A Footnote to Confessions

I recently wrote someone an email about The Confessions of an Arch-Wizard and I thought it worthwhile quoting some of this as a proper footnote to the original document. MJL, 5th January, 2003.

Ok, here's a "real life" confession that perhaps adds some weight to the philosophy behind confessions.

My problem with MIST was that ultimately, it wasn't a very difficult game to play. There is a balance of making a game interesting and violent, and in making it difficult. It's not difficult to kill a lot of the players on the game if you have a shotgun or a chainsaw, and without a shotgun, a chainsaw, a poleaxe and for example, the odd brand that would kill anyone with one blow, MIST wouldn't have been MIST. If you were a strong, high level character the game got easier (unless someone made sure the lower characters had the nasty weapons) but the bottom line was that as a traditional goal oriented game, it wasn't that hard to make Wizard on MIST. My aim was to have an end-game where becoming a Wizard was more the start of the game than the end.

The philosophy of the age, and indeed, the only philosophy was the Bartle-approach. This was obvious on the two commercial games of the time, MUD/British-Legends and Shades. Players would play the game, players would make Wizard and then it would end. They would get some warm feeling or other of achievement being a Wizard, they would sit there organising party events and the like but frankly, as a novice on Shades in 1983, being a Wizard looked about as interesting as being a Nursery School Teacher. I wrote my first proper MUA (called MUCK) in 1984, and it was unusual in having no wizards, and being far more of a modern less goal-oriented society based MUA than anything of its time - It would have been great but since each move took up to a minute, it wasn't very popular.

When I took on MIST in 1987 I saw an opportunity to "change the world" - Why not have Wizard as just another player level? If a game is full of Wizards, then why not let them have to play the game to survive as well - But how? Wizards are powerful and immortal, that's coded into the game, that's what it says and that's how it is. The Bartle-approach makes for a lazy game, it uses technology to replace the "Dungeon Master" and it relies on Wizards to help it along - It doesn't work, it doesn't make for an interesting game, it shouldn't really keep people with any intelligence coming back and it can be boring as hell unless those Wizards are allowed to exercise their powers to their full extent and be responsible for the consequences of that. The Bartle-approach creates a dead end - You are a Wizard, you are destined to a life of running my game and doing what I tell you do do. Yippee-Fucking-Do Man!

I hope that I changed that. A MIST Wizard was never, ever under any illusion at all that they ran the game for me, and a MIST Wizard was never ever told what they could and could not do - At least, they were, but they were told different things so that the people with any imagination and intelligence could start to realise that maybe, just maybe, the game hadn't ended and the play was now far more sneaky and political than it was before. The aim now was to survive purges, to maybe be promoted to one of the new levels that would come and go, to gain favour with "them up top" and to have as much fun and create as much havock as they could get away with. I insult my Wizards in "Confessions" but that is because I want to show that they are players as much as a Novice is a player. Did the Arch-Wizards run the game? No, not really... My Arch-Wizards (in various forms of capitalisation) were there as administrators and a perceived authority. I was the "Dungeon Master" and unlike the Arch-Wizards of MUD and MIST, I took a final responsibility to run the game as an all powerful and mischeivous being as opposed to just a boring and fair overseer. I ran the world's only free and easily available MUD, and I like to think that when people look back they will say "Lorry? He was a complete bastard, but MIST was one hell of a game." - If they do, then I succeeded; but as it says at the end of Confessions, 5 years of very active involvelement for 6 hours a night, 340 odd days a year takes a lot out of a person.

On the subject of the MIST T-Shirt picture, the caption is "Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law. I am the law!" because this eventually became MIST's Slogan. Buuuut, the original caption of that picture was "Fuck off back to your own game!" - The MIST Arch-Wizard is Lorry and the little traditional Arch-Wizard on the toadstool is a well-known Arch-Wizard from another game. It is actually based on a true-event somewhere deep in the game's history that symbolically at least marked our complete divergance from any involvement with the original ethos of MUD.

I am tempted to add this little explanation as a "footnote" to confessions, maybe it's about time I explained it a bit.


A footnote to a footnote:

Reading this back a decade and a bit after I wrote it, I realise I come across as being super-critical of the "Bartle-approach" which I didn't deliberately intend to be. Richard Bartle is a good and long standing friend of mine, and even though I named the problem as I see it afer him, it's not his fault. Richard was very hands-off most of the time, and unless he was going to change his entire personality and the entire game, he couldn't have created an ongoing end-game for the wizards in the way I did. Richard's games are vast and fantastic and artistic in a way that MIST never was, and never would be. But MIST wouldn't exist without him. MIST needed something more to make up for that lack, and that something more was an active Dungeon Master with a creative mean-streak and a somewhat warped sense of justice.

This page is looked after by Michael Lawrie.