In recent years, I have become quite an MMO enthusiast. MMOs are online games, most often RPGs, that feature a persistent world filled with thousands of players all exploring and conquering the game's content at once. The most effective MMOs give you great incentive to group up with your fellow adventurers to cooperate or compete for a common goal. These games often become incredibly complex as you progress, leading to a rich subculture full of it's own terminology and memes.
Many people don't realize, however, that the history of the MMORPG is rooted firmly in the world of text-based adventure games. The popularity of D&D-style text based games like Zork in the late 70s inspired university students to create an online version that they could play together, which they called a Multi-User Dungeon. More MUDs began to spring up, some which were even commercial ventures. The genre would eventually grow to include many features that modern MMO players still enjoy today, like non-player characters, quests, combat, character progression, dungeons, and raids.
A niche within this community, as it is within MMOs today, were the roleplayers who focused more on assuming the role of their characters and interacting with other characters than they did engaging in combat or quests. They began to create rich backstories and intricate scenarios to play out with their characters. This resulted in the creation of the MUSH, a fork of the MUD codebase designed to facilitate storytelling, worldbuilding, and scripting. The lisp-style scripting language that grew within these games allowed for an astounding amount of functionality to augment the roleplay.
As a teenager in the mid-nineties, I discovered telnet and the interesting array of text-based multiplayer games that were possible over the protocol. I was already quite interested in text adventures, having coded some of my own in QBasic during my middle school years. After enjoying games like Netrek for a while, I finally came across the world of VChicago, a virtual Chicago environment created in the MUSE variant of MUSH code. I learned to code within the game and had a blast creating my own space within the world!
This led me to explore further, and I finally came across the world of collaborative storytelling provided by MUSHes. I began to devote a significant amount of time each week to games like BattlestarMUSH, TrekMUSH, AetherMUSH, and the very MMO-like JediMUD. I participated in exciting roleplay events, sweeping story arcs, and hilarious interactions with other people around the world. It's a time in my life that I look back on quite fondly, and it certainly helped me build the kind of remote communication and teamwork skills that I use on a daily basis in my career.
I've thought about trying to recreate that experience for several years now, and I believe I'm ready to begin putting that plan into action. Realtime on the web is maturing, and the focus on simplicity and clarity in modern web design means that there are a wealth of tools at my disposal now to help me present a collaborative roleplay storytelling experience in a way that would be a delight to interact with. I believe that it's possible to create a rich environment for roleplaying on the web that would inspire writers to weave the kind of intricate social tapestry that MUSH players enjoyed so much in decades past.
My plan is to begin working on this in my free time, building my way up to a Kickstarter or Indiegogo campaign next year to bring the service to life. I'll be sure to keep my blog updated with stories about the technology and tools I'm using to make my ideas a reality. Let me know on Twitter if you love (or hate) my idea or if you have suggestions. Hopefully I'll see you all in character soon!