Pitfall! creator preferred building for Atari 2600

It’s been more than 35 years since David Crane created the platformer Pitall! for the Atari 2600.

This weekend, he will be in Orlando sharing his love for classic games at the Free Play Florida retro game festival.

He talked to The OVG about his career.

The OVG: Why are events like Free Play Florida important and why do you think so many attend?

David Crane: I enjoy supporting the retro-gaming movement.  It is part nostalgia, but also part philosophy.  At a minimum a game should be entertaining, and the games of today can entertain.  But I have always felt that a game should be more than just entertaining, it should be fun to play.  Fun is very hard to quantify, but you know it when you play it.  People who return to the early games do so for the fun… playing games that you can pick up and enjoy for a few minutes or a few hours of simple fun

OVG: What is it like to see one of your creations, namely Pitfall!, resonate with so many?

DC: We designed games that we wanted to play.  We also bounced ideas and features off each other in such a way that the end product appealed to many different tastes.  That resulted in designs that appealed to a wide audience, so each game’s initial success was not too surprising.  What is humbling is to see Pitfall! on a list of the top 100 games of all time – even 40 years after its creation – that and having Pitfall! and Pitfall II ending up in the Smithsonian.

OVG: Why do you think it did so, taking into context the games of the era?

DC: I played some tricks with the Atari 2600 to make a very deep world for the early 1980s, and it ended up setting a new standard for depth of game play.

OVG: Pitfall! began, survived and thrived in an era when the general public was starting to learn the power of video games and how great they were. What kind of pressure (if any) did that put on developers who were starting to build this industry? 

DC: I never felt any pressure from the general public.  The game industry was in its infancy, bringing the public along as we innovated.  By providing that “something new” for each wave of product we were able to keep the game-playing public happy.

OVG: What goes through your mind when you see the video games of today, which have the benefit of multiple powerful platforms that pretty much allow any idea to be created?

DC: Frankly, the Atari 2600 remains my favorite game platform largely because of what it couldn’t do.  Games for early platforms are very much defined by the platform itself.  I had more fun with the puzzle of making the 2600 do things never intended by its designers than I did with making the games.  So I find it less enjoyable to design a game without technical limits.


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