I've almost finished this book, and I have to say this is one tome that's a critical necessity for designing and implementing MUDs and/or MMORPGs.
There isn't any code, but Mr. Bartle covers the entire spectrum of the online Virtual World from start to finish. The style of the book is very philosophical in nature, discussing and detailing a problem, then offering what seems to be all possible solutions... and the problems those solutions are likely to spawn. In the final analysis, you have to make the decision as to which solution you will implement. Some of these decisions are not easy at all.
I'm an experienced MUD player and programmer, and I had my own ideas regarding the direction I wanted to go to create the "ultimate" MUD using my own super-duper ideas. This book uncovered numerous flaws in my design that I had not fully considered, and literallly saved me hundreds of hours in time by detailing WHY my ill-considered ideas would certainly cause the MUD to fail.
Every aspect of VW's are explored in detail from all angles. Sometimes this exploration process made the journey a bit tedious, because I wanted the best solution to the problem being discussed... now... and be done with it.
Unfortunatly, that's not easy to do when you're presented with problems that have no perfect solutions, and the requirement is to make a decision... and live with the consequences. Now or later, you WILL decide how you'll deal with this or that design problem. If you don't sort it out, your MUD will never exist, or it will fail to survive. Mr. Bartle is courteous enough to tell you why.
If you're planning a MUD, you MUST consider all the topics he explores in this book, and begin the difficult process of making your design decisions.
An incomplete list of topics covered: virtual world history, the codebases and how they determine what style of VW is created, how to orgainize the design team and what their responsibilities are, the server and client architecture, the people who are drawn to these VW's, who they are, what they're looking for, their styles of play, the problems some of them cause, player participation in the design and content process, considerations about skills, levels, caps, long term players, newbies, character appearances, groups and clans, combat, crafting, NPC services, the economy, Player killing, Player vs Player, Permanent Death and Non-Permanent death, sociology, psychology, RPG theory, story theory, quests and adventures, geography, aesthetics, ethical considerations such as censorship, allowing virtual children, etc, wizzes, the live team, content, real life religeous conflicts, and finally... addiction, and mental illnesses of some of the players.
Have you considered all angles of all that (and more)?
I am totally, and completely, impressed with the breadth and depth of the coverage of all those and many more topics in this book.
Before you begin the design process, and certainly before you write one line of code, this book must be digested. It'll save you countless hours of work, God knows how many headaches, and will prepare you for the trying journey ahead.
5 stars and a must have for the MUD designer's bookshelf.