For today’s post, I’m pleased to share an interview with Alora and Aion, the creators of Mystavaria, an upcoming multi-user dungeon (MUD) game.
Conceived during the pandemic, Mystavaria is an ambitious project that has been in development for close to three years.
What’s truly impressive is that Alora and Aion had no previous coding experience when they started – only ideas, inspiration, and a desire to create a new MUD they could call “home.”
Below, the couple talks about how Mystavaria came to be, what’s unique about it, and where the game is headed next.
Meet Alora and Aion, creators of Mystavaria
Alora (Lizzy) and Aion (Reuben) introduced themselves as an international couple that met in a MUD and got married in real life.
“Sadly, the MUD we met in has been slowly fizzling out over the last few years, and we tried a number of different games, but nothing ever really felt like ‘home,'” said Alora.
“One evening during COVID times, we were just reminiscing on the good times when we had a sudden spark of inspiration to try making a new world that did feel like home. Nevermind the part where neither of us knew the first thing about game development nor much about programming!”
Even so, a lack of experience didn’t stop them.
“Within a month, we had researched and decided on a framework (Evennia), watched a hundred videos on YouTube about game development, and dove into tutorials on an intro to Python (the coding language Evennia uses).”
Alora jokingly added, “By the end of the next month, we had characters with health and mana and a halfway functional weather system, so we were obviously now highly qualified and ready to build a real MUD! ;)”
That MUD came to be known as Mystavaria.
Mystavaria MUD: an original fantasy world
I asked Alora and Aion to describe their game and what sets it apart from other MUDs.
“Mystavaria is a fantasy world, created from the collision of dreams and reality,” said Alora. “I’ve always been fascinated by dreams and lucid dreaming, but I’ve never seen a game that really explores much into the concept of ‘dream magic,’ so that’s the route we went.”
Alora revealed that she draws inspiration directly from her own RL dream journal to create locations and quests for players to explore in the game.
“Mystavaria is a world born of dreams. Full of magic, conflict, and original lore,” said Aion. “It’s gritty and punishing, but also rewarding and full of wonder and secrets. Most of all, it’s a place where anyone can come and be who they want to be.”
What’s the current status of Mystavaria?
As of the time of this writing, Mystavaria is in pre-alpha and not yet open to the public, but it does have an active Discord community.
“The systems and coding are 95% complete with just some little kinks to work out and balancing to be done as far as skills go (along with whatever bugs pop up),” said Alora.
“But we’ve still got a ways to go as far as world content and quests go. We’ve been working hard to finish writing help files, as those are really an invaluable asset to everyone in a new game, and we want to finish content for at least our starter village.”
She added, “Once those two tasks are done, we plan to invite anyone in our Discord community in to help test and skill balance if they want to.”
What sets Mystavaria apart
I asked Alora and Aion what’s unique about their game and how it differs from other games they’ve played, built, or managed in the past.
Alora answered, “I’m pretty biased, but I think our dream magic skills are by far the coolest and most unique thing about Mystavaria. There’s a lot of room for creativity in them, and I’m really looking forward to seeing what players do with it.
Aside from that, we’ve really just taken a lot of inspiration from things we’ve seen done well in other games and tried to mash them all into one. I have a tendency to hyper-focus on little details, so we have stuff like:
- animals with genetics and unique personalities,
- trees that grow (the more developed the tree, the more resources it offers), and
- abilities that allow seed ‘fusing’ to make entirely new species of trees,
plus a lot of customization when it comes to our crafting skills.”
Aion, too, pointed to the game’s skills as one of its strengths.
“We put a lot of effort into making unique and original skills and twists on the classics,” he said. “And on that note, almost all skills and abilities work in both PvP and PvE. This is something that bothered both of us about games like Avalon and Achaea. Nothing worked against Computer Controlled Characters!”
“We are building our NPCs to function like real players, making a world that is constantly in motion regardless of player count, where it doesn’t need players to make it feel alive,” said Alora.
Other sources of inspiration for Mystavaria MUD
In addition to her dream journal, Alora draws inspiration from TV series and other games.
“I really enjoy sandbox games, so I’d say Terraria would probably be my personal biggest inspiration, which will be most reflected in some of our gathering and crafting skills,” she said.
Alora also identified Dragon Age and Runescape for their world systems, and Diablo and Naraka for inspiring some abilities in the more specialized skills.
“During the development of Mystavaria the TV series ‘The Sandman‘ came out, which was sort of coincidental timing,” Alora added. “We had already implemented some abilities which were inspired by the comic, but the TV series gave us some more new ideas as well, and also really helped inspire our written visualizations of dream magic.”
Mystavaria’s accessibility features
I like to dedicate a portion of each interview to the subject of accessibility, so I asked Alora and Aion to tell readers about the ways that Mystavaria accommodates players with blindness.
“From the get-go, we were pretty committed to making sure Mystavaria was accessible so players of all types can have the best experience possible,” said Alora.
Among the accessibility features she listed were:
- ability to hide or shorten room descriptions (known as “room brief” in some games)
- ability to ignore portions of text (e.g. suppress objects/items in a location from automatically showing when entering a new room, or turn off the automatic display of exits)
- ability to change the display format of tabled information to print in a straight list, which is easier for screen readers to digest
- customizable prompt display
- ability to create personal aliases for in-game commands and objects
“Sadly, we don’t have a soundpack to offer right now, but it’s something we have on the list of features we definitely want to add in future phases,” Alora added.
The sounds and smells of Mystavaria
Something else Alora and Aion included in the game: the ability to use other senses besides sight/vision.
“During development, we received some feedback from a couple of VI (visually impaired) players that said they enjoy interactions that appeal to more senses than just sight,” Alora explained.
