Guest Author - Lisa Shea
Not that long ago, dedicated role players build the world of Frank Herbert's Dune without graphics or sound - just using the written word. This world was DuneMUSH. A MUSH is a text adventure world that you share with hundreds of people around the globe. You take on a character, and you work towards your character's goals. There is no combat, no experience points, no levelling up. There is the satisfaction of role playing well, and the community spirit of the world you create with others.
Alan Schwartz was the creator of DuneMUSH, and I was an avid player. I recently did an interview with him, inspired by the upcoming SciFI presentation of Children of Dune (Mar 16-18,2003).
Lisa: What is a MUSH is all about - what makes it different from other on line adventures most people know and love?
Alan: Interaction with other human-played characters. Right now, no AI can provoke the kind of surprise, passion, rage, affection, or long-term relationship that another human can, and on the RP MUSHes I've enjoyed most, the key to that enjoyment was the interaction with others who also sought to immerse themselves in their characters and their world.
Lisa: How did you first get into programming in the world of MUSHes?
Alan: Programming... Well, as you may recall, MUSH has an internal programming language ("softcode" or "MUSHcode") that you use to create objects that can do things in the MUSH. I started working with that back in 1990 or so, when I started MUSHing.
DuneMUSH was the first MUSH I started myself, and at that point, I had to start learning about the C code that actually made up the server (PennMUSH "hardcode"). Eventually, I was contributing patches back to the PennMUSH developer (Lydia "Amberyl" Leong), and when she decided to stop maintaining PennMUSH in order to develop TinyMUSH 2, she offered it to me, and took up development and maintenance on the PennMUSH server (in 1995), and have been doing it since (with help from other developers and users!)
Lisa: How did you choose the world of Dune to be a major project of yours?
Alan: I had just come off a very successful and enjoyable MUSH, Belgariad, which was one of the first MUSHes to use RP judges (GMs) in an important way. I liked that, and I liked the Belgariad world, which had very clear cultural archetypes for the players. I knew I wanted to start my own MUSH, and that I wanted it to be different than what was around - sci-fi seemed natural as most MUSHes then were fantasy-based (with the exception of a couple of star trek and star wars places). I had always enjoyed Herbert's books, and when I was casting around for a theme, it seemed right -- a large fanbase, clear factions for players to associate with, and interesting problems in politics and society.
Lisa: Why do you think the world of Dune tends to elicit such a powerful reaction from people of all ages and backgrounds?
Alan: I think the messianic themes in the story are attractive. There's so much going on that can be food for thought. And so many types of character to play.
Lisa: When did DuneMUSH first open for play? How long did it survive, and why did it finally shut down?
Alan: Opened December 1992, closed August 25, 1994.
Here was the start of my posting announcing my decision to close it:
After much thinking and discussion with players and admin, I've decided to close DuneMUSH. I have concerns about the future of the RPG, and have become interested in other projects, but most of all, I feel DuneMUSH has achieved what I had hoped for it, and that it's time to say goodbye.
DuneMUSH far exceeded all of my expectations, and I've learned an incredible amount. It's important to reflect on what we accomplished. We had an RPG MUSH with a number of innovative features (faction-based, scoring, juries, etc). We had a very well-done world on which many new players complimented us, and provided a strong venue for role-playing. Our newbiehelper system has become well-known on the net as one of the finest. We became a highly popular RP MUSH, with connect sizes among the largest for MUSHes of this type. We've been running about 19 months, which is a comparatively long run. And I personally have met terrific players and admin who I have great respect for.
I can't thank enough all the players who played their characters to the hilt, built astonishingly beautiful and thematic settings, wrote clever code to benefit the game, helped new players get started, adjudicated roleplaying and tinyplots, provide moral (and in some cases offered financial) support, and general knocked me out with their intelligence, devotion, and kindness.
Lisa: What were some of the challenges in creating a Dune World that attracted and retained quality players?
Alan: Getting the right people into positions of IC leadership did a lot of it. Once someone talented was head of House Atreides, they could find a lot of things for the House members to do (both back on their home planet and elsewhere) and we could keep the House heads and the like occupied with political intrigue on Arrakis.
Like most MUSHes, administrative attitude and support is a big factor in this. I had a really stunning team of administrators who were great at helping people get started. Enough people liked the theme (and there was no other MUSH doing it) that we were able to attract and retain many great players, and they then attracted others.
Lisa: What was the total player count and on line simultaneous players during the game's peak?
Alan: I don't think I can dredge this up. My faulty memory suggests that the total player count was probably in the 400-800 range, and the peak online count was probably about 50-60 during some events. I seem to recall running into issues with Dune's original Ultrix server around player counts of >60...
Lisa: Do you think the MUSH environment remains viable in this day and age of graphic adventure RPG?
Alan: For sure, but not for everyone. More people watch television than read books, but books still have a following, and so does Shakespeare in the Park. Most MUSHes aren't commercial enterprises, and don't provide graphics, but text is often more surprising and evocative than images.
Now, if you want a really interesting next step, we should be thinking about something that Trispis, one of my current MUSH administrators, once discussed: live sound, with appropriate digital processing so you could tailor your character's voice. I would find that much more powerful than images.
Lisa: Do you have any particular, fond memories of the days of DuneMUSH?
Too many to count. I can remember some RP scenes that I was in with my character where my (RL) heart was racing. :)
And speaking of RL, I have a great memory of getting together with a group of about a dozen DuneMUSH admin and players at the Old Spaghetti Factory in Jack London Square in Oakland. Dune was the first MUSH that spawned face-to-face meetings between me and other MUSH players, and they were all great fun.
Lisa: There was a DuneMUSH 2 and DuneMUSH 3. People seem to LOVE to RPG in the world of Dune. Why do you think this is?
Alan: See above. :)
Lisa: What projects are you working on now?
Alan: I run a social MUSH called M*U*S*H (mush.pennmush.org 4201).
I'm working on a new RP MUSH called Archipelago that's loosely based on Philip Jose Farmer's _Riverworld_, a theme/milieu that I really love and have tried to work with before (in both a play-by-email and a MUSH setting). In Riverworld, everyone from human history is resurrected together on a strange planet with a long river. Archipelago is an alternative Riverworld, a set of islands in a vast sea. Everyone is a feature character -- play your favorite historical personage and create new civilizations. We're going to be trying several new things that I haven't seen done in MUSHes before, and I'm pretty excited about it.
Lisa: Thanks for your time, Alan, and best of luck with Archipelago!
Are you interested in the world of Dune and DuneMUSH? Here are some links which you might find very interesting:
Room Descriptions from DuneMUSH
A Web-Enabled Japanese Teahouse from House Corrino