Midgaard Message of the Day
SmartMonsters' long-time friends Lisa and Meghan are stepping into new roles as Co-Lead Authors of our Midgaard world. Both are veterans and great fans of the DikuMUD/CircleMUD environments of the 1990s which our Midgaard emulates. With Lisa in Hawaii, Meghan in Seattle and Mark in NorCal, we conferenced via Zoom to learn their plans. This edited transcript explains their ideas for Midgaard's future.
Mark: Our Midgaard world today is a quilt of Zones written by player-authors over about ten years, roughly 1995 to 2005, which they contributed to the DikuMUD/CircleMUD community. You've stitched the original DikuMUD core Zones plus these very disparate ideas into an interesting and seriously mammoth world with multiple oceans, continents, adventures. Why change it?
Meghan: First because the gender bias is distressing to female players. These areas were written back in a day when there were ten times as many male as female gamers. That shows in the writing. It's assumed the player is a dude, with a basically adolescent sensibility. So "male gaze" is everywhere. Male NPCs are described by the size of their muscles, females by the creaminess of their skin. Narrators will say, "Your heart skips twice as you gaze upon her beauty." Well, for me, not so much. [laughing] Our first goal is to make the point of view gender neutral.
Lisa: Second, we feel that anachronisms detract. The Mayor of Midgaard City has a female secretary with an IBM Selectric typewriter. We want to make the world more consistently Medieval, without electricity. So we'll change that female secretary with a typewriter to a male scribe with a quill and parchment.
Meghan: The Mayor calls her "Honey". The worst of both worlds. [laughing]
Lisa: We also feel that while many of the player-contributed ideas are creative, there are examples where the writing in our opinion isn't up to the standards SmartMonsters set with TriadCity. We hope to improve the narration while also giving it more of a unified voice.
Meghan: We'd like to add more realism. TriadCity has smell, sound, taste and touch descriptions, which these DikuMUD worlds didn't. We'd like to bring that extra richness in from TriadCity, which we can do since the code is the TriadCity platform.
Lisa: We also want to fill out all the missing direction descriptions. Back in the day these didn't bother us but after 20 years of TriadCity we're now really accustomed to being able to look somewhere before going there. [laughing] And we want outdoor descriptions to change by time of day, as they do in TriadCity.
Meghan: Also we'll clothe all the NPCs. Authors of that day didn't seem to worry about those details. We'd like to make it a little more fleshed-out, more like TriadCity in that way.
Mark: But you're not adding subjectivity, or the more sophisticated effects the TriadCity code base makes possible?
Lisa: No. It'll be a somewhat updated DikuMUD, not a new series of continents belonging to the TriadCity world. Or "laws of physics" as you say. We plan to flesh out the descriptions without changing the way the game plays.
Meghan: We do also want to replace most of this "quilted" world, as you say. We intend to keep the core DikuMUD Zones intact. That's Midgaard North and South; Haon-Dor; Dwarven Village; King Weimar; Old and New Thalos; Moria; High Sorcery; Sewers; a few others. Plus the "classic" player contributions like the Shire, the Newbie Zone, the Chessboard, some others which we found everywhere back in the day. But we're going to replace the rest with new zones that'll take their place.
Mark: "Take their place" how?
Meghan: We really like the geography of the world we "quilted". We want to keep that structure as it is, but replace its neighborhoods with ideas of our own. So, there'll still be a road leading south from Midgaard City which arrives at a port town on the southern ocean. But it'll be a different road and different port town with a unique sensibility.
Lisa: Some of the changes will echo certain of TriadCity's literary references. Today there's a large secondary continent over the western seas. We'll keep a continent there, but it'll be more like the horses' country in Gulliver's Travels. With a lot more island sub-worlds, like the 18th-century travel fantasy fiction from the time Europeans were "discovering" cultures so different to theirs.
Mark: Like yours in Hawaii.
Mark: I assume you'll do all of this little-by-little?
Meghan: Right. I mean we're talking about 20 thousand rooms, so, one at a time. [laughing]
Lisa: You made changes for us to the builder tools, maybe you can talk about that?
Mark: Well, for one thing, it was always super cumbersome to be a world author in those old DikuMUD worlds. You had to edit source files with a very finicky syntax. Put a letter in the wrong place, the server would fail to boot. You basically had to edit, boot, edit, boot, edit, boot, to test you hadn't broken things. Until now we'd left it that way. We wrote a parser which would read those text files and create analogous TriadCity objects. But we weren't doing world building, so weren't concerned with a safer mode of editing. With you guys doing your thing now, we've adapted our DikuMUD text file parser to be aware of the database used by the TriadCity platform. If a world object exists in the database, the parser will ignore the version it finds in the files. This lets you use the TriadCity authoring tools to convert file-based DikuMUD world definitions to the TriadCity database one at a time, where you can now use our graphical authoring tools with spell-checking and all the goodies.
Lisa: Exactly. It's a much better way to work.
Mark: Tell us about the new zones you have in mind.
Meghan: NO! [laughing]. You can be surprised with everyone else.
Mark: You have to coordinate with Poobah, though. Them's the rules.
Lisa: We will. But we want players to be delightfully surprised.
Mark: How long will this take?
Meghan: Years. It'll be maybe a few Rooms a day. If that.
Lisa: We've prepped by getting our characters ready. Our main builder will be Maeva, and we've got Katniss, Flonase, Haymitch and Skeeps as our explorers with the four Midgaard character classes, Mage, Cleric, Warrior and Thief respectively. They're all badass enough to not get killed as we walk them through our zones before connecting them to the game world.
Mark: How much have you done so far?
Meghan: Almost nothing. We've experimented with the updated Builder tool in the Dev environment but there's nothing in production today. Soon, though.
Lisa: We're thinking we'll start with the Newbie areas north of the Midgaard temple. They're small, so we can get our feet wet more easily. Then probably Midgaard City itself, the Sewers, the core DikuMUD areas. Then when we start on our new zones we'll be fluent with the tool.
Mark: TelGar has a gold mine zone in progress which is perfect for your updated Midgaard. I know just where to put it.
Mark: Final words?
Meghan: This will not be TriadCity Junior. It'll be a big straightforward DikuMUD hack-and-slash world with Medieval themes updated for 21st Century feminist sensibilities and with greater narrative detail made possible by the TriadCity platform. It'll be fun and there'll be no spelling mistakes. [laughing] It'll always be its own thing, quite different to TC.