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About the Story
TriadCity is an ambitious multi-user role playing game with a strong emphasis on literary and philosophical themes. It's been cited in several scholarly forums for its literary merits, including the Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism, which concludes its survey of postmodernist literature with TriadCity as its culminating example.
TriadCity is an ambitious multi-user dungeon or MUD (a type of online role-playing game) with a strong emphasis on literary and philosophical themes. It is the flagship offering of the independent games company SmartMonsters and is currently in open beta. TriadCity has been cited in several scholarly forums for its literary merits, including the Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism
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TriadCity is an ambitious MUD with some unusual goals, set in a fantastic, genre-bending city.
Given the long-term nature of play, and the world's very-incomplete status, this review should be treated as more provisional than usual, and less likely to age well. Also, I am inexperienced in MUDs generally -- but, since TriadCity seems to be aiming at a fairly different audience, that shouldn't be a disqualification.
The game really, really wants you to acknowledge that it's postmodern and literary. (When you log out, it gives you Amazon referrals to all the books it's referenced.) I'll grant this, but with the caveat that these categories aren't really badges of honour; what's important is whether it's good literature.
And as a literary work, TriadCity leaves a good deal to be desired. Compared to the average work of IF, or mainstream CRPGs, there is very little active narrative; at least at lower levels, it's more of a sandbox than a quest-driven system, and more about exploration than either. Apart from a number of chatbots that seem disconnected from the world proper, NPCs are minimally reactive. There seems to be the idea that player-driven roleplay would fill a lot of the space, but at present the users are too sparse for this to be viable; and it seems likely that there is more to do at moderate-to-high levels, but leveling is quite slow.
To repeat: sloooow. At low levels, much of your time will be spent managing sleep. There are hunger and thirst counters too, but these are less obnoxious. While fatigue is a MUD convention, it adds very little to gameplay, detracts a great deal from the enjoyment of exploration, and is most annoying at the worst possible time -- that is, the very early game. There are ways to make it less awful (make a high-CON character, invest in certain magic items) but these are largely just compensation for a terrible idea.
The game has some pretty laudable ideas about how it would like to work: less gameplay focus on combat and theft (they exist, they're just hard), with a polite and supportive player culture of intelligent adults. How much this is actually achieved is another matter; the people who are on are friendly and very helpful, but too few to really constitute a culture. And there doesn't seem to be much to replace combat and theft.
The prose tends towards the genially brief; it's competent, in general, but not strong enough to constitute an attraction in its own right. NPCs receive very light characterisation and, as already mentioned, are largely non-interactive. Some of these characters are drawn from literature and folklore and oddly juxtaposed into the world -- but this is a common practice of games of this ilk, and I don't think it's inherently better literature just because they come from books rather than pop-culture.
The main immediate attraction of the game, as it stands, is exploration of the City. Most low-level experience is gained by walking around and looking at stuff. Roughly, the city is divided into three sections: the anarcho-socialist, hippy-agrarian Northwest, the morally ambiguous high-tech, artsy, technocrat-capitalist South, and the dystopian, authoritarian-capitalist Northeast. If you have detected a slight element of political bias in the above, you don't know the half of it. While TriadCity purports to be interested in subjectivity and morally complex issues, it pretty much establishes who the good guys and the bad guys are from the outset; and further, because most of its elements are versions of real-world things, it often comes across as sorting things into neat little Good/Bad/Ambiguous boxes. (Good: vegetarianism, liberation theology, wine, kaballah. Evil: guns, goths, slavery, smoking, cannibalism.) As satire, it's not enormously sophisticated. Now, I'm pretty damn close to this thing's political demographic. I enjoy a socialist-utopia fantasy as much as the next pinko. But even so, jeez, this needs to be rendered a whole lot more problematic. Possibly it gets more nuanced later on -- but there's little sign of it thus far, and I doubt too many people would be willing to stick around and find out.
The other thing about exploration is that the map is quite large and often very empty. The game touts its thousands of rooms; people from an IF background, where four high-detail rooms are usually considered superior to any number of low-detail ones, will generally react to this as a reason to run away screaming, possibly undergoing flashbacks to Time Zone. The huge map multiplies the fatigue problem, and makes it necessary to map; plenty of user-made maps exist, but they're poorly indexed. Because the world is very much under construction, it's possible that more richly-detailed rooms are intended; but it seems as if the idiom is inclined towards much, much more of the same.
Which brings me to the next point: at present, it seems as though a lot of the draw of TriadCity lies in the opportunity to contribute to the world. Characters can earn in-game roles and rewards by contributing code and worldbuilding to the game itself, or art, maps, and various categories of writing to the website that supplements it. With this in mind, I started to design a small area for the game -- but then I balked, because I felt as though I was creating something dead. The game doesn't need more areas; it needs more active narrative, more detail, more things to do in the world that already exists. And after several days of pretty intensive play, I just haven't seen any examples of how the game might do that kind of thing.
I'm friends with the writers and I moderate the bbs.
TriadCity uses a MUD like interface to help players find comfort with something familiar. But, it's not a MUD. The writers consider it literary postmodernism, and if you're an academic at Cambridge writing books on that subject, seems you agree.
For example, subjective experience is created by showing different descriptions to different characters. Our characters may see the same thing differently depending on their experiences. This is meant to evoke 20th century literary modernism, for example the cloud in Ulysses, or the Alexandria Quartet.
Examples of the game world: A Tree of Life taken from the Cabballah, which you climb like a tree house. A wicked parody of the same in a different part of the city, containing spiders and broken washing machines. A bot based on Oscar Wilde. Streets named for corrupt policemen. A town square with sixteen forms of public execution, and a tour guide. Characters found in Jarry, Dickens, and Fielding. A satire on meat eating with slaughterhouse workers who dig up human graves in a cemetery and deliver corpses to restaurants packaged as beef. An area where the characters speak pig latin, another written in haiku, and one written backwards.
A female friendly environment, where women players outnumber men.
On the down side, it's hard to learn. It works best with group play, but there's often nobody there but bots. It can be deliberately confusing and it forces you to just deal with that. Although these are promised, it lacks features which will make this all make sense.
That's my sales pitch. Remember that I'm friends with the writers and have been involved with it for 12 years, so I'm biased. But I've wanted to be involved all this time, so that says something.
I have played other MUD style games, from your basic "kill everything" style to ones that are based on a specific book series. TriadCity is a wonderful game because it mixes just the right amount of both, with real-life satire mixed in for good measure.
For someone like me, who enjoys exploring,(woods, cities, anyplace that calls out to me really) TriadCity fits the bill because it emphasises exploration. But even more than that, it emphasizes thinking while you are exploring. I have not found a game yet that I can be fully content with just wandering around and reading the world around me.
When I am done with all that, I can emerge myself in the arts of the game. From being able to write and article for the newspaper, submitting a painting for the Royal Library to display in-game to directly helping build the world with the Builder Role.
Sure there is combat, theft and all the fun things you would expect any game to have, but for me TC is about the ability to directly interact and change the culture of the city. That is why I will always go back to TC. Where else can you have such a direct interaction with a gaming world?