Muddled Times
Issue:Issue 25, December 2003

The Art of MUD2

While the interestingly titled ‘Art of Computer Programming’ maybe a terse read to those with little involvement in the subject matter the book itself presents something of a quandary; is there art to be found in the machine? Describing MUD in an aesthetic form may seem considerably more difficult than the work of a composer or artist, it is easier to analyse the writing of the game first and the art of the mechanics second. While Knuth’s opus talks about the design of computer system we can operate the same principal of thinking to the model world of MUDs.

There can be little doubt that to MUD2 the years of redesign and tweaking have done the game tremendous good, to the new-comer the system is designed in a way that has a pronounced elegance that comes only with exhaustive testing. A quick-scan of the commands list may at first impression suggest something a little clunky and a little less practical. However it is in sheer control that the system of MUD2 takes off, phrases like *k z f wp or *dep cc, trip off the competent gamers keyboard automatically. Breaking the most complex commands down into a handful of letters is where the true art of MUD lies. But having a handful of synonyms does not make a game truly elegant – what such commands have done is create a language (named MUDspeke by Bartle). Language is a first step in creating a MUD culture within which is base a strong community, albeit a slightly more impenetrable one.

The art of language is a powerful tool in creating a gaming environment in which to set this community, while anyone can create stock MUD worlds it takes planning and attentiveness to create worlds of continuity, places where the avatars of players can live and breathe. Even the slightest scan of the enormous list of MUDs available today would reveal that only a handful are capable of this. To encapsulate the player in a world that can be painted so vividly in their minds is a tall order, and when successfully pulled off is a stroke of true art and creativity from the creator.

An interesting note on the world of MUD2 in that is does not represent a world driven by plot or is not even based around the tale of some truly epic events. For better or worse it is based around its characters that in turn are controlled by its players, the actions of the game are not predicted in some grandiose plan but played out through entire improvisation. Part of the art of any game design is not to constrain its players into one method of acting or playing, it is to create a backdrop in which they are free to perform whatever is made available to them. MUD2 presents its players with vague aspirations to context, the odd snippet of history to the Land and distant references to events gone by. It is an interesting approach to presenting the player with some information about the world they play in, but not enough to constrain them to play in a particular style.

It is hard to say whether these aspects make MUD2 simply a well-oiled machine with heavily tweaked game mechanics or something more than this. It could be that the true art of computer games may lie in the code itself, or perhaps the game does hold some fascinating beauty. We are left to ponder – is there art in MUD2?

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