Staffer? I hardly knew her!

So, there’s been this sort of under-argument taking place on a few forums and elsewhere, about whether or not staffers should play characters. Those that argue for staffers playing characters say that any staff without a character has no idea how the game is actually going player-side, that they’re too omnipresent to see the plights of the little man – they, to use a phrase from my upbringing, can’t see the trees for the forest. Meanwhile, those on the other end of the argument say that staffers get too involved with their characters, and are more apt to cheat in one of a hundred ways.

I can see the argument from both perspectives, really. I’ve been playing MUDs, RPIs in particular, for over ten years now (eleven this June). I have seen staff who have built their 0RPP characters up to godhood. I’ve seen staff without characters with their heads so far up their own asses that I wondered if they even knew what game they were playing. I’ve similarly seen staff that favor the arguments – ones with characters that used them to get a firmer knowledge of how the numbers worked so they could tweak things, and others without characters that were totally non-corrupt and had a good handling on the numbers. (If that was confusing, it’s because it totally got away from me. But bear with me here.)

Anyway, a thought occurred to me: what if you had a player, or a couple of players, or by God even a group of players, that knew what all the numbers were and how the code worked, but had no staff powers? They couldn’t see anything staff did, or have any other out-of-character knowledge, they would just be players that the staff gave numbers to, who would effectively serve as balancers. So, say for example staff released two new weapons, five new pieces of armor, and three mobs. The staff would give these few players all the numbers (oh, those weapons do 2d5 damage, the armor is 5 AC, and the mobs have 80HP, 3AC, and do 3d6 damage) and the players would then, after actually playing the game, be able to report how the numbers felt while doing so (example: the swords feel a little weak, and in PvP no one can damage the armor, while the mobs rip the heads clean off of everyone. Up the damage on swords, lower the AC on armor, nerf some stats on the mobs).

But Krelm! Some of you might be saying. Wouldn’t the players who knew all the numbers have the upper hand!?

Not really. I helped build Atonement ALPHA and BETA from pretty much the ground up. Parallel used a bunch of the mobs and items I built (from what I saw), and I built a good chunk of the newest incarnation of SoI. I saw every single number that Atonement had to throw at you, and most of SoI’s. I could see the sdesc of a sword and tell you instantly that it was the best or worst or most average sword in the game. Does that mean I had the sword? No. I could see a mob and tell you exactly how much of your shit it was going to wreck. Did that give me an intrinsic knowledge of defeating said mob? Nope. Am I just unintelligent? Maybe.

But Krelm! You say again. Couldn’t a corrupt staffer just lie and make some cool crap for his best friend and report numbers falsely!?

Well, yeah, but there are already a bunch of handy new tools in the FutureMUD engine for catching stuff like that (for instance, if you’re below a certain “staffer level,” you essentially make a draft of objects and then submit them for higher-level staffers to approve to be put IG. If I’m remembering that right.). As far as staff just lying, well, you’ll just have to trust them.

As for how this fits into LabMUD – I likely won’t be staffing, but I’ll definitely make a character. I’ll likely see a bunch of numbers between here and then, too. And, I’ll likely use that knowledge of numbers to help Wolfsong and Japheth tweak the combat system and balance out bugs and whatnot. And it’d probably be a whole lot easier if there were  a couple more people who could do stuff like that. (Of course, there’s also the possibility that Japheth is coding something wicked-cool that will auto-balance all combat in FutureMUD forever, and there won’t ever be any numbers and this post will be moot, but if it isn’t!)

That said, that’s likely the position I’ll take when LabMUD opens. Just a player who knows a lot of crap about stuff and can use that to help staff tweak things. Is my proposal a good idea? I think it is. Everyone else will just have to take it up on the forums.

You’ve been a great audience, folks.

Staff Promise

In a previous post, I mentioned that I would be talking about our Staff Promise to you. Basically, the Staff Promise is a high level statement of our conduct as staff and the minimum standards that we set for ourselves. In many respects, it is the foundational statement for the MUD.

Below is the text of the Staff Promise (which can also be found here):

  • We promise that the game will be freely available to all, insofar as reasonably possible. We will never charge to access to the game, pay for perks, or ask for donations. It is our privilege to make LabMUD available to you and you do not owe us anything for participating.

