Home

The Mud Connector Interview

The following interview was done in April 1998 by The Mud Connector when MUME won the Mud of the Month. You can find the original interview here.

Main interview:

1. MUME has been around for about 7 years now, in your opinion, what does it take to create a multi-user environment that will last for so many years?

Manwe, Imp:

First, you don't simply create a multi-user environment that will last for as many years as MUME has. I think that a mud in general, and MUME in particular, has to be a living organism in constant development or it will die abruptly. We have attempted, and I hope will continue, to code an engine whose mechanisms are always closer to those of the virtual reality we want our players to live in. Said shortly, and half kiddingly, we hope that our successive iterations of MUME are asymptotic towards the perfect simulation of Tolkien's Middle-earth. Beyond this objective, there is no 'great plan' or 'golden path' for building MUME.

Second, for any kind of long-ranged project that is a hobby, you have to deal with real life constraints. For me, these were at first educational (a diploma to earn) and then professional. It requires will, or rather passion, to keep an interest in a game and resolve those crises which arise (site loss, real life intrusions) in what was supposedly 'only' a game, and still have time to make the game evolve. For MUME we have had the benefit to have a stable core of developers (three people) that knew each other in real life before starting the project. Not only has this helped in surpassing the inevitable personality clashes, but also by having several Implementors who don't share the exact same vision of what MUME should be, an an overall stability to the game has been granted; more so, I think, than if the game had been administrated by a single person (who could suddenly go berserk or be called away by real life).

Last, but not least, we try to build a game which we would enjoy playing.

Maedhros, Architect:

No one can deny that a stable host is vital. We have had that for the past 5 years, and with our first major move we are now on a dedicated machine hosted by an organisation called FIRE, which means we have no site problems for the forseable future.

However, obviously a machine is not enough. There has to be some shared hallucination, so that players have a common frame of reference. With MUME being a game based on the world of JRR Tolkien, all those who have read Lord of the Rings can understand the gaming environment. Vast numbers of people who are interested in Fantasy roleplaying know Middle-earth. This means, we can always count on a continuous supply of new players month after month, because they want to try something with a familiar feel. We try not to disappoint their expectations.


2. Dikumuds (and its derived server types) are typically stereotyped to being completely hack n' slash games with little to no roleplaying capabilities. Does MUME offer a roleplaying environment, and if so can you share any tips to help other dikumud admins that wish to provide a roleplaying environment?

Maedhros, Architect:

The reason that combat is so prevalent in Diku, is that the code was created with a heavy orientation towards stats such as exp, hp, level and class. Certainly we do not deny that player derive a great deal of satisfaction from combat, but if this was all there was to offer, the game would not be MUME. MUME has a wide spectrum of players and tries to cater to all of their tastes: hack-n-slashers will love the war-element, fighting the players of the opposing side; roleplayers will find that we actively encourage In-Character play; explorers and questers will find challenges which take them to the ends of the world. We do not force players to be something they don't want to be: we try and offer a variety of choices so that the player can play at the things they find enjoyable and want to return to.

That said, someone who simply likes to kill will find MUME very hard to get on with. Exploring is necessary in order to progress, while some items and lores which can make life easier involve considerable undertakings and the ability to understand and reason. Also, those expecting to get more and more powerful, with access to more powerful monsters which guard more powerful magic items will be disappointed. MUME is not an inflationary/ monty haul game, characters will plateau out eventually, making no PC an invinsible tank - everyone is vulnerable, all new players can aspire to the Legends they see sitting outside the Prancing Pony Inn, or in Rivendell.

Ressaven, Architect:

MUME attempts to create a setting where players are rewarded for roleplaying, and where characters are subject to "realistic" obstacles in obtaining their goals. To an extent we have been successful, this creates an environment where it is easy for a player to suspend their disbelief and can roleplay if they wish to do so. At its best, playing in MUME can be like playing a character in a story. However, this approach creates a wargame for some players at the same time as it creates an RPG for others.

