A New Year's Letter from Zugg

What's in store for 2002?

Happy New Year!

It's become a tradition for me to review the past year and to then give you a peek at what is coming in the next year.  It's been a good year for Zugg Software, and 2002 promises some interesting surprises!

State of the Gaming Industry

Before focusing on Zugg Software, I wanted to take a minute and comment on the entire gaming industry, especially in the area of online gaming and MUDs.  I've started seeing some disturbing trends over the past year.  MUD game playing is decreasing, and graphical online games, such as Everquest, Asheron's Call, and new entries like Dark Age of Camelot are attracting more and more players.  I've played them all (got to keep up with the competition, right? :)  And what I've found is that none of the graphical games (with the possible exception of Asheron's Call) have the depth that I'm looking for.  As a pen/paper roleplaying gamer and MUD player, I like games with depth to them.  I want a flexible character and skill system, challenging and interesting dungeons (a generic term, not necessarily indoors), and a combat system that gives me strategic and tactical options.  But more and more games are simply hack-and-slash affairs.

Now, I enjoyed Diablo, Diablo II, and it's clones as much as the next person; there's a time after a long day of work when it's fun to just bash things.  Even in Asheron's Call, there's nothing like the thrill of fighting a swarm of 10 Olthoi and surviving (or not).  But then there are other times when I want to explore, or lead quests, or build new armor, or sit and chat.  Few of the new games are providing this kind of depth.  Even in 'Camelot, which seemed to have a lot of potential at first, the gameplay becomes repetitive and boring (con monster...if it's blue, kill it, otherwise move on).

If you are reading this, you are probably a MUD player.  As MUD players, we understand what depth in a game means.  Most MUDs have extremely deep character systems, clan systems, combat systems, etc.  And yet there is also cool loot to be found, and still plenty of monsters to bash.  A good MUD is still more fun and addictive than any of the graphical games (at least for people like me).  So, why is MUD playing decreasing?

I'm guessing that new gamers are just not learning about MUDs.  When they open a magazine, they see ads for the glitzy graphics of the new online games.  Reviewers gush over features as mundane as riding a horse (sure, a full mounted combat system would be great, but most of the time all they do is put in the graphics and not the gameplay).  The ads for these games tend to feature scantily-clad women brandishing large pointy weapons.  What's the deal...do they think we are all teenage males?  Apparently so.

The problem with the game industry right now is with the publishers and marketers.  The game developer's have some great ideas, but if it doesn't have eye-popping graphics and doesn't appeal to adolescent male gamers, than the publisher usually pulls the plug.  In the past year we have seen the demise of the great Ultima series with the cancellation of Ultima Online 2 (and now EA is laying off more employees...what a mess).  We've heard the reports of Bioware dumping Interplay as the publisher of the upcoming Neverwinter Nights.  We've seen the struggles of SirTech Canada getting a publisher for Wizardry 8 (a wonderful game, too bad it got such a limited distribution).  We seen game after game (Ultima IX, Anarchy Online, Pool of Radiance, etc) released with more bugs than an anthill.  Quality is dropping, releases are rushed, and companies are going bankrupt.  It all seems to be about the quick buck, and not about long term sales, commitment, or strategy.

I don't have any idea how to fix this.  I'm really happy that I don't need a publisher.  I get to listen and interact directly with my customers and implement what they want.  I don't have some board of investors looking over my shoulder or telling me what to do.  Instead, I have a huge following of loyal customers who are happy to tell me what they like and don't like.  I'm very thankful for this.  

What can we do to help?  As MUD gamers, we represent the hard core of gaming.  We can use our expertise to help educate new gamers.  Help teach new gamers to wait for a review before buying a new game...and not to buy a game that was released early and full of bugs.  Teach them the incredible joy of rich and deep gaming, like MUD playing.  Bring your friends over to your house and show them how much fun a MUD game can still be, even without the fancy graphics.  Let's try to remind everyone that it's about the gameplay, and not about the graphics, or the cover of the box, or the ads in the magazines.

Perhaps if we can educate enough people, then we can have a financial impact and reward companies that do it right, and punish companies that are going after the quick buck.

OK, </RANT>, now back to Zugg Software...

Zugg Software in 2001

Every new year brings new challenges and excitement.  In 2000 we had the fire in Los Alamos.  In 2001 we each had Gallbladder surgery, and then we moved from New Mexico to Colorado.  Between looking for a house, buying a house, packing, moving, and unpacking, the summer seemed to disappear.  I'm still wondering who stole the entire month of September.

