E! True ZX Games Story – Lode Runner

Eighties was the marvelous time of innovative game concepts, and this is what we at ZX Games really love and have passion for. We are not really sure what that time was all about, but somehow a single person could come up with a brilliant idea and turn it into a game selling millions of copies. 그래프게임 사이트

Developing a game today is a whole different thing. We really do not welcome the idea of having a huge team of developers and writers and animators and etc to create one complex game that will need some time to grow on you and yet will not be original. Simplicity and minimalism is what distinguishes a good game; ingenious thinking is what marks a bright mind.

Today’s featured game is Lode Runner. Released in 1983, it’s amazing that the game still sells and people buy it everyday. Can you imagine this? Not a day passes by without having at least one person interested in purchasing Lode Runner…

Game Inventor: Douglas E. Smith
Occupation at the time of invention: student, major in Physics
Location at the time of invention: University of Washington, Seattle
Douglas Smith lived in Renton, Washington before going to Seattle to get into the Computer Science Department at the University. However, as irony would have it, the future inventor of Lode Runner failed twice to qualify for Computer Sciences and had to settle on Physics major. Eventually Douglas dropped out of the University in the wake of Lode Runner’s success and became a millionaire.

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, the game was known as graph until its completion. Running graph on the University machine required the user entering a secret password. This password became common knowledge among students, and soon it was reported that around 80% of the users were running graph instead of practicing computer science.

The only co-author of Kong was James Bratsanos. 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 enemies were paragraph symbols.

A paragraph symbol is basically a backwards capital 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. User had to hit the space bar to make the player stop moving.

The next version was called Miner. It was developed in Douglas’ bedroom in 6502 Assembly Language on an Apple II+ machine. Douglas originally wanted to keep the enemies as snakes, slithering around the screen, but later he changed his mind, as he had to add more animation to the game. (And you can’t animate the paragraph symbol, can you?) The player still moved by leaps and bounds around the screen. It looked like it was ice-skating.

Douglas submitted Miner to four video game marketing companies: Brøderbund, Electronic Arts, Sirius Software, and Epyx. Brøderbund offered him an advance of $10,000 and 23% royalties on gross sales. One of the others offered him $100,000 flat. He made the right choice and picked Brøderbund. Later Douglas blamed Sirius for leaking a copy of Miner, which was widely distributed in southern California.

Brøderbund gave him the advance with no strings attached other than he could not market it elsewhere. To get the royalties, Douglas would have to complete the game with four major points:

Sound Effects
New Title Page
150 Levels
With new incentive, Douglas worked around the clock, dropping his classes for the quarter (Spring, 1983). At that time he only had about 30 levels and it is said that he was not creative enough to think of another 120. So he let the neighborhood kids come over and design new levels with Douglas’ screen editor. He paid the kids on a per level basis for every one that ended up in the final release.

Brøderbund had an ex-Walt Disney animator working in-house. For a cut of the profits, he would design a nice title page. Douglas took him up on his offer.

The game’s snakes were tuned into running stick figures, because Douglas could not come up with proper animation and simply borrowed the four-frame running man sequence from Broderbund’s Choplifter game (hence, the name Bungelings).


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