There are two obstacles to MUME being an RP-dominated MUD. First, the main activity (not the only one, but the main one) provided for players is killing mobs (computer-controlled "monsters") to gain experience points and loot. Second, all PCs are either adventurers or monsters; there are no PC-nobles, merchants, soldiers, or other members of society. These two things make MUME analogous to a over-the-table RPG where the DM focuses heavily on the combat situations and does not develop the NPC's much, and as in any such campaign roleplaying is not emphasized unless the players really work at it.

Both of these obstacles are there for good reasons. The main activity is mob-hunting because it is much easier to create automated adventures based on combat than it is to create automated adventures based on interaction with automated NPC's. And although "immortals" can step in and roleplay mobs to a limited extent, you have to make a choice between fairness and roleplay here: if "immortals" can influence the game significantly by roleplaying mobs, they cannot help but influence it unfairly, even with the best of intentions: all it takes is for a particularly helpful immortal to consistently log in at one particular time of day. And if immortals can't influence the game significantly by roleplaying NPCs, then that greatly restricts the potential for roleplay on your MUD.

MUME decided to emphasize fairness at the expense of roleplaying situations. If someone wanted to create a MUD with an emphasis on roleplaying, I'd suggest that they need to create a self-consistent, "realistic" world (which probably means a "themed" world), there'd need to be ways for players to play other characters besides adventurers (and you'd probably need to accept some unfairness as a result), and levelracing would probably need to be deemphasized in some way. MUSHes do all this, of course, but they're a different kind of game.


3. MUME is a very popular mud (most internet publications which discuss muds include MUME as a definite must visit game). What do you feel helped MUME to reach this level of popularity?

Maedhros, Architect:

Its theme is very central to its success, and the implementors have never tried to radically depart from the setting, or to introduce elements which are incongruous with the "Lord of the Rings" feel. That is not to say we are slaves to the written word - to a large measure, gamers like MUME because it is being continously balanced to offer a range of choices to players.

Secondly, its very important to give interesting details to the world: the weather system is good for giving a sense of time passing, the ability to survive in the wilderness-making camp, butchering animals for meat, cooking and fishing, all these little details in the code give a great boost to the suspension of disbelief necessary for players to immerse themselves fully into the world.

Many players will cite the War as being a major entertainment - the skirmishing between the Free People of the West and the Dark Forces of the Necromancer. Here, those who seek more than computer-controlled automatons can find opponents with a blistering array of tactics honed after years of gameplay. However, pkill-only games fail to give a sense of context: MUME tries not to let pkill dominate the game to the detriment of other players, and also no-one side can become too dominant.

We also recognise that players can play single characters for LONG times, and so need sufficient incentives to continue playing. It is not enough to simply remove them from play at level X, or to offer more powerful magic. They need to feel that there is far more to do once they have satisfied any urgings to become a Legend.

Ressaven, Architect:

MUME is distinguished by being more "realistic" and self-consistent than most MUDs, by being strongly themed, and by the way player-killing is regulated by the War. The standard, and generally easiest to play, characters are the Free Peoples (Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Hobbits and Half-elves), but player-combat among the Free Peoples is heavily penalized. If you wish to pk, you are better off playing a player-monster (Orc, Troll, or Black Numenorean). These player-monsters have weaknesses compared to members of the Free Peoples, to balance their ability to pk without restriction, and further are subject to pk by the Free Peoples without restriction.

The homelands of the different species are far apart and defended strongly by mobs, so a player who wishes to roleplay a hobbit strolling through the peaceful countryside of the Shire can do so with nearly no fear of player combat. However, as that hobbit leaves the Shire and travels east, he passes through areas of increasing peril of player-combat, until only skill and luck can preserve him from an encounter with Orcs or worse in the Trollshaws or the Misty Mountains.

I've observed that "casters" (mages and clerics) are harder for most new players than warriors or thieves. This isn't true for veteran players who know the tricks of the game, but it is in my experience true for new players.


