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A (Not-So) Brief History of VirtualChicago

"VirtualChicago" first came into existence early in August 1994. After contacting Ripco Communications, Inc., and inquiring whether or not they wanted a virtual world constructed for their users, a reply came back to me from Mr. Kevin Kadow: "...a virtual Chicago would be nice." A virtual what? I asked, confused. A virtual Chicago -- a world modeled after Chicago. The same places and everything. I had only turned 15 years old at the time and didn't realize what an undertaking a virtual Chicago would be.

The only other person around back then was Jim Cassidy, "Mr.Q." Mr.Q was to be VirtualChicago's hardcoder, the person who hacks around with the source. I, at that time, had very little experience with C. Mr.Q was a big fan of the Trek MUSEs, while my virtual world experience began with MicroMUSE and a few other MuseNet MUSES. But VirtualChicago almost wasn't a MUSE. Kevin Kadow was into MOOs -- this was a time when MOO was gaining in popularity -- so our original entrance onto the scene was as a MOO, 8888. There had previously been another MOO running at the same site; the only visitors we really received were folks who were wondering to where the previous MOO had gone.

I don't want to give the impression that we were a MOO for very long. At most, it was for a week. Mr.Q and I learned a few things about MOO, but we were really dying to run a MUSE. Mr.Q was particularly loud about it, and soon we were given access to a shell account in order to do as we wanted. After the MUSE server came up (finally dubbed "VirtualChicago"), Kevin Kadow logged on as his virtual persona, "NoneSuch," less and less. It is my belief that I have seen him online less than four times since the start of 1995.

The official date and time of the compilation was 5:38PM on August 15th, 1994. Oddly enough, August 1994 marked the end of my first year of MUSEing. We were running on port 4201, but we weren't officially open to public yet. I invited a few select people to look around -- my friends and potential administrative staff. We wouldn't open up until a few months later, but we still wouldn't be ready.

It is important to note here what was going on in the MUSE community at this time: Trek MUSEs, designed in a space and role-play environment, were gaining popularity and were extremely successful. MicroMuse, the maintainer of MUSE versions since it was transformed from MUSH through version 1.7, was at about its pinnacle. MicroMuse had been featured in a news article in either late 1992 or early 1993, and was quite the place for kids my age to go and have (as far as I could tell, looking at IRC and AOL) the most intelligent conversations on the Internet at the time. MicroMuse was run by the infamous Dr. Barry Kort, "Moulton," since he had taken it over and brought it to run at MIT years earlier. For a fuller history of MicroMUSE, one can look at

MicroMuse was the center of what was known as MuseNet. MuseNet essentially was a group of donated computers that Moulton put together at BBN in order to provide free TinyFugue clients to the public. Back then, shell accounts were not inexpensive. Telnetting directly to a server would cause emulation problems; with TinyFugue, these problems ceased to exist. MuseNet became quite the hang-out for MUSErs deprived of their own private shell accounts. MicroMuse and all other MUSEs that were listed in MuseNet's world-list.

Shortly before the beginning of VirtualChicago, TimeMuse was a popular spot for certain older students who did not like seeing what was happening to MicroMuse. MicroMuse was under increasing pressure of having a bloated database (of over 65,000 objects), which its machine was unable to handle. This was the result of hundreds of inactive players which had never been destroyed. This would be the main cause of MicroMuse's bureaucratic problems. Building quotas were severely limited, which led to a spin-off MicroMuse entitled "Cyburbia"-- a complete flop. By this time, most of the children students attracted to MicroMuse had grown into more rebellious teenagers and college students. Angered by shortened quotas, some of these students turned to offensive language in defense of their ideas while arguing with the administration. Its educational charter being threatened, MuseNet quickly formed a Citizens' Council which consisted of elected citizens. The Council was presented with decisions that resulted in more dissent, and Moulton led his administration into a confrontation with the masses, exiling players who were intolerable. These players and their friends (and their friends, etc.) flooded into OceanaMuse, a spin-off of TimeMuse and perhaps one of the most successful MuseNet MUSEs which ever existed. As MicroMuse's era of MUSE releases and publicity faded, Oceana's clout was increasing. Based at SDSC and headed by Mark Eisenstadt ("Morgoth") and many other hard-working administrators, Oceana was like the New World -- a place where users could experience new hardcode hacks and database projects.

