Whether you know the story or not, Bleem! is a very important part of video game history. From being subjected to numerous lawsuits to becoming one of the only commercial hardware emulators to actually exist, the 90s PlayStation emulator is notorious to say the least. It’s important to remember, however, that Bleem!’s insistence that emulation is a fair practice changed the industry as we know it, standing as a testament to our software usage rights.
If you’re not familiar with Bleem!, it first entered the gaming industry back in 1999. It offered a commercial way to play PlayStation games on different platforms, like your PC or even your Dreamcast.
Bleem! is perhaps best remembered for winning a lawsuit against Sony. The lawsuit meant that emulating software you already own on different hardware could be defined as fair use.
Unfortunately, Bleem!’s story didn’t get the happy ending you might expect. The company’s victory came with very large legal fees, something that consigned its success to martyrdom.
Despite this, it seems that Bleem! is about to make a return in both name and spirit – something that could change the way we play retro games as we know it. Coming back to life as a storefront for old games, could Bleem! be about to transform retro gaming?
So, you want to play some old games, eh?
The world of retro gaming can be split into two categories, both of which can cross over into each other. The first pertains to using original hardware and software, which can be achieved by getting your hands on an old console and some games (either through spending some cash or venturing into your dusty attic, it’s entirely up to you). Old pieces of tech come with two important caveats however, in that things can get both temperamental and expensive very quickly.
This is where the second category comes into play in the form of emulation. It’s a simple concept that essentially boils down to getting your existing hardware to roleplay as another piece of hardware so that you can play a game of your choosing (this sounds slightly dirtier than intended).
Fancy playing that weird Mega Drive game you used to love as a kid, but don’t have anything to stick the cart into? The magic of emulation can allow you to use your PC, phone or tablet to play the game. Sounds simple, right? Well, perhaps not. You might have noticed that your phone lacks that big cartridge slot proudly featured on the top of a standard Mega Drive. This means it’s up to you to somehow get that game into your phone, which is something that’s more difficult than ever before.
You see, despite Bleem! setting a precedent for what is considered fair use of software you already own, the whole practice is still something of a grey area. The law is pretty specific when it comes to what you can do with your physical games, which is a problem when it comes to acquiring ROMs to use in place of your cartridge. Unless you have hardware that can take what’s on your cartridge and plonk it on a device of your choosing, you’re going to be fresh out of luck.
Traditionally, fans of emulation would dip their toes in the murky waters of downloadable ROMs, which could be found on a number of handy websites. The demise of these sites came at the hands of none other than Nintendo. The company claims that using ROMs, whether you own the game or not, is a breach of copyright law. This makes sense since placing your ROMs on a website where anyone can download them, regardless of physical ownership, is classed as digital distribution.
Regardless of what Nintendo says, using the ROMs is legally defensible, which circles back to the message that Bleem!’s historic victory against Sony conveys. This is something that has been covered by the likes of howtogeek.com, with the publication drafting in a lawyer to discuss the subject. Sure, Nintendo could challenge all of this, but simply issuing a cease and desist to anyone distributing the ROMs in the first place somewhat cuts the head from the snake.
But what does this all Bleem!?
So, you might be wondering what the hell any of this has to do with Bleem! making its grand comeback. Well, it’s important to remember the part about emulation being a grey area, a somewhat dirty secret we can’t talk too much about in case the big boys like Nintendo catch on. Without Bleem!, even the existence of emulator software would be submerged in the murky waters of legality.
It’s worth noting that Bleem! is merely returning in name and concept alone, which is all its new owner, Piko Interactive, actually needs. After all, Piko has become one of the most dominant forces in the industry when it comes to both recreating retro media and emulating it. The best part of all of this is that Piko Interactive is a company that does everything by the book; it acquires, licences and produces games, all in the name of “commercial preservation”.
With this in mind, imagine what Piko’s plans to use Bleem! as the name of a retro gaming storefront (one that has emulation at its core) could mean for the industry. For one, it would reinforce the message that emulation is a legal and viable option when playing old games. It would also provide some sort of consistency when it comes to acquiring old games, mitigating any need for scouring the internet for ROMs or trying to somehow get your old game onto a new device.
That being said, this is going to matter more for those games that have been forgotten and left by the wayside by their owners. This is where Piko can step in and either acquire the licences or entice publishers to use the “Bleem! Wrapper”, which would allow for games to be playable on platforms like Steam. This would require presumably no real effort by the publisher.
While those games that launch on Steam or GOG are going to be constricted to PC-based hardware, Piko’s own Bleem! store opens a whole bunch of doors when it comes to how we play our games. Essentially, it sounds like the Bleem! storefront will function similarly to all those ROM sites that were legally culled, allowing for players to simply download a ROM, then play it on whatever they like.
This is pretty incredible when you think about it, as it means the site will cater to almost every type of retro gamer. Playing on your PC? Simply download and play. Using a cheap Chinese Game Boy knockoff? Just pop the ROM onto your SD card. Keeping things authentic with an original console and some sort of Everdrive or Flashcart? You know the score, I’ll go grab that second controller.
Will Bleem! be the ultimate solution?
Having a storefront with such versatility will be a first for the industry, with the whole thing previously feeling like a back alley DIY affair. Before you get too excited though, there are lots of things to consider when it comes to Piko’s reincarnation of Bleem!. The keyword in all of this is “potential”, with all the aforementioned points being more of a possibility than actuality. For any of this to work, Piko has to manage to build a storefront that can entice players to do things by the book.
After all, Piko Interactive isn’t doing this for free. You’re going to have to get your wallet out to get a hold of these games, this isn’t the seven seas of piracy we’re sailing here. Considering that Piko also already contributes to other methods of playing old games, such as cartridges for the emulation-based Evercade console, it’s going to have to accommodate players’ needs in a big way.
That’s the thing, though, it’ll be impossible to cater to everyone’s needs, especially since a lot of people will be wanting to play games starring little plumbers and fast hedgehogs. In a sense, Bleem! will be plugging all the gaps left in between the usual “retro collections” published by SEGA and Nintendo. This is what Piko Interactive is all about, but perhaps there’s a way that the company can keep everyone sweet.
The one thing that this Bleem!-powered solution doesn’t address is the use of old, physical games (i.e not disk-based) that we already own being playable in the same fashion. While this might be a big ask, it’s something that could be realised by developing interfaces, which could be connected to a PC. Devices like the Retrode 2 do already exist, which allow carts to be played using a PC emulator. In theory, Bleem! could accommodate this method too.
Ultimately, allowing players to use their physical games with Bleem! would make for a fairly complete solution. Having a robust “plug and play” solution for emulation, no matter how you play the games, is absolutely key. No configuring, no glitches, just perfectly packaged emulation solutions. Whether this will mean pairing downloads from the Bleem! store with the specific emulation properties they need, then providing a general emulator for everything else, remains to be seen.
Is Bleem! going to change retro gaming as we know it?
For many gamers, Bleem! isn’t going to change anything. They’ll still be gaming on their original consoles or buying things like the RetroN 5 and cute little classic editions, regardless of Piko’s success. If this venture is successful, however, we could see Bleem! become a predominant standard for playing old games, no matter what you choose to play on.
The mere fact that Piko intends to extend its emulation services beyond its own Bleem! storefront means that the possibilities are endless in terms of its reach. No matter how big or small, it’s definitely going to make some sort of splash in the industry, clearing up the grey waters of emulation, even if just a little.
Featured Image Credit: Bleem!