4. What plans do you have for MUME in the future?

Manwe, Imp:

Mainly, let it live. Thus, as I introduced in this interview, making MUME evolve futher. This goes from removing some dikumud limitations we still have (e.g., spells not fully coherent in a Tolkien environment), to enhancing environmental dynamism (e.g., real death considerations, long-range combat and sensible travel speeds) while keeping in mind playability. Also, with the evolution of GUI in OSes, more and more potential players are frightened by strict textual interfaces. We should probably implement some kind of semi-graphical features (directly in MUME or through a client) to ease MUME accessibility. Although I don't believe in a complete graphic environment for MUME since I consider textual based muds as being analagous to books (and hence leaving space for imagination and thus roleplay) whereas graphical Muds curently have more in common with television...

Maedhros, Architect:

Right now, MUME is in a very positive state with several things going for it. In January of this year we moved from our previous home for the last 5 years to a new site on a machine with necessary capabilities to allow us to expand again. So the world is going to grow easterly, into terrain which will prove fertile terrain for all the varities of player. We are also open now 24 hrs a day - something most games can offer, but under our previous host we could not.

There is also the looming possibility of MUME VII, which will be the most radical shakeup of characters for the last 6 years. A lot is already pinned on this, and therefore and lot of testing and development has to ensure that the changeover will be relatively smooth and that players will be able to relate to the new way of creating the character you want to play. Other major systems may occur, such as a definative magic system to match the milieu. Nevertheless, the game will evolve, but most changes will be minor when compared with the vastness of the game - once you have a game running for this long, most of the big tweaks should be in the past, providing a platform from which to develop a stable gaming environment which players can return to time and time again, knowing we will not be going away for many years yet.


Mudlle

Dain (Gustav Hällberg), Supervisor of mudlle:

Most MUDs have some kind of script language that allows builder to create a vivid environment for players, with mobile, objects and rooms with special effects and behaviour.

MUME does, however, have a real programming language called MUDLLE (short for MUD Language for Little Extensions - a really deceptive name as you will see below) to write special magic in, written by one of our implementors (Nada). This language allows a staff of coders to write stable and very flexible extensions to the game. As opposed to most other MUD support languages, MUDLLE is a compiling language (either to interpreted bytecode or to real machine code on Sparcs and - soon to come - ix86). This combined with stability and reloadability allows our "mudllers" to write and test code without crashing the game or slowing it up.

Over the years, the amount of code in MUDLLE has nearly grown beyond belief (to the point that now it should be an abbreviationf or 'Mud Language for Large Extensions' ;-). Currently there is more than 3MB of MUDLLE (which is just about the amount of C). All this code stands for much of the originality of MUME, with its special atmosphere of a living and dynamic world.

Mudlle has even been found powerful enough to implement even higher level functionality in, so we've developed an interface for builders, that allows them to install special behaviour functions with special parameters on their mobiles, objects and rooms. This allows everything but the most advanced behaviour to be installed by anyone without any programming knowledge, in a stable, secure and easy-to-use fashion.


World

Meryaten, Supervisor of the world:

When I first came to MUME back in 1994, I was new to mudding, and what really captured my attention was that here was a place where I could walk around in Tolkien's world. There I was, IN Bree! There I was IN the Old Forest, albeit that I was hopelessly lost! Then, better and better, I found that Tombombadil was there, and happy to help me find my way out! For years I had loved to immerse myself in J.R.R.T.'s books about Middle Earth, and now I had found a place where I myself was able to adventure in those very lands.

MUME's little corner of Arda has grown a lot since those days. I have been lucky enough to have the opportunity to contribute to the world we are creating, and to climb the immortal levels, so that now I am able to oversee the ongoing development of zones. So far we have over 14500 rooms open to mortals, spanning more than 150 zones, and more are planned. As each new area is being developed, it is done so with reference to hard copy maps, which are scanned and gridded. In this way, our entire world is constructed in a consistent scale and to a coherent plan. None of our zones are stock areas, but rather have been built from the ground up to resemble north-western Endor; I am convinced that more than a few of our builders sit with dog-eared copies of "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" beside them whilst they work.

