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Old 02-27-2009, 07:26 PM   #1
noodles
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Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

I was reading this blog post by Emily Short the other day, and as always, the topic tweaked my interest. A requote from it goes something like this:
Quote:
Originally Posted by some rec.arts.int-fiction poster
Michael noted that Magnetic Scrolls games were kind of like this-for example, if an object had the “sharp shards” bit set, dropping or throwing the object would cause it to shatter into many sharp shards. In total, 128 bits were used to describe a more or less working universe that the player could interact with in ways that hadn’t been anticipated. As an example, Michael described an unintentional situation in which one could put a rat in some liquid nitrogen, snap off its tail and, for a few turns, use the tail to puncture feed sacks and obtain food.
Is there any interest in a contest with similar rules to this one, with the goal of implementing a MUD from scratch with the best world simulation?
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Old 02-27-2009, 09:46 PM   #2
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

Most likely in a contest without any prize you won't find many if any takers. If there are prizes though you might indeed find applicants. KaVir used to partake, and often won, in the MudMagic coding contests when they were held but there were prizes for those.
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Old 02-28-2009, 10:11 AM   #3
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

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Originally Posted by Fizban View Post
Most likely in a contest without any prize you won't find many if any takers. If there are prizes though you might indeed find applicants. KaVir used to partake, and often won, in the MudMagic coding contests when they were held but there were prizes for those.
Even with prizes you may find it hard to attract interest - the last MudMagic contest had a $500 first prize, yet I was the only person to submit an entry.
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Old 02-28-2009, 10:20 AM   #4
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

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Even with prizes you may find it hard to attract interest - the last MudMagic contest had a $500 first prize, yet I was the only person to submit an entry.
How much of that do you think was lack of advertising? How widely was that contest advertised?
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Old 02-28-2009, 11:31 AM   #5
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

The first contest was well advertised, and there were several entries. As far as I recall, later contests received little advertising outside of MudMagic, although word of the prize for the last contest did seem to get around, and several people expressed interest - they just didn't submit anything by the deadline.

The 16K mud contest you mentioned was well advertised, but I think Erwin was also in the right place at the right time. The challenge of creating a mud from scratch appealed to a lot of people, and the 16K limit meant it wasn't an overwhelming amount of work.

You'd have to elaborate on exactly what you mean by a "world simulation", but if you're thinking along the lines of Nathan Yospe's Physmud++ then you're talking about a potentially huge amount of work. I think that would be far too open ended for a contest, personally.
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Old 02-28-2009, 04:19 PM   #6
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

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You'd have to elaborate on exactly what you mean by a "world simulation", but if you're thinking along the lines of Nathan Yospe's Physmud++ then you're talking about a potentially huge amount of work. I think that would be far too open ended for a contest, personally.
No, nowhere that extensive. If Physmud actually exists.. but let's not get on that horse.

The quote was from an interactive fiction context. Traditionally, I think there's an expectation that a interactive fiction game is a more or less linear path through a story. In that context, making a game where the player has the ability to go off the path and interact with the world in unexpected ways, is considered to be creating a simulation of sorts.

I see a contest like this as having a desired starting basis with the goal that ideally an entry would implement something resembling it and try and make it interesting. Participants would have the freedom to apply creativity in meeting that theme in their entry. In the Magnetic Scrolls games the quote references, a player could manipulate objects to get them to exhibit properties that they could then take advantage of.

Bags made out of soft material.
Rat corpses with a pointy tail.
Ability to freeze the rat, break off a part.
The pointy tail end can be used to scratch a hole in the bag material.
Bag contents can then be accessed.

Now, this is a specific example where something has been built on a generic system. Entrants wouldn't necessarily have to implement this system and build an interesting use of it. If they had a more interesting idea along the same theme of a game world that players could interact with in a non-linear dynamic way, they could go out on a limb and do that.

Perhaps this is too unspecific for a contest though.
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Old 02-28-2009, 08:11 PM   #7
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

The original idea is interesting but I don't see how to make a contest out of it.

