From Joe Ybarra of Eclipse Entertainment
I would like to add to the Dani Bunten memorial webpage. I have a few unique insights.
In the fall of 1982, I became the producer at Electronic Arts for Dan Bunten.
On my first day on the job at EA, the total headcount for EA was 7 people. Trip Hawkins held a draft of prospective developers amongst the 3 producers. We randomly chose the draft order, and I picked third. Dave Evans picked first; he “selected” Bill Budge and Pinball Construction Set. Pat Marriott picked second, and selected Jon Freeman and Anne Westfall, who in turn developed Archon and Murder On The Zinderneuf as their 2 titles. I was left with selecting our only remaining pre-established developer connection, Dan Bunten. I wasn’t terribly happy about this; Dan had only previously published Cartels And Cutthroats for SSI, and a small multiplayer, self-published auction game. Additionally, Dan was located in Little Rock, Arkansas, making for what I assumed would be some unpleasant travel. Last, but not least, Trip’s idea was to build another economic “simulation” based on the design/code base of Cartels And Cutthroats. I had lots of misgivings about this product concept.
Thus began a fruitful, enjoyable, and highly creative relationship between myself and Ozark Softscape which was to last around 3 years and produced M.U.L.E., Seven Cities Of Gold, and Heart Of Africa. I could go on about the history of the creation of these products, but it would take a lot of writing. Instead, here are a couple of my favorite moments with Dan during this period.
During the Alpha to Beta transition of M.U.L.E., we had a serious problem with play balance in the later stages of the game in single player mode. I had spent over 150 hours playtesting M.U.L.E., and between Dan and I we were struggling to fix the design flaw. I flew out to Little Rock to meet with the team and nail down this problem. Dan and I enjoyed walking and talking, so we went for a walk around the pond in front of their “clubhouse” office. We paced around the pond discussing the internal design and play-flow of M.U.L.E. After a couple of hours, several laps, and lots of intense problem solving, we figured out the solution. We couldn’t wait to get back into the clubhouse to alter the code (which was written in BASIC) and test the simulation. We practically ran back to join the rest of the team, who had patiently waited for Dan and I to return. It took about 15 minutes to make the changes, recompile, and get a build to start testing. It worked.
This moment in the development of M.U.L.E. was especially memorable because of the interchange between Dan and myself. Dan was always open minded about game design, a joy to work with, and a sharp, analytic thinker. The problem we were solving was very subtle and required insight about game flow and mechanics which I found to be quite rare. My respect and admiration for Dan was firmly established as a result of this dialogue. In the future this working relationship and friendship would be needed to fight some of the even more complex problems we were to face.
Of the products I produced at EA, Seven Cities Of Gold was my favorite. One of the great moments of my EA career took place early in the development of SCOG. Alan Watson and Dan were developing as an early milestone the random continent generator. After a lot of work, maps were being generated in about 40 minutes and written to the Atari 800 floppy (all of 88K). Unfortunately, every continent, no matter what parameters were selected, looked like a peanut. We struggled for weeks trying to get the generator to create ANYTHING that didn’t look like a peanut. The frustration level was extremely high for everyone.
Each Friday at EA there was a company meeting where Trip would pull everyone together to discuss the events of the week and the state of the business. About an hour prior to one of these meetings, I received a call from Dan, who was very excited. They had found a bug in the random number generator. Dan wanted to transmit to me a map data file showing a map which wasn’t a peanut. At the time, 2400 baud was the fastest we could transmit (this took place in 1983). It would take over an hour to get the map, and another ½ hour to create a build and see the results.
I grabbed a beer from the company meeting, and while everyone else at EA was attending the meeting, I was in the test center downloading code/data. Just as I was seeing the results of Alan/Dan’s success, everyone in the company meeting started cheering and making a bunch of noise. I too was cheering and making noise in celebration of seeing our first “truly random” continent. The coincidence of all this celebration brought chills down my spine … I knew at the time something special had just happened. I jumped on the phone to call Dan, and while he was on the phone people started to come into the test center to see what I was doing. For the first time anyone could tell we were creating another masterpiece. The energy and excitement was terrific. Dan was both elated and burnt out, but you could “hear” him grinning on the other side of the phone.
Although she and I hadn’t worked together in over 12 years, we stayed in touch. We always enjoyed spending time together discussing game development, publishing, family life; anything and everything we found interesting. Dan was always more interested in people and how they behave than in technology or even pure game design. Her interest in multiplayer games clearly reinforces this. Dan enriched my life, taught me a bunch about game design and products, and gave me some of the best moments in my career.
Dan, I hope you are happy, wherever you are.
I will miss you.
From Ted Cashion
I must admit that I fell out of contact with Dani many years ago, several years before the big change. Actually, did not even know about the change until I read about it in a computer gaming magazine, and about fell out of my chair (more on why momentarily). I moved away from Little Rock two years ago and did not even know she was sick. Now I’ve learned about her death the same way as the operation — from a gaming magazine, which directed me to this site. I’ve read all the comments and had to add my piece. However, I can only say something about the person I knew — Dan Bunten.
I met Dan through the Little Rock Apple Addicts computer club, I guess around 1981. We got to be friends (in those days, there were so few computer owners we kind of sought each other out), and I found myself frequently hanging around the Broadmoor “office.” Looking back, those were extraordinary times — all kinds of folks getting together to play computer games, either in development or newly released games from other designers. I don’t think I really appreciated what a visionary Dan was until years later — he was way ahead of his time. I’ve always thought that Dan was one of the smartest people I had ever met and had the pleasure of being friends with. Maybe someday we’ll discover he was ahead of his time in terms of recognizing one’s own sexual identity.
Somewhere, in one of the other comments, someone said “Dan was a man’s man,” and I guess that’s why I nearly fell out of my chair as mentioned above. My favorite memories of Dan Bunten are nights spent after the LRAA club meetings, downing pitchers of beer at the Oyster Bar on Markham Street in Little Rock. Several of us would usually down several pitchers, and as the night wore on, get carried away/excited/buzzed at what the future held for computers and gaming. Other comments have referenced Dan’s unhappiness, but I believe that during those evenings, Dan was at least having fun. Dan really came alive once he got wound up talking about computer games.
So, like anyone else who knew Dan/Dani, I feel a sense of loss at the passing of such a special person, and a sense of guilt that I did not stay in contact as the years passed.
Thanks, Dani, for all you gave us. Rest in peace.
From Jimmy “Robodude” Sorrick
I just read with great sorrow of Dani’s passing. I was stunned; had not heard anything from Ozark Softscape in years, and always wondered what happened to Dani. I was a beta tester for Global Conquest throughout its development. Though I never met Dani personally, I did converse with her online throughout the year or so of testing. I am an avid games magazine reader, and have always wondered why Modem Wars wasn’t given more credit; Command and Conquer owes A LOT to Modem Wars. Anyway, I still have my copy that Dan signed with a small note of thanks, even though I no longer have the disk drive to run the 5-inch floppy that GC came on, I still cherish it. Heck, Dani even let us testers make an icon, and it was included in the final release. I named my icon SORRICK.ICO (my last name); I told Dani it would immortalize me. She got a kick out of that. Anyway, please pass on my condolences to the Bunten family (Bill is the only one I know of). We lost a pioneer of multiplayer games with Dani’s passing, and I for one will never forget that.
