Early example of in-game level-editor

Retro gaming: Lode Runner

Lode Runner is a highly addictive puzzle game. I wasted so many hours playing this game on my Commodore 128. An interesting fact is that the game came with a level editor.

The back story of Lode Runner is super interesting (from Wikipedia):

The prototype of what later became Lode Runner was a game developed by Douglas E. Smith of Renton, Washington, who at the time was an architecture student at the University of Washington. This prototype, called Kong, was written for a Prime Computer 550 minicomputer limited to one building on the UW campus. Shortly thereafter, Kong was ported to VAX minicomputers, as there were more terminals available on campus. The game was programmed in Fortran and used ASCII character graphics. When Kong was ported to the VAX, some Pascal sections were mixed into the original Fortran code.

Over one weekend in 1982, Smith was able to build a crude, playable version in 6502 assembly language on an Apple II+ and renamed the game Miner. Through the end of the year, he refined that version, which was black-and-white with no joystick support. He submitted a rough version to Brøderbund around October 1982 and received a one-line rejection letter in response to the effect of “Thank you for submitting your game concept. Unfortunately, it does not fit within our product line.”

Miner, like its text-based Kong predecessors, had only very simple animation where characters move across the screen in block increments. It was too primitive for an acceptable commercial product as Brøderbund wanted detailed pixel-level movement. Smith’s new game would be one of the first to include a level editor, a feature that allows players to create their own levels for the game

Successful games back in the 80s were developed tiny teams – often just a single person. I find that fascinating. Nowadays, the teams are huge with giant budgets. In the 80s, it was often just a handful of people.

The objective of the game is to collect all the gold (boxes). The guards are trying to stop you so don’t get caught. You can dig holes to trap them and you can walk over them. Sometimes you have to dig to get to a gold box. When you collected all the gold boxes, a ladder appears at the top of the screen and you can go to the next level.

Here’s a long play on the Commodore 64:

You can find many versions of the original Lode Runner on various platforms online. Below you can play the NES version.


  • ENTER = select
  • ARROWS = move
  • Z = dig right
  • X = dig left

Since X and Z are reversed, I highly recommend you change the controls. Click on the controller icon at the bottom when you start the game.

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