Berserking - all the rage
Richard Bartle considers some of the fads
LIKE every other form of society, the MUD wiz's have their own trends and fashions. In the early days it was just so gauche if you didn't "re-arrange the furniture" when you came in, which meant picking up a few objects that the mortals knew and expected to be in the same, trusted place as always, yet which you felt looked more artistic 40 rooms and 5 sets of goblins away. the favourite objet d'art was the magic-wand ("without a rusty star on the end"), which was supposed to start off in the cave, but usually ended up deep underground guarded by precisely those creatures you wanted to zap with it in the first place.
Later, it became fashlonable to be "berserk". MUD's wizs, you see, are meant to be (OK, they ARE) peaceful types who want to do nothing more than to mess up a mortal without their knowing, then appear with a crash of thunder and impress their victim with a display of seemingly uncalled-for, charitable generosity. So they might, for example, steal the last item needed to complete a long sequence of moves for a huge reward, and when the player learned it wasn't there appear and ask, innocently, "any problem?"; then, after suitable pleading and fawning, they would produce the item and disclose "some other player dropped it in the swamp" (not mentioning that the "other player" in question was none other than they themselves!).
However, after a while it becomes quite unbearable for wizs that they can't just kill players for fun, as if they do the "code of conduct" says they have to frig them back up to whatthey were before, and add some too, for the trouble. Sometimes you just want to get out there and KILL something! So that's why "berserkers" were invented. This is a special type of persona which is different to the normal sort. If you're berserk, you can't ever get to be a wiz. Oh, you can make the required number of points but you become merely a "berserker wiz", which isn't quite the same thing. You get none of the special wiz abilities, like SNOOP or FOD; you're just like you were before except you get a bit extra on strength and stamina. You're not allowed to flee from fights, KISS doesn't work, and you can only go berserk at novice level.
You DO get more points for killing people in fights, though - 1/12th of their score instead of 1/24th and you also get to use the longsword, MUD's deadliest weapon ("kills 99% of all known dwarfs - dead"). This is ideal, of course, because anyone who is a berserker is in there purely to kill people for the fun of it! So if you see someone wandering around with a name like "VLAD the berserker wizard", you know their sole aims in life are death, death and death, and perhaps you ought to scarper before they see some easy points in you.
Being a berserker was once quite fashionable - quite the rage, in fact. The latest trend, though, is invisibility. Here, wizs wander around where mortals can't see them, and play little tricks such as picking up all the treasure in the room so that when the mortal says "get it" it's not there any more. Then they drop it again, and the mortal doesn't know where it came from. Locking doors that the mortal has just opened but hasn't yet walked through, killing "easy" mobiles like the rats before the mortal can scoop up the points, and eavesdropping on conversations before interjecting from nowhere with some anonymous, sarcastic put-down, are where it's at at the moment.
The have been other fads, too, but the important thing is that they come about soon after wiz's learn of a new command I just put in. Picking up objects and moving them around happened when I first permitted wizs to do that - before they were as restricted as anyone else in what they could pick up. Nowadays, MUD rearranges the location of useful objects itself, so there are maybe five or six places where the wand could start off. This gives everyone a sporting chance to get to it first when a virgin game is opened up for play (and to wait there until someone else comes along looking for it, so you can zap 'em into oblivion!).
The BERSERK feature lay dormant for ages, due to the positioning of the longsword on a rock between the two beaches, which made it nigh-on impossible to rescue except by making a perilous boat journey. Moving it to a more accessible position prompted everyone to try with a berserker persona of their own, even if all they wanted to do was to get the longsword out and give it to a normal, non-berserk player who couldn't pull it from its berserker-only fastening.
Just to keep Micro Adventurer's readership all buying millions of copies every month, here's a freebie MUD hint for you: if you want to get shot of the egg, either give it to someone else, quit, or drop it in the fiery pit. Where's the fiery pit? Try killing the wolf sometime.
Invisibility earned its spurs when I stayed up until 4:30 myself one night to snoop on what people were doing (only one night, though - it takes me to weeks to recover! Gawd knows how anyone can manage it every night, but they do!). I was there from midnight onwards invisibly, seeing if anyone spotted me as I weaved around causing subtle havoc to all and sundry. I even got to witness a conflict between two of our wizs when PAULA the witch (who carries the dragon around, there being no handbag in MUD) accidentally quit while in the next room to two sorcerers.