From Janice Carroll
I’m shocked and saddened by the news of Dani’s death.
Dani and I first came face to face in an electrolysis office in Little Rock. She was on her way out as I was coming in for my treatment. I was curious to meet her, so Linda, the owner, phoned her and asked if she’d take time to speak with me. Of course, Dani agreed and even gave me her phone number so I could call.
I phoned her a night or so later and found that she was in the middle of helping her youngest with his bath. Later that night we spoke for over an hour. Before saying goodbye she invited me to come to her workplace.
I’ll never forget our first meeting. I was nervous but Dani somehow put me at ease. We talked for hours and walked went across the street for pizza. As we talked I found that I couldn’t imagine Dani as ever being anyone but Dani. When I told her this she did a deep bass impression for me, and we both laughed and laughed.
She and I talked about many things that night. She told me how life had become unbearable as Dan. She also spoke of her family and was saddened that her mom was unable to accept her decision. She talked of her happiness at finally being Dani, and of the acceptance and rejection she was already coming to know.
Dani and I began talking to one another on a regular basis. I’d visit when in town and we eventually became members of the same therapy support group. Often times she, her youngest son and I would go for a walk in the park afterward or out for a burger. I looked forward to our visits.
The last time I saw Dani was just before her move to California. We did speak after she moved there, but eventually we lost contact. I’ll always have the best memories of our times together and of our long phone conversations. I remember Dani as a strong, intelligent, sensitive and caring person who always had time for others. I send my best to her family and to the friends who loved her. We’ll miss you, Dani.
From Aurelia Pacheco
Crossing through your Web site, I couldn’t help but write something regarding Dani.
Warm regards to the family and close friends. It’s always difficult to lose someone dear, and one who has contributed so much to the computer industry.
From Christina Otto
I would like to pay a tribute to Dani Bunten Berry.
A few months ago, I remember searching the ’net for information on transsexualism, since I am a pre-operative transsexual myself, and coming across the name Dan Bunten. Wow, I thought to myself, could this be the same person I met in the ’80s demonstrating Seven Cities Of Gold at the Atari Users Group in Murray Hill, NJ? Sure enough, it was. I remember playing M.U.L.E. with my next-door neighbor literally all night long, and Seven Cities of Gold, I thought, blew away every game on the market. I thought and still believe that these were the best computer games written.
I felt like my life was similar to hers. I am now 30, and have been programming computers since I was 12. I’m currently a Software Engineer with a career future that is uncertain, because of a change on what I really wish to do with my life, as well as what will happen when I become post-op. I don’t know what the statistics are, but I wonder what percentage of transsexuals have been computer nerds growing up in high school?
I was totally shocked when I found out that she died, since I sent and have received e-mail from her a couple of months ago. I am deeply saddened by it, even though I did not know her personally (except for the time we met at the Atari Group, if my memory serves me correctly), and wish the best for the family. The legacy of M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities Of Gold will go on, because they were and are great games.
From Anne Ogborn
I only met Dani once, but she and I crossed paths in a very odd way, and I wondered if you’d like to hear the story. Turns out your website is keeping her alive in a small way.
When Dani reassigned, I was working for Electronic Arts as a programmer. Everyone there knew that I was transsexual, I make it a point to be out everywhere. So, when the news broke about Dani, I got called into the executive suite for an impromptu session of TG consciousness raising with several high EA officials.
Anyway, thanks for keeping the site.
From Khyron the Destroyer
I still remember. My father came home with a new computer game for the family Atari 1200XL. It was M.U.L.E. My brother, father and I all stayed up till 11:30 PM (on a school night no less!) playing M.U.L.E., and when my sister got a little older we played with her too.
We still have the Atari and M.U.L.E., and they both still work, and at least once a year we power it up and play. I can think of no other game so well designed for multi player that more than a decade after its release, it is still played. The replay and social interaction with other players are so well designed that I would have to rank it as *the* greatest computer game ever made.
I am angered that the gaming community is so restricted by the corporate vision. It shows. The number of truly innovative games that have come out in the last 5 years is less that .05%. A few companies have done some interesting things, but stunning graphics are not everything. Think back to the “golden age” of arcade games and computer games. The Atari, Commodore and Apple did not have particularly great graphics. As such designers created games that were actually FUN. Dan(i) will be sorely missed.
“(he)… had come to to an interesting conclusion about the future of the world. He had decided that fast and accurate communication lay, in a contracting world, at the very heart of power.”
Thunderball, Ian Fleming
From Steve Bunten
I just wanted to say thank you for putting together such a glowing tribute to my oldest brother/youngest sister (I have an interesting picture of Dani as both my brother and my sister!). I will miss Dani dearly!
One correction I do want to make in the comments about Dani’s family – not everyone disowned her. Although I only saw Dani a few times following her “pronoun change,” I never once told her I no longer thought of her as my sibling. I do not get to Arkansas often enough to see any of the family. There is also her sister Teri who lives in Atlanta who continued to speak with Dani and loves her dearly! Our father, who lives in Beebe, AR, also never rejected Dani. His comment to me was that although he did not understand why Dani had the sex-change operation, he was not one to judge Dani for it.
I am the third of five (original) boys with one little sister. The four oldest of us (Dan, Bill, myself, and Andy) played together a lot as kids (the youngest brother, Eddie, was born mentally handicapped). Dan was given a heavy burden at a young age when mom went to work full time and dad went back to college and also worked full time. Dan was essentially responsible for taking care of us younger kids. I can remember when Dan took a job at a drug store in St. Louis (where we grew up) at 15 and paying the rest of us an allowance since our parents couldn’t afford to. We used to play football (Dan & me vs. Bill & Andy) and soccer in the lot next door.
When we moved to LR in ’65 (Dan would have been 16), we were the only playmates we had for the summer. We (ages 16, 14, 11, 10) would go to a nearby wooded park (Allsop for those who know LR) and play Indians in the woods. We all joined Boy Scouts in LR, where Dan became our Ass’t Scoutmaster. He was a good older brother who was sometimes a pain, but that was not unexpected for someone thrown into the role of a parent who was totally unprepared.
I read through the tributes to Dani. It was interesting to read the one concerning the Highroller Cyclery. I worked for Dan in that shop in ’72 as mechanic, sales person, and all round gopher (I was just out of HS). Dan showed his beliefs of what is right vs. easy (as seen later with the M.U.L.E. II problem). Dan did not want to carry cheap, clunky American bikes such as the heavy Schwinns and other mass-produced bikes. Instead he would only carry the “rider” bikes such as French Gitanes and other European bikes (no welded frame bikes for him!). It most certainly cost him financially for that decision, just as some of his decisions with gaming cost him. I spent the summer living with him and his first wife Nancy in small rental houses in Fayetteville.
