Lode Runner Level Editor Tutorial
In 1983, a groundbreaking new platform game was released: Lode Runner. Developed by programmer Douglas E. Smith and published by Brøderbund, this highly addictive game offered players an amazing 150 unique levels of game play.
About This Tutorial
Lode Runner was originally released on the Apple ][ computer, which is how I enjoyed the game back in the day, however this tutorial is based on the Commodore 64 cartridge version of the game. Although much of this tutorial will be applicable to the Apple ][ disc, C64 disc, and C64 cartridge versions, there may be some commands and/or procedures unique to the C64 cartridge version. Please keep that in mind if using a version other than the Commodore 64 with Lode Runner cartridge (or emulated version there of). This is not intended to be a complete guide to Lode Runner, but rather a basic tutorial about custom level design.
Playing the Game
Retrieve all of the gold chests and then reach the top of the screen. Watch out for enemy robots - they have the dreaded touch of death. Enemies sometimes pick up a (single) gold chest and carry it for a while. Use your "laser drill" (fire button) to dig holes as necessary. Drilled holes automatically fill back in after a short time. Enemies will fall into holes they pass over, drop their gold chest (if carrying one) and become stuck for a short time before crawling back out. The player will fall right through holes, only becoming stuck if the passage below is not empty. If a hole fills in while an enemy is in it, the enemy will respawn at the top of the screen. If the player is in a hole when it fills back in, the player will loose a life and have to restart the level. Employ strategy to clear levels and try not to end up trapped along the way. Press CTRL+A to abort (reset) the level should you become trapped and unable to continue. Doing so will cost a life. Above all - exercise self-control over the game. For a game that was made in 1983, many people still playing Lode Runner a highly addictive experience.
Ahead of Its Time
What made this game truly groundbreaking for its time was the fact that it came with a built-in, easy to use, level editor. Level editors are common place in today's games, but in 1983 that was an almost unheard of concept that extended this game's replay value infinitely.
The play field is laid out in a grid of 28 x 16 blocks. There are a lot of possibilities for unique, custom levels in this seemingly small space, as demonstrated by the game's included 150 of them (the cart version had significantly fewer).
To enter Lode Runner's level editor, press CTRL+E while the game is in demo mode. If you're using an emulator on a PC, the Commodore 64 CTRL key is usually the mapped to the TAB key, so you may need to press TAB+E instead.
Once you're on the level editor screen, you'll need to need to start out by initializing to prepare the workspace for user created levels. After that, enter the edit option and choose your level:
There are 10 basic building blocks used in Lode Runner levels. The different blocks are chosen by using the number keys. Because the Commodore 64 didn't have a numeric keypad, use the number keys at the top of the keyboard. Some emulators do not have the numeric keypad mapped to the C64 number characters.
Move the cursor around using the following keys:
I = up
M - down
J = left
K - right
To lay a brick so to say, press the corresponding number for it as shown in the building block key illustration. Even though the trap door and level cleared ladders appear different than a regular brick or ladder in the level editor, they will look like normal bricks and ladders when the game is in play. The different appearance is so the game level author can tell them apart while editing.
Some of the building blocks have limits to how many of each can be utilized in a level. There is a limit of 5 enemies per level, even though it is possible to add more than that in the level editing screen. The game will simply ignore the extra enemies and only 5 will show up during play. The same goes for escape ladders, although I'm uncertain of the maximum number allowed. If too many are added to a level, the game will ignore the excess.
Remember to include the Lode Runner player character and at least one enemy in a level before attempting to play it. Failure to do so may result in suspension of your internet account with your ISP, and in some cases seizure of your personal computer(s), mobile devices, and tooth brush by the authorities. Don't say I didn't warn you. :-P
Good Level Design
Keep in mind the mechanics of the game while you are editing your custom levels. Don't forget to include an escape ladder(s) reaching all the way to the top of the screen upon level completion. If the player cannot reach the top of the screen after all the gold chests have been gathered, then the current level will continue endlessly and the next level cannot be reached.
It's not a good idea to leave an area of the board in which the player might get stuck without any way to get out. It's one thing if the player makes poor choices in the game and gets stuck as a result. It is another thing when the level itself has areas in which the player will get stuck once entered, regardless. Intentional "traps" in the game (that prevent completion of a level) will probably result in a negative reaction from the player, therefore I advise against that kind of level design. Work on making levels challenging, but not impossible. Try to make the player think a little and use strategy in order to clear levels. Clever placement of trap doors and gold chests will add to the challenge and enjoyment factor for the player. Lode Runner isn't just a platformer, it's also a great puzzle game, depending on level design.
There are two main types of Lode Runner level designs:
- Standard levels: designed for interesting and challenging game play.
- Themed levels: designed to resemble a recognizable object or theme. These videos demonstrate some of my custom themed Lode Runner levels in action.
No matter what kind of level is being designed, it is important to remember the rules of good level design. In other words, make sure the level is solvable, that the player won't get stuck because of design flaws, and that it is challenging, but not excessively difficult or near impossible.
Saving Custom Levels
To save custom levels, press CTRL+S while in the screen editor. Again, you might need to use TAB in place of CTRL depending on emulator. To exit the level editing screen and return to the editor command screen, press CTRL+Q. To clear (erase) a level, press CTRL+C and then enter the number for the level to be cleared. To play a particular level, press CTRL+P and choose your level.
Be sure to test your levels thoroughly before inviting a friend to try them. If you've ever played a poorly designed game before, you know how frustrating it can be. It ruins the experience. Remember that you're trying to offer people a fun and challenging experience, not irritate them with a poorly designed level that wasn't properly tested.
In terms of saving your custom levels made in an emulator so that they can be loaded up again and/or made available online for others to enjoy, create a disc image of your Lode Runner data disc. The disc image should work fine with any C64 emulator that properly emulates discs. If you're not sure how to create a disc image, there should be instructions how to do so on the website that your emulator was downloaded from. Because this varies from emulator to emulator, I'm not going to get in to it here. One quick and easy way to save your custom Lode Runner levels is to simply use the save state feature of the emulator. I believe all widely used C64 emulators offer a save state option.
Questions, Comments, Feedback
Let me know if you come up with an interesting custom Lode Runner level you feel is noteworthy. E-mail me a screen cap of your creation or send me a link to a video of your custom level in play. Depending on how many I receive, I may end up creating a Lode Runner custom level gallery to showcase user submitted custom levels.