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No Elves Allowed: From MUD to MMO

Column By Cassandra Khaw on March 01, 2012

Back in the old days, we used to walk five kilometers through the sweltering jungles. You kids think you have it tough? Well, we had spiders. And snakes. And other ornery equatorial monsters. Why, I remember when the whole multiplayer thing was just text! We didn't have fancy digital avatars; we had imagination - all right, all right! Put away the tar and feathers. I'll stop with the 'old woman' thing.

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Still, I'm curious. How many of you out there are old enough to remember MUDs? For those of you too young to have gotten into this little bit of old-school fun, a MUD is more than what happens when a little bit of water meets a little bit of soil. A MUD is a Multi-User Dungeon, a multiplayer real-time virtual world that is primarily text-based. If you're lucky, you might get ASCII graphics but that didn't come around too often. MUDs are kind of like the grandparents of our MMOs today. You pretty much had the same things. Classes, races, dungeons you could wander through, bosses you could face, worlds you could explore. However, because MUDs weren't constrained by game engines, they had the opportunity to be more than that. Some MUDs gave players the liberty to establish governments and build homes, to form institutions and guilds. Others put spaceships into the hands of their players and allowed them to explore the galaxy.

Then, there were the MUXes and the MUSHes and the other MU*s that were focused primarily on role-playing. While often lambasted as unsavory dens for cybersex fiends, they also provided an outlet for those who didn't have the luxury of an accessible Game Master. Dungeons & Dragons not your style? That's alright. They used to have something for everyone. Harry Potter MUSHes sprouted like mushrooms after the success of the books and in spite of how silly it sounds, those were pretty good. Ever wanted to see what it is like to nurture a fledgling student through the years? Mine grew up into a bespectacled lecturer with an affection for fast cars, small animals and Quidditch. Are you a fan of Anne McCaffrey? You might have enjoyed being a Candidate for a dragon's clutch. Did you grow up reading Dragonlance? There was a MUSH for that too. Funnily enough, my favorite MUSH used to be Pokémon Evolutions. Operated by a rather strict coterie of people, Pokémon Evolutions made the task of catching those peculiar-looking critters into a dance of wit and luck. Good role-playing was as essential as luck. You had to convince the staff member you were worthy of the little Pokémon they were puppeting, many of which came with eccentric personalities. After that, you had to get lucky with your throw.

I could go on, really. Sadly, however, those days are pretty much gone. For the most part, the player-bases have moved on to bigger and better things. I can't help but wonder about two things, though. First and foremost, is there something that MUDs and MUXes could teach us? Many players have lamented about the static nature of the MMOs and how it often feels like a grind towards the end game. Would allowing the players more control over their environment provide for better experience? Of course, the rampant construction of infrastructure probably wouldn't work too well in a landscape filled by millions of subscribers. However, what if we were to have, say, instanced domains for the guilds? Would it be possible to change some of the dynamics of the game if we're able to construct little towns of our own?

The second thing that piques my curiosity is the reason for the transition from MUDs to MMOs. Is it simply evolution or is it because we're visual creatures at heart? What is the biggest appeal behind an MMO? Is the ability to communicate with millions of other people? I refuse to believe that's the reason. On a daily basis, we seldom interact with more than fifty or so individuals at a time. What would stop you from engaging in a text-based game that offers you the things you have craved in an MMO? This time around, I'm particularly interested in hearing from those who have had experiences with what I've mentioned before. What do you miss about them? What don't you miss? Most importantly of all, do you have any (figuratively speaking) war stories to share with the younger whipper-snappers out there?

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No Elves Allowed
In this bi-weekly column, Cassandra Khaw will be taking us into world on non-fantasy MMOs, Indie, Triple-A, and otherwise to prove that innovation comes in all shapes and sizes.
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