This was what the MUSE community was like when VirtualChicago entered the scene.

MicroMuse's last official release of MUSE was version 1.7b4, but Nils McCarthy ("shkoo") took it upon himself to fix some major bugs and release versions 1.8a1 through 1.8a4. Although these releases are nearly impossible to find today, they are the most stable and least controversial of all MUSE releases. OceanaMuse released the most incompatible of all releases with its "official" version 1.9, and the now-dead project of "MUSE 97" is farther from the tree than I am from Elvis. Our code was a compilation of version 1.8a2, which was heavily modified over the years because it still contained more bugs than Solomon had wives.

In December 1994, I am quoted as saying the following to my administration during a conference: "This is a fascist place. A tyranny. If I wanted to, I could nuke everything and start over." The word "fascist" at this time was a cliche in the MuseNet community; MicroMuse had become a "fascist" place, Moulton was a "fascist," and so on. You must understand, Moulton and I never were chums. I had quite a few great friends in the MuseNet administration at this time, though, and that was perhaps my only saving grace to get VirtualChicago's charter approved so that it could be an official MuseNet MUSE. However, at that meeting back at the end of 1994, I wanted to make it clear to the new administrators that I was in control. Of the half-dozen or so administrators back then, I am the only one who remains.

We opened to public on December 24th, 1994. It was a Merry Christmas. Between that time and New Years', I pushed the staff to register one hundred citizens. We barely made it; it was probably the only goal we ever completed on time.

Come 1995, there were enormous problems. Mr.Q and I had not been communicating properly and after an argument between us about whether VirtualChicago was a game or not, Mr.Q decided to resign. After a few months, he was content to come back regularly as a normal citizen. VirtualChicago would not have survived well without a hardcoder, especially back then during its beginning stages. Most people never realized this, but a new MUSE back then was always subject to extreme abuse and hacking by various members of the community. The code is extremely insecure and it takes a few years before an administration can find a happy medium and no longer be subjected to attacks. This requires, however, a hardcoder, and though I was becoming better at C, I was far from being good enough to fix what was necessary.

Fortunately for VirtualChicago, there is a great man now attending Yale University by the name of Nat Hodes ("Gnat"). Gnat, a genius if I ever knew one, has been VirtualChicago's savior on numerous occasions and has dealt with more crap from me than most people ever will. Most of the brilliant code hacks on VirtualChicago are due to his working. Gnat swept into the hardcode as Mr.Q was leaving, and tried his best to accommodate our administration's needs.

Unfortunately, our administration had no clue what its needs were. A great deal of time was invested in building an elaborate real-life map of Chicago which (guess what?) no one ever used. On top of all this, the administration was extremely abusive and immature. They abused their powers and were quite obscene in some situations. This led to the necessary demotions of most of the staff. Gnat had devoted much of his efforts in writing an economy system for VirtualChicago. We had hoped that this system would make the money/credit system written into the source code worth having. Unfortunately, abusive administrators caused us to remove the currency system altogether (it has not been missed since). This has been a common trend on VirtualChicago: the current database and source code probably represent less than 10% of all time invested on the project as a whole because so much has been cut out.

In the meantime, we gradually gained more and more citizens. Most of these citizens were exiles from other MUSEs, newbies who had no experience with other MuseNet MUSEs, and transients. All in all, VirtualChicago had the best mixture of citizens than any other MUSE, and I can not emphasize that point enough. It is what makes VirtualChicago unique. However, VirtualChicago would not stand as a good example of the "melting pot" idea. Citizens argued frequently, chased each other away, and became obscene. VirtualChicago pretty much because the scapegoat of the MUSE community. We were the only MUSE on MuseNet that Moulton never visited, but the rumors that flooded back to him made him ever more paranoid of VirtualChicago destroying MuseNet's educational value.

