January '98 Mud of the Month

1. Describe how the Iconoclast project began. What was your main inspiration which led to forming a futuristic sci-fi mud?

There’s a certain kind of person that seeks out muds on the Internet. And of those people, there’s a select few that go out of their way to seek out muds with a science fiction theme. All of the people involved with the Iconoclast project now are those who couldn’t find what they were looking for among other muds. Yes, there are a few “cyberpunk” muds around, but Iconoclast is something much different.

It is that “difference” which was our inspiration in shaping Iconoclast. It began not as an idea about a mud, but as an idea about a world. The world existed before the mud did. It was a world which took the very best and the very worst of modern society and showed us what it might look like 100 years in the future.

In a sense, Iconoclast is prophetic. We claim to be showing what the world might turn out like in 100 years, based on current happenings. Genetic alteration, cybernetic enhancements, neural interfaces, excessive violence, corporate control, rampant gang and cult activity and a worldwide Matrix are accepted as the norm in the Iconoclast world. I think that if you take a look at the world around you, you’ll see just about all of those things today. Read the paper and you’re seeing stories about neural interfaces, smart computers, and limb replacements. Turn on the TV and you’re slammed with another story about genetics and cloning experiments. Nothing we have in the mud is very far from thr truth. It’s like Max Headroom was – ten seconds into the future. We do have some “fantastic” elements in the game, but most of the time it’s the realism that’s the most scary. Our horror comes not from boogie men and dragons, but from common, everyday things that are often even more scary.

In short – we developed Iconoclast because we wanted to scare the hell out of people. Because sure, in the year 1998 our mud is science fiction. But in 100 years, it just might turn out to be a lot more true than we’d like.

2. Many muds fail in the early stages of development. How did you overcome this?

Muds fail for two reasons – internal strife and external apathy. Internal strife consists mainly of arguments between those involved in running the mud. Strong personalities clash. Schedules conflict. And so on. Unfortunately, not all differences can be worked out. People are people. And so sometimes, as was the case with Iconoclast, you lose people along the way for various reasons. The important thing is to maintain a sense of direction, to have the drive to continue despite the difficulties, and to maintain a sense of humor about the whole thing. It is, after all, just a game. People take it too seriously sometimes. We overcame our difficulties by never losing sight of our goal, and by realizing that even if it all blew up in our faces, the world wasn’t going to end. This is a hobby. It’s fun, and we want to succeed, but it’s still fun.

External apathy is a more touchy situation because it involves an ever-increasing number of people. It’s an unknown equation. You know what your own problems and ideas are, but then all of a sudden you’ve opened your doors to the world, and you’ve got all these people with very strong opinions pouring in offering advice. In one sense, I think it’s important to get the opinions of others while the mud is being built. It allows you to correct mistakes before they get larger. And so I’m not upset that we opened the doors to Iconoclast early, when we were still alpha. The opinions of players really helped us refine our own ideas. On the other hand, I suspect we may have opened the doors a little too early. A lot of people logged on, thinking we had a picture perfect mud, and they left because they weren’t happy with the way things worked. Players are always going to gripe. They don’t like the combat system. They don’t like the bugs. They don’t like the rent system. You have to learn to listen to everything they say through a filter, ignoring the mindless criticism and listening closely to the valid points. You can’t ignore it all, but you have to be careful not to take every comment to heart. Only if you achieve a balance will players care about your mud and come back for more.

3. What do you feel makes Iconoclast popular? What is it about the mud that draws players in, and keeps them playing?

Well, first of all, I wouldn’t call Iconoclast “popular.” We’re not. For example, when people talk about “popular music,” they’re talking about Top 40 radio. Stuff like Spice Girls and Hanson. And while that’s fine for most people, it’s not what the people on the fringe are into. Even stuff like nine inch nails and Beck stops being alternative and becomes “pop” after a while. And Iconoclast doesn’t work that way. We’re not a “popular” mud, in the sense that we don’t cater to everyone. We don’t attract thousands of people like Medievia might, because we don’t want to appeal to everyone’s needs. If you like us, great. Stick around. But if you’re looking for another cookie-cutter hack-n-slash mud, you won’t like us at all. On average, we have between 8 and 15 players logged on at any one time. We can certainly support many, many more people, but at the moment there’s a nice feeling of intimacy.

