RVG Interviews David Crane.
Well here it is our Interview with David Crane of Pitfall fame and many other titles.
David was a huge part of the early beginnings of Activision and remains in the game industry even now with his recent Kickstarter Project.
I would like to personally thank David for agreeing to this interview and talking timeout to take part.
Thanks and enjoy.
Tell us how you came up with the idea for Pitfall?
Pitfall began as an attempt to make a realistic human figure in a video game. First I created Harry, then put him in a jungle setting. The next most important step was to figure out how to lay out a large world of screens in a very limited memory space. I defined the screen layout mathematically, and Pitfall was born.
Were you surprised at the success of Pitfall when it was first launched?
As I was developing Pitfall we knew it was going to be a hit. The side-view “platformer” game style opened up the game environment into a whole new world. Now you can take a game character into new screens and environments. The options seemed limitless.
Tell us about Pitfall II. What made you decide to explore the caverns below? How about the catchy tune? I sometimes play the game just to listen to it!
To make Pitfall II, I had to develop a custom IC to go in the cartridge. This gave me more graphic capabilities, and most important – three channel music. With the extra graphic ability I knew I could make underground caverns and such, so I designed down instead of out.
By the time I was designing Pitfall II, the original Pitfall had been licensed as a Saturday morning cartoon show. The “catchy tune” was composed for the cartoon show. I liked the tune and made an arrangement for the game.
Which one of the many versions of Pitfall would you consider your personal favorite?
My favorite Pitfall game that I programmed is Pitfall II for the 2600. My favorite version overall is the Atari 800 Pitfall II. Because of an interesting programming decision, the guy who translated the game to the Atari 800 had extra time and added a full second level to the game.
Will you look for other ways to fund your Jungle Adventure project should the Kickstarter campaign not work?
Without Kickstarter funding the team I put together to design Jungle Adventure will be scattered to the winds, going off to lend their professional talents to other projects. Like them I will move on to making another game.
Tell us about A Boy and His Blob for the NES and the idea behind the use of jellybeans?
The kernel of that game idea was to make a tool-using adventure game. You had to have the right tools to accomplish each task. Using a shape-shifting Blob sidekick as your ‘toolkit’ was a fun inspiration, influenced by a cartoon character from my childhood.
Kart sytle racing games are popular. Have you ever thought of releasing a David Crane's Kart Racing game and using characters from your games?
That idea has never occurred to me.
What was it like in the early days at Atari, do you have any funny memories?
Many people have heard that the game systems in development at Atari used code names, sort of like naming hurricanes. Some people have heard that the Video Computer System (2600) had the code name of “Stella”. Did you know that the “Stella” project wasn’t named after a woman, but actually after a brand of bicycle?
How exciting was it forming Activision and becoming the first ever 3rd party publishers?
There is nothing better than risking it all on something you believe in, and succeeding beyond your wildest dreams – even creating an entire industry. Hard to put into words.
Were you involved with any of the other Pitfall games after the second one?
No, none of them.
What was the greatest moment in your working life?
I don’t know. Choose from my first Game Designer of the Year award; or receiving the first-ever-awarded AIAS Pioneer Award; or maybe the Game Developers Choice “First Penguin” Award; or my first Platinum Cartridge for sales in excess of 1,000,000 units; or closing the first successful video game IPO; or even the 100th time I had to rewrite the Pitfall code, finally getting it down from 6K bytes to under 4K.
Or maybe my greatest moment has not yet happened.
What part of designing a game do you prefer, the design or programming?
For me they go hand in hand. I have to program a game to get the most out of one of my designs. If I hand it off to another programmer it won’t be the same. Also, ideas come up during the implementation of a game’s programming that make the game better. If I am the one doing the programming I can work the new ideas back into the game design.
Did you ever consider doing a third Pitfall game? Did you have any ideas for such a project?
Jungle Adventure was the closest I have come to doing a game that is in Pitfall’s category. That doesn’t look like it is going to happen.
Given time and demand was there, could you imagine doing a game for the Atari 2600 again?
Given time and demand, I might. I always liked the challenges of working on the 2600.
Ghostbusters on C64 was ingenious. Did you ever play the Atari-2600-version and if so, were you surprised how well this complex game translated to the limited hardware?
The Atari 2600 Ghostbusters game was designed and programmed by Dan Kitchen. He did a great job. Frankly, because of the limitations of the 2600 a task like that is much more than a translation, which is why you will notice I didn’t use that term. As for how well the game was implemented, I was impressed but not surprised. Dan was trained in the “old school” of game design, and he wouldn’t stop until the game was great.
Are you aware of the popularity the Atari 2600 still has today? What do you think of the homebrew scene creating new games for it every year?
I am happy that people are keeping the 2600 alive. I’m sure that they have learned how rewarding it can be to accomplish things on the limited hardware that even the system’s designers didn’t know were possible.
Huge thanks to David for taking part in this interview.
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