Following 8 years in the Navy and 4 in college earning a degree in Computer Engineering in ’85, I was ready to go make a living. Dan offered me a job with him and Bill in Ozark Softscape, but I decided living in LR again was not where I wanted to be. It was unfortunate that I didn’t get to see Dan (or Dani) much after that, but I was not able to make it to LR often.
I do remember Dan calling me to tell me of his changing condition — at the time Dan was what the smut places would call a she-male, breasts of a woman but the other parts still male! It was quite the shock but I never rejected Dani or told her she was wrong/stupid/etc. for doing that. I was able to see this Dani in the Bay area when she was living there and I was out there on a business trip. As others who knew both Dan and Dani also probably felt, it was strange to sit across the table and look at this woman who looked like my brother and who still sounded like him! I kept trying to reconcile in my mind the two very different images. I spoke with Dani regularly by phone (sometimes I would call and sometimes she would call), and last saw her three years ago when I brought my three children down to LR shortly after my wife died of cancer. My kids all accepted who Dani was because I never told them they shouldn’t (my 17 year old daughter was very distraught when she found out Dani died). I invited Dani to come to my remarriage two years ago, but she was unable to make it.
What really hurt for me was not seeing Dani before she died. I had reservations to fly to LR July 13th, but unfortunately she didn’t last long enough. Our younger sister Teri was coming up from Atlanta with her husband on the fourth when she got the call from our mom that Dani had died. Although the family did not all pull together before Dani died, I was very happy that our mother decided to put aside her feelings about what her eldest son had done and was with Dani a lot during the last couple of months. I know it made the end easier for Dani!
Again, thanks so much for putting together this tribute for Dani. I love her very much!
From Roger Harrington
Well, what can I say? Dani wrote some of the best software I have ever played. There is no doubt that I spent a large part of my life mastering her work. She has brought me hours and hours of enjoyment, and I am very sad she is gone.
From Mark Botner
It is hard for me to estimate the impact that Dan Bunten had on my life, it was a tremendous one for sure. I first met Dan at a meeting of the Little Rock Apple Addicts in 1981 or 1982. He was looking for testers for some kind of war game that he was writing. It turned out to be Cytron Masters, which was published by SSI. I had fun playing it, and found a few bugs. I wrote an review of it for Computer Gaming World. I remember that as the project wrapped up, Dan had a party in which several people played Cytron Masters. I remember beating Dan, and being the person that he was, I think it pleased him tremendously! He then took me and introduced me to his wife, Barbara and told her that I had beaten him.
The Little Rock Apple Addicts started having a “game meeting” each month, and Dan would usually show up. We played all of the Apple ][ games of the day, including Olympic Decathalon by some company called Microsoft. I remember that when Robot Wars came out, Dan made a club challenge to all of us to try and write a robot program that would beat his. He was probably the most expert programmer in the club. So, at our very first Robot War contest, several of us put our robots in the ring. Mine was named “Corner,” and with a little bit of luck, and maybe a little programming skill, it beat everybody’s, including Dan’s. We had a fun time as a group sitting around and watching the battle, because once you started your robot, it was off on its own and all you could do was to sit back and watch the battle.
I had learned how to program the Apple ][+ in Applesoft by then, and Dan offered to teach a class in 6502 assembly language. He let me take it in return for trying to do something with Scribe, a text formatter/word processor that he had written and sold commercially. So I started learning 6502 assembly language and really liked it.
By then, Dan had formed Ozark Softscape with his brother Bill, Jim Rushing, and Alan Watson. They rented a house on Lakeshore Drive in the Broadmoore section of Little Rock to use as an office. I started hanging out there as much as I could. We would play all kind of games. I remember many nights going there with my friend Tim Fleming and playing M.U.L.E. with Dan, Bill, Jim, and Alan. It was so much fun! It was truly the Monopoly of computer games! I was amazed at those guys and what they had created. It really impressed me that the Commodore 64 version of M.U.L.E. was almost as good as the original Atari version. Of course, I was disappointed that there wouldn’t be an Apple ][ version. It just wasn’t technically possible.
I then started college at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville, majoring in Computer Science Engineering. Dan had graduated there many years before with a degree in Industrial Engineering. A few years later, I finally had some professors that had known Dan as a student! I sailed through my first year computer classes (how hard is Fortran 101 when you have been writing 6502 assembly language programs?), in part thanks to Dan. By now, Ozark Softscape was working on Seven Cities Of Gold for the Atari. Dan and Jim had bought a wooden ship model of the Santa Maria, but didn’t really have the time to build it. I took it to school with me and built it for them. It was later used in an advertisement in the Arkansas Times next to an extensive article on Ozark Softscape. Dan kept it at the office for a while, then took it home and put it on his fireplace mantle.
After finishing my first year of college, I went back home to Little Rock for the summer. I had learned how to program the Apple ][, especially the graphics, pretty well by then. So Dan hired me for the summer for a whopping $500 per month to work on the port of Seven Cities Of Gold to the Apple ][. My first professional job! I rode my bike all of the way from my parents house, up and down some very steep Little Rock hills to Lakeshore Drive everyday to work.
What fun we had that summer. We would take a walk every day around Broadmoore Lake while our programs assembled for 15 minutes or so. We flew model airplanes, floated model boats in the lake, and played many different games. And, we actually got Seven Cities Of Gold ported to the Apple ][!
Then I had to got back to school for my sophomore year. I was starting to fill in some of the “holes” in my computer education. The real work experience I had gained remained invaluable. I started doing some research at the library for Ozark Softscape’s next game that became Heart Of Africa. However, during that year I found out that Jim Rushing had quit and had moved to California. Some of Dan’s problems were starting to surface and I was starting to understand him better.
The next summer I went back to work for Dan (he solely owned Ozark Softscape by now I think), and we worked on Heart Of Africa. It’s the only game that I worked on the original version, that I have a credit for on the outside of the box. I didn’t think that it ended up being a very good game, but it was ok.
About this time, Dan divorced Barbara, and married Jane. I remember going to their wedding. It was held in a small church (maybe a UU church?) that didn’t have air conditioning, in the summer, in Arkansas. The wedding was scheduled early one Saturday I think, they wanted to have it before it got too hot that day. Dan came up with the idea of taking a t-shirt, wetting it, and freezing it in his refrigerator. Then, right before the wedding, he would take it out of the freezer, put it on, and it would keep him cool during the ceremony. Dan’s idea backfired on him, because after the ice melted, his shirt was just soaking wet, and the high humidity of Little Rock during the summer really made him sweat! He had to pause during the ceremony, take out his bandanna, and mop up the perspiration on his face. Dan was such a down-to-earth person, that he laughed a lot about his not so bright idea afterward!
After another year of school, I was going to work for Dan again, when I found out that he was moving to Hattiesburg, Mississippi so that his new wife Jane could work on her 2nd PhD. Dan wanted me to move down there with him for the summer, so I did. I lived with Dan and Jane for a couple of weeks until I could find an apartment. I babysat a lot for Daniel, Dan’s 4 year old son. Dan started working with Mark McElroy on what later became Robot Rascals. I worked on the Apple ][ port, while Dan wrote the Commodore 64 version. I became good friends with Mark McElroy that summer and had a blast living in Hattiesburg, which is a nice town.
