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Living in Pitfall!'s shadow Exclusive

Living in  Pitfall! 's shadow
September 6, 2012 | By Frank Cifaldi

Game designer and former Activision co-founder David Crane has shipped more video games than just about anybody: Over 100 since his first game in 1977, by his count.

And yet, there's only one title that he's generally remembered for: Pitfall!, the jungle-themed Atari 2600 adventure that defined what we now call the platform genre.

Ever since its release in 1982 (and its subsequent sequel in 1984), fans have been approaching Crane asking for a new Pitfall!, even after he left Activision -- and therefore, any ties to the franchise -- in 1985.

Even through hits like Ghostbusters, A Boy and His Blob, and David Crane's Amazing Tennis -- not to mention his output from over a decade at Skyworks, another company he co-founded -- Crane has been living under the shadow of Pitfall!. He compares it to being a child actor, forever associated with a role he played over thirty years ago.

"I suppose that's not a bad problem to have," Crane tells us over the phone. "It's not a dark shadow."

"But I'm not just a classic gaming guy. This is what I do for a living!"

Convinced that the world wanted him to "go back to the jungle" and make another game like Pitfall!, Crane put together a small, independent team, drafted up a partial design for a new 2D platformer that brings to mind the old days but utilizes modern day technology (it's being made in Unity), and launched a Kickstarter campaign seeking $900,000.

It's not going well. With only 8 days to go, the game has drawn just over $21,000 in funding, and has caused quite a stir among critics.

"Everyone turned against me as soon as they saw [the price]," Crane says.

A young Jack Black (yes, that's really him) stars in a 1983 commercial for David Crane's original Pitfall!.

Commenters complained that Crane's asking fee is too high for a game that hasn't even been properly prototyped yet -- something Crane is quick to point out is intentional, as he's hoping to get his backers involved directly in the design process.

"They look at my project and say, you're asking way too much money. And I say, do you have any idea how much it takes to make a game?" he asks.

Crane's vision is for backers fund what he specifies as "professional" development -- a high quality game by a seasoned designer with an established fanbase, something a little more high shelf than the lower-cost indie games he'd been seeing.

"I had people telling me that I was ruining Kickstarter for indie developers by asking for that amount of money," he says.

"I've proven that I can make games that are very marketable. So I choose to do larger, professional development projects rather than little tiny things just to get myself published."

An early look at what Crane has in mind for his "Jungle Adventure."

Crane blames the lack of enthusiasm for his campaign on what he sees as a lack of vision among his critics, saying that while there are a lot of different views as to what the strengths of the platform are, it seems limiting when it comes to higher budget productions.

"It's just amazing how there is no vision of what Kickstarter is supposed to be," he says. "People won't let go of what they think it is."

It's not looking likely that David Crane's Jungle Adventure will hit its goal, but Crane's not throwing in the towel just yet. Follow its progress here.

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