2013/10/14

The Story about "M.U.D.S."






Whenever I refer to that game I need to explain that I don't mean muds (as in Multi User Dungeons) but M.U.D.S. which stands for Mean Ugly Dirty Sports. Yeah we were creative with product names these days :)

As mentioned in previous posts we worked with a team called Golden Goblins. Due to restructurings we moved most of the team to our main offices in Düsseldorf including my favorite artist/creative Hartwig Niedergassel (see previous posts). He was the backbone of the design but note that all team members contributed a lot to the design on that project. Holger, Volker, Hartwig and me were the creative section so to say.

During these days a team was small, so having 2 programmers, one designer/artist and further 2 programmers for the conversion (Gisbert Sigmund for Atari ST, Jörg Prenzing for C64) was luxury and made this project one of the most expensive we did: 500.000 DM (about $250.000). Doesn't sound much but compared to the less than 100.000 we payed for Katakis ...

Anyway this project is another story of "if this went well I would be rich & famous" stories - this time a CEO of Lucas Film was the culprit. Uh oh. Yes, Lucas.

So we started the project. The idea was born as Grand Monster Slam had a large fan base and we wanted to expand on that setting - and we didn't have a sports game. So we came up with the genre mix of team manager & action sports part.
Remember: Games had a resolution of 320x200 these days 
The Campaign Map 
60fps scrolling on PC!
We envisioned one city where you buy your team players on the slave market from various races and you competed against other teams in that city or traveling teams.

The lead format was PC (unusual for those days in Germany) as it was targeted for an US audience. The 2 programmers made wonders happen on PC on the technology side: we were able to do a 60 fps scrolling on the sport action part - on EGA/VGA cards! Awesome during those days. 

When the game was presentable I traveled to the US to show it to partners if we can get a distribution or licensing deal done, the game was designed for an US audience after all. One company loved the game so much they wanted it exclusively - worldwide. The company was Lucas Film Games (now called Lucas Arts, sold to Disney). And let me tell you this: back during the days if Lucas Film wanted you you didn't say no. You simply went for it - all in.

So they assigned a producer to us called Noah Falstein. Yes, that Noah, great guy, creator of Sini Star, Koronos Rift, and the  Indiana Jones adventures! He made really good suggestions and added a campaign to the game: instead of one city we should feature multiple ones, each being a league with the last city being special - the end game, the finals so to say.



That made the product larger than intended and was the primary reason that the game cost 500k in the end. Time was great, working with Lucas was awesome, we even visited the Skywalker Ranch, had a preview of the latest Indiana Jones movie in George Lucas private THX cinema - on the farm. Even saw original light sabers and met Stephen Spielberg. We all were Star Wars fans, so working for the creator took us to new motivation levels we never experienced before.

More screenshots of MUDS: http://hol.abime.net/2528/screenshot

Skywalker Ranch building where the Games department was

All looked well that we, our little German team, were creating the next big hit from Lucas Film Games, worldwide! We would be famous! We could do more games for Lucas! Awesome!
But again fate had a different idea how to proceed in that story.

Lucas Film decided to make their games department a profit center (until then it was not profitable) and changed their name later to Lucas Arts. For that restructuring the CEO at that time cancelled all external projects to save costs - including ours. 

Oh well, shit happens, but we knew that form my prior sales pitch travel to the US we can find another - IF that CEO wasn't keen on saving his image. He was sure MUDS would be a smash hit but was forced to cancel the contract to to economic reasons - so he tried to make sure that no one got the project! He used his connections to tell everyone in the US publishing scene that the title was shit, the team was impossible to work with and the title would never be finished anyway due to technical challenges. I mean, who would touch a title anyway which Lucas Arts cancelled for those reasons?

Yes, he did that. Covered his ass. Made it impossible for us, a German small publisher to sell the title to a major US publisher - by simply spreading lies.

So we only found a minor one (we had Europe covered ourselves). When MUDS shipped on 2 Floppy Disks (1.2 MB total!) in 1990 it sold pretty well, over 86.000 just in Germany. Despite the large budget we proved everyone wrong who claimed MUDS would be a disaster: it was profitable and one of the very profitable games the publisher did - for a long time as it created a huge following and created a wonderful long shelf-life.

MUDS is one of those titles where I still get fan mail today. If you can configure a 32bit DOS Box it still runs today perfectly and the whole game is only a 1.2MB email attachment.

Side Stories: 
We put the whole team and our boss Marc Ullrich as the slave trader into the games slave market where you purchased your team players. Our boss was not amused as this screenshot with his face was very popular in magazines. Btw Teut wasnt that bad of a player in MUDS:

When Lucas switched development leads one of them became a godo friend of mine, Tony Garcia. We still are in contact these days and he had a great career spanning founding Microsoft Games, working at EA and now is Vice President at Unity3d USA.

When we visited SkyWalker Ranch it was forbidden to take any photos  Secretly we took some and were proud to have them with us. But the camera with the film was stolen from our rental car 2 days later :( So no photos exist of our visit :( 

The ceo who told lies about the project had to leave Lucas some time later and vanished into the depth of the industry. I don't even remember his name, but he had a talent selling things.

Thank you Heiko Klinge for remind me: M.U.D.S had digital sound output through the standard speaker. At that times the speaker could do just "beep". MUDS was one of the rare games doing digitized stuff using speaker only as AdLib cards were expensive these days and Sound Blaster not even released.


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