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The Elegance and Humanity
of an Antique Video Game

by John Mimbres

mulemed.jpg (25442 bytes)"Economy of means" is one of those phrases that critics throw out when they come across something that they know is really good but they have trouble saying just why it is good. If you think about it, "economy of means" means about as much as "Inspired leadership," or "satisfaction guaranteed or double your money back."

Sure, who’d want to erase a single note of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony? But, by the same mistaken token, who’d want to sit through a production of Hamlet in which every word in the text was performed? Who’d be able to sit through such a performance?

Still, "economy of means" has to be a starting point when you’re looking at a 20-year-old video game that hasn’t been available legally for 15 years, and that unknown thousands of people are still avidly playing from pirated versions… and whose total original code occupied a mere 36,000 bytes. Yep. A complete, really good game, with animation, music, and sound effects in 36K: The game called "M.U.L.E."

The graphics are primitive, the animations jerky, the colors minimal (16 in number), the music is midi-esque. And yet M.U.L.E. lives. Not just lives: it thrives.

As one reviewer pointed out, M.U.L.E. is to computer games what Citizen Kane is to movies.

Next: The Frontstory of M.U.L.E. >>


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