Text Based Games

Authors: Many
Article 16243 of rec.games.design:
Path: nntp.Stanford.EDU!news.Stanford.EDU
From: kimmar@inetworld.net (Mark Stanford)
Newsgroups: alt.mud.programming,rec.games.design,
Subject: Re: Text-only MUDs
Date: Sun, 22 Dec 1996 11:14:55 -0800
Organization: Simply Internet, San Diego
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In article <nH6GKIK@quack.kfu.com>, 
        purple@quack.kfu.com (Daniel J. Hsu) wrote:

> Lars Christensen (wiz@post2.tele.dk) wrote:
> : [snip]
> : I think that graphic muds are _very_ limited. Look at it this way: With
> : text you can do *anything*!> 
> besides, you'd have to have images for everything in a graphical mud, 
> which makes it twice as frustrating to design. text descriptions are more 
> flexible and easier to work with... besides, who really knows what an 
> adamantine dragon looks like?

I agree completely.  Quality graphical MUDs are a practical impossibility,
IMO.  You cannot possibly represent with graphics all the things you can
represent with text.  Take, for example, the following lines:

         You feel refreshed.
         You gain a keen understanding of battle tactics.

And there are also _major_ landscape problems.  Let's start with a first
person view.  First of all, to make this realistic, one would have to
allow for _much_ more movement and make much more intricate room design in
order to account for the fact that a player cannot see, for example, an
entire huge hall with golden chandeliers, paintings, tables, chairs, a
fireplace, stone ceiling and walls, etc. with just graphics.  A player
could, however, see this with text:

         A huge hall surrounds you, blanketing you with feelings
         of warmth and song.  This is the heart of splendour;
         beautiful golden chandeliers hang from the ceiling, rare
         paintings adorn the  stone walls, and the room is filled
         with busy tables and chairs.  A fireplace emits an orange
         glow in the southeast corner of the room.

Just _try_ to represent that with one view.  You can't.  A person would
have to be able to walk all around the room, look up and down, etc. to
take that in.  It would take twenty minutes just to get the full effect of
the room!

So, of course, the next reasonable step is a different point of view, more
like King's Quest, where one sees their character in a scene, and can walk
around.  This presents the problem of direction; a person cannot see left,
right, or towards their own screen.  They can only see forward, away from
their screen.  So, in the middle of a desert, how do you achieve the

         You stand in the middle of a vast desert, the hot wind
         stinging every pore in your face.  In the distance to
         the west lies a large blue mountain range.

What if west is toward the screen?  How are they supposed to see that?

Another problem with the whole graphical thing is drama and effect.  Let's
say that in a text MUD, you were to implement the following with mobprogs:

         You wake and stand up.
         As you stand, you think you feel a hot breath on your neck.
         {room description here}
         Strange... it's as if someone is watching you.

So, here's what happened:  invisible troll saw you wake up, followed you,
and displayed those messages to you.  This induces a nice effect, giving
the player a slight suspicion and paranoia.  Who is following them??  What
does it want with them??

Try, just _try_ to achieve this with graphics.  You cannot, unless you
make it blatantly obvious that there is a troll following them.  And there
is NO effect there whatsoever.

Current graphical MUDs seem to just be for the hack-n-slashers, people who
don't care about environment, as long as they get enough blood, etc. 
Therefore, graphical MUDs are going to end up being almost identical to
Doom and the like.  They are for people with no minds and no imaginations
-- people who do not desire the book, the effect, the environment.  They
do not understand because they are too busy using their wrists.  Well,
they can have their stupid, puny little graphical games, but they should
NOT call them MUDs, as that is just a plain lie.  These games are not
MUDs, because the acronym MUD implies SOME usage of the mind.

This whole graphical MUD thing is ridiculous.  It is caused purely by the
recognition in large corporations that MUDs are hugely addictive.  They
think that if they can take that addictive effect and give it something
one cannot already find for free, they can get loads of money.

They can't.

+ Mark Stanford -- Karzan -- kimmar@inetworld.net +
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Article 16249 of rec.games.design:
Path: nntp.Stanford.EDU!news.Stanford.EDU!news.bbnplanet.com
From: Henrik Kniberg <d93-hkn@nada.kth.se>
Newsgroups: alt.mud.programming,rec.games.design,
Subject: Re: Text-only MUDs
Date: Mon, 23 Dec 1996 05:38:58 +0100
Organization: Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
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If you decide from the beginning that graphical MUDs are no good, then
it's easy to figure out arguments for making it seem so.  Then again,
it's just as easy to decide from start that text-based MUDs are ridulous
and then base all your arguments on THAT premise.  The difference in
this case is that time and experience has shown that text-based MUDs can
be really good, while graphical MUDs haven't been around as long to
prove it.

So in a way it's perfectly logical that people, being conservative by
nature, are biased towards text-based MUDs and tend to view graphical
MUDs with distaste and suspicion.

I'm quite neutral about this debate, but some of the arguments against
graphical MUDs surprise me.  One important thing here is that we can't
compare BAD graphical MUDs to GOOD text-based MUDs.  Another important
thing is that the distinction between "graphical MUD" and "text-based"
MUD might not be that clear.  

