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Pitfall! Coverart.png
Designer(s)David Crane
Platform(s)Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Atari 2600, Atari 5200, ColecoVision, Commodore 64, Intellivision, MSX
  • NA: August 20, 1982

Pitfall! is a platform video game designed by David Crane for the Atari 2600 and released by Activision in 1982. The player controls Pitfall Harry and is tasked with collecting all the treasures in a jungle within 20 minutes. The world consists of 255 screens[1] which are horizontally connected in a flip screen manner. Each screen has one or more hazards: quicksand, tarpits, rolling logs, crocodiles, snakes, scorpions, campfires, and swinging vines.

Pitfall! received positive reviews upon release and is now considered one of the greatest video games ever made. It is one of the best-selling games on the Atari 2600, with over four million copies sold. It was the top video game on the Billboard charts for more than a year, and it helped define the flip-screen platform game genre. Across all versions, the game sold over 5 million copies worldwide.

The game was followed by several sequels, beginning with Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, which was also developed by Crane; it was released for the Atari 2600 in 1984.


In the Atari 2600 original, Pitfall Harry swings over a pit.

The player controls Pitfall Harry through 255 horizontally connected screens of jungle[2] in an attempt to recover 32 treasures in a 20-minute time period.[3] Along the way, players must maneuver around 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 consists of bags of money, gold and silver bars, and diamond rings, which range in value from 2,000 to 5,000 points. There are eight of each treasure type. The player begins the game with three lives and a score of 2,000 points; a perfect score of 114,000 is achieved by collecting all 32 treasures without losing any points by falling into holes or touching logs.

Running under every screen is an underground tunnel, which Harry can access by climbing down ladders or falling into holes. Traveling through the tunnel moves Harry forward three screens at a time, which is necessary to collect the treasures within the time limit.[4] However, the tunnels can be blocked by brick walls, forcing the player to return to the surface to find a way around. The tunnels also contain scorpions. 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.

Development and release[edit]

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 a technique 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 uses non-flickering, multicolored, animated sprites on a system with notoriously primitive graphics hardware. To fit the game on a 4096 byte ROM, a polynomial counter generates the 255 screens within 50 bytes of code. The swinging vines are created by repeatedly displaying a one pixel wide sprite at different offsets.[5]

Pitfall! was released on August 20, 1982.[6] When the game was originally sold, anyone who scored above 20,000 points could send Activision a picture of their television screen to receive a Pitfall Harry Explorer Club patch.[7] The television commercial for Pitfall! featured then-child actor Jack Black at age 13 in his first TV role.[8]


Pitfall! for the Atari 2600 was the best-selling home video game from late 1982 to the first quarter of 1983.[16] By mid-January 1983, it had been the top-selling game on the Billboard chart for seven weeks—much more successful than E.T., which Atari had paid $21 million to license[17]—and remained in the number one position for 64 weeks in a row.[18] The game sold 1 million units in five months,[19][20] and went on to sell over 3.5 million units by 1984.[21] It is one of the best-selling games on the Atari 2600, with over four million copies sold as of 2008.[22][23] All versions of the game sold over 5 million copies worldwide, as of 1998.[24]

Danny Goodman of Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games stated that Pitfall! was "a standout" among the dozens of 2600 games announced at the summer 1982 Consumer Electronics Show, a "very original cartridge no VCS should be without".[25] Arcade Express reviewed the Atari 2600 version of Pitfall! in August 1982, stating that it "may well be the best adventure game yet produced for the VCS" and giving it a score of 8 out of 10.[12] Electronic Games in June 1983 praised the 2600 version's "superb graphics and varied play-action".[16]

Goodman was surprised that the Intellivision version's graphics had not greatly improved on the 2600's.[25] Video Games in March 1983 criticized Activision for not enhancing the Intellivision version's graphics: "We all know you can do more with graphics on Intellivision than on the VCS. So why no improvements in Pitfall?"[26]

The 2600 version of Pitfall! was awarded "Best Adventure Video Game" at the 4th annual Arkie Awards.[27]: 108  In 1995, Flux magazine ranked the game 33rd on their "Top 100 Video Games."[28] Game Informer placed the game 41st on their top 100 video games of all time in 2001.[29] In 2004, Pitfall! was inducted into GameSpot's list of the greatest games of all time.[30] In 2013 Entertainment Weekly listed it as one of the ten best Atari 2600 games.[31]


