This article originally appeared in Pyramid #9
Welcome to the Machine
by Jeff KokeThis is the first in a series of articles exploring the Metaverse - the text-based, virtual environment that is run by Illuminati Online. Let us know what you think about this growing interpersonal technology, and we'll print some of your opinions in future issues of Pyramid.I'm sitting in Saucy Jack's, a quaint British pub set ignominously in the middle of Freegate's central business district. It's right across from the stadium, so we get a good deal of traffic after games. Other than that, most of our customers are regulars from around the city who come in for the free drinks and to play darts or pool in the smoky back room. It gets pretty crowded in here sometimes, and occasionally someone will get crazy and start dancing on the tables. Most of the time, though it's a nice quiet place to talk with interesting people from any place you can imagine.Describing the Metaverse is a lot like trying to explain a dream. It's only really meaningful when you're there, experiencing it for yourself. But, since I am being paid to describe it, I'll give it my best shot.
Jack runs the place, and he stays mostly behind the bar, except when he's serving drinks or throwing out some rude newbie who hasn't figured out what's not allowed here. It's a strange place, I'll admit, but common sense should tell anyone with a brain what's acceptable. Jack's a big man, too, and not very tolerant of discourtesy.
Oh, my name's Taylor, and I built this bar. It took some time, but it wasn't hard at all. You see, in the Metaverse, anything is possible and if you can describe it, you can build it.
The Metaverse is a computer system that's a cross between a chat line and a text-based adventure game (remember Zork and the other Infocom games?). What this means is that when you log into the system, you are presented with descriptions of your environment, what kind of room you are in, what objects are in the room, and who else is there with you. The "who else" is important because unlike an adventure game, these are real people, sitting at their keyboards anywhere in the world -- they can look at you, talk to you, reveal emotions -- you interact with them in any way you would if you were "really" in the same room with them (which in a way you are).
One of the neatest things about the Metaverse is that you aren't really you. That is, you develop a character for yourself, like in a roleplaying game. You can be yourself if you want to, or just a smoother, prettier version of yourself. Or you can be a giant talking banana. You describe your character how you want to. Other people will see you as you want to be seen. Gender, race and appearance are all aspects of your character. You will be judged solely by your creativity and personality.
Perhaps it's best just to give you a brief example of what I'm talking about. This is a transcript of what I might see on any given visit to the Metaverse. In this example, I've just entered Saucy Jack's from the front door. To make it easier to follow, I've put what I would be typing in bold, and what the computer displays to me in normal type.
You pull open the heavy front door and enter Saucy Jack's
This place looks for all the world like a quaint British pub. Along one wall is a row of well-used dart boards, and the other wall is dominated by a huge antique oak bar, with brass fixtures. There is a stack of beer kegs along the east wall. In the north wall, around the bar is a door with a small sign reading "POOL ROOM." Behind the bar, a narrow staircase leads up into darkness.
You see oak bar, sign at the bar, Saucy Jack, game of darts and a table to dance on here.
Bolie, Shig and Aries are here.
The bar hums with quiet conversation.
:waves to all.
Taylor waves to all.
"Hello, guys. How's it going.
You say "Hello, guys. How's it going."
Aries says "Hey, Taylor. It's going just fine. How about you?"
Bolie waves and nods.
Shig says "Pretty good, I'm working on a new home here in the MV. It's almost done."
You say "Cool."
Neat, But What Can I Do There?
There are three basic things to do in the Metaverse, the same things you would do in any odd new environment full of interesting people -- interact, explore and create. Everything is handled though commands, or "verbs" as they are called in the Metaverse. There are thousands of verbs, from the simple ones (say, look, go, jump) to the more advanced (@create, @ways) to the esoteric and downright strange (bribe, puree, resurrect). Most verbs have abbreviations to save bandwidth; for example, "say" is replaced by a quotation mark, and look becomes simply "l." Some of the most common verbs are listed in the sidebar.
Interacting is the easy part. Whenever you are in the same room with someone else, talk to him/her/it. This is handled in the easiest possible way. You simply use a quotation mark to indicate that you want your persona to say what you're typing: like this "Hello. You don't even need to close the quote; the system does it for you. This is where the system resembles a chat line. Many people use the Metaverse to meet people from all over, talk to them, exchange ideas, make friends and plot to take over the world.
Talking is just part of it, though. You can also emote. Emoting is basically having your character express an emotion or do something other than talk. It's as easy as talking; you type a colon followed by what you want your persona to emote (i.e., :laughs like a maniac). The system puts your character's name in front of the statement and displays it on the terminals of everyone in the room (Taylor laughs like a maniac.).
While talking and emoting are the basic and most-often-used modes of interaction, there are many others. An important one is called paging. This is how you send a message to someone who is not in the same room with you. It's the same as talking, except you use the @page verb instead of a quotation mark. This, in conjunction with the @who command (see sidebar), is used to find people in the Metaverse and join up with them (coincidentally handled by the @join command).
All the verbs for interaction are fairly intuitive; they are the simplest English words for whatever action you want your persona to do. Go ahead, experiment.
The Metaverse is huge - thousands of rooms, tens of thousands of objects and hundreds of users (of course, not all of them are on at the same time). Look at everything, explore every exit, fiddle with objects until you find out what they do, walk around and see what there is to see. Some places are private, but they will usually be locked, or at least prominently marked as private.
