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:
- Lawrie, Michael; Parallels in MUD and IRC History; July 2002.