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May 24, 2012 Haze Categories: General News. 25 Comments on Descended From A Clown?

I’m going to write this and post bits in real-time, keep having ideas for something like this, but never finding time to lump them all together

Boulderdash, some say it’s a genre in it’s own right, something completely original which sprung out of nowhere, but is it?

Both Dig Dug, and especially Mr. Do offer almost exactly the same digging tunnels experience, and the same basic boulder falling / crushing mechanics, right down to the boulders only falling once you move away from directly underneath them.

While the gameplay is Dig Dug has different objectives Mr Do. even sees the primary goal as collecting a number of items in the level in order to clear it.

Then you’ve only got to look at something like The Pit, which came out before even either of those, has the digging mechanic, boulders, and even has you picking up diamonds as well as the maze-like structure and ‘which is the safest route’ puzzle mechanic a good 2 years before Boulder Dash surfaced.

So, hardly an original game really is it? It’s just a combination of existing elements, a natural progression onto a larger scrolling playfield, and some further tweaks to the game rules (falling collectibles, rocks which stack up instead of just breaking)

That said, I like Boulder Dash, and when I look at the Arcade conversions of it I can’t help but feel they leave a lot to be desired.

First up you have the Max-a-flex version. This is the original Boulder Dash game by First Star Software, the Atari 800 version to be precise. The problem is it’s *too* much the original game. It hasn’t been adapted for arcade use at all, it merely has a coin based timer bolted on which doesn’t even have a proper display connected to it. It’s not a real arcade game at all, just a lazy port which cripples a perfectly good version of the game into being time-based rather than skill based, because no amount of playing skill can stop a fixed timer from expiring.

Then you have the two Data East versions. The first was released on the obscure Deco Cassette System, it’s painfully slow, has laggy controls, very ordinary graphics, and poor scrolling compared to the Max-a-flex version. Overall it’s just not a great deal of fun to play. It’s a real arcade game at least, but not a very good one, especially not for 1985.

The 2nd Data East version was released 5 years later and is the only proper 16-bit arcade version of Boulderdash. The game looks a lot better, but again it just feels rushed, for lack of a better word. There’s a lot going on with the graphics, a fake 3d look to the blocks, you even have a map in the corner, but then there are odd choices too, like the scrolling clouds in the background, what sense does that make? Also things like the scoring system haven’t had any thought put into them at all, the ‘high score’ table actually just shows the scores of the last couple of people to play the game, it isn’t an actual high score table at all! It’s not the *worst* version I’ve played, but I really don’t like the mazes (too many small, pointless levels and ones which just seem closer to a random spray of objects) and the graphical modernizations do nothing for me at all. It’s fairly fast, and has a good variety of enemies, although things like the fades are badly programmed and look ugly even on real hardware (again pointing at it being rather rushed) It’s just one of those games you’re left thinking could have been a LOT better.

Then we’re left with the Kyle Hodgetts efforts; Diamond Run, Dangerous Dungeons (plus the bootlegs Toffy and Super Toffy) and the unfinished Diggerman. Kyle is generally known for his god-awful conversions of other games, his god-awful redemption games, and a couple of other unspeakable titles, but it looks like he noticed the same thing, a lack of good arcade verisons of Boulderdash.

His first effort is Diamond Run from 1989, a conversion of Ghosts and Goblins, which retains the G&G music giving for a rather odd sounding Boulderdash clone. The game is slow, and ugly but throws in some nice ideas from the very first level, ultimately it just becomes too tedious to play tho.

Dangerous Dungeons was the follow-up, this time a Double Dragon conversion. Released in 1992 it’s actually the most recent of the released Boulderdash games (if you don’t count the Korean hacks of it) The graphics have been touched up from Diamond Run and the gameplay is a lot faster, and while it is still very much an 8-bit game with 8-bit graphics it does play faster this time around, although it’s not perfect. Like Diamond Run it has various elements not present in the original game, you start with some sticks of dynamite you can place to blow things up bomberman style, and there are encased diamonds which must be hit by a rock before they can be collected. The bootleg Toffy is almost identical with a changed title screen, while Super Toffy reworks the graphics again and adds adult cutscenes! Of all the Boulderdash arcade games this is probably the one I enjoy the most, but again it’s a shame it’s so slow, and unpolished looking, especially for a 1992 game but the Double Dragon hardware was rather awful, just look how slow the original game is!

