Video game pioneer, Pitfall! creator David Crane says esports roots planted 40 years ago

Legendary video game designer David Crane said he probably should have seen the rise of esports way back in the 1980s.

While building games for Atari, a long hallway ended in a sort-of makeshift game room, where programmers would play the latest titles.

These often impromptu sessions would often draw six to eight people watching the gameplay.

“We, of course, looked at games differently than the average person – concentrating on design issues and technical implementation,” he told The OVG in an email interview. “But it could be entertaining nonetheless. It showed the value of watching an expertly played game.”

Crane would move on to Activision, where he would be the brains behind the legendary Atari 2600 game “Pitfall!,” and “Ghostbusters” for the Commodore 64.

This weekend, Crane will be in Orlando for Free Play Florida, an annual showcase of arcade games that serves as an homage to that classical video game period.

For Crane, attending these events helps him contribute to making sure the era is not forgotten.

“As long as there are gatherings of such like-minded people, I hope to be around to support them,” he said.

Free Play Florida is a three-day event that starts Friday at Caribe Royal Orlando, 8101 World Center Drive.

Crane was involved during one of the most formative eras in video game history.

He built games for the Atari 2600, Atari 5200, the Nintendo Entertainment System and Super Nintendo, among others.

But his work on the 1982 Pitfall!, which sold 4 million copies and has been considered by experts as a game that helped define the side-scrolling platformer, remains one of his most famous works.

“I knew as I was creating Pitfall! that it was going to open up a whole world of experience,” Crane said. “After all, if you can leave one screen and enter another, a game is limited only by the designer’s imagination.”

The process of creating Pitfall! had its technical challenges, Crane said.

How can you build a human-like figure in eight pixels?

How do you build a world large enough to be interesting?

But those paled in comparison to deadline pressure, he said.

“One of the hardest things creators face is to be creative on a schedule,” Crane said. “Many game companies have failed due to the pressures placed on the creators by the reality of deadlines.”

That’s where Activision cofounder Jim Levy stepped in, easing off deadlines and setting a game release schedule that was more developer-friendly.

Crane said being part of the video game industry’s infancy also helped ease off some pressure.

“The greatest factor was our drive to make each game better than our last, and that pressure came from within,” he said. “As we were making each new game it was important to be innovative so that by the time our next game came to market, people would be tired of what came before and excited to see something new.”

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