Opie: Giving back to the MUD community

ko-fi Written by Andruid
Vineyard's homepage and the text: An interview with Opie.

Opie, long-time pillar of the MUD community, talks about his free hosting service, how running a MUD can help you get a job, and more.

Table of Contents

    Recently, I became acquainted with Opie, who is often referred to as a pillar of the multi-user dungeon (MUD) community.

    I’d heard of Opie before, of course. It’s hard not to. Whenever the topic of MUD hosting comes up, someone will spring out of the woodwork to put in a good word for him and his free hosting service.

    Curious to learn more about his story and why he offers MUD hosting for free, I invited Opie to do an interview for the blog. He graciously accepted, and I’m pleased to be able to share his story.

    In addition to loads of useful advice, Opie offers a refreshingly positive take on the value that MUDs provide.

    I learned a lot, and I hope you will, too.

    Meet Opie, long-time MUD enthusiast and archivist

    Better known by the handle “Opie,” Jason Pontes Babo is currently the Director of Community & Affiliate Relations at Zygor, the company that provides in-game leveling guides for World of Warcraft.

    Opie has been working in the gaming and streaming scene for over 20 years. During that time, he’s been involved in games such as Lord of the Rings Online and World of Warcraft. He was also part of the early team at Twitch.

    In fact, you can find his smiling face in the global emote section in your favorite Twitch channel. Just look for the emote called “OpieOP.” 😁

    When it comes to the text-based gaming niche, Opie is known for being a maintainer of the tbaMUD codebase, a moderator in both the MUD Subreddit and the MUD Community Discord, and the owner of Vineyard.haus – the free hosting platform for MU* games.

    Tip: You can find these links and many more on my MUD Resources page at any time.

    Because of his willingness to keep inactive games online, he’s sometimes called an “archivist” of MUDs.

    Opie is also the person who worked hard over many years to get the DikuMUD license converted to open source, though that’s a story for another time.

    One of the things I really like about Opie is that he has a very community- and people-first mindset when it comes to the MUD genre. And it all started when he was just 13…

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

    How Opie got started with MUDs

    Back in the old days of AOL, Opie wanted to exchange messages with his out-of-state cousins but couldn’t because they didn’t have the AOL service.

    In order to chat online, they taught him how to use Telnet to connect to a text-based game they were playing at the time.

    “So that is what I did initially, I’d log in to this MUD named Heaven’s Hell, which was my first official MUD ever,” Opie told me. “I would just log in to see if they were online, and if they weren’t, I’d close the telnet window.”

    Opie even recalled his first character’s name: Raven.

    Eventually, he decided to explore the game instead of just logging in to chat. And once he did…

    “I was instantly hooked. I wanted to learn the ins and outs of what I was connecting to, so much so that I started to level quickly and applied to become an IMM so that I could help build areas for other players,” said Opie.

    (An IMM/imm, short for “immortal,” is someone with elevated privileges on a MUD. They might have the ability to create or destroy objects, rooms, and NPCs, for example.)

    His application was accepted, but his time as an IMM was fairly short. The owner of Heaven’s Hell, Quoju, decided to shut the game down for personal reasons.

    “This is when I started exploring other MUDs,” said Opie. “After wanting to create my own MUD and having a hard time finding coders who would stick around, I started to learn how to program in C.”

    Putting the playerbase first

    Opie, who was still only 13 at the time, had started to notice a trend among other immortals.

    “I would see IMMs log on, start doing their work, and they would either go invisible so no player would bother them, or just completely ignore global channels and whispers players would send them,” he said.

    “I felt this was a bit unhealthy for the playerbase, since you’re building a game for the players, you should interact as much as you can and also listen to their feedback. You are making a game for the community, you need to interact with the community to know what they want, what works, etc.”

    Even providing simple support was an afterthought, Opie noticed. So he decided to dedicate himself to the community.

    “Back then, we would call this Mortal Affairs (and Immortal Affairs for internal stuff). Nowadays, we call it Community Manager and Customer/Player Support.”

    Opie attributes his success today to the early opportunities he had in MUDs.

    “It’s thanks to the skills I learned over the many years that followed that I was able to transition from a basic programmer to a web developer, and then to a full-time Community & Support Manager,” he said.

    “This opened up amazing career opportunities, such as being the Director of Player Support for Lord of the Rings Online MMORPG and then, my dream at the time, joining Blizzard Entertainment to work on World of Warcraft.”

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

    Vineyard: a home for aspiring MUD admins

    I asked Opie about his decision to offer free MUD hosting to the community. Why make that effort? Especially today, when MUDs have taken a backseat to 3D games.

    Well, it turns out, Opie’s been offering free hosting for a lot longer than I realized!

    “Back in 1998, I noticed MUD hosting services were very expensive. I wanted to host my own project, so I decided to take an old computer I had and did everything I could to learn the basics of hosting my own MUD,” he said.

