Tuesday, 2 September 2008

A failed attempt at an evaluation of UltiMUD

I was reading one of the MUD forums, where a poster inquired about being able to build one without coding. Someone responded pointing out UltiMUD.

UltiMUD is a telnetable MUD server, with visual and graphical world building tools built into it. At a distance, looking at the screenshots and web pages, it looks quite nice. A tool which allows you to graphically edit your game world and also to visually add things like commands. Properties look to be editable in a "Visual Basic" style. The built game can be started and stopped via the "play" and "stop" buttons. Logged on players update in the GUI and can be snooped on. Etc.

In order to gain some inspiration for my own hobby projects along the same lines, I decided to bite the bullet, install it and have a play with it. I had a lot of trouble figuring out how to do any world building with it. The help option unfortunately brought up a web page on the UltiMUD web site, sadly not one which addressed anything I needed help with in a useful way.

Attempting to build a world

How do I create an area? No idea. Okay, there's a obtuse page on this on the UltiMUD web site. I try and follow the directions, and manage to create something which looks like a forest with a starting location in the middle. Most of the properties for the selected object have strange names whose purpose I can't begin to guess at.

How do I allow a player to look around? Well, having tried to start a game with no world and nothing else edited, I was informed that without commands, a player won't be able to do anything. So having created an area this time, I tried to create a look command. Adding a command is one thing, but what do the properties for the command mean? Script? Apparently UtiMUD uses Lua. I found a look command written by the author via Google, having been unable to find it on the UltiMUD site myself. I _guess_ I am supposed to add the command to the "script" property of the command I have added. But where does the additional supporting script go? I can't add scripts to the game - the "scripts" folder has no context menu. And however I add a command, script or no, I get the shown error. At this point, UltiMUD is now in a broken state and stopping a running MUD locks it up otherwise that error just keeps coming back.

Final thoughts

To me, UltiMUD is unusable. It looks like a well made tool, which a lot of work has gone into. But I feel like anyone who wishes to use it needs to have some "idiot savant" ability to divine required information which hasn't been provided.

It is not a code-less world building tool. Case in point is the commands. UltiMUD does not come with built-in commands - it is up to the user to author them, and the only way the commands can do anything beyond trivial effects is via attached Lua code. This is just an observation, code-less developing is clearly not a feature of UltiMUD.

Apparently version 2 is coming out sometime after mid last year (July 2007). But this won't address the reasons why I wouldn't use UltiMUD. Even if it were usable, it implements a fixed model for any game world built on top of it. And being implemented based on the authors own ideas, this unavoidably forces what seem like arbitrary constraints on anyone who uses it. To someone who doesn't have world building experience, this might be fine. But having my own idea of how a game world should be able to be built, this is not suitable for me.

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