Whilst adhering strictly to a single theme for our zones and their inhabitants might seem to some to be limiting, I have never found it to be so. Areas already in play span the whole spectrum, from the pastoral and largely peaceful lands of the Shire, to the darker, more sombre and decidedly more deadly Moria. The latter is a 3-dimensional, 1400 room complex, full of traps, terrors and treasures. The cautious traveler might choose only to retrace the route traveled by the Fellowship of the Ring, but for the more adventurous, there are deeper places to explore, and even the Balrog to face. It makes for exciting play, and I can tell you, it was great fun to build.

Our builders also stretch their imaginations dreaming up all manner of puzzles and quests. Delving into libraries located in the various towns of Arda might offer the player tantalising clues to some of the puzzles, and writing some of these books is a way in which both mortals and immortals are able to contribute to the game. The addition of a weather system, different languages for each race, a herb lore system, and an assortment of smaller features such as fishing, mining and cooking all add depth to our simulation. You won't see any ray-guns or Coca Cola machines on MUME, but it is more than a rich enough world without them.

And, before I close, please allow me to put on my player hat very briefly. I have had immense fun both playing MUME, and helping to develop it. The game is fun, and a lot of the people there are great. I have made more than a few friends and a few friends who are very close. Thanks to all, and here's to the hope I get to see another 4 years of MUME, and more besides.


Objects and Mobiles

Fror, Supervisor of the objects and mobiles:

In my opinion, a good MUD's objects and mobiles must not simply be a set of statistics. In MUME we try to give them depth, to make mobiles a "living" part of the game world and to give objects some background and some unique features, compatibly with "tolkienicity" and game balance.

Accordance with the works of JRRT is one of the most important features we require before anything is added to the game. This helps making the MUD consistent with itself, and adds to the atmosphere. Several items and creatures, like the Balrog, the Dunedain, lembas and the morgul blade, are directly inspired by LotR; others are not mentioned in the books, but do not reduce the believability of our Middle-earth.

The second aspect we focus on is game balance. If you come to MUME, you will not find nearly-omnipotent characters that can single-handedly defeat a legion of dragons; on the other hand, clever low-level characters have been able, from time to time, to bring to their doom enemies far more powerful than them. Knowing that you are almost never completely safe is a great antidote against boredom.

In order to make this balance possible, we pay attention to the power of the objects we allow in the game. Sometimes, as it happens with weapons, we base our decisions on a mathematical model; in other cases, we have to judge and finetune an item's power by checking if players use it too often or too rarely.

A balanced world does not necessarily mean a "flat" world, where what you are using is of no importance because everything is the same. In MUME we try to make many items "better" than others under certain points of view. For example, crushing weapons are almost indestructible and are quite good against armoured enemies; piercing weapons, on the other side, are faster, but they need to be sharpened often and they aren't as good against armour.

If we want to follow Tolkien, certain items "must" be extraordinarily good, far better than any "normal" object. An example that comes to mind is the sword Thorin retrieved from the trolls' cave, Orcrist: since it tells the approaching of enemies by its glow, it is an invaluable help in PK. This is where artifacts come into play. Only a single copy, or a small number of copies, of an artifact may exist at the same time. This allows us to add unique, powerful items to the game without breaking game balance - not to speak of the fact that the Orcrist you are wielding is THE Orcrist, not just an out-of-the-mill legendary sword.

Another way to let characters own powerful items without compromising game balance is to make certain objects incompatible with each other. Sometimes this happens automatically - you can't wear an unlimited number of items at the same time. In other cases, there are "magical" incompatibilities: say, a certain magical ring cannot be worn together with metal armour. Lastly, we've recently introduced "focus" items - objects which can be enchanted by high-level characters. Since a character cannot own more than one focus, and since there's more than a dozen of possible foci, characters are forced to choose, to specialize.

Beside foci, many other items in MUME are not directly loaded in the game: they are instead produced by some action of a character. You can butcher a dead animal for food, cook and salt raw meat, and - if you know the recipe - you can mix rare herbs into a potion. Some of our players have also written books, which can be found in most libraries. Some items, lastly, are granted as reward by some NPC, when a character performs some kind of service - say, recovering a stolen item.