In particular, the way you described it, it's a contest for the coders. Since most coders are working full-time for their favourite MUD, they aren't likely to implement something valuable just for practice. If they implement something for the contest, that should be useful also for their main project.

The problem is, the MUDs are very different. For example, our MUD (Arctic) is a competitive world, with limited objects and full PK. That makes balance a very important matter. Adding an ability to tear a hole in any pack with a frozen rat tail doesn't sound like a good idea. An unexpected use is usually an unbalanced use, that is bad and should be avoided.

Further on, even if such a system is implemented, it would require setting 128 flags on EVERY mob or object entity in the game. That's a LOT of work. Forget to properly set the flags on 1 rat type - and the picture becomes inconsistent.

Thus, our coders provide general purpose functionality and the scenarios such as the one you mentioned are for the builders to create. When the 'special' use is limited to a single location in a single zone, it's easier to control and to maintain the balance.

Other than that, there are almost no limitations. Within my zone, I may have animals with pointed limbs, the corpses may be frozen and broken etc.

I guess almost every MUD has their own specifics and my example may shy in comparison with the others. How would you compare the work of coders and builders from different MUDs if everything they do is so different?
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Old 02-28-2009, 09:34 PM   #8
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

You might find more interest if you asked about a building contest. Since it isn't very hard to build an IF type area using mud progs there would be more possibilities. Then the main differences would be the mud base and improvements to that base. I've built an IF type area on Smaug but I think I'll have a much easier time with TBA because of the more intricate trigger system. The best part about this would be the involvement of mud owners and builders since a mud which hosted a builder would get visitors to check out the area.
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Old 02-28-2009, 10:22 PM   #9
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

FWIW, I'd be more interested in coding contests that were server-agnostic, instead of being non-explicitly but unmistakably "Write a DIKU snippet that does..." like MudMagic's were.
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Old 03-01-2009, 12:59 AM   #10
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

Quote:
Originally Posted by chaosprime View Post
FWIW, I'd be more interested in coding contests that were server-agnostic, instead of being non-explicitly but unmistakably "Write a DIKU snippet that does..." like MudMagic's were.
I never found MudMagic's contests to be DIKU centric at all. Heck the two winners of them I can remember off the top of my head were KaVir and Bo Zimmerman (author of the CoffeeMUD codebase). Neither of them run DIKU MUDs, neither of them wrote their piece of code for the contest to be in any way shape or form to be DIKU oriented.
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Old 03-01-2009, 05:32 AM   #11
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

Quote:
Originally Posted by noodles View Post
Now, this is a specific example where something has been built on a generic system. Entrants wouldn't necessarily have to implement this system and build an interesting use of it. If they had a more interesting idea along the same theme of a game world that players could interact with in a non-linear dynamic way, they could go out on a limb and do that.

Perhaps this is too unspecific for a contest though.
While I agree that it's a very cool concept, I still think it's too open ended for a contest. It would also require a certain degree of existing infrastructure, which would tend to tie it to a specific codebase (asking people to write their own codebase as well would be just too much, IMO).

You're also talking about a world which can be interacted with in ways that weren't anticipated, which by its very nature is something you can't...well...anticipate when designing it. It's the sort of thing which you might (or might not) discover through playing or during testing (I'm sure most mud developers have amusing anecdotes about unexpected side-effects of features they've implemented).

Quote:
Originally Posted by chaosprime View Post
FWIW, I'd be more interested in coding contests that were server-agnostic, instead of being non-explicitly but unmistakably "Write a DIKU snippet that does..." like MudMagic's were.
My entries could be compiled and executed as standalone C or C++ programs, and could be tested without even being added to a MUD. I did provide instructions for installing them into Merc 2.1, and included a separate copy of the entry preinstalled, but only because it was a requirement of the contest that the entry should work with one of the codebases in their database. The code could just as easily be added to any other MUD written in C or C++, and indeed I've used it in my own (custom) C++ codebase.
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Old 03-01-2009, 09:28 AM   #12
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

Being able to interact with the world in not-specifically-anticipated ways is the very thing that makes Dwarf Fortress so addictive. That sort of versatility would be a huge plus to any MUD.

