Mudlet accessibility updates with Vadi

ko-fi Written by Andruid
Published
Updated
The Mudlet icon / logo (a stone arch with a road passing through it), and the text: Mudlet accessibility updates: an interview with Vadi."

Vadi, creator of the popular open-source MUD client Mudlet, talks about the latest accessibility updates and where Mudlet is headed next.


Table of Contents

    I’m excited about today’s post! Below, I’m going to share an interview with Vadi, one of the creators of the popular MUD client known as Mudlet.

    In addition to actively developing Mudlet and providing ongoing support to the Mudlet community, Vadi is responsible for spearheading the major accessibility updates that went live in March.

    Let’s get to know Vadi and how he got started with Mudlet!

    Tip: If you’re new to MUDs, I’ve included some useful FAQs at the end of this post.

    Meet Vadi, global citizen and co-creator of Mudlet

    To kick things off, I asked Vadi to tell us a little bit about himself.

    “Hey, I’m Vadim Peretokin, global citizen, been living in Amsterdam for the last 6 years and have my eye on moving to Gothenburg in Sweden soon,” he said.

    “At my main gig, I’m a product architect for clinical records software, and on the side a consultant in the matters of health IT interoperability where I’ve been working for the last decade.”

    Health IT and clinical records software?! That doesn’t sound like MUDing at all!

    Of course, many of us in the MUD community have day jobs that on the surface have very little to do with text-based adventure games, yet we often find ways to apply some of the same skills.

    The early days of MUDing

    I asked Vadi how he got started with MUDs.

    “Through a friend in middle school! He didn’t stick around much, but I did – this was on Achaea. I had a knack for automating things in the game, other people found it useful, and before I knew it I was selling what I built to other folks,” he said.

    (For those new to MUDs, Achaea is a long-running P2W/P4P game offered by Iron Realms Entertainment.)

    Vadi added, “The early days were a bit crazy – the client I used didn’t have a proper import function, so people had to spend hours copying and pasting aliases and triggers. One player even created a blog on blogspot to document this experience.”

    Eventually, Vadi tried out a few other platforms and clients, but none of them were quite what he needed.

    …you can see where this is going, right? 😉

    Quote by Vadi, pulled from the body of the text.

    Mudlet: the abbreviated origin story

    “Heiko Koehn and I wrote the first lines of Mudlet in 2009, that was 15 years ago,” said Vadi.

    “We met on the forums of another Linux-based client, KMuddy, and both realized that we needed a better client for Linux, primarily so the platform wouldn’t be behind Windows and ZMud [a popular Windows-based client at the time].

    As soon as we started putting betas out, folks asked for Mudlet on Windows and macOS… and now it’s a major client that runs on Windows/macOS/Linux, including even Chromebooks and Raspberry Pi’s.”

    Indeed, one of the main reasons I started using Mudlet is that it was designed to work on Linux. Another was that it felt very streamlined and fast.

    Mudlet has since undergone numerous fixes and improvements to make it even better.

    It’s even been translated into several other languages (including Chinese, Russian, German, and Italian) so that people all over the world can use it to play their favorite text-based games!

    Accessibility updates – why now?

    At this point, you might be wondering: why wasn’t the client screen reader-friendly from the start? Why add this capability now?

    Vadi had an answer to that, too.

    Performance is a key trait of Mudlet from the beginning, and to achieve it, one of the things we have is a custom text renderer to display text on screen in a really quick way,” he said.

    In fact, the makers of Mudlet take this so seriously, they even have a Raspberry Pi dedicated to running performance tests every time they change anything.

    Because of this focus on performance, however, Mudlet’s text renderer wasn’t using any accessibility frameworks.

    “When screen readers tried to look at it, they ‘saw’ nothing,” Vadi explained.

    Screen captures for sighted users to help them understand Mudlet's accessibility updates.
    From the Mudlet website. What screen readers could “see” before and after the accessibility updates.

    “We’ve known about this problem and had a bounty outstanding ($800 USD) to make this text renderer accessible for a couple of years. A few developers gave it a go over time, but none were able to really see it through.”

    After the last developer put their work down, Vadi decided to give it a shot and finally close the accessibility gap himself.

    Closing the accessibility gap in Mudlet

    “I had followed the Mudlet project with interest for years before it became accessible, wishing that someday, blind and visually impaired people would be able to use it. When I noticed that there were actually efforts underway to make this happen, I was excited.

