In his own words, listen up for words from Haus!

Haus got a hold of me on Facebook after seeing some of the 20th anniversary posts I made and decided to write up a post for the site.  I’ve had it for a little while now, life gets busy and things get overlooked, I hope you enjoy it … here it is, Haus!

In the summer of 1994, I’d just finished my first year in grad school and a tiring 6-week research project. I was looking forward to going back to Alander’s Rivers of Mud (RoM) for some mindless hack-n-slash, but he had done a massive overhaul which included a complete player-file wipe, which I’m still bitter about. I went on Usenet to look for a new mud and saw Thoric’s post. The vampire class sounded fun, so I rolled a character. One thing I learned during my brief tenure as an immortal at RoM was that short names made life a lot easier, so I shortened my handle from “Hausdorff” to “Haus.” As far as I know there were two other mortal players at that time – Pandora and Akasha. They were both affiliated with Compulink. I went on a power-levelling jag for two or three days, and, was the first mortal to reach avatar. I had a few chats with Thoric, and he was interested in having another set of eyes on the code. Memory leaks were a big problem in the early days, so over the summer we spent a lot of time analyzing the core dumps when the mud crashed, repairing problems, and repeating.

Realms became much more popular that fall, but I was focusing mostly on my classwork. By Winter Break, there were probably twenty active immortals. The day-to-day administration was handled by a fellow that Thoric appointed who was, well, a dick of the first order. He was a hell of an area builder, but a complete failure as an administrator. For a long time, folks who wanted to contribute to growing and improving the game had to do it in spite of the tirades and follies of this dickish guy. Morale was all over the place, but, we mostly managed to make it work. In this period, we set up the test server, a lot of people were building areas, and we got more aggressive when it came to adding features.

More than a couple of high school kids wrote their first lines of computer code to do something cool in SMAUG, caught the programming bug, and went on to become software professionals. In these early days we did a lot of the things that made SMAUG SMAUG to me – programmable objects/mobs/rooms, expanded classes, unique spells/skills, expanded player and mob races, improvements to the area building system, and so forth.

So things went on, we made the game richer, the player-base continued to expand. My course work and research had me in a computer lab 12+ hours per day, so I was able to spend a lot more time with one eye on the mud. A group of highish-level immortals started discussing how the main thing holding back the game’s progress was random attacks from the aforementioned dick, and began to kick around alternatives. After a lot of debate and discussion amongst ourselves, we approached Thoric with the idea of a council of senior immortals replacing the dick in overseeing day-to-day operations. After a lot more debate and discussion, we formed the Council of Elders (CoE) and were suddenly running the joint. The CoE’s prime directive was to continually improve the game, but the challenging part was to make being an immortal/area builder/coder a rewarding way for a person to spend their time. A big key to this was an unwritten rule that senior immortals coached and protected juniors, and, in return, juniors acted respectfully to seniors. Another was working out how we could delegate interesting tasks that were originally in the purview of the CoE. The delegation was wildly successful, and we soon had councils doing things like recruiting new immortals, overseeing area building, proposing and managing new projects, handling promotions of lower-level immortals, smoothing the learning curve for newbies and so forth.

For me, this was the Golden Age. Immortals were doing interesting work and having a lot of fun. The CoE had an amazing blend of strengths and personae. The job demanded that we each make a lot of unilateral decisions, but also that we could recognize potentially controversial issues, and refer those to a full vote. Many governments could learn a lot from the mutual respect, calm debate, and compromise we had in the CoE. As the immortal community grew, it started pumping out talented and experienced administrators (and coders, and builders) who started bubbling to the top. Plenty found a spot somewhere in the middle that they liked and stayed there. Others wanted to work their way up the ladder to the “big league.” With the exception of “pure-coders,” those that made it to 55/56 were very experienced in general immortaling, very good at at least one of the trinity (admin/coding/building), and were trusted in any given situation to either (a) make a good decision, or (b) kick the problem up the ladder for consideration. Those that made it to 57 were serious contenders for a future position on the CoE. So, the 51s-55s were overseeing the mortals, the 55s-57s were overseeing the lower immortals, and the CoE was focusing on big-picture ideas and “Supreme Court” cases.

I spent most of my online time invisible except to the 56+s because (a) I could, (b) it kept me from getting in the way of the mid-level imms, and (c) it made the wall of multicolored spam that I had to read every tick a bit more managable. At some point, an engineer who has built a solid machine gets tired of watching it work, and gets the itch to go and build new machines. For a long time, I hung out, tweaking this and that, enjoying watching the high immortals and future CoE members do their jobs. Then, a “real-life” relationship exploded, necessitating that I move to another country, and so I did what any reasonable person would do: I went over to Darrek’s house, lost to him repeatedly at Nintendo Hockey, and drank many, many Molsons.

The combination of boredom and being irritated at RoD had ended a lot of people’s tenure there. By this time, it was crystal clear to me that I’d finally landed in that pile. I didn’t want to be the guy that leaves and comes back and leaves and comes back – that rarely ends well. So, between zigarauts of empty beers at Darrek’s computer I logged in, announced I was “outie,” and deleted my player file. The sudden departure caused some weirdness, but I was really glad to see some of my all-star proteges names replacing mine on the CoE roster.

I think what I like best about the whole experience is how folks took skills and experiences from Realms and transferred them into their real lives. Among my closest friends from RoD: this guy owns a computer services company, that guy’s a computer science professor, this gal’s a hot shot in the gaming industry, that gal’s a successful fantasy writer. A lot of us really spent more time on RoD than we probably should have, but it’s really nice to see that the time spent payed off for people in a lot of interesting ways.

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