21 - Pitfall Harry, the Jungle Runner
It’s strange to think of a time before jumping was a standard video game action, to be expected whenever and wherever you have control over an individual character. A time before you could hop onto enemies’ heads and not die, or swing on ropes, or move back and forth across a vast level — many times wider than the screen.
But these ideas were rare, and just beginning to find their way into video game lexicon, when David Crane came along and with one single game turned them into tropes. With just one game that had begun as a simple tech demo of a running man. One game that would go on to define a console generation, amid 64 consecutive weeks atop the Billboard bestsellers chart and a whopping four million lifetime sales on a gaming system that itself sold 30 million units.
That one game is Pitfall!, or Jungle Runner, as it was called during development, an Indiana Jones-like adventure distilled into the (home console) video game technology of the era.
This is the story of Pitfall!'s creation and its phenomenal legacy, pieced together from myriad sources — interviews, reviews, history articles, promo videos, book chapters, retrospectives, and a 2011 postmortem delivered at the Game Developers' Conference by none other than David Crane himself.
- David Crane's 2011 GDC Classic Game Postmortem on Pitfall!
- Pitfall Harry in Raiders of the Lost Shark is part of this Saturday Supercade episode
- Pitfall TV commercials (I only ended up using two of these):
- X-Play: Know Your Roots with David Crane
All music is my own work, except for the clips from Pitfall II and Jungle Hunt. Sound effects come from Atari 2600 versions of Pitfall I + II, Adventure, Superman, Dragster, Pong, Combat, Jungle Hunt, and Grand Prix, and from Utopia for the Intellivision. (Plus some stock tennis sound.)
Thanks as always to my supporters on Patreon — especially my $10+ backers Vivek Mohan, Simon Moss, Wade Tregaskis, Eric Zocher, and Seth Robinson. And a very big thank you (and warm welcome!) to my four new patrons this week. If you'd like to become a supporter, for as little as $1 a month, head to my Patreon page and sign up.
I've also just added a third way that you can donate to the show — a premium, ad-free feed on Breaker, where you'll get all the bonus audio that goes to Patreon (but none of the non-audio Patreon perks) for a monthly subscription of US$2.99. Head to https://www.breaker.audio/the-life-and-times-of-video-games-premium for more info.