September 20, 2011

A Whole New (Old) World for Roleplaying Fans

Not too long ago, there was another post on this same site posing a question that made me think for a very long time. Do the fantastic storytelling and man-versus-machine elements of a single player campaign mode make a good and memorable game, or is it the online and in-person multiplayer experience that allows us to interact with others in an entirely new way? This question bugged me for quite a while, but with the manner in which the internet has influenced society, the answer has become very clear. Single player was once the way to go for a memorable game, but in this day and age, having a “single player only” game closes the player off from a whole different level of experience. (For those of you who caught that last pun, I applaud you. Go eat a cookie. You deserve it.)

This question clanged about in my mind for weeks. I love an epic story, but I love competition. I love immersion, but I love socializing. I like to escape the world, but I also like to involve it. I wondered what kind of game would have both an involving story and a competitive element. At first, my mind went to the MMORPG. Admittedly, they’re close to what I’m looking for, but no cigar. The problem lies in the failure to truly create a different world. People on designated “Roleplaying” servers somewhat understand what I’m going for, but there’s no connection with the PVP community and the roleplaying community. You have your group that is in it to win it, and you have your group who wants an escape from reality.

A modern MMORPG that looks anything close to what I’ve envisioned in my head is all but impossible. To have the players run the world of the game (perhaps with the assistance of admin “Gods” for added story influence and plot device) would take a whole lot of trust on everyone’s part. The game would be too dynamic to function. Customizing everything to each specific player’s needs and providing a world large and full enough to house such a community would take up an amount of data, processing power, and bandwidth that we just don’t have. The idea could work if we had the technology to do it and the players willing to play it. I’m pretty sure, given the massive popularity of games like World of Warcraft, that a game like this would rapidly become the leading online game, possibly monopolizing the MMORPG industry. The problem is the technology. We just don’t have the power to create a world like this.


That’s when it hit me like a train carrying a cargo load of brick walls.

Tabletop roleplayers have been using their imaginations for years.

Online games where the players are capable of ruling their own world exist.

I’ve played them.


Some of you already knew where I was going with this. If not, hear me out. Games that function like this are out there, and you can play them for free in most instances. However, be warned. These games can be outright dangerous if not enjoyed responsibly. I’ve mentioned my “gaming addiction” in the past; this is it. What do these games that are unbelievably immersive and player controlled look like?

What they’ve done is cut out the technological aspect. The beautiful graphics are all in your imagination. It’s primarily text, with a few ASCII images (generally the game title and a few maps.) This genre of game is referred to as a Multi-User Dungeon (named after the first game of the sort), and has been around since the early days of the home computer. Some of you saw this coming. Some of you didn’t, but you’re now drooling and wanting more information. However, I’d like to speak to the skeptics.

Yes, these games are all text, and you control them by typing. Admittedly, it does take some getting used to. It doesn’t take too long, and once you’ve learned the basics, these games get really fun, really fast. It’s like Dungeons and Dragons (or any other tabletop RPG for that matter), only the calculations are done by your computer. The companies that manage these games often release new content via their own employees (usually in the form of gods), but most of the story comes from the players. It’s a persistent world that is as immersive as you want it to be. Like I said, be warned. These games can and will shut down and replace your social life. It happened to me early in high school, and I regret that. A running joke all the way from the early 80’s is that MUD stands for Multi-Undergraduate Destroyer, since many college students spent obscene amounts of cash and time playing these games on the predecessors to the Internet, and eventually failed or dropped out. However, once you learn to control and balance yourself, these games are truly amazing.

Combat is unbelievably intricate. In most games, you’ll have to rig your client up with “scripts” to automatically respond to certain actions and status afflictions so you can focus on fighting. The rest varies from game to game, and I can’t really describe it all. The possibilities are endless. Roleplaying is also very in depth. Staying in character is pretty well enforced, and not hard to do at all. I’ve had just as many memorable experiences in these games as I have with, say, Final Fantasy or Paper Mario. (Yes, I’mma let you finish, but Paper Mario is one of my favorite RPGs of all time. ALL TIME.)

I would love to tell you more about all of these games, but I can’t. Each and every game is different, sometimes astoundingly so. They all have their own “language”, and it’s tough to learn them all. All I can say is that if you have the slightest interest in this kind of game, look it up. You might have a new favorite by tonight. I recommend the Iron Realms games. They all handle similarly, are easy to learn but tough to master, and have fairly large communities. They can even be played in your browser, though most combat-oriented players recommend that you use a separate client (I use MUSHclient, there are others that are also highly recommended).

Had any experiences with MUD’s you’d like to share? Have any other ones you’ve enjoyed to recommend? Not a fan, and have something to say? Drop a comment below!

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