Feature: Interview with Richard

There cannot be many MUD2 players around who are unfamiliar with the name of Dr. Richard Bartle, MUD2's creator. However, Richard is an elusive fellow; he rarely appears in his archly robes to the Land's mortals or, for that matter, the Land's immortals. It is therefore my pleasure to announce that Richard was able to spare the time and granted an interview for the inaugural issue of our newsletter.

This interview was conducted via e-mail on May 27-29 by Viktor the arch-wizard.


Viktor: First of all, Richard, thank you very much for taking the time to answer my questions in this inaugural issue of our newsletter.

Richard: You're welcome.

Viktor: As you know, it is titled Admiral Bombow's Chronicles ... but who, exactly, is the good Admiral?

Richard: All public houses ("pubs") in the UK have names; inns are pubs which also offer accommodation. When I added the inn to MUD (strictly speaking, I added it to VALLEY, which was the second database for MUD but which is now fully integrated into it) I therefore had to think of a name for it. The person in charge of the computer service at Essex University at the time was one Brian O'Mahoney, whose nickname was BOM, so I decided to name it after him (not in his honour, but because it was derelict, much like he often appeared to be). Rather than simply called it "The BOM Inn", which was rather crass-sounding, I decided to dress it up a little so it was more in keeping with the game's atmosphere while retaining the reference I wanted. I chose to combine the BOM initials with the name of the inn from the novel "Treasure Island", which is the "Admiral Benbow".
I hope all your questions aren't going to be this hard!

Viktor: This is the first opportunity to ask publicly your opinion about our site, so allow me to ask bluntly: what do you think of MUD2.COM?

Richard: The full screen of dross that arrives every time I connect is annoying; if you really must give out all that data, can we have a second port we can connect to which doesn't splurge it out at us?
The web site is good, and growing better all the time. It certainly makes LIBRARY look antiquated (but then LIBRARY really IS antiquated!).
The game, well, that's good because of the players. We've had fewer of the usual teething troubles that I'd expect with a new site, but then you've been an arch-wiz for long enough to know what you're doing!

Viktor: Are there any other sites in the works that you can talk about? Would they in any way affect our right to retain a license to run MUD2 at MUD2.COM?

Richard: There are no Internet sites, no. There is a major UK site which will go into open testing soon, but as it isn't in it yet I can't comment on it. I expect that it might snaffle a few of your UK players, but it won't affect the Internet traffic. Yours remains the only Internet-accessible MUD2, and I see no reason to doubt that it won't stay that way for some time. The license that the UK site has (or will have, once the contract is signed) is non-exclusive, so it won't affect your license.

Viktor: What are your immediate and longer-term plans for our game? Shall we expect any significant improvements or changes in the near future?

Richard: It depends what you mean by "improvements". There will always be changes, of course, and you'll get them first; whether they're improvements is for the players to decide!

Viktor: Are you working on improving the game from a programming standpoint (i.e., a richer command set, improved parsing, more elaborate features) or are you working on additional areas to the game?

Richard: All of these. My main priority is to correct bugs and right perceived unfairnesses, but after that I really just look at my list and decide what to do next. I think some more help files are long overdue, but the new "formal" system doesn't seem to be very popular. I may therefore write up some commands in a shorter format and access them from the game like the DEFN command accesses the MUDspeke dictionary.
I don't intend to make any major changes to the parser, but I still tinker with it. For example, one of the changes I intend to make soon is with the way that if you type a word followed by a space followed by a number then it concatenates them. This means you can type things like K G 3 and mean KILL GOBLIN3; I originally put it in so people could READ PAGE 17 of a book or something, but I don't have any books with more than 1 page at the moment..! Anyway, there's a problem if the word/number falls where a verb is, instead of a noun: people type G 1 BRAND and it translates to G1 BRAND, ie. tell GOBLIN1 the message "brand"..! I'll fix that, of course, but I don't expect to increase the power of the parser significantly in the near future. It's already excellent; my only long-term aim for it is to increase the number of noun groups it accepts, so you can POUR THE WATER FROM THE RIVER INTO THE CORACLE USING THE GLASS and suchlike.

Additional areas: I do have some planned out, yes. I expect I will add these (I certainly need to finish off the Pagoda), but there's no call for it yet as there aren't enough players. When the UK site opens, it may get crowded and oblige me to increase the number of rooms.

Viktor: Are there any really long-term plans in the works, shall we expect a MUD3 sometime?

Richard: I have long-term plans for other games, but not for MUD itself. I have a specification for a really snazzy client program, which might make MUD2 appear more professional, but it would take me quite a while to write it. I also have a partly-finished compiler which converts MUDDLE into C; this would make the game run much faster than it does now, and enable me to sell single-player versions for people at home. However, it would also probably take several months to complete. Ideally, I'd like to expand MUSE so I could pay some employee to make these changes, but the company doesn't have the money.
I may be able to get outside funds to write another game in MUDDLE, though.

