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How it Really Happened
- Richard Bartle
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How it Really Happened
by Richard Bartle
Since most of this "early history" stuff got passed down by word of mouth,
here's how it "really" happened...
How it really happened, the Big Bang. Actually, these are just some
stars but don't tell anyone.
The very first mud was written by Roy Trubshaw in
machine code for DECsystem-10's). Date-wise, it was Autumn 1978.
The game was
originally little more than a series of inter-connected locations
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
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
rooms that were completely out of keeping with the rest of the
and, worse, added new commands that removed any spirit of
adventure that the game may have had.
In those days, memory was at a premium, and on Essex
DEC-10 we had something like 50K maximum (36-bit words) to use.
definition stuff took up too much memory, so Roy decided to ditch
program was also becoming unmanageable, as it was written in
Hence, he rewrote everything in BCPL, starting late 1979 and
to about Easter 1980. The finished product was the heart of the
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
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.
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,
me about 25% of what was in the final program (mind you, it was
essential 25%!). I added all the stuff about getting to be a
was previously 'debug mode' so implementors - Roy and I - could
test out new
room complexes we'd added.
Essex University, where it really happened.
Roy's reasons for writing mud were twofold: to make a
adventure game; to write an interpreter for a database definition
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
know the kind of things that would be needed from a game-design
and partly because the multi-user aspect came to dominate the
However, the core of the database definition language (mud
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
a game, nor was it completely usable. Sometimes, the implication
that I merely modified his program, or tidied up a few loose
actually I wrote most of it (and unwrote some of it!). At other
the suggestion that Roy just knocked together a basic shell
devoid of anything
really original or interesting; again, that's incorrect - Roy
programming, and had to design everything from scratch. So the
that first mud was basically a team effort, and the way Roy and I
see it described is "Mud was created and written by Roy Trubshaw
Bartle at Essex University in the UK", or words to that effect.
At this time, there was an experimental packet-switching
(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
whom I met recently by complete chance in a hotel in Annapolis,
a reference to mud in an article on Zork in the December 1980
Byte. Interestingly, it also mentions an earlier multi-player
Zork, but neither I nor Roy were aware of it at the time. I've
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,
took out all the "generic" bits (eg. get/drop/quit commands,
objects like doors & keys) and put them into a set of include
then wrote another game called Valley, using the mud interpreter
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)
undergraduate friends took the interpreter and include files
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,
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
but after a while its code was adulterated by a new bunch of
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
arch-wizard list!). The original mud is back now, I understand,
remain there until the DEC-10 is switched off (if it hasn't gone
The game was initially populated primarily by students at
as time wore on and we got more external lines to the DEC-10,
joined in. Soon, the machine was swamped by games-players, but
authorities were kind enough to allow people to log in from the
solely to play mud, so long as they did so between 2am and 6am in
(or 10pm to 10am weekends). Even at those hours, the game was
always full to
capacity. Thus, mud became a popular pastime throughout the
computer hobbyists of Britain. I also sent copies of the code to
Sweden, Australia and the USA.
I could go on, but then we stop being early days and start being
days, so I won't! Suffice to say that the original game was
CompuServe, where it still runs to this day, labouring under the
May 1999 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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