Lets say you have text MUD, but instead of only one telnet-style
scrolling panel you have several text windows.  One for input, one for
room descriptions, one for chatting, one for your inventory list, etc. 
Is that a graphical MUD?  Does it matter?  It makes things a lot easier,
and it certainly does not limit the game or reduce the expressive
possibilites - more like the opposite, since the room description
doesn't scroll away just because you wanted to check your inventory.  

Now what if we add the possibility of dragging objects from the
objects-in-this-room panel to the inventory panel, perhaps even drag
stuff within the inventory window.  Voila, no more having to type stuff
like "put longsword in backpack" - just drag the "longsword" text and
drop it on the "backpack" text.  Now, is this suddenly a graphical MUD
for "people with no minds and no imaginations"?  If we now change the
word "longsword" in the inventory list to a graphical image of a long
sword, have we ruined the game?

Well, you might argue, what if the longsword has a description.  It's
not just any old boring longsword, it's an "ancient longword with runic
inscriptions..." or whatever.  Just because we have iconified the
longsword doesn't mean it can't have a description.

Now I've been taking it step by step.  I guess on the far end of the
spectrum you have VR MUDs with no text at all - you speak through a
microphone, all sounds are heard through your speakers, all descriptions
are actually drawn on the screen.  Etc, etc.  

Yes I agree, this would be VERY hard to do without losing some of the
atmosphere, although it's not entirely out of the question - it depends
on how much money you want to put into it.    

Mark wrote: "They do not understand because they are too busy using
their wrists", (referring to graphical MUDders).  I don't know what type
of strange graphical MUD you might have experienced, but I can't imagine
any graphical MUD demanding more typing work than that of text-muds
where you have to explicitly type out every action.  

I think we should to look at this objectively.  A MUD client does two

  1) Accepts commands and queries from the player
  2) Gives the player information about the world

Furthurmore, each of these two can be divided up into subcategories. 
Input, for example, can be subdivided into things like
 - saying things ('tell joe whats up')
 - movement commands (n, e, w, s, up, down...)
 - queries (inv, score, time...)
 - actions like sneak, hide, sleep, sit, etc
 - object manipulation (open backpack, etc)
 - etc.... 

The output can be subdivided into things like
 - room and object descriptions
 - action notifications ('arthur sits down to rest')
 - query results (inv, score, time)
 - general events ('the sun sets', 'it starts raining', 'your torch
burns out'...)
 - etc...

Looking at each of these seperately, some are obviously better
represented in text and some are better represented graphically. 
Consider things like "hide", "stand", "sleep", etc.  These are
persistent states and therefore don't really belong in a scrolling text
console.  Perhaps a little icon somewhere in the corner of the window
showing if you are standing, sitting, sleeping, etc.  I would never have
to query my inventory if I can choose to have a window open that always
shows my inventory.  The communication should of course be typed, and
room descriptions could be text-based.

I'm not saying that this is the way to make the optimal mud.  I'm just
saying that the fact that a MUD is "graphical" does NOT mean that it is
any worse than telnet MUDs.

> So, in the middle of a desert, how do you achieve the
> following?
>          You stand in the middle of a vast desert, the hot wind
>          stinging every pore in your face.  In the distance to
>          the west lies a large blue mountain range.
> What if west is toward the screen?  How are they supposed to see that?

This is limited, yes.  But are text-based MUDs any less limited?  If you
choose to represent the actual MUD world graphically there are of course
different ways to do this - Kings Quest style, Virtual Reality,
Icon-based (like Ultima), platform based side-view (Prince of Persia),
etc.  Each view has advantages and disadvantages.  

In a typical text based MUD you can't even see what's in the next
"room".  You can't sit inside a tavern and watch people pass outside the
window, or even see who's standing a few blocks down the road.  Arguing
about realism is really quite pointless, and the winner in a "realism"
debate would be VR, by it's very nature.    

In the desert example, what if a caravan is approaching from far north? 
Will it say "you see a caravan approaching from the north"?  In most
MUDs you won't know until it's in your square - it will suddenly say "a
caravan arrives", without any kind of forewarning.  In a VR MUD you
would actually see it approaching from the horizon - a small speck,
growing larger and larger.  And if you want to see what's to the west,
just turn that way and have a look.  My point is that the limitations
depend on how good you make the MUD, regardless of whether or not it's

> Current graphical MUDs seem to just be for the hack-n-slashers, people who
> don't care about environment, as long as they get enough blood, etc.

There are graphical MUDs that are purely social (AlphaWorld &
WorldsChat), as well as graphical MUDs that are more combat and
adventure oriented (Meridian).  Origin systems is making a very fancy
one called Ultima Online, which seems (like Ultima games usually are) to
be the best of both worlds.  Although the term MUD is outdated - very
few "MUDs" are actually Multi User Dungeons... more like virtual

> These games are not MUDs, 
> because the acronym MUD implies SOME usage of the mind.

Really?  I'd say there's plently of brainless MUDs (both graphical and
textbased) out there.
 kill rabbit
 search corpse
 (... look for another rabbit ...)
 kill rabbit
 search corpse
 (... etc etc etc - AH, I gained a level)
 kill wolf
 search wolf
 .. etc ...

The usage of the mind is defined by the players IN the mud, not by the
MUD itself. 

Merry Christmas to you all :)


Henrik Kniberg    Royal Institute of Technology, Stockholm
                  WWW:   http://www.student.nada.kth.se/~d93-hkn/
                  tel:   +46 8 159790
                  email: d93-hkn@nada.kth.se

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