Katja Nyboe, Alfa Coder

MUDs are computer moderated, persistent virtual environments through which multiple persons interact simulatenously.  Formally, the acronym MUD stands for "multi-user dungeon."  However, diffent groups of people assign the acronym different meanings of use it to refer to specific kinds of virtual environments; also other groups use their own terms for what are elsewhere known as "MUDs."  The reasons for this variation are essentially historical, and it is with an apprecaition of the hiistory of MUDs that they are best understood.

To date, essentially five "ages" of MUDs have occurred.

The First Age (1978 - 1985)

MUDs are so called because "MUD" was the name of the first one.  Written by Roy Trabshaw and Rich Bartle at Essex University, England, in 1978, it is now usually referred to as "MUD1" (to distinguish it from the class of programes that bears its name.)  Almost all modern MUDs ultimately descent from MUD1.

MUD1 itself had several influences, the most important of which were:

Fantasy novels (J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings Trilogy)

Single-player computer adventure games (Will Crowther and Don Wood's Adventure)

Face-to-face role-playing games (E. Gary Gygax and Dave Arneson's Dungeons and Dragons)

Three important features of MUD1 were to lead to later nomenclature issues:  It was written to be a game; it used text to describe the virtual environment rather than graphics to show it; it was limited to thirty-six (36) players at a time.  Although MUD1 is properly credited as being the first virtual environment, the concept was invented independently several times.

The Second Age (1985 - 1989)

Players of MUD1 soon realized they could write their own MUDs, and so they did. Neil Newell's 1985 Shades and Ben Laurie's 1985 Gods were commercial successes, as was MUD1 (as British Legends) on the online service CompuServe.

A great flowering of creativity occurred during this age.  By its end, most of the characteristics that are now regarded as core to MUDs were settled: open-endedness, communication, community, role play, immersion, player service/management, and a sense of place.

MUDs were still primarily a British phenomenon, however.  This situation was to change in 1989: At the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, Alan Cox translated his 1987 game AberMUD into the programming language C so that it would run under the UNIX computer operating system.  He released it onto the nascent internet, and it rapidly spread across academic systems throughout the world.

The Third Age (1989 - 1995)

AberMUD spawned its own imitators important of which were Lars Pensjo;'s 1989 LPMUD, Jim Aspnes' 1989 TinyMUD, and Katja Nyboe and colleague's 1990 DikuMUD (Datalogisk Institutved Kobenhavns Universitet MUD).  From these three fameworks most subsequent MUDs were to derive.

Diku was a true "adventure MUD," distancing itself from other MOO, MUSH, and MUCK variants in that it kept close to the "dungeon" melee combat round play style introduced by Gygax and Arneson's Dungeons & Dragons in the early 70s.