I always question Moulton's opinion about this policy. Although I must admit that VirtualChicago was not a Donna Reed environment, other places were just as bad, if not worse. I always felt that Moulton was biased against me and VirtualChicago (for the record, he claims he's innocent). Other MUSE administrations also found that VirtualChicago was a good place to hate. For three days in 1996, VirtualChicago was banned from MuseNet. After a great deal of diplomacy, I managed to resolve the problem and we were once again placed on MuseNet's world-list. By this time, however, users having their own shell accounts was more common, and we depended less and less on MuseNet having to provide access for our citizens.

After the crisis was resolved, VirtualChicago experienced its best period of growth. MicroMuse had reached its low point, and Oceana's administration was beginning to experience a crisis of its own. Certain exiles from MicroMuse were being exiled from Oceana, and in the following autumn Oceana's administrators had less time to devote to their MUSE. Some small time MUSEs (barely worth mentioning) sprung up, leading away their own little cults. The August of 1996 broke new records which have gone unmatched even today in VirtualChicago's history. This was due to a hard-working staff, most of whom no longer volunteer today. The Chicago theme took a major beating, but the community really clicked.

1997 was a year marked by (big surprise!) minor downturns, followed by a major problem. Gnat had little time to work on the project because he went off to college. If it had not been for Erin Anne O'Malley ("medusa"), the community would have fallen apart. medusa is quite a people person and pretty much was the trunk of the tree, holding up all the branches. It was decided that the Chicago theme was not enough on which to expand, so citizens were encouraged to build "VirtualCities"of their own for other users to explore. Thanks to the work of Gnat, VirtualChicago's source code had some really awesome features that users could use to build amazing things. Unfortunately, many of these features went undocumented. Frank Bates ("x") and Bryan Renne ("Ba-Pan") were major players in documenting features and keeping citizens informed. Their efforts had the most effect, but it was still minimal.

It seems that by the summer of 1997, the generation gap of MUSErs had spread much too thin. All the users with experience were too tired to teach the newbies how to do things, and the newbies were not devoted enough to learn enough to become experienced users. The experienced users didn't think it was "fun" to build anything anymore, and the newbies didn't have enough knowledge to do so. This was a common trend that washed across all of MuseNet, if not affecting all virtual worlds. Text-based worlds were not even considered by new users entering the Internet market. Most new users only thought the Internet was the World Wide Web and had no clue what a MUD was. An expanded availability of hardware and fast Internet connections let any idiot and his brother run their own little private virtual world. Advanced features between the different MUSEs were non-standard, for none wanted to share their secrets; even the basic features were beginning to change a little bit. The folks who enjoyed hacking into servers lost their enthusiasm, so ignoramuses could run MUSE without having to worry about natural selection weeding them out. I must also take the time to shame the fact that no standardized web interface for worlds has been introduced that is worth implementing. VirtualChicago implemented Pueblo -- even underwent major changes to make it worth using -- but the Pueblo effort (and standard) is dead.

In August 1997, just as I was leaving to attend my first year of college at the College of William and Mary, Moulton decided to boot VirtualChicago from MuseNet because he had seen a log of one of our citizens swearing at 2 in the morning. I had no time to fight this one, and Moulton went as far as removing years-old MuseNet shell accounts belonging to Gnat and I. Gnat's account had existed far longer than his association with VirtualChicago, but Moulton found it in his best interest to eliminate it anyway. Until this time, even with our bureaucratic problems, our community was still more active than all other MuseNet worlds. Once MuseNet removed us, there was less of a point for users to use MuseNet at all. The entire network which, in the golden days, had been successfully joining together a MUSE community collapsed. To offer an analogy, a MUSEr now considered themselves a "Pennsylvanian" or a "New Yorker" rather than an "American."