Viktor: There has been a lot of talk lately about a graphical interface. While purists even consider colourisation a heresy, most players shudder at the thought of "graphics". But there is an obvious difference between a artistic rendering of the MUD2 landscape versus a front-end program that merely works under a graphical operating system but retains the textual nature of the game. Which of these two directions best describe your development efforts?

Richard: The latter.

If someone writes a novel using only words, people will read it if it's good enough. The same people, and perhaps a few more, might read it if it had accompanying illustrations. Whether they'd go to see it in the cinema or not is another matter.
MUD2 was written to be expressed in text. If more people will read it because it has some illustrative pictures, or music, OK, I can provide that. However, if they want the words to be replaced by pictures, they can forget it. I can do games like that, but MUD2 isn't one of them.
The issue is one of professionalism. When people buy games nowadays, they expect a certain level of quality. This means they like to have a few windows, icons, and other things they can click their mouse on. This can be provided, and it can be done in such a fashion that it doesn't undermine the integrity of the game. So long as people who play this way get no advantage over people who don't (except, perhaps, in that their playing experience is richer), it's fair enough. No-one is FORCING you to use a GUI!
Of course, this is all irrelevant since I don't actually have a GUI for the game (although the UK MUD2 service that's coming later this year does have a rather sweet client).

Viktor: The most often heard complaint from mortals these days concerns the "loss of mystery" in the game.

Richard: Ah, the ol' "mystique" problem.

Viktor: Some of this loss is inevitable when a large number of players are highly experienced, with many former wizzes among them. Still, do you have any thoughts as to how this lost mystery can be found again and in particular, what we can do, mortals and immortals alike, to preserve the aura of mystery for new players?

Richard: I do, but it's rather brutal: let the game handle it. The game is quite capable of generating mystique, but it's the players (particularly the wizzes) who spoil it. They THINK that by making mobiles speak, or by creating new, exotic objects, they are somehow making the game more mysterious, but in reality the (new) players just get the impression that they are being messed about. Mystique comes not because wizzes add mystery, but because the game is programmed to lead people ever-deeper into the unknown. Thrusting artificial mystery on people undermines this.
Needless to say, I do not expect matters to improve, although at least they're unlikely to get worse.

Viktor: Another frequent complaint concerns "wiz interference". To me, the very term implies that some think wizzes should act as idle spectators in the game. What are your thoughts on this subject?

Richard: Wizzes are allowed to interfere. There are certain rules that govern the extent to which they can do this (eg. it's usually a good idea if they FOD people for a reason, rather than on a whim), but there are no rules which proscribe wiz interference as a concept.
Most wizzes are actually very sensible about what they do. I'm sure, as an arch-wiz, you're aware that most of the howls of "wiz interference" do not bear up when the log files are examined. Mortals may wish to believe that they lost a persona because someone picked on them, rather than through bad luck or incompetence, but rarely is that the case. Indeed, if it IS the case, we de-wiz the wiz concerned..!

Viktor: A little on the personal side ... I had the good fortune to read both of your excellent novels in manuscript form. I can only congratulate you on them and hope, along with many MUD2 players I suppose, that on a not too distant day one of them or both will be published. Do you have plans to write anything else?

Richard: I do, yes; I have sequels for both novels plotted out, and will eventually write them. I also have a number of other ideas which I hope some day to find the time to turn into novels.
My next novel will either be the sequel to my second novel, or a completely new one.

Viktor: Perhaps a story set in the Land of MUD2?

Richard: Well, yes and no. I outlined the plot of a MUD-based novel to Roy Trubshaw and a group of people at Inter, Int, Interp, Int-int-int (it's no good, I can't say it) at a US software company a couple of years ago, and they rather liked it. I may write that next instead.

Viktor: Still being personal if you don't mind ... anything you care to share with us about your family? What is being a father like?

Richard: Fatherhood depends on the children as much as the father. If I had different children, with different personalities, it would be a different experience. As it is, I have two daughters who love me far more than I deserve, and I rather enjoy it. Doubtless I will change my mind the moment they hit their teens...

Viktor: I think I've taken up enough of your time. Any parting thoughts, words of advice, or hints you would care to offer our players?

Richard: Be who you want to be.

Viktor: Thank you again for your time, Richard!

Richard: My pleasure!


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This Web page copyright 1997 Starquest & Viktor
MUD2 is copyright 1997 Multi-User Entertainment Limited
Page last modified: August 05, 1997