Ode to Jump ’n Bump

1998, with the pending chaos of Y2K looming, it seemed like the world unleashed a flurry of creative energy. Furbies, Tamagotchi, the Disney Renaissance and the beginning of New Zealand‘s prestigious “Planet 8” fashion. Amongst these mighty outputs a little DOS-based video game was released for free!

Screenshot of the Jump ’n Bump video game. Shows a colourful pixellated game level with a blue sky background and floating islands of brown dirt topped with vivid green grass. Two bunnies stand on separate islands while one is an mid-air jump

I’m unsure how my family first got a copy of Jump ’n Bump, likely on a shared floppy disk from friends. In years that followed many hours were spent crowded around the keyboard of our Intel Pentium II powered computer. We sat shoulder-to-shoulder, furiously bashing the beige keys, attempting to stomp on each other’s bunnies, which only added to the competitive thrill. We were fortunate to have a 20 kbit/s dial-up connection at our rural New Zealand location. This allowed us to access and download the custom levels created by the community that added to the heart and replayability of the game. The simplicity of the level "Bunnies in Space" was a firm favourite.

Google Trends screenshot showing most interest from Hungary, Australia and New Zealand

Looking at Google Trends data from 2004 there is a surpising amount of interest from Australia and New Zealand which might explain why the game was so prevalent amongst my peers. Although I’m unsure how reliable this early Google data is. The game seems to have also been immensely popular in Hungary? Is this true? It is amazing to see how a little game from Sweden could have such a global impact in the early era of the internet.

So, why am I writing about a 26 year old video game of niche renown? If I go back to my childhood this is a standout memory. It was a multiplayer only game. This required you to play with others. Spending time with siblings and friends, bringing us together. I cherish these memories. I also now have some whimsical reflections since becoming a software developer myself and have a greater appreciation for the game and its history.

The altruistic spirit and generous ethos of Open Source software has always resonated with me. Despite rarely being rewarded for their impact, developers pour their blood, sweat, tears, and love into their projects. Jump ’n Bump is that, they could’ve likely sold it as a paid game and made a modest return. Instead, for whatever reason, they released it as freeware and eventually open-sourced it. As a small child who had no money to spend on “real” video games these freeware games had a profound positive impact on my enjoyment and well-being. I’m sure I’m not alone in this.

This post is meandering a bit, but in short, I’ve ported this game to JavaScript which was a “fun” endeavour. It’s interesting to go full circle and write the code of a game you loved as a child. You can access this game at jumpnbump.net and can load it up with a variety of infamous custom levels that I’ve managed to acquire scouring the web. It’s source code is available on github.