Nostalgia for the MUD

21 April 2013

In a Belgrade bar, over a dark lager, Joanne interviewed me for Nostalgia for the Net – the oral history of people’s first encounters with the Internet that she and Melissa Gira Grant maintain.

My interview is now online. In it, I talk about my first online encounters before the Internet proper – over Wireplay, BT’s dial-up gaming service that simulated IPX networking for DOS games of the mid-nineties. And, more specifically, my time in MUD2, their recreation of the Essex MUD.

It’s a story I’ve told before, but I don’t think in public, so I don’t feel bad about repeating myself. You might enjoy it.

I have fond memories of the time I spent in the MUD. Reading old transcripts, I see player names I haven’t seen for years but have vivid memories of – as vivid as you can get, when you only have text to go on. The graphics were years ahead of their time, so to speak. It was a small community, but a tight one, and very friendly. It didn’t have the feature of MOOs, but still rewarded creativity in your interactions and encounters. And there was something about it – in the Land, in the writing, in the world, in the interactions – that felt very… British. Our own little corner of the net.

A small community still exists, playing in a Land I can map almost from memory (though I’ve forgotten the route through the mines to the Dwarven realm now).

Happy memories. Nice to share them over a beer.

  • "I think games connect us to a time when we had time. In your youth, time is elastic. You have exactly as much of it as you need. You have no responsibilities. No job, no children. Nothing but time, and friends, and shit to play with. When we play games now, as adults with too much stuff going on, we do so because we’ve made time for them. We’ve set time aside to indulge in some nonsense with people we love. When you make that time, you HAVE that time. And when you have that time, it’s like being back there – back in that place, that living room, that bedroom, that house full of memories. With time to spare, and everything exactly as it was." Oh, Rab. Marvellous.
  • "So there's a cosmonaut up in space, circling the globe, convinced he will never make it back to Earth; he's on the phone with Alexei Kosygin — then a high official of the Soviet Union — who is crying because he, too, thinks the cosmonaut will die.

    The space vehicle is shoddily constructed, running dangerously low on fuel; its parachutes — though no one knows this — won't work and the cosmonaut, Vladimir Komarov, is about to, literally, crash full speed into Earth, his body turning molten on impact. As he heads to his doom, U.S. listening posts in Turkey hear him crying in rage, "cursing the people who had put him inside a botched spaceship.""

    The terrible, sad cost of the space race. Warning: contains a graphic image of human remains in an open casket. Also: is, in many ways, very upsetting. But this is history, and it must be documented.

  • Totally lovely montage of arcade-game death/loss animations. Watching this: I really forgot how beautiful Afterburner looked in the arcade.
  • "I’ve been having a lot of conversations with people recently about how they bookmark stuff. It seems to be on a lot of peoples’ minds as more and more of our reading moves onto screens. So I thought I’d share a few things, and ask for some feedback." James on bookmarking and annotation – something I'm a big fan of.
  • "For the past 20 years I’ve had this urge to make a series of games that never were – mainly to suggest lost archives now discovered; to create an emotional resonance akin to that experienced by, say, new-found Beatles demo tapes – but also the idea of recreating contemporary games and themes in an old style to suggest an alternative past and present." Lovely writing, smart ideas, nice little game, but the clarity of thought is the real stand-out here. Another example of why I love Denki so much.
  • "…The teachers, by applying the rules and practices of arithmetic to play, prepare their pupils for the tasks of marshalling and leading armies and organizing military expeditions, managing a household too, and altogether form them into persons more useful to themselves and to others, and a great deal wider awake.” Well done, Plato.
  • "What this magazine requires," he said, "is red-blooded, one-hundred-per-cent dynamic stuff, palpitating with warm human interest and containing a strong, poignant love-motive." "That," we replied, "is us all over, Mabel." "What I need at the moment, however, is a golf story." "By a singular coincidence, ours is a golf story." Lovely short Wodehouse about the coming of Gowf to a far-off land.
  • "Perhaps we should be turning up at the cinema expecting more stories about resilience, or reports from the future where the problems are what to do with limitless energy, or Japanese consciousness multipliers, rather than dustbowls and gasmask hipsters. Authors: is that nihilism really what you want to leave behind? Your silhouette a stoop, rather than a hurrah?" Jim, quite rightly, likes his "shiny retro shit".

Family Album

19 April 2009

Keratynn, 10

So: the funny thing that nobody tells you about World of Warcraft is that your "screenshots" folder becomes like a family photo album, and things that felt ephemeral or daft over time gain significance.

So: this is me, around level 10, because I’ve just got the cat. He’s quite scrawny; I’m not exactly dripping in kit, but I was really proud of My First Pet, etc. And I found this this morning…

Keratynn, 41

…as I took this picture, which is me today, wearing My First Mail Armor. The cat has grown up somewhat, and there’s a bit less manbull flesh on display. And: suddenly there’s progress; I can see what I came from, and I feel proud again (rather than like a failure for being such a slow/casual player).