That said, there are some things we do better than other muds, and these things have brought us our devoted players. There’s the obvious things, like the fact that we’re 100 percent original, with no stock zones. Then there’s theme. There aren’t a lot of “cyber-goth-horror” muds out there, so people looking for something unusual will find a home here. Then there’s the fact that we approach the entire concept of the “mud” from a different angle. Combat exists, but like a real society, there are repercussions for your actions. This is not to say that we don’t have opportunities for those who like combat. We do. But it’s also true that our ultimate goal is to make fighting and killing an option, not a necessity. Most muds out there, especially those that are Circle-based, have a system that’s built around combat. So it becomes a cycle of “kill-eat-sleep-kill-level” and so on. We’ve taken much of that out, and we plan to make fighting totally optional, with occupations, missions and bonuses for role-playing supplementing or replacing experience gained through combat.

Unlike a lot of muds, Iconoclast takes the idea of “role-playing” to a new level. 95 percent of everything in the mud can be bought at a shop, and there are over 150 different stores already. There are hundreds of kinds of food. Over 100 kinds of beverages. Numerous hotels and apartments. Last names for players. And so on. There’s tons of opportunities for enhancing your character and having fun, even if you’re not an experience-junkie out to kill mobs all night long. Our administrative staff is almost always wandering around, role-playing with characters, running missions, and so on. We encourage them to interact on a personal level, playing characters so they can have fun too. And sometimes we don’t even need to have administrators role-playing with people – many of our players log on just to role-play by themselves, with one another. In that sense, the mud is very MUSH-like, as it encourages social interaction and character personalization.

The last thing I think is attractive about Iconoclast is our stability. The mud has been stable and online 24 hours a day, seven days a week since March 23, 1996. Our only downtime has been for things like system maintenance, or to install more ram or repair the machine we’re on. Jestyr has compiled a VERY stable code, changing a lot of the core Circle stuff to make us work better and faster, with far fewer crashes. In the past 22 months, the mud has actually crashed due to a bug maybe a dozen times, and all of those were fixed within minutes. We’ve been down like a total of 72 hours over 2 years, and only maybe a few hours of that is because of bugs. I doubt that you’ll find a mud that’s more stable than this.

4. Suppose you woke up one day and you found yourself living as a player in the Iconoclast world with no way to get back to reality. As the developers of the game (knowing what you know) how would you survive?

This would depend greatly on who I found myself to be. If I were unlucky enough to still have an ordinary flesh-and-blood body, I’d have to brush up on some technical skills pretty quick. The world of the 22nd Century does not look kindly on people that can’t fend for themselves, and in a society that has totally embraced technology, that means knowing the ins and outs of everything technical. Assuming I knew enough technical skills to either run or operate a computer, I could lock myself into a nice little niche, make enough money to feed myself, and maybe afford a closet-sized little coffin to sleep in. Maybe when I got a day off I could spend an hour with my kids. If I had time to have them, that is.

In the event that I didn’t have the degree of technical skill necessary to get me a cushy job inside the city, there’s plenty of opportunities to make a quick buck. Granted, I might have to sell my services, or even my body, but hey – when you need to eat, you’ll do anything you have to. Flipping hamburgers. Hauling steel beams around. Or worse.

Assuming I wasn’t satisfied with a 9 to 9 job in an office, and assuming that I wasn’t content with picking lice off my body to eat when the pickings got really slim, I’d have to turn to alternative means of making money. In most cases, this means I’d have to make my money the old fashioned way – by taking it away from other people. Stealing credits from someone’s bank account. Taking out contracts on people. Stealing drugs from junkies and reselling them for cash. And worse. You’d be amazed what depths you’ll sink to to avoid sleeping in the gutter. Even if it means selling your soul.

Essentially, I have three options. I can wrap myself in a goon suit and sleep in a coffin. I can wrap myself in rags and sleep in the gutter. Or I can grab myself a knife and a leather jacket and fight my way to the top. I’m pretty sure you can guess which path most of us would take.

5. In the past year graphical RPGs have been sprouting up left and right. Do you think they will overtake the popularity of text-based muds? If not, what is it about text-based muds that will keep the players from leaving for graphical versions?

People are always going to flock to new things. When talking movies came along, people were worried that it would ruin books. When radio got popular, people worried that newspapers would vanish. When televisions popped up in every home, everyone thought radio was doomed. And when the world wide web started to boom, everyone predicted the end of television.

The fact of the matter is that there’s always room for new media, but the old stuff never goes away. We’re still reading books printed on paper, a process that began over two thousand years ago during the Han dynasty when Shih Huang Ti standardized the written language and someone decided to pound some fibers into thin sheets of paper. Books haven’t gone away. People still like to read. And so text-based muds are not at all threatened by the appearance of graphical muds. The Internet is a big place. There’s room for all of us.

