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Future directions

The Majik game to create today

In spite of the fact that many other ex-Majik developers would not agree, the original developer-founder of the project would continue along the lines of Torrac (also see history), which means discarding 3D and going back to text-based MUD (Multi User Dungeon). This was already discussed in 2002 in a forum thread.

The reason for this is simple: consider a book, and a movie. In the former the mind's eye creates the graphics, while in the latter the graphics are made by others and it is always the same. The experience is external, while when reading a book the relationship with the book becomes more intimate as the mind is working with the book in creating the immersive experience. With a book, the "graphics" are living, even though the text would be the same: each time a reader reads a line of text, different imaginations may be experienced.

Flexibility for personal interpretation could be improved in a graphics game by using low-resolution or blocky graphics that leave headroom for imagination (e.g. as is in Minecraft or Roblox), or even by using pseudographics made up from ASCII characters, such as using the @-character for representing the player as was in Nethack-like text-based roguelike games, or as we used in Majik 4 or in Majik 3 room visualization, but it is still a @ that we see and it is really hard not to see the @ as the @ as it is. Instead of moving a @, a blocky character or even a beautiful premade high resolution character on the screen, it feels more personal and believable if we say "You walk to a forest". That is symbolic representation versus guided visualization meditation. After all, this is how tabletop roleplaying games used to work. It requires some effort from the players because book reading or mudding is not a passive sport, but it is worth the effort. As a bonus, plain text works everywhere, even on 1970s hardware, and for most, blind users included.

Creating the ultimate immersion

A screenshot of the Majik 3 text-based MUD showing the location most Majik 3 players saw after character creation: the inn of the Hilltop village.

For creating a new MUD decades after the golden days of mudding, in an age where it is rare for anyone to even read books, the MUD needs to have something special to warrant its existence. One reason for creating a new MUD today would be to experiment with taking the absolutely best advantage of what the format offers.

The reason why the genre is almost forgotten might be the fact many of the MUDs were created in a time where it was not technically or economically feasible to do anything else, so the games essentially were just placeholders for something better to come later. They were not created for taking advantage of the lack of graphics, but they were created apologizing for the lack of graphics. We see two very common unfortunately developments:

  1. many MUD started adding Nethack-like pseudographics made up from ASCII characters for representing the environment;
  2. as it was not strictly necessary to read the textual descriptions as there was pseudographical visualizations, maps, "obvious exists"-lines and other convenience features, the textual descriptions of the surrounding environment were not actually read, only written because a policy in many MUDs mandated them to be written and the same policy often set a minimum number of lines, making most of the descriptions wasteful and repetitive, further discouraging people from reading the text, encouraging them to use the brief-mode convenience feature.

For taking advantage of the lack of graphics for the ultimate immersion through imagination, there does not need to be surplus of text, but optimal amount of text. Surprisingly the optimal amount of text is often much less than was common in past MUDs, but the text should be more varied. Less to read encourages reading, and as it is less repetitive, people read it more. The text can be made to be much shorter and more varied by not writing less text, but writing the text from a range of point of views. For example, when choosing to walk north on a forest path, the player could read:

You walk the forest path and arrive to a clearing made for an old water well. Past the clearing, the path continues north.

That is, a descriptive text would be written not only once for a location, but many times in different form depending on the point of view, but there would be less text for each viewpoint, for example there is not need to describe the direction from where the player came from. More descriptions could be given on demand, for example the player could "look at well" for getting a fuller picture, but it is not necessary to get these details every time when walking around.

In comparison, common for past MUDs was to have a description either like this:

Forest clearing.
You are standing in a forest clearing. There is an old water well in the middle of the clearing. It is made out of stone and wood. There could be water in it. Around the clearing, there is a forest path that goes south towards a small village and there is a path in the north that goes further to the forest. Light clouds move in weak storm going southwest.
Obvious exits are: north, south.

Or using a brief-mode convenience feature, giving a text similar to:

Forest clearing (n,s).

The past MUDs either printed a full description, which was too much for anyone to read repeatedly, or they gave too little. Both of these cases led people to forget they are actually walking on a forest path, walking up or down a hill or walking away or towards something. The same reasons eventually made Majik go fully 3D, for giving these sensations. But this is not necessary, if optimal amount of text is shown, with optimal pace and lack of repetition, encouraging people to read the text and get the sensations through imagination. There then the players can experience a three dimensional world in their heads and it can be a fuller 3D experience than what a high resolution 3D game could ever give, just like reading a book is regarded by many as being the definite way to experience a story while a movie made out of a story being just a cheap way for the lazy people who will miss a lot in the end.

About tactical battle

A screenshot of Majik 4 text-based roguelike showing micromanagement of position.