“With that in mind, we added a couple of commands like
LISTEN/LISTEN <object> and
SMELL/SMELL <object>, which sometimes just show a little flavor text, but also give us a unique way to embed quests hints and other secrets to encourage and reward players for engaging all their senses instead of solely relying on what they can see.”
While not a novel feature (other MUDs have introduced similar concepts), I do appreciate how conversations with blind players were what helped drive the game’s development toward these commands.
Alora and Aion’s tips and advice for MUD devs
As with previous interviews, I asked the pair to share some of the lessons they learned while creating their game.
What would they do differently if they could start all over? What advice would they give to other players thinking about building their own unique world?
Alora was the first to share:
“I’ve recently been telling people in our Discord community if they ever decide to make a game to never avoid writing help files as they go,” she said.
“This is a current pain point where we created a ton of commands but didn’t write help files for them at the same time, and it’s VERY time-consuming and challenging to motivate yourself to churn through the massive pile that now needs to be written.”
Solid advice, if you ask me.
“I would also never again put an ‘estimated release date’ on a project,” said Alora. “I made this mistake and publicly advertised our game far too early on, not realizing the full scope and time required to finesse everything we wanted to have before release AND also have enough time to create actual content in the game.
Additionally, we had a number of unexpected real-life setbacks that complicated things – we’ve essentially lived in four different countries in the last three years, so you can imagine how moving around the globe and also not knowing when or even if you have to move next can really throw a wrench in a plan.”
Phew, yeah. That does sound like a lot!
Creating an original world is no easy task
Aion echoed Alora’s sentiments about the time required to develop a MUD, but he also urged readers not to get hung up on perfection:
“Not knowing an ounce of code when we started, there are plenty of things we could have done differently, and plenty we wish we did, but that’s just part of learning,” he said.
“I think the key thing is – nothing has to be perfect the first time around. Everything in code is intertwined and you WILL come back to change and polish at some stage. But if you spend all your time rewriting your first system, you’ll never get anything finished.
Creating a game like this is a very big undertaking, bigger than it might initially seem. Even with a codebase like Evennia doing all the hard stuff, it takes a lot of time.”
“One other thing I think is worth mentioning, we’ve learned A LOT about working with each other over the last three years,” said Alora.
“We both have a unique set of strengths and weaknesses when it comes to coding and game development, and if we had known what those were at the start of the project, it would’ve allowed us to better delegate time and tasks to let each other focus on the things we really enjoy.”
The Mystavaria roadmap
Looking ahead, where do Alora and Aion see the game in the next few years?
“More than anything, we just want to see Mystavaria live and fully open to the public within the next year,” said Alora.
“We’re really lucky to already have a community of awesome people on Discord that have patiently been waiting for release, and we’re hoping that it will at least have been worth the wait.
In five years, we just hope we’ll have a really stable game (and with any luck a solid playerbase, too) that offers a bit of fun or escape from everyday life. We already have plans for new features and skills to come in future phases, so hopefully those will just add to the excitement, immersion, and give players more options to play out the character and/or story of their dreams.”
In terms of what they’re most looking forward to working on next, Alora said:
“Anything but help files!!! 😀 But on a more serious note, we’ve been really heads-down for the last three years focusing on everything code-based, and now that the majority of that is done, I’m looking forward to getting to switch gears and focus on content, creating quests, describing objects and areas, building in easter eggs for players to discover, etc.”
As for Aion, he’s looking forward to working on the game’s Demi-gods and Orders system.
“I think this is where the most player engagement will be when the system is fully functional,” he said. “It’s the first big expansion of mechanics once we get through the initial release. I won’t go into too much detail, but what I will say is: our Demi-gods are not admins, they are just players who have gained ultimate power, fighting to keep it.”
Alora and Aion’s recommended resources
Finally, I asked the pair if they had any resources they’d recommend to people thinking about starting their own text-based game.
Alora immediately sang Evennia’s praises:
“We cannot recommend their community enough,” she said. “They have some of the most patient, kind, and generous contributors to their project, and their Discord is a constant source of both help and inspiration.”
She also suggested that would-be game creators read and answer every single question on both of the following lists before they even write the first line of code:
“You’ll have a much better starting point for your systems and even just a better understanding of what you want your own game to be,” she said.
About Alora and Aion
After being introduced to her first MUD in high school (ShadowMUD), Alora/Lizzy went on to discover Avalon, where she was hooked by the immersive location descriptions and wide array of spells.
There, she met Aion/Reuben, who was similarly hooked by the game’s social dynamics and combat system. The couple eventually met and married in real life. Now, they’re immersed in creating their own unique world for others to explore.
Thank you so much to Alora and Aion for introducing their upcoming game! It was a pleasure getting to know them better, as well as hearing their real-world take on MUD dev in 2023. To learn more about Mystavaria and its development, you can take a peek at their Dev Blog. They also have a thriving Discord community, and you’re invited. 🙂
To follow Mystavaria on social media, visit their accounts on Twitter, Facebook, and Mastodon. For a sneak peek at their new website, click here. Best of luck to Alora and Aion, and I look forward to seeing more of Mystavaria MUD!
Mystavaria FAQs and trivia
Is Mystavaria accessible?
Mystavaria is built on the Evennia framework, which is screen reader-friendly by default. The game also features several config options that allow players to hide or ignore text or change how it’s displayed.
Where does the name Mystavaria come from?
Mystavaria is a mash-up of different names the game’s creators have used in the past. It was adjusted slightly to have a fantasy flair suitable for a MUD audience.
Is Mystavaria currently looking for builders or play testers?
Yes, though builders moreso than testers. Most of the actual world is built out, but there are still quite a few locations that are still in need of room descriptions.
Those interested in helping out should get in touch with Alora or Aion via their community Discord.