Celebrating Years and Years of Whimsy and Imagination
The Origin of Spindizzy

Notes on Spindizzy, TF&F, and Dreamtime
By Austin
Spindizzy begins, ultimately, with two other mucks — Toons, Furr, and Fluff; and Dreamtime. I wasn’t there for the birth of either of them, and couldn’t say just when they were created.

Dreamtime first. I know it’s older, and I know something of why it was created. Dreamtime was a private muck, a small place on a succession of servers located in peoples’ dorm rooms in the early and mid 1990s. The people collected met some indescribeable but definite character, a sort of mixture of idealism and romance and cynicism, love and some other creative potential. I wasn’t one of the people invited to join initially. I’m not yet that old. Eventually I was accepted into the enclave.

It wasn’t any particular activity or philosophy that joined the muck together, but the confluence of personalities was bracing and exciting and occasionally explosive, and it will probably not surprise anyone to know the place was wracked with a fair number of feuds. For a while that was fine. The love established among the people was the kind which stays firm even when they can’t stand to talk to one another. Findra was one of them, as were Skyler and Joshua and Steve; ultimately Peppermint and Tuesday were too, as were CJ and Wintergreen and 910 and a few other people. Many were here for a while, but left Spindizzy, like Mina, Millie, Steve, Mahto, and Frommer. Some left Dreamtime early and never became part of Spindizzy, like Scotty Arsenault; others simply vanished, like Marble, returned to the plenum of fascinating people.

It didn’t last forever; with the concentration of stubborn and individualistic people it’s remarkable it ever lasted. Eventually the community split, or moved on, or drifted away; but everything ends. If we lost the community in which we could feel our players, scattered across the continents, lying in bed and touching one another by thought alone — and find that we knew that touching — then at least we ever had it.

Toons, Furr, and Fluff is more of a mystery to me. It opened sometime before 1997, and was always intended to be open to the public, which never really wanted to visit. It had never got much beyond a small community of Care Bears that slowly dwindled away and a small community of Sonic the Hedgehog characters, which could be found on every muck in 1996 and 1997.

One lazy night in 1997 I accepted a @shout-invitation on FurToonia to try out Toons, Furr, and Fluff, and I poked around the mostly deserted place. For reasons I’m not sure about I accepted an invitation from Speckles, its wizard, to try to revive the muck. This wasn’t an easy prospect; for one thing, the need for a general-interest muck has never been high since FurryMuck stopped lagging out and crashing nightly, and even in 1997 the big granddaddy of all mucks was getting more reliable.

But I had friends and no clear idea of what would be involved. Over the next few weeks I asked friends — on Dreamtime, on FurToonia, on Furrymuck — how we might get Toons, Furr, and Fluff restarted. Somewhere around late September or early October 1997 we held a nice big general meeting, with the highest population recorded on Toons, Furr, and Fluff since its previous restart — eight people! — attending. The ideas tossed out were fairly straightforward.

What already existed on the muck would be reorganized, brought together in a reasonably coherent map that could be navigated (at the time I joined, there were exactly five rooms which a person could reach from Central Park without teleporting or being msummoned), and without wastes of space like five rooms tromping along the path from A to B. We hammered out a basic Acceptable Use Policy. We got the permission of the server’s owner, Carrie_Vixen, and its MUF-and-security wizard, Nicole, to try building a big new muck out of this infinitesimal one. And we’d all come together here and there and tidy up the place, and add new things to it, and hope to open for the public somewhere around New Year’s.

One of the topics of debate was whether to rename the place. Several viable names were suggested, although my favourite was declined, and eventually the indecision about what to change the name *to* ended up with the decision to just keep the place named Toons, Furr, and Fluff. We never knew why the extra ‘r’ in Furr, but it made the place distinctive for something besides its peculiar port number of 7070.

As to what the purpose of the muck would be — why people should come to Toons, Furr, and Fluff when there were perfectly good FurryMuck, FurToonia, FluffMuck, Sociopolitical Ramifications, and a gaggle of minor but niche-filling mucks like FoxMuck and several dozen Sonic the Hedgehog mucks — we could find only one partly satisfying answer. One of the basic creative impulses is to take several old ideas — often incompatible ones — and try to fit them together. If the intent were only that everyone should bring what they like to the party, and hope that ideas would play freely against one another, we could be a creative muck. No explicit theme was needed; the joy of discovery would be the goal.