In fact, the future is wide open for Iconoclast. From the very start, we never wanted to limit ourselves to just the mud. That’s clear from the website, and the graphics, and the stories that we’ve added to the Iconoclast world. Iconoclast is an experience, not a mud. The mud is one aspect of the whole. And so who knows? We might very well use VRML in the future.

But I wouldn’t ever call graphics an improvement, per se. That’s like saying that television has improved books. It hasn’t improved anything. It’s an alternative, yes. A supplement, certainly. But not an improvement. The mud is still the easiest, most stable way of getting people together within our world. We might develop a role-playing game, but it’s kind of hard to have people from Australia, Finland and Milwaukee playing Iconoclast unless they’re online. And so we don’t ever feel as if the text is limiting in any way. Text-based muds are superior to many other forms of technology because of what they offer. It’s a unique experience, and it won’t be going away.

6. What’s next for Iconoclast?

The mud is constantly growing, and we’re constantly fielding suggestions and comments from our players. You should see our idea file. But we can’t do everything at once, so we have to prioritize. If we get more help coding, we can do even more.

That said, there are a few things we’ve recently taken off the back burner and moved to the front. More skills, definitely. We hope to have several dozen in the near future, and several hundred before the millenium. More electronics, including functional pagers and cellular phones. Arcade games and casinos. Player jobs. More intelligent mobs. Player personalized apartments. Personalized objects. The list goes on and on and on.

I should also note that we don’t plan to limit ourselves to just the mud and the website. Already we’ve got people posting poetry about the mud on our message boards. We’ve got an Iconoclast Kaleidoscope scheme. And there’s more to come. Will there be Iconoclast novels? Sure. A role-playing game? Of course. Collectible action figures? Perhaps. A movie? Who knows? The possibilities are endless. We’re just eager to bring as many people along for the ride as we can. We can only get bigger and better from here.

7. Is Iconoclast open to new immortals, coders and builders?

Yes. Certainly. The Iconoclast world is shared amongst everyone that is involved with the project, and we’re always eager to have new people contribute to the effort. Anyone who finds the mud interesting enough to want to help us shape it is always willing to join us.

It should be noted, though, that we have rather high standards. We have a very specific idea about what we’re looking for, and so we don’t accept everyone who decides to yell out “Hey, make me an immortal.” In fact, being a member of “The Council” has nothing at all to do with being a builder or coder for the mud. All that’s required is a devotion to the project and some degree of intelligence.

Because we treat everyone on an individual basis, I can’t make a blanket statement here and say “we’ll let everyone write for us.” I also can’t go into detail about what we don’t want, due to space considerations. All I will say is that we are actively looking for new people to join our team, so anyone interested in helping to build our world should e-mail or mud-mail us.

8. What sort of a person might like Iconoclast?

Of course, it’s hard to tell what individual people will like. Iconoclast represents such a wide range of people that it’s difficult to generalize. But there are a few common characteristics that do stand out.

Iconoclast players tend to be innately curious. They like to poke around and look at things to see what they might discover next. They like to read, because they know that sometimes clues are hidden in plain sight in the descriptions that so many mudders like to breeze by. Iconoclast players love roleplaying, and can wander around for hours without ever coming out of character. And our players tend to be rather intelligent and sociable. I’m not accusing players on other muds of being stupid and violent. All I’m saying is that the players on our mud tend to act in a more intelligent fashion with one another. They don’t always log on simply to group and go on experience runs. They log on to talk, interact, and chatter about the news. It’s a very MUSHlike attitude that I’m pleased to see on Iconoclast. We’re more than happy to welcome MUSHers to our little world.

One final point that seems noteworthy is that Iconoclast seems to be drawing a greater percentage of foreign and female players than are commonly seen on other muds. Over 20 percent of our regulars are from other countries, particularly Europe and Australia, and about 50 percent of them are female.

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Like the Greek demigods of legend, Iconoclast has a humble and rather confusing origin. The mud was born in the second week of March, 1996, after a group of players from Tdome II decided to open up a mud of their own. This mud, originally named “Shattered Realities,” died a horrible death a few days later, for reasons which are as confusing as that name suggests. The mud rose from the ashes and was reborn on March 18th, 1996. Then it died again. The mud was then briefly reborn again on March 19th, but caught the flu, lapsed into a coma and died on March 20th.

Luckily for the world, the original administrative staff were on a world comeback tour when a freak bus accident in Lima, Peru sorted out the mess for them. The flaming tragedy left only two survivors: Jestyr Saaven and a llama. The llama went on to become a sweater. Jestyr went on to move the mud from its original home to Hermesnet in Washington D.C. on March 23, where it has been ever since.