  • We promise that we will not discriminate as to who may access the game, participate in the forums or contribute to the community, except in cases of gross misconduct such as harassment, threats, or extremely disruptive behaviour. If we must remove somebody’s access for any reason, we will ensure that it is fair, even-handed, transparent and in line with community eexpectations

  • We promise that we will make a reasonable effort to remove barriers to participation for individuals. For example, we will make a reasonable effort to consider the needs of vision impaired players using a screen reader. While we will use an application review process, we will also ensure that our focus in reviewing the applications is to correct errors and get the person into the game rather than forcing them to reapply.

  • We promise that we will maintain an immersive and internally consistent environment for play. While some suspension of disbelief will always be necessary for the introduction of new engine features or the discovery of bugs, we will make every effort to downplay the impact of these and maintain a serious roleplaying environment.

  • We promise that as far as is humanly possible, we will show no bias towards players despite their status, history or attitude. We will actively endeavour to spread our time evenly amongst all the playerbase, and we shall not make exceptions to the rules or create admin-initiated plots that directly benefit or harm individuals.

  • We promise that we will not play characters in LabMUD. You never have to worry about another PC being a staff PC because there are none.

  • We promise that we will accept criticism of the engine, the setting, the rules, our words or our actions with an open mind and a fair approach. You will not be punished for speaking your mind.

  • We promise that if you can do it in code, you are allowed to do it. As long as their is in-character justification for your actions, you should be able to use your character’s coded capabilities without fear of being labeled a “twink” or “cheater”.

Why LabMUD?

Hello everyone,

As you may have guessed from the title, today’s post is about why we are making LabMUD. We’ve already established that LabMUD is a “flagship” for the FutureMUD engine, but what does that really mean? I am sure that there are many questions as to how the MUD will be run and what you can expect as a player, and I will try to answer them here.

The story starts with FutureMUD, the engine that LabMUD runs on. I am the primary developer of FutureMUD, and that remains my main role. I won’t dwell too long on FutureMUD here, but in essence I have reached a point in the development of the engine where I need some hardcore real world testing – not just to find bugs, but to actually test the look, feel and balance of the engine itself. There is a limit to how much of this testing I as a developer can do, and I also know the engine intimately – so things that seem obvious and easy to me may not necessarily be so to someone else. So, I realised that I needed at least someone running an real live FutureMUD server to provide me with this feedback.

Once people start using the engine, they will have feedback – bugs found, issues raised, changes requested. That will drive development for a while, and that’s all good stuff! If that was the extent of it, I’d be looking at releasing a general Alpha right now. What has actually emerged though is that this is a new engine – and that means nobody is familiar with it. On the player side, it is very similar to existing Diku-style MUDs, and few RPI players should have any difficulty figuring out what to do, even intuitively. Unfortunately for admins, that is not the case from the admin side – it is very, very different. Additionally, I have not really documented a lot of this stuff and even I forget it half the time (and have to go looking in the code). Up to this point, I also wasn’t 100% sure what was absolutely necessary for the MUD to run – the bare minimum world file I could ship for instance.

As such, I figured it would be easier to have a Flagship MUD for the first few months. This would be like a limited sandbox for the engine – I could get the feedback and testing I needed without being TOTALLY overwhelmed by supporting a dozen people setting up a MUD in a brand new engine from scratch. It would also buy me some time to write documentation, and also to polish the admin/builder experience before the community got its hands on it. So, I started thinking about who should make the flagship – certainly I didn’t want to do it myself, because I couldn’t commit the kind of time and energy that the MUD needs without sacrificing development of the engine. Long ago when I first started thinking about this my idea was either to have Kithrater build something or Methuselah (probably the longest-serving and most active follower of the FutureMUD project). Kithrater however isn’t interested in MUDs anymore and Methuselah is now fully committed to SOI. SOI itself was also a candidate, and while I would one day love to see FutureMUD edge out the RPI Engine even for existing MUDs, it is most definitely not there yet.

