Welcome to Dawn of the Ages' guide On Writing Areas, a handbook designed to help prospective builders get a better handle on how to create an area from scratch. To understand better how to do this, the builder must understand why he is building, what the purpose of an area is. To understand the purpose of an area, he must first understand what a MUD (*) is.
MUDs are a diversion. When Stan leaves from a long day of answering telephones, or when Jane heads home after umpteen hours of computer hacking, they will find something to take their minds off the day. Maybe Stan will read a book, or Jane will go hiking, or perhaps they're friends and will go to the bar together. Whatever they do, they may entertain themselves either with books or with walking or with drinking. Or they may even mud. Mudding is an entertainment, as much as books, walking, and drinking can be, and perhaps moreso because mudding isn't needed in the world as books and walking are. Mudding is pure entertainment, as a theatre is, or a circus.
We can take the circus analogy a bit further, because as the builder you are the showman. Every circus has its workers, its acts and its attractions. The workers make sure the circus is set up properly. Once the tents are raised and the rides and animals are in their proper places, the circus is then ready for the acts and attractions. But who decides what acts and which attractions are part of the show? The showman, of course. The showman decides what act goes where and when, what the other attractions will be, what is popular and what is not, how to work the crowds, and so on. The showman must learn how to wow the socks off his audience, to bring them in, to keep them coming back, to make them clamor for more. The showman is competing with movie theatres and museum and beer and television to keep his circus running. If he should ever fail, if he should ever stop finding ways to keep the audiences coming, his circus will fold like a tent without stakes.
The builder, too, competes with beer and books and television, not for money necessarily, but for time. People who go to a MUD are there to escape their everyday lives; they go there for entertainment and a little adventure. If the MUD doesn't hold much of an attraction, why should that person, that player, bother to stay? Why not waste time in front of the television instead of the computer screen?
The builder gives her a reason: my world is more entertaining than what you'll find on television. Or in books, or in beer for that matter. I have just the kind of amusement you're is looking for, and whooee! look at this, and this, and that!
Like the showman the builder must entertain with his audience in mind. He is the front man for the mud he works for, and areas are his acts and attractions. He builds good areas, people come back again and again, looking for more. He builds bad areas, the people leave, and his world dies. The players owe him nothing, not loyalty, not praise, not even time. If he wants players, he must give them a reason to play, he must learn how to wow their socks off.
This is why you're here, to learn how to wow players' socks off. If you can write even a halfway decent area, you're likely to win the players over, and keep them coming back for more. Sure, it is very important that a mud have good coding and a variety of skills -- just like a circus cannot run without its tent pullers and mechanics, no mud can run without its programmers. But the audiences are not at the circus to watch people set up and pull down tents, and players are not at the mud to learn how to code. Players are there to play, plain and simple. Your job as builder is to see they play and come away with the feeling of time well spent.
Areas are where the players play. An area may be a town, a network of caves, a simple farmhouse, an abandoned church, a castle in the midst of the Dark Kingdom, or a shop on the astral plane. Areas may be as large as a continent, or as small a one-room shack. Areas may reside on the side of a mountain, may occupy the bottom of a lake, or may move among the clouds. Any place a player can go to is an area, even if the area is merely the mind of a mad god -- afterall, what is a MUD area but the imagination of a builder put to form and function?
Areas, though, aren't just places. Imagine yourself in the desert. Sure, for miles around there may be nothing but rocks and sand, but if you walk for a time, you eventually will come across an animal of some kind, a beetle, a scorpion, maybe a snake or two. There may also be cacti and other plants, several large boulders, and a dried lake bed. Perhaps someone broke down nearby in an airplane or a car, or worse, left his skeleton as the only sign of his previous existence. In other words, areas are also creatures and stuff. All areas contain at least these three things, rooms (locations,) mobiles (creatures,) and objects (stuff,) and it's up to you, the builder, the showman, to construct these things for the benefit of the players.
However, building an area from scratch can be a daunting task for any builder, newbie and pro alike. Once a builder has decided the theme of the area, and what the background story is, then there are considerations of what the rooms will look like, what mobiles will inhabit the area, what objects may go into the area, how the mobiles and/or objects will interact with the players, and so forth. A builder must work out the details of these, providing extra descriptions for rooms and objects, adding programs to the mobiles, supplying quests where appropriate. Then, once the builder has worked out the descriptions and flags and programs in the area, the area must undergo extensive testing to make sure the rooms, mobiles, and objects are playable, to make sure there are no bugs in the resets, and to guarantee the programs will work as planned. Once these are done, then players may explore the area. Of course, in the coming weeks and months, the area builder may want to add on to the area, or change certain descriptions, etc., guaranteeing a builder more work to come just for one area.
Nevertheless, if the builder keeps in mind certain suggestions for creating new areas, the building process can be fairly smooth. After all, areas all have common attributes, i.e. rooms, mobiles, and objects, and each of these attributes possess certain characteristics of their own. Rooms are the locations where the action takes place, and they may be dark, light, indoors, outdoors, barren, overcrowded, and so on. Mobiles are the creatures who act of their own accord, standing, sitting, walking, talking, thumbing their noses at players, and interacting with players despite the players' intentions. Objects are the things with which rooms, mobiles, and players may interact with the others, to drink from, to clothe with, or to poke each others' eyes out. In summary, rooms are the wheres, mobiles the whos, and objects the whats of an area file.
This handbook will give helpful guidelines in fleshing out the details of the rooms, mobiles, and objects which go into an area. There are no hard-written yays or nays, although there are strong suggestions about what one should not do when developing an area. This leaves plenty of room for what a builder can do, and this guide offers suggestions a builder can take or leave at her discretion. The point of this guide is to enhance a builder's ability in creating a fresh environment; should the builder feel stifled in any way by what is offered here, the builder should ignore this guide.
Before we charge into the handbook, there are several items of note you should be aware of. First, this guide does not assume you are using any kind of area builder; in fact, we will be using a plain vanilla text editor to build our area. Using an area builder has two advantages over any text editor, that is, convenience and speed. Most area builders have buttons you can click, radials you can checkmark, lines where appropriate entries will go, and so forth. In most cases, if a person knows what she is doing, it can cut the work of the builder in half. However, there is at least one disadvantage to using an area builder: not all muds are built the same way. While an area builder may be great for a particular mud (for example, see ABE -- Area Building Environment), the flags for items and mobiles may be different from mud to mud. So, while you may be able to create an area on the fly with an area builder, you may still need to crack open the file to ensure all the code that needs to be there is there.
Second, because this handbook was written with a specific mud in mind, that is, Dawn of the Ages, the mud you currently work for may not use some of the code and the nuances the builders of Dawn use. An attempt will be made to keep the suggestions and code as close as possible to the last ROM release (ROM 2.4 beta 6). As for the last section, Mobprogs and Scripts, this may not be possible, but you can always read it at your own risk. >:)
Third, this handbook will guide you through the process of building an actual, working area. The area is found on Dawn of the Ages, and you can access the results of our attempt at building an area there. The full text of the area also is found at the end of this Supplement. However, to see the area function, you need to log on to Dawn of the Ages.
Finally, this document in many places refers to another document, A Guide to Building an Area on Dawn of the Ages. Most of the code you as a builder need to create your area will be found there. This handbook will not repeat in totality the tables and code that document provides. This handbook serves more as a soft version of the Guide, with tips on how to write clearer prose, produce cleaner code, and generally make life easier on the Immortal whose job it is to edit your area file.
With these notes in mind, let's create an area!
*mud -- short for Multi-User Dungeon.