The Two Towers Newsletter
The Two Towers, an online game set in Tolkien's world of Middle-Earth, at the time of 'Lord of the Rings'
Adventures in Middle-Earth - For fans, by fans - Established 1994

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1996 Interview with Aule by Prather

In the first few years of T2T, Prather was known as the Minstrel of Arda, and worked to capture some of MUD's stories and early history. He did a series of interviews with the founders who were still around and some other early ainur in 1996, and this is one of them.


In the Beginning as told by Aule to Prather the Minstrel [August 1996]

In January 1992, my high school, The Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts, got connected to the Internet early in 1992, during my senior year. My buddies and I attacked it like hungry sharks and immediately started hacking. I wasn't long before we discovered KoBra, a MUD that several of the alumni had informed us about. KoBra became the school mud. I started playing but I soon declared that mudding was an immature and unproductive use of the Internet and I boycotted mudding.

I had a girlfriend, though, who was hard-core into KoBra. She was a Jedi (which was what they called the coders). When I started college at Florida Tech, I ended up back on KoBra as a way to keep in touch with her and so I started playing again.

One day we were talking about the general philosophy of MUDs and she informed me that not only would I never make Jedi, but (with my attitude) I would not even be a good Jedi if I did!

Well, that was the last straw. I was bound and determined to prove her wrong. Of course, I made Jedi, and within a month or so, I started my own domain, becoming a domain Lord. My domain quickly filled up and had several large areas released. Although it didn't do much for my relationship with her, I proved that not only could I make Jedi, but obviously I was a very successful one.

The admin of KoBra... well they sucked. They were disorganized, refused to cooperate with each other or anyone else, and ignored major system bugs that the hardworking coders kept having to work around. I thought I could help them clean up some of the mess so I decided to become an admin. I had the time, the computer skills, and most important, the necessary leadership abilities to do so.

I soon discovered that KoBra had a policy, handed down from one of the founders that basically boiled down to, "Anyone who wants to be an admin will be refused."

Meanwhile, Rob, who was also a Jedi, was so frustrated with KoBra that he started talking about starting a new MUD. After wasting a year listening to KoBra's hopeless-case admins, I finally gave up. In January 1994, I quit Kobra and Rob and I began serious discussions about starting our own.

Even before the meeting, that Friday in January, I was believer. As the afternoon stretched into evening and we mapped out, at least in principle, what T2T would look like (including the naming The Two Towers), I became convinced that it would actually happen. Of the four of us, only Rob and I really had any idea of just how much coding it would take to get it running.

Some months earlier, when I left KoBra, I had taken on a part-time job on top of a full load of classes. When Rob first approached me about doing the Towers, I started readjusting my workload to free up some time. I knew it would become a major project.

Steve and Todd immediately started thinking theme. It clear from the start that philosophy of the place we were going to create was going to take a lot of thought, but I have to admit, in those early days, I was far more interested in the code than I was in Tolkien.

In fact, until I had nearly finished coding the grid daemon, I didn't even get around to reading the books. That grid daemon is the part of the program that allows you to put things in a location and gives you rooms that you can walk around in. It's the under-structure to Arda.

Until then I was still calling myself Krysh. I even resisted a little when everyone insisted that we all have Tolkien names, but I finally changed it to Mandos. Then, when I finally read the "Silmarillion," I recognized the name that most fit the job I was doing for T2T and became Aule.

Through the winter months of '94, there was nothing much to do beyond the planning. Todd and Steve were both still heavily involved in Silcon Realms. Rob had a heavy class load and I was disconnecting from KoBra. Meanwhile we all met every week or so to flesh out T2T. We built the whole thing, levels, quests, races, money, what the areas would look like, and anything else that we appropriate to a Tolkien world. We voted on and arrived at consensus for everything and I developed a real respect for Rob's negotiating skills as Steve and I sometimes looked at problems from different sides. By doing this we avoided the hodgepodge of growing pains that usually plague new MUDs. We had the whole thing planned out and on paper before a scrap of code ever got written. I thought we were really pretty thorough.

In March of that year, I talked to Graham Hesselroth who tapped one of his connections in the computer department at Stanford and found us a machine, an IBM RISC 6000, with full net access. Although it was also running a couple of other MUDs that were also in the development stage, we were grateful to have a home and I started to code.

When we designated the names for the admin or Valor, as Tolkien called the gods, they were selected as much as possible with function in mind. Graham succumbed to "senioritis" and dropped out of active participation in T2T to look for "real world" employment. Graham became Ulmo, asleep under the sea, a recluse, peacefully uninvolved. Incidentally, is a programmer for a company in Austin, Texas and is no longer involved with T2T.

In May, finals rolled around and then suddenly it was summer. We had come a long ways and the system was up and running in debug mode, but T2T still wasn't ready for anyone to start applying the theme work. For the next three months of the summer break I hung around and finished the programming.

When classes started again In September, Manwe (Rob) finished coding the all the professions and abilities, Orome (Todd) and Morgoth (Steve) left the other MUD and Arda went on line. Morgoth had a big following on Silicon Realms and when he moved, he brought with him some good coders who had a lot of practical experience on how to get things working. Overnight we picked up Lorien who coded Bree and Weathertop, Monarch (one of our first play testers), and Mithrandir who later became Tulkas. By then Manwe had Rivendell running and we really started to move.

If you haven't yet read the "Silmarillion, the Valar are the administrators, the Maia are the coders of the rooms and areas, the Ainur are coders who also have admin responsibilities.

It's difficult to say just when we slipped from debug into full-time play testing. There really wasn't a demarcation line, it just happened. Although we weren't pushing it, we were on line all the time and the word spread. Players just began showing up. We had Rivendell, Bywater, Bree, Bagend, Tookland and the some of the mini-quests. The dike was almost finished. One day I looked up and we over a hundred players!

I'll let Morgoth and the others talk about player history. Although when we were working on the law system it became difficult, I tried to focus on the code and ignore the players.

I coded the law system from scratch, there was no existing support code in the default mudlib for this. Many of the ideas were based off of the Bounty Hunters guild and law system of KoBra mud, although theirs a bit extreme. We had several, long meetings about it, and Manwe finally documented this in what is now "help lawsys". He wrote the lawsys, voted and approved it and then I tackled the code. The high point is the Judge, a file of over 900 lines that handles the crime system. Later, elements of the law system were rewritten by Dilas to be more strict on criminals and fix some bugs in the original system. It's been two years, now, with most of us putting 40 to 60 hours a week. Arda is real world and I really get the feeling that, like gods, we created. I think I know how Todd must have felt last May when he left to become a Navy Seal and how Lorien felt when he took a the job Australia and lost his net access. It may be time to move on, but as long as there is a T2T, there will be part of me in Arda and Arda will be part of me.

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