2023 interview with Melanie Bunten and Dan Bunten Jr

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M.U.L.E. 40th Anniversary Special navigation

Melanie Bunten and her brother Daniel Bunten Jr. keep the Ozark Softscape legacy alive. Over the years, they have produced merchandise and licensed several worthy remakes/reinterpretations of the original game, such as Planet M.U.L.E., the Lautapelit M.U.L.E. board game and, most recently, Andrew Dieffenbach’s M.U.L.E. Online.

WoM: What are your earliest memories of M.U.L.E.? Did you every play tournaments with your dad?

Melanie: Thank you for this opportunity. Before I answer questions, I would like readers to understand that the reason I will refer to my dad, Dan, he… is that Dan’s name is on the box and my dad is who he was when I was young and M.U.L.E. came out. My earliest memory would be of my dad having people over to test the beta version. There were cheers at times until he found a programming bug; then he jumped into action to fix the bug.

Dan: M.U.L.E. came out the year I was born, so it was basically always a part of my childhood. There were posters/pictures of it hanging in my dads office and he almost always had a copy of it sitting next to his Commodore 64. When I was a kid we played it a bit, but he was always wanted to play that latest boardgame when we had time to sit down together. To him it was always about seeing how we reacted to different games to help inspire his latest creation. He would watch me play any new game (board or video) I got and ask me questions about why I reacted the way I did or what I enjoyed about it. He never could understand why I had so much fun killing other players in Ultima Online and Quake.

WoM: How would you describe the legacy of M.U.L.E. from your point of view?

Melanie: In one word; REMARKABLE. It is honestly unbelievable that there is still a faithful following 40 years later.

Dan: M.U.L.E. helped push couch co op and multiplayer games to what they are today. Between games like M.U.L.E, Robot Rascals, and Modem Wars, he was always pushing the inter connectivity of the players in games. He wanted gaming to build relationships with other people. He would have loved to see the types of relationships that I and many others created in games like Ultima Online, Everquest, World of Warcraft, etc. I can’t help but think how much my Dad would have loved to see his grand kids sitting on the couch playing games like It Takes Two or Overcooked.

WoM: What’s your favourite version of the game? Do you still play tournaments today?

Melanie: Believe it or not I have never played the game from beginning to end. I’m an accountant and have never made time to play video games.

Dan: The version I played the most had to be the NES version. It was the easiest to play since I always had the console hooked up to the TV. My main memory from it was him constantly saying “this part feels off”, “oh I wish I could change this”, etc. He would have loved the ability to update games post launch like we have now. My kids are just now getting to the age where they would be able to play and enjoy it, but I do look forward to being able to play with them as a family like we did when I was a kid.

WoM: In 2010, you donated your dad’s game design notes to The Strong (National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY). Has any interesting research already come out of this?

Melanie: The museum invited me to make a donation and flew my daughter and I to the Museum. I was so impressed with their integrity and genuine care about preserving my dad’s legacy. I was more than happy to donate to them. I included some of my dad’s original scribbles on graph paper of characters. Anyone that new Dan/Dani knew that he/she was a terrible artist with bad penmanship, which makes the art donation a one-of-a-kind.

WoM: Seeing that the 1990’ies are ‘back en vogue’ these days, wouldn’t that be a perfect time to revive Dan’s original M.U.L.E. sequel ideas (Son of M.U.L.E. from 1993 or M.U.L.E.: Planet Prospector from 1996)? We noted that The Strong’s access to these artefacts is “restricted until 2060″, which naturally makes M.U.L.E. fans wonder and hope that some day we may see these finalized!”

Melanie: Find me someone interested in creating a new game and send them my way. I literally have two boxes in my attic full of ideas that haven’t seen the light of day. I can be reached through our website www.ozarksoftscape.com

Dan: I would love to see the vision that my Dad had for the game to continue on into the future. I would love to see a modernized vision for the game that stayed within the boundaries he set forth. Given that couch co op has made such a comeback lately, it would fit in perfectly.

WoM: If you had just one wish for the future of the M.U.L.E. legacy, what would it be?

Melanie: That it keeps on keeping on.

Dan: My kids and eventually their kids to be able to sit around a TV and play it together just like I did with my dad.

WoM: Thanks very much for the time talking with us. All the best!

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