When it comes to the fringe world of MUDs, Iron Realms is a current powerhouse, containing several popular titles that have endured even as online players have mostly forgotten that text-based MMOs are an actual thing. The studio’s newest title, Starmourn, just released into open beta this winter and caught my attention due to its sci-fi nature and promises of engineers and hoverboards. I’ve only ever lightly tried MUDs, so I figured it was time for another go with as modern of a title as I could access.
I’ll say this for MUDs — they always seem much more concerned with getting you into the headspace of your character during the creation process than most MMORPGs. I often lament how bare bones and boring character creators are in MMOs compared to pen-and-paper RPGs, but at least Starmourn has a slew of options and encourages you to visualize your looks in your imagination rather than giving you a picture to go with it. The details go so far as to descriptive skin and eye color, although I was disappointed not to get more in the way of background and traits. I went with a Jin Engineer with a smoky skin tone in the hopes that one day I would get probes, hoverboards, and other fun toys.
Unfortunately for blogging, MUDs are not very photogenic. It’s a bunch of reading, for the most part, and by and large I enjoyed what I experienced here. The different colors of text separated quest text, other players’ presences, general descriptives, location directions, items, and so on. I think you get more used to parsing this as you play, but I found that it was a bit of an eyesore at first, especially when you got to a new area and the text kept scrolling as events unfolded. I don’t want to be speed-reading, worried that I’ll end up dead because I’m on paragraph 4 while my character is being lasered in paragraph 10.
The other problem I had with the text is that the main box is far too wide, making my eyes travel too far left and right to be comfortable. After a couple of hours playing, my eyes grew fatigued from this. Perhaps there were options to resize the center frame, but I didn’t see it.
One very nice touch was that Starmourn includes a lot of hypertext links, allowing me to bypass typing every last thing out and clicking on options when presented as well as directions on the mini-map.
So this is the general layout here, with the minimap on the upper left, character sheet ont he lower left, main screen and options in the middle, and on the right descriptions of items in the room and quests.
Starmourn started out with my character crash-landing on a planet and then falling in with a group of scoundrels while slavers came to attack the area. It’s all an extended tutorial of do this, do that, and you definitely won’t die, but I still thought it was more interesting than your standard MMO “go kill the first five mobs and return with their ears” quest. Following this, we took off and I got a confusing spaceship tutorial — and yes, the spaceships kind of move in real time, although not very fast. Plus you have to keep using various text commands that I was sure I was not going to remember, so I hoped that there would be shortcuts in the future if I got my own craft.
Eventually the game dumped me out in a large city area, and here’s where my interest started to flag. Probably one of the worst things that RPGs can do to me at the start is go “Here’s a big town, now poke around and feel lost and directionless as you’re trying to learn the game!” I sat on a bench, I stood up from a bench, I had a long chat with an AI information broker, and I took a shuttle from one part of the city to the other, all while whatever immersion the tutorial had created started to dissipate.
I have a feeling that I’ve played visual games for too long at this point in my life. I would have had a lot more patience (not to mention fascination) with a MUD like this in the 1980s or 90s, but getting over the learning hump would take a bit of a push that I’m not willing to put in right now. Still, it was interesting and made me applaud the fact that devs are still creating these kinds of games today, so check this out if it sounds interesting to you!