Heynow Software

What is a MUVE?

...or "A MUD by Any Other Name"

Author: Alex Stewart

(Reposted to Heynow's website with permission from Alex)

MUVE stands for Multi-User Virtual Environment. It is a fairly recent term in growing use in many areas to refer to a whole plethora of variants on a common theme of interactive servers on the Internet today. Many people are familiar with various forms of interactive communication available on the net. Some have used programs such as 'talk' to communicate with others over the net, many others are familiar with "chat rooms" on commercial services, or Internet Relay Chat (IRC) which allows multiple people to communicate with each other at the same time, anywhere in the world. While IRC has gotten the most amount of attention in this area for a very long time, MUVEs have served as a less well known but nonetheless plentiful and diverse method of communicating and sharing ideas for hundreds of thousands of people all over the world and across the net, providing a great deal of flexibility and creativity in expression and interaction, unobtainable with most other forms of communication.

But what actually is it? Well, for a (somewhat) brief summary of a very long story, we start by going back to the very beginnings of computer networks, actually back to the very beginnings of computers as most people know them altogether. Way way back in computer history, back when people communicated with computers using things which looked more like typewriters than terminals, a few enterprising individuals came up with something which would be the father of many thousands of software programs after it, and shape forever the way people looked at computers. It was a game. It was the first ever text adventure game. It was called, simply, "Adventure".

In the game of "Adventure", the computer took on the role of a person navigating in a fictional world with puzzles and traps, and treasures and tools. The player of the game would type in instructions about what the computer was to do with objects in the game, and the computer would tell the user what happened, give descriptions of what things looked like, and so forth. Though the vocabulary was rather limited, the user communicated with the computer using basic english commands ("get torch", for example), and the computer would respond with english sentences and descriptions. It was a novel approach to interacting with a computer, and for many, a fascinating one, so much so that to date even the newest games and other computer systems still use aspects of it in their everyday operation, and it is still possible to find versions of the original Adventure game (not to mention the countless derivatives developed since) available for nearly every form of computer ever in existence.

Well, needless to say that shortly after computers started getting big enough and powerful enough to support a bunch of people on the same computer at the same time, before people had even really started to think of actual communication using computers, let alone email, or networks, or chat programs, someone, as someone always was, was thinking about Adventure, and more importantly, was thinking how really neat it would be if a bunch of people could play the same Adventure game at the same time. So, as someone always did in those days, they decided to make it happen, and, well, it did. The first attempts were rather clumsy, as computers were never designed with this type of thing in mind, many of the "techniques" used to achieve this were very messy indeed, but they did work, and as time progressed, and computers got more sophisticated, things worked a lot better, and soon what they ended up with, while not quite Adventure anymore, was certainly something. From the simple beginnings of Adventure, adding many more aspects from role playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons, with the ability for multiple people to be in the same game and work with each other (or against each other) in a shared, completely fictional environment, it was something somehow more than just a game anymore -- The first Multi-User Dungeons had been born.

At about this point, the first large-scale computer networks were being developed, and along with nearly everything else in this area, the development of MUDs exploded as a result. Before long, people on completely different college campuses were all hacking at monsters, discovering treasures, having a great deal of fun, and moreover, actually talking to one another in these worlds inside the computers.

The Internet grew larger, and the world grew smaller. Many battles were fought in the virtual "dungeons" (and many social-lives were lost). Many people made many advances in the way MUDs worked, and the way they could be used. There was born the DikuMUD, the TinyMUD, the LPMUD, MUSEs, MUSHes, MUCKs, MOOs, and many others. The worlds became more elaborate, and it became possible to program sophisticated actions, and reactions, and commands, and entire system designs, all from within the virtual worlds themselves, changing the reality itself as one was inside it.

Of course, not everyone was terribly happy about this. These were, after all, only games. They were huge, addictive, frivolous games which used up more and more computer resources which should've been being used for "real" work, or so many people saw them. Many system administrators (understandably) frowned on the use of MUDs. Some actively prohibited their use. In many circles, "MUD" became a four-letter word.

But there were other people who were beginning to see something else in MUDs. These weren't really merely game programs anymore, many had evolved into sophisticated and flexible environments, full of objects and rooms and people who could be anything anyone wanted them to be, could interact however someone programmed them to act. The only thing which made a MUD a game was how the scenery was described, scenery which could just as easily be a social environment, or a research laboratory, or a classroom. And, as time went on, some of the scenery changed...

Today, MUD-type systems are used for social communities, scientific forums, educational environments, process control systems, business conferencing systems, and nearly anything else people have come up with. Many MUD servers have been adapted to work with graphical web interfaces, and even 3D VR perspectives. Artificially intelligent "bots", both from outside and programmed directly into MUDs interact with users and with the environments, while users can build and shape their environments, and most importantly, share information, ideas, resources, and communities online, from thousands or millions of miles away.

But still, after many years of "Multi-User Dungeons", many people still see MUDs as nothing more than games, frivolous, trivial, not something that should be supported or allowed. Some people still won't even consider allowing access to anything called a "MUD" from their system, and many others are denied many of the great resources now available as a result. Some people are working to remedy this problem (some people have been working for a long time). Ask many people nowadays what "MUD" means and they'll tell you "Multi-User Dimension", or "Multi-User Domain", but in the end, it usually comes back to "just a MUD". Just a game.

For this reason, a growing number of people have stopped calling them MUDs altogether, in favor of other acronyms with less of a stigma attached. Many people call them "MOOs", mainly because the MOO server is a variety of MUD server which is used more than most others for the more "respectable" applications. This has a tendency to exclude some other types of systems which are equally valid, however. In an attempt to avoid this, an entirely new name is gaining acceptance, to include all manner of MUD-like systems without stigmas or prejudices, and suggest some of the true versatility and power these "Multi-User Virtual Environments" have come to provide.

And this is the story of the MUVEs, and how they came to be, a powerful and flexible family of systems with a long history of being at the forefront of evolving computer technologies and human desires. A continuing history, full of even greater promise for the road ahead.