That said, it does sound like kind of a difficult thing to have a contest for, but the basic idea is interesting. I think it needs a bit more fleshing-out.
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Old 03-01-2009, 10:46 AM   #13
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

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Originally Posted by Fizban View Post
I never found MudMagic's contests to be DIKU centric at all. Heck the two winners of them I can remember off the top of my head were KaVir and Bo Zimmerman (author of the CoffeeMUD codebase). Neither of them run DIKU MUDs, neither of them wrote their piece of code for the contest to be in any way shape or form to be DIKU oriented.
I did some researching on what exactly MudMagic had as contests back in the day, after having their contests mentioned here yesterday.

Contest A: card game related.

Card games are an incidental project, which if anyone else is like me, are worked on as an act of procrastination to avoid working on the MUD itself. Sure you can have card games in your game, but they don't really add much to the game world itself.

Contest B: string related functionality.

This is something I would also be likely to handwave away as being DIKU oriented. Functionality like this is often present in non-C based code bases. LP has decent support for this. Scripting languages have it as well. It is a niche requirement. There are string libraries out there, which can be adopted. It pretty much meets the definition of rewriting the wheel as well. Not that it is a bad thing, as rewriting the wheel can be an invaluable and educational experience, which leads to understanding how best to use the wheel and so forth.

I'm more interested in contests actually related to game play personally.
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Old 03-01-2009, 11:34 AM   #14
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

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Originally Posted by nasredin View Post
The original idea is interesting but I don't see how to make a contest out of it.

In particular, the way you described it, it's a contest for the coders. Since most coders are working full-time for their favourite MUD, they aren't likely to implement something valuable just for practice. If they implement something for the contest, that should be useful also for their main project.
This kind of thinking, to me, reads as reflecting the desire to maximise the use of the programmer's time to a given MUD. It doesn't relate to what is necessarily best for the programmer, or even the MUD itself though.

There are numerous game related programming contests out there, and programmers on existing projects often take time to participate in them repeatedly. TIGSource PyWeek Ludum Dare

Working on a different project with a fixed scope and near deadline allows you to prototype ideas, experiment and exercise creativity. The existing MUD code base is usually large and brings previous design decisions into play, limiting and inhibiting both creativity and ability to innovate.

Let's say that a programmer spends a week building an entry for a contest. It gives them time to learn new things, experiment and so forth. They can then bring this back to the MUD and apply what they have learnt, or the ideas they have had. And not just from their own efforts. From going through the process of developing an entry, it puts a programmer in a mindset, and through a process of thinking that makes them familiar with the subject matter. They can use this mindset to gain understanding of what other entries brought to the contest, and take advantage of that aspect as well.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nasredin View Post
The problem is, the MUDs are very different. For example, our MUD (Arctic) is a competitive world, with limited objects and full PK. That makes balance a very important matter. Adding an ability to tear a hole in any pack with a frozen rat tail doesn't sound like a good idea. An unexpected use is usually an unbalanced use, that is bad and should be avoided.

Further on, even if such a system is implemented, it would require setting 128 flags on EVERY mob or object entity in the game. That's a LOT of work. Forget to properly set the flags on 1 rat type - and the picture becomes inconsistent.
No. That's doing it in the least efficient way. Keep in mind that Magnetic Scrolls games ran on platforms which had 64K of memory. But let's not digress, I don't want to discuss non-contest related aspects in this thread.

Quote:
Originally Posted by nasredin View Post
Thus, our coders provide general purpose functionality and the scenarios such as the one you mentioned are for the builders to create. When the 'special' use is limited to a single location in a single zone, it's easier to control and to maintain the balance.

Other than that, there are almost no limitations. Within my zone, I may have animals with pointed limbs, the corpses may be frozen and broken etc.

