Subtrade

Written by World of M.U.L.E. Guest Author: Karawane

To discuss this game inspired by M.U.L.E., please use this topic in the WoM forum.

Introduction

Subtrade is a rather faithful clone of M.U.L.E. for 16-bit home-computers. It was published in Europe by Boeder Software for the Commodore Amiga in 1993 and for MS-DOS in 1994. It has never been officially released overseas. Though, the DOS version was available at certain stores in the U.S. as a direct import.

The game makes thorough use of the advanced graphical and sound capabilities of the Amiga and DOS system while still retaining much of M.U.L.E.‘s original look and feel. In this manner, Subtrade is different to the other contemporary clone Traders, as it more closely captures the spirit of the original.

Insights from the development team

There is not much known to me about the development. It is said that the developers were late to acquire the license for the original M.U.L.E., so they had to release Subtrade as an unlicensed clone. Rumor has it that the American launch was withheld due to anticipated legal issues as Subtrade is too similar to M.U.L.E. Besides, there might have been a problem with the Amiga version for it fully utilises PAL resolution which could not be displayed on older NTSC Amigas.

How to play this game today

The game has no longer been sold for a very long time. The original boxes can sporadically be found on eBay. Binary images are avilable as abandonware on the internet. If you buy an original box, make sure you can still use the media (e.g. 3.5“ disks or CD-ROM). There is an Amiga and an MS-DOS version available. Either one can be played through emulators on modern computers.

For the Amiga version, you best use the Ubiquitous Amiga Emulator (UAE) in original Amiga 500 mode with 512k RAM. You can connect 4 gamepads/joysticks simultaneously to the system, providing all 4 human players with their own game controller. This is actually the nicest way to play the game when everybody sits on a sofa in front of a TV. It is also possible to play this version via the internet by using the Kaillera client.

For the MS-DOS version, you most easily use DOSBox. The DOS version has a slightly smoother colour palette making it a tiny bit nicer to look at. It also has a very subtle addition in gameplay by featuring a second fish (Subtrade‘s equivalent to the mountain wampus) which cost you a fine if you capture it instead of the correct fish (called Wanda in the game). Unlike the Amiga version, you can only connect 2 gamespads/joysticks simulaneously. So, the third and the fourth player have to use the keyboard, just like in M.U.L.E. on the C64.

Gameplay & gameplay comparison with Atari/Commodore M.U.L.E.

Subtrade is quite similar to the original M.U.L.E. So, I will only briefly outline the general gameplay and focus on the differences. Like M.U.L.E. it is about four colonists trying to build an economy on the planet IRATA. A game consists of twelve turns. Each turn consists of four phases: a land grant (and possibly land auctions), a development turn, a production phase and trading of the goods. Some goods are needed to run your production, others are predominantly used for making money. While the development phase is played individually, all other phases are played simultaneously by the players. The richest player at the end of the twelfth turn is the winner.

The first notable difference to M.U.L.E. is the background story given at the beginning of the game. It is about four space travellers involuntarily crashing on IRATA and having to build an economy to survive. IRATA‘s look has also changed in comparison to M.U.L.E., it is now completely covered with water and the predominant colour is blue. So, the palyers end up having to build an underwater economy. Both changes are completely marginal to the gameplay.

Due to the underwater setting, the items have partially changed their names: Food is now Fish and Crystite becomes Pearls. Ore and Energy keep their names. The labour elements (M.U.L.E.s) are now mechanical turtles, but they operate exactly the same. Instead of the mountain wampus you have a fish called Wanda to catch for extra money.

The most significant change in gameplay is a fifth choice of how to outfit the labour element. You can directly produce Turtles on coral reefs for yourself. This is a very interesting twist as it provides the colonists with the option to hold back ore while still being able to crop their claims with new labour elements. These private turtles can also be sold for a good price to the store.

There is a little change in the production and price mechanisms. Fish and energy are needed in higher quantities making them generally more valuable and a more viable choice for making money. However, prices are more volatile and more susceptible to player‘s action, thus harder to predict. For instance, the store’s energy price moves up swiftly if the demand is high. M.U.L.E. classicists may need to reconsider their strategies here.

Other changes are the content of messages and events. They have been adapted to the underwater context. Still, they widely do the same as in M.U.L.E., adding bonuses or maluses to the production or your supplies.

A rather little relevant difference comes with the game options. For each player, it is possible to choose extra money or more trade items for the first turn. Usually, this bonus is completely worn off after a few turns.

Despite these differences it is very easy to get a grip on the game for anybody knowing M.U.L.E.

Reception

Subtrade was fairly well received by the German press but did not perform too well at sales. Interest in Amiga games was already waning in 1993, and I suppose the DOS version came too late for a typical retrogame to perform.

Trivia

The fish to be caught in Subtrade (instead of the mountain wampus) is called Wanda in reminiscence of the movie of the same name. Only in the MS-DOS version, there is a second, slightly darker fish called the “wrong fish” that cost you a fine if you catch it instead of Wanda.

Downloads, Galleries and Hyperlinks

Downloads:

Box art gallery:

Screenshot gallery:

Hyperlinks: