Senior Expert in Emerging Technology
Last week I shared the story of “Colossal Cave Adventure,” the first of thousands, if not more, works of interactive fiction. I am not sure if the creators of “Colossal Cave Adventure” had the faintest idea they were creating a new genre of literature and computer software in a single creation, but they started something brand new that still lives on today.
The genre started out as works written by single authors, each location in the map of the adventure was created by a single author. I personally played/read around 100 of these works in my teen and college days. These individual works became more like reading a book than walking through an adventure as you learned the “tricks” of mastering the worlds within the computer. These computer worlds became known as dungeons, as the Dungeons and Dragons interactive board games grew in popularity. It was not long after these early games that the Internet first came online, and with it the next step in the genre blossomed.
The first Multi-User Dungeon, usually just called MUD, was written by Roy Trubshaw, a student at Essex University in England, and it ran on the DECsystem-10 computer. The MUD was the first known multi-player computer game, where multi-player meant more than two. The MUD was invented in 1978, but was only played by users of the computer system at Essex University until the university connected to ArpaNet in the spring of 1980.
I was first introduced to this exact MUD in 1990 while working the midnight shift in the West Virginia University computer center. I still remember the character I created to play in the dungeon, and if you played the game yourself in that time frame, you probably became annoyed by “Regnarts,” the strange little elf that spoke backwards. I became quite adept at typing phrases like, “regnarts si eman ym uoy teem ot ecin s’ti, olleH.” It was a fairly common practice to give your online character a unique trait, and as far as I know I was the only one that spoke backward. I knew quite a few that used Pig Latin and other common pretend languages.
The beauty of the MUD was not only the ability to interact with other characters in both conversation and battle, but to extend the map with your own creations. You might be walking down a path in the forest and reach a “room” that was not yet created. When this happened you were asked if you would like to describe the room, or go back to where you came from and take a different path. I created many rooms in MUD, including rooms with special hidden treasures. The rule was that if you created a room with treasure or a puzzle to solve, your character was not allowed to claim the prize. You can still play the original version at http://www.British-Legends.com, a web version converted by Viktor Toth into C/C++ in a thirteen-day marathon.
The latest interactive fiction game, AI Dungeon, was created in 2019 and was among the first to use artificial intelligence to generate new, open-ended content instead of being constrained to pre-written material. Needless to say, though I am fascinated by the prospect of computer generated rooms using AI to create endless Dungeons, I also feel that it takes away from the creativity of playing such games. I have never attempted playing any of the AI based works of interactive fiction, but may give it a try.
Until next week, stay safe and learn something new.
Scott Hamilton is an Expert in Emerging Technologies at ATOS and can be reached with questions and comments via email to firstname.lastname@example.org or through his website at https://www.techshepherd.org.