Early MUD History

Early MUD History

From: Richard@tharr.UUCP (Richard Bartle)
Subject: Early MUD history.
Date: 15 Nov 90 19:00:55 GMT

abermud@ed.ac.uk (Alan Cox) writes:
> The history of MUDs all starts in the UK, about 1979. Roy Trubshaw, a
> student at Essex University, started writing MUD, a game written in BCPL
> on a DEC-10. Along with Richard Bartle, who tidied up the system and added
> a very crude database compiler for it, they produced a very good combat
> game for it.

Since most of this "early history" stuff got passed down by word of mouth,
here's how it "really" happened...

        The very first MUD was written by Roy Trubshaw in MACRO-10 (the
machine code for DECsystem-10's). Date-wise, it was Spring 1979. The game was
originally little more than a series of inter-connected locations where you
could move and chat. I don't think it was called MUD at that stage, but I'd
have to ask Roy to be sure. Roy rewrote it almost immediately, and the next
version, also in MACRO-10, was much more sophisticated. This one was
definitely called MUD (I still have a printout of it). The database (ie. the
rooms, objects, commands etc.) was defined in a separate file, but it could
also be added to during play. However, the result was that people added new
rooms that were completely out of keeping with the rest of the environment,
and, worse, added new commands that removed any spirit of exploration and
adventure that the game may have had.

        In those days, memory was at a premium, and on Essex University's
DEC-10 we had something like 50K maximum (36-bit words) to use. The game
definition stuff took up too much memory, so Roy decided to ditch it. The
program was also becoming unmanageable, as it was written in assembler.
Hence, he rewrote everything in BCPL, starting late 1979 and working up
to about Easter 1980. The finished product was the heart of the system which
many people came to believe was the "original" MUD. In fact, it was version 3.

        I had been helping Roy with the game-side of things for some time,
starting with suggestions for version 1. Roy was mainly interested in the
programming side of things, rather than the design of rooms, puzzles and so
on. When he left Essex, I took over full control. At that point, there was no
objective for the players, and only primitive communication. There was
no points-scoring system, there were no mobiles, no containers, and even some
of the infrastructure was missing (eg. two people in a dark room, one with a
torch: the other still couldn't see). In terms of lines of code, Roy gave
me about 25% of what was in the final program (mind you, it was the most
essential 25%!). I added all the stuff about getting to be a wizard (which
was previously 'debug mode' so implementors - Roy and I - could test out new
room complexes we'd added.

        Roy's reasons for writing MUD were twofold: to make a multi-player
adventure game; to write an interpreter for a database definition language.
The language he developed was rather crude, and I had to hack it to get it
to do a lot of the things I wanted to do. This was partly because Roy didn't
know the kind of things that would be needed from a game-design perspective,
and partly because the multi-user aspect came to dominate the project.
However, the core of the database definition language (MUD definition
language - MUDDL) was all Roy's. I didn't add it, I added TO it.

        Although Roy had written the basis of the system, it wasn't really
a game, nor was it completely usable. Sometimes, the implication is given
that I merely modified his program, or tidied up a few loose ends, whereas
actually I wrote most of it (and unwrote some of it!). At other times, there's
the suggestion that Roy just knocked together a basic shell devoid of anything
really original or interesting; again, that's incorrect - Roy pioneered MUD
programming, and had to design everything from scratch. So the writing of
that first MUD was basically a team effort, and the way Roy and I expect to
see it described is "MUD was created and written by Roy Trubshaw and Richard
Bartle at Essex University in the UK", or words to that effect.

        At this time, there was an experimental packet-switching system
(EPSS) linking Essex University to ArpaNet in the USA. In Spring 1980, we got
our first few external players logging in and trying the game out (one of
whom I met recently by complete chance in a hotel in Annapolis, MD). There's
a reference to MUD in an article on Zork in the December 1980 issue of
Byte. Interestingly, it also mentions an earlier multi-player version of
Zork, but neither I nor Roy were aware of it at the time. I've never found
any other references to it, so I don't know how MUD-like it was.