The final KH game is Diggerman, although it’s generally considered unfinished, and unreleased despite widespread availability. As a result of this you’ll reach levels which can’t be completed fairly quickly. Again it builds on Dangerous Dungeons, offering basically a cleaned up, faster version of the same game. The was based on the NeoGeo platform, and uses Face’s Gururin as a base which is no doubt why you main character is taken straight from that. It doesn’t really feel like a 16-bit game, and considering it was scheduled for release around 2000 it looks even more dated for period than many of the other efforts.

So despite the early roots I don’t really think the ‘Boulder Dash’ style of game has ever been well represented in the arcades beyond those initial incarnations of Dig Dug and Mr. Do which are both timeless classics. Understandably having to update an entire full level of boulders and diamonds falling everywhere is a significant amount more strain on an 8-bit system than knowing you’re only ever likely to have one apple / boulder falling at a time but even basic things like the presentation values have been sorely lacking.

For the KH stuff that’s understandable, they’re effectively indie games in the arcade, at a time when arcades were big-budget but the Data East stuff is a real shame and a missed opportunity to create something really special.

The most surprising part is how huge both games were on home platforms; Boulder Dash was ported all over the place, the Spectrum had several official versions, a level editor, and numerous other packs available for example and the game was a staple ‘must own’ game for most 8-bit computers, as well as being available on 16-bit machines such as the Amiga and Atari ST.

The games also had huge communities around them, with many unofficial versions springing up. My personal favourite on the Spectrum was one called ‘Earth Shaker’ which started life as a game sent in by a magazine reader, then ended up on one of the Covertapes. It’s apparently also had an XBOX 360 release in 2010, although I’m yet to try it because I don’t really like buying non-physical games and it’s digital only. Earth Shaker was fun because it threw many additional elements into the mix, and compared to many Speccy clones of Boulderdash ran remarkably well, looked good, and even had decent sound effects / music. Levels not only had your usual dirt/rock combinations but also Bubbles, Fire and many others which gave the game great variety, it was also a real challenge like all proper Boulderdash games!

Rockford can be considered the official sequel to the game, and was released on many platforms, including the Spectrum which was a very playable port, capturing a good sense of speed, it supposedly had an arcade release, but that’s never surfaced and I don’t hold any hope of it being good quality because it was meant to be on the Amiga derived Arcadia system, which is another of those which cripples your game by time, not skill (and worse still, the maximum allowed playtime is set by the operator on those games)

Speaking of the Amiga you ended up with PD libraries with sections dedicated to custom maps for the game ‘Emerald Mine’, and while that wasn’t my favourite Boulderdash game on the Amiga (I always preferred Balder’s Grove) it shows again that there were a huge number of fans of the game.

For some reason the game never made an appearance on popular consoles like the Megadrive, and while it did appear on the NES it seems like another wasted opportunity to produce a high quality 16-bit version of the game.

Recently there have been more versions and more ports of the official game than ever, so at least things are making sense now, although the lack of a genuinely *good* arcade version is something history will always show as missing and that I feel is a real surprise, and a real shame.

There are many one-off, often obscure games which you play and think would have made great arcade games, but few as popular yet never perfectly captured.


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Have you tried the Repton series on the BBC Micro? I’d recommend the first two, the third and later releases are the same engine with different graphics and maps.

It’s not one I’m familiar with (I didn’t own a BBC system, only got to use them in school where the closest thing you got to games were the text/graphic adventures ;-)

I’ll add it to my list of alternate versions to try.

