The Birth of Bomberman: From Bakudan Otoko to Bomberman
Bomberman is a very memorable game for me in many ways. The original version was made for personal computers; when many of you reading were very young, computers were also in their infancy yet still being used as gaming machines. The games were so primitive they couldn't be compared to modern releases, but it was still a profitable endeavour for many companies, Hudson among them. What they used to create them was BASIC, a programming language that could be learnt by anyone.
The BASIC language was easy to use but extremely slow; it was not adept at fast-paced action games. To get around this, Hudson created a tool called the BASIC Compiler; when running the same code through the compiler, its speed was improved a hundred-fold. After a lot of hard work, the BASIC Compiler was put to use with a sample program written to test its functionality. That game was Bakudan Otoko.
This was the original incarnation of Bomberman, and is exactly the same as Bomberman today: you set bombs and defeat enemies with their blast radius. This is also where the balloon-shaped enemies made their debut. However, at the time there was no concept of power-up panels, so the flames are always the same length; this means no remote control either, and only one enemy type. The player character was an old man who wasn't cute at all, and the sound was little more than primitive beeps, so the game didn't make much of a splash after its release. However, the Famicom era was only just beginning.
The smash-hit inspirations behind Bomberman!
Around this time Hudson entered the Famicom market with Lode Runner and Star Force, and were looking for their next idea. We pulled out some old computer games for inspiration, and among the ones we unearthed(?) was Bakudan Otoko. It was a game with a simple yet compelling formula, but it wasn't rich enough for the Famicom market, not without an extra twist.
That's when I decided to adopt the idea of power-up panels, which had come into fashion through the popular space shooter games of the time. In other words, you could amass more and more firepower throughout the game by collecting more items. You could say this is when Bakudan Otoko began to transform into Bomberman.
The more firepower you acquired, the more prepared you were to defeat your enemies, but at the same time, you ran a greater risk of blowing yourself up. On top of that, some of the rarer power-ups like the Remote Control and Wall Pass would expire once you died, making death all the more frustrating. Through this the basic framework of Bomberman was decided, but now the question was what kind of characters it should have.
After all, the star of Bakudan Otoko was "some old man in a hat". We needed a character would be accepted by the Famicom userbase. That's where the robot from Lode Runner came in. (The truth is, my reasoning was... if it's a robot, it doesn't feel too bad to see it blown apart, but if it had been a cute princess, you'd hate to see it happen...)
In the end, the robot's fate was a punchline(?) as it transformed into the human from Lode Runner; I had no consideration the character would last this long. Enemy characters are usually designed to be hated, but I took a chance in making them cute instead; players would be surprised that these are who they're meant to defeat. It turned out to be a great success, and the Bomberman series has continued with this tradition.
This was the first game we used sampled sound effects, which are now commonplace. I got a collection of explosion recordings, compared them all, and chose the most satisfying to sample in the game. Many new Bomberman games have been released since then, but when it comes to explosions, the sound of the Famicom original remains my favourite.
I also implemented passwords, which were first introduced in Lode Runner. This unexpectedly created a mode play called "password play"; because my error checking for faulty passwords was incomplete, you could still play the game with them. I only designed 50 stages, but thanks to this, players found new passwords for what they dubbed "Phantom Stage 0" or the "254 Shadow Stages".
Since then, there was talk among the higher-ups that I had the power to raise the dead; Bakudan Otoko was reborn as Bomberman on Famicom, and after a while there was talk of porting it to the PC Engine as well.
Bomberman's evolution through competitive play
We were truly lucky that the PC Engine had the multi-tap. If it hadn't been for its multi-player functionality, the PC Engine version of Bomberman could easily have been forgotten as just another port.
In my opinion, the Famicom version of Bomberman was the end of an era. When it was ported to hardware that supported 5-players, the legacy of Bakudan Otoko had ended, and a whole new legacy lies in store for it.
The power-ups, characters and sounds of the first Bomberman are fond memories to me now, compared to the "new hotness" of the battle game. I think the multiplayer genre is so profound and revolutionary.
And now, on the Super Famicom, a new Bomberman is born. We hope you enjoy this multiplayer world as much as we do.