Previous to this, Oceana had lost its site at SDSC and experienced many crashes. Moulton took it under his wing, and it's never been quite the same since. VirtualChicago experienced the same loss of public interest after its disassociation with MuseNet. Although the same users could still access it, VirtualChicago suffered subsequent crashes of the extremely antique machine on which it runs. I have since given up my Head Director position to medusa, and Elchonon Edelson ("Prince Caspian" and "Wanderer") has taken over as the resident hardcoder.

VirtualChicago's influence on other worlds has been enormous. Ironically, my "MUSE Programming Guide" released to replace MicroMuse's completely outdated "MUSE Manual" has become so popular that even most MicroMuse players wouldn't have a clue how to code their objects in an advanced manner without it. It has been translated into quite a few languages. Other worlds have implemented new features, schemes, and syntaxes that originated on VirtualChicago. We always had a lot of great ideas -- and often had the only people who could actually implement them. We just never had a proper audience for those ideas.

A lot of work has gone into VirtualChicago, but it remains incomplete. It has the potential to house a new community of users, and house them well, but is far from being a ghost town. VirtualChicago has some of the best integrated ansi-text capabilities that can be found in any virtual world -- it looks sharp. Continuing its tradition of a unique community, VirtualChicago has become a hideout of veteran MUSErs. A great deal of people who connect (though are usually idle) are "MUSE celebrities" who have been associated with MUSEs for far longer than I have (which is a little under five years as I write this). They have all been bricks in the wall, so to speak -- most of them since the very beginning. So many stories have been forgotten. VirtualChicago still sees new players, but its future hinges on what sort of community will develop in the near future.

This history is also very incomplete. It leaves out the contributions that many people have made to VirtualChicago. This is because VirtualChicago has had an incredible turnover rate for new administrators. I honestly doubt any other virtual world has had a higher turnover rate; I have classed and declassed at least 150 people over my time as Head Director. I must thank everyone who was even remotely part of the community for making it what it was and is. VirtualChicago has been an invaluable experience to me and I feel it has been well worth the trip. However, I wish I could end having the comfort of knowing that new Internet explorers will have the experience of trying the *traditional* text-based MUSH before it is eaten up by new fancy-pantsy things.

Que será será. Christopher J. VandenBussche Founding Director, VirtualChicago

Interview with the Mud Administrators

1. Describe the community that has developed within VC. How does VC's virtual community compare/contrast to that of a real-life city?

VirtualChicago's community has always consisted of a great variety of people. Generally speaking, our audience has been the typical mixture of all genders, ages, religions, races, and ages. However, what has proven to be unique about the make-up of the community is the variety of people we get from the *MUSE* community. While most MUSErs seem to originate and stick with a particular MUSE, VirtualChicago still sees their traffic. Ironically, this compares perfectly to a large city, because it is comprised of a plethora of people.

2. Describe the backgrounds of the people involved with the creation of VC and those that still maintain it. How has being involved with mudding, and in particular with running VC affected your life?

The backgrounds have been too diverse to be listed: too many people have worked on VirtualChicago for differing periods of length. Their involvement differs the effect on their life. For those who have worked with coding, mathematical and computing skills have been improved. For those who have worked with the community, social skills have been improved.

3. It seems some people find it hard adjusting to a MUSE environment coming from other mud server backgrounds. Please give some examples of how MUSEs differ from other mud types like Aber, LP, Diku, MUSH, etc. What advice can you give new citizens to help get acquainted with the world around them?

MUSE is a stricly social platform. Though many MUSEs have integrated RPG systems, official MUSE releases -- as well as MUSE's roots in the MUSH platform -- are strictly social. Players should not come to a MUSE expecting to get into an argument; rather, they should expect to get into a discussion. Whereas other platforms seek to entertain, MUSE has been used more in the past as a research and educational tool. MUSE is the first virtual-world platform that was used for institutional educational research and continues to stick with these themes. The best thing a new citizen can do to become acquainted with the MUSE platform is to read the manuals and build. This takes creativity and the motivation to learn, but that is what MUSE is for!