Another reason why we started going to 2D and 3D graphics or pseudographics was that we wanted to add tactical depth to battles, namely for being able to take line of sight into account for increasing tactical depth in ranged combat and for making various ambushing and hit & run tactics possible, but what the 2D and 3D interfaces actually give is an ability to micromanage positions turning the roleplaying game into a game of chess, or into a realtime strategy game (RTS), sometimes even into an action game.

Rather than micromanaging these things, if the intention of the player is to ambush someone, an ambush skill could be used, skill check rolled based on the difficulty given by the environment, light levels and various factors, and then either the ambush is successful or not, giving advantage for first strike. Similarly for the other things, all things can be simulated in text and micromanagement and RTS-like game mechanisms can be avoided by making the game and the battles intention-driven, keeping it a roleplaying game and letting the imaginations of the players to fill in the details of what an ambush in a forest would look and feel like.

Behind the scenes the game engine can keep track of positions on a detailed level, but giving out that information, or letting the players micromanage the details is not worth endangering the immersion, as it would risk jumping into the rabbit hole of how to visualize these details. Rather we can simply write: "A thief approaches you from behind and stabs with a knife.". Obviously such a deed would not be possible if the thief cannot physically get behind your character without your character noticing it first. Players can choose positions by stating intentions, e.g. one player can choose to follow behind another player's character, thereby protecting the other's back.

About distances

A screenshot of Majik 3 text-based MUD showing pseudographical outworld map.

In an ordinary MUD with an outworld map characters could travel vast distances in minutes by repeatedly typing the same command over and over again. It is not possible to make it any slower other than by using an endurance points system that would demand the player character to rest every now and then. That is, distances are simulated by burdensome hacking of the same keys over and over again, making the player exhausted. In a 3D game travelling over distances can be more enjoyable as there is actual scenery to experience along the way, but yet the burden is actually on the player, not on the player character, making it more like an action game rather than a roleplaying game.

In a text-based game that is striving for taking advantage of the lack of graphics, rather than by implementing pseudographical outworld as was common in past MUDs, the free exploration outworld map could be regarded as wasteful micromanagement of location, as there in the outworld there really is not anything that interesting between the actual areas of interest. The wasteful repetition of commands can be replaced by intention-based commands and mechanisms.

For example, if the player wants to go to an another city that is far away, the player could find a caravan or a ship that is going that way, and that would be possible only once in a while.

The time it takes to go there does not matter: the feeling of distance is simulated by the fact that it is not possible to get back to the original city in a snap. The time for getting there does not matter as in a medieval fantasy setting there is no way for instant communication over distances and timezones can be implemented for making it night at the destination if it was day at the place of departure. The player character which goes travelling, practically disappears from the midst of the others who did not travel.

There's plenty for the explorers to explore if there is anything to explore in the first place. A huge, but empty outworld map is a poor substitute, yet such is often used in MUDs for satisfying the explorers. This solves the problem of travelling vast distances too fast and solves the problem of rapidly repeating movement commands, all without needing pseudographics or without significantly decreasing exploration possibilities.

About activities that depend on vast areas

One could also ask what to do with activities like hunting, mineral mining, fishing, herbalism and others which traditionally depend on an open outworld of considerable size, or on areas with a lot of locations which look all the same, e.g. forests that allow free movement within the forest. These activities can work without repetitive wandering in areas that look all the same because it can also be done in an intention-driven manner.

Specifically the player can type "hunt" to start a hunting procedure in an area that is suitable for hunting, which then uses relevant skills such as animal tracking for finding game, and then takes the player character to an automatically created location of a particular type that can be used for the part where arrows are shot and the game is killed, skinned and processed, or from where the player character flees away in panic. The others see that the player character "goes hunting", and at some point "returns from hunting". Naturally others can follow and it can be possible to meet others in the hunting grounds. Keeping it driven by intention, the game does not turn into an action game or RTS, like often happens in MMORPGs and traditional MUDs.

The desire for finding better locations for these activities is satisfied by the fact that the places from where the activity is started can be different, even dynamically based on the number of times people have been doing the particular activity there, yielding better or worse results.

Making it compatible with today

The original MUDs were made for devices of past. Even though they still work fine, if a new MUD would be written today, it would make sense to optimize it for the way how people use their devices today. A new MUD can be optimized for using it from a Web browser and a new MUD can be optimized for tablet and phone usage as well as for playing with a mouse.

For example, moving to a direction can happen by clicking or tapping on a highlighted direction in the description instead of typing "west" or "w", even though typing would still be possible. In a similar way, looking at items is possible. Action buttons can be implemented for changing the default action i.e. whether clicking or tapping triggers a look-action, or a get-action, or whatever.

For phone usage, these convenience features are a must-have, and similarly it is a requirement to no longer use pre-wrapped 80-column lines as in the past MUDs, but we need to let the text be auto-wrapped according to the phone's screen width.

Where to get content?

The legacy Majik 3D MMORPG's world was quite well designed and there's plenty of interesting content, like maps and area descriptions, that can be used as a base.

If you wish to help...

Contact namhas.