One thing that I learned from Dan that summer was that he wasn’t afraid to throw away a large amount of code in order “get it right.” He had written some kind of menu system for the players to use, but it just didn’t work well for non-computer type people. So Dan deleted it and re-designed the interface. I’ll bet he deleted a week or two of work by doing that. He was a very hard worker and dedicated to make games easy and fun to play. Robot Rascals was a very fun multi-player game, but I guess it didn’t sell that well. We were disappointed that Electronic Arts didn’t produce better playing cards to go along with the game.
After another year at school, I moved back home to Little Rock to help do the Apple ][ port of what became Modem Wars. Jane had finished her PhD by then, and they bought a nice house in Little Rock. By now, I had gotten to know Dan very well, and knew that at times, he was a difficult person to get along with. He was a very, very smart person, and probably a workaholic. He would start work early in the morning, work all day, and, after supper, work more. That summer, I started running into some difficulties working for him. I was trying to port code that Dan had just written for the Commodore 64 to the Apple ][ before the project was even near being finished. Dan could make graphic changes on the C-64 much easier than I could on the Apple ][. So I fell further and further behind him, and I started getting frustrated at throwing out code and rewriting large sections of the project. I ended up taking the project back to school with me that fall. I was able to “skip” the basic computer graphics class they had, because I had done much more advanced graphics working for Dan. Dan wrote my instructor a few paragraphs that outlined the graphics work that I had done for him on the Modem Wars project.
As I got busier with classes that semester, my work on Modem Wars slowed down. Dan kept pushing me for more, but I knew that in the long run, my college education was more important. Finally I was forced to abandon the Modem Wars project. I felt bad about it, but I don’t think that it was all my fault. Dan was mad at me for a while, but eventually he admitted that in hindsight, trying to do a port before the original game was done was a bad idea. That was the last time I worked for Dan. He wanted to hire me when I got out of school, but I decided to get a Masters degree and stayed at the UofA. By then, I also knew that I didn’t want to work for Dan, but knew we’d always be friends.
I eventually finished graduate school, and moved to Dallas. About 1990 or so was that last time that I ever saw Dan. We’d drifted apart after I’d moved away from Little Rock and got busy with my new career. A few years ago, Mark McElroy called me up and told me that Dan had had a sex change! That really blew my mind, and was hard for me to accept, although I never did see him after he became a woman. At some point, I found his email address, and we started corresponding occasionally. He told me about his change. Eventually I read more about him from his web page, and it really made me sad when I read about how his family disowned him. Between Dan and his brother Bill, we had so many good times, and I knew how close the two brothers were and really loved each other very much. I have so many fond memories of them playing M.U.L.E. and other games with them.
I never knew Dan as Dani. He was, and always will be Dan to me. It’s not that I don’t accept his change, but I didn’t have a chance to meet Dani or get to know her. I will always remember Dan as the Dan I had so many good times with.
Just a couple of months ago, when my son was born, I sent Dan email, and he sent back a very nice congratulation. He said that he would love to see me when I was in Little Rock sometime. A few weeks after that, I went through Little Rock on my way to a family reunion. I didn’t know that Dan was so sick, or I would have made the time to visit him. Shortly after that, my parents called me to tell me the bad news. They saw his obituary in the paper, and went to the memorial service. It makes me very sad to think that he is gone, even though I hadn’t seen him in several years and hadn’t been in close contact.
He was my good friend, my mentor, and my boss. I’ll never forget him.
From Steven Woodcock of Wyrd Wyrks
I barely knew Dani Berry … but I knew her games. I dropped a big chunk of my life into M.U.L.E., Seven Cities Of Gold, Heart Of Africa, Modem Wars … the list just goes on and on.
My only contact with Dani was at the 1996 CGDC. She was heavily involved in an “Assassin” game, but when I spotted her I wanted to let her know what I thought of her work and her influence on the industry. I tapped her on the shoulder and was rewarded with a frantic backwards leap, followed by a twirl and a dartgun pointed at my chest! It took some explaining that I wasn’t in the game, just a fan who wanted to shake her hand. She grinned from ear to ear.
She will be missed.
From Dani Richard
My name is Dani Richard.
I never knew Dani Berry.
Though I am a computer professional, I have played few computer games. What I do have in common with Dani Berry is the love of computers (I have been programming since 16). I am also a male-to-female transsexual, and I live pretty openly in my home of Huntsville, Alabama.
Thank you for a loving tribute of Dani. I wish I had known her. Her life gives me courage as I approach the next phase in my own transition. My surgery is 57 days away.
From Eric Goldberg of Crossover Technologies
Dani was a spectacularly unusual combination of qualities: very wise in the ways of people; a highly original and creative thinker; a tortured soul; a mentor and an inspiration to a generation of game designers; and, to me and to many others, a good friend.
At the second Computer Game Developers Conference in 1988, Dan Bunten was the keynote speaker. He cheerfully acknowledged that he, like the majority of the attendees, had grown up a nerd, and ran through a catalogue of the recognition signals: hands in pockets, standing on one leg, slouched posture, social gawkiness, etc., etc., etc. Without suggesting that we should be ashamed of what we were (and perhaps still are), he matter-of-factly noted that we shared an extraordinary talent, and that we should take pride in our accomplishments.
Dan then outlined a breathtakingly simple formula for continued professional growth. First, find a good woman. By sharing interests, she will be your bridge to mainstream adult culture, where RAM caches, flight simulators and evil wizards are not the stuff of everyday conversation. Second, marry her. Third, have kids. As they grow up, they’ll keep you in touch with popular culture in ways that no one else can. To an audience almost entirely made up of introverted males, this was a frightening — and, from the evidence of the past 10 years, effective — prescription.
Dani’s “pronoun change” precipitated some hard thinking about what friendship means to me. At the end of our first visit after her sex change, she observed that I seemed uncomfortable around her. I had been good friends with Dan, and presumably Dani had all the qualities that attracted me to Dan as a friend. Dani helped me work through my understanding of the change in our friendship, and gently encouraged me not to be too hard on myself for the distance I had introduced in our relationship.
When Dani was stricken with lung cancer, circumstances put me in the position of informing a number of people from the game community; and then again, a few months ago, that she was fatally ill. The outpouring of concern, sympathy, affection, respect and appreciation was wonderful and astonishing — and Dani’s many friends and colleagues let her know exactly how well and how highly they thought of her. Though Dani’s last weeks were spent in pain and in wrestling with unresolved personal issues, she was, as she had always been, a sucker for the wave of friendship, love and professional regard that washed over her.
The game community is left with a legacy of seminal work in social game design, and the privilege of 20 years in the presence of a good and wise person.
From Noah Falstein of The Inspiracy
A few days after Dani’s death I happened to be reading A Tree Grows In Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I ran across the following passage in which a grandmother gives her daughter advice about raising her own daughter.
