return of the three kingdoms

September 1996 changed my life forever. I was a naive college freshman trying to make friends with the other guys in my dorm. We were all part of a special technical program for younger students that I won’t go into now – but suffice it to say that we were a bunch of geeks.

The internet was still youngish and only one room in our entire building (a lab on the ground floor) was wired for ethernet. If we wanted to connect to the net, we had to tie up our room’s phone line. I had a 40mhz 486dx processor, 8mb of ram, and a 33.6kbps dial-up modem. This was better than half of the other computers on the floor.

Apart from all of the standard hobbies that one would expect (tabletop role-playing games, computer RPG’s, boardgames, MTG, SNES, usenet, anime, Star Trek, Babylon 5, Red Dwarf, etc…), many of my classmates spent a significant amount of time playing muds. Like a SIGNIFICANT amount of time.

And on September 6th of that year, under only the mildest of coercion, I dialed into the university’s modem bank, typed telnet, and logged into a mud for the very first time.

No client. Raw telnet. … Yeah.

MUDs are the precursors to modern graphical MMORPGs. They’re literally the same sort of thing, an online virtual world where an arbitrary number of players can interact in real time and kill monsters together.

The only significant difference is that muds are text-based:

> k smurf
Just a giant ball of psychic fungus and its pet lizards devouring an irritating Smurf.

So instead of right clicking on a kobold to start automatically attacking it until it dies, you would type ‘kill kobold’; or more likely ‘k kobold’ because you’d have made an alias to save keystrokes… Or ‘k smurf’ as per above πŸ™‚

We played a variety of muds and we wrote code for a variety of muds – both our own and those run by other people. These codebases were actually my introduction to object oriented programming, and my experience with them eventually led to several future work opportunities.

But the one mud that everyone in our group kept coming back to over and over again was Three Kingdoms, or simply 3k for short. 3k had a very unique codebase and a large community. Those of us who had discovered IRC for social reasons quickly abandoned it in favor of simply hanging out for hours ‘flapping’ on the mud instead. Because people’s identities on the mud were more persistent than on IRC, this made us feel less isolated; the socialization feel more personal, more real.

Years later, when I came to after having my wisdom teeth removed, my mother asked me what I wanted to do – whether I wanted to go home and watch tv/read a book/etc… I wrote on a piece of paper that I felt “a profound need to communicate” with people, and asked her to take me to a computer lab, where I logged onto 3k to just chat with friends as I was unable to speak otherwise.

One big thing that 3k in particular offered was a ridiculous variety of choice. Other muds stuck to strict worldbuilding themes or forced you to make one-time permanent choices for your character’s advancement. 3k allowed you to change your mind. 3k let you experiment. 3k let you choose to be a knight or a vampire or a Fremen or a Jedi. And if you decided you didn’t like being a bard or a priest or a cyborg or a whatever, you could switch classes without losing your whole character in the process.

It let you fight with leprechauns, space marines, undead cows, orcs, breakfast cereal mascots, characters from major fantasy novels, giant ice cubes, roving bandits, and letters of the alphabet. It had a variety of (sometimes well written) quests to complete that required us to solve murders, explore the world, save cities, and slay dragons.

And sharing quest solutions was strictly forbidden – none of this “follow the glowing green arrow” bit. Figuring out fiddly bits of arcane syntax was part of the whole experience.

We lost DAYS to the game. And we recruited our friends. Two years later, I had logged weeks of playtime.

I played 3k less and less over the years. It didn’t help that they occasionally wiped my character due to inactivity and I had to beg the administration to undelete me. But sometime around 2005 or 2006, I logged in for the last time… until earlier this month. (NB: I’d played other muds during this time, most notably Discworld… But not 3k.)

I’m not sure what possessed me, but I felt a very particular itch and logged in. Sure enough, my character from ’96 was gone… and there really wasn’t anything I could do about it this time around. But I decided that it didn’t matter. I was going to poke around 3k, perhaps even stay a while.

It’s strange to see how much has and has not changed over the previous decade. The mud forked at one point in time, but maintains some sort of chat system link with the sister server. Occasionally, the two games re-share bits of code. Shrug.

A few guilds (playable classes – not to be confused with ‘clans’ which are persistent player groups) that I remember are gone, and a few new guilds have been written. None of my old friends play… but I did recognize a handful of names when looking at active players during my time in newbie school.

I poked one of the older players I sort of remembered, she didn’t remember me, but that’s not surprising – we were only barely acquaintances back then.

After some more time spent wondering what to do, I decided to reach out to the newbie help channel and ask about these newfangled guilds that I didn’t remember – instead of trying to remember another old acquaintance.

Eventually, the discussion led me to decide to try to join either the Angel guild or the Sii guild – neither of which had existed back when I was active on the game previously. I contacted the only active members of each guild who were online at that time of night… and didn’t hear back from the angel.

But the Sii responded… and asked me if he knew me from someplace πŸ™‚ It turns out, he went to the same school as me (just the year after I left) and was recruited to the game by friends of mine who stuck around. We had known each other online all those years ago, and he even had a key to my house back then… he just didn’t have a terribly original name πŸ˜›

So… in returning to 3k, I eventually did meet someone I knew from all of those years ago. We chatted for a bit and he recruited me into the guild… which is turning out to be a vastly different experience than I remember having in the game previously.

But more on that next time. In fact, this Sii guild is sufficiently interesting that I plan on writing a bit about their mechanics over the weekend – it’s unlike anything I’ve ever played with.

As of the time of this writing, I have now logged about 73 hours on my new character.

> finger allaryin
Yes, time “on” is three days more than my actual “age”. This is because I have spent a great deal of time linkdead this boot.

It looks like I might be sticking around for a while this time after all – especially since they stopped wiping characters for inactivity shortly after they wiped me the last time πŸ˜›

One thought on “return of the three kingdoms”

  1. Ammon,
    I remember creeping up behind you many a time (especially late at night) to find you totally immersed in MUD. I recently had a chance to try out to write for a text based game company called Choice of Games. Its a novel which is also a game, written in Choice Script. You should check it out and see if you’re interested in creating your own quest

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