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M.U.L.E. for IBM PC

PostPosted: 21 Jul 2012, 22:52
by xot
Not sure if you saw this [ed: I now see you have]. A story appeared on the Retroist website about an IBM PCjr unboxing of games. Lo and behold, M.U.L.E. popped out the box. This is an incredibly rare version of the game. I encouraged the owner to get in touch with some archivists I knew and in a few weeks the disk image was dumped for the first time in history.

It's an interesting entry into the franchise. It appears on the surface to be a port of the original Atari/C64 version, but there are some subtle differences, including rule changes and additions to the economic model. I don't have time to go into the changes right now but I'll reply with more information and documentation in the next few days.

In the meantime, head over the World of M.U.L.E. site to learn more about the game and try it for yourself.

The Retroist stories that started it all can be found below.

Exciting times!

Re: M.U.L.E. for IBM PC

PostPosted: 04 Aug 2012, 17:21
by xot
M.U.L.E. for IBM PC, despite its many flaws, has a lot going for it. Some of its features would be very welcome in other versions of the game. Some of the mechanical changes and additions are quite interesting. How much of these changes came from Dani Bunten we may never know. Of the game's faults, most are aesthetic. The two person development team put forth a valiant effort considering the limitations of the less-than-dazzling IBM PC, but I believe with some more time the game could look and sound even better.

The following observations come from the game manual and limited play with the DOSBox emulator. I have not yet looked at the code which might clarify some aspects of the game. This list ended up quite a bit longer than expected. Mea culpa.

Re: M.U.L.E. for IBM PC

PostPosted: 04 Aug 2012, 17:21
by xot
Game Modes

Four modes of play: Beginner, Standard, Advanced, Tournament

Advanced mode plays like the Tournament mode of the original Atari/C64 version of M.U.L.E.

Tournament mode in the PC version adds several new features and options to the game.
  • The length of the game can be from 6 to 24 rounds selectable in 3 round increments.
  • Length of the player's time bar is selectable from short (equal to Humanoid), normal, and long (equal to Flapper).
  • The player's starting money is selectable from $600 to $1600 in $100 increments.
  • If the number of rounds is more than 12, a land grant may not happen for a particular round even if there are unclaimed plots. If a land grant does not happen, land auctions and player-scheduled sales will be delayed until immediately after the next land grant.
  • The arrival of a Supply Ship is a new random production event that can occur in addition to normal random production events. When a Supply Ship arrives the price of Crystite doubles for the round. This special event does not prevent other normal production events from occuring that round, including the arrival of Space Pirates. According to the IBM PC manual, Crystite is used to power faster-than-light spaceships.
  • The Hawthorne Effect is additional model added to the M.U.L.E. economy. Over time, installed M.U.L.E.s can become less productive causing the base production of a plot to be reduced by one. The M.U.L.E. needs "walked" to restore the normal base production. The idea behind the Hawthorne Effect is that improvements in working conditions increase worker output.
  • Pirates may come any number of times in a Tournament game. Normally they never arrive more than twice.
A game in progress can be saved to a blank disk when the status summary is displayed. The game can be restored from the game selection screen.

Re: M.U.L.E. for IBM PC

PostPosted: 04 Aug 2012, 17:22
by xot
Mechanical Differences

It appears that there are always 19 mountains rather than the normal 20. More than one mountain may occupy the same scanline, more than four may occupy a single row, and (rarely) some rows may have no mountains at all.

I don't recall ever seeing more than one land auction per round.

During the development phase play normally proceeds in rank from the winning player to the losing player. The order of play is reversed if there are less than eight M.U.L.E.s in the corral. In the Atari/C64 version this happens when there are less than seven.

Random player turn events can repeat for any and all players. In the Atari/C64 version each random turn event occurs no more than once in a game.

The Flapper character (for beginners) never gets a bad event at the start of their turn, even if they are winning. It is not clear if they can a get good event in that case.

Time freezes during M.U.L.E. purchasing and outfitter animations.

The location of the Mountain Wampus seems to be completely random each time it appears on-screen. It is much more difficult to catch because it rarely appears in the same place twice. He also does not seem to appear until a great majority of the time bar has expired. The amount of treasure a player receieves for catching the Wampus is calculated differently than the original Atari/C64 version. At the start of the game, the Wampus has $100 in his treasure chest. After each player's turn, if the Wampus has not been caught, another $100 is added to the chest. When the Wampus is caught, the player receives money in the chest and the value of the chest is then reduced to half, rounding up to the nearest $100 for the next player. The chest value never goes below $100 or above $1000. The amount a player could earn in 12 rounds of perfect play varies from $1200 to $6900 depending on the order of play and the success rate of the other players. In the Atari/C64 version perfect play would always net $3000.

Out of 20+ Planetquakes, it seems only one ever shifted a mountain. The plot was unclaimed plot and the mountain remained within plot. It moved down and right about the distance of two ASCII characters and changed its shape. In the Atari/C64 version, mountains shift more often and move to an adjacent plot when they do. The movement destroys any M.U.L.E.s in either plot. It seems such destruction was removed for the IBM PC version.

Out of 10+ Meteor Strikes, none have hit a claimed plot. It seems this must be by design. In the Atari/C64 version, meteors don't pick empty plots to land on and are happy to crush M.U.L.E.s when they can. It seems again the destructive aspect of a random event was removed from the IBM PC version.

During auctions, under some circumstances, it doesn't seem to matter which trader reaches the other first. If a losing trader is within a certain range of a winning trader's price and/or is willing to meet that price, the losing trader will get the first opportunity to trade.

Re: M.U.L.E. for IBM PC

PostPosted: 04 Aug 2012, 17:22
by xot
Aesthetic Differences

During character selection, characters are displayed in a different order than the Atari/C64 version. Why?

Strangely, the game takes place on Planet Iraton rather than the familiar Planet Irata.

Diagonal movement does not allow the player to "slide" against buildings which makes entry into them a bit more difficult. On the other hand, horizontal movement resolution is lower which helps make critical alignments a bit easier. Pleasingly, the "shortcut" through the center of town is available.

No Crystite is reported when the river valley is assayed. In the Atari/C64 version, high crystite is reported, even though the valley cannot be mined.

The pub is called an "inn" in the IBM PC version. It functions the same way, ending a player's turn, but the player's winnings are reportedly from a "contest" rather than gambling.

The ALT key can be use to skip or end many events a human player would normally have to wait for including computer player turns, random production events, and product auctions. In the case of actions any remaining computer trades are completed instantly. Trades between computer and human players will be completed automatically if the human player has set an accepted price. The production phase, land grants, and land auctions can not be accellerated in this way. Aside from these minor omissions, this is a great feature that saves time and keeps the pace of the game up.

Some animations have been removed (eg. town zoom effect) or simplified (eg. pirate ship only passes overhead and units are not removed from the screen) and movement in general is much less fluid.

The music from the PC speaker is recognizable but pretty awful (as expected). The end-of-turn fanfare is especially terrible but I appreciate the effort to adapt and include so much of the orignal music.

The sound effects are surprisingly bad. Poor audio cues make some parts of the game more difficult. The PC speaker is obviously very limited, but the sounds should be much better. Perhaps there just wasn't enough time to improve them.

During auctions, when a bargain is struck, the dashed buy and sell lines do not neatly mesh to form a solid line like they do in the Atari/C64 version. It's a small thing, but I miss this oddly pleasurable event.

The background stays the same white color throughout the game. In the Atari/C64 version the status summary and character selection screens have black backgrounds while the rest of the game has a light background (white on C64, light gray on Atari). There are arguments for consistency but I rather like the way a changing background can punctuate the end of a round.