    “Long story short, I started to host MUDs for people I met along my journey, and that’s when Funcity.org was born. I wanted to give anyone and everyone who was inspired to build their own creations a place where they host those creations and not have to worry about the costs.”

    In doing so, Opie was able to learn new skills and evolve professionally, as well. He learned how to become a system administrator and advanced his customer support skillset.

    “Funcity not only provided a place for aspiring MUD admins, but it also provided me a chance to learn what I felt in my heart I’d be doing in my future: System Administration, Community Management, or Customer Support,” he said.

    You can find a list of Vineyard’s publicly hosted MUDs, including connection info, under the “Hosted MUDs” section of the menu. As Opie tells me, this is just a handful of the games among the hundreds being hosted.

    From Funcity.org to Vineyard.haus

    A few years ago, Opie met Eric Osterich, creator of Grapevine. Eric at the time was building ExVenture, a MUD engine built using Elixir.

    “I found this to be fascinating, and over the course of our chats we really hit it off,” said Opie. “We decided to work together, and this is where we got the idea of me renaming Funcity to Vineyard to fit the theme of the names Grapevine and the other projects planned.

    Vineyard.haus wasn’t being used, so Eric was kind to pass that domain on to me, and that’s how Funcity.org became Vineyard.haus.”

    Opie admitted that it wasn’t easy, as he’s very nostalgic and gets attached to things, but the idea “just felt right” to him.

    If you’re curious, you can read more about Opie’s reasons for offering free hosting in this archived Reddit thread.

    Opie’s advice for future MUD admins

    Given Opie’s wealth of experience in the realm of MUD administration, I asked him what advice he would give to players thinking about starting their own games.

    “Just do it! Don’t let naysayers tell you not to do it, that it’s a dying niche, or that no one cares. This is wrong,” he said.

    “Is it as popular as it once was back in the ’90s? No. But as with any other niche, there’s an audience. Remember, there is always an audience.

    Just build something great, build something you enjoy, build something from the heart, and then use every single tool available to you (social media, etc.) to promote it.”

    If you need help promoting your MUD, check out my Marketing guide. It’ll teach you step-by-step how to market your game without having to spend any money.

    Opie added, “Do it right, do it ethically, take feedback and don’t take it personally, and roll with it. Don’t expect a bunch of players, at least not right away, but when you are building it, build it for the players you’d want to have, and then once you have them, build it for the players you have.”

    This is great advice and something I’ve said before in my article on player retention.

    You don’t have to build a game everyone will love. That’s never going to happen. So focus on building the game that appeals to you and the kind of players you want playing your game and forming your community.

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

    Can running a MUD help you get a job IRL?

    Yes. Being thoughtful about game development and management, even in a MUD, can help you land a job in the game industry.

    It’s all about getting that experience under your belt and being able to articulate your process.

    In fact, I know several people who were able to get their foot in the door because they cited their MUD experience on their resume. Some of them fairly recently.

    Opie was quick to highlight the value of his MUD experience, as well.

    “Being a MUD creator, administrator, builder, player support, etc., has really helped me in my career,” he said. “I didn’t have the ability to go to college. Moving to Portugal early in my teens really changed things quite a lot when it came to education. So everything I know today, everything, I learned on my own.

    It’s a lot easier to learn things these days with the resources available online, but back then, you learned by doing. You hacked away at things until they worked. You learned from your mistakes.”

    He also noted that interacting with players from diverse backgrounds helped him grow and get to where he is today.

    And even today, MUDs offer that same experience: learning by doing.

    It’s how I started learning Java and, later, Python. I just dove in and tried things. I broke stuff, fixed it. Broke it again. And with every issue I fixed, I learned a little bit more.

    Every day, people are downloading MUD codebases and tinkering with them. From teens to older adults. Total newbs to experienced programmers looking to pick up a new language or hobby.

    Even if they’re not putting their games online for the public, they’re still out there, learning from the experience, just like Opie did.

    The “tba” in “tbaMUD” stands for The Builder Academy. It exists not only as a continuation of the CircleMUD codebase but as a tool aspiring MUD creators can use to gain valuable experience building or coding a multi-user dungeon.

    Opie’s advice for aspiring MUD developers

    I asked Opie what he would tell someone thinking about developing a MUD as a stepping stone in their career, and here’s what he had to say:

    “Pick the language you want to program in first—the language you enjoy. Don’t go for something you read somewhere is the future language that will rule all languages.

    There is work for every language. There are great engines already built, from the already known Diku derivatives to Python and Elixir projects available.

    If nothing is available in the language you enjoy, you can for sure build one from the ground up and use whatever you work on as a type of portfolio, so to speak.”

    He also added that there’s a great community over in the MUD Coder’s Guild Slack, which is where people working on their own projects go to chat about MUD development and share their work.

    “This is a great place to start. You can also join the MUD Community Discord, where it’s more of a melting pot of all sorts of MUD enthusiasts. From programmers and admins, to writers and players.”

