Dani Bunten named to AIAS Hall of Fame

[UPDATE] Widely admired game designer to be inducted at upcoming D.I.C.E. ceremony; Sid Meier to accept award for game creator who passed away in 1998. Trip Hawkins, Will Wright comment on the news.

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For many in the game industry, there will never be another Dani Bunten. The many online tributes to the game designer speak to an individual with both a broad and gifted design sense, as well as someone with a deep vein of human goodness.

For others, the name Dani Bunten will be met only with curiosity.

Both camps will be indulged next month when the game designer, who passed away at the age of 49 in 1998, is inducted in the Academy of Interactive Arts and Sciences (AIAS) Hall of Fame. She joins previous inductees Richard Garriott, Trip Hawkins, Peter Molyneux, Yu Suzuki, Will Wright, John Carmack, Hironobu Sakaguchi, Sid Meier, and Shigeru Miyamoto.

The induction will take place during the AIAS Achievement Awards, to be held during the D.I.C.E. Summit on February 8, 2007, according to Joseph Olin, AIAS president.

Design great Sid Meier will accept the award on Bunten's behalf.

Upon hearing the news, Electronic Arts founder Trip Hawkins told GameSpot, "Dani Bunten was one of the titans of design, and was a great combination of passion, design ability, technical skills, social conscience, and team spirit."

Bunten's game creations include Cartels and Cutthroats, Modem Wars, Command HQ, Global Conquest, Seven Cities of Gold, and Heart of Africa, but no game has stood for more kudos than M.U.L.E., a strategy title first published by Electronic Arts for the Atari 800.

Hawkins continued, saying that "Dani was one of the first artists I sought out when I founded Electronic Arts and together we planned and conceived M.U.L.E. as a new kind of business simulation game. I wanted something less serious, more conceptual, easier to play, and with more action than a traditional business sim, and Dani's skills are evident in all the clever nuances that have made M.U.L.E. one of the most famous games of all-time, especially among the cult of game designers."

She lived her professional live in Little Rock, Arkansas, naming her design studio Ozark Softscape, and worked in relative isolation with colleagues Bill Bunten (her brother), Alan Watson, and Jim Rushing. Dani distinguished herself in her private life by committing to a sex change operation in the early '90s, dropping the moniker Dan for Dani.

Bunten's career is well documented on the Web, with tributes, bios, and mentions of her death written by numerous admirers. Veteran game designer Greg Costikyan, now with his own game studio, Manifesto Games, wrote this about Bunten when she passed away:

"Dani Bunten Berry was a giant. I don't mean that she stood six-foot-two, although she did. I mean that she was one of the great artists of our age, one of the creators of the form that will dominate the 21st century, as film has dominated the 20th and the novel the 19th: the art of game design. I mean that she displayed a complete mastery of her craft, always pushing the edges of the possible, always producing highly polished work of gemlike consistency and internal integrity. I mean that in her writings and her speeches (many available at her professional Web site), she demonstrated enormous thoughtfulness about her chosen field, a level of intellectual analysis matched by a mere handful of contemporaries."

Those who knew her migrate freely between the male and female presence of Dan and Dani Bunten--something Bunten herself referred to simply as "a pronoun change."

In the case of M.U.L.E., Hawkins said, "Dani's heart was in the right place and we both wanted games to be a social medium that had relevance and increased your intelligence. I insisted that the game realistically model and support a variety of key economic principles and Dani was quite ingenious in how this was implemented, in the process inventing some user-interface mechanics that are still copied today."

Bunten's approach, Hawkins said, "was the antithesis of the 'mindless shoot 'em up.' It is ironic that a single-player game, The Seven Cities of Gold, was Dani's biggest commercial hit because for the most part Dani and I were pioneers of multi-player gaming in various forms. Seven Cities was the first effective presentation of a legitimate historical simulation in a video game, and is another one of my all-time favorites."

"I don't know that he has admitted it publicly, but Sid Meier's break-out hit, Pirates, was obviously inspired by The Seven Cities of Gold. Who could forget the gameplay mechanic that allowed you to, 'Amaze the Natives?' "

In the accompanying audio clips, Will Wright, who dedicated his game The Sims to Bunten, talks about the Bunten legacy, and AIAS president Joseph Olin alerts GameSpot first to the news of the Bunten nod, and speaks additionally about the upcoming D.I.C.E. event at large.

Hawkins concluded, saying that among game development cognoscenti, "Dani was a great leader and source of inspiration that we will never forget. Dani's selection for the Hall says something very positive and very important about how influential Dani was as a thinker and designer and how that leadership inspired so many others."

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