As you could see in the 'service' example above, in MUME mobiles are not meant as mere candidates to slaughter; on the contrary, they are active parts of the game. You could spend some time chatting with a farmer about his crops, or asking advice from a sage; or, if you dare, you can conquer a fortress manned by your enemies and hold it until a new garrison arrives to relieve you. Especially in the past couple of years, we've tried not only to give depth to single mobiles, but also to describe the relationships between several NPC's. For example, in the environs of one of our towns three factions squabble for power; clever players can find out the relationships between these factions, and use them to their advantage.


Player comments:

Tony Zeigler (Karnak, Cavalier and others)

I started playing here several years ago - more than I like to count! Mume has been a great way to spend my time when I was bored at work with too little to do, or at home, getting an adrenalin rush pking (or being pked!) rather than sitting in front of the television. I have tried a few other muds, but each one seemed to be lacking in something. For me, mume has plenty of friends, much diversity while still holding to a central theme, and a huge area to explore. Currently, mume still has a class based system, but you can practice (at a higher cost) from other classes too. This makes for a much more varied group of characters to play with. Players have a choice of where they want to start in the world, each area suited to a race, according to the books by tolkien. Each city having some teachers that excel in a couple skills. The best part of mume tho is its setup for pking. If you don't want to pk, or be pked, there are many large areas that are almost completely safe. However, pk and pstealing are not so rampant as to make the game unplayable (like in ultima online). The vast majority of pk is a race war, with the evil races (trolls, and orcs, and black numenoreans) only in the eastern part of arda (the world). While they may venture into the good lands some, it often ends in death if they travel too far in, thus making such raids rare. But oh! the joys of raiding! there is nothing like a good fight between several orcs and trolls and a small horde of good folk! (elves, humans, hobbits, dwarves, and half elves).

One last thing: equipment, while important, is not all too important. The game is quite playable with less than the best equipment. Many warriors swear by the normal set of chain mail they may buy in the shops.

Garrett (Aschit Bladebard)

Tell you a story you ask? Well...you'll have to be a bit more specific lad! You see....I have wandered these lands since most folk were just beginning to release their mothers' apron strings, let alone fight the foul servants of Sauron!

Ahh...a tale of heroes you want...and villains...war and death?....peace and love? An elven maiden or two? Then let me simply tell you about my life!

Many years ago I wandered into this part of the world, a simple traveller with no skills nor claims to fame. In my new home of Tharbad I quickly learned all about the horrid nature of Sauron's will. Many times - in the very streets of the city mind you! - I was struck down by his followers....foul Numenorean mages, evil-hearted orcs, and even occasionally those lumbering idiot trolls that somehow managed to thrive at the time. It was in that town that I swore that someday I would wreak my vengeance upon the hordes of evil doers. I sought to learn from the best around...the great Gangee for example - before his corruption that is - taught me some of my skills, although he was a young one himself then. Many are the names that time has taken from my memory! But not the deeds! I remember when a large band of folk was cut down in the halls of Moria as we sought to cleanse its evil. I remember epic battles... with names that are luckily rarely heard now, and even then they spawn nightmares to wake the stoutest heart. Painless....Lurken....Darkun...SNARF!

I have wandered with great leaders, also...Sandello Dragonslayer...Achilles the Wyrm.... Ghanz the Peaceful. Journies with them are what prompted me to take up the harp and lute as well as the blade. I remember Sandello falling at my feet near the threshold of Moria, his last words: "Make them remember." I have felled many dreaded minions of Sauron....many by my hands alone, since as a bard I must be a solitary traveller at most times. Orthank...Stonefist. Akrai...I have defeated them in solitary battle. Others have required cooperative effort: Warmaster, Labero, and the dreaded Donk are examples.