It is interesting to note that after Jestyr, the first new character ever created on Iconoclast’s new server was named “Dork.” Those in charge of Iconoclast aren’t sure what to make of this fact, but it keeps them all humble. The second new character to be created on Iconoclast’s new server was “Aeon,” who quickly wrestled Jestyr’s ego into submission. Shortly thereafter, “Cypher” became the third corner of the triumvirate that is mostly responsible for Iconoclast’s beginnings.

In order to begin developing the mud, Jestyr’s first act as “Implementor” was to delete all of the stock Circle world files. Aeon’s first act as “Co-implementor” was to accuse Jestyr of insanity and threaten to disembowel him for deleting all the stock world files. Things gradually improved from there, with the entire mud being built up, quite literally, from nothing. First a few test zones went in (if you remember the robot guns in the warehouse, you are one of a few (un)lucky ones). Then came a small bar. And then a street. And so on. After a month, Iconoclast had its first official zones – the downtown street grid and Vampyre’s Byte (a nightclub), both of which look nothing at all like they do today. Other areas crept in, albeit slowly. The reason for this is that those in charge of the mud were busy smuggling coffee into Columbia. As one might expect, this was not as profitable as they had hoped, and the venture soon failed.

Actually what they were busy doing was developing a stable foundation for the mud itself. Much of the early work on Iconoclast was purely conceptual, and so while it appeared as if little was being done, quite a bit was actually being discussed. Would the mud be based in the 21st or 22nd century? Would the main city be called New Eden or New Aurora? Would it be set on the East Coast or West Coast? Tastes great or less filling? And so on.

Eventually, though, the mud’s implementors got the basics in, and got down to actually building the damn thing. At which point Jestyr decided to rip out the much of the guts of the code, including the class system, magic system and other important bits, and try to make something that a) worked and b) didn’t involve elves. After they pulled Aeon’s hands from Jestyr’s throat, the two of them managed to recreate the entire system from scratch, winding up with a 10 class system that would be the final, absolute last system, never to be changed again.

This system was later changed.

At any rate, by the time the end of the year had arrived, Iconoclast had an official website, an incredibly developed background setting, a whole slew of short stories based within the Iconoclast world, and over 1000 rooms for people to wander around in. The rate of growth was phenomenal, considering that all of the building was done completely offline by a staff of approximately three people who were all working full time for a living.

And so 1996 ended. And, as one might expect, 1997 began the very next day.

Over the next six months, Iconcoclast doubled in size, and by June of 1997 the mud was well on its way towards 2500 rooms, with hundreds of dedicated players who were studiously neglecting their homework. In celebration of the many hours that people were spending on the mud, Iconoclast chose June 21st, the longest day of the year, to register “iconoclast.org” as a domain name.

After some discussion, it was decided that the mud had progressed far enough to officially move out of its alpha infancy and on into beta adolescence. And so on August 1st, 1997, Iconoclast “went beta.” Nobody noticed. This was because the mud was already so developed that most of the mud’s players were under the impression that the mud was already beta, or even farther along. Already, Iconoclast was picking up more and more devoted players, many of them from Australia, Great Britian and Finland. Jestyr’s goal of world domination was coming true.

The fall of 1997 brought even more worldwide reknown when Iconoclast was selected as one of only five science-fiction muds to have a page on the Sci-Fi Channel’s Scifi.Con Mud Connector Page (say that three times fast). Which brings us to where we are now, with Iconoclast being chosen as the Mud of the Month for January, 1998.

The beginning of the new year sees Iconoclast with over 1000 mobs, 1300 objects, 4000 rooms and 50 zones. Since real building did not begin in earnest until July of 1996, this represents a rate of expansion of about 200 rooms per month, a rate which has been accelerating exponentially – Iconoclast hopes to have 5000 rooms by July of 1998, with a projected 10,000 rooms by January of 1999 and over 25,000 rooms by the dawn of the millenium. The rate of building isn’t the only aspect that has been increasing, either. From early residence on a sparc 5 with an 85 mhz cpu and 64 megs of ram, the mud has consistenly been hosted on faster and better machines, currently being housed on a dual 75 mhz sparc 10 with 224 megs of ram with plans to move it to an even faster machine in the works. Blame any lag on the internet.

The current cast of “immortals” is known collectively as “The Council,” and includes Jestyr, Aeon, Rois, Kenshiro, Dixie, Malkav, Xavier, Nihil and Samura, along with a group of high-ranking players known as “Iconoclasts” who help out with role-playing, quest-running and player interaction. Tharis has the honor of being the mud’s official first Iconoclast (hence, the name of the mud). Many others, too numerous to mention here, have offered help and ideas. We thank them all.

