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Fans of M.U.L.E.-type games are in luck. After 20 years a remake has been made, Space HoRSE is the game and a man named Todd Gillissie is behind it. So we thank him for going into depth on the development and generally what the game is about. The game is now shipping trough Shrapnel Games.

Please introduce yourself and tell us what your role is in the development of Space Horse.

I am Todd Gillissie. I was the programmer, graphic artist, animator and sound designer for Space HoRSE.

It’s tough to avoid mentioning “M.U.L.E.” when we talk about Space Horse; will “H.O.R.S.E.”s have as much success as those mules?

I feel that the HoRSE (Holistic Robotic Slave Engineer) is equal or better in quality and efficiency of the original M.U.L.E. design. However, since M.U.L.E.’s haven’t been available on a PC in almost 20 years, HoRSE’s don’t compete with M.U.L.E.’s. They merely fill the gap that was created when M.U.L.E. manufacturing stopped.

How did you come with the idea of a new M.U.L.E., many clones arose in the past, though no one really succeeded

I, myself, wanted to utilize the handy power of the M.U.L.E., but no longer had one of the original PC’s to play it with. I soon realized that I wasn’t alone with this desire when I found several “M.U.L.E. clone” projects in the works. However, none of them were close to being finished, even after several years of development. Also, I wasn’t particularly impressed with the graphics on these clones. I began Space HoRSE as a “small project”, not realizing that it would take over 1 ½ years of spare-time development, graphics and sound creation. After seeing the number of unfinished clones, I was determined that Space HoRSE would not be another statistic in the “imcomplete M.U.L.E. clones” category.

I guess the best new feature is multiplayer, everyone would have loved to play the original M.U.L.E. With a network of commodore 64s or Atari 800s, which sort of multiplayer will be supported (LAN /Internet) and would network latency bring troubles into those live moments like the auctions?

I would like to point out that M.U.L.E. was a multiplayer game. Most people these days don’t remember when multiple people crowded around a single PC and played a game together. It was like a board game on the computer. With Space HoRSE, I wanted to retain this group camaraderie by still allowing multiplayer on a single PC. What we found out was that a lot of old-school M.U.L.E. players wanted to be able to play with old friends, but now lived far away from each other. This is why network play was added late in the development. LAN and internet play are available and identical, since it uses TCP/IP for networking. Latency may pose minor problems for players with high ping rates to the host, but a minor change in the market rules has helped even the playing field for those players. When more than one players are tied for a bid, the player ranked lowest in score will get the priority of trading, even if somebody else got there first (possibly due to latency).

Which are the most interesting novelties comparing the game to its 80s predecessor? The game had about ten random events, you will have 45; M.U.L.E. had 8 species, you will have downloadable species. Will it be just a bigger M.U.L.E. or will you introduce completely new features?

There are a few new features that I felt enhance the game. During development, however, some testers expressed that they prefer the “old way” with how the markets/auctions work, so one of the new rules is optional. One cool new feature in Space HoRSE is the ability to eat your extra food in the pub. For example, if you’ve stockpiled 10 extra food after the previous market phase, you can go to the pub during your turn and eat some of the extra food to instantly give yourself some extra turn time. Also while in the pub, you can make trades with any of the other players. You can trade anything, even land! You can make loans to players if you’re nice enough, or buy some extra food from another player to give yourself some extra time to place that last HoRSE. The possibilities are limited only by the players.

Will H.O.R.S.E. have still 3 (4 with crystite) genres of goods or you have you come up with some original ideas in this area?

There are 4 comparable resources…food, power, titanium (to make HoRSE’s), and zirconium (to sell for cash).

What about the music, will you keep singing it inside yourself for 20 years like I’m doing with M.U.L.E.’s jingle?

Only time will tell, I guess. I used similar elements that M.U.L.E.’s theme used, but I’m sure everybody will decide individually whether it is as good as the M.U.L.E. theme. In addition to the theme song, there are 4 additional pieces of music in various parts of the game that are more electronic/experimental sounding. These were created by Data-Regeneration Project (www.data-regeneration.com).

Did you arrange a good plot to justify the trading action behind H.O.R.S.E?

The trading option in the Pub is actually a highly improved interface for a concept that existed in M.U.L.E. called “Collusion”, in which two players could trade independently of other players. The main difference is that the pub is available during the development phase instead of the market phase.

How wide is the gaming area? Will it be square based like in M.U.L.E.?

Yes. The map is divided into 9 squares across by 4 squares down, with the store in the center square and a river running right through the middle of the map. Mountains and zirconium deposits are randomly placed with each new game.

Did you find some original ideas for land collection at beginning of each turn (is it still turn based?) or did you stay with the original?

The land claim phase is turn based, beginning with the lowest scoring player. You have the freedom to click on any unclaimed plot. I felt like the original way that M.U.L.E. handled the land claim phase was due to input limitations at the time. In 1982, using a pointer on screen to select things was not a popular concept, so it was like playing Wheel of Fortune. Now, with the ability to choose a specific plot, you can more strategically plan your colony.

Were there any big hurdles or problems during development? Did anything funny happen?

Network play was the biggest hurdle. At the same time, it allowed me to interact with testers and create a more personal relationship with these die-hard fans. Internet testing was a lot of fun, and really made me realize what a positive impact network play has on this game. The funniest part of developing Space HoRSE was also during internet testing before I implemented punctuation in the chat window. Nobody could tell if somebody was being funny, sarcastic, serious, etc. I never realized how important emoticons are until then. :)

Any final thoughts or comments? Anything you would like to add?

I wasn’t sure whether Space HoRSE would be criticized as a rip-off or dis-honor to one of the greatest games in PC history, or whether M.U.L.E. fans would appreciate it for what it is. I’ve been very lucky to receive lots of good comments from old-school M.U.L.E. fans. A lot of people have thanked me for finally doing what should have been done a long time ago. Others have expressed appreciation for sticking to the core gameplay that made M.U.L.E. great. I’m glad people realize that I created Space HoRSE for the fans because we want to play it right now. Period.


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