This past Monday was the 30th birthday of the original MUD, rightly noted and celebrated on a number of sites.
MUD 1 represents one of the roots of the game genre we refer to with the adjective “Massive” these days, an online user experience shared by many people at once.
This fall represents another anniversary for me. I don’t recall the exact date, but it was in the autumn of 1993 when my friend and, at the time, co-worker Scott came over to my cube and told me there was an online game I just had to play. It was a MUD called Sojourn.
And as surely as MUD1 was on the path to the MMOs of today, Sojourn MUD put me on the path to playing those very MMOs.
It wasn’t that MUDs were something new and different to me at that time. I had played Gemstone on GEnie and a few other MUDs along the way, but none of them really captured my attention.
So what was so special about Sojourn MUD?
A friend of mine, Scott, was already playing. I think history bears out that as the number one reasons for playing a given game; somebody you know is already playing it.
It was free. We worked for a company that made modems at the time, so I even had access to terminal emulation software at no cost. Unlike the early days when I was playing games on GEnie at an hourly rate, I was now working for a living, paying rent, insurance, taxes, and all that other fun stuff that finds a way to dun your savings every month.
It was populated. One thing about a lot of MUDs is that they are often deserted. Only a few make it into triple digits of users at any time in their life. Sojourn had lots of players. There were even problems at one point when they were limited to 127 simultaneous connections. Queues to log in? Been in that boat off and on for 15 years now I guess.
It was colorful. Unlike a lot of other MUDs, Sojourn got on the ANSI color boat pretty early. Very few items in the game were just plain white text unless that was the natural color of the item. And because I had a fully functional terminal emulator, I could see all that color as it was meant to be seen, which was actually not that common back then. A lot of emulators only had partial support for color.
It was Forgotten Realms. In addition to real life, real job, and all that the days of my being able to devote time to live role playing games was diminishing both because of my own time constraints as well as the constraints on the people with whom I played. The last campaign set we played with any regularity was Forgotten Realms, a setting that was developing both in depth and popularity. And, suddenly, here before me, was Toril right here in text whenever I wanted, with people to play with and I did not even have to roll any dice.
And so off I went into this world of text. A world alive in my mind. To this day I can picture in my mind a whole host of locations despite never having actually seen them. The descriptions and the things that happened there made a picture in my mind all its own.
Some things, of course, I had seen drawings of before I played Sojourn, like the City of Brass. And, of course, every creature in the Monster Manual already had a drawing, sometimes a bit silly, associated with it in my head.
I was fortunate to also arrive in the game just after a pwipe, (I cannot believe that Wikipedia does not have an entry on pwipe!) which meant I was new and leveling up at the same time everybody else was starting afresh. Veterans and noobs alike were leveling up together. In the months that followed I made friends, some of whom I still chat with, or even game with, to this day. I met Gaff somewhere near the Tinker camp, probably killing Bandor for experience. (What was the experience cirle we would run? Bandor, Kobold Taskmasters, and a couple other mobs, over and over again?)
I also ended up playing with people who went on to create EverQuest, Brad McQuaid being probably the most well known among them. So, years later, when EverQuest launched, Norrath was a place both fresh and new as well as a place of familiarity and known concepts. Those concepts included last names at level 20, stiff experience curves, required grouping, and a severe death penalty that included the possibility losing all your equipment should you not be able to recover your corpse.
Time passed. Sojourn persisted at times, went away at others. It changed names. Sometimes it was Sojourn, sometimes Toril. Then there was a point around 2000 where it seemed like it was going to be gone for good.
Then, a couple of years later, I got an email from Scott saying, “It’s back!”
And, sure enough, there it was again, up and running as TorilMUD. We got on right at the end of a beta and were able to start fresh at a new pwipe and relive the joy of everybody leveling up together.
And everybody was about right, as people and names from as far as 15 years back (and probably further) showed back up to play. It was glorious. My druid, Zouve Telcontar, lived again to move groups around the lands via moonwells. (Who’s in Baldur’s Gate? I need a well target.)
Of course, time moved along. We all hit level 50, did the MUD version of raiding (a 16 person group tackling a high level zone with bosses), made alts, had a good time, and then grew restless.
A new set of MMOs came out that drew people away. Some of us went to EverQuest II, more went to WoW, and a few are even lurking in EVE Online, but the memories remain. The guild names you see me write about here are often reflections of the Toril guild I was in, Shades of Twilight.
Still, the game persists. It is up and active and there are people there every time I log in for a peek. I don’t play, having sold or given away almost every single item I had in the game so as to make a clean break from the game… at least until the next pwipe. It seemed like a good idea at the time.
And, for all that EverQuest borrowed from Sojourn/Toril MUD, it is also interesting to look at how much of the life of EverQuest was foreshadowed by it as well.
Sojourn was founded and run by people who had very set ideas on how the game should be played and they actively tried to get people to do things “the right way.” For example, being able to solo was was frowned upon. Experience, equipment, and abilities were altered or nerfed to discourage it. But as time went along, as the gods in the game came and went and as the population fell, that changed. In the current version there is a much friendlier attitude. They even had a “multiplay” weekend at one point, where you could log on two characters at once to play. That was absolute heresy at one point in the game, a character deletion offense. And while that was a single event, it shows that views soften, especially when you need 16 people to do a zone and there might be as few as 25 people on at a given time.
The economy in the game mirrored what happened in EverQuest. Platinum coins can’t buy you decent equipment because… well… you cannot spend that platinum on anything better. People who have played the game since pwipe have piles of platinum stored away in the bank. The economy is admittedly not that bad in EverQuest, but it is a matter of degrees in the MUDflation effect.
Finally, there is longevity. People still play TorilMUD regularly. Daily. I see the some of the same names every time I log on. (I’m looking at you, Lilithelle… but Corth, you don’t count, you’re always AFK.) The content has been updated and expanded regularly, there is still a team working on the code, and there is still a supportive audience, so people still play the game. Some people still play it as their main game after 15 years.
EverQuest is coming up on the 10 year mark next year, and the same holds true for it. And, as TorilMUD goes, so seems to go EverQuest. Populations may diminish, but we will still see the game live and viable for years to come it seems, unless we hit a point where 3D graphics become dated more quickly than text.
And, so, after all that text, the real message here is, “Oh, wow! Has it really been 15 years?”
It has, and TorilMUD still lives on. Go Team!
To celebrate this milestone I am going to go into the archives and fish out some choice items I have stored away from my time in the game to post. I am not only a packrat in game, but in real life as well, so I have email from 15 years ago in a folder in Eudora.
Some of them will be generally amusing. Some of them will be obscure. If nothing else, Gaff and I will enjoy them!
[Addemdum: If you want to see what else I have written about TorilMUD, you can click on the tag… or you can just click on this link.]