4. What do you find to be the most appealing aspects of the VC world, what keeps your citizens coming back?

We feel that it is a combination of originality, a unique demography, a professional-looking environment, and the traditional enviroment of more intelligent chatting that most virtual worlds contain. Also, VirtualChicago has been reliably at the same place since the beginning. Citizens who have met on VirtualChicago know that they can always find their friends there.

What the players are saying!

Caleb Pearson ("Malkav"):

VirtualChicago has been an unique experience throughout a large part of my life. I have been with the muse since its small beginning and have seen it grow into what is now one of the best Internet Mu*s around. I have met many people from around the world, and have dealt with vastly unique individuals. I have also had the great opportunity of administrating there on different occasions, and as a result learned much about muse software, as well as the Internet as a whole.

I found VChicago on Gopher one day, and decided to give it a try, not knowing that my connection would turn into a four year stay on the popular muse. I met people from many different areas of the country, as well as around the world, and developed a great bond between many of the characters. We quickly learned about each other and strengthened the virtual society we frequented every day. One of the strongest bonds I have is with the head implementer, wyvern. Our relationship has grown from a mere acquaintance to a strong friendship which has lasted for over three years.

I started administrating on Virtual Chicago about six months after I first connected. I began as a guide, who helped the newer members with simple tasks such as building, and softcoding on the muse. I found lots of enjoyment helping others there and decided I wanted to continue to do so. By becoming a builder, I furthered my knowledge of the muse, and learned many exciting new things. I completed several projects, each representing a different area of the real Chicago. Although I have never personally visited that part of the country, I feel I have a close connection with it, and know a great deal about its history and architecture due to VChicago.

VChicago has been running for roughly four years, and has continued to build and grow. You can find references to VChicago in many Internet gaming books, and throughout the Internet. Programs such as Zmud have also recognized the muse, which certainly shows its outstanding popularity. From its meager beginnings, to the now unique style only seen in the best of mu*s; it has grown into a strong independent virtual society, which many people have enjoyed, and continue to enjoy.

Virtual Chicago has given me over four years of enjoyment. I have met new people, and have built strong relationships to people all around the world. I have conversed with people with the same interests as I, and have had many long conversations with interesting and different individuals. Overall, VChicago has given me an enjoyable four years, and hopefully will continue for another four, and beyond.

Erin Anne O'Malley ("medusa"), Director:

VChicago is most likely the best virtual world I have ever had the pleasure of logging onto. Not only are all of the people there very friendly and interesting, but many of my RL friends log onto VC, making it a convienent place to keep up with my friends that have gone away to college. There are many things built up here -- Not just about Chicago -- and there's also room to make whatever you want to; your own personal little world. Instead of having to worry about aquiring credits to spend on building and @announcing, they have removed the need for credits. Also, instead of @announce, there is a nifty gossip channel for public-type chats. The admins are all very nice, and are willing to help and be friendly with you.

Tracy Pearson ("Tracy"):

I have been playing Virtual Chicago for over a year now and have really enjoyed it. I was first told about it from a very close friend, who has also been visiting there for several years now. Once I started visiting, I was hooked. VirtualChicago is a place to meet new people, and experience different cultures everywhere. Meeting new people is something I really love, and chatting with new and different characters each night is something which really turns most people on to VC. The administrators there are excellent and go out of their way to help the guests, and the newer members. Their willingness to help is another reason why I enjoy VChicago so much. With them it is very easy to learn your way around, as well as how to do anything else.

From the very beginning they make you feel at home, and are very good company for all the newbies out there. VChicago has a lot of new features which set it apart from other muses of it's type, and they are always improving. They use the feedback from other users to judge their projects, and are always aiming to please. VirtualChicago is a great place for people to visit, where many people have enjoyed, and many continue to enjoy.

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