TMC: Daedalian Musing – World Maps in MUDs

World Maps in MUDs
by Delphine Lynx November 11, 2002

I went back and forth about writing this article, as it is a topic I would have preferred to spend more than two hours writing on. But for wont of another topic, here we are. Eventually I plan to revisit the issue, presenting my own theory as to a specific implementation.

“What is the difference between exploring and being lost?”

    – Dan Eldon, photojournalist

The typical MUD presents wilderness as merely a long string of rooms. Though branching in places, the rooms nevertheless retain the feeling of a path rather than an actual forest. Unfortunately for the critics, the only real alternative to this is randomly generated rooms – no MUD has the resources to create 1,000,000 original (hand built) forest rooms. So are we left, then, with either a path through a hinted at wilderness or a cookie cutter (albeit, in the case of the better written generators, a very pretty cookie cutter) world? I would argue for a third alternative, one adopted as a staple among console RPGs.

I am, of course, referring to a world map. If what you have between town X and town Y is essentially 50,000 acres of featureless forest, then why model it? Before discussing the advantages I contend are to be had in a world map styled navigation system, I want to lay out for the reader two of the most frequent objections which tend to come up in discussing the concept.

The objections tend to focus on two primary points: A heterogeneous world and a lack of variety. The first is fairly straight forward. In implementing a world map, you eliminate the sense of continuity which exists in a MUD where the entire world is of the same style. This, critics say, tends to undermine the suspension of disbelief typically necessary in a MUD. The second is a bit less clear, and is centered upon the little details builders can throw into their rooms. In wandering through a room style forest one can not only appreciate little details of design, but also run into opposition, secret areas, etc. On the other hand, this just doesn’t apply very well in a world map scheme.

Or so the critics argue. Let us first examine the issue of a heterogeneous world. I am going to look at this issue from two different angles, each, perhaps, persuasive to a different philosophy.

First: Heterogeneous world as more in character than argued. To illustrate this, let us take a simple example. If you travel across the country, is the style of your perception identical to what it is when you’re able to wander around in a wood or house? I doubt it. On the other hand, you instead see things a bit differently – different details, and everything seems to go by faster. It doesn’t simply feel like a very long stroll, it feels completely different. Given this, is it so out of character at all to experience the world differently over long distances?

Second: Out of character as acceptable. In designing games, we constantly make exceptions for things which make the overall experience more enjoyable, even if at the price of a bit of realism. By that token, we can simply justify the difference as necessary in its own right for enhancing the fun of the game; the out of character aspect is a worthwhile tradeoff.

As regards the lack of variety… why must that be the case? To return to the analogy of a console RPG, very often there one would be taken off the world map an random while en route – taken off the world map and placed into just the sort of interesting encounter one might accidently stumble upon in a forest. It’s the implementation of said encounters which tends to create difficulty.

My suggestion would be to create random encounters, either hand built or randomly, based on character level. What this enables you to do is create mini-areas which are perfectly designed for the characters there, rather than being less specific so as to accomodate all characters. What’s more, some of these random encounters can be entirely without purpose, leaving players to fiddle about in them for hours, not daring to leave for fear of never solving the nonexistant puzzle.

Now, having addressed the two offhand objections, to discuss several points unrelated to them.

The world map, in my view, offeres several advantages over a generic world:

  • Elimination of travel time. Typically, once players become familiar with an area, they simply create a script to go through it instantly the next time. Given this, the assumption that they go through travel without looking at their surroundings anyhow, the world map appears to be a solution which neatly corrects that issue, but in a manner tailored to the presentation you’re going for.
  • Originality. While not a reason in and of itself (and not enough to outweigh a bad overall design), the fact that it’s a relative rarity in MUDs creates an air of novelty about the world map – an air of novelty potentially useful in attracting players to your MUD.
  • Clearer division of areas and varied geography. Even if your MUD supports random generation of enough rooms to create a full world, no player is going to be willing to wander through the millions of rooms to find the next actual area. Given this, there are inherent limitations on world size. This means, in a nutshell, that geography is rather limited. It’s very difficult to create a MUD which contains both extremely cold and extremely hot weather. Not so with a world map. When using a world map design, the players can reasonably get across the entire MUD world without typing ‘east’ 500,000,000 times.

Unfortunately, a lot more goes into planning for a world map than I was able to present here; I hope, at least, to have inspired the consideration of a world map in the design of your MUD. There are already thousands employing the pathing method; be daring.

World Maps in MUDs – copyright © 2002 by Delphine Lynx – All rights reserved.

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