Note: This interview was conducted by Zedd the wizard, known at the time as Asterix the arch-wizard at a former MUD2 site, and another former arch-wizard, Taff.

INTERVIEW WITH RICHARD BARTLE -- by Taff the arch-wizard

There can be few MUD2 players unfamiliar with the name of Richard Bartle. Together with Roy Trubshaw, he wrote the original MUD1 in 1979 at Essex University, and went on to create MUD2, the game you all know today.

Taff, the arch-wizard at, one of the three MUD2 sites in the UK, caught up with Richard to ask him a few questions about life in general, and MUD in particular (with a few additional questions thrown in by Asterix).

(TA = Taff, AX = Asterix, RB = Richard Bartle)

TA: How old are you?

RB: I was 35 in January.

TA: Are you married or do you have a partner?

RB: Married (to Gail).

TA: What does she think of MUD?

RB: She doesn't play it -- she's not a gamer. She does wish that I had a more reliable job than being a MUD programmer, but lets me carry on all the same!

TA: What was your degree subject and your Phd title/subject?

RB: BSc (1st class) Computer Science. PhD Articifical Intelligence: "Cross Level Planning" Although naturally it's the PhD I was most pleased to get, I think my BSc mark is still the highest they've ever had at Essex (no one's told me any different, anyway!)

TA: Where do you live these days?

RB: Near Colchester, in a village called Great Horkesley. Since Great Horkesley is basically a road with houses either side of it and little in the way of amenities, we're hoping to move to somewhere else in the district sometime this year. Would have been last year but the house sale fell through (sigh).

TA: Do you have any hobbies?

RB: Apart from the one I'm paid to do, ie. write games programs? Well, my main hobbies (all game-related) had to stop when I became a father; tiny pots of paint and scores of lead figures don't last long when there are small hands eager to grab them. I still play a lot of games, but they're now more computer-based than board-and-counter stuff (for the same reason -- a stack of counters swiftly becomes several stacks once someone has picked them up to see whether they're edible or not).

TA: Do you make all your living from MUD2 or do you have another full time job as well?

RB: I am a full-time employee of MUSE Ltd. Most of my money comes from BL [British Legends, the CompuServe version of MUD1], though, rather than MUD2. I do odd jobs occasionally if they don't take long, eg. I'm an examinations moderator for the University of Cambridge Local Examinations Syndicate (300 quid for a morning's work, 3 times a year), but I have no other job. I used to be a university lecturer until I found that I could make more money doing practically anything else involving computers (including "Word Processor Operative").

TA: What got you interested in MUD? Was it the technical challenge of writing something as complex as MUD or was it the creative side of putting together descriptions and inventing the puzzles?

RB: Well it certainly wasn't the technical challenge; I find that if I don't see how to program something immediately, I don't enjoy having to find out how to do it, which is what "technical challenge" means, I guess. It wasn't the creative side, either; I can "create" without having to go to the bother of programming -- writing stories, for example. I just liked playing with it, I think, like a child with lego blocks. Specifically, I liked the way that things could be added incrementally, and I liked the fact that what was being designed wasn't so much a world as a world-creation system. Having lots of enthusiastic players was good, too!

TA: Where did you get your ideas from for the rooms and puzzles?

RB: I used my imagination.

AX: You've spent close to 10 years (more?) developing MUD2 to its current state. If you had had the benefit of that experience back when you started, what would you have done differently (either in the gameplay itself, or in how the game was marketed)?

RB: I would have implemented some things differently, in particular GET and DROP are messier than they need be. I may also have graduated the room and object descriptions better, reserving immediacy ("You are standing in a room with ..." rather than "This is a room with ...") for things I wanted to be more intensely experienced. I'd also have added an operator in MUDDLE to return what the parent classes are of an object, so wizzes wouldn't keep asking me why the game couldn't tell them... They're not really gameplay things, though -- I can't think of any major gameplay changes I'd have made with hindsight. Marketing, well, I'm a programmer, not a marketer. I do wish I'd known then what I know now about large corporations, though (sigh).

TA: Did you ever think that MUD would become what is today, with literally hundreds of MUD-like (some might say rip-off :) servers around the world?

RB: Yes, I always knew it was a damned good concept. Roy is still bemused by why people like it with the strength they do, but my background is in gaming and I knew from the beginning what we had. As for the other servers, well, we did MUD1 at Essex University using computers paid for by public funds, so it was only right that we let the idea of MUDs propagate freely without slapping a patent on it. NB: this is mid-1980s talk; nowadays, UK universities are under pressure to "perform", so even patents on trivial, non-respectable things like computer games are still patents...

AX: Do you still enjoy playing MUD as a mortal (incognito of course), or do you know the game so well by now that there is no challenge left?

