By Michael Fontanini / September 17th, 2014
We are saddened to report that the creator of one of gaming’s early successes has passed away. Douglas E. Smith (1960-2014), most well-known for being the creator of the game Lode Runner, has died at the age of 54 (cause currently unknown). The news of Smith’s passing was tweeted by Tozai Games earlier in the week, the company that currently holds the rights to the Lode Runner franchise. They followed up their tweet with the following announcement on their site, entitled “In Memoriam, Douglas E. Smith, 1960 – 2014“:
It is with great sadness that we learned today of the passing of our friend and colleague, Douglas Smith, the creator of the iconic game, Lode Runner. Our hearts and prayers are with Doug’s family during this difficult time. In Doug’s honor, we call on the legions of Lode Runner fans everywhere to take a private moment to reflect on your own personal memories of Lode Runner. What a contribution Doug made to the video game industry.
Doug, from all of us at Tozai, and from all of your fans, may you rest in peace.
The Legacy of Douglas E. Smith
Lode Runner came about while Smith was studying architecture as a student at the University of Washington. Around September of 1982, he created a prototype for a game he called Kong for the Prime Computer 550 minicomputer (which was part of the facilities at the university). The game was written in Fortran and soon ported to VAX minicomputers since there were more terminals of this type at the university. In a single weekend in September of 1982, he wrote the core of the game on an Apple II+ in 6502 assembly language and renamed the game Miner. Then around October of 1982 he presented it to Brøderbund. Unfortunately, the response he got was a rejection letter.
So with only one thing left to do, Douglas borrowed some money to get a color monitor and a joystick and set about improving the game. But being struck by a bit of bad luck, his joystick broke down and he had to wash cars for a couple months to pay for the necessary repair. When he was ready, he submitted the game (now called Lode Runner) to four publishers around Christmas of 1982. Being quite impressed with the game, all four companies (Sierra, Sirius, Synergistic, and Brøderbund) quickly sent him offers, and as you may know, Douglas chose to go with Brøderbund.
Of course, Lode Runner is far from the only thing Douglas E. Smith did in his life. According to Moby Games, Smith had a sizable list of credits to his name. As mentioned above, he created Lode Runner, which was published by Brøderbund in 1983. Then in 1984, there was Championship Lode Runner, a sequel to the original game. It had only 50 levels compared to 150 in the original, but the difficulty was much higher. By 1987, he was working on Defender of the Crown for Cinemaware Corporation, and in 1991 he worked as a programmer for Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Fast Tracks for Distinctive Software, Inc. Later on in 1993, he worked on a handful of different games, which include the following:
- Programmer for Top Gun: Guts & Glory, Konami (America), Inc.
- Executive Producer for Secret of Mana, Square Co., Ltd.
- Programmer for NBA Showdown, Electronic Arts, Inc.
- Creator, along with Dane Bigham, for Mine Runner, Brøderbund
- Level designer for Lemmings 2: The Tribes, Psygnosis Limited
In 1994, the game he started would return. Though Smith did not personally work on this title, it was developed by Presage Software and published by Sierra On-Line, Inc. Lode Runner: The Legend Returns was born. The following year, 1995, would see the release of Lode Runner: Online (a significant update to Lode Runner: The Legend Returns). Again, Smith did not work personally on this title either, but is credited for the main game design since he created the original game. While that was happening, he did work on a handful of other games:
- Executive Producer for Secret of Evermore, Square Soft, Inc.
- 3DO Programmer for The Lemmings Chronicles, Psygnosis Limited
- Tester for Eternal Champions: Challenge from the Dark Side, Deep Water
- Assisted in localizing Chrono Trigger, Square Co., Ltd.
In 1997, he was a CG designer working on Final Fantasy VII for Sony Computer Entertainment Europe Ltd. In 1998, the world would see his brain child return once more in the form of Lode Runner 2. While he did not work personally on this title, he is of course credited for the main game design for obvious reasons. That same year, Douglass was a programmer for Body Harvest for Gremlin Interactive Ltd. And in 1999, he worked as a programmer for Micro Machines 64 Turbo for Codemasters Software Company Limited.
I haven’t played all of these games by any means, but Lode Runner the Legend Returns captured my attention growing up. It is a game I have fond memories of growing up with. I went on to try other games in the series like Lode Runner: Online, and Lode Runner 3D among others. And so in that way, Douglas E. Smith has made a lasting mark upon my life. I am very saddened that he is no longer with us, and we wish his family the very best in this terrible time. I hope this article can stand as a bit of a tribute to Douglas E. Smith, the creator of this wonderful series, and one of the early greats in the video game industry.
Success Stories in Video Games (translated with Google)
Chrono TriggerDouglas E. SmithFinal Fantasy VIILemmingsLode RunnerSecret of EvermoreSecret of Mana