The portals to your adventure

When you journey to the Realms of Despair what portal transports you? Do you use the web based client at http://realmsofdespair.com? Do you log in through a piece of software like CMud, TinTin, or Mushclient? Maybe you’re using a mobile device and BlowTorch is more to your liking.

In 2014 I wrote a draft article called SMAUG HTTP. I never published it because I knew that the tremendous effort needed to convert the game engine that runs the Realms of Despair from a Telnet server to a HTTP based engine was unlikely to gain support. I speak only as an outside observer but I imagine that any of the handful of coders active on Realms would rather put their time into changes that will add more fun and adventure. Not at all an unreasonable point of view!

I abandoned that idea and looked at the Realms Web Client, which I think has been a phenomenal tool for allowing new players to experience Realms without undertaking the burden of installing and configuring a new client. It just doesn’t fit with today’s model of how software is delivered, does it?

When I started on Realms the idea of downloading software and spending an hour getting it set up before I played for 1 minute was absolutely standard. Now you log into a web portal and if you can’t have an account inside a few minutes, pfffft, next!

The problem we have in our community is that we are past the peak era when lots of people were actively contributing to projects. Not just SMAUG itself, but also the clients that are available. Zuggsoft hasn’t issued a new version of CMud since 2011 and seems very unlikely to do so. Mushclient was more recently updated in 2019 and is well supported on the forums. TinTin is in active development with the hopes of converting it to a commercial project.

The problem becomes that each has strengths and weaknesses and none of them hit it out of the park. CMud has a mapper that is hard to beat, and a relatively friendly window system, along with robust scripting capabilities. On the down side it is Windows only and full of very irritating memory/file corruption bugs. If you’re like me and able to work around those issues, it’s hard to beat. I may be biased, I started with Zmud more than 20 years ago, and the old dog likes to make maps.

Mushclient is, in my opinion, the most stable piece of Windows mud client software available with top notch scripting capabilities. Written by Nick Gammon the client makes it very easy to create a structure to share scripts between characters and suffers from no corruption issues I’ve ever encountered. I’ve used it for my bots and been very happy with it. Unlike CMud it’s much harder to see the active state of memory if your variables are involved, but like anything that is a trade off that can be worked around.

Most of its files are text based making for easy sharing and easy backups. The menus are not bad, once you get used to where everything is. I made a serious attempt to move to Mushclient full time but I just couldn’t live without the interactive automapper. Nick … if you’re listening, let’s talk about it 🙂

TinTin is an older product that has had new life breathed into it. Myrr reached out to me about getting involved with using it, and introduced me to it’s mapper. Like Mushclient its mapper is of limited interactivity. It records things that CMud’s does not, like terrain type, and attempts to auto generate a graphical map, which is very fun, but is ultimately more difficult to extract information out of than either of CMud or Mushclient. I think this is because this one is available on multiple operating systems and has a distinct linux feel to it. If you’ve been living in that command line world with no windows available then this one might be up your alley. It lacks new user friendliness, even setting it up for the first time is non-obvious. The names of files you need to edit aren’t documented and you find yourself on the Discord channel feeling like a fool trying to get the thing running at times, but I applaud the author’s determination to revive the software and make it not only useful, but progressive.

All of these products are computer based. I’ve used a couple of different mobile technologies which I’ve blogged about before. The biggest thing to say about playing Realms on mobile is that you better set up buttons for things. Where you can argue that fast typing can get you away from macros or triggers on a PC, even the finest Bluetooth keyboard is going to be a pain for mudding on a phone. Not introductory level, but absolutely cool once you’re ready for it.

Which brings us back to the Realms client. I’ve used it many times and though it suffers from some of the critiques I mentioned on the other clients it has the distinct advantage of being web based. Fire up a browser and go. It is developed and supported by the people who are working on Realms and so feature wise it can be tailored exactly to our game. I genuinely believe that it has the potential to be the client of choice for our player base.

To create an experimental development environment I asked some of my students to create a HTML5 Websocket client that could connect to Realms to try to play around with it and they did in just a couple of months time. Another project team chose to work on a web based mapping software for Realms that could read and render CMud’s map files. Another success. Bringing these ideas together and then expanding on them further could make the Realms client top notch.

I think that there are questions about this though, for example I have no idea how much server overhead administering the client creates. The client itself runs on your device, but it has to be back ended by a Realms server. Not only that but the original point I made about developer’s time … any time spent on reinventing the wheel with a client is time away from expanding the game itself.

I saw a recent TS vote pass that suggested multiple characters connected through the web client. This was part of my student’s project as well. We know that players need multi-character support. Whether it should be added to the Realms client comes down to the intention of that client: is it a vehicle to get people to try the game and then they will be vested to install a stand alone client, or is it an opportunity to demonstrate the full capabilities of a custom SMAUG installation on a 25+ year old adventure game?

Maybe there is a possibility of custom web clients in the same way people used to make stand alone executables. This one is problematic because you’d have to trust the person running the client not to steal your passwords or you’d have to have your own online database that you configure a connection to … we’ve done some stuff like this using DropBox or Google shared drives to sync our CMud profiles across computers, so it might not be that far fetched. Update (2020-08-05): One possible work around to the trusting someone with your passwords problem raised here has already been solved in industry. If the Realms server were willing to provide a third party login authentication service in a similar way that you can log in “using your Facebook account” to other sites, this could keep the control of your password between you and the Realms site while allowing a custom browser client to be built by third parties.

I still think the Realms client has great potential. If only the escape key would clear my input bar ala Z/CMud and not disconnect me routinely.

Have fun, stay safe!

Quarantine? Quest-antine!

Hi everyone, we might be stuck indoors but that doesn’t mean our imagination can’t wander through the Realms in search of fun and adventure!

I hope you and all the people around you are doing well. The pandemic has been a very challenging situation for most, we have been asked to voluntarily, and in some cases legislated, restrict our personal freedoms in the hope of serving the greater public good. I’ve watched this swirl around from the eye of the hurricane, I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to work from home and that my income has not been disrupted. Starting from that position something like wearing a mask is a minor inconvenience. I realize that for others who are at their wits’ end that it’s the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Wherever you fall on this spectrum, I hope you are taking good care.

Some have suggested that the whole COVID-19 emergency is a hoax, including one of my former colleagues who counselled his students to reject all the restrictions put on our personal freedoms. All I can say is that the people I know from Realms, and elsewhere, who work in the health care front lines would most strongly disagree with you. To those workers – thank you for all the extraordinary measures you have gone through these last few months.

With people stuck at home I’ve noticed an influx of new faces in the Realms of Despair. Some are returning players visiting to see if the lights are still on. Others have heard about the game word of mouth. To all of you who have shown up lately, welcome! We’re glad you’re here. There’s a great community of people around doing all sorts of things, find one that fits with your idea of having fun and run with it 🙂

That’s all for the moment, in the coming weeks I want to share some of what I’ve been up to the last 10 months and share some ideas of what I might get up to in the coming year. Right now I am scripting videos for running courses online in the fall and the thoughts of an online newbie guide is in my head – not only the game itself but the tools around the game: Mushclient, CMud, writing triggers and scripts, Discord, and so on.

If you’d like to be involved in any of that or have any ideas, please reach out to me in game or at tharius@realmsofdespair.info

Until next time, stay well, have fun, and may all your RNG rolls be perfect.