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June 11, 2013
Pitfall! is a video game released by Activision for the Atari 2,600 in 1,982. It is the second best-selling game made for the Atari 2,600 (after Pac-Man), with over 4 million copies sold.
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 to avoid them. 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 1,980s. In a November 2,003 interview with Edge he described how in 1,979 he had developed the technology to display a realistic running man and in 1,982 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 vines were drawn as a stretched "ball".
Pitfall! was a massive success for the 2,600. Arcade Express reviewed the game on August 30, 1,982, 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.
Pitfall - Atari 2,600 - TV Game Commercial - Retro Gaming - 1,982