Memories of that old "Commie 64": Readers respond to John Gorenfeld's "Get Behind the M.U.L.E."

Published March 20, 2003 5:59PM (EST)

[Read the story.]

Thank you for the excellent article on computer game pioneer Dani Bunten. Having been in this industry since the founding of Infocom in 1979, I can attest to the influence Dani's ideas had on game designers.

One of the biggest changes in the computer game industry since those early days is the scope of the projects. The early games were typically done by one person in less than a year. Today, teams of 30 to over 100 typically work 18-24 months on a title. With Hollywood-film levels of production and marketing costs, the industry has naturally grown more risk averse.

However, if you look beyond the violent blockbusters, you'll find plenty of innovation is still taking place. What's needed are better ways to draw attention to these titles. The industry needs to evolve the equivalent of art house theaters and Sundance.

-- Mike Dornbrook
COO, Harmonix Music

Imagine my surprise when I discovered your essay on Dani Bunten and M.U.L.E. in today's Salon. I had just added an essay on M.U.L.E. on my own Web site. This is one of the greatest multiplayer games of all time, a perfect time capsule of the brash, heady days of early-'80s computer gaming. Even the game's packaging, closely resembling a Led Zeppelin album cover, has a pioneering spirit. Such an independent spirit is all but lost now in a videogame industry obsessed with the bottom line.

Thank goodness for emulation. Everybody with a PC should have emulators running on their computers. I myself have had a copy of M.U.L.E. running on my desktop for some time; these programs are truly the saving grace for the many outdated videogame and computer consoles.

-- Daniel Thomas

Please thank Mr. Gorenfeld for that inspiring article. I grew up in the era when computer games could be played on monochrome monitors and were immensely enjoyable. I have been passionate all my life about computers and am now a female game programmer. However, I have realized many disappointments in this industry, and it is extremely inspiring to read about Dani Bunten's vision, even if she did not get the recognition she deserved. Mr. Gorenfeld has given me another role model for my professional life, and I am very grateful.

-- Tammy Yap

Me and about eight other X C64 hackers still play M.U.L.E. on a C64 emulator. There is no other game I know of that grown men still squeal and cry at each other so much over after 20 years of playing. It is amazing how simple of an implementation has all of us now legit computer professionals gasping over after this many years.

-- Howard Binner

Thanks for your article. Literally, just the other day I was trying to resurrect my old Commie 64 (how ironic now is that nickname for the little machine that brought computing into the home for $200-$400 instead of $1,000-$2,000) just so I could play some "old-time favorites" like M.U.L.E. and Elite (curiously, a game that combines the trading aspect of M.U.L.E. with first person, vector-rendered space combat.) When Bill Gates said I'd never need more than 640K, I didn't need more than 64K (32K RAM and 32K ROM)!

-- BJD Cruz

Like so many others you'll probably hear from, we have an Atari 800 hooked up at our work, and regularly four 30-something guys sit around and play M.U.L.E. at lunch and after work. We have never found any game that matches it. Our company is in the toy business, and we recently created an online multiplayer game. The designer of the game was struggling with the "economy" and we pulled out M.U.L.E. to show him how it should be done. Of course this guy was from the '90s era of game designers and did not "get" M.U.L.E. He went ahead to design his own economy but could never get it right. His online game suffered because of the poorly designed economy that still, to this day, 12 months after launch, does not work properly. Egos like that guy's are killing the game industry. History doesn't matter, just the next "big thing." We see it every day.

-- "Captain Justice"

By Salon Staff

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