RB: This presupposes that I ever did enjoy playing as a mortal! I do still play as mortals, incognito, but most of my effort goes into recalling what it is the player I'm pretending to be knows about the game at that point. I have no difficulty in modifying my in-game actions according to some personality type I've concocted for a pseudo-player (maybe because I've done it so often) but I don't really enjoy it, no. This is undoubtedly because I can either remember the stuff exactly, or I can look it up in 20 seconds by switching to another virtual terminal and loading files into an editor. I don't DISLIKE it, I hasten to add, but it's more of a job than a fun thing to do.

AX: What is the shortest amount of time it has ever taken a new player to to reach Wizard?

RB: I've no idea, mainly because we're never quite sure that they ARE new players! I seem to recall someone having done it in a month without having played any MUD (mine or otherwise) before -- I think the player in question was VISHNU. There are others who have done it in under 100 games, though, spread over maybe 2 or 3 months. It's much easier if you've played oodles of BL before, and it's easier if you get in on the ground floor of a new incarnation when everyone is co-operative and friendly.

AX: Would you like to reveal a choice MUD2 game secret that you feel confident few players are aware of?

RB: A "game secret"? It's hard to know what's secret and what's not! There are a whole load of sillies that few people know about (PLAY POKER, that sort of thing) but I expect you mean something useful... Is it well known that if you SIP DJ (DJ=DARJEELING) in the Tearoom you get many more points than simply SIP TEA? Or that you can convert the ORANGE into a golden orange by taking it to the Orangery? Or that if you leave the ACORN in the squirrel room, it turns into a ruby? Probably, yes: I expect these are all known to most mages... Did you know you can kill the THIEF more easily if you get him drunk first? Thought so... No, there are no game secrets I'm truly confident that few players are aware of!

AX: Who is the oldest known MUD player? The youngest?

RB: In terms of age? Hmm, very hard to say, as I don't have access to personnel records for most incarnations of the game. We've certainly had people who've made wiz while aged 14 (DAN), and others who have done it while in their late 60s (DECUS), but I don't know the current maximum and minimum, sorry.

AX: What is the single most important attribute a player should have in order to have a good chance at making wiz?

RB: A sense of humour.

AX: Do you think MUD2 can fill any role other than simply providing entertainment for its players?

RB: It can, yes (I've had several players tell me that playing MUD is what gave them their touch-typing skills!). Sure, there are social benefits to this kind of game, where people can talk out their problems among friends or whatever, but I specifically programmed MUD2 to be a game, and its primary job is to entertain. If I wanted to focus on some other purpose, eg. for rape counselling or for modelling human anatomy, I'd write another program.

AX: What is the largest phone bill ever reported by a MUD2 player that you have heard of?

RB: 3000 pounds for 3 months, back in 1984 or thereabouts. SUE the arch-wiz played every night from midnight to 6am, calling long distance from Wales.

AX: One of the biggest differences between MUD1 and MUD2 is that in MUD2, players don't automatically get magical abilities but must work up to them. What differences in playing style has this caused between players of the two versions?

RB: I put that in so that everyone stood a pretty good chance of losing a persona before they got to wiz. It was a kind of controlled way of allowing players to come to terms with loss, since they're basically expecting to die every time. Then, when it happens to their mage, they're they're not quite so cut up about it. Realistically, anyone who's higher than champion isn't going to last too long unless they have magic, so essentially it IS the same as BL but with a good chance that players have at least to contemplate their own demise, if not experience it. As to how it affects the playing style, well I'd like to think it's responsible for the less bloodthirsty attitude that MUD2 players have. The two games differ in many other respects, though, so it may be that's just wishful thinking on my part.

AX: With any moderately complex system, the users always end up doing things not envisaged by the original designer. What are the most outrageous, unorthodox or generally surprising things you've seen players trying?

RB: Players constantly surprise me with their ingenuity. The classic "stick man" scenario, where someone sits at the rapids with "GIVE BRAND TO PLAYER EXCEPT ME" in their input buffer and repeatedly hits ^L until some poor sap gets the brand and blows themselves up, is one I ought to mention. Players are always finding ways to get around restrictions in the game, though, and I keep having to make changes to keep up with them (that's how come most mobiles will drop the URANIUM now!). Even as I write, there's probably someone somewhere trying out a command that I hadn't expected; the game may handle it, it may not, but the fact it encourages players to try at all probably says a great deal about confidence people have in the program, which is rather nice.

TA: A lot of MUD players around the world seem to be ignorant of the roots of multi-player adventure games. Sometimes it even seems that the creators of these MUDs like to think of themselves as the innovators and the creators of the first "real" MUDs. Does this annoy you at all or do you feel that they've inspired you as much as you have them?

RB: It doesn't annoy me that people don't know who I am. It does annoy me that people try to rewrite history in order to promote either their own interests or the interests of the particular game to which they owe allegience. Trying to categorise "MUDs" as some kind of hack-and-slay game, whereas they play something else ("MUSHes" or "MOOs") is another thing I dislike, as it's borne out of snobbery. I have not been inspired by these games whatsoever. I have occasionally imported items of syntax from them in order to make the games more compatible (the most significant is probably making ':swallows hard.' the same as ACT "swallows hard.") but I wouldn't call that inspiration.