Boulderdash is one of my all-time favorite games, but only the C64 version, and only when played with a decent quality atari-type non-analog joystick, like this one from wico… http://atariace.com/atari/joysticks.php/item/201

You really need a tight joystick with a short throw so that you can stop on a dime and reverse. Overshooting your stop can easily get you killed.

Speaking of ports, I would love for someone to port the original “Jumpman” game to one of the classic arcade platforms.


A good starting point would probably be to use a Z80 based console version as a base (like ColecoVision’s Jumpman Jr.) and modify it to work on a Z80 based arcade platform.

If you like Boulderdash, you should check out Rocks ‘n’ Diamonds (http://www.artsoft.org/rocksndiamonds/). It’s an open source BD engine including many features from the various clones. It’s basically as advanced a BD game as you’re likely to see without ruining the retro charm of the game. There are even level packs from Emerald Mines and Earth Shaker, and somehow even a Legend of Zelda level set… not sure how that works.

Going in the other direction, there’s a homebrew Atari 2600 version being released soon (http://www.atariage.com/forums/topic/189547-atari-2600-boulder-dash-r-announced/). It doesn’t look like much, but it’s pretty impressive when you consider the severe limitations of the system. The hardware REALLY doesn’t lend itself well to this type of game, but it looks like they’ve done a damn good job with what they had. It’s even officially licenced from First Star Software.

Nice topic.
Loved C64 bulderdash.
Several custom levels where built with the editor.

Krick jumpman and jumpman junior were great on C64. :)

Zr_ro Rocks & Diamonds is GREAT. Also doesn’t need install which is great for me to have it portable with hundreds of levels.
Problem is, it seems quite abandoned. :( Someone needs to take over the code (Haze?)…

It doesn’t surprise me that there is a modern Open Source port / engine, as I said in the original article one of the reasons I’m surprised most of the arcade ports were a bit rubbish is because of the huge community following the game(s) had, I’m glad people are keeping that community alive and keeping in support for some of the less official features of the clones etc :-)

Not sure I’d say it was abandoned, maybe it hasn’t been updated in a while, but it might be one of those projects where nobody feels there is anything major left to do? Unlike a ‘MAME’ style project games tend to have a fixed logical endpoint, after which they ship, or in the case of an Open Source project, you see very few new updates.

The controls are important in a game like BD, yes, that’s why it’s a real shame that so many of the clones of it have poor controls which just feel laggy and unresponsive, you really want shmup level responses in many cases.

That Atari 2600 port does look very very impressive considering the hardware and general demands of the game tho!

Indeed R&D is very powerful. It can successfully “simulate” all major bulderdash clones and then some other games that come close too.

But they are not posting anything and IIRC don’t even respond to email (I think I tried more than a year ago).

So I’d call it abandoned, but indeed NOT unfinished.

Make sure to check it out INCLUDING the extra levels you can download (this is where it shines).

Can’t believe nobody’s mentioned Supaplex yet. One of the best Boulder Dash like games. Very good playability too.

I just gave that Rocks & Diamonds thing a try, plays a good game. The codebase is interesting, it’s quite neat and tidy + easy to read, but you can tell it’s rather old, plain C stuff, lots of giant switch cases all over the place to handle different objects and the like and the majority of the game code contained in only a couple of files. Maybe it hasn’t seen much development because they’re rewriting it entirely to be something more modern / modular?

Supaplex is simulated by R&D too.

Haze maybe I don’t know. I don’t see any mention about it anywhere though (for more than a year).

BTW have to say, with the title you gave my mind thought of something entirely different. :D

Yeah there are 2 folders which seem to be dedicated to simulating other games, Superplex (game_sp) and Emerald Mine (game_em) the code style in them is rather different, so I guess those bits were done by somebody else?

Alright.. so out of interest, what do people actually consider needs doing with RnD, I’ve looked through all their documentation and quite honestly it sounds like the most comprehensive Boulderdash clone you could imagine, it’s got enough special elements to make almost anything you could want.

