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Echoes of a Crashing MUD May 29, 2012

Posted by Wilhelm Arcturus in Ancient Gaming, entertainment, EverQuest, MMO Design, MUDs, TorilMUD.
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Last week’s crash bug fixing bonanza has resulted in a near-record uptime of 150 hours and still going.

-TorilMUD New Post

They have been working hard on crash related bugs at TorilMUD.

TorilMUD has been around, in one form or another, for nearly 20 years now.  Next year I will get to write my “20 years of TorilMUD” post, a follow up to my 15 year post, as I will have played it off and on for that long.

In all that time, running without a crash for less than seven days is a record.

I guess there is a reason that uptime was displayed only as hours, minutes, and seconds.  There was no need for days to be displayed.

So this is a big success, this huge increase in reliability, right?

If you had asked me that when I was playing the game actively, back when there were 50-100 people on all the time, I would have told you that seven days of uptime was a disaster!

The thing is, crashes were points of opportunity to be valued, not disasters to be avoided.

Yes, sure, if you were doing a zone and had finally gotten through to a big fight and the game crashed, that was bad.  And you didn’t want to the game going down every ten minutes… unless you wanted to farm Bandor’s flagon or some other easily obtained item.  But no crashes for days could mean no loot for days in a very loot oriented game.

The thing is, most monsters in the game that carried anything worth having only carried that item at boot.  Once you slew the monster and took its item, it would respawn, but would come back empty handed.  You might get some coins from it and some experience, but the special item was only there once per boot.

In addition, there were a lot of rare mobs that had a chance to spawn at reboot, often mobs related to key quests in the game.

So a crash and a reboot was a time of renewal in the game.  You would spam your way out to pick off an easy item or two, help friends scour known locations for special spawns, and then start forming groups to tackle the zone content, which was the MUD equivalent of raiding.

We all loved a well timed crash, and there were few things as depressing as logging in at prime time on a weekend and seeing the uptime sitting at 18 hours.  All the easy drops would be gone by then, all the good zones done, and the world mobs likely spotted already.

Players would begin whining about the uptime and how all the good stuff have been done.  And often an administrator would take pity on us… they were all long time players and knew the importance of a timely reboot… and announce a reboot.

So key aspects of the game… loot and raiding… were predicated on the system crashing at fairly regular intervals.  How crazy was that?

And this, of course, had influence that was felt long after so many of us moved to 3D graphical MMORPGs.

TorilMUD was the Diku template on which EverQuest was based.  Brad McQuaid, Aradune, and other EQ devs were long time players of TorilMUD, and if you played them both you could see the many things that were influenced by… or copied wholesale from… TorilMUD.  Races, classes, equipment stats, racial home towns, the layout of Freeport, and much more came from EQ’s text-based predecessor.

But not everything could be copied directly.  What works in text does not always translate well to a 3D virtual world.  You never dropped your weapon in Norrath for example, which was something of a relief.  They actually turned off the fumble mechanism in TorilMUD in the last couple of years, so you need not worry about losing your weapon forever in a shallow stream or a duck pond.

And the concept of aggro management started to take shape, as there was no such thing in TorilMUD.  Monsters switched to attack casters all the time and the tanks job was to use the “rescue” command, which would switch the monster back to focus on the tank.

And one of the things that the EQ team no doubt felt they could not depend on was the crash/reboot mechanism to repopulate drops and spawn rare mobs.  Depending on crashes is fine in a free game, but can you imagine a commercial MMO where a crash or a reboot a couple of times a day would be seen as a good thing?

So they had to come up with another solution to meter out rare mobs to simulate the whole crash/reboot cycle.  The decision was to put such mobs on extremely long respawn timers.

And thus the insane camp was born.

I suspect, though have no confirmation, that the EQ devs never expected players to actually sit on a rare mob spawn point for extremely long stretches of time waiting for it to appear.  I have to imagine that they thought that players would treat that sort of thing the way we did in TorilMUD, which was to run by and check the spot at intervals.  In the TorilMUD, that interval was at every reboot.  But with no such similar timer in EQ, people just sat down in a group and waited.

And waited, and waited, some times for days at a stretch, for a specific mob to appear.

Eventually, other mechanisms were created to replace the long spawn, though not all were necessarily more successful.  How many hours have I spent killing the placeholder mob over and over again in hopes of spawning that one special mob I needed?

In the end, certainly with the advent of WoW, I think most such mobs were stuck in instanced environments and metered based on difficulty rather than the amount of time you and your group could sit in one place and wait.  The age of the long camp was over, though I am sure somebody will tell you they miss it.

But for a while at least, our behavior in MMOs was influenced by the fact that they simply could not be allowed to crash a couple of times a day.

Comments»

1. saucelah - May 29, 2012

Really enjoyed reading about the connections between TorilMUD and EQ — I had no clue about any of that. Fascinating and insightful, thanks.

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2. Aufero - May 29, 2012

I’d forgotten spawn tables and placeholder mobs were invented as the less painful alternative to 3-7 day spawn timers.

While some of my most memorable times in EQ involved camping rare spawns, (clearing the desert in South Ro over and over trying to spawn the Ancient Cyclops for the jboots quest, for instance) I can’t say I miss those days. At all.

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3. Wilhelm Arcturus - May 29, 2012

This post will not be complete until somebody comes by and comments that they miss the long camps in EQ.

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4. bhagpuss - May 29, 2012

How about if I comment that I never camped anything in EQ? Not strictly true, but I never camped anything long enough to get bored. I don’t play any MMO to get bored. An hour was about my absolute outside limit.

I recall reading more than one interview with EQ devs that confirm your suspicion that they never imagined anyone would camp rare mobs. In fact I’m pretty sure the entire concept of camping and camps came as a total surprise, as did most emergent player behavior that we now take for granted.

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5. wizardling - June 30, 2012

I not only missed long camps in an abusive relationship kind of way ;-) (though if you were lucky the spawn you were camping would be near or have PHs that were worth grinding for XP, loot or plat. But all too often it would be a high level in a low level zone :-\ ), I’m back doing the same in EQ1′s TLP Fippy Darkpaw server.

That said I have my limits, and will not spend all day killing PHs. Also if a mob is on a straight timer I’ll do what the devs intended – stop by once in a while and hope I get lucky. Often the first thing I do upon logging in is a quick run through of the various rare spawn points I’m after a mob at.

While I can understand positioning a toon at a spawn point and just staying there doing nothing till you get the loot you were after, that has never been for me. First of all I don’t box, so I can’t do anything else if I want to maintain observation. Secondly I actually want to play toons, so while I might log an alt off at a spawn point and hope it’s up when I log back in, I’m not going to stay there if that’s the alt I want to play today.

The upshot is if devs give me something to grind like PHs or nearby mobs and better yet make them semi-worth my while, I will stick around an hour or two, or even longer depending on the value offered. Even a spot of water to fish will give a spawn point some value, though I have to be pretty tired or multitasking in RL to fish for long. But if it’s just sitting doing _nothing_? No way! :-)

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