« YouTube Social VWs Tour | Main | Habbo Spending Cap »

Aug 28, 2008



I'm not sure what the point of the first half of this article was. And what percentage of your readers do you think learned something from such a long discussion of a very basic aspect of most MMORPGs?

I gripe because the second part was a good look at a fresh new twist, and one that not a lot of readers have experienced before. I wish you'd spent more time on the topic and skipped the fluffy first part.

One minor note. Repeating Public Quests (without leaving the area) builds a temporary bonus to your roll for loot. So persistence is rewarded, as well as contribution (the bonus dissipates if you log off or leave the area). Also the Influence Factor, which you didn't touch on, helps keep players moving along after they've won some loot and maxed out their Influence for that area.

For those who haven't played, participating in Public Quests earns you Influence which can also be turned in for some pretty nice rewards. But you don't actually "spend" Influence. Once you fill up the Influence "Meter" for a given Public Quest, and get your rewards, you can never get those rewards again, so for the purpose of Influence there is no real reason to repeat a PQ more than 3 or 4 times (the number of times it takes to max influence, at least at the low levels I tested at).


Right, influence is also an important incentive for participation, though I think it's a more familiar one--it more or less follows the template visible in World of Warcraft's battlegrounds, for example (earn honor, convert honor into gear).

I do think it's important to constantly examine the underlying mechanics to ask whether they produce interesting play or interesting sociality or something that makes a virtual world distinctive. Mythic seems to me to have thought a lot about what kinds of grouping they want to see, and what works, and how a particular game mechanic helps with that. Funcom in a lot of Age of Conan seems to me to have just said, "A game like this has to have these kinds of drops, so let's have these kinds of drops". It's as important to note the strange and noxious effects that familiar mechanics can have as to note beneficial effects that novel or innovative mechanics can have, to step back from what we think we know and what we tend to take for granted about these worlds.


Thanks for the reply, and OK, I can see your point re: AoC and drops. I just don't know that you needed all the explanation, but then I also don't know your intended audience, so maybe I should just hush. :)

My point about Influence and how it differs from my understanding of WoW's Battlegrounds is that you can only get 1 reward/category/area based on Influence, no matter how much time you spend 'farming' the PQ. Without the game running in front of me I can't recall if there are 3 or 4 categories/area. The first category of prizes seems to always be a consumable (potions or something) and the highest offers a pretty decent piece of gear for 'appropriate level' characters.

Essentially you have a non-repeatable quest to fill up your Infuence meter in order to win a quest reward. And now that I look at it that way, it doesn't really seem all that unique. :)

Any plans for a post about Open Grouping? I'm finding Warhammer to be a polarizing topic between people who see it as a failure for being "more of the same" and people who think that it brings some really nice 'evolutionary' improvements to the Diku-based MMORPG genre.


Can someone point me to a definitive list of "Diku" game features? This phrase gets tossed around so much but never defined except in the vaguest of terms.


Well, you could actually just download the DIKU codebase and look, at a place like this: http://www.mudmagic.com/codes/download/diku

DIKU is just a game-in-a-box. You can build pretty much whatever type of text MUD you wish with DIKU, but most developers don't stray all that far from the game-in-a-box that is the stock DIKU code.

It really boils down to kill a monster to get loot to kill a bigger monster to get loot to kill a bigger monster, etc etc.

Interesting note though: None of the most popular text MUDs are DIKUs, though one of them used to be a DIKU (Aardwolf).



Matt --

What are the most popular MUDs? And how does one figure that out (other by asking people what they like?) Is there a MUD Nielsen Ratings?

I really am curious -- I don't a good handle on the current popularity of text MUDs (social & RP & game) vs. what used to be the case 10 years ago.

(Sorry if this is a minor derail -- I do like Tim's OP.)


Matt --

What are the most popular MUDs? And how does one figure that out (other by asking people what they like?) Is there a MUD Nielsen Ratings?

I really am curious -- I don't a good handle on the current popularity of text MUDs (social & RP & game) vs. what used to be the case 10 years ago.

(Sorry if this is a minor derail -- I do like Tim's OP.)

Whoops -- should have used the Google:

Never mind...


Come on Matt, all you've done is toss out yet another vague definition of what "diku" is.