    The MUD Coder’s Guild maintains a small archive, which contains some interesting posts on MUD programming – among other things.

    Opie’s take on the future of MUDs

    Given Opie’s long tenure in the MUD community, I was curious to know his thoughts on the future of the niche. I asked him where he thinks things are headed – and what he wants to see more of going forward.

    “I think AI will definitely shake things up a bit,” he said. “There is a lot of untapped potential for MUD creators to use AI to help generate more content at a faster pace.”

    I’ve already updated some of my own guides with sections on how to use AI to generate content, so I can definitely agree with that.

    Actually, some MUD developers are already starting to do nifty things directly in their games. For example, Griatch added a contrib to the Evennia codebase that allows NPCs to respond using a Large Language Model (LLM) similar to ChatGPT.

    Beyond AI, Opie said he’d love to see MUDs used more in schools.

    “We hear about things like Minecraft and so on, but I’d like to see MUDs adopted more. Not just to help teach programming and all that, but writing, typing, etc. There’s a lot of potential there.”

    Opie also urged established MUDs to try and evolve their image to fit the times.

    “We need better websites and easier ways to start playing for new players. MUD owners shouldn’t be afraid to use modern social media tools to find more players,” he said.

    “And most of all, MUD admins need to remember that the visually impaired are a very large part of the MUD community, and you may be losing out on new players if your MUD is not prepared to work well with screen readers.”

    If you’ve kept up with my blog, you know these last two points are near and dear to my own heart. The Accessibility section features several interviews with MUD admins and players with visual impairments and is a good place to start if you’re looking for ideas.

    >help credits

    Finally, I asked Opie if there’s anyone he’d like to thank for their help/support/encouragement over the years.

    “Firstly, and I only started this because I was suggested to multiple times, I want to thank the Patrons over at the Vineyard Patreon. I also want to thank those who from time to time donate to keep Vineyard afloat. Donating and becoming a patron is not necessary, but it is greatly appreciated,” he said.

    “I want to thank the people over in the MUD Community Discord, I love them all! I want to thank Eric from Grapevine and Paul ‘Khufu’ Clarke, long-time friend and creator of EmpireMUD.”

    Opie admitted that he wanted to name many many more people he’s thankful for, but he worried he would accidentally leave people out if he attempted a full list, so he said:

    “I’ll just thank every single MUD creator, admin, builder, writer, player, on every single codebase possible, the genre, for giving me amazing memories over 2 decades, for the platform created by those before me, which gave me the opportunity to find skills I would most likely never have known I had, and evolve those skills that I use today in my career.

    I am forever grateful to MUDs. Forever grateful. It is for all of these reasons that I provide a free service and will continue to do so for as long as I can physically maintain it and financially afford it.”

    Key takeaways from the interview

    For me, the interview with Opie is a good reminder that MUDs thrive because of the communities that surround them, so it’s important to pay attention to and support those communities.

    Yet, I rarely come across a text-based game that has a dedicated Community Manager these days. If anything, that role is taken up by an enthusiastic volunteer who typically wears several other hats.

    If you want your game to succeed, you need someone on your team who is willing to take on that role and who can communicate well with players, regardless of their exact title.

    Looking back, the games I’ve played that had toxic communities were those that didn’t have an active community manager: a person willing and able to see things from both the admins’ and the players’ perspectives and bridge the gap so that both sides feel heard and understood.

    Running a MUD is a lot like managing employees in that regard. If you want happier employees who respect and listen to you, then you need to listen to them and take their feedback seriously.

    It’s the same with multi-user games. If you want happier players who respect your decisions, you need to treat them decently. Don’t shame them or belittle their ideas, even if you disagree with them.

    One other piece of advice that Opie had for MUD admins is to not be afraid to pass a project on to someone who is willing to continue it, and I think the same thing goes for roles and responsibilities.

    If you don’t have the time or desire to manage the community, consider delegating that responsibility to someone you trust who does.

    And speaking of projects: if you have a MUD project that you’re thinking of shelving, feel free to reach out to Opie. He’d be more than happy to keep your MUD online, even if it doesn’t have active players or staff. He does this for many MUDs already as a way to keep things available for future generations.

    He’s also looking to get involved in an established MUD with a thriving playerbase, so if your game meets those criteria and could use someone with his skillset, definitely let him know!

    A huge, warm thank you to Opie for being willing to share his story. It was a pleasure interviewing him and getting to know him – he’s a super gracious and seriously nice dude, and I wish him all the best in his career and future MUD projects.

    If you enjoyed this interview, then definitely check out the one with Khufu of EmpireMUD, who came recommended by Opie.

    Behind every MUD is a SysAdmin that keeps it up and running. SysAdmin Appreciation Day has already come and gone this year, but I hope next year you’ll consider giving Opie and your favorite system administrators a shoutout on the last Friday in July.

    For other holidays, check out the MUD Anniversaries and Community Events calendar.

    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.”