Mule

Tagged: Game

Videogame (1983). Ozark Softscape. Designed by Danielle Bunten Berry. Platforms: Atari8, C64 (1983); MSX (1988); NES (1990).

MULE is an important link between traditional Board Games, played by people who are spatially and socially close to one another, and Online Worlds, often played by people who are spatially remote but socially close. Its gameplay resembles that of a Board Game, except that all the players take turns at performing actions within the software world, rather than alternately moving pieces on a map. The concept was partially inspired by a sequence in Robert Heinlein's Time Enough for Love (1973), in which genetically altered mules are used to homestead a remote frontier planet. In the game players use robot MULEs (Multiple Use Labor Elements) to start a colony on an unexplored world, displayed in two dimensions. In each turn resources must be gathered and new land settled, after which the players can sell items they have produced to each other via an auction system. Players find themselves alternately competing to obtain the best score and cooperating to ensure the survival of the colony as a whole.

MULE was very influential on the development of later 4X Games such as Sid Meier's Alpha Centauri (1999). More importantly, it is an excellently designed and highly social game, combining practical applications of game theory and free market economics with a humorous, appealing presentation. The tragically early death of its designer – inducted into the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences Hall of Fame in 2007 – remains a sad loss; one of the most respected Videogames ever created, The Sims (2000 Maxis, Mac, Win; 2003 GC, Lin, PS2, XBox), is dedicated to her memory. [NT]

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