AresMUSH: the next-gen server platform

ko-fi Written by Andruid
AresMUSH logo with roman helmet and spear and the text: AresMUSH: The next-gen server platform for building MU* games.
AresMUSH logo with roman helmet and spear and the text: AresMUSH: The next-gen server platform for building MU* games.

Faraday talks about why she created AresMUSH, as well as some of the core tenets that went into its development.

Table of Contents

    For today’s post, I’m excited to share an interview with Faraday, the creator of AresMUSH.

    AresMUSH is the modern MU* platform that supports multiple modes of play, as well as a system for staying in touch with players across multiple games.

    Over the past few months, I’ve interviewed creators from three different games that run on the AresMUSH framework: Concordia, The Network, and Excelsior.

    One lesson from these interviews is that while running a MUSH is no easy task, it becomes much more manageable with a system like Ares. Today’s interview will unpack some of the reasons why that’s the case.

    So let’s meet Faraday and dive in!

    Meet Faraday, the creator of AresMUSH

    A software developer by trade and a writer at heart, Faraday lives in Pennsylvania with her two kids. When she’s not developing AresMUSH, she’s working on her third novel, a sequel to her post-apocalyptic thriller, “Blackout Trail.” (You can find her published books online.)

    Thanks to her passion for learning new things, Faraday is something of a jack of all trades. Her diverse interests range from software development and writing to paramedic medicine, martial arts, photography, music, and military history.

    “If I were an RPG character, my character sheet would be really random… no MU* would ever approve me,” she told me jokingly.

    She first got into MU*s back in the early ’90s, when a college friend introduced her to Star Wars MUSH (SW1).

    “MUSHing was the perfect mash-up of gaming and creative writing, my two favorite hobbies. I’ve been playing ever since,” she said.

    Over the years, she’s made many great friends in the community, which has helped keep her connected to MUSHing even when she’s between games.

    AresMUSH: a modern platform for creating collaborative roleplaying games

    Quote by Faraday, pulled from the body of the post.

    Faraday has made it a mission to enable other people to bring their games to life, and she accomplishes this with the AresMUSH platform.

    “AresMUSH is a next-gen server platform for building multi-player text-based games. It’s geared more towards the freeform/lightly-structured side (MUSH/MUX) and isn’t a great fit for traditional MUDs/RPIs, which feature things like items, inventories, and crafting systems,” she explained.

    One of the advantages of AresMUSH is its turnkey installation process, which gives game runners a full-featured system out of the box, with no coding experience required

    This allows game creators to focus on building their worlds, lore, stories, and characters, rather than learning how to program in Javascript, for example.

    The AresMUSH web portal

    Quote by Faraday, pulled from the body of the post.

    The first thing people often notice about AresMUSH is its web portal, which is far more than just a website to learn about the game.

    “While many modern MU* servers have some form of web interface, Ares’ web portal is a rich, first-class web app,” said Faraday.

    Some of the web portal’s features include:

    • a wiki
    • character profile pages that draw information directly from the game so they’re always up to date
    • mail system
    • direct message system
    • forums and events
    • flexible scene system with automated logging, multi-scene support, and support for both synchronous and asynchronous RP
    • built-in web client
    • notifications
    • game management/configuration (for admins)

    And more, including lots of ways to manage your game and customize the portal.

    "Edit Game Information. This information will be used on your web portal and in the AresCentral Game Directory to advertise your game." Pictured: fields for name, website, game category, status, whether it's a public game, and description.
    Screenshot of the AresMUSH web form for configuring game info via your browser. If you prefer to edit the files on the server, you can do that, too!

    On top of that, AresMUSH can be extended using custom code or community-maintained plugins (including several skills systems to replace the built-in FS3 system).

    “All the code is server-side, so there is no ‘softcode‘ like in Penn/TinyMUSH,” said Faraday.

    “However, Ares’ plugin system is more flexible than old-school hardcode. Most updates can be done while the game is still running.”

    If you enjoy looking under the hood, figuring out how things work, or contributing your own code, I recommend checking out the coding tutorials.

    Additional resources are available on AresCentral, a social hub where you can find games, game archives, forums, community contributions, and players.

    Quote by Faraday pulled from the body of the post.

    Yes, players! Something else unique about AresMUSH is that it supports player handles, which are similar to social media handles.

