Map of the Month
Mappa.Mundi Magazine
Martin Dodge is a Researcher in the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis (CASA), University College London and is the creator of the Atlas of Cyberspaces.

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Further Reading:

»For more information about this subject, the following resources are recommended.

» (1) The MUD acronym can also mean Multi-User Dungeon, see sidebar for a little bit of history. For background on MUDs, see:

The Mud Faq

Sherry Turkle's, Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet, (Simon & Schuster), 1995.

Life on the Screen: Identity in the Age of the Internet
Buy This Book Today!

Julian Dibbell's, My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World, (Fourth Estate), 1999.

My Tiny Life: Crime and Passion in a Virtual World
Buy This Book Today!

Elizabeth Reid's, Cultural Formations in Text-Based Virtual Realities.

» (2) Interesting topology maps of MUDs include,

Choppy's atlas of Discworld MUD

Maps of Our Place MUD

FurryMUCK maps by Quill and Tom Turrittin

Jason Roysdon's maps of MUME (Multi Users in Middle Earth)

Sembiance's maps of Abandon All Hope MUD

» (3) See Peter Anders's paper, "Envisioning Cyberspace: The Design of Online Communities", Fifth International Conference on Cyberspace, June 1996, Spain.

» (4)

» (5) Peter Anders, Envisioning Cyberspace: Designing 3D Electronic Space, (McGraw-Hill), 1998.

Envisioning Cyberspace: Designing 3D Electronic Space
Buy This Book Today!

» (6)

By Martin Dodge, CASA Map of the Month Archives »

Mapping MUDs
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A Little Bit of History
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The history of MUDs, like many significant Net developments, goes back to the experimental hacking of university students, long before the Internet hype of the 1990s. The first MUD was created by two students, Richard Bartle and Roy Trubshaw, at the University of Essex, UK, at the end of the 1970s. Their first MUD was written on the university mainframe and became available for networked users outside the university in the spring of 1980. Trubshaw and Bartle created what was perhaps the first multi-user, virtual reality space that was publicly available on the Net and they are still actively involved in MUD development with their company MUSE. Of course the ideas that laid behind Trubshaw and Bartle's first MUD had a much longer genealogy, owing a great deal to classic dungeon and dragons computer games Zork and Adventure of the mid 1970s, which in turn drew inspiration from the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing board game.

MUDs developed through the 1980s and 90s, evolving both technically and socially. A whole panoply of variations emerged, all with different acronyms, like MOOs, MUCKes, and MUSHes. Today MUDs are seen as oddities from an earlier era of the Net, somewhat outdated and lacking in visual glamour, left behind by the rise of the Web and networked computer games like Quake and Ultima Online. However, there still exists a vibrant MUD subculture, with many active MUDs publicly available. The Mud Connector provides a current list of active MUDs and how to access them.

"Early MUD History" by Richard Bartle, 15th November 1990.

"Zork: A Computerized Fantasy Simulation Game", by P. David Lebling, Marc S. Blank, Timoth A. Anderson, IEEE Computers Magazine, April, 1979.

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      Multi-user dimensions, or MUDs for short, are a unique and strange part of the Net [1]. MUDs are virtual spaces created solely by written words; their space unfolds on the computer screen as scrolling text. MUDs are also social spaces shared by many players who are able to interact with each other and with the environment around them. The experience of MUDding (playing on / in a MUD) is often described as like being inside a literary novel, but not just a reader. The MUD is a living novel, being written in real-time by its players.

      MUDs are particularly interesting to us because they have a complex geography, compared to other real-time Net spaces like chat rooms or IRC channels. MUD geography comprises many interlinked spaces, known as rooms, which form maze-like topologies that players can explore and use. A room is conjured-up in the mind of players purely by its textual description, such as

Narthat Street
You stand surrounded by ornate buildings of gothic design. Carriages rush by you, carrying elders and townsfolk through the fog. Above you staring out into the mist are gargoyles perched on rooftops, and the barely visible glow from TinyBen's luminous clockface.
[ Exits: South to the town square, NorthEast into the Lawyer's Guild, cab, West into the builders guild, East into the Town Hall, North along the street ]
a window box of daisies
The Town Hall

(A typical room description taken from DragonMud)

      Obviously, not all rooms are actual interior rooms of buildings, many are outside scenes. In the Narthat Street example the room is connected to another six rooms by its exits. To get some sense of the topological structures of room connections of a MUD one can map it [2].

      One of the most notable efforts to map the topology of MUDs was undertaken by architect, Peters Anders and his students at New Jersey Institute of Technology [3]. Anders, in an email interview, said his motivation to map MUDs was because they are designed by the players rather than professional architects, and they offered "…a source of great opportunity for architects since MUD spaces aren't subject to the consequences of material construction - and could possibly supplant built spaces in the future." His students did virtual 'field surveys' in ten different MUDs and then mapped the geography of rooms using real three-dimensional models made from plexiglas cubes and rods. These models, called "logical adjacency models" (LAMs), visually graph the structure of room connections between them. The cubes were spatially arranged in the models to match, as far as possible, the layout of rooms in the MUD. The figure below shows the LAM of BayMOO [4], produced by Thomas Vollaro and Susan Sealer.

the LAM of BayMOO

      The BayMOO model has three distinct zones, joined by a central node known as the Aquatic Dome. These clusters of rooms in the map are the three major areas of BayMOO, all with distinctive characters, known as "The Bay Area", "Netspace" and "Other Worlds". The ball-and-stick LAMs have much of the appearance of molecular models used in biology and chemistry. This is a potentially powerful visual metaphor to represent graphs in three-dimensions with the balls being the nodes of the graph and the sticks the edges. Anders says his work reveals the distinct structure of a MUD from the topology of its rooms, much like a fingerprint provides unique identification of a person. The fingerprint of a particular MUD, is determined to a large degree by the political structure of the MUD, and Anders says that

      "MUDs whose maps resemble an orthogonal grid of cubic rooms reflect a strong administration of wizards - a top-down control of construction in the domain. On the other hand, in democratic, bottom-up managed MUDs, users are free to build spaces without constraint. LAMs of these MUDs tend to be shaggy clusters of spheres, as the directional grid is not followed rigorously."

      Anders continues to explore the spatial structures of Cyberspace and recently published a book entitled, Envisioning Cyberspace [5], in which he delves deeper into this fascinating topic. In his current doctoral research he is developing "cybrid space which combines attributes of physical and electronic spaces."

      The task of accurately mapping a large MUD by hand is made more difficult because it is a changing geography, through players adding new rooms and removing (recycling) derelict rooms. A MUD that is home to an active community is also a MUD that has an active geography, with continual additions and subtractions of rooms. Much of this change is unplanned, the creative outcome of individual actions, resulting in an evolving, organic structure. It can also lead to anomalies in the topological structures, the most obvious being "black-hole" rooms which are only linked to the main MUD structure in one direction. So you can enter the room, but then have no means of exiting (except by direction teleportation to another location if allowed or by quitting and restarting). Some of these topological "black-holes" are designed as deliberate pranks to trap unwary players, while other anomalies are simply unintended mistakes in building.

      Mapping MUDs using field surveying and handcrafted maps obviously does not scale well to cope with many hundreds of rooms. What is needed is some means of automatically surveying the MUD as you go, recording your movement room by room and drawing the map from the results. This can be done in a simple fashion with the zMUD client from Zugg Software which includes an automapping tool [6].

 Copyright © 1999, 2000
ISSN: 1530-3314

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