Richard Bartle, one of the men behind the original Multi-User Dungeon (MUD), could be considered the grandfather of the massively multiplayer online roleplaying game (MMORPG). Certainly, his work influenced not only the hack’n slash MMORPGs that have dominated the genre for the last decade, but also virtual worlds of a more social nature, like Second Life. In fact, the MUD-revolution spawned numerous offshoots that offered players and developers more flexibility in exploring the virtual worlds of yesteryear, thanks to dynamic worlds containing objects that could be manipulated extensively thanks to built-in scripting languages. I commented on some of these aspects in my own take on the state of MMORPGs, and a recent interview with Bartle makes additional points behind MUD design versus current MMORPG design.
Sadly, the interview was mentioned throughout the blogosphere mainly because of a brief reference to World of Warcraft (WoW), in which Bartle recommends WoW be shut down in order to give other MMORPGs a chance to shine. More important, however, is his mention of accepted design practices that has seeped into modern MMORPG, such as the traditional class system. This is very much along the lines of what I mentioned myself.
Sadly, Bartle comes across as somewhat bitter; for someone who keeps mentioning that he is a game designer/developer and not a player of the respective games, he doesn’t make a good case for understanding the intricacies of modern MMORPGs, many elements of which require personal experience to understand fully. While Bartle responds to comments at the end of the article addressing the fact that he hasn’t been involved in a successful MMORPG venture since the original MUD, he again fails to posit himself as anything but a has-been in the field.
Overall, Bartle makes some excellent points, but more from the position of an industry commentator and observer, rather than that of a player.