Picture of Ewen Hosie

Ewen Hosie


FeatureThe history of bleem!

How a small tech startup won the battle but lost the war for software rights.

As retro game prices continue to rise and old games become lost to time, emulation is an increasingly popular option for players looking to sample the classics. And yet, while their use is legal if a little murky, emulators are generally frowned upon by video game publishers, and remain the preserve of hobbyists. But what if you could go into your local game store and purchase an emulator commercially that allowed you to play games from rival formats on your PC or console? In the late 1990s, that actually happened, when a west coast tech startup named bleem! tried to take on a gaming giant.

Pride of place in Jason's game room is a stacked shelf of big-box PC games. In the days before Steam homogenised the purchasing process, packaging was an appealing element in buying new PC games, which often released with foldout maps, hefty manuals and lavish boxes. Jason has always been a fan, and they are among his favourite games to collect.

Somewhere in an alternate universe, Wonder Boy 3: The Dragon's Trap is mentioned in the same breath as Mega Man 2 and The Legend of Zelda as one of the great classics of the 8-bit console era. In our reality, however, it settles for more of a cult status. Originally released in 1989 for the Sega Master System by Japanese developer Westone, The Dragon's Trap was the second entry in the action-adventure series Monster World, itself a spin-off of the action game Wonder Boy, first released in arcades in 1986.