The Elegance and
of an Antique Video Game
by John Mimbres
"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
Sure, whod want to erase a single note of Beethovens
Fifth Symphony? But, by the same mistaken token, whod want to sit through a
production of Hamlet in which every word in the text was performed? Whod be
able to sit through such a performance?
Still, "economy of means"
has to be a starting point when youre looking at a 20-year-old video game that
hasnt 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
Next: The Frontstory of M.U.L.E.
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