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.

Screen Breakdown

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).

Level Editor

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:

Building Blocks

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

Level Construction

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

If you've got questions, comments, or (gasp) mistakes to report or about this tutorial, e-mail me or leave a comment below.

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.

Show me you care and share, share SHARE!


Nice tutorial! But when I go to intalize, it says "USER NOT ALLOWED TO MANIPULATE MASTER DISKETTE. PRESS ANY KEY TO CONTINUE." How do I solve that problem?

Nevermind! I found out how to edit my levels!

Oh, one more thing. your title screen looks different than the one on my rom. Where did you get your rom?

@Anonymous - In terms of how to get past the master diskette problem, the disc version may require the insertion of a Lode Runner formatted data disc prior to using the level editor. My tutorial is currently based on the cart version. I'm glad you were able to advance and begin editing levels. :-)

The title screen is probably different because it is also based on the cart version, rather than the disc version. Because of the limited storage room on a cart, they had to cut some corners. Making the title screen out of level blocks instead of a custom graphic was a space saver.

I don't remember where I got the ROM, but if you search for the cart version of the game, I'm sure you'll find it. I'd be happy to e-mail it to. If you're concerned about maintaining your anonymity, just create a throw-away Hotmail account and shoot me an e-mail (see "Contact" link up top). I'll send you the cart ROM I have.

At some point, I plan to update this tutorial to better address the differences in the cart and disc versions of the game.

I sent you an e-mail about the Rom. Just reply and attach the rom to it, and post a comment when you send the e-mail.

Erm...this is just a certificate that my PC won't let me open.

Whoops! I guess I just didn't know how to use the cartridge. Now I can REALLY start making levels. Thanks for all the help!

eric Woytcke on April 21, 2011 10:35 AM

What do you mean by a demo mode? I downloaded the game and DOSBox, but can't figure out how to create my own levels.

Hi Eric. "Demo mode" just means while the game is demonstrating game play (or appears to be playing itself). Depending on which version of Lode Runner you have, the game should go right into demo mode just after starting it up. Even if the version you have does not have a demo mode, pressing CTRL+E should still bring you to the level editor screen. Enjoy!

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