And then came preparations. The rationalization of Toons, Furr, and Fluff’s geography ended up with what’s become the most recognizeable feature of here — the “grid” of map locations which can be reached just by going north, south, east, and west of the center of the world — the main grid of the muck was a diamond shape. Somewhere that mixed with my mild obsessive-compulsive edge and had turned into a drive to produce a muck which is defined by good user-interface guidelines. That’s not an easy ideal to live up to, and not one Spindizzy always lives up to, but it is the single most remarked-upon feature of the muck. Certainly it was a niche no one realized needed to be filled.

Toons, Furr, and Fluff was becoming less of a secret by December, and was gradually taking shape, with Skyler and Shadow and Bob coming on regularly to test things out, build rooms, figure out things which might be done later on. Finally come January 1998 I began a genuinely obnoxious campaign of public advertisements — notice sent to FurryMuck, to FurToonia, to FluffMuck, to alt.fan.furry, all over the place, weekly. I stayed up long hours in the afternoon, the evening, the night, watching for any connections and any guests and paging everyone who connected long enough to grab a hold of.

I don’t any longer have the first night that we broke ten people, or fifteen people. But it was only managed by the energy and enthusiasm that everyone else brought to it. Almost all of the Dreamtime people who were still around by then took their turns, connecting and leading conversations and trying out new characters and cultivating newbies.

Things grew fast, and surprisingly casually. Skyler, my first wizard, got his position when he sat me down one January night and told me I had to spend time *off* the muck, and if we needed a wizard still around, then he had to be it. His logic was perfectly correct, and soon the God character of Toons, Furr, and Fluff — Sailor Toon — waved her mighty wand and gave Skyler, who was a Care Bear squirrel-bunny, his first taste of real power.

Overall we had surprisingly few crises, despite the population growing steadily and very rapidly, really too rapidly for us to handle. Tarka ran a regular story circle, and tried to extend things with a newspaper, the Toons, Furr, and Fluff Ferret. As always with bold projects like that it takes a long while to build up traction, and it never did quite get enough; only eight issues were ever published, with (I believe) a ninth under way by September of 1997.

And we learned some fascinating things about the dynamics of social decision-making process in an open, public muck, mostly that it is impossible to make a decision that way. We held several town hall meetings to try settling points of policy the wizards could not feel passionately enough about to settle. One which comes to mind came from the Toons, Furr, and Fluff building policy: according to it, the “grid” rooms — the ones reached just by going north, south, east, and west of the Central Park were outdoors, and one went indoors by going northeast, northwest, southeast, or southwest. Someone asked if an exit from one outdoors room could go “northeast” to the outdoors room which was one block north and east — if the sort of exit normaly used for going “indoors” still lead outdoors. A fine point, and one hard to work up much passion about.

I remember the open public debate ran at least five hours. At the time when I had to disconnect because my server would not let me continue, there were still twenty people on the queue waiting for their chance to speak. Many were still bitter for days after the debate. We the wizards didn’t get any useful feedback on the issue.

We held a few more town hall-type debates, but not to actually settle issues anymore. It gave people the chance to make enthusiastic speeches to one another, at least.

We extended the diamond of main grid rooms — making the geometry of the place a rectangle with a pair of triangles on the end — and added a second core meeting place. Eventually we added a basic but quite functional outer space which Peppermint was not quite given enough tools to administrate. But the population was spiraling out of control and we were desperately short for good leaders. It was soon reaching a time when 35 or even 40 people would connect in one night —

That ended one terrifying evening, Tuesday, September 22, 1998.

The symptoms were strange: although superficially a normal if noisy night, some exits started to break. They were all MUF programs, though; we assumed that one of our experimental MUF experts had tried something and it had disrupted the system. But they swore innocence. More things began to break; soon, almost no commands which ran programs did anything.

We eventually made sense of it: MUF programs are literally programs, bits of software auxillary to the muck server. When a MUF is called from inside the muck, the muck server runs the compiled version of the program. When a program isn’t used often the server refers to the version of the code saved in a file on the computer which hosts the muck. And those files were being removed.

The server was, apparently, being hacked, and all the files making up Toons, Furr, and Fluff were being deleted. It was likely at that point that the muck’s database no longer existed, and what did exist was running solely from the computer’s RAM. And even that was going: whospe vanished, and page, and the nice look and say programs disappeared, to be replaced with the generic server defaults.

The last thing I said on Toons, Furr, and Fluff was, “We will be all right.” I don’t know if anyone else ever saw it.

(I don’t want to know if anyone else saw it. Not all questions need to be answered.)

