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1:36pm on Saturday, 30th April, 2005:
I was twice asked yesterday why MUD1 had levels. Here's why.
Roy's original vision of MUD was a freeform world in which you could do anything the physics allowed. It would support you in your endeavours neutrally. If you wanted to play it as a game, then you could do that; if you wanted to explore or chat, you could do that too — whatever took your fancy.
I realised, though, that if we wanted people to play, then it had to be a game: not a playground, a game. They could use it as a playground, but the default would have to be that it was a particular game that was supported by the code. Other games would be compatible with the code (playing tag, for example), but the software itself only recognised one game.
As for the kind of game, well we wanted it to be freeform too, so that meant giving players rewards for doing things that we felt they might expect rewards for doing, if we could track it. That meant finding treasure, working things out, killing monsters and killing each other. We settled on a points system, because that gave us some relativity (if a task was easy, you get fewer points than a task that was risky or difficult). This was simple, and pretty much what ADVENT had done so would be familiar to out players.
We only needed points. However, I also wanted a way that players could tell how many points someone else had, so they could judge their relative worth. Rather than having LOOK <player> stamp a number on their forehead, I gave them a title: Bill the hero was not as good as Bill the sorcerer, who was not as good as Bill the legend. Players had some incentive and kudos for getting a title, because it showed their worth. They could also judge how skilled/powerful someone else was from their title.
To get titles, I had to introduce bands of points, which meant levels (as in D&D — that's explicitly where I took the idea from). Thus, levels were born. I increased stats when you went up a level, and added other powers (spells etc.) once the stats mixed out. This difference between level X and level X+1 was mainly in the skill of the player, but there were some tangible differences too to back that up.
So that's why I put levels in MUD1. If it had been a graphical game where some visual feature could have determined how experienced your character was, I might have gone with that instead. It was essentially a technology-driven decision.
[Edit: this isn't entirely the truth, as I purposefully didn't mention why I wanted players to be able to tell how experienced a character was. See http://mud.co.uk/richard/RAB%20GDC%20Online.pdf for a fuller explanation...]
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