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Even movies have directors

by Richard Bartle

Movies cost millions of dollars. They employ hundreds of specialists, most of whom make some form of artistic contribution to the result. Some of these people have egos the size of Manhattan, yet whenever the great movies are discussed, it's always the director who gets the credit. Good acting, scripts, cinematography, music and costume can all be major factors, but what it comes down to is one person's vision of what the movie should be like.

Without a director, a movie would be a sloppy mixture of competing artistic views. The narrative of the script would be interpreted in different ways at different times, the actors would try to make their own part more important, the lighting might be expressing an atmosphere at odds with that of the music; in short, it would be a mess.

Terry Gilliam picture
Terry Gilliam, great director.

Similarly, if a book is being written by several authors, there's an editor. The editor makes sure that everything is consistent in style and form, and that each component complements the others. If something is inappropriate or not quite right, the editor will either tell the author to go away and rewrite it, or make corrections personally without reference to the author at all. The overall feel of the book, its framework and its drive, is determined by the editor.

So why don't muds have directors or editors?

It's usually because of the way muds start up. Most muds are put together by bunches of friends. They get hold of a stock mud, maybe customise it a bit, then everyone adds their own ideas in some shared act of consensual design. As time goes on, new people get build privileges and produce new material to add to the growing masterpiece. The mud typically sprawls out as an ever-increasing mass of half-related rooms and areas, few of which contribute to the overall atmosphere and many of which at best dilute it and at worst pollute it.

How much better would it be if such a mud had someone in overall artistic control? Someone who knew what they were doing?

Well the grand sweep of the game's design would improve, because it could be more focused. Individual components would fit together in a fashion that not only made sense, but which could act to build tension, or humour, or tragedy - whatever the necessity at that particular point was. Descriptions would be consistent and fine-tuned, objects would behave as they were supposed to behave wherever they were, and no-one would have to program for the excesses of others. From a player's point a view, such a game would be far more believable and probably more immersive than a freeform-designed mud. What at the moment is a collection of internally-consistent bubbles of design could, with strong editorial control, be replaced by a single, coherent, internally-consistent entire game world. What a place to visit that would be!

Yet none of this will work, of course, at least not for free muds. It takes a lot of time and effort to put together a game world of any size, and one person is rarely going to be able to do it alone. Help is needed, but the help that arrives is based on altruism. You can't tell someone who's designing for your mud out of the goodness of their heart that what they have produced is shoddy, or out of context, or incomplete, or unoriginal, or jarring. If you do, they will go away in a huff - they don't HAVE to help you at all.

But if you did have the time, and you did have the vision, you could, just maybe, do it. Then, perhaps, your players would be treated to an experience quite unlike any other.

Richard Bartle is currently running mud2 in the UK. He has published many articles and is one of the co-editors of the Journal of Mud Research.