Pitfall! is considered one of the most influential games for the Atari 2600 system.[31] It is a prototypical side-scrolling platform game, a genre which would dominate future 8-bit and 16-bit systems, and introduced features that would be common in future platform games, such as the ability to travel up and down on multiple levels of play.[32][3][31]

Both Pitfall! and its sequel Pitfall II: Lost Caverns have been included as playable easter eggs in several Call of Duty titles, such as Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War and Call of Duty: WWII.[33][34][35]


An Atari 2600 sequel developed by David Crane, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, was published in 1984 as one of the last major games for the system. It was reworked into 1987's Super Pitfall for the Nintendo Entertainment System.[36]

Pitfall: The Mayan Adventure, in the style of contemporaneous 16-bit platform games, was released for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System and Sega Genesis in 1994. It was later ported to the Sega CD in 1994, the 32X, Windows 95, and the Atari Jaguar in 1995, and the Game Boy Advance in 2001. The original Pitfall! game is included as an easter egg.

In 1998, Pitfall 3D: Beyond the Jungle was released for the PlayStation and, without the 3D designation, Game Boy Color. The game features Bruce Campbell as the voice of Pitfall Harry Jr.

In 2004, Pitfall: The Lost Expedition was released for PlayStation 2, GameCube, and Xbox. It includes both the original Pitfall! and Pitfall II games as extras. It was ported to the Wii as Pitfall: The Big Adventure in 2008.[37]

In 2012, Activision released Pitfall! for iOS followed by a version for Android. The game is a 3D endless runner in the style of Temple Run.[38] The same year, Crane announced a Kickstarter campaign for Jungleventure, a spiritual successor to the original games. The goal was US$900,000,[39] but it only raised $31,207.[40] Crane said people thought he was asking for too much money: "everyone turned against me as soon as they saw [the cost]."[41]

In popular culture[edit]

In 1983, Pitfall! made its animated television debut as a segment on the CBS Saturday Supercade cartoon lineup, under the name Pitfall Harry. The plotline involves Harry (voiced by Robert Ridgely), his niece Rhonda (Noelle North), and his cowardly mountain lion Quickclaw (Kenneth Mars) searching for hidden treasure.[42] After only one season, Pitfall Harry, Frogger, and Donkey Kong Jr. were replaced by Kangaroo and Space Ace.

An abbreviated version of Pitfall! is a demonstration project included with Garry Kitchen's GameMaker, published by Activision in 1985.

Pitfall! is mentioned in the movie Ready Player One as "One of the only 2600 games that still hasn't ended."


Trapfall by Ken Kalish[43] is a direct clone for the TRS-80 Color Computer. It was licensed to Microdeal as Cuthbert in the Jungle for the Dragon 32.[44]