TA: Theres a lot of competition between MUDs these days, especially since free MUDs have become so widely available and a few have become almost as sophisticated as MUD2 itself. Does it worry you that eventually maybe no one will want to pay to play a MUD when they can play for free?

RB: It's a niggling worry, but I know that MUD2 will continue to improve. If these other MUDs want to improve, they'll have to get their programming done for free. That's possible, of course, but it's not going to happen on a large scale. What's more worrying is that a game that's only 75% as good as MUD2 but is free will nevertheless attract players away from MUD2 simply because it IS free -- for some people, it doesn't matter how good a game is, if there's a free alternative that satisfies their basic needs, they'll take it.

TA: Do you, or have you played on any of the free MUDs?

RB: I've looked a few over, but I don't play any regularly.

TA: What do you think of them?

RB: From what point of view? From a programming point of view, I KNOW that MUDDLE is better for writing MUDs, so I may be impressed if what I see represents triumph over adversity. On the other hand, it saddens me to see people playing these games simply because they don't know there are better ones out there which might suit them better. The descriptions I see are never all that great, either, and the commands some of them use are about as intuitive as UNIX's...

TA: How many MUD1's and MUD2's are there out there?

RB: Still being played? There's one MUD1 -- BL on CompuServe. MUD2s, hmm, let me see... In the UK we have DRAGON, ONLINE and SONET. In Europe we have IOL. In the USA we have GENIE/DELPHI/CRIS (one game on 3 systems), IPLAY and MPGNET. In the rest of the world, there's a local-to-Toronto one in Canada. Two more incarnations are due out sometime in the distant future, but have met with hitches (due to incompetence, so I won't tell you which organisations they are; suffice to say, it seems that putting a capital letter in the middle of a company's name is a bad sign). So, total number of extant MUD2s is 7. I have one at home, of course, too...

TA: There's a lot of talk on the net these days of graphic MUDs, especially now that Dr. Cat is pushing DragonSpires so hard. Do you see MUD2 evolving into a graphic MUD like DragonSpires or into something entirely different?

RB: Evolving? Or regressing? I don't see MUD2 going graphical like DragonSpires, because I wrote it as a text-based game. As far as I'm concerned, making it graphical would be like doing a cartoon of "War and Peace" -- interesting, but hardly the same as the original. If I wanted to do a graphical game, I'd start from scratch. DragonSpires, incidentally, is just the latest in a line of this kind of game which started with Island of Kesmai and continued with Kingdom of Drakkar. It's attracting attention because it's the first free game of this kind to appear on the net, and its graphics are more modern, but the gameplay is early 80s.

TA: Do you like graphic MUDs, or are you a text-only purist?

RB: I despair of graphic MUDs, because I know that eventually they'll take over, supplanting them like graphical RPGs did text adventures. There'll still BE textual MUDs, because on the net there's no "shelf space", so if there are people who want to play them they'll still be available. I just think that once the big-spenders start using their advertising money to push their flashy graphics games, new players will go for those games rather than MUDs. MUDs do have one advantage over ordinary adventure games in that for the next few years at least there's no way to engage in conversation with other people or mobiles in the game except by typing, so graphical replacements can't be entirely mouse-based (click on the H, click on the E, click on the L, click on the L, click on the O, click on the SEND). It'll come, though, and MUDs will lose something as a result.

TA: What is going to be the next biggest change in MUD2?

RB: I don't know. Probably some kind of user interface to smarten up the appearance, but there are lots of things in the game that I want to add. I've been meaning to give the mobiles the ability to talk, ooh, for ages, but it would take a couple of months of dedicated programming which I don't have time for at the moment. I also want to complete my MUDDLE-to-C compiler -- I've done all but the run-time-system, but again that's maybe 2 months of working on it and nothing else to finish. I'm mid-way through a hefty tome documenting exactly how to use BLANKs, which I'll follow up with a program to help design such objects offline, but I wouldn't call those major changes to the game itself.

AX: What is MUD2's biggest strength? Greatest weakness?

RB: Biggest strength: its players. Biggest weakness: its players.

TA: What do you think the future holds for MUDs, taking into account the imminent arrival of multi-player shoot-em up servers like QUAKE and their ilk?

AX: Do you expect to see MUD2 sites still operating in 10 years, or will we all be playing Doom XIX in 3D over high-speed fibre-optic links?

RB: There are people playing MUD2 and BL who have been doing so for nearly 10 years. This is an enormous staying power for a game, due mainly to its depth and the fact that although graphics have improved over the years, text doesn't date so quickly. People will go out and play multi-player shoot-em-up games, but are they people who would otherwise play a MUD? I'm not convinced. MUDs won't look the same in 10 years time, if they exist at all. However as a caveat, if you'd asked me that 10 years ago I'd have said the same thing -- and been wrong!

Thanks to Richard for taking the time to answer our questions; we hope you found the answers as interesting as we did.