Danielle Bunten Berry
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|Danielle Bunten Berry|
Danielle Bunten Berry
|Born||Daniel Paul Bunten
February 19, 1949
St. Louis, Missouri
|Died||July 3, 1998
Little Rock, Arkansas
|Other names||Dan Bunten|
|Occupation||Game designer and programmer|
|Known for||Designer of M.U.L.E. and The Seven Cities of Gold|
Danielle Bunten Berry (February 19, 1949 – July 3, 1998), born Daniel Paul Bunten, and also known as Dan Bunten, was an American game designer and programmer, known for the 1983 game M.U.L.E. (one of the first influential multiplayer games), and 1984's The Seven Cities of Gold.
Bunten was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas as a junior in high school. She acquired a degree in industrial engineering in 1974 and started programming text-based video games as a hobby. In 1978, Bunten sold a real-time auction game for the Apple II titled Wheeler Dealers to a Canadian software company, Speakeasy Software. This early multiplayer game required a custom controller, raising its price to USD$35 in an era of $15 games sold in plastic bags. It sold only 50 copies.
After three titles for SSI, Bunten, who by then had founded a software company called Ozark Softscape, caught the attention of Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins. M.U.L.E. was Bunten's first game for EA, originally published for the Atari 8-bit family because the Atari 800 had four controller ports. Bunten later ported it to the Commodore 64. While its sales — 30,000 units — were not high, the game developed a cult following and was widely pirated. The game setting was inspired by the novel Time Enough for Love by Robert A. Heinlein.
Bunten wanted to follow up M.U.L.E. with a game that would have been similar to the later game Civilization, but after fellow Ozark Softscape partners balked at the idea, Bunten followed with The Seven Cities of Gold, which proved popular because of its simplicity. By the time the continent data were stored in memory, there was little memory left for fancy graphics or complex gameplay. The game only had five resources. It was a hit, selling more than 150,000 copies.
The follow-up game, Heart of Africa, appeared in 1985 and was followed by Robot Rascals, a combination computer/card game that had no single-player mode and sold only 9,000 copies, and 1988's Modem Wars, one of the early games played by two players over a dialup modem.
Bunten departed EA for Microprose, and was reportedly given a choice between doing a computer version of the Avalon Hill board game Civilization or a version of Axis and Allies. There are claims that Sid Meier talked Bunten into doing Axis and Allies (which became 1990's Command HQ, a modem/network World War II game), while Meier did Civilization, which went on to become one of the best-selling video games of all time. Bunten's second and last game for Microprose was 1992's Global Conquest, a 4-player network/modem war game. It was the first 4-player network game from a major publisher. Bunten was a strong advocate of multi-player online games, observing that "No one ever said on their deathbed, 'Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.'"
After a third failed marriage, Bunten, who had until then been living as male, transitioned to living as a woman. Bunten underwent sex reassignment surgery in November 1992 and afterwards kept a lower profile in the games industry. Bunten later regretted having surgery, finding that for her, the drawbacks of surgical transition outweighed the benefits, and wishing she had considered alternative approaches. She advised others considering a sex change not to proceed unless there was no alternative, and warned them of the cost, saying "Being my 'real self' could have included having a penis and including more femininity in whatever forms made sense. I didn't know that until too late and now I have to make the best of the life I've stumbled into. I just wish I would have tried more options before I jumped off the precipice."
A port of M.U.L.E. to the Sega Mega Drive/Genesis was cancelled after Bunten refused to put guns and bombs in the game, feeling it would alter the game too much from its original concept. In 1997, Bunten shifted focus to multiplayer games over the Internet with Warsport, a remake of Modem Wars that debuted on the MPlayer.com MPlayer game network.
Less than a year after the release of Warsport, Bunten was diagnosed with lung cancer (presumably related to years of heavy smoking). She died on July 3, 1998. At the time, she was working on the design for an Internet version of M.U.L.E..
Effect on the game industry
Although many of Bunten's titles were not commercially successful, they were widely recognized by the industry as being ahead of their time. On May 7, 1998, less than two months before her death, Berry was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Computer Game Developers Association.
- Interview with Berry from Halcyon Days
- "Why I Design Multi-Player, Online Games" by Danielle Bunten Berry. Originally from Berry's personal site, archived by Anticlockwise.com
- "Special Note to Those Thinking About a Sex Change" by Danielle Bunten Berry from Anticlockwise.com
- "In Memoriam: Danielle Berry" by Ernest Adams from Gamasutra.com
- "The tragic genius of M.U.L.E." from Salon.com
- Kim, Ryan (2007-02-08). "Dani Bunten Berry, pioneering video game designer makes the Hall of Fame". The San Francisco Chronicle.