Sometimes, you need to see the deltas, the comparisons, between where you were and where you are now. My screengrabs folder really is a family photo album for my avatar and my friends.

  • "In the 14 months since [TeamFortress 2] shipped, the PC version of the game has seen 63 updates – “that’s the frequency you want to be providing updates to your customers,” [Newell] adds. “You want to say, ‘We’ll get back to you every week. The degree to which you can engage your customer base in creating value for your other players” is key, says Newell. “When people say interesting or intelligent things about your product, it will translate directly into incremental revenue for the content provider.”" Great write-up from Chris Remo of Gabe Newell's DICE talk.
  • "This is a sort of thorough, empirical, sociological study of art students at two British art schools at a very interesting moment, the late 1960s (a moment when, as the book says, anti-art became the approved art, bringing all sorts of paradoxes to the fore). I find it fascinating that such a subjective thing as developing an art practice can be studied so objectively, but then I find it amazing that art can be taught at all. The book shows the tutors and students circling each other with wariness, coolness, misunderstanding, despair, appreciation." Some great anecdotes and observation.
  • "Busker Du (dial-up) is a recording service for buskers through the telephone (preferably public payphones hidden in subway stations). Audio recorded will be posted to this audio-blog and made available to all who cherish lo-fi original music. Try it out at your favorite subway station or street corner." Dial-A-Song comes full circle.
  • "Poole – HAL 9000 is a fictional chess game in the movie 2001: A Space Odyssey. In the movie, the astronaut Frank Poole is seen playing chess with the HAL 9000 supercomputer… The director Stanley Kubrick was a passionate chess player, so unlike many chess scenes shown in other films, the position and analysis actually makes sense. The actual game seems to come from Roesch – Schlage, Hamburg 1910, a tournament game between two lesser-known masters."
  • Lovely demo – some interesting interfaces that feel quicker than current alternatives, as well as experimental ones that, whilst slower and clumsier, represent information a bit better. I mainly like the form-factor, though – but what's the unit cost? These things get a lot better the more you have.
  • "Something like: Trying to create a reading list that gives the best introduction to everything. This may change." Phil is trying to collect the Good Books in many fields. It's an interesting project, for sure; it'll also be interesting to see how it pans out.
  • I was a little excited from the ongoing Offworld love in, but Oli Welsh's review suddenly makes me insanely excited about Keita Takahashi's new plaything. Why is it that all the reasons for me wanting a £300 PS3 are £3 PSN titles?
  • "…the biggest consequence [of a universal micro-USB adaptor] will be the ease of transferring data/content from street service provider to consumer, and consumer to consumer… There is a place at the edges of the internet where the level of friction makes content and data grind to a halt. It's largely unregulated. And it just got seriously lubed."
  • "30 Second Hero is an action RPG which consists of really short battles that require no interaction, as players race against the clock to save the kingdom from an evil wizard's wrath. As indicated by the title, you only have thirty seconds to level up your character sufficiently for the final battle, although additional time can be bought from the castle at the cost of a hundred gold pieces per increment of ten seconds." Hectic; the entire early JRPG genre (FF1, et al) condensed into a minute-long rush. Grinding as poetry.
  • "I was convinced that it was a spoof. As if there’d be a genre called Donk. Everything is wrong about the video. The knowing subtitles over subtle Northern Accents. The presenter’s slight grin when he’s chatting to folk. The funnily named shops. Everything. There’s no way I’m falling for a prank like that. It reminds me heavily of the episode of Brass Eye where they whang on about Cake (the made up drug). And all the characters and the interviews look like they could be setups or clever edits." But no, it's real. Iain Tait discovers Donk.
  • "…with that sad note from Sarinee Achavanuntakul, one of the most enduring (if illegal) tributes to gaming history came to an end." Home of the Underdogs is no more; just gone, like that. It wasn't that it had the best games or the worst games, or that they were illegal, or free; it was history, and childhood, and the smell of cardboard and boot disks, all wrapped up in one giant cathedral to Good Old Games. Most things I played on my old DOS machine were there. A shame; I hope they're elsewhere. This is why we need proper game archives.
  • Tweaking a game five months after launch to make it both more playable, and also more realistic; understanding that realism is key to NHL09 fans, and delivering on that as an ongoing promise.
  • "Warcraft’s success has always been substantially due to the extraordinary physicality of Azeroth, to the real sense of land transversed, of caves discovered, and of secrets shared. Players old and new bemoan the endless trudging that low-level travel requires, but it’s crucial for binding you to the world." Yes. Despite QuestHelper, I'm always in awe of the new areas. I just wish more people were playing the game as slowly and badly as me. Another beautiful One More Go, and one that resonates a lot right now.