Habitat MUD

Rich emailed in to tell me about a Japanese MUD called Habitat that has over one million users. This MUD was started in 1990 by Fujitsu and upon a cursory inspection appears to have one of the most complex game communities around; Habitat even had its own Yakuza-run casinos! (note that Habitat was originally developed in the US by Lucasfilm in 1987. Also, many of the pages online about Habitat are no longer available, so use the Internet Archive to follow up missing pages).

An MMORPG called Lineage apparently has around four million active players, but it doesn’t have anywhere near the social or political complexity of other much smaller games, so clearly numbers don’t count for everything.

I don’t think that Habitat can be easily compared to recent AI-like mmoes, though. It seems that Habitat is, like most MUDs, driven primarily through interplayer interactions, and that there is no centrally dictated narrative. This is not a criticism; different styles of mmoe serve different needs. However, AI-like mmoes concentrate more on a strong central narrative which players work around, and this provides an altogether different experience to a traditional social MUD. In fact, as several people here have pointed out, they’re quite similar to role-playing games writ large on the Internet.

What was the point to this post, beyond the fact that there’s a cool Japanese MUD called Habitat? It serves to show that AI-like mmoes have a long way to go before they can match the popularity of traditional (and comparatively old) MUDs, and that they are qualitatively different types of mmoes. I have this image in my mind of MUD developers being intricate watchmakers, carefully constructing and tweaking their creations so as to make sure they work as smoothly as possible with the least amount of intervention. Developers of AI-like games would be frantic administrators, attempting to lead artists, authors, designers and actors around the clock in response to players demands – a much more hands-on approach. But this is of course a facile analogy; there’s a broad spectrum of MUDs and AI-like games. Hmm… I can sense a possible article here…

3 Replies to “Habitat MUD”

  1. Ah, we witness the return of Einstein’s god, the “blind watchmaker.” Heh.

    MUDs are self-sustaining enterprises, like SimWorlds. Set ’em up, keep them relatively free of universe-annihilating catastrophes, and let ’em go. On one level of analysis, mostly a sociological one, this makes them fascinating microcosms of real world social and political institutions, to watch and study. On another level, mostly a critical and artistic one, it makes them rather bland.

    I think you nailed the major difference between MMOEs and MUDs when you drew the “watchmaker/administrator” analogy. An MMOE needs active and constant PM intervention and guidance to survive; in short, the PM must be willing to serve as a primary “author” for the created world. An MMOE is, after all, an “entertainment” — the word appears right there in the MMOE acronym — and the concept of “entertainment” is inseparable from the concept of “authorship.” An MMOE, therefore, clearly has an initial “text”, however prone it might be to later mutation through player interaction.

    My question is, can a MUD be said to have a “text” as well? It does need a certain set of internal, immutable rules in order to allow it to continue to function as a standalone society. These rules are what the “watchmaker” MUD designer sets in place at the outset in order to create the world of the MUD; but does that make such a watchmaker an ‘author,’ as I have just defined the term? Can this set of rules be considered to be a “text”, in the traditional sense, or must any such “text” also include traditional storytelling elements such as conflict, resolution, characterization, etc.? Do such things even exist in a habitat such as Habitat?


  2. Damn a MUD with over 1 million users? That’s pretty crazy. I started getting involved with MUD type mmorpg games back in highschool but now I just stick with 3d ones.

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