Lode Runner is a 1983 puzzle video game, first published by Brøderbund. It is one of the first games to include a level editor, a feature that allows players to create their own levels for the game. This feature bolstered the game's popularity, as magazines such as Computer Gaming World held contests to see who could build the best level. Tozai, Inc. currently holds the intellectual property and trademark rights of Lode Runner.
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 "Sorry, your game doesn't fit into our product line; please feel free to submit future products."
Smith then borrowed money to purchase a color monitor and joystick and continued to improve the game. Around Christmas of 1982, he submitted the game, now renamed Lode Runner, to four publishers and quickly received offers from all four: Sierra, Sirius, Synergistic, and Brøderbund. He took the deal with Brøderbund.
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. According to this article, Smith was given a $10,000 advance by Brøderbund to develop the inter-square animation, and to provide 150 levels of play. For the latter, he reputedly paid neighborhood children to design levels with the editor he had coded.
The game was released in mid-1983. The original microcomputer versions included the Apple II series, the Atari 8-bit family, the VIC-20, the Commodore 64, the IBM PC, and a Konami version licensed for the MSX computer named King's Valley. This was then released for the Sega Mark I console with only minor changes. A port for the original 128k Macintosh followed in 1984. Versions include those for the Atari ST, Sinclair Spectrum 48K/128K, NES, Windows 3.1, Macintosh, and the original Game Boy.
Most versions of Lode Runner were on disk, but the Atari 8-bit and Commodore 64 also got a "lite" cartridge version with only 32 levels and no editor for users without disk drives. The VIC-20 port was cartridge only but did include a level editor which allowed saving to cassette tape. The NES version was released by Hudson Soft in 1984 (North American release 1986) and became one of the earliest third-party games made for that system. It had 50 levels, scrolling screens, and graphics redone in a more cartoon-like style. In addition, an arcade game of Lode Runner was produced with some added features like the ability to hang off the ends of ladders.
Brøderbund released a special enhanced version, Championship Lode Runner, the following year. It only had 50 levels, but with much higher difficulty than the original. The company offered a commemorative certificate to anyone who could submit proof of having beaten the entire game. It was ported to the Apple, Atari, C64, and PC, as well as the NES (although that version did not reach North America).