Ryan Thomason

Old School Gamer: Diving Back into MUDs

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[Town Square Central]
This is the heart of the main square of Wehnimer’s Landing. The impromptu shops of the bazaar are clustered around this central gathering place, where townsfolk, travellers, and adventurers meet to talk, conspire or raise expeditions to the far-flung reaches of Elanith. At the north end, an old well, with moss-covered stones and a craggy roof, is shaded from the moonlight by a strong, robust tree. The oak is tall and straight, and it is apparent that the roots run deep. You also see..

As I near my 30th birthday I’ve been finding myself doing some reflecting on my first 30 years of life. One thing that I keep coming back to is the games I used to play. Gaming as always been a part of my life, from Nintendo to PC and the myriad of devices in between, I’ve always loved playing games. Once I became a dad, I stopped upgrading my PC, my Xbox went into a box in the basement and my DS gets more use from my 4 year old in the last month than I put into it in the last year. As I stand on the plateau of gaming, I remember the first time I played a real MMO. On AOL. When it was pay by the minute to use the Internet. Yes, there was a time like that.

It was a MUD (Multi User Dungeon) that first sucked me into a world where I could interact with real people from all over. All based in text only, the only graphics were on the introduction screen and if I remember correctly, not even that was pretty. I didn’t care, I was online playing a game at the same time with thousands of people. Mind you, it was a fantasy roleplaying game, being the youngin’ I was, I had no idea what the hell roleplaying was. My mind flexed as I had to pick a race that gave bonuses to some stats and took from other, professions, I used an online number roller and had to put them into my stats.

My first character was a pile of shit.

By the time the first month rolled around, I had a good feel for the game, realized that my character was a pile of shit. Found guides on how to make characters on this amazing new thing called the Internet and rerolled myself something that I thought was kick ass. Then, the first months bill from AOL was mailed to my parents. A nearly $700 Bill from AOL for using their internet service, apparently, I played a lot of minutes. So naturally, my parents cancelled the account, and I was left wailing, eventually rubbing the snot dripping out of my nose with my shirt sleeve and moving back to the world of graphic game, all 16-bit and 32-bit style. It wasn’t until I was a freshman in high school (1996 for your information) that AOL moved to a monthly flat fee service ($20 a month) that my parents decided it was worth it to get access to the internet at home again. The first thing I did was look to see if Gemstone III was still around, when it was, I dived back into the world this time knowing that i’d at least get to play more than a month. Eventually I got my cousin into GSIII and we played it steadily, weekly, nightly online, even when it moved to it’s own website and required a monthly fee on it’s own. Up until I was a Junior in High School, it was then we quit to join the worth of Norrath and became addicted to Everquest.

I don’t know what it is about MUD gaming that is such a draw for me, it was a text based world in an industry that was increasingly pumping up the graphical interface to realism bordering on lifelike. Still, I found myself at odd times yearning for MUD gaming, going back to it a couple of times in college, and more recently, a couple of weeks ago. Yes, earlier this month when I first was going to write this article. I looked up Simutronics, the makers of Gemstone III and not only were they still kicking around with their game worlds, but Gemstone had moved to a Fourth iteration and they had a Facebook game (Fantasy University) and iPhone (Tiny Heroes). I didn’t care about any of that, I wanted to play Gemstone again. After a couple of emails, they found my account from 12 years ago and activated it, my character unchanged, I bristled at the news and couldn’t wait to get in.

One thing I noticed right away, was that compared to the glory days, Gemstone’s player-base was akin to a survivalist wasteland. Those that still play are what you would call ‘Serious Roleplayers’ people who know when to be in character and when to use :OOC: unlike you know, everything else out there, where the ‘roleplaying’ aspect of every MMO, no matter how the server is labeled, is anything but. What I have found about these same players though, is that they are the nicest, most helpful people you can come across. Everyone is there for a single purpose, to have fun, and by CROM have I been having fun. Now, it’s moved into some graphical interfaces with the Stormfront front end (pictured) that you use to log in. If you get hurt, a number pops in on the part of your body that is hurt 1 being a minor wound, 3 being, you’re bleeding out like a waterfall and lost an extremity or eyeball, etc. Yes, everything else though, is splayed across the screen in text, descriptive, imaginative and brutal text.

