Danielle Bunten Berry (February 19, 1949 - July 3, 1998), a.k.a. Dani Bunten (born Daniel Bunten), was an American game designer and programmer, known for the 1983 game M.U.L.E. (one of the first successful multiplayer games), and 1984's The Seven Cities of Gold. Bunten was a transsexual woman, having undergone sex reassignment surgery in November 1992.
A native of Little Rock, Arkansas, Bunten acquired a degree in industrial engineering in 1974 and started programming text-based computer games as a hobby. In 1978, he sold a real-time auction game for the Apple II titled Wheeler Dealers to a Canadian software company. This early multiplayer game required a custom controller, raising its price to $35 in an era of $15 games sold in plastic bags. It only sold 50 copies.
After three titles for SSI, Bunten, who by then had founded his own software company called Ozark Softscape, caught the attention of Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins. M.U.L.E. was Bunten's first game for EA, originally published for the Atari 8-bit family because the Atari 800 had four controller ports. When the Atari 800 went out of production, Bunten ported it to the Commodore 64. While its sales—30,000 units—were not high by today's standards, the game developed a cult following and was widely pirated. The title was inspired by Time Enough for Love, by Robert Heinlein.
Bunten wanted to follow up M.U.L.E. with a game that would have been similar to the later game Civilization, but after his Ozark Softscape partners balked at the idea, he followed with The Seven Cities of Gold, which proved popular in spite of (or possibly because of) its simplicity. By the time the continent data were stored in memory, there was little memory left in 64K for fancy graphics or complex gameplay. The game only had five resources. It was a hit, selling more than 150,000 copies.
The follow-up game, Heart of Africa, appeared in 1985 and was followed by Robot Rascals, a combination computer/card game that sold only 9,000 copies, and 1988's Modem Wars, the first game played by two players over a dialup modem. Sales were poor because modems were not yet commonplace.
Bunten departed EA for Microprose, where he reportedly had a choice between doing a computer version of Civilization or a version of Axis and Allies. Bunten claimed Sid Meier talked him into doing Axis and Allies (which became 1990's Command HQ, a modem/network World War II game), while Meier did Civilization, which went on to become one of the best-selling computer games of all time. Bunten's second and last game for Microprose was 1992's Global Conquest, a 4-player network/modem war game. It was the first 4-player network game from a major publisher.
After his second marriage failed, Bunten transitioned to living as a woman, and later underwent sex reassignment surgery and kept a lower profile. A port of M.U.L.E. to the Sega Genesis was cancelled after Bunten, now known as Danielle, refused to put guns and bombs in the game. She felt it would alter the game too much from its original concept. Though M.U.L.E. has been hailed by the likes of Sid Meier and Will Wright as the greatest computer game ever designed, it has never been remade.
Bunten shifted focus to multiplayer games over the Internet. Bunten, a chain smoker since a teen, was diagnosed with lung cancer and died in 1998. She was working on an Internet version of M.U.L.E. when she died.
Although many of Bunten's titles were not commercially successful, they were widely recognized by the industry as being ahead of their time. On May 7, 1998, less than two months before her death, Berry was awarded the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Computer Game Developers Association.
- "No one ever said on their deathbed, 'Gee, I wish I had spent more time alone with my computer.' "
- MobyGames' Rap Sheet on Bunten (http://www.mobygames.com/developer/sheet/view/developerId,8515/)
- The tragic genius of M.U.L.E. (Salon magazine) (http://www.salon.com/tech/feature/2003/03/18/bunten/)
- A tribute to Berry by Greg Costikyan (http://www.drbecky.com/daniberry.html)
- Gamasutra's tribute to Berry (http://www.gamasutra.com/features/designers_notebook/19980717.htm)
- A list of Berry's games (http://eager.back2roots.org/PROG/B/BERRYD.HTML)
- Dani Bunten Berry Memorial Site (http://www.anticlockwise.com/dani/)