Danielle Bunten Berry

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Danielle Bunten Berry
DaniBuntenBerryGameDesigner.PNG
Danielle Bunten Berry
Born(1949-02-19)February 19, 1949
DiedJuly 3, 1998(1998-07-03) (aged 49)
Other namesDan Bunten
OccupationGame designer, programmer
Known forM.U.L.E.
The Seven Cities of Gold
AwardsAIAS Hall of Fame Award (2007)[1]

Danielle Bunten Berry (February 19, 1949 – July 3, 1998),[2][3] 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.

In 1998, she was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Computer Game Developers Association. In 2007, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences chose Bunten as the 10th inductee into its Hall of Fame.[4]

Early life[edit]

Bunten was born in St. Louis, Missouri and moved to Little Rock, Arkansas as a junior in high school.[2] She was the oldest of six siblings. While growing up in Little Rock, Bunten's family didn't always have enough money to make ends meet, so Bunten took a job at a pharmacy. She also held a leadership role with the Boy Scouts.[2]

According to Bunten, one of her fondest childhood memories involved playing games with her family. She was quoted saying, “When I was a kid, the only times my family spent together that weren’t totally dysfunctional were when we were playing games. Consequently, I believe games are a wonderful way to socialize.”[2]

While attending the University of Arkansas, she opened up her own bike shop called Highroller Cyclerie.[2] Bunten acquired a degree in industrial engineering in 1974 and started programming text-based video games as a hobby. After she graduated from college, she was employed by the National Science Foundation, where she created urban models before starting a job at a video game company.[2]

Career[edit]

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.[5]

After producing 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.[5]

Along with the success of M.U.L.E., Berry also had close ties with the games Robot Rascals, Heart of Africa, and Cartels & Cutthroat$. Throughout her career, she was involved in the creation of 12 games, 10 of which revolved around multiplayer compatibility. The only two which didn't have a multiplayer focus were Seven Cities of Gold and Heart of Africa.[2]

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 the computer's memory, there was little left for fancy graphics or complex gameplay - the game had only 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 dial-up modem. [6] Modem Wars was ahead of its time, as few people in the late 1980s had modems in their homes.[7]

Bunten departed EA for MicroProse. Allegedly, Trip Hawkins, CEO of EA, did not feel that pushing production of games onto a cartridge based system was a good idea. The shift was important to Bunten, as computer games had previously been distributed on floppy discs, and a changeover to a cartridge system would allow games to be played on Nintendo systems.[8] This was a significant factor in her decision to leave. She then developed a computer version of the board game Axis and Allies, which became 1990's Command HQ, a modem/network grand strategy wargame. 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.'"[9]

A port of M.U.L.E. to the 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.[10] In 1997, Bunten shifted focus to multiplayer games over the Internet with Warsport, a remake of Modem Wars that debuted on the MPlayer.com game network.

Less than a year after the release of Warsport, Bunten was diagnosed with lung cancer presumably related to years of heavy smoking.[11] She died on July 3, 1998. At the time, she was working on the design of an Internet version of M.U.L.E..[5]

M.U.L.E[edit]

The game's primary premise consisted of players playing with and against one another to establish total control over a planet.[12] The name of the game stands for Multiple Use Labor Element.[12] The game was originally made for the Atari 400 and Atari 800 but was later developed to be compatible with the Commodore 64, NES, and IBM pcjr.[12] The game has a maximum of four players. Players are given different options and choices, and are allowed to create their colony the way they see fit. This can be done by changing races and giving respective colonies different advantages that will impact the way the game is played and determined later on down the line.[12]

Ultimately there are two ways in which players can win the game. The first way is by having the most amount of money out of all four players, and the second way is by being able to survive the colony itself.[12] The game focuses heavily on going out and retrieving resources that can be used to benefit their character.[12] Items such as food, energy, and crystite are some of a number of in-game items that players are able to retrieve and use to better themselves.[12] In order for a player to be able to access these items, they will first have to have access to a M.U.L.E.[12] The acquisition of these items has a direct reflection on what the player will be allowed to do. For example, if a player doesn't have enough food, they will have less time during their turn.[12]

The Seven Cities of Gold[edit]

The Seven Cities of Gold was originally intended to be another multiplayer game.[13] It was originally a single player format, focused heavily on having the players travel around the map and collect items to help them strengthen their colony. Once they felt as though they had a solid colony, the players could battle each other to see who could overtake who.[13] After much consideration, Ozark Software came to the conclusion that this would not be doable. Instead, they went with a formula that had the game focus solely on developing a colony.[13]

Ozark Softscape[edit]

Ozark Softscape was a computer game development team consisting initially of Danielle Bunten, her brother Bill Bunten, Jim Rushing, and Alan Watson. Ozark was run out of Bunten's basement.[14] The company was based out of Little Rock, Arkansas and had profound success with a few of their early titles. Ozark Softscape had a publishing deal with Electronic Arts for several of its groundbreaking games. In the early 1990s, Ozark Softscape left its partnership with Electronic Arts over a dispute to port some games to cartridge format for the Nintendo Entertainment System. It began a partnership with MicroProse to produce two more titles: Command HQ and Global Conquest. A dispute occurred over creating a follow-up to M.U.L.E. with Sega in 1993, and the company dissolved. The employees of Ozark Softscape moved to different areas of the software industry.

