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Alter Aeon is a Multi-User Dungeon (MUD), or text based adventure game that has been operational for over a decade. The earliest reliable source noting its existence is in the January 1997 issue of "Computer Games Accessible to the Blind", though the Alter Aeon "features" page off the main web site indicates active players as early as 1995. As of 2007 it was still functional, as evidenced by the list of currently signed-in players at http://xirr.com:3004/wholist.
The web pages (http://dentinmud.org) indicate strong support for the blind and visually impaired, and also lists that it was written from scratch (not derived from existing codebases.)
Over the years, the game was hosted primarily by the god Dentin on several different machines and switched locations several times. It is currently (April 2007) hosted on a co-located server in Texas.
The game, from the player perspective
Alter Aeon is set up as a mostly "dungeons and dragons" style RPG, though there are occasional sci-fi and other fantasy references. One of the more notable incidents of this is the wreckage of an alien space ship and its associated artifacts at the edge of Chaos, which has a very "surface of Za'Ha'Dum" feel from Babylon 5. There is also a major portion of the world dedicated to the Aztec empire, visible in the on-line area listings.
An obscure in-game command 'worldstat' can be used to retrieve the current size of the game world and count of various things in the system. The current game statistics give a world size of approximately 29000 rooms, broken up into about 190 different zones. Other odd statistics are also given, including "virtual" and "real" string memory allocation numbers, item auction prices, and number of socials. The worldstat information is not available through the web interface.
The character system is multi-class level based. The classes are the standard magic user, cleric, thief, and warrior, and may be leveled at any time assuming fame and experience requirements are met. This causes some issue with regard to how a character's primary class is determined, particularly in the case when two or more classes are the same level. The experience cost per level increases exponentially with the level, and multipliers are applied to lower classes in a manner that is confusing to most players. An unexpected effect of this setup is that always leveling the cheapest class results in a character with classes staggered approximately 5 levels apart for all levels less than 30. The highest level is currently level 32.
At and above level 30, 'fame' points are required to gain levels in addition to experience. Fame points are only given by killing various difficult creatures in the game; the rationale given by Dentin is that this tends to increase exploration at high levels. Player opinion on this is divided, as some consider it an onerous restriction, while others consider it effective at promoting in-depth knowledge of the game world.
The skill and spell system is broken up loosely into groups with dependencies, with a large number of isolated standalone spells and skills. The thief and warrior classes have much smaller skill trees than spellcasters and is widely considered a shortcoming of the game by the players.
There is in-game support for clans and clan property. Players in most cases can create clans and modify clan areas without administrative support.
Player killing is only allowed on an 'opt-in' basis, and opposing players must both opt-in to the desired PK type to fight. Player killing options are:
- player-configured temporary arena deathmatches - temporary opt-in player killing - permanent, always active player killing
Permanent PK is regulated by a karma based system that is widely considered by the players to be only marginally functional. To prevent unwanted karma effects from building up, permanent PK players will often fight in arenas or while flagged as temporary PK.
The game supports server-side spam filters and aliases, as well as alias/tty stop using Control-C; the ability to halt an alias and clear the command queue is unusual and very useful for players using simple clients or screen readers. The spam filters are used primarily by blind players to reduce the load on screen readers.
The game, from an immortal/god perspective
All building is done in-game by the immortal staff. Building may be done either on the main (live) version of the game, or on the builders port. The builders port is a separate copy with limited areas that serves as a sandbox for new builders. After one or more areas are completed and installed on the main port, new builders may be transferred to the main port to work directly on the game and maintain their existing areas.
New areas must pass a series of automated checks prior to being moved to the main port, which helps maintain game balance and reduces the effort required to verify that an area is acceptable. The automated checks also serve as a guideline for new builders and can post warnings about unexpected scenarios that have historically been problematic.
The area checker also restricts items that are deemed unacceptably powerful. This item checking code caused the first major political schism which served to break up the original Alaska building team near the beginning of 1996; while now mostly accepted as a useful tool, some builders still consider it an unacceptable constraint on their creativity or declare that it produces obviously bad results.
Administrative staff are the highest level gods, and are the only ones who are allowed to deal with player issues. Originally, there were a large number of administrative staff, usually picked from the list of active builders. Dentin has publicly (on in-game boards) deemed this to be a mistake and has been very restrictive about creating new administrators. As a result of this policy, the admin staff size has been shrinking due to attrition for several years, without as yet any apparent ill effect.
To justify the small number of administrators, Dentin claims to be giving the players the tools they need to deal with most problems themselves, thereby removing the need for administrative intervention. There are those who disagree with this policy, and differences of opinion on this subject recently led to the demotion of a long-time administrator known as Heart.
There is a strong policy of separation between gods and players. In general, only administrative staff are allowed to get involved in or resolve player disputes.
Alter Aeon has been open to the public since as early as 1995, as evidenced by newsgroup archives from that time period. The domain address listed is from an educational institution in Utah, USA.
The code base for the game is named 'DentinMud', after the creator 'Dentin'. In 1995 the code base forked due to creative differences and the mud Banished Lands was created by then Alter Aeon god Wyvren. Banished Lands is still in operation.
The word 'dent' and 'dented' is commonly used by players to describe changes to equipment, usually implying that a downgrade has occurred. The preference for the root verb 'dent' over words used in other games (such as 'nerf') is likely explained by the fact that the administrator Dentin has a widespread reputation for 'denting' equipment.
The ability of gods to pick up other players and 'goto' them results in scenarios where gods or players may be present in their own inventory. At one time this was possible for players as well by using the 'summon' spell.