Room descriptions tell you what exits are obvious, what objects are there to look at and examine, and what other characters are in the room with you. Certain exits are see-though, so you can know who's in the next room over. Most objects are designed (or programmed) to do something. If you find a guitar, for example, you might try to "play guitar" and see what happens. If you find a book, you could "read book." Not every object has a purpose; some are just decoration to add atmosphere, but most of them are interesting and fun. There are games, books, motorcycles, pinball machines, pianos, traps, weapons, robots and lots more. And, as the next section describes, if you can't find it, you can build it yourself.
The most interesting and innovative aspect of the Metaverse is that it was created and developed by its users. I was there when it began. It wasn't even called the Metaverse then, and it was about six rooms set in the middle of a jungle. A year of constant development has changed the jungle into a giant city called Freegate, the soul of the Metaverse. You see, every user is given a certain quota of objects to create (10 to start). You can make anything your heart desires with these ten blank objects. Every object is based on another object, called its parent. The child object starts out the same as the parent, but the owner of the object is allowed to change the properties of the child object in whatever ways he wishes, even as far as to add new properties and create verbs for the object.
Let me give you an example. The most basic parent object is called $thing. This $thing is nothing more than a formless blob of nothing -- it has no name, no description, only the most basic properties that are common to all objects in the Metaverse. If a user wanted to create a table, he would type @create $thing called table. As simple as that, he now has a formless blob of nothing called a table. Next he wants to describe the table so that when others look at the table, they see what he wants them to see. He types @describe table as "An antique cedar table with brass accents." It's so easy to build and describe things that most new users use up their initial quota in about an hour. Fortunately, you can recycle objects that you don't like anymore to get your quota back, and if your creations impress the wizards who run the system, they will grant you more quota to work with. The better your objects and rooms, the more you will be allowed to develop the Metaverse. Freegate is never really finished, and the more users we have, the more there is to explore.
Great, So How Do I Get There?
Well, first you need to get an account on Illuminati Online. I know, this whole thing sounds suspiciously like an advertisemen for our system. Well, it is in a way, but the Metaverse costs money to run; we have to pay the techs to service it, and the machines it inhabits aren't cheap.
But on the other hand, you can go in and explore as a guest without paying a dime. Simply begin a telnet session to metaverse.io.com 7777 and login as a guest. If you have client software like tinytalk, tinyfugue or vaportalk, you can use that instead of telnet (and you'll be glad you did). Guests can do anything that regular users can do except create objects -- we don't want every random user to fill the place with junk. Only people dedicated enough to get an account on the Metaverse are allowed to change it. But as a guest, you should be able to determine whether you are going to like it or not.
It doesn't have a fancy graphic interface or digitized sound. It's about as low-tech as you can get and still be working on a computer. A 286 and a modem will get you in, but once you're there, you'll find that the Metaverse is more "real" than some virtual reality systems. It's an avenue to interaction with all types of intelligent, creative souls. People just like you who have the urge to interact, explore and create.
Next time: Building in the Metaverse!
The Commercial Details
If you telnet in over the Internet, you get unlimited access to all our features for $10 per month. We have a fast T1 connection.
You can also reach us by dialing in to 512-448-8950. See the ad on the inside back cover for costs. (Remember, gamer access is at 512-447-4449.)
Any option includes a free 2-week trial period.
For full details on charges, payment options, and so on, telnet to io.com or call 512-448-8950. If you like what you see, you can sign up immediately.
Common Verbs in the Metaverse
All commands in the Metaverse have the basic syntax verb direct-object preposition indirect-object. For example, hit Taylor with hammer. Not all of these elements are necessary for every verb, however. Some verbs only require a direct object (look chair), and some require only the verb (@who). All common verbs have @help files associated with them (see below), and most of them are intuitively obvious.
Say (abbreviated "): Say simply tells the system to announce to everyone in the room that your persona is speaking what you type after the verb.
Emote (abbreviated :): Emoting is how you convey action and emotions that are not covered by other verbs, like thinking, frowning, laughing and hopping up and down on one foot while whistling the Star Spangled Banner.
Look (abbreviated l): Look is probably the most used verb. It gives you the description of any room, object or person you look at.
Go (abbreviated with the direction or exit you want to go through): Go is a verb that is rarely typed. The user can instead simply type "w" to go west, "u" to go up, "stairs" to follow the stairs. The "go" is implied.
@who: This verb gives the user a list of what other users are on the system currently. It also gives their location, should you want to find them.
@page: This verb allows you to send a private message to any user who is on the system, regardless of where they are.
@join: This verb allows you to instantly move to the location of whomever you indicate after the verb. Not all areas in the Metaverse allow this verb, however.
@help:This is one of the most useful verbs on the system. When followed by a verb or object name or number, it gives the user help on the subject.
@create: This allows you to make new objects.
@ways: This verb gives you a list of all the obvious exits in what ever room you are in.
@rose: This is a special verb that shows obvious exits in a compass rosette, with the names of the rooms that each exit leads to.
@quit: Goodbye. See ya later. Don't be a stranger.
Article publication date: October 1, 1994
Copyright © 1994 by Steve Jackson Games. All rights reserved. Pyramid subscribers are permitted to read this article online, or download it and print out a single hardcopy for personal use. Copying this text to any other online system or BBS, or making more than one hardcopy, is strictly prohibited. So please don't. And if you encounter copies of this article elsewhere on the web, please report it to firstname.lastname@example.org.