Boulder Dash is a very special game. It is a simple idea, with cute graphics and devious gameplay that combine to make an addictive combination of arcade-style action, survival and puzzle-solving.
The aim is to guide the central character – Rockford – around a series of soil-filled mazes; digging away dirt to get to and collect diamonds in order to open up the exit to the next level. Boulders are liberally located around the individual levels and will fall downwards, due to gravity, if they are resting on top of dirt, or are otherwise prevented from falling. Rockford can move into an area of dirt to remove it, or – crucially – can also face some diggable dirt and can remove it by pressing the fire button (a detail that many players seem to miss, but it’s helpful to know this).
Boulder Dash was programmed by Peter Liepa, based on an initial idea and demo made by Chris Gray* – two Canadian coders who were connected via a Toronto-based company called In-Home Software. They collaborated initially, with the aim being to turn the seed of this idea into a commercial game, but then grew apart due to differing views on how to do that. Liepa continued coding the game, which gradually evolved into Boulder Dash, but he still credited Gray as co-designer.
* = Chris Gray later went on to create some well-known games of his own, including Infiltrator (1986) and Fiendish Freddy’s Big Top O’ Fun (1989), among many others. He also set up the development studio Gray Matter in Ontario in 1985. He currently (at the time of writing) is CEO of TapStar Interactive.
The intention initially was to publish the game through In-Home Software, but when Liepa became concerned that they were not communicating with him properly he decided that it was time to look for another publisher. So he sent disks of the unfinished game to a number of other companies, including New York-based First Star Software, who immediately saw potential in it. A deal was soon struck and First Star published the first version of the game – on the Atari 8-bit – in 1984. Ports to other home systems followed soon after, including the arguably more famous Commodore 64 version.
Eventually Boulder Dash was one of those classic video games that appeared on pretty much every home system known to man, and it also appeared in arcades too (a rare occurrence – usually arcade games went to home systems; not the other way around). And it spawned a number of sequels; the first of which was also programmed by Peter Liepa (subsequent sequels were not). And Boulder Dash still appears on more moderns systems now. It’s been released on iOS, Android, Nintendo 3DS, and there have even been limited cartridge releases of homebrew versions for the Atari 2600 (in 2011) and the Mattel Intellivision (2015). It seems that the world cannot get enough of Rockford and his digging…
In celebration of Boulder Dash and it’s rock-solid popularity: we present you with a full list of all the versions of this classic game on our website. With our favourites at the top and our least favourites at the bottom. So in descending order of greatness. Click the links to see the individual games.
1. Commodore 64 (1984)
2. Atari 8-bit (1984)
3. Amstrad CPC (1985)
4. MSX (1985)
5. ColecoVision (1984)
6. Arcade (1990)
7. Game Boy Advance (2002)
8. Game Boy (1990)
9. NES/Famicom (1990)
10. Nintendo DS (2007)
11. Apple II (1984)
12. PC (1986)
13. ZX Spectrum (1985)
14. Atari 2600 (2011) – homebrew
15. BBC Micro (1988)
16. Commodore 16/Plus4 – homebrew
17. Atari ST (1987) – homebrew