    When you join a new game, you can connect your character account to your Ares player handle. It’s a neat way to show the different games and characters you’re playing/have played across the Ares network.

    Of course, it’s also entirely optional. You don’t have to use a player handle or connect your characters if you’d rather keep that information private.

    Player privacy and tools to combat harassment

    Speaking of players and privacy: one of the individuals who recommended Faraday for an interview highlighted her work in the context of player privacy, so I wanted to make sure this is something we covered here in the interview.

    Here’s what Faraday had to say:

    “Player privacy and safety is a core tenet of Ares. A lot of work went into features that let players report problematic behavior with verified logs attached. My hope is that this will help discourage online harassment.

    Also, there are no built-in commands that let admins go dark, spy on players, or view private RP scenes, mail, or private messages.”

    You can read more about how AresMUSH protects privacy on the Data and Privacy page.

    Accessibility and screen reader-mode in AresMUSH

    For most AresMUSH game runners, accessibility isn’t something they need to worry too much about, because it’s already baked into the platform.

    “Inclusivity is very important to me,” said Faraday. “Often, features that make things more accessible end up benefitting everyone, so it’s a win-win.”

    “When developing Ares, I solicited accessibility feedback from the community to learn more about their experiences. There’s no manual for how to make a text-based game accessible, but there are general usability principles that I could adopt once I understood the issues better. The main thing is to just listen to the players.”

    Listen to the players. It’s not the first time an interviewee has given this advice. We heard something similar from Klor and Khufu in their own respective interviews.

    It doesn’t seem to matter if you staff on an RP MUD, run a city-builder, or create a MU* server platform: listening to players is important for understanding their perspectives and creating a better experience for everyone.

    With feedback from the community, Faraday was able to refine the AresMUSH screen reader mode, which does several things, including:

    • disables border lines
    • disables auto-look when entering a room
    • uses plain numbers in the character sheet instead of visual ‘dots’
    • adds word cues to system messages normally set apart by color
    Screenshot of Concordia's "Welcome Room," showing the decorative ASCII borders around the room name and just before the list of characters present.
    Example output (from Concordia MU) without screen reader mode enabled. Notice the decorative border lines at the top and bottom.
    The "Welcome Room" again, this time with the decorative ASCII borders removed.
    The same output with screen reader mode enabled. Note that color is controlled by the “colors” command.

    “Accessibility goes beyond screen readers, too, like letting players mute notifications (if you’re easily overwhelmed by distractions, like me) or turn off colors,” said Faraday.

    “For the web portal, I do my best to follow the WCAG guidelines for web accessibility, but I’m still learning.”

    She noted that, ultimately, it’s up to each game runner to ensure their web portal design is accessible, but this can often be done by simply adjusting the fonts or colors in the CSS file.

    Screenshot of the "Edit custom_style.scss Config" form, which will apply custom styling to the web portal.
    Adding custom styling is easy with Ares and can be done via the web portal. No need to open the stylesheet on the server unless you really want to!

    In fact, switching to a more dyslexia-friendly font is something Spes mentioned in her interview about Concordia MU. It’s a great example of putting Faraday’s advice into practice.

    If accessibility is something you’re passionate about, I also recommend Niamh’s interview, Building a better MUD for screen reader users, and some of the tips and suggestions in this post.

    Inspiration and motivation for the project

    I asked Faraday to talk a bit about what inspired her to start the AresMUSH project – and what motivates her to continue working on it.

    “Traditional MU* servers are notoriously difficult to set up,” she said. “For years, I saw people with great ideas try to create a game, only to hit a brick wall because they had no coder or server admin. Even freely available packages like Sandbox Globals or my own softcode suite required some code to install and configure.”

    Around 2006, Faraday decided to make a MU* server that could be installed, configured, and run by someone without coding experience.

    “I also wanted it to be more approachable for someone who’d never played MU*s before, to hopefully draw in a new generation of players. And as a coder, I wanted it to support modern languages and tooling, to make it easier to learn and develop custom code,” she said.

    "Setup Theme Colors." Pictured: options for setting the web portal's primary color, outline colors, text, secondary color, backdround color, and more.
    Don’t know CSS, or just want to tweak the color scheme? Ares provides an easy way to do that through your browser.

    Ares uses the Ruby programming language and the Ember.js framework, both of which have a wealth of resources available for new developers.