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From Hobart Christo, goth [50+ hours of play]:
Why did I spend 38% of a week on Iconoclast? I had never MUD’ed before but had experience with local BBS door games (LORD, etc.) and got quite a taste for text RP’s. Problem with the local BBS’s is that they are local. You don’t meet new people and the games typically get real old after a while. I was shown Iconoclast by a friend and at first it seemed the same as before, but while resting to hunt some more mobs, I started reading the background and timeline and discovered that there was an interesting, developed and planned story behind the game that actually means something to the rest of the world. The world of Iconoclast is large and full of great descriptions that get you to think of the “Domescrapers” reaching higher upward while a shady Goth stands outside of a bar playing music which echoes around in the narrow alleys. My favorite thing about Iconoclast has to be the writing. The dry humor of a raven named Quothe in the Nevermore Bookstore or the stereotypical techs acting awkward in clubs or craving coffee puts a finish on the game that I really enjoy.

From Syn Vanderslyk, goth [155+ hours of play]:
What can I say? Iconoclast rocks. I’ve been searching for a mud where this type of theme is used. It’s well thought out and the genotypes are excellent choices. The immortals are cool as well as the players. The entire theme itself is what captured me the most. Not many muds give you this type of environment where there is more than just hack and slashing. In other words, this mud is getting better and better. The roleplaying aspect is what also attracted me and till this day, I continue coming here for this type of environment. Nuff said.

From Lace Borland, human [285+ hours of play]:
There are far too many things about Iconoclast that I like to fit here. I guess I’d have to say that the real neat stuff is the details. Like last names – we all get to pick our last names, which show up when you type WHO. It’s a little thing that a lot of people wouldn’t think of, but it really helps you get into character when you’re not just a fighter named Brak. And clothing – most of the stuff you wear in the game isn’t armor and stuff, it’s clothes. Like there’s tons of shoes and hats and stuff. And of course there’s the role-playing. You can log on and just walk around with other players and it’s like another world. You can have lunch at Corporate Perks, go shopping at the mall, then wander around the park and feed the rabbits. You can wander for hours and really get into the theme.

From Tharis Skylar, vampire [300+ hours of play]:
I didn’t think I’d like Iconoclast. Cyberpunk or futuristic games had never interested me – I’m a die-hard medieval fantasy player. But from the moment I picked my genotype and read the storyline I was hooked. Everything was so consistant, so thorough, it was like becoming a character in an exceptional novel. I wanted to live in New Aurora, becoming a citizen. I wanted to be able to sit at a club and drink a Long Island Iced Tea. And that’s what was so incredible about Iconoclast – I was able to. Every moment was real. Too real. I was employed as a sculpter…among other things. I was involved in struggles for power and money. Barkeeps talked to me and gave me advice. Police chased me when I wronged an innocent. I fell in love…and was loved in return. And it was all so real. Iconoclast has become a home where a part of me lives and thrives and flourishes. A home I’m never able to leave for long. My favorite book I can’t put down.

From Joshua Levi, morph [380+ hours of play]: Take a bucketful of creative energy, dedicated and energetic staff, and a hip cyber-gothic theme. Shake thoroughly. That’s Iconoclast, in a nutshell — a game that’s quickly become one of my favorites. Players are friendly, and the MUD’s world (A gritty post-information-age city in a world of genetic engineering and faceless corporations) is rich and evocative. With a solid literary background and a wide assortment of character types to choose from, it’s a great place for roleplay and classic MUD gaming. On my second day in the city, I was exploring and “overheard” a mentat mind-conversation. Soon after, one of the mobs (a mentat) walked up and warned me to disregard it. I’d never seen that level of spontaneous interaction on a MUD, and it was, without a doubt, very cool.

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[ Connect to Iconoclast | The Iconoclast Homepage ]

Many thanks to Aeon for the content of the Iconoclast MotM page and Jestyr, Rois, Kenshiro, Dixie and all the rest of the Council, past and present, for their help in shaping the Iconoclast world. Those who were there during Iconoclast’s mewling days know firsthand how difficult it can be to start a mud. For various reasons, not all of them are still with Iconoclast today, but Rune, Storm, Shamrock, Erin, Malice, Malibu, Kelric, Grimm, Strahd, Redwolf, Cypher and the others who emigrated from Tdome all deserve at least a mention for their vital input during those first few days.

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