“The child must have a valuable thing which is called imagination. The child must have a secret world in which live things that never were. It is necessary that she believe. She must start out by believing in things not of this world. Then when the world becomes too ugly for living in, the child can reach back and live in her imagination.”
I think that Dani had that kind of imagination. Once, years ago at one of the game conferences that were the chief place we caught up on things, Dan told me something that hit me hard. We had been noting similarities in our lives, our love of games, our marriages to psychotherapists, and how we had been board game players as kids. Then he said that he thought a major reason he had become a game developer was that when growing up one of the few times his entire family had been together, peaceful and happy, was over a board game.
Suddenly I was back in my childhood kitchen, playing The Flag Game Of The United Nations with my family. Now, I consider my childhood to have had only about the normal amount of dysfunctionality — that is to say a lot, but livable. But for me as well as Dani, those games had been islands of happiness in an otherwise stormy sea. I think that a lot of her life had been a quest to load the scales of life with that kind of happiness, in others even more than for herself. And I think that with M.U.L.E. alone she succeeded in some way to tip the balance for hundreds of thousands of people, and though she was never satisfied with resting on her laurels, I hope that in the end she realized the joy she brought to so many. I will surely miss her spirit and wit and creativity.
From Scott LeGrand of VM Labs
I feel robbed. I want a M.U.L.E. sequel and now I’ll never get it. Sure, some auteur will license the name some day and release a Stepford Wife of a game that looks kind of like M.U.L.E, plays kind of like Warcraft, and which will be backed by a multimillion dollar advertising campaign and 3 million or more polygons per second, but it won’t be M.U.L.E. We will never see a sequel to M.U.L.E, one of the simplest no-brainer game suit decisions of all time, because M.U.L.E. wasn’t a glorified Doom wad or a remake of Night Drivin’, Legionaire, or Karate Champ. I think Dani herself said it best with the following:
“There was a time when I thought computer games could represent a truly original interactive medium, however, with the takeover by big guys from Hollywood and corporate America, it looks like another cultural wasteland (like films and TV) devoted to crass consumer values. But they pay well!”
I feel like a life has ended but halfway through its autobiography. M.U.L.E. remains one of the top 5 computer games of all time IMO and it served as inspiration for many of my own multiplayer efforts. I really wanted to see what Dani could have done with today’s technology and damn it now I never will. The industry is lessened with her passing.
From Gordon Walton of Kesmai Studios
I was not a close friend of Dani, but I sure felt like it every time we got the chance to talk. Whether as Dan or Dani, her gentle nature and genuineness as a person was striking.
I was put off when she made the change to become Dani, until the minute I spoke to her. It was clear to me she was much happier as Dani, and if anything an even more incredible person.
The thing that inspired me the most about Dani was her commitment to her art. She always wanted to make games fun and they had to be made for people to play together. In every instance I am aware of she chose excellence over any commercial benefit to herself. She never sold out, and remained true to her vision.
She inspired me to be a better person. Her example in pursuing her vision is something I think of daily and try to apply in my life.
Go in peace Dani, you will not be forgotten.
From Jim Simmons
I met Dan Bunten in 1971. Dan and my childhood friend Bobby Young had just opened The Highroller Cyclery near the University of Arkansas campus in Fayetteville, Arkansas. It was the first real bicycle shop the town had ever known. For Bobby this business was a way to make some money. For Dan it was a way to create a positive change in the world. If more people rode bikes, the world would be a better place. Typical Dani. Her game industry career was filled with the same honest intentions. That bicycle business still exists today, in the same location, and with a fanatically loyal group of customers. It has affected hundreds of lives in a positive way.
At my first CGDC (the third or fourth, still small), I begged a colleague to be introduce to Dan Bunten, my hero because of my experiences with Seven Cities Of Gold. (I had no idea this was the same person I’d met all those years ago.) Dan was pointed out to me. I went up to the circle of folks who were chatting about things I was certain I knew nothing about. I was too nervous to introduce myself. Finally, two days later (!) I worked up the courage, introduced myself, and was immediately put at ease by Dan’s charm, joyful intellect, and genuine curiosity about my ideas and about me. I left that discussion excitedly armed with a list of books to read and subjects to investigate. From my discussions with others, it’s obvious that many have come away from conversations with Dani with the same energized feeling. (Well, OK, sometimes exhaustion!)
A few years later I lucked into the opportunity to “produce” a Dan Bunten game. Dan and I had gotten to know each other a little since my first CGDC, and it felt like a good fit to both of us. About two months into the project Dani called me and told me about the big change she would be making in her life during the coming year. That was a long conversation. That was a long year. The project did not go well, for many complex reasons. But through it all we took the time to discuss her special problems and struggles, to laugh, to remind each other that we had a friendship to maintain. She and I have since lamented that the project did not end happily for either of us, but we were both relieved that the relationship survived, even strengthened as a result.
These are simply my little stories. As my tribute to Dani, I would like to say that Danielle Paula Berry stood courageously apart from the world, yet she welcomed anyone to be as close to her as they dared. The world is a better place because of the time she spent with us. I will miss her.
From Gloria Stern of Gamasutra
I didn’t know Dani personally, but I was in the audience on the Queen Mary the night she received the first lifetime achievement award from the CGDC. Though the record of her unique achievements preceded her appearance at the lectern, it was her warmth of personality and her grace at the accord given her that distinguished her to me. A little bit of Dani stole into my heart for her foresight, her brilliance and unflinching courage. I am grateful for the work of the CGDC committee in presenting her with this award and calling attention to a visionary in the industry.
Many of Dani’s associates have taken the opportunity to tell of working with Dani and how their lives have been impoverished by her passing. I, too, while I never had the good fortune to work at her side, have suffered a grave loss. I truly feel that had we had the same opportunity, we would have become great good friends. Dani Bunten Berry will be a beacon of inspiration to me always.
From Mario Gutierrez
I didn’t know Dani except as any young 20 year-old programmer back in the early 80s (it was Dan back then) with an Atari 800 who must have spent at least 1000 hours playing M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities Of Gold over and over again for a span of about 4 or 5 years. Man, what ever happened to simple computer games that were that fantastic! Reading some of the wonderful things her friends had to say here, makes me wish I still had that old Atari now. Along with Sid Meyer’s Civilization, those 2 old Atari games still stand out in my mind as possibly “the most playable, never get bored with ’em games” ever written by anyone at any time.
Like I said, I didn’t know her — but anybody who could have provided so many of us with so many hours of enjoyment is pretty special in my book, and after reading everything else so many people had to say here, I wish I had.
Thanks for prompting me to take a moment to remember and say a prayer. Perhaps it’s about time I quit smoking too.
From Bill Lee of BigByte
skirt and legs got my attention,
across the lot I walked
to transmit my affections.
surprised upon the greeting,
hello; Dan, yo!
It was her first compliment she said.
drive cable LAN,
where are you
and where are we?
while most made sequels,
you wore sequins.
what have we become.
