MUD - Origins

Origins

Colossal Cave Adventure, created in 1975 by Will Crowther on a DEC PDP-10 computer, was the first widely used adventure game. The game was significantly expanded in 1976 by Don Woods. Also called Adventure, it contained many D&D features and references, including a computer controlled dungeon master.

Inspired by Adventure, a group of students at MIT wrote a game called Zork in the summer of 1977 for the PDP-10 minicomputer which became quite popular on the ARPANET. Zork was ported under the filename "DUNGEN", dungeon, to FORTRAN by a programmer working at DEC in 1978.

In 1978 Roy Trubshaw, a student at Essex University in the UK, started working on a multi-user adventure game in the MACRO-10 assembly language for a DEC PDP-10. He named the game MUD (Multi-User Dungeon), in tribute to the Dungeon variant of Zork, which Trubshaw had greatly enjoyed playing. Trubshaw converted MUD to BCPL (the predecessor of C), before handing over development to Richard Bartle, a fellow student at Essex University, in 1980.

MUD, better known as Essex MUD and MUD1 in later years, ran on the Essex University network until late 1987, becoming the first Internet multiplayer online role-playing game in 1980, when Essex University connected its internal network to ARPANet. The game revolved around gaining points till one achieved the wizard rank, giving the player immortality and certain powers over mortals. The game became more widely accessible when a guest account was set up that allowed users on JANET (a British academic X.25 computer network) to connect on weekends and between the hours of 2 AM and 8 AM on weekdays. MUD1 was reportedly closed down when Richard Bartle licensed MUD1 to CompuServe, and was getting pressure from them to close Essex MUD. This left MIST, a derivative of MUD1 with similar gameplay, as the only remaining MUD running on the Essex University network, becoming one of the first of its kind to attain broad popularity. MIST ran until the machine that hosted it, a PDP-10, was superseded in early 1991.

During the Christmas of 1985, Neil Newell, an avid MUD1 player, started programming his own MUD called SHADES because MUD1 was closed down during the holidays. Starting out as a hobby, SHADES became accessible in the UK as a commercial MUD via British Telecom's Prestel and Micronet networks. A scandal on SHADES led to the closure of Micronet, as described in Indra Sinha's net-memoir, The Cybergypsies.

In 1985 Pip Cordrey gathered some people on a BBS he ran to create a MUD1 clone that would run on a home computer. The tolkienesque MUD went live in 1986 and was named MirrorWorld.

1985 also saw the creation of Gods by Ben Laurie, a MUD1 clone that included online creation in its endgame. Gods became a commercial MUD in 1988.

In 1985 CompuNet started a project named Multi-User Galaxy Game as a Science Fiction alternative to MUD1 which ran on their system at the time. When one of the two programmers left CompuNet, the remaining programmer, Alan Lenton, decided to rewrite the game from scratch and named it Federation II (at the time no Federation I existed). The MUD was officially launched in 1989. Federation II was later picked up by AOL, where it became known simply as "Federation: Adult Space Fantasy". Federation later left AOL to run on its own after AOL began offering unlimited service.

In 1978, around the same time Roy Trubshaw wrote MUD, Alan E. Klietz wrote a game called Milieu using Multi-Pascal on a CDC Cyber 6600 series mainframe which was operated by the Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium. Klietz ported Milieu to an IBM XT in 1983, naming the new port Scepter of Goth. Scepter supported 10 to 16 simultaneous users, typically connecting in by modem. It was one of the first commercial MUDs; franchises were sold to a number of locations. Scepter was first owned and run by GamBit (of Minneapolis, Minnesota), founded by Bob Alberti. GamBit's assets were later sold to Interplay Productions. Interplay eventually went bankrupt.

In 1984, Mark Peterson wrote The Realm of Angmar, beginning as a clone of Scepter of Goth. In 1994, Peterson rewrote The Realm of Angmar, adapting it to MS-DOS (the basis for many dial-in BBS systems), and renamed it Swords of Chaos. For a few years this was a very popular form of MUD, hosted on a number of BBS systems, until widespread Internet access eliminated most BBSes.

In 1984, Mark Jacobs created and deployed a commercial gaming site, Gamers World. The site featured two games coded and designed by Jacobs, a MUD called Aradath (which was later renamed, upgraded and ported to GEnie as Dragon's Gate) and a 4X science-fiction game called Galaxy, which was also ported to GEnie. At its peak, the site had about 100 monthly subscribers to both Aradath and Galaxy. GEnie was shut down in the late 1980s, although Dragon's Gate was later brought to America Online before it was finally released on its own. Dragon's Gate was closed on February 10, 2007.

In the summer of 1980 University of Virginia classmates John Taylor and Kelton Flinn wrote Dungeons of Kesmai, a six player game inspired by Dungeons & Dragons which used Roguelike ASCII graphics. They founded the Kesmai company in 1982 and in 1985 an enhanced version of Dungeons of Kesmai, Island of Kesmai, was launched on CompuServe. Later, its 2-D graphical descendant Legends of Kesmai was launched on AOL in 1996. The games were retired commercially in 2000.

The popularity of MUDs of the Essex University tradition escalated in the USA during the late 1980s when affordable personal computers with 300 to 2400 bit/s modems enabled role-players to log into multi-line Bulletin Board Systems and online service providers such as CompuServe. During this time it was sometimes said that MUD stands for "Multi Undergraduate Destroyer" due to their popularity among college students and the amount of time devoted to them.

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