting resource with its own discussion forum although it stopped being published around the time MUD-Dev started to wane for text MUD development discussion. Fortunately there is an unofficial archive containing all the articles it published (some can also still be found in on

I think part of the reason MUD-Dev died out was because there were better places to have the discussions. MUD-Dev was an improvement on the newsgroups like and which were the alternative before it. And the improvement on MUD-Dev were the posts and comments on blogs and in forums.

I was unable to locate anything worth mentioning in the way of blogs. Looking for mailing lists was not worth the effort because if there were any interest in discussing MUDs on mailing lists, MUD-Dev or rather MUD-Dev2 would be the place to do it. The newsgroups now serve only to receive spam. But forums with development discussion areas seemed to be relatively common.

The most general and relevant of the forums I found were:

Between them there is a decent level of activity with a range of different topics and posters involved, something heartening to see. Although to a degree the same things are being discussed, the same questions asked and the same answers given as "back in the day".

One thread posted in October was called "MUD design... all talk?" And new threads do often seem more an act of procrastination rather than something the poster needs help with. Many posts ask about things which aren't that complex and which the poster wouldn't need to ask about if they just went ahead and implemented what they described in the rest of the post. Then there were the posts about how to implement standard MUD systems, something not wrong in and of itself unless there is no consideration given to or understanding involved about why those systems had to exist. And completely worthless, the involved discussion that went on about trivial implementation details, so trivial that you wouldn't believe. The only way I could reconcile the existence of these discussions was by assuming that the posters were writing their code in languages which were unsuited to productive MUD development and got in the way of their seeing the triviality. On a positive note however, higher level languages like scripting languages feature much more commonly as a choice of language in the discussion.

Reading the forums made me wish there were summaries of the range of discussion for the common topics, so that I could post a link whack-a-mole style as each arose. Not that I would want to discourage further discussion on those topics, but rather to hopefully divert discussion towards areas not already covered in the summaries or to encourage meta-discussion about the content of the summaries. The thought of someone posting links in this manner does seem like it could dampen discussion. But is that discussion needed? In its absence would more productive discussion take place? An interesting project would to to use the linked forums, the MUD-Dev post archive, the Imaginary Realities article archive and the newsgroups which Google hosts archives for these days as a resource to base wiki pages covering common topics on.

Is there anything new and interesting being discussed? Not that I could see. But that is not necessarily a negative sign and doesn't mean that there aren't interesting things being discussed. There is a certain level of gameplay which can be implemented if a MUD is ever going to open and even if the developers are interested in something more, they are unlikely to have the time to implement them. Under the ceiling imposed by what can realistically be implemented there should still be a wide scope to varying under it, and a lot of the discussion in the linked forums falls there and confirms this.