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As virtual worlds, muds make excellent foundations for other games to be built on top of them.
On our mud (Shattered World), there is a place called Deathmatch Stadium. There, players (armored to the teeth and bristling with weapons and magical defenses) can take each other on in combat on the Stadium's shifting sands, while other players hurl praise or abuse from the stands. When one goes down (to a Knight's decapitation, perhaps, or a Siren's scream), he vanishes from the arena, to appear in a nearby recovery room, unscathed and fully healed.
Players can face each other head-to-head or in teams; they can also play a brutal version of soccer, in which scoring a goal is only slightly more important than dispatching your opponent. But the most popular version is 'Last Man Standing,' a free-for-all that is, essentially, Quake on a mud.
Deathmatch Stadium wasn't hard to code. But more importantly, it wasn't hard to conceive, because the game rules had already been set by Quake et al. The concept was: A place where you can frag other players and it doesn't matter if you die.
To create this little first-person-shooter, I didn't have to think up weapons, amour, or healing, because our mud already had them. Likewise, I didn't need to write a combat system or player descriptions. I didn't need to do anything to create the base of a functioning virtual world, because our mud (and yours) already has it.
In fact, Deathmatch Stadium even has an edge over Quake in one respect: players have serious investments in their characters. They don't just select a 'skin' before battle: they already have a fully-blown personality and history. Some had been mouthing off about how they could kill all comers; now they could try it and see.
While creating Deathmatch Stadium, I realized what a good environment muds were to support almost any other game. As a fully functioning virtual world, a mud provides a lot of the foundation for almost any genre. And popular games can make highly successful additions to a mud, because their rules and game balance issues have already been developed and refined. We already know what works and what doesn't before we start coding.
Deathmatch Stadium is an implementation of the first-person-shooter genre. Many others are possible, for example:
We have discussed (but not yet implemented) the idea of putting a player in charge of an NPC population, whether that population be monster-like (e.g. an encampment of Orcs) or human (a town). The player would be in charge of building that group into a large civilization: they would help it to gather the resources it needed, protect itself from intruders, and spread across the countryside. Of course, in time the edges of its lands would encroach upon another civilization...
Another idea mooted would enable Shattered World's top players (the Lords) to engage in large-scale warfare; for example, to lead an army to storm another Lord's castle. This would involve building construction (of the castle and its associated defenses), production and training of units, and large-scale combat.
Shattered World has a free-market economy (see "A Working Mud Economy" by Geoff Wong, May 2000), and almost all commercial property -- weapon smiths, restaurants, banks, and more -- is owned and run by players. Canny capitalists have built large retail empires, forcing out the competition, through market manipulation, economic warfare, and legal wrangling.
Also popular at Shattered World are many card games, including various forms of poker and 500. Players gamble with 'real virtual' money, if you will, unlike a normal computer card game where, in the end, winnings or losses don't matter. Several Shattered World identities have become addicted to the cards and won and lost large fortunes.
I do believe it's important that these games be optional parts of your mud. Not everyone likes Deathmatch Stadium, and it would be a mistake to force them to play it. A good mud allows players to gravitate to the part of it that suits them best.
The real key to success, though, is to distill the essence of what makes the game enjoyable. For Deathmatch Stadium, that was letting players run around and frag each other without the usual downside to death. (Even in the Stadium's rankings board, players don't lose points for losses -- they only gain them for wins.)
For an empire-building game, players should be able to grow something small into something grand (and defend it); for a sim, players should be able to tinker with details and watch realistic consequences. So long as the core aspect of the game is retained, you should be able to successfully integrate it into your mud.
In the meantime, if you feel like fragging a few Knights... come visit us at Shattered.
August 2001 Imaginary Realities, the magazine of your mind.
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