Thoughts on LambdaMOO from a newbie

By Christopher Allan Webber on Sun 22 February 2015

While working on MediaGoblin's upcoming release, and (dare I say) feeling a bit bored and anxious and frustrated about the whole process, I decided that maybe it was time to look into some sort of entertainment. But for the most part, I feel like I've played all the interesting free software games out there. I've mostly beaten even the games of my old proprietary console using past. What to do?

I wondered what the state of good ol fashioned MUD systems are. I've had dreams for years of building such a system from scratch (hence my interest in the actor model). Answer: they feel like they're in the same place they were around 2000. But maybe this isn't bad? I tried playing some dungeon crawling'y MUDs but found myself a bit bored. But having remembered that Rob Myers has talked plenty about LambdaMOO, so that seems like good enough reason to connect and look around. (Note, connecting is not hard! I am using Mudlet at the moment.)

So, in-between actual coding and fretting about this and that, I've been getting in some downtime, poking around the LambdaMOO environment. And at first I was fairly unimpressed... this thing is what, 20 rooms big? What can I do here? But I've been finding some interesting things:

  • That LambdaMOO is both the software and one particular server is fairly confusing, but no matter: both are of interesting construction. They're both also very old, 25 years old at this point (egads), but particularly as to the world, that leads to much depth.
  • The main rooms of the house (see help geography) are not as interesting as the places they lead to. You can enter a model railroad and actually walk around that imaginary city and end up in some interesting places, reading graffiti off of nightclub walls, etc. Find an old teletype and type on it, or play one of the functioning (!) board games sitting around. A dusty hallway leads to a full hack and slash style game engine, coded live inside the system itself.
  • Most of the world is not really a dungeon crawler, though there is one hidden in it. Most of walking around LambdaMOO is exploring the many curiosities that users have provided there.
  • Speaking of coding live inside the system, what's really interesting about LambdaMOO is that you're really manipulating a big database, and that many features are live coded from within the game itself. Everyone can experiment with adding rooms, though not everyone can program, though you may be able to get help from a certain buffer in the smoking room, if you can find it. (I just got access... I'll have to try things.)
  • LambdaMOO is best known for a famous essay, but I think that essay is maybe not as interesting as it was in the 90s when online experiences were becoming a new thing? Still, the effect of the essay and the event it chronicles is still clear, including the way the world is introduced to you.
  • Interesting to think of LambdaMOO in case of copyright and licensing, of which... well there seems to be no clear answer what is going on, but sharing seems not impeded by it.
  • Being from the early 90s, it's amazing how much is here to explore, and how everything still lives. Since most of the world is pretty "low burn", that's nice for me, because I can just type in a command to look around somewhere every once in a rare while and leave LambdaMOO open in the background.
  • I'm enjoying exploring the world, but I sense that LambdaMOO had a heyday, and while there are users connected, the sheer size of it vs the volume of connected users gives me the sense that today is not it. There's a certain amount of feeling of exploring a secret city, which is wonderful and sad. (It would be nice to have some friends who were interested in exploring with me, maybe I should cajole some into joining me.) It's an interesting piece of internet history, still here to explore, but since it's in a "living" database, what will happen when it shuts down? There won't be any Internet Archive to preserve the LambdaMOO memories, I fear. But maybe nothing is forever, anyway.

I have more, maybe crazier, thoughts on MUDs and maybe a way they could be more useful in this modern world. May I'll explore soon, but I think that the popularity of MUDs has diminished with World of Warcraft and Skyrim and the like, but maybe they have a place still if we can do some new things with them? And those are fairly hack-and-slash type systems, maybe MOO/MUD/MUSH systems have more to offer than popular MMO systems provide? Roguelikes seem more popular than ever, if anything... things can come back... maybe new interfaces are needed?...

In the meanwhile, if you drop by LambdaMOO, send me a message! I'm "paroneayea" there.