Meet the Devs: KaVir of God Wars II
What would the gaming industry be like, if there were no developers? There wouldn’t be one for starters!! So let’s meet a developer.
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Moving right along, I had the opportunity to interview hobby developer Richard Woolcock (pictured left), better known as KaVir in the MUD community. KaVir created the original GodWars, which later became a codebase, of which there are 30+ MUDs running on it according to The MUD Connector.
After closing the original GodWars down, KaVir would later move on to create God Wars II, which in my opinion is one of the most complex and advanced MUDs I’ve ever played. The complexity and design can be a bit of a shock to experienced MUDders such as myself but the more recent addition of a client with graphical elements (MUSHclient for example) helps a lot in that regard.
Throughout the interview, there will be images taken from God Wars II. Clicking on the images will make them bigger and allow you to get a better view of what’s going on. Now onto the interview itself!
Dean: How and when did you get involved in online games, in particular MUDs?
KaVir: Shortly after starting University in 1993, I was introduced to a couple of custom MUDs written in Pascal that ran on the University network – they were pretty simple, but still good fun. Then over the Christmas break I met up with some old school friends who were back home visiting their families, and one of them told me about his experiences with MUDs. They sounded like great fun, and I was eager to try some out.
My University didn’t have direct internet access at that point, but there was an academic network called JANET which I learned to use as a bridge – I’d connect to other Universities through JANET, find a way to break out to a raw telnet prompt, and then connect outwards from there. At first I only found TinyMUD derivatives – MUSHes, MUCKs, etc. But I asked around, and eventually found someone who knew the addresses of more action-oriented MUDs. I played many MUDs over the next few months, but eventually settled down on a new but rapidly-growing DikuMUD called Realms of Despair.
I think it was pretty inevitable that I’d get involved with MUDs though. I’d started programming at the age of 12, had developed several single-player text adventure games from scratch while I was still in school, and in sixth-form College I’d written various custom network tools, including a talker that allowed me to chat with people at a different College. I’d also been roleplaying for many years by that point, and had designed several of my own systems and settings.
MUDs combined all the skills I’d taught myself over the years into a single hobby, and by 1995 I was developing and running my own. A year after that I graduated and started working as a software engineer, first in aerospace, then telecommunications, and now in the medical industry. But I’ve always remained interested in MUDs.
Dean: If you were explaining what a MUD was to someone who had never heard of them before, what would your explanation be?
KaVir: It would depend on the person. Sometimes I describe MUDs as being a bit like interactive novels, other times I say they’re like World of Warcraft or EverQuest except primarily text-based. When speaking to someone from a technical background I’ll sometimes point out that the graphical MMORPGs consist of two parts – a server and a client – and that the differences between a graphical MMORPG and text-based MUD lie primarily in the client.
Of course there are now text-based clients available for Second Life (primarily for the benefit of visually impaired players), while modern MUD clients are offering increasingly powerful graphical support, so we’re starting to see some crossover.
Dean: If you recommend one MUD that wasn’t your own, what would it be?
KaVir: There’s no “one size fits all” answer. It’s like recommending a movie or a flavour of ice cream – everyone likes something different, and it’s very much a matter of personal taste. If someone were looking for a solid all-round MUD with traditional gameplay I’d probably recommend Realms of Despair, but if they wanted a strict roleplaying environment I might instead suggest Harshlands or Atonement. I’d probably point fans of quests and exploration towards 4 Dimensions, and tell combat fanatics to go and try ConQUEST.
But most of all, I’d recommend trying a wide range of different MUDs, to get a real feel for what’s out there. Going back to the ice cream analogy for a moment, just because you like chocolate flavoured ice cream it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try other flavours as well! If you only ever play one MUD, you’ll never know what else you might be missing.
Dean: The manner in which the original GodWars codebase got out is every developer’s nightmare, hobbyist or big studio but has since gone on to become a house hold name (in the wider MUDding community) with 38 MUDs listed on The MUD Connector of varying size and flavours at the moment. 15 years on, how do you feel about this and what impact (if any) do you think the original GodWars codebase has had on the MUDding community?
KaVir: Although I was pretty angry about it at the time, the code was leaked after I’d already shut the MUD down, and I had no plans to ever reopen it. So in some ways it’s nice that the MUD at least left some sort of legacy behind, rather than vanishing completely, like many other MUDs have done.
However the number of GodWars MUDs has steadily declined over the years. At one point there were over a hundred of them, today there’s only about a third of that number. But on the other hand I’ve also seen a few GodWars features make their way into other MUDs, so I think the codebase has definitely had some influence on the larger MUDding community.
One thing that didn’t work out so well was trying to use the name and reputation of the original to help promote God Wars II. The theme might be generally the same, but the mechanics are so radically different that most hardcore GodWars player hate God Wars II – yet at the same time, those who hated the original often don’t even bother giving God Wars II a chance, because they assume it’ll be very similar.
Dean: When you embarked on God Wars II, what were your design goals and do you think you’ve accomplished them?
KaVir: After I shut down the original God Wars, I continued to develop the codebase, turning it into a much more complex MUD – it had extensive dynamic descriptions, a highly customisable combat system, an introduction system, a truly persistent world consisting of over a billion rooms, an account system which supported IC permadeath without losing OOC effort, a natural language parser, and so on.
However I found myself increasingly struggling to implement things that the DikuMUD architecture was never designed to handle – each room had its own x/y/z coordinate position, and each room also had internal coordinates for combat, but the concept of “rooms” was so integral to the codebase that I couldn’t get rid of it entirely. Likewise, when I wanted to let players pick up mobs and other players, or have players transform into objects, I had to use all sorts of dirty hacks and nasty workarounds.
The codebase became a mess, my design felt confined by the underlying architecture, and perhaps worst of all I got so caught up with “cool” features that there was very little in the way of actual gameplay – other MUD developers were often impressed when they saw what I’d implemented, but there were few real players. I got frustrated by my lack of progress, and eventually gave up on the MUD entirely.
But in April 2000, Erwin Andreasen announced the 16K MUD competition, and I tried my hand at creating a MUD from scratch. I’d occasionally thought about creating a God Wars II, but Erwin’s competition had given me the push I needed to start taking the idea seriously – I got in contact with a few friends, put together a design, developed a prototype for the combat system, and never looked back.
The general design goal of God Wars II was to create a game with the same theme and playing style as the original God Wars, as that had already proven successful – but to also design the architecture from the ground up to properly support the more advanced features I’d wanted to add over the years. Some of those features were dropped or redesigned because they didn’t fit the gameplay, or because they added realism at the expense of fun. But in general, I think God Wars II has successfully combined what I feel are the best of both worlds – a clear theme and fun gameplay, supported by detailed and innovative mechanics.