From Chris Crawford
Dan Bunten created the best computer game design of all time: M.U.L.E. At serious financial cost, he killed the design of a sequel rather than permit Electronic Arts to compromise its artistic integrity by adding a combat element. He correctly warned us that industry product awards would be divisive, and unostentatiously boycotted them. Danielle Berry pursued the grail of multi-player game design long before the rest of the industry awoke to its importance. She understood game design, she had integrity, and she was a good person.
From Ben Sawyer of Digital Mill
All I can think of is that if it would be possible to share the literally hundreds upon hundreds of hours I spent playing the games she developed that would be what I’d want to share. I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without M.U.L.E., Seven Cities Of Gold or Heart Of Africa. In fact, less than a year ago I went out and downloaded a C64 emulator and a disk image of Heart Of Africa and Seven Cities Of Gold to replay those games. Too bad it’s probably too hard to get those items added to this memorial. It’d be cool to have the permission of EA and others to put up playable emulations of these classic games.
From Andy Astor of Planet Moon Studios
M.U.L.E. is easily in my top five games of all time. Seven Cities Of Gold was also a favorite game of mine. Dani’s games have a quality of fun and innovation that have been very influential to my own game development.
From Susan Lee-Merrow of Lucas Learning
I met Dan Bunten in 1983 at Electronic Arts. One of my earliest memories was his trip to EA for the famous photo shoot of our “artists.” We scheduled it so he could get home to Little Rock in time for the birth of his first-born. Well, his baby came early, while Dan was on the plane to California. Ooops. We met him with the news, champagne, and our abject apologies.
During the next few years, Dan and I would snag a chunk of time at CGDC to get caught up, smoke our cigarettes, and raise a glass or two. I loved talking with him; he was so interesting – even if he did always walk out of the awards ceremonies (we even changed the nature of the awards to keep Dan in the room, but it didn’t work).
Our friendship got much closer, though, when he decided to “ change pronouns,” and become Dani. We talked often, either on the phone or in person, about everything: work, families, the “cultural” changes involved in being a woman (some great stories on this subject!), God, and especially psychological issues and emotional healing.
What shone clearly and continually was the amazing honesty she had about herself and her life. And fueling that honesty was her courage; after all, it takes courage to be honest. She would gently goad me when I hedged on certain things, like not smoking in front of anyone except her (in fact, she handed me a lighted cigarette during a post-Thanksgiving-dinner walk we were having with my kids and other friends).
She was very real and authentic, and she taught me by her continuing example how to be more forthright and honest about and to myself. At the same time, she was one of the most supportive and nonjudgmental people I have known, often saying, “But, Sooze, I think you’re perfect just the way you are.”
Dani was complex, sensitive, caring, insightful, creative, and very smart. I loved her a lot and will miss her terribly. At the same time, I am very grateful that I had the privilege of having her be such a big part of my life. Thank you, Dani, for being so totally yourself and for being my friend.
From Brenda Laurel of Purple Moon
Danielle Berry was a friend and collaborator. She worked with me on the gender project at Interval which gave rise to Purple Moon, and built the first prototype of “emotional navigation” in 1994. She also consulted on game design for us in 1995-6. Our first two games, Rockett’s New School and Secret Paths In The Forest, bear a dedication to Danielle in the credits. She was an inspiration, a wonderful creative partner, a brave person, and a dear friend. Without her help at the early critical stages, Purple Moon would not have come to be.
I remember her as a funny, intensely bright, curious person who would just not let things be. She questioned everything and when the answer didn’t satisfy her, she changed it. Danielle was a tall girl and easily caught the bouquet at Rob’s and my wedding. I miss her very much and will always honor her memory.
From George Alistair Sanger, The Fat Man
Talk about surreal. A couple of years back at the Game Developers Conference, Microsoft had rented Great America to announce something to do with DirectX. Every nerd in the world suddenly had access to all the free Frisbees, hot dogs, rides and beer he could handle. Naturally, after each ate his fill and got drunk, he would join into the huge circle that had formed, and proceed to throw Frisbees at every other nerd in the world. There was a lot of shouting and a good deal of blood. It was one of those magical moments in my life, and the first time I really spoke with Danielle. Danielle seemed only to show up at the same time as those magical moments.
The best day my business ever had was my first CGDC, ’91 I think it was. It was the first day I wore the cowboy hat in public. I was the “pretty girl at the prom,” and everybody wanted to meet me and do business. The evening ended with one of those legendary, then-traditional poker games, and my first encounter with Dan Bunten was this: he took my money. Never play poker with a game designer.
I wrote music for Son Of M.U.L.E. for Sega. So the next time I met Dani, for research for the game, I was playing M.U.L.E. with her, Jeff Johannigman, and a couple other old salts. An ultimate insider moment in gaming — magical is not a strong enough word. Son Of M.U.L.E. never got out because Dani didn’t want to add guns and bombs to the game.
But we never sat down and shared a beer until that afternoon at Great America. I instantly felt I could tell her anything, as though we’d grown up together. We talked about her past and her kids, and my struggles and problems, and who a person really is compared to the image they project. She was full of insight, experience and candor. Most striking about that conversation was her reference to “the Dance.” “Well, that’s just the Dance, isn’t it?”
Years later she came to Austin, and the whole lot of us went out to 6th Street, and we danced. It was great! I seem to remember she was a little shy at first, but Spanki brought her out of her shell and we had a pretty wild time. And again most of the conversation was about dancing.
The night Danielle died I was in Coronado with Jeann, a very special friend I’d known in high school. She works in the hospital with sick children. She still had blood on her shoes from the child she had saved earlier that day, which must have happened just around the time Danielle chose to leave her body. Our conversation was on Jesus, mortality, friendship and destiny, and it ran so deep it was often wordless, and Danielle crossed my mind from time to time. Jeann’s parting words to me were, “Someday we’ll dance forever.” I know exactly what she was talking about, and the joy it revealed in my heart was indescribable. When I found out days later that Danielle had died that same night, I could think of the pain that had ended, and of how this friend Danielle had left behind a beautiful but hurting body and beautiful but sometimes confused mind, and I think now of how she will go on to dance forever.
From Nicky Robinson of 3DO
I think I’d known Dan for 10-odd years before the CGDC when I was supposed to meet Dani for a drink in the bar. We’d been colleagues; friendly, happy to see each other and catch up on work stuff, but our lives touched only around the edges and only through games. When I walked into the Westin that day, something incredible happened. The reserve I had always noticed but never really thought about was gone, and suddenly I was hugging this gorgeous redhead and we were giggling like loons. I found a friend I didn’t know I’d had.
We still talked about games a lot, but our favorite table near the water fireplace at the Peppermill heard equally as much about philosophy and makeup as it did about our work. It also heard more laughter in an evening than I think it normally got in a week. We never got more than a few hours together each time she came to town, but they were hours full of insight and joy.
I used to think that old chestnut about living in the memories of everyone who knew you was just that — and old saying that everybody trots out but doesn’t really believe. Now, I’m not so sure. Maybe we who knew and loved her *can* carry on her work and and we *can* use what she taught us about forging your own path and in the process make sure that a little “Dani-ness” continues to exist in the world.
