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Summary MUD History

Richard Bartle, Helped invented first MUD, History
Richard Bartle

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).

– Richard Bartle; Early MUD history; 15 Nov 1990.

Who invented MUD’s? The first popular computer adventure game was called Adventure, created by Will Crowther and Don Woods in the mid 1970’s. The first MUD, an adventure game with multiple players, was invented by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle at Essex University in England in
1978.

The “D” in “MUD” is described in the history below as a tribute to an earlier computer game with roots in an even earlier one, not a reference to the populate fantasy game Dungeons & Dragons (D&D). At the same time, the early computer adventure games were partly influenced by D&D in that several of the game developers, including Will Crowther, Dave Lebling, and Richard Bartle, were D&D aficionados. D&D was created by Dave Arneson and Gary Gygax in the early 1970’s, and involve intricate, complex games where players take on the aspects of characters from fantasy worlds — warrior, wizard, shaman, prince — acquire and lose magical powers, and progress through fantastic adventures involving travel through wild and wonderful worlds. The game was usually progressed by the roll of one or more multi-sided dice based on the five platonic solids, and could go on for days, weeks, or months.

Whether one game influenced the other, or it is simply that the concept of an adventure fantasy world is a deeper archytype of our collective human subconscious, both D&D and MUD’s share an essential characteristic: whether played with dice in a college dorm or with a computer on the Internet: the complex, alternate reality they describe takes place primarily in the players’ imaginations.

Major milestones in the development of MUD’s are described below:

  • Adventure.
    The first widely used computer adventure game was created in 1975 by Will
    Crowther
    on a DEC PDP-10 computer, and coincidentally had earlier also worked
    on the ARPANET IMP. The game was then significantly
    extended in 1976 by Don Woods at Stanford
    University.
    It was called “Adventure”, but was often referred to as “ADVENT” since the
    length of a file name on the TOPS-10 operating system was limited to six-letters.
    Containing many of the features of a D&D game, it added an interesting twist
    — the dungeon master, the person who set-up and ran a D&D world, was played
    by the Adventure computer program itself.
  • Zork. Inspired by the game Adventure, Dave Lebling, Marc Blank, Tim Anderson, and Bruce Daniels, a group of students at M.I.T., wrote a game called Zork in the summer of 1977 for the PDP-10 minicomputer which became quite popular on the ARPANET. A version called DUNGEN was later developed in the FORTRAN language by a programmer at DEC, and ported to many different machines. In 1980, Blank and Joel Berez, with some help from Daniels, Lebling, and Scott Cutler, produced a version for the company Infocom that ran on the TRS-80 and Apple II microcomputers, and was later ported to several other microcomputers. Although Zork did not borrow any code from Adventure, it built on the same concepts and added several more features. Like Adventure, Zork was a single player game.
  • MUD.
    The first Multi-User Dungeon was usually just called MUD, and was written in 1978 by Roy Trubshaw, a
    student at Essex University in England, originally in the MACRO-10 language for a DECsystem-10
    computer. MUD was the first adventure game to support multiple users. The name was chosen partly as a tribute to the DUNGEN variant of Zork, which Trubshaw had greatly enjoyed playing. Trubshaw converted MUD to BCPL, and then handed over development to Richard
    Bartle
    , also a student at Essex University in England (see Early MUD History and Interactive Multi-User Computer Games). The success of that game then spawned
    a number of similar developments across Britain, including
    AMP, Gods, and Shades.

    The original MUD was available on the UK CompuNet network for two years until the DECsystem-10
    computers were decommissioned. A version of MUD also ran on the Compuserve network
    in the U.S. under the name “British Legends”, and on the sites “craic.iol.ie” and
    “portal.aladdin.co.uk”. You can still play the original version at British-Legends.com, a web version converted by Viktor Toth from BCPL into C/C++ in a thirteen day marathon. Foreseeing the future popularity of the game, fortunately Bartle put the word “MUD” and the concept into the public domain. In his words: “MUD development had been funded by public money, therefore I felt the fruits
    of
    this should be returned to the public”. Bartle and Trubshaw have continued to be involved in MUD’s and gaming, and are currently Directors of MUSE.
  • AberMUD. One of the first adventure MUD’s was AberMUD, named after the university where
    it was written, University of Wales at Aberystwyth. In 1988,
    AberMUD and related versions spread on the Usenet newsgroups and started being
    used in North America, after which their use spread rapidly among research and
    academic
    organizations.
  • Tiny
    MUD
    . Jim Aspnes, a graduate student at Carnegie Mellon University, wrote the
    first TinyMUD in one weekend in 1989, and deployed it on port 4201 on the machine
    “lancelot.avalon.cs.cmu.edu”. Tiny MUD’s focused less on combat, and more on virtual
    problem solving, user cooperation, and social interaction and among the MUD visitors.
    This social focus, together with the fact that TinyMUD ran on a wide variety of Unix systems, helped fuel the popularity
    and growth of MUD’s around the world.
  • LPMUD. The original LPMUD was written by Lars Pensjl and others, and became one of the
    most popular MUD’s by the early 1990’s. Oriented towards gaming and combat, it was the first extensible MUD.
  • MOO. The concept of a MOO was introduced by Pavel Curtis in 1996, extending the concept
    of a configurable MUD with a built-in object-oriented language.

Resources. The following references provide more information: