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Scoring the Boulder Dash theme

A few weeks ago I discovered, a website that lets you create musical scores.  I’ve always wanted to use scoring software, but never got around to it until – well you know, the price was right.

Years ago I wrote a computer game called Boulder Dash.  The music for that was composed in a very basic soundtrack editor I wrote for the Atari 800, and was never actually played on a real-world instrument.  I’ve always wanted to convert that music to a real score and hear what it would sound like on, say, the piano.

I dug up some old listings and transcribed the music, which was encoded in all of 256 bytes, and represented 16 bars of music in two voices.

Here’s the result (the play button is at the upper left of the snippet):

Or see the score here.

In the original game, the 16 bar melody repeated endlessly, ceasing only when the user pressed the Start button.  Here, I give two reps, followed by a tacked-on finish.  According to a friend with music theory background, this kind of repeating passage is called a vamp (in musical theatre circles), and the key signature (which I admit had been puzzling me) is C minor.

By the way, some of Noteflight’s amazing features show through in the score snippet above.  Not only can you play the score by pressing the forward button, but you can click individual notes and play them (or play notes that share the same stem by clicking on the stem).  Each bar has its own play button, so you can start play in mid-score.  You can select groups of notes, staffs, bars, etc – check it out by hovering over different parts of the score. Shift-P will start playing from your current selection.  For more of this awesomeness – and actual music-editing functionaliy, go to their site. Or click on the Noteflight icon at the lower right of the snippet to see the full score.

Update(2019): There’s a better transcription (by Ric Vega)  at


19 Replies to “Scoring the Boulder Dash theme”

  1. That tune brings back some pleasant memories. Boulder Dash was truly one of the classic games of my childhood. I wonder how many of those early computer game tunes count as “programmer art”.


  2. Found this on a SID player then Googled you. Sounds great on a piano. Can’t tell you how evocative this music is of being 12 and playing my C64. Excellent work, particularly considering you’re not actually a musician!


  3. Thank you Peter for writing the most thrilling computer game ever! I’m still love playing it on C64 or Atari (emulators)! I hope that some day there will be a worthy prequel as down to the present day it seems that most unofficial and especially the official remakes are unable to hold a candle to the original game…


  4. I just wanted to jump on the band wagon here and say a big fat THANK YOU for Boulder Dash! The game is central in some of my most precious childhood memories of playing the game together with my uncles and grandfather. Thumbs up, high-five and man-hugs all around…


  5. Peter, thank you a lot for Boulder Dash and for the score, too! I have just started to learn playing it on the piano. Since I am beginner, it is not straightforward for me, but finally I managed to find some chords to explore the secret of the melody. So these are my chords for the blocks:

    1. C B As B
    2. C B C As
    3. B Ges G F
    4. C C B B
    5. C C B B
    6. C C B B
    7. C C B B
    8. C B C B

    In my opinion block 3 is the most special part of melody. 🙂

    I found that block 1 is repeated on Noteflight since the repeat sign should be started at the beginning of block 2. Maybe you want to fix this.


  6. Thank you, Peter, for the inimitable and wonderful game Boulder dash ! I have played, are playing and I hope to play Boulder dash for a long time !


  7. Well, after several months I managed to learn a simplified version of the melody. Now I uploaded the simplified score (with suggestions for fingering) to — I hope someone will find it helpful. I used Peter’s score (by importing it into MuseScore) and removed the closing part. The original score defines BPM=150, here I changed that to 130 since I cannot play it faster at the moment (I’m still exercising even more to be better).


  8. Hey, I just stumbled across this page and wanted to add my name to the chorus of thanks. This music has been running through my head on and off for 30 years!


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