From Mark Baldwin, Baldwin Consulting
I remember an unhappy man. The image is still burned into my memory. At a CGDC long ago, Dan Bunten sitting on the hallway floor drinking and smoking. I did not know then the source of his unhappiness, but I will say it is the last time I ever saw her unhappy.
For the next time we spoke, she was a happy woman. I’m not saying that her life had somehow become a bed of roses. For the path Dani chose was fraught with many battles and tribulations. But she was happy with who she was, and I think that is the greatest accomplishment that any individual can achieve.
I know a little of the path she had to walk from man to woman, and because of our society, I know it is a hard one. Yet she did it with a grace and dignity that I will always remember, that will always inspire me. Dani Bunten Berry achieved with her life what few others can claim. And I feel honored and grateful that she was a friend of mine.
From Steve Meretzky
My favorite memory of Dani is from one of Johnny Wilson’s intimate single-malt scotch parties in his CGDC hotel room. It was probably the first CGDC after Dani’s sex change, and it was delightful how open she was in talking the experience. She had such an interesting perspective because she was a women and yet could also be “one of the guys;” I remember her asking, “Aren’t there things you’ve always wanted to know about women but were afraid to ask? Well, now’s your chance!”
From Stuart Moulder of Microsoft
I have many memories of Dani, though I certainly can’t claim to have been super close to her. I remember the old all-night poker games, the passion for bringing folks together in play and her courage in recent years. But the strongest memory for me is our conversation at this year’s CGDC. I ran into Dani at a pre-event party before the bulk of the attendees arrived. I walked over and introduced myself as I wasn’t sure if she would remember me. Not only did she remember me, but she remembered who I worked for and was effusive in praise of our latest game. She told me that she had recently had a LAN installed in her house so she could play our game with up to four players. For me, this was the highest praise possible coming, as it did, from the premier designer of multi-player games. It was a lovely and gracious thing to say and I will always remember it.
From Don Daglow of Stormfront Studios
My memory of Dani’s gifts will always be that she consistently built great games with the fewest “moving pieces.” I try to remember that Thoreau-in-the-Ozarks wisdom on every project. People at Stormfront have kidded me because I didn’t realize how often I’d say, “They made Seven Cities Of Gold suspenseful and exciting with only five resources to manage. Five resources! It doesn’t have to be complicated to be fun.”
If Dani had heard me still citing Seven Cities after all these years, she wouldn’t have focused on the compliment to her work, but on the fact that I was too tied up in one game. I can hear her saying, “Don, I think you need a new example” with that playful-but-pushing tone she used to challenge ideas without making it personal.
In 1987 we had a promising project concept that couldn’t get off the ground. I called Dani and asked her to do a consulting gig so a fresh pair of eyes could look at the problems. She flew in, met with us for a day and in her matter-of-fact tone reflected, “The problem is that this game sounds like it’s going to be fun, but once you get down to designing it there’s really nothing fun for the player to do. It’s like a birthday cake that looks great and has nice decorations but turns out bitter once you taste it.” She had an unerring loyalty to fun. We realized Dani was right, and never went into full development on the project.
Now I feel cheated by my own invalid sense of time. The last few years we just got 2 minutes to talk here and there in the hallways at conferences and the like. Friends would tell me, “Dani and I had this great talk about …” or “I had the chance to have dinner and a long talk with Dani, and she had this unique perspective on …”
I always thought, “We’ll be on a panel together or another consulting gig or something will come along and we’ll have the chance to catch up.” Well, now I can’t catch up and I realize how much I lost because my perspective on time was so naive. Dani’s games, and especially her influence on gaming, will still be here. But one helluva challenging human being has been lost.
From John Cutter of Cavedog Entertainment
I have been a Producer/Designer in the computer games industry since 1983. But I wouldn’t be making games at all if it wasn’t for Dani Bunten Berry, and a little game she created called M.U.L.E.
I was still in college when I discovered computers and computer games. My father thought they were a waste of time and he threatened to pull me out of school if I didn’t get back to my studies. That Christmas, while my parents were staying with us, my wife gave me a copy of M.U.L.E. for my new Commodore 64. The next day we all sat on the couch and my father reluctantly agreed to play one game. One game turned into two, two turned into four, and by the time Mom and Dad left several days later we had spent close to 15 hours sitting next to each other on the couch, often laughing so hard we had tears streaming down our cheeks. (Mom used to have trouble getting her M.U.L.E. back into the bar, and she would scream “Ooh! Oooh! Ooooh!” as she awkwardly wiggled the joystick back and forth.) My father never said another disparaging word about computer games, and I joined the industry not long after I graduated.
I owe Dani Bunten Berry a debt of gratitude that I will never be able to repay. That makes me very sad.
From Ernest Adams of Electronic Arts
From the moment I started up Seven Cities Of Gold, I knew that I was in the hands of a master. While many games play fast and loose with the truth, Dani had taken the trouble to accurately model the geography, flora, and mineral wealth of the New World, and even the temperaments of its various inhabitants. It was the best kind of game, a game that taught without seeming to teach, and it reawakened in me a curiosity about the real exploration of the New World that I had thought long since killed by too many boring grade-school history classes. Seven Cities Of Gold was full of details to delight the heart of my anthropologist father: the fact that the “Amaze the Natives” trick becomes progressively less amazing as the natives get used to it; the fact that aggressive behavior with one tribe will get you a bad reputation with the others; and so on. I’m sure I never found them all.
And yet this was just one of many great games in Dani’s long career. I haven’t played them all; I’m sure there are some that I will never play, since they were written for long-dead platforms. But I could tell from Seven Cities Of Gold alone that Danielle Bunten Berry was a designer’s designer, a game developer who insisted on getting it right and refused to compromise a principle.
I never got to know Dani as well as I would have liked, and like a fool, I thought there would always be time enough.
From Stephen White of Naughty Dog
I first met Danielle several years back while I was programming for Electronic Arts, and Danielle was working on an updated version of M.U.L.E. for the SEGA Genesis. Danielle’s creativity had always been an inspiration for me, so I was both excited and nervous about meeting her, but almost immediately Danielle made me feel like we had been good friends for a long time. In the months that followed, our friendship grew, and it didn’t take long for me to realize that Danielle, the person, was even more special than the ground-breaking products that she had created.
Danielle had a wonderfully warm and compassionate heart, that gave little choice but to like her, yet the tough decisions that she had made in her life also left her with a certain underlying sadness. I have always greatly admired her dedication, and her bravery to be true to herself and her own feelings, but I wish that she had been given a less difficult road to travel.
I will miss Danielle, the legend in the video gaming industry whose great work should not be forgotten, but more importantly I will miss Danielle, the sweet and kind friend.
From Karl Anderson
I am deeply sorry to hear about Dani passing. I remember Computer Quarterback very well, it was my favorite game on the Apple. It provided me with hours of enjoyment. I have still kept the game after all of these years. I also have played many of her other titles. She was quite a gifted person and will be greatly missed by us old time gamers.
