MUDs as art (was [MUD-Dev] A footnote to Procedural Storytelling)

Lee Sheldon linearno at
Fri May 26 09:39:16 CEST 2000

> -----Original Message-----
> From: mud-dev-admin at
> [mailto:mud-dev-admin at]On Behalf Of
> Ola Fosheim Gr=F8stad
> Sent: Wednesday, May 24, 2000 5:27 PM
> To: mud-dev at
> Subject: MUDs as art (was [MUD-Dev] A footnote to Procedural
> Storytelling)


> What disturbs me about Lee is the goal, to make MUD-SOAP! Why set low
> goals that are expensive to fulfil? Why not utilize the talent that is
> likely to be present in the usermass? Why going top-down? Yes, it is
> easier, but is it more interesting? Is it engaging? Is it sustainable?
> (I'm not going into the moral aspect here, as that lead to endless
> discussions, but soap in MUDs as opposed to soap on TV seems
> like going
> from bad to worse for no apparent reason! ;)

You know my first posts to this list not all that long ago were about
striving for something that might someday be considered art, so your comm=
hurts a bit.  I know that those who set out to create art rarely (if ever=
succeed.  Creators are driven to create by their own internal demons or
angels.  When they also manage to touch the hearts and minds of others,
their work has a chance to become successful.  It also has a chance to
become art.  The second is entirely beyond control of the creator.  The
first requires some knowledge about giving the people what they want.  Th=
can be inclusive of each other or exclusive.  Fate decides.

For that reason my focus has always been on listening to my internal NPCs=
and attempting to translate what they say for the audience I'm paid to
reach.  I have had some success at that.

I used TV as an example deliberately, sensing that it would stir things u=
p a
bit.  It has.  Many people look down on TV, the content it presents, and =
people who create that content.  I know this.

But I hadn't intended the point in bringing TV up to become lost.  It has.
I'm going to try once more using TV as an example, then give up.  The
example was meant to show that millions of people can be entertained by
teams of professionals relying on their craft (and hopefully talent).  Is=
expensive?  No more than any of the other elements that make up a
production.  The sets on Star Trek:The Next Generation were more expensiv=
than I was.  So was the makeup!  It's all relative.

A lower-cost example is theatre.  Not Broadway or the West End.  But loca=
theatre.  Here we see productions on a shoestring where often the most
expensive part of the production is the rights to the written word.  But =
producers understand this.  No one is shocked or surprised.  But it is
easily affordable.

So, to answer your points:

> What disturbs me about Lee is the goal, to make MUD-SOAP!

LOL, Apart from the fact that MUD-Soaps are going to make a lot of money.=

Anyway, sticking to the real topic: my point was simply the huge amount o=
writing that needs to be done for a TV soap, not that they are generally
art.  But I suspect if you sorted through all the mundance writing in all
the soaps on TV, you might actually be surprised to discover the occasion=
moment approaching art.  Just as you might discover a well-written book
amongst all the bestsellers.  Amazingly enough, it does happen.  Yet even
with that rarity, millions -- MILLIONS -- continue to be entertained by
something less.

> Why set low goals that are expensive to fulfil?

I don't.  I set high goals that are inexpensive to fulfill.  (The money i=
relative to the industry's ability to create profit.  This is true of all
professions and all who toil at them.  This is not a difficult concept!
Quit talking about "expensive!")  I just allocate the same budget everybo=
else has differently.

But I understand that to entertain millions I will not always succeed in
reaching those high goals.  But there are always deadlines.  I've learned=
live with the fact that even if the product doesn't meet my high standard=
if it succeeds in entertaining, I've succeeded.  And even if it DOESN'T e=
entertain, I have to move on to the next blank page.

> Why not utilize the talent that is likely to be present in the usermass=

Why not indeed?  I love it when I see it.  But it is a rarity as well, an=
my job is to guarantee entertainment to the largest number.  So I can't
count on it.  I supplement it, nurture it, circumvent it if I have to, to=
my job.

> Why going top-down?

Because it is how the persistent world is born.  Because it is how design=
design it: the framework, the structure, the laws.  Because it is how the
graphic art is created.  The consistency of style from the trees to the m=
to the player characters.  Because it is how the world is programmed to
support the structure.  Without that in place first, and a mechanism to
easily change and adapt as the world evolves, you end up with chaos.

> Yes, it is easier, but is it more interesting? Is it engaging?

It is not easier.  It is just different.  It IS safer though.  Is it more
interesting and engaging?  By the magnitude that the film "Titanic" is mo=
interesting to far more people than EQ will ever be.  By another order of
magnitude beyond "Titanic" that makes "The Tempest" even more interesting
and engaging.  To echo my theme above: Both have been popular.  One is ar=

> Is it sustainable?

This is the question that interests me the most, since I already obviousl=
believe the answer to "Interesting? Engaging?" is a resounding YES. :)

I know it is sustainable by a staff structure that I've outlined previous=
My BELIEF (important distinction) is that many such staffs could be creat=
just as they are in other media.  But I don't know FOR SURE that there ar=
enough decent writers who can also grasp the need not to interfere with t=
game part of the equation.  Why?

The welcome mat has not exactly been rolled out for writers in this
industry.  There are a couple reasons for this.

a) Writing is part of the fun stuff.  You get to pretend and play and mak=
up jokes.  It looks easy, and sounds good when you tell people what you d=
For that reason many non-writers WANT to do it, and they are often in a
hiring position.

b) Writers, particularly from outside our industry, have made heavy-hande=
forays into  interactive before.  No one needs to be reminded of Hollywoo=
attempts a few years ago to ram their story-telling techniques into games
without any thought to how they might affect the mix.  "Interactive Movie=
Yikes!  "Rail-Shooters" strung together by hammily-acted cut scenes.  Yuc=
They died the deaths they deserved.  So our industry in general is
suspicious of "outsiders," particularly when they come from that desert c=
in the southwest.

So, I can only SUSPECT that enough could be found so that everybody could
have a reasonably-priced writing staff as part of their team.

> (I'm not going into the moral aspect here, as that lead to endless
> discussions, but soap in MUDs as opposed to soap on TV seems
> like going from bad to worse for no apparent reason! ;)

Hehe.  Ok.  I think you'd discover though that I'm actually a pretty mora=
person and a pretty moral writer.  I'm not out to bring MUDs down to the
lower depths it might seem.  Believe me I understand that there are membe=
of this list who aren't interested in the tradeoffs necessary for MUDs to
become mass market entertainment.  That's fine.  The world of entertainme=
is big and diverse enough for all sorts of wonderful little niches.  My
focus is admittedly and unrepentently on reaching a large number of peopl=
and supporting my family while I do.

If I still have not succeeded in making my point (I'm not looking for
agreement, just understanding of what I'm actually saying), then there's =
much more I can add on this particular subtopic.  I need to move on to th=
next blank page.


MUD-Dev mailing list
MUD-Dev at

More information about the mud-dev-archive mailing list