        MUD only had one database for the first couple of years, then I
took out all the "generic" bits (eg. get/drop/quit commands, spells, common
objects like doors & keys) and put them into a set of include files. I
then wrote another game called Valley, using the MUD interpreter and the
include files, but with another set of rooms and puzzles. Although I'm only
a year younger than Roy, I was able to stay on at Essex and work on the system
because I became a postgraduate (and, later still, a lecturer) there. Some
undergraduate friends took the interpreter and include files (with my
permission), and used them as a basis for their own games. The first of these
was Rock (based on Fraggle Rock, the TV show), but others that spring to mind
were BLUD (very deadly), UNI (a simulation of the University, with spoof
monsters for the members of staff), and MIST (about which you know). After I
left Essex, I let them run MUD for two or three years for old time's sake,
but after a while its code was adulterated by a new bunch of well-meaning
undergrads, so I took it away; people were getting a false idea of what the
game was meant to be like (and besides, they'd removed my name from the
arch-wizard list!). The original MUD is back now, I understand, and will
remain there until the DEC-10 is switched off (if it hasn't gone already).

        The game was initially populated primarily by students at Essex, but
as time wore on and we got more external lines to the DEC-10, outsiders
joined in. Soon, the machine was swamped by games-players, but the University
authorities were kind enough to allow people to log in from the outside
solely to play MUD, so long as they did so between 2am and 6am in the morning
(or 10pm to 10am weekends). Even at those hours, the game was always full to
capacity. Thus, MUD became a popular pastime throughout the modem-using
computer hobbyists of Britain. I also sent copies of the code to Norway,
Sweden, Australia and the USA.

I could go on, but then we stop being early days and start being present
days, so I won't! Suffice to say that the original game was licensed to
CompuServe, where it still runs to this day, labouring under the name of
"British Legends".

Richard Bartle.

From: spiel@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu (Kimberly M. Antell)
Newsgroups: rec.games.mud
Subject: Re: MUD Info
Message-ID: <47534@ut-emx.uucp>
Date: 19 Apr 91 23:35:29 GMT
References: <1991Apr19.133646.6389@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Sender: news@ut-emx.uucp
Reply-To: spiel@ccwf.cc.utexas.edu (Kimberly M. Antell)
Organization: The University of Texas at Austin
Lines: 384

Sorry, Kaine.  I don't think I was ever sent it, however 
Anarchy might have it.  This is all of the info about MUDs
That I have for anyone who wishes to read about it.

The term MUD originally referred to a particular game, not an entire
class of them. MUD (Multi-User Dungeon) was created and written by Roy
Trubshaw at Essex University in Britain. It was written in BCPL on the
university's DEC KL10. The point of the game was to gain points until
you achieved the rank of wizard, at which point you became a wizard
and gained certain powers over mortals.  Richard Bartle later took the
basic framework created by Trubshaw and modified it extensively.  The
game gained some popularity in Britain when a guest account was set up
that allowed users on JANET (the British academic network) to play
during the small hours of the morning each day. When Bartle and MUD
left Essex, some people there implemented a new world using the old
MUD software called MIST. Later another game, LAND, was added. MIST is
still up today. The Essex KL10 is due to be taken out of service in
the near future, so the original MUD should soon be taking its final
bows. (JANET 00004960000001, IPSS 02342206411411 and then HO 0.)

When Richard Bartle left Essex, he took MUD with him and went commercial.
He's responsible for MUD-2, which currently runs on a British Telecom
VAXcluster and costs money to play. There are several other commercial
MUDs in the UK, but due to the number of games run by enthusiasts trying
successful. One that is doing well is SHADES. SHADES is a game on
Micronet, a British service that is roughly comparable to CompuServe
in the States.

The original MUD is commercially available in the United States on
CompuServe. They call it British Legends.

VAXMUD was written in FORTRAN for VAX/VMS systems. It's another
combat-based game but unlike MUD you kept whatever objects you were
carrying when you saved your character. The game is weakened by the
fact that the authors distribute the game in binary form, not source
code, and the provided scenario is very difficult to customize well.

MUNDI was written by some MUD players at Warwick University and never
distributed. It's mentioned here because it was probably the first
British MUD written to be efficient and networkable.

