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May
26

Playing nicely together – The Open Source Column

by Simon Brew

Bombermine shows just what’s possible when everyone plays together nicely, argues Simon…

It was in the very early 1980s that a fledgling company by the name of Hudson Soft came up with a title by the wonderful name of Eric And The Floaters. The core concept was that you ran around a maze, planting bombs. Said bombs could blow away the walls, blow away your opponents, or blow away one of your lives. It was a wonderful idea, wonderfully executed. Hudson Soft went on to expand upon it, with the likes of five-player Dyna Blaster on the Commodore Amiga, Atomic Bomberman on the PC, and numerous other versions of the game for lots of different formats. The key factor though is that Hudson Soft caught what made the game special with its first attempt. Everything else has been some form of derivative.

Which made me surprised to see a massively multiplayer online version of Bomberman spring up online. At first glance, it doesn’t seem official. But the graphics pay more than a tip of the hat to Bomberman of old, while it’s now acknowledged on the requisite website that the Bomberman name is a trademark of Konami.

However, the game lives on. As such, Bombermine – which you can find at bombermine.com – has been attracting up to 1,000 people at a time on the same map. The game is so compact that it’s playable via your web browser, and I can’t be the only person who’s lost many hours to something so well thought through, that stands on the shoulders of proverbial giants, and builds to something unthinkable a decade ago.

My overriding thought, however, is this: well played Konami. Assuming that Konami is the rights holder for this now, it could have pulled the project down within hours, sent off lawyer’s letters, or billed the creators of Bombermine a hefty sum. It seemingly didn’t. Instead, it got the spirit of what they were trying to do right and, at worst, has turned a blind eye.

Back when emulators for older computers appeared on the PC in great quantities just over a decade or go, this was the prevailing attitude. The majority of people, knowing that nobody was getting rich off their work, were happy for old games to be effectively released into the public domain. If anything, lots of programmers were delighted that their earlier efforts were being rediscovered. In any form of human development, it is this kind of ethos that has accelerated progress. In cinema, it’s often said that Pixar came in and revolutionised animation, but it didn’t. It advanced it, it stood on the shoulders of those who came before, and it made intelligent advances. Now, others are doing the same to Pixar. The grey area would be if something like Bombermine started to charge to play, which is when Konami’s spider senses would presumably start tingling. But then this whole unwritten agreement is a two-sided one. It relies on firms playing nice, and the people behind whatever project in question doing the same. But as Bombermine has shown, that’s entirely possible. In fact, the emulation scene is testament to what can happen if everyone adopts such an ethos.

It’s refreshing in a time of software as big business to report on a project of Bombermine’s ilk. Hopefully, lots more big companies can follow the lead set here. I’d recommend blocking the game from their organisation’s servers, though…

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