M.U.L.E. is a classic turn-based multi-player computer game created by Danielle Bunten and published in 1983 by Electronic Arts. Or rather, it's a simulation of basic economics, disguised as a game: each player controls a settler (chosen from a variety of races) attempting to get rich developing the newly colonized planet of Irata. This is done by choosing plots of lands off a grid, stocking said plots with robotic Multi-Use Labor Elements, which can be equipped to mine, farm, or gather energy, and then swapping the results with the other players at auction. Assuming you can do all of this before your allotted time runs out. Players quickly learn about supply and demand, economies of scale, the organization of cartels, and the effect of monopoly control of resources. (But not about casinos — every time a player ends his turn by gambling, he earns money.)
The game was revolutionary in several ways, most notably in the fact that up to four people could play at once, all from a single computer. Again driving home an economic point, it was quite possible for everyone to lose; the colony as a whole must reach certain benchmarks to be considered successful. Any players controlled by the computer were actually worthy opponents, and while it was better with human opponents, the game could be enjoyed solo.
And it featured one of the catchiest theme tunes ever written for a computer game.
Sadly, while various unofficial updates and clones have filtered out over the years, the game has long been officially out of print. Creator Bunten was working on an updated online version when she died in 1998. A free online version, Planet M.U.L.E. is available, and another company, Comma Eight, published a now-discontinued version for iOS and Android called M.U.L.E. Returns.)
Will Wright, creator of The Sims, has credited the game as a major influence.
The game provides examples of:
- Adam Smith Hates Your Guts: Completely averted. Except for the sale of one off-world luxury, the price of materials depends entirely on how much is available, and who is willing to sell. If people don't do enough mining, no more M.U.L.E.s get built. Less food means less time to work. No energy, and your M.U.L.E.s stop producing.
- An Entrepreneur Is You: One of the earliest games of the type.
- Boring, but Practical: Food. Someone who dominates the food market can make things tough for other players.
- Captain Ersatz: Many. E.T., Pac-Man, and others are in the game as playable characters.
- Chicken Walker: The Flapper species, who are human-sized birds.
- The Computer Is a Cheating Bastard: Mostly averted. While it does have very good reflexes (making it nearly impossible to grab a plot of land during the land grant phase that the computer wants, and it will never set a M.U.L.E. free by accident), all development actions do take the proper amount of time for the computer to perform, and it can fail to get to the pub in time just like players can. And it can't go Wampus hunting for extra cash like players can, to make up for the reflexes issue.
- Difficulty Levels: Choosing your race at the beginning; you can start with more or less money. Ironically standard "human" is the expert choice. Unfortunately, some of the species' "flavor text" give the erroneous impression that other perks are available.
- Edutainment Game: To say the least. It's impossible to play the game successfully and NOT come away with a better understanding of the basics of free-market capitalism.
- Euro Game: Uses the key mechanics of one, anyway.
- Infinite Stock For Sale: Averted. There is a limited supply of stock in the store, if a fire breaks out all the stock is destroyed. If there is no smithore than the store cannot produce new MULES for the players to purchase.
- Initialism Title
- Inventory Management Puzzle: The point of the entire game.
- Lawyer-Friendly Cameo: Two of the aliens you can pick are Pac-Man and E.T..
- Killer App: Was one for the Atari 400/800 series of early PCs, because it had 4 joystick ports. It was eventually ported elsewhere.
- Mechanical Life Forms: The Mechtrons, which are always chosen by AI players.
- Money for Nothing: Averted with a vengeance.
- Palette Swap: If any players are the same species, only their color distinguishes them. Not really a problem, since they only meet at auction.
- Pixel Hunt: Almost literally; if you go Wampus hunting, you're looking for two or three flashing pixels.
- Professional Gambler: Technically the characters are professional... uh, M.U.L.E. ranchers? Farmers? Whatever, the point is it's smart to end your turn at the pub (and with as much time left as possible) so you can make more money gambling. You will always profit.
- Puny Earthlings: Playing as a human in the game is the handicapped expert option.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Everyone loses if the colony fails, making the player who ends with the most points this in such a scenario.
- Rubber Band A.I.: Fairly minor. The player in the lead gets inflicted with mostly bad "random" events, whoever is last only has good things happen. Also, the player in last place goes first when the mule supply is low. And the lowest ranked player involved wins any tie.
- Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: Players may choose to bid for the sole purpose of driving up the price, while not making the purchase. Players of the Planet MULE remake call this "aucblocking".
- Shout-Out: Spell the planet's name backwards. Players can make a little quick cash by hunting Wampus, which is almost certainly a reference to the even-earlier computer game Hunt the Wumpus. The look of the M.U.L.E.s themselves was probably inspired by the Imperial Walkers in The Empire Strikes Back.
- Space Pirates: One of many random events that can befall an individual player or the entire colony.
- Turn-Based Strategy
- You Require More Vespene Gas: The whole game revolves around each player jockeying to gather or trade four commodities, three of which the players need to actually keep playing.