Wouldn't it be far, far, FAR more clear to choose WoW for example as the "standard"? A lot of people know what WoW is, but they don't know what Diku is. It's like throwing out big words with lots of syllables to seem smart. It's like talking about 5 1/4" disks. It's meaningless. It's something that makes us nod our heads while really we don't know what it exactly means.

Isn't it a bit like using horses as a transportation standard in an age of hybrid cars?


OK maybe better analogy. Isn't it a lot like sitting around talking about Gopher, and discussing whether a website is just gopher-like in structure?

By the way... Just to be a smart ass :^)... Gopher was characterized by a hierarchical menu based interface to the internet, and was designed for a text-only interface. It was effective when the amount of content available was limited and did not make extensive use of hyperlinks. Being text only it also did not use any graphical displays.

Gopher is very similar in some ways to using text-only internet cellphone systems, which I would categorize as "gopher based" systems


By that standard, if I want to talk about George Bush's foreign policy, the only precedent you'd recommend I refer to is Bill Clinton's second term.

History matters, and this is why I use the analogy to genetics. Your genes don't just draw from your parents, but from your evolution as an organism. If I want to talk about human bipedalism, maybe I can focus just on human evolution. If I want to talk about the human immune system, on the other hand, it's built on much deeper evolutionary precedents that give it some of its characteristic strengths and points of weakness.

World of Warcraft very much drew upon Everquest, Ultima Online and Asheron's Call, which in turn drew upon Meridian 59 and the original Neverwinter Nights, which in turn drew upon text-based MUDs, some of which were built on the Diku model. I think Matt underplays the number of MUDs which once *were* built on Diku, but it's right to say that Diku was only one of a number of "game-in-a-box" models. For some features and game mechanics of contemporary virtual worlds, precedent doesn't matter altogether that much. For some it matters a lot, and I'm especially interested in those cases where I think there is some automatic or unreflective passing along of previous features, structures and game mechanics.


Yes, but what's the definition of diku?

It's code yes, but this obviously isn't the context people are using. I've heard it described as "hack and slash" but hell, even "hack and slash" has a Wikipedia entry.

Not that Wikipedia is the measure, but how about if someone takes a stab at adding a definition of "diku" as a game type to Wikipedia's page on it? Right now it's about history (code base), "Everquest controversy", DikuMUD license and external references.

Or is "diku" one of those "I know it when I see it" things?


There's two possible ways to answer that. The first is more technical, to say that a DIKUMud is a MUD that uses the DIKU source code. I know that sounds tautological, but basically that's it: there's a source code and some MUDs used it (and added to it or changed it in various ways). In this sense, no commercial 3d world is actually a DIKUMud, because they're not using the source code. (The Wikipedia entry on DIKU references a discussion from a while back about whether Everquest actually had DIKU code in it or not; the answer is 'not').

The way I'm using DIKU here is as a description of a genre. If I say about a novel that it is science fiction, and you ask me for a definition, I'm going to struggle a bit. It's not quite going to be a "know it when you see it" thing, but on the other hand, you can have endless arguments about the boundaries and parameters of a definition of a genre of fiction. That's because a genre is really defined by usage and by history: a book is first science fiction because it is labeled, marketed, conceived of as such, and because its author and publisher and audience see it in relationship to a historically defined collection of other books that have some similar features.

So think of Diku as a genre of MMOGs or virtual worlds. Just as with science fiction, we could debate a bit about what separates a Diku-derived game from other derivations. As Matt suggests, maybe the core game mechanic identified with Diku is "kill a monster, gain experience (and often but not invariably loot & items), level up, kill more difficult monsters, repeat." And you can see some of the debates that can follow on that. Someone could get persnickety and say, "Well, that's not Diku, that's Dungeons & Dragons, it precedes computer games altogether". Ok, sure, but we're talking about computer games, so what we mean is the way that idea (experience, level up, etc.) was turned into code. We could debate just how much other common features of Diku-style games (classes, races, quests, scripted boss encounters, etc.) are really derived from the genre's roots. Certainly there are features which are now common to what the genre has become that weren't there early on: markers above the head of quest-givers, for example. Genre definition is always a contentious business, and yet, I think most people would agree there is a thing called "science fiction" (or speculative fiction or SF and fantasy or whatever label you prefer). Similarly, most people would agree that there's a "Diku style"--the Everquest developers agreed at one point that EQ followed that style, for example.

