The Problem with MU*s

I thought about posting this in response to a cool post made by @johnbrown, but I decided to start a new thread, because I want to write about a phenomenon that is more or less the opposite of the one the other is concerned with.

Over the past five years or so I have found that when I play MU*s (the category of multiplayer games that includes but is not limited to MUDs), I lament the fact that MU* creators seem to be entirely oblivious to the features that are expected to be a part of every work of parser interactive fiction, the main offenses being guess-the-verb and related problems. (One commercial game that has somehow survived to the present requires you to remember that the one acceptable verb for a certain task changes depending on which room you are in!)

Has anyone found an MU* that is an exception to this tendency? Would anyone else be curious to see what would happen if modern IF authors created an MU*?


I didn’t experience much guess the verb problems in MUDs. Not even close to those I find in IF. The only “problem” I have with MUDs is that they have different commands than IF for some actions, so I end up with typing IF command in MUD or MUD command in IF, depending on where I spend more time at that moment. But that’s ok, I don’t think MUDs should adopt IF commands.
I would be very much interested to see MUD developed by IF authors.


That hasn’t been my experience. It’s true that mucks and mushes are stuck in the past, but they’re also very well documented usually, and there are always people around to tell you how things work. That changes the equation.

Conversely, I could argue that (single-player) interactive fiction spent decades refining parsers, libraries and conventions, but not so much helping the author and players tune in on the same wavelength. The medium as a whole is obsessed with form over function. We’re more preoccupied with avoiding spoilers than making sure players understand what’s expected of them. And that’s because we still think IF is all about puzzles and mimesis.

One example: we could easily have an autogenerated verbs command in any game. We could even tell it to keep certain verbs secret until the player first uses them. But we don’t, because it would ruin immersion or something.


Okay, it’s been a few decades since I tried to build content in a parser MUD but I did think about this at the time.

IF has a well-established (at this point) set of techniques to deal with guess-the-verb and similar issues.

  • Stick to the standard Zork/Curses set of library actions for manipulating medium-size dry goods, if at all possible.
  • Teach nonstandard actions early in the game.
  • Don’t implement nonstandard actions that aren’t part of this particular game.
  • Adjust all the actions in the game to avoid conflicts.
  • Adjust all the object names in the game to avoid conflicts.
  • Provide helpful feedback when the player uses the wrong actions with the wrong object.
  • Provide helpful feedback when the player uses the phrasing that isn’t quite an implemented action.

Now think about this in terms of a social MUD (player-construction focused, like TinyMUD) (which is my MUD experience). You can’t adjust all the actions and objects in the game because you’re not writing the whole game! You’re building specific rooms and objects. All your actions are location-specific. This is exactly what we tell Inform authors to never do.

Older-style (combat-ish) MUDs are a different problem, but they’re not fundamentally about the portable object manipulation so there’s another whole set of clashes. I haven’t played those so I can’t say as much, but the RPG paradigm is really a different model from IF even though they were both ultimately inspired by D&D sessions.

I’m not going to get into this because the question is “the problem with MUDs”, not “the problem with single-player IF”. :) But my short answer is that immersion is hard and not the same thing as avoiding spoilers.


Well, yeah, I kind of went off-topic there. Should have said that in a mush or muck you can type help and get a list of all built-in and custom commands, then learn how to use each of them with help <command> and/or <command> #help as the case may be. MU*s don’t shy away from doing that because their idea of fun is to give you a big bag of Lego pieces and let you play with them, while text adventures hide those same pieces in dark corners and when you find the last one the game is over.

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Anyone is free to make a different kind of parser game at any time. And many authors have!


Good point. But immersion was well-studied in literature before it was called “immersion”. Like how the author can get the reader to identify with the character or how location descriptions can “pull” the reader “in”.

OK, that was probably OT.

Back on-topic: I will soon try the MUD “Genesis”. I guess it is only half like IF and half different than IF.

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I think MU* creators are kind of their own niche of gaming, so don’t subscribe to all the player niceties we do.

IMHO since a MUD is persistent more like a MMORPG, extremely hidden items don’t seem like such a problem since people tend to play the game longer and there might be hidden lore, Easter eggs, and secrets that are meant to take a while to discover and get passed around among players. Much like XYZZY is designed as something normal people wouldn’t ever think to type.


Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

But it’s not just a matter of hidden items. A year or two ago I played a MUD—a commercial MUD, mind you—where the command needed to list the items in a catalog differed depending on which shop you were in. There would have already been enough of a learning curve without the additional trouble.

What Heart Heard of, Ghost Guessed has just this feature. (What a great game!) But I hear you. That is the exception and not the rule unfortunately.


That almost sounds like content made by different creators who weren’t on the same page.

Thing is, MUDs are a different beast with different communities, and to complain about them here likely isn’t going to help anyone except those in our community who dabble in them.

We could create a missionary ambassadorship and make it our quest to go over and tell them what we consider “best practices” but I doubt they would be receptive nor feel the need to listen to people from some other country telling them how to run theirs…

My ex girlfriend was helping someone create a MUD, and she showed me the database fields with descriptions and such. I had that impulse to give feedback but most anything I brought up was dismissed with “yeah, but this is how they do things…”


Pretty much! I like both MUDs and text adventures for what they are. Of course they’re different. Different beasts, each shaped by its own history, needs and constraints. That’s a good thing. Variety is good for the soul. And I tried making an IF authoring system that worked like a MUD. It didn’t work out, for a number of reasons. But we can and should learn from each other, so a thread like this one is welcome.


A few possibilities: The Guncho game I haven’t written – Emily Short's Interactive Storytelling