But enough about war! There is peace to be found in this world as well! I have seen weddings as well...some between hearts so pure they have since joined the Ainur above us all. Weddings where I was honored to play the role of minstrel (and occasionally barman!) to the hosts. I even have known love once myself in my years on Arda....an incredible elven maiden that I was forced to leave as I could not bear to watch the pain in her eyes as I grew slowly older. Perhaps we will meet again someday, and we can continue our lives, the gods willing. I remember the occasion of a certain hobbit's 50th birthday, and the excellent presents he gave out! I have slept on the hearth of the merry Tom Bombadil, and his beautiful love Goldberry. I have walked with Cirdan the Shipwright himself along the Piers of Grey Havens, and with Elrond in the vale of Rivendell. On rare occasions the gods also granted me the dignity of a visit to the shores of Valinor! I played an ancient harp of gold for King Thorin II of the Blue Mountains (which he unfortunately received with low grace....his mind must have been on his mines of gold) with the hope of gaining his favour.

But enough! I will not tell every story I know...I will only hint at the adventures that lie outside the door of this Prancing Pony Inn. You must find your own adventures, live your own life. Travel any direction you like.... you can roam the elven lands to the far west, or the lands of the small folk nearer by. Or go south to the wild lands surrounding Tharbad....or the wilder city itself. Go far east and visit the remaining elves in Rivendell. Meet Elrond and his children...improve your skills...fight the Sauron-folk that dwell nearby. Or go south from there, and travel the seldom-walked lands of Eregion.

One last word though, young one....I hope you think out your decisions first. Careless actions can lead you down the path of the Red Hand...right into the Unblinking Eye itself! I pray you will not go that path....for I am not alone in my desire to slash off the Red Hand, and plunge a dagger into the Eye. If you somehow join the orcs, trolls, or Numenoreans that plague the lands, rest assured I will find you....and slay you without mercy. But that won't happen to you, will it lad?

Get out there now...I will finish my pipe, then entertain the diners here with a song or two. Barliman makes me earn my stay here, you know. Have some fun! Find a maiden or two to carry your love as you travel. Or travel with a friend if you like. Fight well, fight hard....and if you fall...curse Sauron with your last breath...and spit in his foul Red Eye!

Hold a moment! Should you ever happen upon a set of shepherd's pipes, I will pay you handsomely for it! I seem to keep replacing mine.....well...my lute will have to do for now. Good luck to you!

George, player of Snarf, et al.

As a longtime player of MUME, I have seen the game change aspects many times. MUME is certainly a game in progress. The Tolkien setting provides a basis for the game, but it is certainly not a hard-core Tolkien game (i.e. don't expect every aspect of the game to be true to the books). There are several different aspects to the game, each of which generally applies to different people.

One of these, and usually the most important to me, is the Race War. On the side of "good", there are Humans, Elves, Dwarves, Half-Elves, and Hobbits. Fighting them are the "evil" races: Orcs, Trolls, and Black Numenoreans. When a player makes a character, he decides which race to play. Throughout the years, the balance of power has swung from one side to the other, as new features were added to the game, as people found new tricks, and even which side has more skilled players at any time. This continuing Race War is what has kept me coming back to MUME for over 5 years now.

One of the other aspects of MUME that first drew me to it was the lack of what I call "superitems". These are often found in other muds under the guise of "Titanic Platinum Arm Plates of Ares (Glowing) (Humming) +10 +5", or other such silly names. The equipment in MUME is much tamer, with more realistic descriptions. This is not to say that there are not powerful items, but there are not tacky powerful items.

I will say that MUME is not all roses, however. Often times I see some (by no means all) of the management make some very strange decisions. I will give a personal example of this. One of the semi-rules of the game was to keep different characters of the same player "seperate". So for example, if a player's Orc character killed your Elf, you should not take recourse against his Dwarf character. A couple of years ago, my immortal character had advanced to a rather high level in the hierarchy, and my Human character was on a "Most Wanted"-list called Sauron's List. Acting in a means I thought appropriate for a "Sauron's Minion", I collaborated with an Orc character. When caught by someone, both the Human and the Orc were demoted several levels, and when I logged in my Immortal character the next day, I found that he had also been demoted. Not exactly what I call "character seperation". They later changed the tag to "Sauron's Envoy", and added a rule explicitly prohibiting any collaboration between the two sides.

Overall, I say it is a game worth playing, it can be frustrating at times, but it is also important to remember that the management can also get frustrated. There are some exciting changes planned for the future, and if you are looking for a fun game with an ever-changing Race War, MUME is your game.