Someone could get persnickety and say, "Well, that's not Diku, that's Dungeons & Dragons, it precedes computer games altogether".

That was my though when I read your article. Some of these game mechanics came from pencil and paper RPG's. Still, it's a valid question to ask whether these venerable rules still make sense when transplanted to new games. ("Of course wizards can't wear armour. The metal interfers with the thaumatalurgic fields used in the casting of the spell. Or something like that.")


You know, on drops, maybe this is really a better way to put it succinctly.


Greglas wrote:

What are the most popular MUDs? And how does one figure that out (other by asking people what they like?) Is there a MUD Nielsen Ratings?

There are no meaningful ratings, no. I just know because I'm pretty heavily involved in the space.

Most popular I believe, in no particular order, are Aardwolf (former DIKU), Achaea (custom), Gemstone (custom), Batmud (LP), Dragonrealms (custom). It's worth noting that all of these games were launched over 10 years ago (Gemstone was launched in 1987 and is the longest continuously-operating MUD/MMO/virtual world.

Tim wrote:

Or is "diku" one of those "I know it when I see it" things?

As Tim Burke pointed out, it depends on the context. If you were in a text MUD discussion and referred to a DIKU, people would assume that you are specifically referring to the DIKU codebase (or one of its derivatives like Merc or Circle). In the context of all types of MUDs/MMOs, DIKU is usually used to refer to the style of gameplay exemplified by games like Everquest or WoW.


Is there any kind of "Family Tree of MUD/MMO/Role Playing Games" around? Something like those "Family Tree of Rock & Roll" diagrams ones sees around?


Sounds like a good idea. But part of the problem is that when it comes to contemporary virtual worlds, to some extent what has happened is almost like a great extinction: there were more models and code bases with early MUDs than there are now: most of what we see divides sharply into social worlds that draw significantly from MUSHs and MOOs (Second Life) and gameworlds that draw from DIKUs.


Again, I think this is a great topic.

I wonder to what extent drops & quests are kind of like the QUERTY keyboard at this point -- path dependent phenomenon, in the sense that the early design of Diku-MUD was a self-reinforcing mode of play. As budgets for major MMOGs swell to millions of dollars, publishers are risk averse to trying anything outside the box? Kind of like PC makers don't try to improve on the QUERTY keyboard? The complaints about a lack of drops in CoH points in that direction.

If the only way to evolve the form is to improve it at the margins, that seems unfortunate to me.

Maybe that is what Lum is saying here?


If you're going to start throwing comparisons to Diku-MUDs around, please go and contribute to wikipedia in so far as defining what Diku gameplay is.

The page is here and it sucks, and there's an ever decreasing proportion of people who remember it, to make the statement meaningful.


[ahem -- QWERTY, not QUERTY]


Yes, Greg, I think that is exactly what Tim B is pointing at -- how rife with unintended consequences the history of technology and social phenomena is. "Path dependent" is another way to say contingent, after all (as is "shit happens," for that matter). We're constantly at risk of forgetting it because we tend to attribute too much to either intentional human agency or imagined law-like natural processes.


Please check out http://www.mume.org, its been out there for almost 18 year now, it's a legend among muds. However its not a pure DIKU mud but has been adapted, settings Tolkien, the Third Age.


Tim>Nevertheless, I was really struck by the public quest system

Just to refresh my old curmudgeon status, I feel compelled to mention that forms of "public quest" have been available for at least a couple of decades in non-Diku text MUDs (and for all I know, in some modified Dikus, too). My own MUD2, for example, has an event called a mobile bash, the aim of which is for the players to kill all the mobs in the game world within a single reset (ie. a fixed time period). The main problem with such co-operative quests lie in fairly rewarding participation. They're a heck of a lot of fun, though!

A potential issue I can see with having public quests in a modern MMO is the usual one involving people who play outside the "bulge" that comes when a server first opens. If you start 6 months behind everyone else, you're going to have fewer people in areas when a public quest starts, which may compromise players' ability to complete them. In other words, these things are great fun when there are lots of people running around joining in, but frustrating when there are too few people to complete them. I don't know whether WAR has a system to deal with this, or whether people will be calling on higher-level guildies to help them finish things off.

