AJ Redmer is a veteran of the games industry, having worked at Lucasfilm Games, Microsoft Game Studios and Nintendo, where he held various roles in the production of classics such as Loom, Ridge Racer 64 and Blue Dragon. His long-standing passion for M.U.L.E. is also reflected in the product of his current company: B.L.A.D.E., a “gamulation” platform.
WoM: Tough first question, but… How would you describe the legacy of M.U.L.E. from your point of view?
AJ: From my point of view, M.U.L.E. is the first social multiplayer game ever made. It is incredibly well balanced and has withstood the test of time. It is still popular among game developers that grew up with the industry in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
WoM: The defining quality of M.U.L.E. is that it really brings people together, just as Dani envisioned. Even today, 40 years after, people all over the world meet up to play offline tournaments over cake or barbecue. Can you share the story of, or any cool anecdotes from your own EA-/GDC-related offline tournaments over the years?
AJ: I used to host an annual M.U.L.E. championship tournament on the Saturday before the NFL Super Bowl. I used to rent out space at a convension center in Concord, California, which is in the San Francisco Bay Area. These tournaments were popular for hard core players in my social network. It was mostly game developers, but spread to folks in Hollywood as well. There were a handful of actors that would compete in the tournaments. I remember the Ford Fairlane guy, Martha Davis from the Motels and her boyfriend Ken Lobb. He is not the same Ken Lobb that I worked wth at Nintendo and Microsoft. David Arnott and David Stifel are two other actors I remember. Ken Lobb was a special effects guy at Disney Imagineeing. I switched the venue to the Game Developer’s conference once it was created. I also hosted 16 player Midi-Maze at the conferences.
A SuperBowl Saturday tournament, around 1986 or 1987 timeframe. The four people playing M.U.L.E. on Atari ST from left to right are: Jim Nitchals – Creator of N-Wire at EA, programmed Amiga/ST Marble Madness and the mini-Golf game all platforms with Will Harvey; Karl Buiter – Creator of EOS Earth Orbit Stations, Future Magic, Shadow of Yserbius and several other games. He and are were business partners for a number of years; Brett Durrett – Atari ST programmer that ported Defender of the Crown from the Amiga. He also did the Atari ST version of SimCIty as part of Redmersoft/Maxis. Standing up from left to right: Me; Vince Lee – Creator of Rebel Assault CD ROM game at Lucasfilm; John Russell (drinking) – Brilliant Atari hardware engineer.
WoM: In the summer of 1990, German M.U.L.E. fans were excited when gorgeous-looking screenshots emerged for “Deluxe M.U.L.E.” for the Commodore Amiga, developed by German studio Infernal Byte Systems led by Julian Eggebrecht. Through interviews with Julian on StayForever podcast we now know that it was based on an earlier work for the Atari ST from 1987/88, for which you led the design and development. Please tell us about this history of the Atari ST version of “Deluxe M.U.L.E.”. How did it start, how far did it come, and why was it ultimately cancelled (we heard “low market share of Atari ST”)? [has anything survived the ages – designs, screenshots, or even a playable prototype?]
AJ: I was running a small independent game development company called Redmersoft (which partly evolved into Maxis) that was working in-house at Lucasfilm’s Skywalker Ranch. We had a deal with David Maynard, the producer at Electronic Arts that oversaw M.U.L.E. to make a new16-bit version of M.U.L.E. for the Atari ST and Commodore Amiga. He promised us the source-code to the orginal. While we were waiting on him, we actually built a prototype of Ballblazer for Lucasfilm that got us deeply hooked into the company. David Maynard ended up flaking out completely, but I did get to establish a relationship with Dan(i) Bunten and his brother Bill as a result. I remember playing M.U.L.E. and Robot Rascals in Dan’s home in Little Rock, Arkansas along with Bill, Alan Watson and Jim rushing. I started Deluxe M.U.L.E. with them directly separate from Electronic Arts. The game would include a classic version of the original that you could play four-player by hooking up two computers with their MIDI ports. I designed a completely new version of the game where players land on the planet Agima as opposed to Irata. It feature a Deluxe Mechtron that played the game way better than the original Mechtron. I designed and programmed the AI for it. It also had a fifth type of M.U.L.E. outfit; defense. The symbol looked like a missile launcher and produced nothing and cost the most to outfit. Whoever had the lowest total defence risked significant losses through random events. Unfortunately I don’t remember for sure the reason why we never finished the game. We did get pretty far. My best guess is that we were too busy doing Lucasfilm stuff. My role at Lucasfilm took off around that that time period. I wish I still had all the design materials for it. I am guessing that I gave everything to Julian.
WoM: An interesting fact is that on the Amiga screenshots, rocket plots were visible. Dani Bunten later on cited “guns and bombs” as a creative difference why the 1993 Sega Genesis “Son of M.U.L.E.” was cancelled; this version of the game did not have “rocket plots” anymore. But obviously “rocket plots” and “guns and bombs” are entirely different things. So, in “Deluxe M.U.L.E.”, what would have been the purpose of the rocket plots, and how did the discussion around it go? [ Julian mentioned that Dani even liked the idea as an allegory on the Cold War. ]
AJ: Yes, Dan(i) and I both shared that view about guns back then, but we also worked on Modem Wars together. As it relates to Deluxe M.U.L.E., the defense plot is a red herring that is our social commentary against wasted defense spending by governments. We hated that our tax dollars were going to aircraft carriers. In the game, it is a complete waste of money, but everyone kept funding them in the games we played.
WoM: Did you play any of the modern remakes of M.U.L.E. (Planet M.U.L.E. online, or the Board Game from Finnish publisher Lautapelit), and if so how did you like them?
AJ: Yes, I have played most if not all meaningful interations of M.U.L.E. I currently play the board game and still play the orginal on the Atari 800. I honestly hate every version of the game including the Commodore 64 orginal. The Atari 400/800 is still the only pure version of the game because it has four serial ports in the front that you can use with digital joysticks. Deluxe M.U.L.E. is the only other version that was pure with respect to input devices.
WoM: We have heard rumors that there is such a thing as the “Book of M.U.L.E.”. What is it?
AJ: Yes, I wrote the Book of M.U.L.E. back in the 1980’s. I had played M.U.L.E. enough to know where all the Crystite is on all 256 variations of the board (Deluxe M.U.L.E. fixed that shortcoming) and knew exactly how the Mechtron was coded. As a result, I was probably the most qualified person to write a book on how to play M.U.L.E. to win. I used the knowledge to design the Deluxe Mechtron which played a mean and completely legitimate game of M.U.L.E. Unfortunately, I don’t have a copy of the book anymore. It was stored on 3.5 floppy disks that did not survive the years.
WoM: If you had just one wish for the future of the M.U.L.E. legacy, what would it be?
AJ: I wish that someone would build a classic version of the game that would run on devices that support 4 controllers. It is not financially feasible so it would have to be a labor of love. I would gladly do it if someone was willing to fund the project. I also do have the capability to build it for Nintendo Switch, PS5, and Xbox. Also to be clear, I would donate my time to the project.
WoM: Thanks very much for the time talking with us. All the best!