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?


2 comments so far

  1. Matt Adcock (@bcdevMatt) on

    I think as MUDs develop they tend to add more systems rather than just more content. I know I found with Maiden Desmodus it was tempting to add another cool system rather than polish existing ones. The MUD only ran for a couple of years but I quite often had players asking for new features that we already had. I guess they had just gotten buried under layers of newer stuff and I can only imagine how bad it would have been after 15 years.

    I don’t know how popular Geas is but I wonder if some of these older games would be better off closing down and the creators/maintainers putting their energy into newer projects. It would be interesting to see how they’d approach making a “Geas II” today.

  2. KaVir on

    Technically Geas is only 4 years older than GW2, and GW2 has been in development for more than a decade, so I’m not sure the age of the game itself is really a factor.

    Perhaps more significantly, Geas is based on DGD (first released in 1993), which was a rewrite of LPMud (developed in 1989). Back in those days you could literally just open a mud and players would come, and they’d put up with a lot – you didn’t need to worry about things like tutorials or accessability, people would work things out the hard way.

    Players tend to stick with what they know when they can though, and over the years players in general seem to have become a lot more fickle, with higher expectations. I imagine those from an LPMud background would probably feel pretty comfortable playing Geas, and LPMuds are unlikely to see many players moving over from DikuMUD or TinyMUD derivatives regardless of what they do, so perhaps it’s not something Geas have even thought about.

    GW2 on the other hand didn’t have that sort of legacy to draw on. There weren’t any players from similar muds, because there *weren’t* any similar muds, so building up the playerbase was much more of an uphill struggle. I had to put a lot of effort into reducing the entry barrier for newbies because I didn’t have an established audience who already knew how to play.

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