Lode Runner

Arcade Video game published 37 years ago by Irem

Lode Runner screenshot

Listed and emulated in MAME !

Lode Runner (c) 1984 Irem.


Irem M-62 system hardware

Main CPU : Zilog Z80 (@ 4 Mhz)
Sound CPU : Motorola M6803 (@ 894.886 Khz)
Sound Chips : (2x) General Instrument AY8910 (@ 894.886 Khz), (2x) MSM5205 (@ 384 Khz)

Players : 2
Control : 8-way joystick
Buttons : 2


Lode Runner arcade was released in July 1984 by Irem under license from Broderbund.

The Bungeling Empire, made famous in the Lode Runner series, is also the antagonist in "Vs. Raid On Bungeling Bay". Both games were developed by Broderbund Software.

Here is the full story of the game from one of the makers : The person most responsible for the development of Lode Runner was Doug Smith. He and I both lived with our parents in Renton, Washington, and commuted to school at the University of Washington in Seattle. Doug attempted to get into the Computer Science Department twice before settling on a Physics major. Later, I was accepted to the Computer Science Department, but guess which one of us became a millionaire. Doug eventually dropped out of college in the wake of Lode Runner's success.

The earliest version of Lode Runner was written in Fortran on the University's VAX 1. It was called 'Kong' because of its similarities to "Donkey Kong". Since developing video games was not authorized use of the University's resources, it was known as 'graph' until its completion. 'graph' would prompt the user for a function, then crap out unless the secret password was entered to play 'Kong'. The secret password became common knowledge among students, so a 'show process' command would often report 80% of the users running 'graph'.

The only co-author of 'Kong' was James Bratsanos (or something like that, I never met him). He contributed about 15% of the total man hours to the development of the Fortran version and 0% to later versions.

'Kong' worked on ASCII terminals. The bricks were solid block characters, the player was a dollar sign, and the bad guys were paragraph symbols. A paragraph symbol is basically a backwards capitol P with a double vertical line. Everyone thought they looked like cobras, and referred to them as snakes. The player bounced along rapidly and was hard to control. You had to hit the space bar to make him stop moving.

The next version was called 'Miner'. It was developed in Doug's bedroom in 6502 Assembly Language on an Apple II+ borrowed from Mark Ledbury. It was also Mark who prodded Doug to finish the game. Doug originally wanted to keep the bad guys as snakes, slithering around the screen. The most notorious 'feature' of this version is the lack of inter-square animation. Doug had stolen the four frame running man sequence from Dan Gorlin's "Choplifter" game, but still moved the man by leaps and bounds around the screen. It looked like he was ice skating.

Doug submitted 'Miner' to four video game marketing companies : Broderbund, Electronic Arts, Sirius Software and Epyx. Broderbund offered him an advance of $10000 and 23% royalties on gross sales. One of the others offered him $100000 flat. He made the right choice : Broderbund, of course. Doug blamed Sirius for leaking a copy of Miner which was widely distributed in southern California.

Broderbund gave him the advance with no strings attached other than he couldn't market it elsewhere. To get the royalties, he would have to complete the game to their satisfaction. This included the addition of inter-square animation, sound effects, and a new title page for a new name : Lode Runner. He would also have to deliver on the 150 screens he had promised.

With new incentive, Doug worked around the clock, dropping his classes for the quarter (Spring, 1983). He wasn't creative enough to think of 150 screens (he had about 30), so he let the neighborhood kids come over and design screens with the screen editor. He paid the kids on a per screen basis for every one that ended up in the final release. The game was ready by Summer of 1983.

Broderbund had an ex Walt Disney animator working in-house. For a cut of the profits, he would design a nice title page. Doug took him up on his offer. An in-house programmer, Dane Bingham, provided the Commodore C64 conversion and perhaps others. Doug worked on the conversion for the Atari 800 conversion himself. I'm not sure if he finished it. A Japanese company even made a little known arcade version with horrible sound. Doug offered James Bratsanos a flat payment for his role in the development of the Fortran version. James was surprised to receive anything at all, and accepted.

Doug's royalties started pouring in. He broke Dan Gorlin's Broderbund record of $77000 in one month royalties. The last I heard, he had grossed 2 million dollars in total royalties. Apparently, he didn't get very good tax advice, because he paid about half of it to the IRS. With his net profits, Doug bought at Porsche 911 Carrera, a Bayliner speedboat, a house in Issaquah, and a wife (as a colleague once joked).

