Thursday, February 26, 2009


Pitfall! is considered the first major platformer, and an important piece of video game history. The game was released in 1982 for the Atari 2600 and soon found its way to the ColecoVision, Commodore 64, Intellivision, and Sega SG-100. I think the game is also playable via GameTap, but who cares? It was the second biggest seller on the 2600, surpassed only by Pac-Man. Unfortunately, Pac-Man on the 2600 is one of the worst games ever made. Pitfall!, however, is amazing.

You control Pitfall Harry through a jungle, jumping over pits of tar and water. You can swing from vines, jump on alligators, and collect treasure. Pitfall! has a unique game mechanic: you only have 20 minutes to beat the entire game. The perfect game results in only 1:42 seconds left on the clock... so you've almost no time to enjoy the detailed landscapes. You can complete the game by collecting all 32 treasures scattered about the jungle. Don't expect an ending, however. When you beat the game, everything just stops moving.

The world of Pitfall! is composed of 256 screens, each with some combination of pits, animals, logs, treasure, fire, and vines. The player can choose to progress through the game in either direction, but it is generally easier to move from right to left. Occasionally, you will have access to underground passages infested with giant scorpions. These passages allow for extremely quick travel: each underground screen corresponds to three above ground screens. To complete the game, you must use these passages.

Collecting treasure adds to your score, while tripping on a log or falling down a hole reduces your score. All the other obstacles (including the water and tar pits) simply kill you, and you have three lives (and are unable to collect more). A perfect score is 114,000 points.

Pitfall! was created by David Crane (who also made A Boy and His Blob, a similar game... sort of), and the famous anecdote is that he designed the game in 10 minutes and programmed it in 1000 hours. He probably could have spent a little more time in planning, but, I must admit, Pitfall! withstands the 27 year test of time.

My friend had this game, and I remember swinging across vines and jumping on alligators. However, at the time I didn't have the benefit of the internet and we had no idea what the goal of the game was, other than exploring. It was fun, but completely eclipsed by the fluid gameplay and fantastical world of Super Mario Brothers.

Pitfall! was a technological accomplishment upon release, proving that the Atari 2600 could make games that didn't look like garbage. Activision has tried to update Pitfall several times, resulting in several abominations (Pitfall 2 is pretty good, but I haven't played it much). Ironically, the installments with the least technological advantages proved to be the best games. As with many classics, Pitfall! possess an almost supernatural magnetism. Play one single game of Pitfall! and tell me you don't hunger for more.


Anonymous said...

I've only played this game once and i admit i didn't know what to do really, except not die. anyway good post.

Anonymous said...

Yeah Pitfall! is one of my favorite Atari jobs too. I wrote a review for GameFAQs about it- the only one I did in all of 2008.

Hey when's Skeletronic coming out? The masses demand the answers!

samiorigami said...

i love the rainbow blur of his path on the cover art... makes the game look like the shit!

nice post,
you should do it more often...

8bitcity said...

The cover art is definitely, "Holy fuck this game kicks ASS!" Love it! The game is so goddamn addicting, I haven't beaten it yet, most of my playthroughs consist of "how far can I run in one direction."

And in answer to Del_Duio's question... I'm actually working on another project at the moment. Grad school has been kicking my ass lately and I don't have the time to devote to the programming Skeletronic, or, more importantly, the vast amount of art I'm producing for that game. In addition, the world is pretty gigantic, rivaling the original Legend of Zelda (I'm not sure on the exact size comparison, but it's probably even bigger than LoZ).

That said, this secret new project is smaller, more manageable. I'm not quite ready to make an announcement on it just yet. Rest assured it will be epic as hell, however. When I have enough of it completed to make a post, I will. I actually just started the project yesterday, when procrastinating studying for midterms this week, but I did get a significant portion completed (about 1/4 of the overworld).

So in answer to your question, my new timetable is to finish Skeletronic by the end of summer, but to release this other game within a few months.

Anonymous said...

Dude i demand that you tells me stuff about this game. For serious.

samiorigami said...

secret game plans
mm... deliciously devious

Anonymous said...

Yeah all the old Atari games had some pretty whacked out cover art. Like something straight out of a Sgt. Pepper cartoon.

Glad to hear you're making something huge Heronblade, keeping it secret it probably the best way to go about it =)

Anonymous said...

why'd you take out the technology vs fun graph? i thought it was awesome.