And yet, during this hectic year, a lot of work was still accomplished.  Here are the highlights:

zMUD in 2001

2001 was finally the year of MXP (MUD eXtension Protocol).  Thanks to help from developers like Jouster, RainChild, Kyndig, MUSHClient developer Nick Gammon, and many others, MXP finally became a serious and useful protocol to enhance MUD playing.  There are now over a dozen MUDs supporting MXP, with more and more adding it each month.  There are two serious MUD clients with full MXP support (zMUD and MUSHClient).  While the initial zMUD 6.1x releases had a lot of MXP bugs, these bugs were finally fixed in the 6.2x releases this past fall.  The latest beta version, 6.24, has a fully functional and stable MXP implementation.

If you haven't played an MXP-enhanced MUD yet, give it a try.  It's a lot of fun.  As usual, those MUD coders are pretty creative.  Give them a new tool like this, and they go crazy adding all sorts of cool stuff.  Some people might still prefer the basic text MUD, but MXP provides new options for gamers looking for something a bit different.  Thanks to everyone who helped make MXP a success!

While there was a lot of focus on MXP, work on zMUD didn't stop there.  The new version 6.2x beta releases have added some incredibly powerful new scripting features.  The main new feature is trigger states, which you can read more about in the Advanced zMUD Triggers article.  There is also an article on Advanced Variables describing some of the other new features.  At the same time, at least half the development time of zMUD has gone towards fixing bugs and trying to make zMUD even more stable.  While version 6.24 is still a beta version, it's more stable than a lot of past public versions.

In terms of sales, as of today, there are now over 37,000 registered zMUD users!!  Thanks to everyone who has continued to support zMUD!

AC Explorer in 2001

2001 was the first year that a commercial version of AC Explorer was available.  A free version had been available for the past year, but new features such as real-time party tracking, and terrain-sensitive shortest path features were added to the Pro version.  Just as important, AC Explorer became a supported product, with the same level of updates and email support that zMUD users have enjoyed for years.  With each monthly update of the Asheron's Call graphical role-playing game, AC Explorer was updated to work with it.  Even when other 3rd party tools were foundering with the release of the Dark Majesty expansion to Asheron's Call, AC Explorer was working even before you could register your Dark Majesty license (a nightmare we all want to forget).

In terms of sales,  as of today, there are over 5,000 registered AC Explorer users!!  Not bad for just the first year.  Thanks to everyone who has continued to support AC Explorer!

What's coming in 2002?

This coming year is going to be full of exciting surprises.  I'm not going to spoil all of the fun yet, but here are some tidbits of info to whet your appetite.

The main focus in zMUD development this year will be the automapper, stability, and speed.  After the current set of bugs in v6.24 are fixed, the file format for the mapper will be completely changed to a real database format.  This will allow for much larger maps, faster and more reliable speedwalking, and a host of new features.  Some of these new features will require the new Mapper addon, described below, but there will be plenty of new mapper features for existing zMUD users as well.  Expect to see the changes to the mapper in Feb-Apr 2002.
Mapper program:
This was hinted at last year in my 2001 New Year's letter, but with the success of AC Explorer, the scope and magnitude of this project has increased.  This will be a major new product for Zugg Software.  While it will work with zMUD as a plugin and enhance the zMUD maps, it will also be useful for anyone who enjoys online role-playing games, whether they are MUD games or graphical online games.  Just as AC Explorer was a separate product, so will the new Mapper be a separate product.  Pricing has not been determined yet, and it's still possible that existing zMUD and AC Explorer users might get a discount on early versions of the new Mapper.  Expect to see more details and initial beta versions in Mar-May 2002, with continued work and major enhancements throughout the coming year.
AC Explorer
AC Explorer will still continue to be fully supported.  As Microsoft and Turbine make monthly changes to Asheron's Call, AC Explorer will be updated to continue functioning.  The new Mapper program will also be compatible with new AC Explorer versions, so expect to see the same sort of excitement with the Mapper and AC Explorer as you do with the Mapper and zMUD.

Things you won't see in 2002:

Work on this has essentially been stopped.  The idea of adding SSH to zMUD was fine, until I learned about all of the license and export restrictions associated with the SSH protocol.  Instead of creating a separate Telnet product, I'll just be fixing the existing VT100 bugs in zMUD instead.
zMUD for Linux:
"Delphi for Linux" (Kylix) was released by Borland last year.  While it's going to be an excellent development system for Linux software, it's been a disappointment for zMUD users.  Porting zMUD to Linux turns out to be a very complex and time consuming process, mostly because zMUD was designed 6 years ago.  It really needs a complete rewrite in order to be "cross platform friendly".  As it is, it is much more Windows dependant than I had though.  And there just wouldn't be enough sales generated by this product to make it a good business option, especially with all of the freeware and open source MUD clients already available for unix.  There are now no plans for porting zMUD to linux, or any other platform.  zMUD will remain Windows-only.

It's going to be a fun year.  Keep an eye on the Zugg Software site for announcements of the new Mapper product.  It's really going to have a big impact on all gamers.



This page was last updated on January 08, 2002.