October 17, 2018

Internet Archive Emulator for Atari 2600 Activision Pitfall!

As we head into the holiday season about 2 months from now, again I'm mining the digital treasure trove of the nonprofit organization Internet Archive, this time for home video game console systems and library of different games that worked with each console which first emerged in the late 1970's.

Home video game console systems continue to be produced today even if the companies selling them have changed (for example, Microsoft sells XBox consoles, and Sony sells the popular PlayStation gaming system, each in different iterations over time), plus Japan-based Nintendo continues to operate in the space, too.

Since this blog deals mainly with retro content, I won't be discussing any of the present purveyors of home video game consoles. But, I will address a few contained in the Internet Archive's Console Living Room (catch their December 2013 blog post at https://blog.archive.org/2013/12/26/a-second-christmas-morning-the-console-living-room/ for details), including companies with names like Coleco, Atari, Philips/Magnavox Odyssey 2 (the latter two were brands of the same if memory serves me correctly), and Mattel Intellivision (legal challenges from the litigious Mattel Corporation means that particular library will not be included in this collection).  Those are definitely games from my generation, and thanks to Internet Archive, even though the old hardware may now be history, their games live on -- online (FREE!), and are open to anyone with a web browser thanks to emulation.

Like the Internet Archive's Historical Software collection, its Console Living Room is in still technically in beta. Its very much a work-in-process, and new emulators are being developed all the time. At some point, we are likely to see much better cataloging of the content there, with relevant search functionality, instructions for using each game on the web, game documentation, etc. Right now, because its still in beta, most of those things are still missing.

Each home video game system console has its own history and games they were best known for. The Atari Video Computer System (or VCS) was originally released on September 11, 1977 (yes, on 9/11), but was re-named Atari 2600 in 1982.  It is credited with popularizing the use of microprocessor-based hardware and games contained on ROM cartridges. Newer home video game consoles such as Sony's PlayStation and Microsoft's XBox use CD-ROM's for games which are cheaper and easier to produce, and a very lucrative secondary market for buying and selling used games exists as of 2018, which has helped perpetuate their popularity.

In any event, while creating emulators of the original home video game consoles remains a work-in-progress, a number are there now and are working very well. Recall that while Atari (under its ownership of Warner Communications in the early 1980's) made some of its own games, many of its more popular ones were "ports" from other video game manufacturers who developed them (Atari 2600 being an under-powered system is often criticized for poor graphics and sound quality; the company's later generation machine the Atari 7800 was considered a big upgrade, and the game library here reflects those improvements), but third-party software developers quickly entered the space, and some of their games are considered among the best ever released on those game platforms.

One such company is still very much in business as a gaming company today: Activision, which began in 1978, the year after Atari released its original home video game console. Its signature game has been released, re-released, released as part of collections, and included on dozens of platforms (including phones). Yet Activision has largely resisted efforts to make the original Pitfall! game online, except on very limited occasions. That said, apparently, because Internet Archive is using open-code software in its emulator models, evidently, the company isn't fighting its effort, which is good for end-users.

For its time, Pitfall! was a revolutionary and original game. It showed video game audiences that a cartridge could let you walk, run, jump, swing, and climb. Players were given an expansive area in which they could explore while avoiding dangerous obstacles. Pitfall! also gave the player a goal to collect treasure within a specific amount of time. All of these elements were new and original in 1982, and it paved the way for future video games. On top of this, Pitfall! featured impressive graphics, animation, and a unique sound system.

Pitfall! was originally conceived and designed by David Crane while at Activision, who graduated from the De Vry School of Technology in 1972. After first working at Atari, David Crane and three of his fellow game designers left to start their own company called Activision. Before too long, David found himself designing Pitfall! at his new company. "The idea took all of ten minutes," David remarked. "It was a simple idea - a man running in a jungle. But, it spawned a genre of side-scrolling games. It was the beginning of a genre. Also, I guess people just remembered it as being neat."

Once upon a time, one website had an Adobe Shockwave player version of the game online. But most old Adobe software, while functional, tended to be bug-ridden and were banned by many IT departments because it didn't always play nice with Windows or server software.  More recently, Adobe has migrated virtually all of its software library online. Regardless, the Shockwave version of the Pitfall! game itself has since been removed from the site, but there's still (for the time being) some relevant Adobe Flash-based history there, and it has some interesting background still which can be found at http://www.langleycreations.com/pitfall/ if you're interested.

Aside from that, a few other things I felt were worth sharing here.

First, an original television Commercial for Pitfall! from Internet Archive. The quality isn't great, but its one of the few out there and is worth a look. That can be viewed below, or by visiting https://archive.org/details/Pitfall_1982_Activision.

AtariAge also has a lot of great documentation for the original Activision Pitfall! found online -- I find it a little bit cumbersome to navigate. For example, each page of the original manual is scanned as a separate jpg file. Format aside, the manual can be found at http://atariage.com/manual_thumbs.php?SoftwareLabelID=360 but is still worth a visit.

As for the relevant user details on playing the game, while the manual has most of those, some are a tiny bit different than the old Atari 2600 in a web browser-based environment (for example, most people don't have joystick controllers as the old Atari system had), and as noted, once its out of beta, we can expect Internet Archive will have this stuff cleaned up, documented and readily available. Right now, in Pitfall! parlance "It's a Jungle Out There!" so I've assembled the most relevant components here, followed by the game itself.