Ok, let me break it down even better. You go into a room, the room has a description, maybe some doors, barrels, trapdoors, signs, whatever, that you can interact with, if someone else is in the room their name is there, same with monsters, etc. You want to hit something you type “attack *monster name* into the command bar and hit enter. Yes, I’m being serious. You type out everything you want to do, from ‘look in my backpack’ to see what you have in there, to ‘get maul (my two handed weapon of choice) get my my weapon out. Hey, you, wake up, this is much more exciting than I’m making it. If you’re like me and you have flying fingers, these types of games are a cinch. Getting around isn’t your simple “WSAD’ on the keyboard, or the mouse. If you want to go north, you type N and hit enter. After a week though, one of the Mentors in the game suggested I try a program called Lich that could be downloaded and run alongside the game. When I ran into a guy who became a hunting partner to go out and beat up Trolls, Wind Witches and Fire Guardians with showed me what Lich really could do, I downloaded it that night. Basically it’s scripting on steroids.

Yes, this game supports scripting, as long as you’re sitting there to take over if the shit hits the fan. Instead of sitting there typing in N,nw,n,se,sw,go bridge, e, s…etc trying to get to a hunting ground, I’d just punch in ;go2 *room number* and in seconds I’m flying over the landscape to where I want to be. Yes, every room in this MUD has a number, this isn’t WoW after all. What’s funny, is that my game play is actually really BETTER because of the Lich scripting engine. For a guy who doesn’t have a lot of time, being able to use what Lich has available makes the EXP grind for the next level incredibly more easy and enjoyable. Plus, for people who are programming nerds, you can do some pretty kickass stuff. Me though, I just took a couple of the basics and used it to enhance my game play and I’ll never go back to playing with just the Stormfront front end that Simutronics uses.

It’s hard to talk about MUD gaming, and Gemstone IV in specifics without sounding like a huge nerd. I MISSED MUD gaming, mostly, I missed the people who associate themselves with MUD gaming. You’ll never find a more fun group of people who seem to genuinely make Characters not just a different digital version of themselves. It’s just the type of player I am though, I’m that guy that has a dwarf warrior and talks “Like ‘dis lad! Bring on the ALE!” Yes, I just made all of you roll your eyes at me, but I’m still cool right?

If you’re one of my fellow old school gamers that remembers playing MUDS, or hell, even old games like the first Kings Quest’s you should at least try something like Gemstone IV a free monthly spin.

Who knows, you might like the down to basics interface from the in your face graphics that make your computer do a constant grind and strain on it’s systems.

You might find yourself getting sucked into reading the very carefully and eloquently worded descriptions for rooms, monsters, equipment, everything really. It’s a visual feast for your imagination as you read through the rooms, the NPC’s with their sayings and actions, hell, even the other players add to the rich atmosphere that can only be made through words.

You might grin and cheer when instead you just see numbers popping up as you sit and watch your character swinging boringly at a creature until it does and read this instead (Yes, this is actually from my character);

You swing an elegant rolaren maul at a mountain ogre!
AS: +210 vs DS: +47 with AvD: +36 + d100 roll: +42 = +241
… and hit for 131 points of damage!
Massive blow smashes through ribs and drives the mountain ogre’s heart out the back.
The mountain ogre screams one last time and dies.
Roundtime: 5 sec.

You won’t get that kind of “HNNNGGG!” feeling awesome when you’re just watching numbers flash over your adversary in any other MMO. It may look pretty as you press a bunch of numbers in that perfect sequence for the million time to do your combos right. But I doubt it’ll ever be an experience like what you can find in a MUD.

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