I agree that putting public quests into a DikuMUD format, which has no tradition of them, is a good idea, though.



Yeah, it strikes me as adding a nice social mechanic to a somewhat asocial form. Perhaps a bit of what was intended with the dancer/musician healing in Star Wars: Galaxies, but in this case, a much less "forced" kind of sociality.

I think the first Tier I public quests near the starting areas will never lack for enough people to finish them as there will be a steady flow of people with alt characters. The later Tier I quests, at least so far in Beta, have been much more hit or miss, especially the ones further away from active quest hubs. But I did notice an interesting aspect of this that's a smart way to encourage public quests to spontaneously start up. When you enter a public quest area, you get a big informational notice that tells you about the current progress of the public quest in that area, tracking how many kills or goals have been accomplished in that stage. You might have other quests in that area. As you carry out your regular, private quests, you might notice suddenly that someone is slowly racking up kills that are advancing the first, easy stage. Many public quest areas are big enough that you might not actually be able to see who is doing it. So maybe you try a few kills yourself, and then you suddenly see that the rate of completion accelerates even more, as more and more people in the quest area start to participate. The second stage in the quest typically concentrates the questers, so now maybe everyone comes together, and you find you have enough. This is kind of low-level emergent gameplay: individuals doing something in response to generalized information, coming together in coordination relatively spontaneously, without a commanding or leading agent.


>> Tim wrote:
>> Isn't it a bit like using horses as a transportation
>> standard in an age of hybrid cars?

You mean kinda like horsepower?

DIKU (and to a lesser extend LPMud) is the standard for the loot-monster-loot circle because it can readily be credited with popularizing and advancing that style of gameplay. WoW being newer and more popular doesn't change that.

As many others have noted, DIKU can be a general genre of games or a specific code tree of games depending on the context and community in which you are discussing it. I think the analogy to "science fiction" was quite apt.


This has been an intriguing thread. If one were interested in taking fifteen (responsible) college students into a DIKU-style MUD for a few hours of thoughtful exploration, what would be a good, free MUD to start with?


Aaron: Go try Aardwolf (www.aardwolf.com). It's the most popular of the DIKU-type text MUDs. Although it no longer uses the DIKU codebase, it's very much a DIKU in the more generic sense (and until recently was a DIKU in the technical sense).



Thanks for the advice, Matt!


Timothy, your derivation tree isn't really accurate -- EQ, UO, AC, and M59 were developed simultaneously though they shipped at different times -- there was some cross-pollination, but not direct inspiration. UO at least was not influenced by NWN.

And yes, there is a mud family tree already -- Martin Keegan did one http://journal.pennmush.org/v2n2/keegan.html
, Lorry did another http://lorry.org/arch-wizard/mudbase.txt, and there's even one on Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD_trees


Raph posts : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/MUD_trees

Nice. Now it would be cool to see the same thing for MMOs - er I mean dikus that aren't the diku code base or MUDs really, but are dikus but... Oh never mind.

Of course http://www.massively.com/2008/09/04/massively-interview-multiverse-explains-the-buffy-mmo-firefly/>here's someone that thinks that a game being 2D instead of 3D means it's not potentially a diku. Last question, first page.


Thanks to you

Matt Mihaly says:

Well, you could actually just download the DIKU codebase and look, at a place like this: http://www.mudmagic.com/codes/download/diku

I did download and spend some time going through the code of several MUDs, including Diku Alpha and Gamma, Silly and Dale (a Silly variant). I also installed and have been spending quite a bit of time running CoffeeMUD (Java based) on my linux box.

What I've found interesting is not only what is NOT in Diku that is so common in modern day MMOs but also what IS in Diku that modern MMOs don't have. But in general, DIKU is so very clearly based on Dungeons & Dragons, down to reference to THAC0, savings rolls and d6.

So below I made a list of features in the Diku code (gamma). Bear with me on this list, and if I'm wrong about something here let me know. Some determinations I made with copious use of "grep".

Diku Gamma has no questing. There is no mechanism for "NPC X asks you to do Y and you will get Z for a reward" at all. It's purely hack and slash.