Personal life[edit]

Bunten was married three times. Bunten had three children, one daughter and two sons.[2]

After a third divorce, Bunten, who had until then been living as male, transitioned to living as a woman. Bunten underwent sex reassignment surgery in November 1992 and afterward 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.[15] She joked that the surgery was to improve the video game industry's male/female ratio and aesthetics,[16] but 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."[15]

After her gender change in fall 1992, Bunten stayed out of the video game spotlight, mostly keeping to herself. She felt as though that after becoming a woman she wasn't as good at video game development as she had previously been, stating “So, I’m a little more than three years into my new life role as Ms. Danielle Berry, and her career looks to be somewhat different from old Mr. Dan Bunten’s. For one thing, I’m not as good a programmer as he was."[2]

On July 3, 1998, Berry died of lung cancer.[17]

Games[edit]

Recognition[edit]

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.[2]

In 2000, Will Wright dedicated his blockbuster hit The Sims to Bunten's memory. In 2007, the Academy of Interactive Arts & Sciences chose Bunten to be inducted into its Hall of Fame.[4] Sid Meier, the mastermind behind the video game series Civilization, inducted her at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas.

Bunten was a true pioneer for the video game industry, especially its multiplayer aspect of it. She is regarded by many as one of the best designers to ever grace the video game industry. Her success has even led people to make the claim that the work she did with games like M.U.L.E and Seven Cities of Gold was the inspiration behind highly successful modern multiplayer games like World of Warcraft.[7]

Bunten was known as someone who was very easy to talk to. If someone recognized her in public, she would be more than delighted to have a conversation with them.[8]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "D.I.C.E Special Awards". Retrieved 22 January 2017.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i j "Encyclopedia of Arkansas". Encyclopedia of Arkansas. Retrieved 2019-12-19.
  3. ^ "United States Social Security Death Index," index, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/pal:/MM9.1.1/JLPZ-X2H : accessed 22 January 2015), Danielle P Berry, 03 Jul 1998; citing U.S. Social Security Administration, Death Master File, database (Alexandria, Virginia: National Technical Information Service, ongoing).
  4. ^ a b Kim, Ryan (2007-02-08). "Dani Bunten Berry, pioneering video game designer makes the Hall of Fame". The San Francisco Chronicle.
  5. ^ a b c Interview with Berry from Halcyon Days
  6. ^ Pow, Whitney (2019-07-01). "Outside of the Folder, the Box, the Archive". ROMchip. 1 (1).
  7. ^ a b Baker, Chris (2007-01-30). "Dani Bunten Berry: Pioneering Game Designer". Wired. ISSN 1059-1028. Retrieved 2019-12-19.
  8. ^ a b "Bio and Gameography of Dani Bunten Berry (M.U.L.E., Seven Cities of Gold, Heart of Africa...)". Game Designers Remembered. Retrieved 2019-12-19.
  9. ^ "Why I Design Multi-Player, Online Games". Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved 2007-06-03.CS1 maint: BOT: original-url status unknown (link) by Danielle Bunten Berry. Originally from Berry's personal site, archived by Anticlockwise.com
  10. ^ "In Memoriam: Danielle Berry" by Ernest Adams from Gamasutra.com
  11. ^ "The tragic genius of M.U.L.E." from Salon.com
  12. ^ a b c d e f g h i "M.U.L.E." ClassicReload.com. 2016-10-24. Retrieved 2019-12-19.
  13. ^ a b c Małkowski, Maciej. "Seven Cities of Gold, The". Retrieved 2019-12-19.
  14. ^ "Danielle Bunten Berry". atariwomen. 2019-03-04. Retrieved 2019-12-19.
  15. ^ a b "Special Note to Those Thinking About a Sex Change". Archived from the original on July 25, 2011. Retrieved 2015-12-28. by Danielle Bunten Berry from Anticlockwise.com
  16. ^ "Part II of CGW's Computer Game Developers Conference Coverage". Computer Gaming World. August 1993. p. 38. Retrieved 12 July 2014.
  17. ^ "Berry, Danielle Bunten at Encyclopedia of Arkansas". Retrieved 19 August 2020.

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