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10:08am on Friday, 12th October, 2007:
I was asked by a MUD2 player recently for the exact date that the very first MUD was written. Next year will be its 30th anniversary, and it might be nice to mark it somehow.
OK, so the short answer is that I don't know the exact date. However, I can make a stab at pinning it down.
My first contact with MUD, as I've mentioned before, followed my standing in line for tickets for a Lindisfarne concert. The concert is widely reported as having been in December 1978, but I thought we queued for tickets only a few weeks into term. This would mean that the tickets were made available over a month before the actual concert. I thought it was more like two weeks, give or take a week. Anyway, I eventually found an obscure web site that gives the date of the concert as being 17th November. This makes much more sense; the concert was broadcast in December, but recorded 3 or 4 weeks earlier.
Anyway, the reason I was in the queue for tickets for this was because I wanted to join the Computer Society at Essex, having somehow missed its stand at the Societies' Bazaar. Roy Trubshaw was the secretary, who had to take my money and sign me in, and Nigel Roberts was the president. I found Nigel, but Roy was away somewhere (probably in his room) so we went off and queued for Lindisfarne tickets, on the grounds that if we were going to be talking anyway we may as well do it in a queue.
Having got the tickets, we went back to the Computer Science building. Roy still wasn't there, but one of the final-year students was, Keith Rautenbach. He showed me a program Roy had written a few days earlier, called MUD.
So, this would only be two or three weeks into term, which at Essex traditionally starts in October (right now, for example, the first week of teaching for the academic year 2007/08 has just finished). I don't recall any Hallowe'en stuff going on, but it wasn't that big a thing back then so that's not really much of a clue as to the date. My best guess is that it was probably about the 4th week in October when I queued with Nigel, so Roy would have written MUD in the 3rd week. But when in the 3rd week?
I recall being told once by someone who was there when Roy did it that there were half a dozen or so hackers sitting around talking code at the time, and they had this collective idea for writing to shared memory (which is how MUD communicated between its users); Roy was first to a keyboard and got the basic mechanism working fairly quickly. He developed this into version 1 of MUD after about 2 hours more of programming on his own. Anyway, the thing was, I was given the impression this was in the evening, rather than
during the day. I doubt it would have been Saturday, because there would have been a Film Society movie on that day and Roy wouldn't have missed it.
So, taking all this into account, I'd say that the chances are Roy wrote the first MUD in the evening some time between Monday 16th and Friday 20th October, 1978. Of these, I'd rate the Friday as being the most probable.
The smart thing to do would be to ask Roy, of course...
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