Gamechanger – M.U.L.E.

M.U.L.E. mini-LP box - Ozark Softscape and Electronic Arts, 1983.

M.U.L.E. mini-LP box – Ozark Softscape and Electronic Arts, 1983.

In 1983, Electronic Arts shipped a critically important game, and an extremely worthy Geekometry Gamechangers launch title.  Although, at the time, no one knew how important it would become.

M.U.L.E. mini-LP box, inner.

M.U.L.E. mini-LP box, inner.  Seated are member of Ozark Softscape.

Developed by Ozark Softscape and designed by Danielle BuntenM.U.L.E. was a moderate success, at best, selling just around 30,000 units.  In the world of local Computer Clubs and Friends-sharing-Floppies, however, M.U.L.E. spread like wildfire.  That’s how I, ahem, discovered this seminal game.  Although there are no estimates of the number of pirated M.U.L.E. copies there were ‘in the wild’, if Computer Clubs in towns and cities across America were like my local Atari Club, I wouldn’t be surprised if 300,000-500,000 copies were floating around.  That would be enough for about one of every ten combined owners of both Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64 systems in 1984.

M.U.L.E. mini-LP box, back side.

M.U.L.E. mini-LP box, back side.

M.U.L.E. is a pretty simple concept, but executed and balanced beautifully.  Take the ‘property management’ parts from Monopoly, add a basic supply-and-demand trading model – and turn that into a multiplayer computer game.  And what a game!  The white-knucked intensity of the property claim phase, timing right and mashing your button to grab those last available hill tiles.  The beat-the-clock rush of the Development phase, sometimes being able to pull off two M.U.L.E. deployments in a single-turn.  And the ruthless, Gordon Gekko‘esque pleasure of crushing your opponent in the market, perhaps denying them needed energy or precious food.

M.U.L.E., 1983 - Electronics Arts

M.U.L.E., 1983 – Electronics Arts

As a kid who grew up loving Monopoly, M.U.L.E. became an instant classic for me.  Friends immediately understood the gameplay, there was no setup/cleanup, hiding-money-under-the-board, miscounting, cheating, just all-out head-to-head capitalistic and resource-management brutality.  The game allows for multiplayer gaming under multiple different types of gameplay, with a design and flow that encouraging intra-game social interaction, and is just an all-time blast to play – even solo.  Consistently ranked in anywhere from #19, to #5, and #3 in various “Best Ever” surveys, we believe that the social and multiplayer aspects of M.U.L.E., alone, were so profoundly influential to the industry that it warrants serious consideration as the most important computer game ever.

M.U.L.E. gameplay

M.U.L.E. gameplay

Well, well, well, look who needs food.

Well, well, well, look who needs food.

For an graphically-updated, but faithful – and free – version of M.U.L.E., check out Planet M.U.L.E.

M.U.L.E. - 1983, Ozark Softscape

M.U.L.E. – 1983, Ozark Softscape

M.U.L.E. instruction manual

M.U.L.E. instruction manual

Mike Knotts

Mike Knotts was born in 1968 in a small town in southern Indiana. Even when very young, Mike showed a love for all-things technical and sci-fi. Moving with his family to California in the early 80's, he eventually graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in History. Rather than put that to good use, Mike continued to pursue his passion for technology by working for early, regional ISP's in the mid 1990's. He currently resides in the Pacific Northwest, where he works as a project manager for an Internet startup. Mike is a co-founder of Geekometry.

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