The Mud Connector - A Vital Resource in MUD and MMORPG History
by: Michael Hartman
; edited by: Michael Hartman
; updated: 4/17/2012
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The Mud Connector is one of the oldest and most respected web sites devoted to online MUD/MMORPG type games. It has a rich and interesting history. This article is an interview with its founder, Andrew Cowan.
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What is The Mud Connector?
The Mud Connector (TMC) is primarily a search engine for MUDs and MMORPGs. Users can visit the site, choose from a large variety of game criterion, and then receive a list of games with those features. It is also a community with discussion forums, reviews, and resources both for players and developers of MUDs and MMORPGs. In the words of its founder, The Mud Connector: "currently lists over 1100 free MUDs and there are over 80,000 members registered to the website. TMC proides several ways to find a MUD, including simple and advanced searching, categorical lists as well as a purely random-generated mud picker. The website also has numerous discussion boards for the community, resource listings and both staff and player-submitted MUD reviews."
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Who is Andrew Cowan?
Andrew Cowan is the founder of The Mud Connector. He is also known by his online pseudonym, Icculus. The rest of this article is a lengthy interview with Andrew that covers not only the history of TMC but also its past, present, and future design goals. In addition to his work on TMC, he is also the Chief Technology Officer (and a co-founder) of GlobalMedia Design (GMD). GMD studios is "one of the world's premiere experimental media laboratories, exploring the frontiers of how networked communities transform the nature of collaboration in the digital age."
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Q #1: In your words, what is The Mud Connector? What is its primary purpose?
Andrew Cowan: The MUD Connector is primarily a site meant to help online game enthusiasts locate text-based games that they will find entertaining, while also providing a free means for the people running those games to self-promote. TMC offers many resources for the mud community but its primary purpose has always been the game listings, allowing mud admins to provide their own listings and promote their game.
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Q #2: When did you first create The Mud Connector?
AC: TMC was created in 1995 while I was a grad student in the Mathematics department of the University of North Carolina (Greensboro). It was created in part as a way to help teach me html and cgi programming.
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Q #3: How did TMC differ then from what the site is like today?
AC: TMC began as just a mudlist. It began with a newsgroup posting by me soliciting mud information from the people running them promising them that their muds would be listed in a website devoted to their craft.
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Q #4: Before TMC, was there anything similar?
AC: Before TMC there were text only mudlists that were distributed regularly via Usenet, these typically provided the mud name, server type and its location. Doran's mudlist was probably the most popular list at the time, it was my goal to translate this great idea to the world wide web, which was just beginning to pickup some mainstream attention at the time.
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Q #5: What was your original goal for TMC?
AC: My goal was among the stated previously ( to give me a good reason to learn html coding and cgi programming ) to provide a searchable mudlist. I do not recall if the search engine was actually implemented from the very first incarnation because we only started with 2 or 3 mud listings, but it was certainly planned that the site would feature a search engine.
Q #6: Have those goals changed, or do you have any new goals for TMC?
AC: Yes, TMC has slowly morphed over the years, with new features being added as they become requested or needed. Over the years we have added numerous ways to interrogate the database including categorical listings, community discussion boards, a ranking system, resource listings, and a social network which has since been discontinued.
Michael Hartman: From what I have seen at TMC, those discussion boards remain incredibly active after all of these years. There is definitely a tightly knit, devoted community that has grown around TMC.
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Q #7: What new features, additions, or changes are in the near future for TMC?
AC: We recently overhauled the entire site with its first new design since 1998. We also just completed a major shift in how the rankings system works and it is still being evaluated as to the success of the changes. A facebook app is being considered for the near future as well as other web 2.0 ways of better cementing the community aspect of the site. We are also considering a major upgrade to our java based client to provide an easier way to get new players into the community, especially people unfamiliar with muds.
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Q #8: What are you most proud of about TMC?
AC: I am proud of the site overall and of all of the people involved with making it what it is today. TMC is almost 15 years old and for many people is still considered the place to go to promote your mud or to find a new mud.
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Q #9: Do you have any regrets related to TMC?
... Or if you could go back in time to when you started TMC, what would you do differently?
AC: I think TMC suffers from its non-traditional interface. Many people are comfortable with and expect the sites they use to have a common or familiar interface, TMC may seem confusing or strange to some people and it might turn them off to becoming familiar. If I could go back I would have designed some of the areas to be easier to navigate and use.
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Q #10: How many visitors does TMC have per month?
AC: TMC has somewhere between 80,000 and 100,000 unique IP addresses visiting each month.
Michael Hartman: That is very impressive. I imagine most gamers had no idea that MUDs and MUD related web sites were still that incredibly popular.
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Q #11: Do you still play any MUDs? If so, about how many hours per month?