There is no crafting or ability to make new items. The closest Diku comes to crafting is to allow enchanting of weapons. This also means that there are no drops that are just "stuff" designed to be used for crafting.

Abilities are limited to your basic strength, dexterity, intelligence, wisdom and constitution.

There are no races (for players) in Diku. You are simply "humanoid".

Magic User, Cleric, Theif, Warrior. Nice and simple with no endless variations on a theme or multiclass.

Hitpoints and Mana
Your basic two part system for how much damage you can take and how many spells you can cast.

No Ranged Weapons
Diku has no ranged weapons.

Experience Points and Levels
Straight out of Dungeons and Dragons, Diku is built on the concept of experience points gained from killing monsters. Gaining sufficient experience points allows you to level up. Note that you CAN get experience points for killing other players, as can you for just damaging a monster. Also, there is no experience point for gaining gold.

Allows a player to compare their own abilites with a monster, and get a general sense of how well they are matched for combat.

Diku allows players to form groups. Grouped players share experience points, but only if the players are in the same location at the time of the monster's death.

Diku has tons of typical emotes we've all come to love or hate.

Say, Tell, Whisper and Shout
Your typical player to player communication methods we all are used to.

An interesting Fighter-only ability that essentially can pull a monster off someone else. "Rescue" another player in a fight and their opponent will attack you instead.

Diku has shops - places you can buy and sell things. Note that not all shopkeepers will buy everything - some only buy certain types of things.

Bug, Typo and Idea Reporting
These three commands allow players to report a bug, typo or idea while in-game. Server owners can view a list of reports submitted by players.

Semi Persistence, Saving, Loading and Inns
(I think I have this part right). If you quit the game without saving first, you will lose all your carried gear. However you may visit inns and pay money to have the inn store your equipment while you are logged out. As long as you have enough gold to pay the rent, your equipment is saved. If you run out of gold, you lose your equipment. In other words, the Diku world is not fully persistent

Reading and Writing
A unique Diku concept that I personally haven't seen in the relatively small number of MMOs I've played before. Essentially, if you can get a piece of paper and a pen, you can write anything you want on the paper. Other players can Read what you've written.

Player State
Diku distinguishes between sleeping, waking, resting, sitting and standing. Some envents can knock you down (to sitting) requiring you to stand up.

Lets the player follow an NPC or other player.

Allows the player to flee a fight if there is an exit available.

Guilds and Guild Houses
Guilds in Diku are not at all like the Guild concept in MMOs. Instead, guilds are oriented around classes. Magic Users can go to the Magic Users guild to hang out, learn and practice for example.

An interesting Diku feature. Practice will allow you to improve some skills, however you must perform it at your Guild House. Practice is required to acquire new skills after leveling up.

Scavenger Behavior
Diku monsters with Scavenger behavior will pick up stuff lying on the ground.

Wimpy Behavior
Diku monsters with Wimpy behavior will flee if they get weak. Wimpy and Agressive monsters only attack sleeping players.

Diku has the concept of Good - Neutral - Evil alignment as in Dungeons and Dragons. This isn't really something you see much in MMOs execpt in a more complex Faction type system.

Changing Weather
Weather changes over time in a Diku world. If it's raining Magic Users can actually call lightning.

Day and Night Cycles
The sun rises and sets in Diku muds. Note that Diku also has the concept of accelerated time. By default, one Diku Hour is 75 seconds of real time.

Diku muds have darkness. REAL darkness. When the sun sets and you have no light source, it's dark - and you can't see a thing unless you are in a lit room or have a torch or other light source. Being stuck in the dark without a light source is a BIG pain, and there's not much to do but wait out the night. Wurm Online is an example of an MMO that does this, though not very many really put the player fully in the dark.

Hunger and Thirst
You get hungry and thirsty in Diku, and if you don't eat or drink something you will have problems. Wurm Online is again one of the few MMOs to actually force the player to eat and drink.

Diku players can get drunk if they drink enough booze.

Players as Gods
Diku and other Muds allow players to essentially become "gods" if they rise up high enough in power. This gives them powers to move, modify and otherwise override objects. They in a sense become super users or GMs only by rising to sufficient level.

By the way, a good download site is http://www.mudbytes.net/index.php?a=files - it has a large number of MUD sources. The world of download links to MUD sources is riddled with 404 not founds and vanished sites.


