The making of Pitfall! for the Atari 2600


The first video game system in the Aamoth household was the Atari 2600. My parents bought it used from our next door neighbors, wrapped it up, and put it under the Christmas tree. Pitfall! was one of the handful of games that accompanied our new-to-us Atari. If you’re over the age of 30, you may have played the game more than a few times. Even if you’re under 30, you’ve likely heard of Pitfall! or played one of the many remakes.

EDGE has an interesting interview with the game’s creator, David Crane, who recalls that he enjoyed the challenge of developing Atari games because everything had to fit on 4K (4K!) of memory. Pitfall! was an impressive technical accomplishment because it featured an animated running person, as opposed to most other Atari games at the time, which featured moving blocks and similar objects but very little fluid animation.

Crane had actually conceptualized and developed the “little running man” back in 1979 but it wasn’t until 1982 that he was actually able to work the character into a game. The concept of Pitfall! apparently came about in ten minutes, with the entire game taking about 1,000 hours to program.

The jungle setting was influenced a bit by the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, which came out in 1981 and the idea of hopping across alligators’ heads came from old Heckle and Jekyll cartoons. Pitfall! consisted of 254 screens that Crane programmed to be drawn mathematically so they could all fit on the 4K of memory. By mathematically drawing the screens, the levels ended up only using 50 bytes.

Check out the full article here.