Why Bomberman?

In my last post I mentioned our next project being similar to the time-honored Bomberman. Naturally, a few questions arise. Why re-imagine this classic, as opposed to others? What will be different this time around? Which pain points from the original games can be solved?

Before we get into all this, it makes sense to explain the actual genesis of the idea. One weekend during the winter holiday break, Terry and I were thinking of couch multiplayer games to try. While we’d sunk plenty of hours over the past few years into contemporary favorites like Overcooked and Ultimate Chicken Horse, we wondered why there didn’t seem to be a popular, modern┬áversion of Bomberman.

The Incumbents

A quick Steam search revealed a handful of off-shoots and interpretations, some of which had very interesting twists and tweaks to the core gameplay. Seeing these inspired me to think of my own, but more importantly, I was surprised that there wasn’t an official first-party port on the PC. The last one I remember playing on Windows was Atomic Bomberman in fifth grade.

Of course, I quickly learned about Super Bomberman R for the Switch, and a major update during the fall that added a bunch of improvements and new content. The visuals looked great, the UI was clean, but I couldn’t help but notice from some gameplay videos that the battles seemed kind of bland. Winning or losing seemed to boil down to getting stunned by a bomb punched into your face from several columns over and then getting swarmed by two or three other players.

Room for Improvement

Luck vs. Skill

Certainly there was a better way. The competitive part of my mind immediately started racing. One of the main gripes I’d always had about Bomberman was the variance and luck involved with the item system (ugh, RNG). Sometimes, a battle would come down to a duel, with one player quickly closing it out simply due to a lucky streak of receiving way more Skate and Bomb items earlier in the round. What could you possibly do to escape? Your character literally moves too slowly to run away, and soon you’d be surrounded by bombs.

So perhaps the item system could get a revamp. Possible options would fall on a spectrum, ranging from completely eliminating luck (think competitive StarCraft maps, with the spawn points, resources, and choke points intimately known well ahead of time) to moderately reducing luck while retaining some uncertainty (think Tetris’ 7-bag randomizer, where you don’t know what you’ll get next, but you do know that you’ll never get 3 Z pieces in a row).

Map Tactics

This led me directly to level design. Most Bomberman levels seem rather uninspired to me. One of the PS3/PSN versions features a variety of level-specific mechanics like teleporters and holes in the ground, but for the most part they come off as half-baked. There’s potential that isn’t tapped. I’d like to execute better.

Picture an asymmetric Bomberman map with a few choke points and static items. There are a few valuable Skates tucked away in a corner, but going to get them forces you into a narrow corridor. But to get to this corner in a timely manner, you’ll need to be able to drop many bombs at once. And where might these Bomb items be? Clustered in the center, ripe for the taking. So do you opt to race to the Skates in the early round? Or grind your way into the Bomb items to trap the Skate-chasers on their way back out?

Character Study

What about having different bombers, each with their own play style differences? I thought about changing “stats” for everyone, but really there are only three main stats: move speed, bomb limit, and flame length. These are primarily modified through items, anyway, so we’d need some other way to change things up. What about having a basic ability on cooldown? Or passive traits?

Some players might be more defensive, so they might have the option of temporarily shielding up to avoid damage. To balance this out, they’d move slower than everyone else. The metaphor of a turtle fits very conveniently. Maybe all the characters can be cute animals!

… and More!

I’ve droned on for far too long now, but I’m teeming with ways to mix things up and boost both the competitive skill ceiling and fun factor of Bomberman. Different game modes, a carefully designed campaign, a puzzle/challenge mode… the list goes on. Without giving everything away here, all I can say for now is that I’m very excited to finish a playable demo showcasing a few of these mechanics. Let us know if you’re interested in testing it out with your friends!

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