So I asked Wolfsong (my wife) whether she would be willing to make a MUD. She had some conditions of the readiness of the engine, but we eventually got there and so it came time to select which MUD to make. Both Wolfsong and I have several MUD ideas for MUDs that may eventually get made. We mulled over making a few of them, but what we realised was that they weren’t good matches for this kind of project. I really didn’t want the pressure of the flagship being someone’s “dream”. If things didn’t go perfectly, if core systems weren’t in place, if there were bugs and instability…I might ruin someone’s shot (or even my own shot) at making that MUD they’ve always dreamed of.

We realised that the flagship MUD had to be nobody’s dream MUD. It should be a MUD that is easy to make, easy to document, easy for players to get into, and easy for everyone to shrug off or let go if it becomes necessary. It still would need to be gripping and engaging, but it didn’t need to be our Magnum Opus of world building and setting, a MUD that would stand the test of time. It just needed to be a place where players could go and explore the engine and tell a story.

LabMUD is just that – it’s a Lab. You all are the test subjects, and the engine is the test. The theme is designed so that we can introduce new engine features and have it be remotely in-character. It’s also designed to require very little day-to-day admin intervention (something I am a big believer in). Of course, we will run RPTs and events and such, but hopefully most of the game’s events will be player driven. In future posts, I will comment on what you as a player can expect (our promise to you) and also some thoughts on fairness in testing outcomes.

Just to clarify, Wolfsong is the Head Admin for LabMUD. She has the ultimate responsibility for decision making, building, plots and the like. I am also an admin here, but mostly to teach her about the engine and get a perspective on how people are using the engine. Krelm may be doing some building for us, but won’t be an admin once we open (his choice – he’d rather be a player).

Towards the end of the LabMUD project (which might be months or years – who knows), I will probably also invite other people who are serious about using FutureMUD for their own projects to the staff for the purposes of training them. I won’t be doing this at first though because I want to give the MUD a chance to be a real MUD before it is a training ground. Wolfsong and I will probably be the sole admins for the MUD for now.

A LabMUD Introduction

Hello Everyone,

I suppose the news of LabMUD has finally broken and pretty quickly people have been signing up and even trying to log in to the game. We’re not actually ready for people to begin logging in and making characters as yet, so this has highlighted the need for me to properly make a maintenance mode!

We are rapidly approaching a state where we would be comfortable opening, and we are looking forward to having you all join us. I am mostly focusing on engine development, whereas the MUD itself is effectively built and run by Wolfsong. You will hear more from both of us over the coming weeks as we approach readiness for players.

As a bit of a teaser for you all, I thought I would post the “Welcome Blurb” for character creation to wet your appetites. Much of this is similar to the existing introduction post, but this one is official!

LabMUD is the flagship MUD of the FutureMUD Engine (http://www.futuremud.com). Both the engine and the MUD itself are in Alpha status and both bugs and instability are to be expected. While every effort will be made to ensure that your playing experience will be both as high quality and as uninterrupted and smooth as possible, we cannot always guarantee that this will be the case.

You may feel free to discuss engine-specific topics on the forums at FutureMUD’s website, where you can also report any bugs or issues that you find (http://bugs.futuremud.com) – however, every day support should be sought through the LabMUD website and in-game. If you are interested, you can read more about LabMUD on the website at http://www.labmud.com/ or join us at our forums.

LabMUD is a roleplay intensive, permadeath MUD. That means that “in-character” actions (or, playing as your character, based on your character’s described personality, aspirations and physical limits, and not necessarily as yourself) are enforced at all times, and character death is permanent.

The setting of LabMUD is vague by design: your character, for reasons unknown to them or anyone, has woken up in a facility closed off from the outside world, with no memory of their past, and no familiarity with their current surroundings. For the sake of character creation, it can be inferred that the time period the game takes place in is roughly contemporary with present day, and that the game occurs either on Earth, or on a planet functionally identical to Earth. While your character should have no knowledge of specific events or places from Earth, they may be familiar with philosophical, political, social, even professional, concepts and ideas. Treat your character as akin to a highly functioning individual suffering from severe amnesia.

To play LabMUD, you will first need to create a character. You do so by completing, and submitting, a character application. Once submitted, your application will be put in for review by staff members or community guides. Once approved, you will be able to log into your character and play the game. This process may be almost instantaneous, or may take up to a day. While you wait, consider heading over to the forums at http://www.labmud.com/forum and introducing yourself.