I guess almost every MUD has their own specifics and my example may shy in comparison with the others. How would you compare the work of coders and builders from different MUDs if everything they do is so different?
Make the MUD irrelevant. This is about the programmer doing something that interests them, as a challenge and perhaps learning experience.
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Old 03-01-2009, 12:08 PM   #15
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

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Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
While I agree that it's a very cool concept, I still think it's too open ended for a contest.
I'd appreciate any help in refining it to a workable scope.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
It would also require a certain degree of existing infrastructure, which would tend to tie it to a specific codebase (asking people to write their own codebase as well would be just too much, IMO).
Any suggestions about what to do about this? I see it as unavoidable that contests which aren't limited technical endeavours require the use of some pre-existing framework.

This brings in a problem. I think that, as you indicate below, entries need to be standalone, with source code, in the spirit that anyone judging it or coming to the contest can just pick them up and easily play with them. That is, for the contest to be worthwhile.

I like the PyWeek from scratch rule. That's not completely from scratch, but rather that everyone is on a level playing field as they cannot use their personal codebases. Only pre-existing documented open source libraries/frameworks available a month before the contest.

It isn't reasonable to push the same programming language or framework on programmers, so perhaps a range of decent code bases usable as suitable starting points might need to be proposed. Then there's the issue of whether there is a need for a decent preexising amount of game code over and above that framework.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
You're also talking about a world which can be interacted with in ways that weren't anticipated, which by its very nature is something you can't...well...anticipate when designing it. It's the sort of thing which you might (or might not) discover through playing or during testing (I'm sure most mud developers have amusing anecdotes about unexpected side-effects of features they've implemented).
Anyone have any suggestions for how to deal with this?

Quote:
Originally Posted by KaVir View Post
My entries could be compiled and executed as standalone C or C++ programs, and could be tested without even being added to a MUD. I did provide instructions for installing them into Merc 2.1, and included a separate copy of the entry preinstalled, but only because it was a requirement of the contest that the entry should work with one of the codebases in their database. The code could just as easily be added to any other MUD written in C or C++, and indeed I've used it in my own (custom) C++ codebase.
As I've indicated above, I think this needs to be a prerequisite, to give the contest entries value in the long term. In the short term, as someone who would like to enter in such a contest, it is something which lends credence to a contest to me.

Last edited by noodles : 03-01-2009 at 12:09 PM. Reason: Clarified last paragraph.
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Old 03-02-2009, 04:31 AM   #16
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

Quote:
Originally Posted by noodles View Post
Card games are an incidental project, which if anyone else is like me, are worked on as an act of procrastination to avoid working on the MUD itself. Sure you can have card games in your game, but they don't really add much to the game world itself.
I adapted my card game entry into a turn-based war game, and also considered using it for a social combat system. In theory I could even have used it for the main combat system. I've used other types of "minigame" for other aspects of the mud, such as lockpicking, alchemy, etc. I know other muds which do the same sort of thing for crafting, gathering resources (such as fishing and mining), and so on.

Card games are simply a type of game system. It's the way you use them that determines how much they add much to the MUD.
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Old 03-05-2009, 06:24 PM   #17
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Re: Any interest in a MUD programming contest?

Quote:
Originally Posted by noodles View Post
Now, this is a specific example where something has been built on a generic system. Entrants wouldn't necessarily have to implement this system and build an interesting use of it. If they had a more interesting idea along the same theme of a game world that players could interact with in a non-linear dynamic way, they could go out on a limb and do that.

Perhaps this is too unspecific for a contest though.
As a fan of pyweek, TIGsource compos, IF competitions, etcetera, I think this could be fun, and perhaps the thing to stress here is the contest could be about creating a world simulation, not necessarily a simulation of the world as we understand it. In that sense many interesting world simulations could have their day. Or better yet a simulation of a system within some made-up world, as a simulation of the whole mess could be a bit much to do in a month or whatever.

I think a resurrection so to speak of the 16k contest is doable but it'll need a big run-up of publicity. While there still are a fair number of mud developers out there I don't think you have the same kind of critical mass as existed when Erwin held the first contest.
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