Instructions for Playing Pitfall! Online in an Internet Web Browser

The object of Pitfall! is to guide Harry through a maze of jungle scenes, jumping over or avoiding many deadly dangers, and helping Harry grab the most treasures in the shortest possible time.


1. Use of Keyboard Controls:

Although the following details have not (YET) been documented by Internet Archive (which one would expect once its no longer in beta format), but the following have been discovered by users and are worth sharing here.

  • Ctrl - To jump
  • Arrow Key Up - To move up
  • Arrow Key Down - To move down
  • Arrow Key Left - To move left
  • Arrow Key Right - To move right
  • P - To Pause Game
  • C - To cycle the game from Color to Black and White

2. Scoring. You start each adventure with 2000 points. If you fall down a hole, you will lose 100 points. Rolling logs also cause point loss; how much depends on how long contact is made with them.

Finding treasure earns you points. There are eight of each type of treasure in the game, 32 in all, worth a total of 112,000 points. Collect them all without losing any points for falling down holes or tripping on logs and you'll have earned a perfect score - 114,000!

Some misfortunes will cause a deduction of points.  Should you fall down a hole by accident, you will lose 100 points.  Rolling logs will also cause point loss depending on how long contact is made with them. Each treasure you find will add points to your score.  There are eight of each type of treasure in the entire game, 32 in all, for a total of 112,000 points.  A perfect score is 114,000 points (reached by collecting all treasures. without losing any points by falling down holes or tripping on logs).
  •  GOLD BAR = 4000 POINTS
  •  MONEY BAG = 2000 POINTS
Below is an image I took of the various "treasures" you'll likely encounter during game-play.

3. Time. You have 20 minutes to complete each adventure. Pitfall Harry begins each game with three lives (see "Perils of Pitfall" below). Game ends when time runs out or Harry loses all three lives.


Pitfall Harry's Jungle Adventure involves great danger. Some hazards slow him down, robbing you of points; others stop him cold. The "inconvenient" hazards are open holes in the ground and rolling logs (see "Scoring" above). The "catastrophic" hazards include scorpions, fires, cobras, crocodiles, swamps, quicksand and tar pits. These obstacles will not cost you any points, but they will cost Harry one of his three lives.


"As you set off on your first adventure with Harry, you'll notice two important features: The logs always roll from right to left, and the 'replacement' Harrys (after Harry loses a life) drop from trees on the left side of the screen. So, to minimize the number of rolling logs to be jumped, and the catastopic hazards to be re-tried, simply run to the left.

"Pitfall Harry's trip must be made through a maze of surface and underground passages through the jungle. To capture all 32 treasures in under twenty minutes, Harry will have to use some of the underground passages. I'd suggest that you make a map of the terrain each time you play. Knowing the jungle and planning the best route to all the treasures is the only way to ensure success time after time.

"Until you get really skilled at making Harry jump from croc to croc, you might wait until the crocodiles jaws are closed, jump to the top of the first croc's head, then wait for the jaws to open and close again before jumping to the next one. Soon, you'll be skipping across crocs like they were stepping stones in a stream.

"If you find any writing materials deep in the jungle, drop me a line. I'd love to hear how you and Harry are getting along."

David Crane

As David Crane suggested about the map, several users at the AtariAge website had a dialogue about a big map for Pitfall! that had been developed by users years earlier, and one user recommended a location where the full map of the playing area for Pitfall! is still available.  Keep in mind that while the main playing area represents a single screen of the game, by going to the lower levels, you can skip several of the main screens (sometimes a dozen at a time!), although you may also give up the ability to capture some treasures above to boost your score. There are "catastrophic" hazards found at the lower levels, so beware. Then again, if you're pressed for time (the game only runs for 20 minutes), its a way of more rapidly moving through the jungle -- just beware that some underground passageways are dead ends, which would waste your time.  Because its useful reference, I'm including the complete Pitfall! jungle map below, or you can still visit it online at http://pitfallharry.tripod.com/MapRoom/PitfallMap.html if you prefer.

So, without any other boring text, below are the emulators on file with Internet Archive's Console Living Room for the Atari 2600 (which can be accessed at  https://archive.org/details/atari_2600_library if you want to check out all of the other games for that system), and the original Activision Pitfall! emulator can be found below, or by visiting https://archive.org/details/atari_2600_pitfall_1983_cce_c-813. My biggest disappointment is that when users share the emulator content, the full-screen game play is not enabled, while it is slightly better at Internet Archive's own pages. But the game itself, like my posts for the emulators of handheld games including Texas Instruments Speak & Spell and Parker Brothers Merlin: The Electronic Wizard, the game will load up on desktop computer browsers by clicking on the image below. I'm less clear how functional (if at all) those are on mobile browsers, which are often stripped-down versions of the real thing.  Still, with the stuff above, there should be enough for users to have some fun. Try not to waste too much time!

Again, I'll list the key browser controls here:
  • Ctrl - To jump
  • Arrow Key Up - To move up
  • Arrow Key Down - To move down
  • Arrow Key Left - To move left
  • Arrow Key Right - To move right
  • P - To Pause Game
  • C - To cycle the game from Color to Black and White

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