Archive for October, 2012|Monthly archive page

Playing: Geas

If you’ve played muds for years, can an old mud still be interesting?

I think the last mud I played was ConQUEST (which is back on hiatus it seems). I keep an eye on TMC for new listings but nothing that interesting to me has shown up. Inspired by a tweet from ‘Fmud’ Matt I went back to the listings and from an ‘all original’ + ‘levelless’ search tried Geas.

So, can an old mud still be interesting? Not fun mind you, I have no doubt old muds can be fun. But interesting? According to TMC Geas started in 1998. I think I might have tried it briefly long ago but the memory is old enough that I pretty much was starting from scratch. Can an old mud be interesting when you feel that you’ve played all the old muds have to offer?

Well, a logical question is, ‘what is interesting’, and since I’m using that word a lot I guess it’s on me to define it for the present moment. I admit that interesting is a rather uninteresting, lazy word. But if I tried to define it I wouldn’t be talking about Geas very much, so let’s put that definition aside for a minute. I’ve only played Geas for a couple of hours so this is naturally a first impression rather than a review (though impressions should suffice to say if something is interesting 🙂 ).

Geas is an LP mud, and for me LP muds automatically ‘feel different’. It’s not that I’ve played mostly DIKUs (using the term loosely to encompass all its children in the mud family tree); my first mud was Lost Souls in fact. I think this feel is due to the nature of how people create LPs. Because the LP development tools allow for a great deal of flexibility within areas, the game texture is knottier, more complicated. DIKUs feel more uniform. Maybe LPs are wool, and DIKUs are polyester? I’m worried about what value judgements that might imply, in either direction…

So, Geas feels different, and not always in a good way. For example, some of its command parsing is old fashioned. It doesn’t recognize abbreviations in many cases. It’s a good example of a rich command set that lacks usability.

From my few hours of playing I think this example is an expression of a core property of Geas, and probably of many old muds (and maybe LPs in particular). This is the core property: complicated complexity.

Complexity doesn’t have to be complicated. I think God Wars 2 is a good example. That’s a complex game by most accounts. However the information is laid out cleanly and simply most of the time. Geas seems like the opposite case. However it’s not entirely a fair comparison. GW2 is mostly the work of one developer (who had several other muds to look back on for experience). Geas appears to be a team effort, and it’s twice as old to boot.

On the other hand, many times Geas does feel different in a good way. Your character’s hair grows. You can shave it, or I presume grow a beard (!). This seems like a minor detail, but was quite delightful when I discovered it. The hiding, sneaking, and tracking systems are well developed. There seems to be a generalized climbing mechanic. Again, it’s fun to find this stuff out. The combat system is more slowly paced than most muds (a plus) with multiple tactical options (more plusses). There are no levels or classes, and many skills to learn (by use).

There are many color customization options (good), but limited colors (ansi with some extensions), you have to design your own color theme by hand (no good default packages) and some odd typography like in how the room descriptions are laid out (not good). There are more toggle’able output options than usual (good), but weird design choices where other characters can spam songs or actions like juggling, and it seems like you’re forced to pay attention to it.

This last bit bothered me a little and made me wonder about possible solutions. It’s fairly common to have options to control what combat messages you see (indeed, Geas has some options just like this). I’d like to see a more generalized system where you can control the level of detail your character sees for all actions.

There’s a flexible emote system for RP, it seems like lots of provisions for PC politics, and a somewhat RPI’ish slant toward RP in general (an introduction system, no PCs you don’t know in the who list, no game-wide OOC chat, etcetera), but also an extensive website, and wiki with IC information. It’s an attempt I think to control the IC/OOC split, but from many threads on the OOC web forum I’m not sure how successful that control has been. The web forum has a nifty mud-connected registration process (you generate a key in game to use for registration, presumably to control signups and reduce spam), but there was a bug and it didn’t work for me. Complicated complexity.

Overall I’d say much of this is natural. Muds grow organically. Geas is almost 15 years old, probably older than some of its players. In a way I don’t have a right to criticize it after playing it for a oouple of hours. In the end I found some sewers and fought some rats for a few minutes. It felt very familiar. From what I saw before I’m certain there’s a lot of depth to this game. A lot of complexity. But does it have to be so complicated?

feeds and rivers

I’ve started to poke at something that’s been on the back burner for too long.

I put out IFURLs (a weekly curation and summation of interactive fiction links) for about a year, and while I enjoyed the process I felt like I reached a natural limit doing everything by hand after a while, so I put it on hold. The new idea (well, it’s certainly not new at this point) was to build a tool that would make the process easier and invite collaboration from like minded folks. I thought that while I was at it I could add feeds from outside the strictly-defined parser IF community, since I did that anyway with the list by hand. Choice-based games, muds, electronic writing of every kind — what I wanted to make was a huge firehose of all that stuff and then develop the tool to make it easy to filter and sort that information for the reader, the ultimate goal always being to present a weekly select list of the most interesting links. So it’s not a planet site, and not an add-a-link Reddit or Hacker News clone; I’ve seen these kinds of sites described as rivers and that’s not a bad description.

I’ve taken the first step of putting about 30 feeds (some are planets as well) on a page.

I’m using Clojure, noir-async, and clj-rome to put it all together.

Clj-rome wraps the rome-fetcher RSS library, and that seems to present the first issue. You can see in the screenshot that some of the items include dates and some don’t. It appears that rome-fetcher isn’t parsing some of the RSS pubdates correctly. The Mudbytes feed items for example includes pubdates, but I don’t get them in the rome-fetcher parsed feed.

I remember 5 or so years ago when I swore I never would touch Java code. I seriously had a natural aversion to it from the first time I had half an idea of what it was all about. I guess Time is the great Trickster, isn’t it?

I’m not sure how to proceed with the pubdate issue. There was a somewhat related issue filed at the rome-fetcher Jira page, and I commented on that. In the worst case I can add my own date based on when I pull down the feed item, since it’s not that important that my date syncs precisely with the actual post date of whatever I’m grabbing.

A nice thing about Java is its layers of abstraction. It feels industrial and solid. Of course that’s also a downside; getting at a problem seems to require a lot more peeling back of layers, though I think (hope) some of this complexity is just a lack of familiarity.

New ideas?

A couple of new mud projects have sprung up this year. PlainText is a QT-backed C++ core with JavaScript scripting. The author has made good progress on a web-based OLC, see his thread at Mudbytes for more.

I think development on Lampost started at roughly the same time. Lampost is a Python mud framework with the start of web-based OLC. The author of PlainText has posted in Lampost’s thread at Mudconnector so with any luck we’ll see some collaboration between the two projects. It’d be great to have a reusable web-based OLC or even a common mapping standard.

Matt Adcock, the creator of Fmud and original coder of Maiden Desmodus is pondering new game ideas according to his Twitter feed. Sean Lucas, creator of the fun in-stasis web-based mud Archons of Avenshar, is rewriting that game. I dare say those two would make for a killer mud dev team.