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TriadCity is an 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.[1] TriadCity has been cited in several scholarly forums for its literary merits, including the Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism.[2]


Mark Phillips and Gary Smith, the creators of TriadCity, met at Golden Gate University in 1994. Phillips had a background in network technology and experimental fiction.[3] Smith was a veteran of the high-tech industry who had written his own Fortran version of the popular adventure game Zork in 1980, which he later ported to C++ and Visual Basic.[4] Both were interested in designing a game where non-violent cooperative gameplay was more important than violence-based methods of character advancement. In 1999, Phillips and Smith incorporated the independent games company SmartMonsters for the purpose of developing such games.[5] TriadCity is their flagship project.



TriadCity runs on an entirely original codebase.[6] Gameplay is conducted through proprietary HTML5 GUIs or standard MUD clients and incorporates elements of both textual virtual worlds and traditional MUDs, such as the importance of role-play, social interaction through chat, and a text-based interface. Natural Language Processing,[7] allows players to type commands in conversational English, although players familiar with the MUD genre may alternatively prefer a more terse command vocabulary similar to older DikuMUD or CircleMUD.

Character development[edit]

Characters can take on a variety of genders including the familiar male, female, and hermaphrodite as well as such unfamiliar alternatives as splat (a noncommittal gender posture) and plural (characters which are a multitude of individuals). Characters are rewarded experience while playing the game for a variety of activities including simple acts of exploration and puzzle-solving. As in most MUDs, characters can eventually learn skills and adopt various roles including the somewhat familiar healer, warrior, and thief as well as the unfamiliar malopath (a kind of psychic vampire). Character advancement can often be furthered through the use of non-violent skills more effectively than it can through the use of violence, though in MUD tradition TriadCity does include combat among the activities available to characters. A prominent incentive for non-violence is the fact that character death is permanent in TriadCity. Characters do not respawn when they die, so combat carries much greater risks than it does in most other MUDs. Cooperative gameplay is privileged over individualism, making TriadCity a sometimes difficult experience for lone wolf players. Contributing to the game world can be the most lucrative source of character advancement.

The game world[edit]

The game takes place within its namesake city, a massive urban environment featuring a blend of historic, modern, and fantastic design elements. At the center of the city is a safe haven called Sanctuary Island where characters first enter the world. The geography of the city divides into three large areas called the Thirds which can be reached from Sanctuary Island. The north-west third of the city is a participatory democracy which excels in the arts and sciences. The north-east third of the city is a senatorial republic which excels in private enterprise and athletics. The southern third of the city is governed by the infallible Central Computer which affords its citizens plenty of leisure time to enjoy their unprecedented technological achievements. The game world currently comprises about 18,000 finished rooms, but is expected to reach a size of around 100,000 rooms when complete.[8]

Novel features[edit]


In TriadCity a character's experience of the world is colored by many things including their attributes and alignment. For example, a good character may see a room as dark and foreboding while an evil character may see that same room as plain and unexceptional. The resulting subjectivity of character experience is an enticing novelty of TriadCity which puts a powerful fictional tool in the hands of the game's authors. Authors of TriadCity view subjectivity of this kind as an example of Literary Modernism.[9]

Literary orientation[edit]

The world of TriadCity is populated by an immense number of individual automata, many of which have been directly inspired by literature and other prominent forms of Western culture. Among the residents of the city are Friar Tuck, Hank Riordan, Arsene Lupin, Edna Pontellier, Tiresias, George of the Jungle, Jack Dawkins and many others; along with historical figures such as Alfred Jarry, Aristophanes, George Boole, Henry Ford, Israel Regardie, Saint Simon the Stylite, Suzanne Valadon, Spartacus, François Prelati, and more. There are locales within the world inspired by the work of Mark Twain and the occultism of Aleister Crowley as well as bots whose personalities are derived from the work of Douglas Adams and Oscar Wilde.

The juxtaposition of diverse literary and cultural references together with the subjectivity of character experience has led the creators of TriadCity to describe the game as a piece of interactive postmodern literature.[10] This ambitious claim has been endorsed by the Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism which cites TriadCity as an example of new, emerging literary forms.[11] The creators of the game, Mark Phillips and Gary Smith, were featured panelists at the Richard Hugo House Sixth Annual Inquiry, on the topic of games.[12] TriadCity was also the featured topic of an article in the Winter 2005 BayNet Newsletter.[13] It is cited in this course syllabus for English 597: Literature on the Web, at Western Michigan University; and this course syllabus for DANM132, Games as Literature: The Intersection of Writing and Play, at UC Santa Cruz.

Gender Parity[edit]

There are currently about 10,000 registered players of TriadCity. Players are evenly divided between women and men,[14] unusual for an online role-playing environment. Although the game is played in English, a high proportion of participants are from Europe.

Advanced AI[edit]

TriadCity's automata are largely based on Rodney Brooks' "Subsumption architecture" from behavior-based robotics and autonomous robotics.[15] They have jobs, go on dates, clean their homes, play sports, and explore The City in much the same ways as human characters. The developers' goal is to populate the game world with a citizenry as diverse as RL urban environments. Some portion of the necessary AI computation is performed by TriadCity's GUI clients in a form of distributed computing.[16]


  1. ^ SmartMonsters: Games for Smart Grownups
  2. ^ Connor, S. (2004) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism, p.79. ISBN 0-521-64052-0.
  3. ^ Mark Phillips' publication history.
  4. ^ Gary Smith biographical note.
  5. ^ SmartMonsters: Company Info
  6. ^ SmartMonsters: TriadCity Reviewers Guide
  7. ^ TriadCity Message of the Day 2014-01-14
  8. ^ SmartMonsters: TriadCity Reviewers Guide
  9. ^ Phillips, M. Literary Modernism in TriadCity
  10. ^ Phillips, M. Can A Game Be Literature?
  11. ^ Connor, S. (2004) The Cambridge Companion to Postmodernism, p.79. ISBN 0-521-64052-0.
  12. ^ Richard Hugo House Sixth Annual Inquiry schedule of events.
  13. ^ Winter 2005 BayNet Newsletter.
  14. ^ TriadCity MOTD 2008.10.27
  15. ^ Phillips, M. Subsumption Architecture for NPC AI
  16. ^ Phillips, M. Distributing AI Computation to Clients

External links[edit]