Some Thoughts On Alpha Testing

So, Epitaph just reached one of the more significant milestones in MUD development – actually being something worth (in my view) opening up to players. Other MUDs probably don’t place quite such a premium on this, but when you come from a MUD like Discworld which has a truly vast, detailed game world, it has an impact on your sense of scale. Epitaph has been in active development since Christmas of 2009, and I wanted to reflect a little on what has been done since we started.

First of all, while there’s not a lot of ‘content’ as such, it’s important to realise what we started with – the same bare-bones Discworld distribution that anyone else starts off with[1], and if you’ve ever had a look at the distribution, you’ll see it’s relatively sparse. You get the infrastructure, but you don’t get anything else. So even just getting to the point where we have special combat commands means writing, from the ground up, a lot of stuff that in Discworld can be taken for granted. Coupled to that is that a lot of Discworld code is old and awkward to work with – it was never the right time to rewrite that on Discworld, but starting afresh is an entirely different experience.

A MUD like Discworld is huge – not just in terms of the number of rooms, but in terms of lines of code. The sheer mass of the code is staggering, and since it’s been built up over almost two decades by enthusiastic amateurs with different senses of style, the code is often pretty ropey and interacts only grudgingly. Re-engineering Discworld code is a monumental task, and one that few people have the stomach for.

Starting afresh on the other hand is an amazing sense of freedom, and that freedom has been expressed in so much refactoring that it’s not even funny. Things that weren’t strictly in theme were stripped out, old systems were rewritten, and the general arrangement of the mudlib was shifted around. Whole new core systems were fitted into the mudlib, and made to interact with all the other systems. Much of what’s been done is simply making it easier to add real content later. It’s the work you do in order to make the work you have to do easier in the future.

I’m very pleased with the amount that’s been done to Epitaph over the past few months – we’ve ended up with a game engine that is very flexible and also permits rapid development of new content. We don’t need to worry about the busywork of development for a large part, we get to concentrate on building a fun and engaging world.

That of course, once we’re happy with the shape of the current engine, is the next step – expect to see the world become more and more detailed and interesting as time goes by.

Thanks everyone for your interest and support! Onwards and upwards,

Drakkos.

[1] Well, not quite. The one we used is much more up to date than the one that’s at this time of writing available to most.

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