In the aftermath a few things became clear. One was that there were no backups. They had been created, but turned out to be “soft” backups made on the same computer, and were lost when the muck was. If we started over, it would have to be from scratch.

And here Dreamtime enters again. Before I quite knew what was happening, Joshua, one of the Dreamtime creators, had arranged for a new server (note the logical choice for our new port number), and had found a workable core database which had grown into one of Dreamtime’s incarnations … which is why the earliest things existant on the muck, Kansas (dbref #0, the source of all rooms), and Amalfi (dbref #1, the one character who can grant and remove wizard bits on players) date to February 1995.

So restart we did. With the wizards we’d had, and a sense of what worked and what didn’t, we started building Spindizzy. The now-famous square of rooms were created, based directly on the feature everyone liked about Toons, Furr, and Fluff. We made a more conscious effort to make commands easy for people to learn and use. We pulled in trusted people to seed the new muck with some starting attractions and events.

A few points were directly taken from Dreamtime, though many might not recognize them — the Taurus-Littrow Valley, for example, in the upper northwest corner of the muck, was one of Dreamtime’s regular hangouts. Charter Park, the room, was in an earlier incarnation the central room of Dreamtime. I believe that the name of room #0 — the ultimate room, which on most mucks is the Void — as Kansas is also taken from the old days.

And it all … sort of worked. It was very hard to recover; many people felt an overwhelming loss, and couldn’t commit to starting over as they had before. Many people were just lost; all our contact addresses were lost when the server was wiped clean, and we couldn’t reach the people who had first found us by happy accident. The drive to make the new muck wholly original, apart from the people, was also challenging. While I was able to use the chance to give the place the new name I’d pushed for a year earlier, there are many little details of the muck and the attempt to produce new workable versions which were free of the Toons, Furr, and Fluff use meant that we made some things part of the muck because they were the best we could think of under quite demoralizing conditions.

For example, the “taxi” system on Toons, Furr, and Fluff was a catapult: Rampart the Fox would come, scoop you up, and shoot you on your way. (A conveniently placed giant would catch and set you down.) It was distinctive and memorable and just whimsical enough for the atmosphere of the place. I desperately wanted to use it again, but the argument that we had to avoid anything too firmly in the shadow of the lost muck was good. The best idea we had at the time — a runaway bus, as inspired by the movie Speed — did not capture the simple fun of the original. We have tried to renovate and redesign the system since then, but it still hasn’t captured that plain charm.

But we took some other chances which worked out much better. Rather than the exacting code derived from FurryMuck and FurToonia Acceptable Use Policies, we went with the current and very short version, and trusted that our players would recognize we don’t want to spend our lives listing every possible way that a person can misbehave. Many thought at the time that an AUP which left so much to the discretion of a wizard to say “stop it” wouldn’t last; I estimated we might make it survive a half-year or a year at most before replacing it with an exacting specification. That it’s made it to five years with only a few genuinely troublesome individuals and a few attempts at explaining nuances has surprised me, and delighted me.

The early days of Spindizzy were a curious mix of shellshock and enthusiasm. We never really organized a formal opening day — just at some point the number of people invited in to get things ready became such a large fraction of the population that could be found that it rolled over into being open. We had trouble with people who were lost when all our Toons Furrs and Fluff contact information was destroyed — a year and two years later we were still encountering people who never knew we had reopened. Some of them came back for good; others never quite found the sort of dedication and love again.

We’re certainly not finished. No muck ever is, of course; the nature of the place simply lends itself too easily to great projects that start off strong and fade out as either interests fade or the other concerns take one’s time. I still haven’t finished making the combined cafeteria-swimming pool, something I first planned in 2000. The pool of styrofoam peanuts, another favourite idea of mine, has been waiting for completion — or for initiation — since early 2001. And in 1998 and 1999 I sketched out a Fleischerland theme park with Tuesday that doesn’t show any signs of every happening. But I do hold the plans, and the dreams, and we keep generating new ones; ask me sometime about the planning I’ve done towards building Television City.

It’s hard to fall in love with a place; it is more abstract and difficult than even the challenge of loving a single person. A person can have flaws and can vary, but will do so in what are typically concrete and predictable ways. To point to a community you otherwise love and have an objection to some point — particularly when it is no individual’s flaw, but something that arises from the interactions of people who are each doing their best — is a much harder and less precise process; and communities can change and reform in much more varied ways. That we have found this community, and that we have found that much ability to love one another despite it all is probably the best thing we could do for one another. It is a thing we are not finished doing. But lots of folks don’t even get that much done.

From internal evidence, this dates to arounf 2003 – Sally