    “Seeing all the cool games people have built with Ares is really amazing, and it gives me the motivation to keep going,” said Faraday.

    Skepticism, perseverance, and challenges

    Whether it’s a game platform or an individual game, you can’t please everyone. You have to find a balance between accepting feedback and staying true to your vision.

    – Faraday, Creator of AresMUSH, on lessons learned

    I was surprised to learn that Faraday faced a lot of skepticism about her project.

    “I can’t count the number of times I was told that people would never play on the web portal, or use player handles, or accept a system that auto-logs scenes,” said Faraday. “Sometimes you just have to take a risk and try something new, accepting that it might not catch on.”

    Having personally tried out the web portal with its built-in scenes system and browser notifications, I find it incredibly convenient.

    I can see what Blu (AKA Soul in Excelsior) meant when she said that AresMUSH allows her to stay active in her favorite games, even with a busy RL.

    Faraday did note that coding the web portal presents some interesting challenges, however.

    “Players interact with web pages rather than individual commands, and that means the code has to support two very different ways of accomplishing the same tasks,” she explained.

    “For example, the ‘look’ command traditionally lists characters in the room, but web players aren’t on the grid in the same way that client players are. To accommodate both playstyles, you have to challenge some basic assumptions.”

    Faraday’s recommended resources

    If you’re thinking about running your own MU*, Faraday recommends checking out her article on choosing the right MU* server.

    “It contrasts the features available on different server platforms, and highlights some reasons why Ares may actually not be the best fit, depending on what kind of game you want to make,” she said.

    I’ve read through the article, and I found it quite helpful for explaining the strengths and limitations of AresMUSH compared to other systems.

    Still, if you’ve never tried running a MUSH before, or you’re not quite sure, you can always try it out and see if it will work for the game you envision.

    “It’s easy to set up an Ares game and take it for a spin,” said Faraday. “There are loads of tutorials on the website to get started. We also have a helpful community to answer questions.”

    You might also find it useful to browse the AresMUSH help system. Every Ares game comes with built-in helpfiles that explain how to do things via command line and on the web portal.

    Tip: To join the Ares community Discord, follow the instructions on this page.

    What’s next for Faraday and AresMUSH

    Quote by Faraday pulled from the body of the post.

    Finally, I asked Faraday if there was anything interesting on the roadmap that she’d like readers to know about.

    “There are always monthly updates with bugfixes and quality-of-life improvements,” she said. “Longer-term, I have lots of ideas, but nothing concrete enough to talk about yet.”

    We’ll just have to keep an eye out! In the meantime, you can read about major milestones and previous releases on her Development Blog.

    Wrapping things up, Faraday offered her thanks to the AresMUSH community:

    “I’m grateful for everyone who’s tried out Ares and provided feedback and ideas through the years, especially the early alpha and beta testers.

    The community on the forums/Discord is wonderfully friendly and helpful, and there are some great community-contributed code plugins available on AresCentral.”

    A huge thank you to Faraday for sharing her experiences developing AresMUSH! I really enjoyed getting to hear about her motivations, and I found her story about charging forward in the face of skepticism inspiring.

    Also, she was kind enough to give me access to a demo account so that I could see firsthand how the turnkey installation and admin side of things work. :)

    If you’re into MU*s and enjoy learning from game creators, stay tuned, because we’ll be hearing from more AresMUSH game runners over the next couple of months! Next up will be Tat, creator of Spirit Lake and Shattered.

    Smiling blonde woman wearing glasses.
    About the author

    Andruid is a writer, roleplayer, storyteller, and nerd who tries to live by Bill and Ted wisdom, i.e. “Be excellent to each other.” 

    Frequently Asked Questions

    When was AresMUSH first released?

    Ares’ first official release was on September 14, 2022. Prior to that, it was available for a couple of years in open beta.

    What is FS3?

    FS3 stands for “Faraday’s Simple Skills System.” It’s a game-agnostic RPG system that allows you to create a set of skills and then use built-in dice rollers and combat actions to determine outcomes during scenes.

    FS3 isn’t the best fit for every game, however. See Faraday’s page on Choosing FS3 for guidance.

    Why would I play an AresMUSH game using a MUD client?

    Even though AresMUSH comes with a full-featured web portal AND a web client, some players might still want to use a traditional MUD client due to personal preference. For example, MUD clients typically offer additional flexibility in how output from the game is displayed.