بسم الله الرحمن الرحيم

March 24, 2010

The birth of Pasang Emas


That's a typical answer you would get if you ask somebody about the pasang game, even in Brunei from whence the game originated. The accompanying deep frown would make a good background texture for web pages.

That was my answer in year 2000 when a former student suggested to me to write a computer program to play pasang. If he brought his camera with him, he could have a nice looking wrinkly background texture for his blog.

I accepted his suggestion. Unfortunately, his exposition on pasang, scrambled on a cafeteria napkin, was too sketchy. Fortunately there was a library book on pasang. Unfortunately, the book was rather vague and inconsistent. Fortunately, I knew someone who turned out to be a veteran player. I learnt pasang under his guidance and finally produced a working program.

The first version was playable, but looked unappealing. The user interface was in Malay tinged a bit with Brunei dialect. Here is a screen shot:

An eyesore! An insult! Having these two additional themes didn't save the day:

But that last theme... ignore its ugliness... doesn't it tickle your artistic fancy? The playing arena doesn't have to be a conventional board strewn with tangible pieces. It can be a field with rubbish to be collected, or a galaxy with planets to be explored, or a gloomy night scene with haunted houses to be exorcised, or (for the sadistic players) a savannah with wandering animals to be hunted. No... cancel that last one. Rest assured, I won't create or distribute any grotesque theme.

Not that it matters much for the first version. Themes were hard-wired to the program code. There was no easy way for even the geekiest user to modify or add themes. It was like having a TV with fixed channels (search your attic, may be you have one).

This first version had a very limited circulation. It had a brief public exposure in Inforama 2001 (Inforama is an annual national competition) when a team of students kindly put it into showcase in their booth. The number of wrinkled faces they witnessed passing their booth must have been a world record.

Computer programmers understand that the first version of a program is meant to be thrown away (and I'm not making this up as an excuse for my own sloppy first version). This I did. In its place was a much improved version. Like an organic being, Pasang Emas grew.


  1. I have recently doing a little research on Pasang and its origin (for UBD's work) and I came across your works, which is truely inspiring!

    I hope you could keep up the great work doing IT, It makes me feel like you're the founder of Pasang now, the amount of effort you put to make it Online Compatibility...

    Thank you very much!

  2. Thank you for the compliment. It was my former student (also UBD) who suggested the idea. Very appropriate indeed that the suggestion of a UBD student has helped another UBD student.

  3. Wonderful site, and Pasang Emas is a wonderful game as well. Can you go into the history of Pasang more. It's history is still a bit sketchy. Are there any books or websites that you can refer me to? Also did the average Bruneian play Pasang, or was it just Bruneian high society? I find it strange that a game as well developed as Pasang wasn't played by the average person, and then later introduced to Bruneian high society?

    What led to the development of Pasang? Pasang is such a highly developed game. It's extremely difficult to develop a good board game, that's why great board games are not so common. So Pasang must have gone through a long evolutionary process. Moreover, there are too many unique features of Pasang, and also it is a large game in the sense that it has a large board with several pieces, therefore Pasang is unlikely to have been developed by one person, or developed in a short period of time. It must have been developed over a long period of time from several smaller versions of the game (smaller boards and lesser pieces). Many board games such as Chess, Checkers, Congklak (Mancala/Oware), and Wei Chi / Go all started off with smaller versions, and evolved later to larger versions. Also since Pasang does not share many features with other board games, it likely was developed in the far past and in isolation. Many board games developed today borrow features from other board games, but Pasang does not seem to.

    1. Thank you for taking interest and sorry for the late reply.

      The history of pasang is rather sketchy. I will see if I have enough material to blog on that someday. But one thing is definite: pasang is truly unique. No other known games resembles it.