From Jessica Mulligan of GamerGals
Dani was important to me, not just as an original thinker and innovator of multiplayer games, but also on a personal level. She had a tendency to cut to the chase and keep one honest. I grew to admire that.
I wouldn’t say we were close friends, but she knew she was important to me on a level above acquaintanceship. It wasn’t that we were both transsexuals; she tended to ignore that as a mere fact of life, something that initially irritated me (I was pretty sure there was some cosmic significance to my change), but which I came to love about her. What she was more interested in when we talked was my personal and professional growth; she seemed to have a fascination about how individuals evolved over time. And what fascinated me about Dani was her resiliency, wry sense of humor and ability to understand and express clearly what really mattered.
The first time I met her, at the 1991 CGDC, she was Dan and was killing me, Alan Emrich, Russell Sipe and one or two others at the poker table, something she was noted for (that may have been the same night she took George Sanger’s money). As I was GEnie’s game product manager at the time, we talked about her games, especially M.U.L.E. and Seven Cities Of Gold, and how multiplayer games would evolve with the coming technology, in which dozens or thousands could play in the same universe. I could tell she “got it,” instinctively understood that the game was a vehicle for connecting people. It was a great night of speculation and possibility, and I must have thanked Alan Emrich about a dozen times for inviting me.
When she made the public transition from Dan to Dani at the 1993 CGDC, it floored me, for I was struggling with my own gender dysphoria at the time and knew what courage it would take. I’ll always remember the first time I saw her after the transition, at the 1994 CGDC. I was exiting the Santa Clara Convention Hall when I heard my name called. I turned, and there she was, riding the down escalator and waving. She never looked happier; at the risk of sounding trite, she positively glowed. I also noticed the person behind her on the escalator, a well-known senior executive at a game publisher, stare at her with a faint air of disgust. Dani knew what was going on behind her; she gave me that expression of wry amusement that said, “Aren’t humans special?” There was no malice or anger there; just a realization that some people can’t deal with some changes. I couldn’t help it; I laughed and gave her a bear hug. That one moment clarified for me how to make the transition gracefully and with dignity. When I made my own transition, I tried to emulate her attitude.
Just before I made my own transition in late 1995, I let Dani in on my plans privately at Chris Crawford’s East Coast GDC. In the next 30 minutes, in which it was apparent to her that I expected to receive profound words on The Transition, she instead poohed that off and engaged me in unabashed “girl talk.” While I was looking for spiritual guidance, she was telling me where to shop for shoes. As we parted for our respective speaking engagements, she smiled and winked. I finally got the message: Every change in our personal lives is profound to us; you still have to pay attention to the nuts and bolts or the change is meaningless. Talk about keeping someone honest!
When Dani went to the hospital for the first time in 1997, before the doctors knew what was wrong, we talked on the phone. She was upbeat, if a bit nervous at the coming biopsy to determine if she did, indeed, have cancer of the lung. She told me, “You know, I quit smoking not too many months ago. It would be ironic if I did have cancer now.” And she laughed at the general perversity of the Universe. Two weeks later, when we next spoke and the diagnosis was positive, she laughed again. Sure, there was some stress there, but she was determined to “beat this thing.”
And she did beat it, in my opinion. Although we were not in close contact these last few months, I never had the sense that she lost track of who she really was or what she was doing here. I’m not sure I could do the same, in a similar situation.
From Scott Osborn of 3DO
In the spring of 1993, when Ozark Softscape made the move from Dan Bunten’s basement to actual office space, we uncovered a mountain of old PC hardware. Old Commodore 64s, some Atari machines, and a wide assortment of ancient transistors and wires were excavated from the closets. These were stacked neatly on the concrete porch out back, under the trees. Somehow, a sledgehammer appeared next to the stack, casually leaning against the house. Dan brought us outside, grabbed the heavy hammer, and then placed a venerable old Apple face up on the concrete. A healthy lick was applied. Splintered plastic chips mixed with flecks of silicon, and they bounced hither and yon. We lined up behind our leader, impatient for our turn, yet patient enough to cheer him on with each lusty swing.
This is one of those memories that pop into mind, not even looked for, when you hear that someone you know has died. Sure there are other memories, some just as good, others not as good, and still others that remind you how stupid you’ve been and still are.
Dan Bunten, or rather, Danielle Bunten Berry, has died. The marks left on our industry by this individual are startling. In this day when every major release is expected to offer some semblance of multi-player capability, we can look back at this body of work and see the fruit of a true visionary.
“Play with each other, not with yourself” was the motto of Ozark Softscape, Dan Bunten’s corporate identity. M.U.L.E., Modem Wars, Command HQ, Global Conquest, etc all centered on the social aspect of gaming that Dan believed was crucial. While the single player game dominated almost all development efforts of the time, Dan was looking for the shared experience. Faced with the solo-gaming prejudice of his time, Dan broke out the sledgehammer and applied it, and the shards of that thinking flew hither and yon. Can anyone think of a game, before M.U.L.E., in which players said “It’s fun, but it’s more fun when you play with other people?” Think of any modern day release, from Quake II to StarCraft, about which people have not said the same thing. Truly, Dan was “seeing farther.”
There are other memories of Dan.
It was not long after the sledgehammer party when Dan told the world that he would employ medical procedures to become Danielle, of the opposite gender. Dan, to those who knew him, was a man’s man, well over 6 feet tall, bearded, with a decidedly bass voice. Married repeatedly, father of children. To say it was a surprise is an understatement.
Yet Dan handled the situation with his usual skill and intuition. Every call, every email was handled personally. He snubbed no one; not even those who he suspected would not support his decision, and would probably never speak with him again. Not afraid, Dan lifted the sledgehammer once more and brought it down with a crash on his own personal and professional identity. The shattered fragments of that identity bounced hither and yon, and no one but Danielle could predict what would come after.
Things changed, and not just physically. Some true friends continued to support Dani. Others were cordial, but grinned and rolled their eyes when she wasn’t around. These people eventually distanced themselves from her, saying, “we’ve nothing in common.” After all, there was nothing recognizable about Dani after the sledgehammer had fallen.
With shame, I remember that I fall in the second category. Wasn’t that the same mind, the same spirit, which produced some of the classic games that we still enjoy today? Wasn’t this the same friend whose work helped change our industry for the better? Wasn’t this the one who reached out to us when she knew it was a tough thing for us to accept? Was it so hard, to honor another’s decision, even if we thought it was insane? Didn’t we, didn’t I, know better?
We make our games, we do our work, and we continue our lives. Maybe Dani’s bow to cancer can teach us something about ourselves, about how to react when people make decisions that we can’t understand. Eventually, gamers, the frag is final and there’s no respawn. We need to have fun with the other players while we can, despite whether they chose to be the Gollumer, the Flapper, or the Mechtron.
When we remember Danielle Bunten Berry, let’s remember the many positive things she taught us. And then, let’s remember the responses we had to her. Will the sledgehammer come down again? It needs to.