Short of rewriting the game from the ground up to have some brand new physics based engine which wouldn’t play much like Boulderdash at all I don’t see what people expect from it ;-)

I’d honestly say that’s why it hasn’t seen an update in 2 years, there’s nothing left worth adding people would actually care about.

Water chambers / flowing water would be interesting (think Bubble Bobble when you pop the bubbles) and I swear I played a BD game with such elements, but I can’t remember what it was, and it wasn’t the Archimedes water based puzzle game either.

Does it support rotating levels?
Because I’ve seen such levels in a PocketPC version of OFFICIAL (First Star) bulderdash version.

If not, here is something to add. :)

Also make sure to check our R&D Jue (has different web site, google it). It uses same code with some customizations, but they are more or less in sync.

My R&D folder (which holds Jue executable too – both can run same levels) is 357MB (more than 68000 files and 1500 folders).

I think actual rotating levels (if you mean roz-like) would need a rather major rewrite of the whole thing.. if you just mean placing the gravity on a different direction, it could probably be done but you’d need to change the ‘slippery’ logic to check for different sides, and have a whole bunch of new tiles for just that.. ie a lot of work, little gain.

It has a lot of features, I’m not really sure how well you can blend them all together as it is right now, some would just be weird together.

I’m sure you could easialy add lots of other novelty features, although it already has a custom block type which can no doubt do a lot of things..

Obviously I’ve only taken a quick glance over the existing documentation and code.

Holy crap. The port of Boulder Dash to the 2600 is mind blowing… http://youtu.be/w6Ge6G9sT9E

I’m at a loss for words.

Talking about full rotation of the whole level (in view too).
After all it is something seen in an official port.
Mentioned in there somewhere in the middle of the page
And seen here…

Maybe it is already in though. I *might* have seen it.
Anyway it is an interesting project.
Have tried to contact any of the original devs?

Krick indeed great.
It is great how a seemingly limited hardware can be exploited much further than even sometimes its own creators expected.
See for example Robotic Liberation for VIC-20!
Not to mention what people have done with CBM64. Even created new graphic modes (in a sense).

Indeed, there are still some crazy talented programmers out there with an interest in retro stuff…

You could probably rotate the level in steps of 90 degrees, would still need a lot of code tho if it’s not already there (doesn’t look like it is)

I think the actual engine they have is being pretty much pushed to it’s limits tho, it’s from when? 1996, updated until 2010. The underlying graphics engine is just a basic 2d game library, the game code is monolithic files with features crammed in on top of features, and the 2 special modes for emerald mine / Supaplex are basically asm -> C translations, giant functions with lots of goto jumps to just reproduce the *exact* behavior of the original games in C.

Everything in there is finely balanced as to try and maintain compatibility with the ‘tape’ replays too, so changing things is always a risk.

It’s a good project and plays a very good game of boulderdash, but I still think it’s pretty much hit any sane limits of the engine they have, which is why you haven’t seen an update in 2 years. It’s a bit like MAME trying to do 3D games, it ends up as a bad joke because it needs major work under the hood.

Beyond that it’s also incredibly difficult to get a good perspective of things from the official site, the forums don’t work, there is no public git / svn to study how development has actually gone, no project roadmap to see what they’re up to, nothing.

I always thought the best version was the c64 one.

Nice title screen music making use of the sids filters, adequate gfx, good playability etc.

I am with you niallquinn.

I have a soft spot for Rockman on the Vic 20. One of Mastertronic’s better £1.99 games


Hmm that’s not your usual BD type game, being single screen with rooms to progress through and all, but definitely a nice variation on the concept, yes

I had Mastertronic’s Rockman on the Spectrum too, but it’s a very different game to the Vic 20 version here. Actually it’s a very *good* ‘action puzzle’ game, but definitely not a boulderdash clone


I had that game too. I had a Vic 20 died on me, so the family bought a Spectrum+. Thanks for the nostalgia trip… now I will go play Starquake :D

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