With the money going out so fast, Doug realized that he didn't have enough to retire on. He started his own company called QAD. It stood for Quick And Dirty, but he was prepared to say Quality And Diversity if he felt someone couldn't handle the real name. He and his two partners, Chip Bulkeley and Mark Ledbury soon began another project named Ralph. It was to be one of the first video games to utilize double-hires Apple II hardware. Mark just did the graphics. Chip ended up doing more work than Doug and insisted on renegotiating their split before proceeding. The project became more and more overdue and was eventually scrapped. Doug went back to making new and improved versions of Lode Runner, his bread and butter. I haven't heard from him since.

Although Broderbund is now owned by Mattel Interactive, Mr. Smith still owns the rights to Lode Runner.

Alberto Manenti, Emanuele Lubiani and Massimo Gaspari all hold the official record for this game with 999999 points.

Alfa Records released a limited-edition soundtrack album for this game (R*Type : Irem Game Music - 28XA-199) on January 25, 1988.


* If you finish a level in less than half of the time, the time bonus is multiplied by 2.

* If you do not kill any enemy during a level, a 10000-point bonus is granted.

* If you do not make any enemy fall in a hole during a level, a 20000 points bonus is granted!

* If during a fall, you land on an enemy, you do not lose but obtain 1000 points.

* Easter egg : there is a hidden monster from the next block on every level where digging is allowed (some levels have only stone, thus, the blaster cannot make holes). The monster can be uncovered by blasting the dirt that it is hiding in. Once it is uncovered, it will join in pursuing the player. If it is entrapped, it will leave behind a bonus of 3000 to 8000 points. Its entrapment will not count against the 20000 entrapment bonus.


1. Lode Runner (1983)
2. Lode Runner - The Bungeling Strikes Back (1984)
3. Championship Lode Runner [Model HFC-CR] (1985, Nintendo Famicom)
3. Championship Lode Runner [Model HBS-G047C] (1985, MSX)
3. Championship Lode Runner [Sega My Card] [Model C-57] (1985, SG-1000)
3. Championship Lode Runner (1985, FM-7)
4. Lode Runner - Majin No Fukkatsu (1985)
5. Lode Runner II [Model HBS-G039C] (1985, MSX)
6. Lode Runner's Rescue (1985, Commodore C64)
7. Lode Runner - Teikoku Kara no Dasshutsu (1986)
8. Super Lode Runner [Model IFD-SLR] (1987, Nintendo Famicom Disk System)
8. Super Lode Runner [Model IM-03] (1987, MSX 2)
9. Hyper Lode Runner [Model DMG-HLA] (1989, Nintendo Game Boy)
10. Lode Runner - Lost Labyrinth [Model PV1004] (1990, NEC PC-Engine)
11. Battle Lode Runner [Model HC93054] (1993, NEC PC Engine)
12. Lode Runner Twin - Justy to Liberty no Daibouken [Model SHVC-7Z] (1994, Super Famicom)
13. Lode Runner - The Legend Returns (1994, Windows)
14. Lode Runner On-Line - The Mad Monks' Revenge (1995, PC [MS Windows 95])
15. Lode Runner - The Legend Returns [Model T-25101G] (1996, Sega Saturn)
16. Lode Runner 2 (1998, PC [Windows 95])
17. Power Lode Runner [Model SHVC-BPLJ-JPN] (1999, Super Famicom)
18. Lode Runner 3-D [Model NUS-NLRJ-JPN] (1999, Nintendo 64)
19. Lode Runner for WonderSwan [Model SWJ-BPR004] (2000, Bandai WonderSwan)
20. Lode Runner - Domdom Dan no Yabou [Model DMG-BXLJ-JPN] (2000, Nintendo Game Boy Colors)
21. Lode Runner 2 [SuperLite 1500 Series] [Model SLPM-86460] (2000, Sony PlayStation)
22. Lode Runner - The Dig Fight (2000)
23. Lode Runner [Model AGB-A39J-JPN] (2003, Nintendo Game Boy Advance)
24. Cubic Lode Runner [Hudson Selection Vol.1] [Model DOL-GQRJ-JPN] (2003, Nintendo GameCube)
24. Cubic Lode Runner [Hudson Selection Vol.1] [Model SLPM-62404] (2003, Sony PlayStation 2)


Game's ROM.
Game's picture.