As the progenitors of the modern MMOG, the impact of the MUD on contemporary gaming cannot be overstated. Everquest and World of Warcraft may be groundbreaking games, but in the same way that Diablo can be trace its lineage back to Rogue, so too did grinding in Azeroth and Norrath spring forth from the days of 300 bps modems and TELNET.
TELNET, you say? Oh, you kids these days. It stands for Telecommunications Network, and it's one of the earliest network protocols developed for the internet. It also happens to be the method used by gamers to connect to MUDs back in those early days, and in fact Microsoft Windows users still have access to a TELNET client through the command prompt. (Vista owners will have to install it first, however, as Vista doesn't include the TELNET client by default.) To see it in action, open a command prompt, type "telnet" and press enter; you'll be greeted by a little piece of history in the form of a tiny cursor flashing against a black background. If you're the adventurous sort, so to speak, try "telnet british-legends.com 27750" for a taste of the real thing.
Of course, it didn't take long for people to figure out that TELNET wasn't exactly designed with gaming in mind. As the popularity of MUDs grew along with the online population, the demand for something better led to the development of specialized clients like zMUD and MUD Master, with features ranging from color and extended ASCII character sets to customized scripting, automatic map generation and much more. MUD-specific extensions to the TELNET protocol known as MXPs were created to enhance gameplay, and some MUDs began offering pre-customized versions of popular clients or their own Java-based front-ends for players who want all the toys without any of the fuss.
It goes without saying that even the most advanced MUD clients can't offer the graphical whiz-bang of modern MMOGs, but for fans of the genre this isn't necessarily a weakness. Relying on rich, descriptive language to engage their audiences, MUDs can actually be a more immersive and memorable experience for players willing to embrace the concept. Nothing is more graphic than the mind's eye, and the best MUDs take full advantage, generating unforgettable worlds with little more than a good turn of phrase.
MUDs aren't for everyone, but they're far more than just an anthropological curiosity; they offer a legitimate form of social gaming for people who are unready, or unable, to embrace the MMOG. Medievia, a popular and well-supported game running since 1992, is a great choice for gamers who want to get their feet wet, while those with a historical bent may be interested in trying the original MUD, which continues to operate and even supports browser-based play for people who aren't quite sure what a command prompt is. New players need not fear; community is paramount to the success of these games, and veterans are usually friendly and helpful almost to a fault. For gamers willing to try something different, jumping into MUD might be just the antidote to the slow months of the waning summer season.
Andy Chalk was not shaking his fist and muttering about the kids on his lawn when he wrote this article.