    It was a bit of a rocky start though, because what tends to happen is that sighted people think they know what we need, and then go off and make it happen according to their way of thinking, brushing off our efforts to explain ourselves.

    I tried to explain why the early efforts weren’t going to meet our needs, and there was a bit of pushback there. But there came a time when a new effort took place, and this happened to be what would become the winning formula.”

    bscross
    Mudlet user and accessibility tester

    But getting the client to a point where screen readers could “see” the text wasn’t that easy. If it was a simple fix, it’d have been done years ago, after all.

    “Particularly challenging in making this happen was the fact that screen readers traditionally only react to a user’s input in order to read something out,” said Vadi. “But in the case of playing MUDs, you need to be able to announce new lines as they come from the game, without player input, in an unsolicited manner.”

    This made things tricky, especially for the Linux and macOS versions of Mudlet.

    Luckily, Vadi was able to get assistance from both Linux and Apple engineers who work on the accessibility frameworks for their respective platforms. With their help, he was able to make incoming text inside Mudlet visible to screen readers on these two operating systems.

    “That was a great bit of collaboration,” he said.

    Quote by Vadi, pulled from the body of the text.

    Going a step further

    “I’m able to help test builds that incrementally improve the experience, and it’s great whenever issues can be resolve that impact screen reader users. It’s not always easy to communicate what would be beneficial, at least for me. Partly because I don’t express myself well at times.

    I will say; however, that there are a lot of great developers who work on Mudlet, and little by little, we are improving accessibility [in the MUD community].”

    bscross
    Mudlet user and accessibility tester

    Vadi didn’t stop there, though. He also wanted to make the code editor inside Mudlet accessible. This would allow screen reader users to write their own Lua scripts and take full advantage of the client’s capabilities.

    I didn’t realize this before, but the code editor is actually a 3rd party component called edbee. Edbee has built-in support for things like autocomplete that make it easier to quickly write code.

    “I’m particularly happy that in addition to the $800 USD bounty, we didn’t just make Mudlet accessible, but we also helped make this 3rd party code editing component accessible by offering an additional $1,000 USD bounty to the project’s maintainer,” said Vadi.

    Because of that bounty, edbee is now more accessible, too!

    “I’ve known a lot of folks have been wanting to be able to switch to Mudlet but just couldn’t – now they finally can,” Vadi said.

    Quote by Vadi, pulled from the body of the text.

    Mudlet’s bounty program

    You might be wondering what this bounty thing is all about. For those who don’t know, a bounty program is a way to reward members of the community for addressing gaps in a website or piece of software.

    While bounties are often aimed at fixing bugs and closing security gaps, they can be offered for completing other tasks, as well.

    “In total, we gave away $1,800 in bounties to make Mudlet accessible, and we’ve been able to give these bounties out thanks to all of our loyal supporters on Patreon and Open Collective, something we’ve been running for a number of years now rather successfully,” said Vadi.

    “It’s ironic, but making and giving away software for free is actually not free: we have to pay for code certificates for Windows and macOS (otherwise Mudlet will be flagged as suspicious/malicious software), hosting fees, and so on,” he explained.

    By collecting money from supporters and reinvesting it all into the project, the makers of Mudlet have been able to secure the project financially and start handing out bounties to ensure even more growth.

    “Besides the accessibility bounties that have been claimed, we’re also running a $1,000 bounty program on various issues/improvements that is still open,” Vadi said.

    He encouraged anyone who’s interested to check out the details at mudlet.org/bounty.

    Mudlet is forever free and open-source

    Vadi went on to describe his views on fundraising and recommended it for other open-source projects, too.

    “There is nothing wrong with securing your project financially,” he said. “Mudlet is still entirely open-source and free to use and that’ll never change; nobody has thought of Mudlet any less due to this, and as a bonus we do have some funds on the side that we can use for things like bounties.

    That said, as a maintainer, it is also important to keep your expectations level: we expect no obligation from our users to fund the project, and any person that does is a cherry on top.”

    Screenshot from Mudlet's website showing that it's free and open source.
    Mudlet is free and available for download on Windows, macOS, and Linux.

    When I think about it, Mudlet has enabled a lot of people to go on text-based adventures over the past 15 years! It’s not the only MUD client out there, but it’s the year 2023, and Mudlet is still being actively maintained and developed.

    The fact that it’s completely free and open-source is also pretty dang cool.

