MU* and Open Source MMO
Some of the first MMORPGs were the ASCII games, and there were many variations catering to combat achievement, social kicking back, various roleplay settings based on popular books or movies, and the like. There was even a game that rewarded simply doing nothing with style called LambdaMOO. These MU*’s (either MUD, MOO, MUSH, MUX, etc) were low bandwidth, light on hardware, and unlimited on imagination, as long as you were a decent typist.
Fast forward twenty years, and the PC gaming industry literally drives hardware advancements. We’ve all drooled over a brand new game and found it needed an upgrade of some computer component to play well or at all. The shiny gameplay demanded another kind of shiny; cash.
Most gamers who only started gaming on the internet in the past five or ten years may not have ever even stepped foot on a MU*. Who wanted to play something that was all typing, no graphics at all, even if it was free?
I started playing them in 1992 and have been playing and programming on them since. I’ve also gone into WoW, Second Life, and other networked graphical games online. I still, oddly, prefer the old text games hands down, and it isn’t because of the costs. I’ll focus on the MUSH variant, because that’s what I’ve played the most.
When you compile the MUSH server on an internet-connected machine and first login, you’re a room called Limbo and your character name, #1, is often “God”. There are some basic commands common to all games running that flavor of server, but no other rooms, no RPG system, no helpful files. Nothing. There’s an underlying programming language that can make all things possible (except graphics) if you know how to use it, but no books teaching it, just some arcanely written help files. There is nothing in Limbo but potential.
It’s a unique environment in today’s massive gaming world, where we pay for downloadable content and the ability to connect to someone else’s server to play in a world they create and control. While anyone who has played a MU* knows that players have limited choice in the world once it’s built by the staff, the real beauty is that just about anyone with a world-scale idea and the energy can create their own game, run the way they want, and have people connect to it and have fun. There is no server farm, team of game developers, financial costs, nothing. Just the right machine with a permanent connection and a free download of the MUSH server code. It’s like Open Source MMORPG.
I’ve seen quite a few of these player-created games. There’s games based on books and movies, games using commercial RPG rules and concepts, and some that are entirely original. A lot of them use existing theme but try to spin it a little with an original RPG system. The result is undeniably run by the love of fans and makers. It’s no small effort to do this either; most games are hundreds of hours of unpaid work. However, the result is something that the creators can watch work in front of them, and enjoy and improve themselves without working for Blizzard Inc.
If you’ve played a MU* or he graphic MMORPGs and have some thoughts on why both are still being played in this day and age, please share in the comments!