Designers Every Designer Should Know #1 – Dani Berry
I’m not alone in my respect for her as a designer. Will Wright dedicated The Sims to her, Greg Costikyan wrote an amazing tribute to her, and I was even fortunate enough to talk with her before the Computer Game Developers Conference (as it was called back then) in 1996, two years before she passed away.
I mention her in my Design Portfolio article, but to truly appreciate everything that Dani did requires a bit of study and a whole lot of play. Consider, for instance, that she made her first multiplayer game in 1978 when Rob Pardo, the brilliant lead on World of Warcraft, was probably entering the 3rd grade.
In presenting her lifetime achievement award, Brian Moriarty summed it up perfectly: “Historians of electronic gaming will find in these eleven boxes the prototypes of the defining art form of the 21st century.” He’s not embellishing the truth at all.
On the old Apple II, where many saw limitations or business applications, she saw infinite possibility.
Her list of early achievements is impressive:
- Wheeler Dealers (1978) – 4-player multiplayer game for the personal computer that shipped with its own hardware.
- Computer Quarterback (1979) – the systems simulation for this game was the basis for her master’s thesis. MUD was also a master’s thesis project, fwiw.
- Seven Cities of Gold (1984) – randomly generated world, something I often hear attributed to action RPGs which would be released 10 years later. Seven Cities also led to the coining of the term ‘edu-tainment’, though that may not be its greatest moment.
- Heart of Africa (1985) – Introduced a player journal, dynamic difficulty adjustment (the game would move stuff around if you were having difficulty) and also affected the interface depending on how the player was doing.
- Modem Wars (1988) – Introduced a replay where you could see the action that had just happened.
These innovations are, in fact, secondary to the systems Dani was able to create. They were simple and elegant, and she was always striving to make them ever simpler. As designers, we tend toward complexity. It’s just what we do. Simplicity in design is about trusting the player, and that’s something we (or at least I) have to work at.
And then there is M.U.L.E, released in 1983. It is in a class by itself and required play for anyone who wants to become a game designer. Seriously. In fact, my recent focus on gameplay has something to do with the reactions I have seen from people when I suggest they play games like this. “The graphics suck.” So do the graphics of the games Go and Chess as well as the books East of Eden and To Kill a Mockingbird, but that doesn’t stop us of from falling head over heels into those worlds.
We must learn to view games with perspective – to see them within the world in which they were created. M.U.L.E. was magic in its day, and it is still magic now. In staying away from M.U.L.E. or other games like it because their graphics fail to live up to today’s standards, we do ourselves a great disservice.
If you’re in the industry or just hoping to get in, spend some time learning about Dani. You can start here.