Part 2 of Diku evaluation

There are some truly interesting things in Diku that I think have been lost as the Diku concept (I'm warming up to that term) was applied to the development of MMOs. Here are a few...

Players as Gods
With the commercialization of the MUD concept into MMOs, players have lost the ability to be gods and have unique "super user like" powers. Commercial games of course can't be having non-employees potentially griefing other players, nor can commercial companies be allowing players to modify the game world.

MUDs were (basically) Free
Because the source code for MUDs was so easily acquired, there were many free to play MUDs available. Of course with commercialization of MMOs, the free part went away.

MUDs Were Small and Don't Scale
Because MUDs were most common back in the days when internet access was rare, the number of people playing them was small. That meant MUD server managers didn't need to worry much about load balancing, player count and so forth. They didn't have to worry about quest and gameplay designs falling apart because too many people were playing.

In fact, MUD gameplay sort of falls apart in some ways when there are too many players - mainly due to the amount of text scrolling by. Imagine 20 people in the same room doing different things. The volume of text scrolling by would be overwhelming and make basic play very difficult.

Normal People Running Worlds
MUDs were things that people could run themselves, assuming they had some knowledge of compiling and running applications on shared machines. Since MUD sources were available, there was a lot of evolution, cross breeding and growth in MUDs. But with the shift to commercial worlds, the source code and the idea of evolution of the game ended.

Normal People Building and Modifying Worlds
Though not a Diku thing, some later MUDs allow players to modify the world by adding new rooms and exits, setting descriptions and activities. Wizards (high level players) had the ability to create large and extensive new areas for play, whereas lower level players could create simpler new constructs.

Because most of what defined a construct is the text, the diversity and potential for player creations was HUGE in MUDs. If you could write good descriptive and evocative text, you could create fantastic things. Commercialization of MMOs took that creative potential away from the masses for various reasons. Modding is one thing that puts creation back in the hands of the players, but basically modding is not a concept that can be applied to MMOs.


Part 3 of Diku evaluation

OK last post I swear! Ah for an edit command...

Mining and Resource Gathering
Diku has no mining or other resource gathering features. The only way to gather "loot" is by killing monsters or finding things on the ground. As there is no crafting, the only use of "loot" is to gain new gear that can be used, or things that can be sold for gold.

Hidden Commands
An interesting concept that's unique to text and command line based games such as MUDs is that players can't necessarily see all commands or options available. Because they have to type in every command, the potential is for there to be hidden or obscure commands that players must learn via word of mouth or experimentation. Modern graphical MMOs on the other hand essentially give the player everything. There are few if any hidden commands.

Of course the disadvantage of MUDs (or advantage some might say) is that you can view the source and determine all commands available.



Very interesting, Tim. What's intriguing as I consider the list is that some of the features were in early commercial MMOs and have since dropped out. For example, in Asheron's Call, you could write short books and leave them for other players to read. I can guess why no one's done it since: porn, intellectual property violations, etc. But you're right that the most important thing that's dropped out that was basic to many MUDs is a greater capacity for players to be authors of the environment, and a more permeable distinction between players and wizards as well.


To cross post from Nerfbat...

Diku Haiku...

Though not a clear term
But often used to compare
The diku abides


Tim wrote:

With the commercialization of the MUD concept into MMOs, players have lost the ability to be gods and have unique "super user like" powers. Commercial games of course can't be having non-employees potentially griefing other players, nor can commercial companies be allowing players to modify the game world.

That's not actually true. For instance, one of my my companies - Iron Realms - is most certainly commercial and has non-employees becoming and playing Gods.

It's not about commercial or not - it's about scale and trust. You can't effectively do this to the same degree in most MMOs because the scale is so much larger than in text MUDs and you lose any reasonable possibility of trusting the volunteers enough to give them that kind of power. In our case, many of our volunteers and employees take yearly vacations together, have become friends, and so on. It's a small enough community where that's possible.



What I find remarkable is how similar pre-mud multiplayer dungeon games (eg PLATO's Avatar) are, even without direct influence. It goes to show just how much is in fact directly lifted from the shared source material, ie D&D, rather then having been innovative in any measurable way.

The comments to this entry are closed.