  1. ^ https://evoniuk.github.io/posts/pitfall.html How Pitfall Builds its World
  2. ^ Lendino, Jamie. Adventure: The Atari 2600 at the Dawn of Console Gaming. p. 129. the game contains 255 screens
  3. ^ a b Fox, Matt (2013). "Pitfall!". The Video Games Guide: 1,000+ Arcade, Console and Computer Games, 1962-2012 (2nd ed.). McFarland. p. 216. ISBN 9781476600673.
  4. ^ Bogost & Montfort (2009), p. 113.
  5. ^ "GDC 2011 Panel: Pitfall Classic Postmortem With David Crane". GDC Vault. Retrieved June 23, 2013.
  6. ^ "Pitfall (Registration Number PA0000188572)". United States Copyright Office. Retrieved June 1, 2021.
  7. ^ Hilliard, Kyle (October 26, 2013). "Activision Badges – The Original Gaming Achievement". Game Informer. Retrieved April 10, 2016.
  8. ^ "Jack Black: On Music, Mayhem And Murder". Fresh Air. April 23, 2012. Retrieved August 31, 2012.
  9. ^ Marriott, Scott Alan. "Pitfall!". AllGame. Archived from the original on November 14, 2014. Retrieved June 1, 2023.
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  11. ^ a b "Complete Games Guide" (PDF). Computer and Video Games (Complete Guide to Consoles): 46–77. October 16, 1989.
  12. ^ a b "The Hotseat: Reviews of New Products" (PDF). Arcade Express. Vol. 1, no. 2. August 30, 1982. pp. 6–7 [6]. Retrieved February 3, 2012.
  13. ^ a b c "1985 Software Buyer's Guide". Computer Games. Vol. 3, no. 5. United States: Carnegie Publications. February 1985. pp. 11–8, 51–8.
  14. ^ "Video Game Explosion! We rate every game in the world". Electronic Fun with Computers & Games. Vol. 1, no. 2. December 1982. pp. 12–7.
  15. ^ "Software Report Card". Video Games Player. Vol. 1, no. 1. United States: Carnegie Publications. September 1982. pp. 62–3.
  16. ^ a b "The Players Guide to Fantasy Games". Electronic Games. June 1983. p. 47. Retrieved January 6, 2015.
  17. ^ Harmetz, Aljean (January 15, 1983). "New Faces, More Profits For Video Games". Times-Union. p. 18. Retrieved February 28, 2012.
  18. ^ Bogost & Montfort (2009), p. 99.
  19. ^ "Our games have birthdays, but they don't get old". Cash Box. Cash Box Pub. Co.: FS-5 October 8, 1983.
  20. ^ Sigel, Efrem; Giglio, Louis (1984). Guide to Software Publishing: An Industry Emerges. Knowledge Industry Publications. p. 22. ISBN 978-0-86729-108-7. Pitfall won the award from Electronic Games magazine as the best video game adventure of 1983, and in 1982 sold more than 1 million copies.
  21. ^ Capparell, James (June 1984). "Activision's James Levy: A software success story". Antic. Retrieved April 22, 2017.
  22. ^ Levi Buchanan (August 26, 2008). "Top 10 Best-Selling Atari 2600 Games". IGN. Retrieved September 24, 2008.
  23. ^ Bogost, Ian; Montfort, Nick (2009). Racing the Beam: The Atari Video Computer System. MIT Press. ISBN 978-0-262-01257-7.
  24. ^ Dawson, Angela (1998). "Pitfall Harry to Life for Activision". Adweek. A/S/M Communications.: 4. The pit-hopping action game has sold more than 5 million copies worldwide.
  25. ^ a b Goodman, Danny (Spring 1983). "Home Video Games: Video Games Update". Creative Computing Video & Arcade Games. p. 32.
  26. ^ Phil Wiswell (February 1983). "New Games From Well-Known Names". Video Games. Vol. 1, no. 6. p. 69. Retrieved May 26, 2014.
  27. ^ Kunkel, Bill; Katz, Arnie (February 1983). "Arcade Alley: The Fourth Annual Arcade Awards". Video. Vol. 6, no. 11. Reese Communications. pp. 30, 108. ISSN 0147-8907.
  28. ^ "Top 100 Video Games". Flux. Harris Publications (4): 28. April 1995.
  29. ^ Cork, Jeff. "Game Informer's Top 100 Games Of All Time (Circa Issue 100)". Game Informer. Retrieved December 1, 2020.
  30. ^ "The Greatest Games of All Time: Pitfall!". GameSpot. Archived from the original on October 18, 2007.
  31. ^ a b c Morales, Aaron (January 25, 2013). "The 10 best Atari games". Entertainment Weekly. Retrieved April 17, 2016.
  32. ^ Bogost & Montfort (2009), p. 107.
  33. ^ All 10 Arcade Machine Locations in Black Ops Cold War | Secret Room Found & New Dark Ops Challenges, retrieved September 4, 2022
  34. ^ SECRET MODE IN HEADQUARTERS : PLAY RETRO ARCADE GAMES IN WW2! (Call of Duty WWII), retrieved September 4, 2022
  35. ^ Call of Duty Infinite Warfare - Insert Coin Trophy / Achievement Guide (All Arcade Games), retrieved September 4, 2022
  36. ^ "Super Pitfall". IGN. Retrieved October 18, 2013.
  37. ^ "Pitfall: The Big Adventure". IGN. Archived from the original on March 5, 2012. Retrieved January 27, 2011.
  38. ^ Justin Davis (August 13, 2012). "Pitfall for iOS Review". IGN. Retrieved June 25, 2013.
  39. ^ Kohler, Chris (August 11, 2012). "Pitfall! Creator David Crane Seeks $900K to Kickstart JungleVenture". Wired. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  40. ^ "David Crane's Jungle Adventure". Kickstarter. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  41. ^ Gauntlett, Adam (September 7, 2012). "Jungle Adventure Headed to Kickstarter Disaster". The Escapist. Retrieved April 11, 2016.
  42. ^ "Pitfall II: Lost Caverns". Pcmuseum.ca. Retrieved August 10, 2012.
  43. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on July 1, 2016. Retrieved May 3, 2016.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link) CS1 maint: bot: original URL status unknown (link)
  44. ^ WorldOfDragon.org

External links[edit]