Now the dragon could take out 8 or 9 sorcerers without suffering any ill effects, so it hardly noticed a mere two as it casually devoured them (although any other creature they could have easily beaten together). When the aggrieved players re-entered they just saw AZAX the wizard playing, and accused him of perpetrating all manner of foul deeds, and of having suspect parentage. Since I was snooping on AZAX at the time I was aware that his reputation was lily-white, and later on I had to clear him. Which meant I had to tell all about invisibility mode, and that was that! Within days you could wander around and not see hide nor hair of a wiz, because they were all invisible, following you and smirking at one another.
MUD has a special command, BUG, which players use to report anything which they consider an error. Some can remain unnoticed for literally years. The house,for example,is MUD's oldest section, yet upstairs it was possible for quite some time to walk north from one bedroom onto the landing, north from there into another bedroom, and north from there back into the first! There's a fitted wardrobe off the hall which until last month had an incomprehensible description, yet which no-one had bothered to report as it was so "obvious"! Other bugs are really there deliberately - one chap made it all the way to wiz wondering what a "cherry dwarf" was, having visions of a little, rosy-cheeked, smiling dwarf, when really it was "cheery"! When I added the dwarfen citadel, I just had to put in a "cherry dwarf", and over that weekend received complaints from people who told me I'd mis-spelled "cheery"!
I'm telling you all this to demonstrate that MUD is an evolving game, and so indeed it should be. It has been incremented gradually over the past four or so years with new ideas put in to be instantly tested by a horde of willing wizs, or mortals if it was something that they could use (the various "injury" spells - BLIND DEAFEN, CRIPPLE, DUMB and CURE - for example). This is one of the great strengths of doing MUD at a university, it's all research. If a commercial company were to put up a game riddled with bugs, the players would be justifiably upset when it crashed on them. Here, though, it's free for them to play and they actually like finding mistakes, because it gets them one over on me (and occasionally gets them some points for their honesty!). And it's also good because we don't have to pay people to playtest, either - plenty will do it willingly in their spare time for free!
THE OTHER great thing in MUD is the use of MUDspeke, that strange set of words which has become part of the vocabulary and folklore of the game. Additions arise for many reasons - because people are typing at great speed, because there are things which only exist in MUD and need a name, and because you can spot newcomers by their not using them (although they will usually be able to understand them). Two of the more popular "condensed feelings" words are SNIF and HEHEHE. SNIF is the invention of SUE the witch, who used it whenever she was upset, and it sort of caught on. When she finally left the game (for reasons unconnected with it, I hasten to add!) it was her last word: "Snif", and she was gone! "Hehehe" is ubiquitous. Once the catchphrase of JEZ the wizard, it is now used by all and sundry to represent a whole gamut of statements ranging from "that was funny" through "nudge, nudge, wink wink, say no more squire" to "I know something you don't know!". I think I must be about the only person who doesn't use it, and my own particular MUDspeke phrase, "augh" (to mean "oh no, not again!", "why me?" and other similar cries of despair) hasn't caught on at all, despite using it at the slightest provocation.
So there will always be a place for MUDs at universities, simply so that research into them can proceed. Universities can have "programs", whereas comrnercial companies must have "products". Products don't crash (well, not often!) and they are nice and stable. Programs crash like nobody's business and you never know from one day to the next whether some terrible new command has been added which you don't know about, but which someone who does, is about to use on you. Products are fun, but they don't change until everything has been thoroughly tested; programs are exciting in their volatility.
Perhaps there is a place for the "not fully tested" in the system. Even if I as a player did have to put up with a crash every 20 minutes (MUD needs a reset once a night on average), I think that experiencing the excitement of seeing things evolving and of being among the first to use the novel commands, would make me happy to play the program, not the product. Fortunately, enough people think the same way to make debugging that much easier and to encourage new additions to make the game even more fun for generations of adventurers to come.
For those readers with a Commodore 64 and modem, MUD is now running on Compunet.
Readers without access to Compunet can get details of how to access MUD from Richard Bartle, Department of Computer Science, Essex University, Colchester, Essex C04 3SQ. Remember to enclose an SAE.
10th March 1999: manov84.htm