AC: My wife made me quit mudding many years ago, before we were married. I think if I recall correctly her exact words were "Quit mudding today or find a new girlfriend." I don't blame her, I have an addictive personality and muds are highly addictive, it was an uncontrollable combination for me so it was either mudding or the girl. ;)
Michael Hartman: I think many gamers have faced that exact same conundrum, and not all of them choose the girl.
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Q #12: Have you ever programmed/coded/built for a MUD?
AC: Yes, and I loved it.
I started with a very short stint on Burning Dikumud back when the creators took their leave. It was literally only 1-2 weeks before they shut the mud down after that ( it has since been brought back and is still running successfully and listed on TMC ).
I then worked on Valhalla MUD back when it was called Dikumud II. I built the Mystics' guild, the Sorcerors' guild, the first incarnation of the newbie guide system, and a handful of other areas. Michael Seifert, from the original Dikumud team, was one of the creators of Diku II and he had been running it since its inception. He needed time off to work on his graduate thesis and he put myself and Brian Clark ( Cabal from DikuII ) in charge of the game while he was away.
This was a particularly important event for me because it was Brian who invited me to join the company he and his friend Tammy Kearns were about to create, which is still going strong to this day. It was Brian's suggestion that I learn html and CGI programming, so he is in large part responsible for the creation of TMC.
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Q #13: How would you describe the current state of the MUDding hobby?
AC: I think the mudding hobby is going through a difficult period due to the surge in popularity of the graphical variants ( MMORPGs ). In particular I think World of Warcraft has probably done a fair share of reducing the number of text-based gamers as well as the number of new startup muds.
In some respects I think the reduction in new mud startups is actually a good thing. There was a time when it was not uncommon for 20-50 new stock muds to join our listings in a given week, while the number of players available to play the games was not increasing at the same rate.
While the hobby overall might be having some pains as a result of this, I do not believe it will mean the death of mudding overall. There will always be those people who enjoy the environment of a text-based game over a graphical one.
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Q #14: Where do you see MUDs going in the next 5 years?
AC: Its hard to say because its really only been a short while in the overall span of the mudding hobby that a graphical game like Wow has been in existence. My guess would be that new players continue to trickle into the hobby each year, while some find their way out of it and into games like WoW.
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Q #15: What is the biggest thing (or things) holding back the success or popularity of MUDs?
AC: I think its the stigma that text-based games are old and archaic, antiques of the internet dating back to its earliest beginnings. Its difficult to appeal to new and younger crowds with games that are described as antiques simply because they lack graphical interfaces.
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Q #16: What do you still consider to be unique, charming, or special about playing MUDs compared to play other types of games?
AC: In a mud, you are forced to use your imagination to help you picture the world around you, the people that are your friends, the creatures you encounter that seek to slay you. Everything in a mud is defined by a textual description which your mind translates into mental images. The great thing is no two people probably ever see the same room the exact same way, or even each other.
In a graphical MMO like WoW this will never happen because everything you encounter is drawn for you. Your mind doesn't get to use the power of imagination. I think there will always be people who prefer to let their imagination power their gaming experience and for this reason I see the mud hobby sticking around indefinitely.
Michael Hartman: This is one of those things that is self evident to MUDders but is really hard to explain to people who have only played graphical games. It really is a different experience that entertains in a different way. If for no other reason than to understand the history of MMORPGs, it would be great if more gamers would try out a MUD or two to see what they are like.
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Michael Hartman: Thank you for your time. I think the readers of Bright Hub will really enjoy learning so much about the history of MUDs, MMORPGs, and TMC in particular.
AC: You are welcome. I hope they will check out some MUDs as well.
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Full Disclosure regarding Threshold RPG
In the interests of full disclosure, I should mention that one of the games created by my company, Frogdice, is listed on TMC. Threshold RPG has been a part of TMC since 1996.
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All MUDs and MMORPGs owe a debt of gratitude to Andrew Cowan and The Mud Connector. It has helped millions of people find a fun game to play. TMC has played a vital role in helping gaming communities form and grow. It continues to be an invaluable resource for MUD and MMORPG gamers as well as developers.
If you have never heard of The Mud Connector, I highly reecommend that you visit the site and see what it has to offer. If you have never played a MUD, you definitely should give one a shot. MUDs offer a different, deeper, more visceral experience than graphical MMORPGs. That is not to say that MUDs are better - they are just different. Both types of games have something unique and special to offer. As gamers, you owe it to yourselves to have the experience.
Please check out other interviews in this series as they are added. Also, I invite any of our readers that have played MUDs to share some of their favorite MUD related memories in the comments. Feel free to brag about your favorite MUD and even share a URL to its website.