    And where other people see MUDs as a dying genre, Vadi sees opportunities:

    Personally, I love working on a free, open-source project that is bringing positivity to folks out there and also is helping this niche genre prosper,” Vadi said. “It’s also a good way to put yourself out there and learn valuable skills – software engineering, project management, soft skills – you name it.”

    “Separately, I believe text as a medium has a lot to offer that we can still build upon and improve going into the future,” he added. “The rise of text-to-image and ChatGPT AIs really supports this point.”

    “Mudlet, as of this current time, is accessible. A blind person can download it, install it, and get running with it right away. There is a screen reader section in the Mudlet wiki that has tips and tricks for getting the most out of the experience.

    What is needed now are more blind and visually impaired people who want to try Mudlet. The people who have the skills to make soundpacks in other clients will find that learning the Lua API isn’t difficult, and the benefits are numerous.”

    bscross
    Mudlet user and accessibility tester

    Credit for Mudlet’s continued success

    I asked Vadi if there is anyone else who deserves credit for Mudlet’s success.

    “Definitely,” he said. “Heiko wrote a lot of the code in the first couple of years and really laid the foundation for the client as it is.

    In addition:

    • Stephen Lyons has been contributing to the client for 9 years now and has both polished the internals of the client and added some pretty cool new functionality.
    • Damian Monogue has been with the team from the start, always helping new folks and putting out useful Mudlet tools and packages.
    • Other great folks on the team are Florian Scheel, Leris, and Delwing that are all helping make Mudlet better.
    • On the community side of things, we’ve got Tim Johnson and Eraene who’ve been great helpers, alongside every person who sticks around in Discord and helps pay the help they’ve been given forward to others.

    For [the accessibility] release in particular, we’ve had bscross, Tyler Spivey, Hadi, and Mohamed Radwan from the visually impaired community who really helped us out with their time.

    Mudlet at its core is an open-source project that anyone can contribute to. It’s a great way to get software development experience and get something for your resume, so if you’re an interested reader, come on by.”

    Quote by Vadi, pulled from the body of the text.

    What’s next for Vadi and Mudlet?

    With the accessibility gaps closed, I asked Vadi what’s next on the roadmap and whether there’s anything he’s particularly excited about.

    “Improving the first-time player experience is quite important to us,” he said.

    Mudlet’s vision is building the best text gaming experience possible to nurture and grow this niche scene, and that means making it more accessible to folks who have never tried this medium out.

    Someone should be able to come across Mudlet out of the blue, figure out what it is about, and how can MUDs be played.

    Once we’re there, I’d like to get Mudlet listed in the Steam store one day as well – if you’ve got experience going through that process, we’d love to hear it.

    Additionally, the rise of generational AI (Stable Diffusion, ChatGPT) is offering some unique opportunities, and I’d love to see Mudlet be able to take advantage of them in the future.”

    Vadi’s recommended resources

    Lastly, I asked Vadi if he had any other resources to share with readers.

    “Visit https://mudlet.org/download to obtain Mudlet and visit our Introduction page on how to get started,” he said.

    “To join the Mudlet community, come by the Mudlet forums and our Discord server, it’s a great way to get help and talk about MUDs.

    If you’re a visually impaired user, check out our screen readers page on how to get started with Mudlet!”

    A huge thank you to Vadi for taking the time out of his busy schedule to do this interview! As a Mudlet user who cares about accessibility, I’m excited about the recent updates and hope that more people are able to take advantage of this software to enjoy text-based adventures online. If you’re like me and get a lot of value from using Mudlet, consider lending your support. Visit mudlet.org/contribute for ways to contribute.

    Other warm thanks go to bscross for sharing their experiences and to Tamarindo of StickMUD for putting me in touch with Vadi and for suggesting the topic of this post. 🙂


    Frequently Asked Questions

    What is a MUD client?

    MUD client is a downloadable program that lets you connect to and play text-based multi-user dungeon (MUD) games hosted by individuals all over the world.

    What is Mudlet?

    Mudlet is a popular MUD client. It’s free to use, open-source under the GPL2+ license, and works on all major operating systems.

    How can I get started with Mudlet?

    Visit Mudlet.org to download the latest version of the software. To learn more about how to automate tasks, visit the Introduction page, which is part of the online user manual.

    How can I support Mudlet?

    Visit Mudlet.org for ways to contribute your skills to the project. The page also has links for Patreon, Paypal, and Open Collective if you’d like to support the project financially.


    Posts in this series

    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."