The player must maneuver a character (Pitfall Harry) through a maze-like jungle in an attempt to recover 32 treasures in a 20-minute time period. Along the way, he must negotiate numerous hazards, including pits, quicksand, rolling logs, fire, rattlesnakes, scorpions, and crocodiles. Harry may jump over or otherwise avoid these obstacles by climbing, running, or swinging on vines. Treasure includes gold and silver bars, diamond rings, and bags of money. Under the jungle there is a tunnel which Harry can access through ladders found at various points. Travelling though the tunnel moves forward three screens at a time, which is necessary in order to collect all the treasures within the time limit. However, the tunnels are filled with dead-ends blocked by brick walls, forcing the player to return to the surface at one of the ladders, and try to find a way around again, thus wasting time. The tunnels also contain scorpions, which can harm Harry.
The player starts with 2,000 points and has three lives to complete the course within the 20-minute time limit. Each treasure collected varies in value:
- Money bag: 2,000 points
- Silver bar: 3,000 points
- Gold bar: 4,000 points
- Diamond ring: 5,000 points
There are eight of each treasure. A perfect score (114,000) is achieved by claiming all 32 treasures without losing any points. Points are deducted by either falling in a hole (100 points) or hitting either stationary or rolling logs; point loss depends on how long contact is made with the log.
The player loses a life if Harry comes in contact with any obstacle (except logs) or falls into a tar pit, quicksand, waterhole, or mouth of a crocodile. The game ends when either all 32 treasures have been collected, all three lives have been lost, or the time has run out.
When Pitfall! was originally sold, anyone who scored above 20,000 points could send Activision a picture of his or her television screen to receive a Pitfall Harry Explorer Club patch.
History and development
Pitfall! was created by David Crane, a programmer who worked for Activision in the early 1980s. In a November 2003 interview with Edge he described how in 1979 he had developed the technology to display a realistic running man and in 1982 was searching for a suitable game in which to use it:
|“||I sat down with a blank sheet of paper and drew a stick figure in the center. I said, "Okay, I have a little running man and let's put him on a path [two more lines drawn on the paper]. Where is the path? Let's put it in a jungle [draw some trees]. Why is he running [draw treasures to collect, enemies to avoid, etc.]?" And Pitfall! was born. This entire process took about ten minutes. About 1,000 hours of programming later, the game was complete.||”|
The game's technical achievements included non-flickering, multicolored, animated sprites on a system with notoriously primitive graphics hardware. Innovative techniques were used to keep the code space within the 4k limit, including a polynomial counter to create 256 screens within 50 bytes of code. The swinging vines are created by repeatedly displaying the Atari's one-pixel "ball" sprite at different offsets.
Pitfall! was a massive success for the 2600. Arcade Express reviewed the game on August 30, 1982, shortly before release, stating that it "may well be the best adventure game yet produced for the VCS," giving it a score of 8 out of 10. Several ports were made for computer systems, such as the MSX, Commodore 64, Atari 800, and TRS-80 Color Computer, as well as for home consoles, such as the ColecoVision and the Intellivision. Pitfall! was the No. 1 video game on Billboard for sixty-four weeks in a row.
Sequels and ports
In 1985, Activision licensed Pitfall! to Sega, who made an arcade version of Lost Caverns. The game was thoroughly remade with a first level resembling the original Pitfall!, a second level resembling the caverns of Pitfall II, and later levels that were completely original. This version was subsequently adapted for the SG-1000. Pitfall! was produced for the Commodore 64 and Apple II home computers using Garry Kitchen's GameMaker, primarily as a demonstration of the game building software.
A second sequel, Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, made its debut on the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Mega Drive/Genesis systems in 1994, also appearing on the subsequent Sega 32X. Having proved popular, the game was then ported to the Windows 95 operating system and the Atari Jaguar in 1995. Its most recent re-release was in 2001, on the Game Boy Advance. The Mayan Adventure was well known for including the original Pitfall! game.
In 1998, Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle, featuring the voice of Bruce Campbell as Pitfall Harry Jr., was released for the PlayStation. In 2004, a fourth sequel was released for PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox, Pitfall: The Lost Expedition. The game includes both the original Pitfall! and Pitfall II games. A port of The Lost Expedition, Pitfall: The Big Adventure, was released for the Wii on September 23, 2008.
In May, 2010, Pitfall! was released on Microsoft's Game Room service for its Xbox 360 console and for Windows-based PCs. It was also ported as both a Game Room and Xbox Live title on Windows Phone in February 2011.
On August 9, 2012, Activision released Pitfall! for iOS, on the iPhone, iPad, and iPod Touch. On December 21, Activision released Pitfall! for Android as a free app. This version of the game departed from the 2D graphics seen in the original, and instead used 3D graphics. Gameplay was also altered; the game was an endless runner in the style of Temple Run.
Pitfall! is seen as an important early game in the side-scrolling platforming genre; although it did not scroll itself, it had all the features of such games, such as the ability to travel up and down on multiple levels of play. The game was also much longer than other Atari 2600 games of its time, which typically lasted only a few minutes. This was due to the majority of such games being ports of arcade games, where short play time encouraged players to spend more money. The twenty minute time limit was unprecedented, and marked an important point of transition between the arcade and home video game markets.
- In 1983, Pitfall! made its animated television debut as a segment on CBS' Saturday Supercade cartoon lineup, under the name Pitfall Harry. The basic plotline involved Harry (voiced by Robert Ridgely), his niece Rhonda (voiced by Noelle North), and his cowardly mountain lion Quickclaw (voiced by Kenneth Mars) exploring various locations for hidden treasure. After only one season, Pitfall Harry, Frogger, and Donkey Kong Jr. were replaced by Kangaroo and Space Ace. The series has never officially been released on DVD or VHS.
- In the South Park episode "Red Hot Catholic Love", Father Maxi searches for the "Holy Document of Vatican Law" in order to have the law changed so that priests can be allowed to have sex with women. The final portion of him trying to find the "Holy Document" has him go through an area similar to the gameplay of Pitfall!.
- In Wreck-It Ralph, Pitfall! was among the video games seen at Litwak's Family Fun Center & Arcade.
- Pitfall! is one of the games included in an easter egg in Call of Duty: Black Ops II's "Nuketown 2025" map.
- Pitfall Harry's picture is seen in the "The Hall of Former The Guys" in I Wanna Be The Guy.
- Scott Alan Marriott. "Pitfall! - Overview". Allgame. Retrieved March 2, 2013.
- Levi Buchanan (August 26, 2008). "Top 10 Best-Selling Atari 2600 Games". IGN. Retrieved September 24, 2008.
- Bogost & Montfort (2009), p. 113.
- "GDC 2011 Panel: Pitfall Classic Postmortem With David Crane". GDC Vault. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
- "The Hotseat: Reviews of New Products". Arcade Express 1 (2): 6–7 . August 30, 1982. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
- Bogost & Montfort (2009), p. 99.
- "Super Pitfall". IGN. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
- "Pitfall: The Big Adventure". IGN. Retrieved January 27, 2011.
- "Game Room - Pitfall!". Game Room. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
- Justin Davis (August 13, 2012). "Pitfall for iOS Review". IGN. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
- Bogost & Montfort (2009), p. 107.
- Bogost & Montfort (2009), p. 112.
- "Pitfall II: Lost Caverns". Pcmuseum.ca. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
- Pitfall! at MobyGames
- Pitfall! at AtariAge
- Legends of the C64 article on David Crane and Activision (includes Pitfall! info)
- David Crane GDC 2011 Pitfall post-mortem video at YouTube