PAUL EVANS finally manages to go M.U.D wrestling

If I went up to someone in the street and said ‘I like M.U.D.’, then they would probably think I was nuts — and I’d agree with them! However, if I said the same thing to someone on a Prestel chatline (or any other chatline for that matter), they would say ‘Oh, that’s nice’, or something equally boring. Streetcred chatters might say ‘Great! See you on Shades in two minutes!’. This is because Shades has become the only decent M.U.D. to be seen in.

‘Ah, but what has Prestel or Shades got to do with a solution of soil and water?’, I hear you cry. The answer is: absolutely nothing, as in this case M.U.D stands for Multi-User Dungeon. A Multi-User Dungeon is an adventure with a difference. For one thing, you need a modem to play it. Got it yet? You also need lots of friends with their own computers and modems. Taken the hint? For the denser life forms among you, the idea is that you all play the same adventure at the same time. You can interact with each other, try and come up with a solution or just wander around spoiling everybody else’s fun. As you have probably guessed, M.U.D.s have potential for great growth and exploitation.

Once you have linked people together to play a game, your imagination can run wild! The first M.U.D. (called M.U.D., amazingly enough) was set up in the early eighties. At the time everyone was very enthusiastic and M.U.D. achieved cult status amongst comms users. It allows participants to take on different personalities, which I think is a great advantage; all your innermost feelings can be released through manipulation of your character. If you have a particularly nasty streak, then create a barbarian and slaughter people just for fun! However, the adventure side of the original M.U.D. was, in my opinion, very limited and hardly matched the standards of games such as The Pawn or even The Hobbit.

No other M.U.D.s appeared for a long time after the original until Micronet took interest in what a certain programmer in Greater London was up to...


In a small cave near Gatwick airport, a mystical arch-wizard was hard at work. As a final tribute to himself, he decided to transfer his great epic on to a computer. His journey into the land of Shades would take some time to chronicle; suffice it to say, he worked long and hard. As the days passed, he fed more and more information into his advanced abacus until his task at last came to an end. All his memories of the land and its inhabitants had been entered into his PDP11. The adventurers of this earth could finally gaze upon the product of his wisdom and try to solve the puzzles that it had taken him ages to create. At last they would see the magical land of Shades!

Micronet purchased the wizard’s knowledge from him and granted many users access to his computerised wonderland. The wizard was allowed to retain all his original power and became known as mighty Hazeii, the Arch-Wizard, who has complete control over the system and its users.

So now all you ’netters have access to Shades, I’d better tell you a bit about it. Shades is a large improvement on the original M.U.D. and integrates a complex adventure with the multi-user facility. Its presentation is very similar to Teletalk’s. A few years ago, even to think of being able to scroll text on a Viewdata screen was a sign of madness. However, following extensive study, Hazeii finally came up with the goods. His method is quite simple: the text makes its way down the screen and, when it reaches the bottom, goes back up to the top. It’s not perfect scrolling, but for Viewdata it’s quite good! Shades is presented in this format with a line reserved at the bottom for entering text. Just type your line, press enter and the result is printed in the scrolling box. From now on just treat it like an ordinary adventure.

Your initial task, when entering Shades for the first time, is to create a new persona. This involves choosing your name, sex and password. You use this password to gain entry to the system every time you play. Once in the playing area, you are free to roam as you please. You can move around trying to earn points and it won’t be long before someone or something grabs your attention.

The aim of the game is to win points by collecting treasures and putting them to interesting use! I won’t say exactly how as this is obviously part of the game. The more points you accumulate, the higher your rank goes. You start at novice and can climb up the very long promotional ladder to wizard. There are about 18 different categories which have a variety of different names. Once you have attained the rank of wizard (for which you need 50,000+ points) you become all-powerful and can kill any player with a flick of your little finger. Fun, eh? It’s a long route to the top, though, and the almighty category of arch-wizard (a ‘god') can only be awarded by Hazeii himself. To my knowledge only two arch-wizards, including Hazeii, exist.


The game is set in the land of Shades, a typical fantasy adventure environment. There’s the inevitable ruined city, the river, the mystical wood and the castle. Getting into this fortress requires a slightly more indirect approach than just lowering the drawbridge.

It feels as if the world actually exists because wherever you go, there are REAL people to talk to! Interaction between players takes up a lot of game time. You can kill, steal or do equally unpleasant things to other players who can then do nasty things to you. If you’re feeling sociable then you can converse with other participants. If these players are very nice people they might help you; quite possibly they’ll be asking for advice themselves.

You can go for a chat in the village pub where I found out just how much Shades has become a way of life for its users. Whilst talking to a Shadist about the fact that Genesis was the only group worth listening to, I was approached by another player who had used his fighting power to become a mercenary and was trading points for contracts on anyone lower than his rank! I think this sums up the way Shades works; it has created its own universe and has many groups that work together, as well as independently of each other, to try and beat the system (warning: not all groups should be trusted — some are keen to seize your power!).

I think by now you should have a good idea of how Shades works. Its parser is fairly basic but some of the interaction commands are very good. All the commands for TeleTalk (such as ‘POGO’ or ‘SMILE') are available and a full list is given in the on-line instruction manual. My favourite is the EMOTE facility. This enables you to perform actions that will be displayed to their users. For example, when you type ‘EMOTE bashes his head against the wall’, the others see ‘Paul bashes his head against the wall’. Loadsa fun!

If you dislike the Viewdata scrolling facility then you can switch to the normal scrolling format but this requires scrolling software (available on VTX Editor). The display is much better and easier to keep track of.

The price of this pleasure is 1.62p per minute (£1 an hour) if you are a member of Micronet, or 3p per minute if you are only subscribed to Prestel. It’s worth every penny.

It’s almost impossible to summarise this journey into the unknown. All I can say is that it is the only real goal for the adventurer looking for a bigger challenge. Instead of interacting with standard computer characters (whose reactions are predetermined) you are faced with real people whose actions will be different in every game you play. Some will stop at nothing to rob you of your treasure or power and really nasty Shadists won’t hesitate to take pot-shots at you! You have to play it to sample the sense of reality. If this is only the beginning of M.U.D.s then we’re in for a good time!!

The bottom line is: When on Prestel, type ‘*SHADES$'!


I’m hoping to get a bit of an exclusive for next month, so to keep it that way I’m not going to tell you what it is! If there is room left after that, I’ll have a look at home-shopping on Prestel. See you next month!