One player of the Essex MUD was Alan Cox, also known as Anarchy. He
wrote (with a bit of help) AberMUD, named after the University of
Aberystwyth, Wales, which he attended at the time. It was originally
implemented on a Honeywell mainframe running GCOS but was soon ported
to UNIX. Its poor design and implementation (all game information was
stored in a shared file, which meant that several processes were
constantly accessing the disc) did not endear it to many system
administrators. Nevertheless, it was the first MUD to gain widespread
popularity. After the source code reached the United States, several
people made enhancements and additions, notably Rich $alz. It now
seems to have found a home at St. Olaf University, where a few
dedicated hackers are keeping it alive despite its general grunginess.

In the early 1908s members of Lysator, the student computer club at
Linkoping University in Sweden were involved called Asgaard, named
after the mythical home of the Norse and Viking gods. The goal of the
project was to create an extendable multi-user adventure game. Within
a few years the project was fading away; the only concrete result was
a multi-user LISP called Runes, which had hooks to facilitate game

Milieu was originally written for a CDC Cyber owned by the Minnesota
Educational Computer Consortium. High school students from around the
state were given access to the machine for educational purposes; they
often ended up writing chat programs and games instead. I am uncertain
of the precise time frame, but I believe Milieu probably predates MUD.
Eventually, Alan Klietz ported the game from Pascal to C and wrote an
implementation that would run on an IBM PC XT running a multitasking
operating system called QNX. Alan and a few other people formed a
company called GamBits Timesharing, attached sixteen modems to an XT,
and started selling time on it. The game, now called The Scepter of
Goth (or The Scepter and The Phoenix, or just Scepter) was now
publically available. The GamBits system had bulletin boards, mail,
chat, and a few other games, but its primary attraction was Scepter.
The system was reasonably priced and managed to form quite a local
following. Scepter had the best atmosphere of any multi-user game I've
played. The primary setting was the town of Boldhome and outlying
areas. The game had AD&D-like mechanics, with character classes and
ability scores. Certain players were DMs, analogous to wizards in MUD
but more powerful. DMs could create, modify, or remove rooms,
monsters, objects and players using an online game editor. The game
wasn't programmable, but it was very extensible. In Scepter, DM states
was granted, not earned. Eventually, GamBits started licensing the
software to other sites, and Scepter became available in cities like
Chicago and Austin.  After a few years GamBits sold the software to a
Virginia company called Interplay, which continued to license the
software. Interplay eventually became mired in a legal mess (various
of its executives were charged and possibly convicted of tax evasion
-- I'm fuzzy on the details) and today no longer exists. Scepter was
sold off to one of Interplay's creditors. Today, the game is more or
less history. Alan Klietz is said to be working on his latest project,
Screenplay and lurks out there on the Internet somewhere (hi, Alan).

Monster is a rather large and clunky MUD for VMS systems that got
posted to comp.sources.games a few years ago. It was written in some
truly ghastly Pascal and was prone to hog lots of system resources.
(Like AberMUD, it used shared files for inter-process communication.)

"TinyMUD 1.0 was initially designed as a portable, stripped-down
version of Monster (this was back in the days when TinyMUD was
designed to be up and running in a week of coding and last for a month
before everybody got bored of it.)  The basic idea was to include the
minimal object-creation and locking features of Monster without
throwing in all the hairy stuff.  Since then a lot of the hairy stuff
has been reinvented.  It might be interesting to go back and look at
the Monster docs and see how much of its functionality eventually
showed up in TinyMUD." -- James Aspnes

TinyMUD has built up a considerable following, and today is perhaps
the most popular MUD on the Internet. Aspnes' TinyMUD went down when
he finally got fed up with it.

TinyMUCK and TinyMOO are derivatives of TinyMUD, as should be obvious
from their names. Their main difference from TinyMUD is that they are
programmable. (I can't get more specific here, since MUDs in the
TinyMUD vein have never been my particular cup of tea.)

LPMUD by Lars Pensj| of Sweden was the first MUD with a built-in
extension language, in this case a subset of C. Wizards in LPMUD can
create new rooms, objects, monsters and commands, driven by programs
of arbitrary complexity. This introduced a considerable level of depth
into the choices open to wizards, and brought some new problems too.
The original LPMUD is still up (milou.cd.chalmers.se, port 2000).

