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M.U.L.E.
The box cover of M.U.L.E.
Boxart
Developer(s) Ozark Softscape
Publisher(s) Electronic Arts & Ariolasoft (Europe)
Designer(s) Dani Bunten
Platform(s) Atari 400/800, Commodore 64, IBM PCjr, MSX-1, NES, PC-8801 MKII
Release date(s) 1983
Genre(s) Turn-based strategy
Mode(s) Single player, Multi player
Media Varied
Input methods Joystick, keyboard, gamepad

M.U.L.E. is a seminal multiplayer video game by Ozark Softscape. It was published in 1983 by Electronic Arts. It was originally written for the Atari 400/800, and was later ported to the Commodore 64, the Nintendo Entertainment System and the IBM PC Jr.[1] While it plays like a strategy game, it incorporates aspects that simulate economics.

Contents

Gameplay

A Multiple Use Labor Element, the eponymous M.U.L.E.

Set on the fictional planet Irata (which is Atari backwards), the game is an exercise in supply and demand economics involving competition among four players, with computer opponents automatically filling in for any missing players. Players are provided with several different choices for the race of their colonist, providing different advantages and disadvantages that can be paired to their respective strategies. To win, players not only compete against each other to amass the largest amount of wealth, but must also cooperate for the survival of the colony.

Central to the game is the acquisition and use of "M.U.L.E."s (Multiple Use Labor Element) to develop and harvest resources from the player's real estate. Depending on how it is outfitted, a M.U.L.E. can be configured to harvest Energy, Food, Smithore (from which M.U.L.E.s are constructed), and Crystite (a valuable mineral available only at the "Tournament" level). Players must balance supply and demand of these elements, buying what they need, and selling what they don't. Players may also exploit or create shortages by refusing to sell to other players or to the "store," which raises the price of the resource on the following turns. Scheming between players is encouraged by allowing collusion between two players, which initiates a mode allowing a private transaction. Crystite is the one commodity that is not influenced by supply and demand considerations, being deemed to be sold 'off world,' so the strategy with this resource is somewhat different—a player may attempt to maximize production without fear of having too much supply for the demand.

Each resource is required to do certain things on each turn. For instance, if a player is short on Food, there will be less time to take one's turn. Similarly, if a player is short on Energy, some land plots won't produce any output, while a shortage of Smithore will raise the price of M.U.L.E.s in the store and prevent the store from manufacturing new M.U.L.E.s to make use of one's land.

Players must also deal with periodic random events such as run-away M.U.L.E.s, solar flares, and theft by space pirates. The game features a balancing system for random events that impact only a single player, such that favorable events never happen to the player currently in first place, while unfavorable events never happen to the player in last place. This same "leveling of the playfield" is applied whenever a tie happens in the game (e.g. when two players want to buy a resource at the same price); the player in the losing position automatically wins the tie.

Development

According to Jim Rushing (one of the four original partners in Ozark Softscape), M.U.L.E. was initially called Planet Pioneers during development.[2] It was intended to be similar to Cartels & Cutthroats, with more graphics, better playability, and a focus on multiplayer.[3] The real-time auction element came largely from lead designer Dani Bunten's Wheeler Dealers. The board game Monopoly was used as a model for the game, for its encouragement of social interaction. It also inspired features such as the different species (as the different tokens in Monopoly).[3]

The setting was inspired by Robert A. Heinlein's Time Enough for Love, wherein galactic colonization is in the style of the American Old West: A few pioneers with drive and primitive tools. The M.U.L.E. itself is a cross between the genetically modified animal in Heinlein's novel and a Star Wars Imperial Walker. Another Heinlein novel, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress, provided the decision to not have any government or external authority.[3]

Influences

M.U.L.E. was unusual in the ease with which it allowed multiplayer interaction through a single game computer console. Though this failed as a trend setter at the time, the game is still heralded as the first game to make effective use of the multiplayer game concept.

Although not a bestselling title, the game is a favorite of retrogaming enthusiasts. Several clones for various computers exist including the versions Subtrade and Traders. The original's theme song by Roy Glover has been covered by remix groups.

Bunten was working on an Internet version of the game until her death in 1998. In 2005, a netplay component called Kaillera was integrated into the Atari800WinPlus emulator, enabling the original game to be played over the Internet.[4]

Many game designers cite the game as one of the most revolutionary ever and an inspiration for many of their games. Will Wright dedicated his game The Sims to the memory of Bunten. The M.U.L.E. theme song was included in Wright's later game, Spore, as an Easter egg in the space level..

A modern version of the game entitled Space HoRSE was developed in 2004 by Gilligames and is distributed by Shrapnel Games.[5]

An online remake of the game called Planet M.U.L.E. was released on December 6, 2009. The game is free for download and runs on all major platforms.[6]

Reception

M.U.L.E. was widely lauded by players[7][8] and the gaming press.[9] In 1996, Computer Gaming World named M.U.L.E. as #3 on its Best Games of All Time list. Despite acclaim, the game only sold 30,000 copies.[10] M.U.L.E. was named #5 "Ten Greatest PC Game Ever" by PC World in 2009.[11]

References

  1. ^ Danielle Berry (neé Dani Bunten) at MobyGames
  2. ^ Szczepaniak, John. "Mechanical Donkeys". The Gamer's Quarter, Issue #6. World of M.U.L.E.. http://www.worldofmule.net/tiki-index.php?page=MechanicalDonkeysJimRushing. Retrieved 2009-03-24. "Rushing: We can discuss more on phone, but ... Trivia: Working title of the game was "Planet Pioneers.""  
  3. ^ a b c Bunten, Dan (April 1984), "Dispatches: Insights from the Strategy Game Design Front", Computer Gaming World: 17, 42  
  4. ^ Glicker, Stephen (11 November 2005), Atari MULE Online, http://www.gamingsteve.com/archives/2005/11/atari_mule_onli_1.php, retrieved 2007-08-30  
  5. ^ http://www.shrapnelgames.com/Gilligames/SH/SH_page.html
  6. ^ Planet M.U.L.E. official site
  7. ^ M.U.L.E. player review, GameSpot player reviews, 9.2 out of 10, "excellent".
  8. ^ M.U.L.E. player reviews, 4 out of 5, from MobyGames.
  9. ^ Leo Laporte, M.U.L.E., Hi-Res Magazine May/June 1984, p. 14.
  10. ^ "Notes on the Conference on Computer Game Design", Computer Gaming World: 16–17, 28-29, 54-55, February 1989  
  11. ^ Edwards, Benj (February 8, 2009). "The Ten Greatest PC Games Ever". PC World. http://www.pcworld.com/article/158850/the_ten_greatest_pc_games_ever.html?tk=nl_bex_h_reviews. Retrieved 2010-01-03.  

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