As a Tinyworld Architect or Builder, your job is to create the virtual world in which players can roam around, solve puzzles, find treasures, and gain experience. A Builder creates the rooms, objects, and monsters with which players will interact, defining their textual descriptions, stats, abilities, and other special properties. A Builder should not be confused with the MUD's Coder, whose job it is to modify the C code that makes the CircleMUD server actually run. A Builder does not need to be a programmer, and building is not programming; building is done by writing data files in a particular format, which this document describes in detail.
There is a standard world included with the CircleMUD distribution which is intended to serve as a stepping stone and a basic guide to demonstrate what kind of worlds you can build for your MUD. To only use the standard CircleMUD world, without adding any original work, is to guarantee your MUD will be boring and largely ignored. MUDs are judged in many ways, but one of the most important is the number and quality of areas available. The areas are what tend to make a MUD original. For example, one MUD could be based upon a magic-rich world and the code and areas would reflect this, while another could revolve around cities and thieves. Each of these MUDs would have its areas designed in such a way to flesh out this theme. In essence, building an area is like writing a book. It needs to have a plot, needs to be descriptive, and needs to be populated with memorable people and places.
Writing an area requires inspiration and imagination before all else. Ideas for areas often come from literature; for example, an area that traces Alice's adventures through Wonderland or Dante's trip through the Inferno. Areas usually start out on paper long before they reach a computer; a general map of the region can help to solidify the idea and a specific map of each individual room is absolutely required so that the rooms can be linked together in a way that makes sense geographically. Taking notes on ideas for which monsters should be encountered in the area, their descriptions, and in what location the monsters should appear can also help when planning an area.
``Game Balance'' is a term that brings a different thing to mind for every person that hears it. What is most important about game balance is to keep in mind for whom each area is designed--for example, high level players, newbies, or small groups. The objects and monsters found in the area should match the level, abilities, and needs of the players expected to use the area. Most players do not like to be given vast treasure with no difficulty in getting it, but on the other hand, nobody likes to fight the most difficult mobile on the MUD and get nothing for doing it. The job of the chief builder of a MUD and the authors of the individual areas is to find a happy medium between these two extremities. The process of finding that medium on your MUD is what makes MUDs original.
The main factor that affects game balance is the areas that make up the MUD. Because of this, each area should be checked against the others to ensure that one area is not impossibly hard or absurdly easy or rewarding relative to the rest of the world. Each area that comes with the MUD or is added later should be checked by one or more implementors or builders, and the characteristics of the mobiles and objects should be changed to suit to the balance of the MUD. Each new area that becomes part of the world should not be added until it has been similarly balanced to the implementors' satisfaction. Understandably, builders want their zones to be popular, but they sometimes attempt to achieve this goal by purposefully making their zone unbalanced, adding powerful weapons or armor with no harmful side-effects or mobiles that are easy to kill yet give massive numbers of experience points. Such zones are destined both to become very popular and invariably to bring about the death of your MUD's game balance.
An area's balance should be an integral part of the design process, not something to be tacked on as an afterthought. Too often, an area will be designed with outrageously good weapons and armor which throws off the balance of the game. Naturally, after such zone is added, players complain bitterly if it is ever removed or toned down. Also, because the rent system saves hitrolls, damrolls, and ac-apply's, veteran players will be able to hold on to their old, spectacular equipment unless it is explicitly taken from them, even after the area has been changed. This does nothing but generate bad feelings on all sides. Therefore, the wise implementor will always carefully check a zone for balance before it is added to the production MUD. It is generally not a good idea to ``let the players balance the area'' by unleashing an unbalanced area on them and watching to see where the hordes of players go.
An interesting area will always attract more players than a bland one. There are many ways to make an area interesting. Try to be as descriptive as possible; don't hold back on writing extra descriptions. Players are so accustomed to not having richly described areas that finding an extra description can often be a real treat. Also, one oft forgotten thing to describe are the door exits. Describing all of these can give a feel of standing out in a field and looking off to the north and seeing something like:
The fields stretch off towards the large hills on the horizon. Far to the north you see what appears to be a plume of smoke.
With door descriptions like these, an area will feel more fleshed out to the player. Many players (both experienced and first timers) read the descriptions carefully the first time they walk through an area, and having many extra descriptions helps them fill out their idea of what things actually look like.
One thing that should never be done is to have generic room descriptions like ``You stand in a big room. It is very dark.'' Descriptions like these detract in general from the rest of the world, and if they are found room after room can bore a player to tears. Such a description could be changed to:
You stand in a room of very large size. Shadows cower along the walls and almost seem to be moving as you look around yourself. The floor is made of heavy stones which are very dark in color. The ceiling is quite some distance above you, but you can still make out objects hanging from it, ruining the smoothness that is characteristic of the rest of the room.
Another way to make an area interesting is to create some sort of plot line for it, or a coherent theme, rather than a collection of haphazardly related rooms. The plot can be complex like infiltrating a castle to garner the war plans of the evil Lord Zygol, simple like ridding the caves of goblins, or anything in between. Often the plot in an area can be advanced by some fairly simple puzzles or descriptions. With the help of special procedures written in C by the MUD's coder, involved puzzles of Zork-like complexity can be readily created.
Not all mobs have to be designed to be killed, nor does every shopkeeper have to buy or sell something--they could just be created so that they refuse to trade with any player characters. The players will then wonder why the shopkeeper exists. Perhaps giving him a jewel will make him more friendly. In this way, an area can be made infinitely more exciting by coding some special procedures for it. Perhaps random teleporters throughout the area, perhaps some procedures that have mobiles respond to questions from players.
All in all, the best way to make an area interesting is to use variety, intelligence, and imagination in building. Try to imagine what it would be like for you to walk through and what you might try looking at or doing, and then try to incorporate that into your area. Show your area to others and take their advice. By taking all of this extra effort in creating your area, you will be rewarded by leaving a lasting memory of your area in the minds of many players.
In the old days, the only tool that was used (or required) to write a MUD
area was a simple text editor. However, in the course of time, various
people have written programs to help builders create worlds without
having to understand the complex details of the world file format. World-
building programs are becoming more popular, especially the fancy graphical
builders that run under Microsoft Windows. You may prefer to use one
of them rather than trying to use a simple text editor and understanding
the format on your own. New world-builders are constantly being written
and released, so any attempt to describe them here will almost certainly
be obsolete by the time you read it. However, some of them can be found
contrib section of CircleMUD's
official FTP site.