Ubermud is another programmable MUD. I've not played it so I can't
offer specific comments. The author seems to have mostly lost interest
now that the software is finished. Today, the code is used more as an
example of what can be done with MUDs than an actual production
system. (There are no public Ubermuds running today that I know of.)

YAMA (Yet Another Multiuser Adventure) is the latest project of Alan
Cox. (You remember him. Anarchy. As in AberMUD.) It is actually a
program for writing MUDs. It was written to be fast and powerful. It
has been aptly described as an assembly language for MUDs: it's
speedy, efficient, and a bitch to learn. Alan still considers it to be
beta testing and is not ready to release the code, so don't even ask.

And finally, the ever-popular VaporMUDs. There are at least two MUDs
that, according to their authors, are currently being written and will
be the greatest hoopiest most whiz-bang games to ever hit the earth.
I'll welcome these games when they arrive, but for now they're just so
much hoopla and hype. Regardless, MUD development goes on.

History of the World Preface
History of the World Part 1
History of the World Part 2
History of the World Part 3
History of the World Part 4
History of the World Part 5
History of the World Part 6
History of the World Part 7
History of the World Part 8
History of the World Index

The History of the World details the creation and evolution of TinyMUD.
It was compiled and edited by Chrysalis. She wishes to thank Wizard for
his stories of The Old Days.

In the beginning, there was the Internet Relay Chat. And thus an
internet Hunt The Wumpus game came into existance. And Wizard looked,
and saw, and said, "I could beat that."

And there was AberMUD, a silly adventure game. And Wizard looked, and
saw, and said, "This is Gross, but it has a neat name." And from these
was TinyMUD born, a great internet game with a neat name.

Wizard started work upon TinyMUD in August 1989, and in a week had it running.
By the end of September, it was full blown and open to The Public. 
And Wizard cried, "It was just a weekend hack that got out of hand!"

And indeed, soon it overran its disk quota, and was moved to another
machine. And there it flourished. Then, to quell public demand, Wizard
released his source code, and beta tests sprung up 'round the land.

One of these beta test became known as TinyHELL, and it was the first to
go public. Nightfall, a player from TinyMUD, became the wizard in
TinyHELL, and he set it arunning on his machine.

Only eight lucky souls were permitted to roam in TinyHELL in the
beginning. The monstrous task of starting the world was left up to them.
And they exceeded all expectations in their building.

They built vast roads, fields, mountains, and buildings, and rewrote all
the books in the library (for Wizard didn't believe in documentation),
such that it was deemed time to let the masses in.

And thus the masses were let in, and thus our story stands. But it does
not end here, for the world will always have a TinyMUD to build in, and
there will always be a Wizard curled up asleep in his hat.

The Seven are: Chrysalis, fur, wisher, Drax, ralph, bobo, and yaz. Chrys
built most of the west side, fur northwest and the weirder stuff, Drax
south, Nightfall north and east, and everyone else bits in between.

So it was written.  The Cyclopedia Three has numerous entries on subjects
like tinyMUD, Rec Room, cyberportals, tinymud.el, Jim Aspnes, and other
entries of historical interest.  Now if it only had an index... (working
on that...)  You can find the cyclopedia in 0.e on Chaos these days.

To go back to the original MUDs, I think you'd have to go to the UK.  My
somewhat hazy memory recalls that a game called MUD was written in the
early 80s at one of the British universities.  Eventually AberMUD was
developed a couple of years later, which became a success in the UK
and was even adapted for commercial use by at least one network.

Bill Wisner, who posts here from time to time talking about "real MUDs",
may know more details.  Other early multi-player games include Monster
and a nameless one at Purdue from which Jim grabbed the " and : command

James Aspnes wrote TinyMUD in the summer of 1989 as a nice simple compact
multi-user adventure game and invited fellow CMU grad students to play on it.
They did, enjoyed it, told friends about it, students at other universities
got on, and... well, I guess you know the rest, since you were there for
most of it yourself.

Sorry about the type.  I was in a hurry.

Hope this helps!