Pitfall II: Arcade Version

Have no fear, we’ve not forgotten about Arcade Mermaid, our regular classic arcade feature. I don’t think this post is quite the right material for it, but it’s still very interesting.

People who played the Atari VCS, later renamed the Atari 2600, will no doubt remember David Crane’s seminal Pitfall!, one of the greatest, and certainly one of the best-selling, games for the system.

Pitfall’s huge success spurred the creation of a sequel, Pitfall II: Lost Caverns, which is certainly among the most technically brilliant games for the VCS. We recently covered how one of its best tricks was how it managed to get music out of the Atari’s TIA chip that few other games were capable of. That’s not all it did. Pitfall! was one of the very first exploratory platformers, and Pitfall II expanded its focus greatly. Some might call it the first Metroidvania, although it doesn’t have the item-based progression gating usually associated with that genre.

It does have great design ingenuity though. It gets its challenge not through limited lives but its huge and complex system of caverns. In fact, it abandons lives entirely, replacing them with a checkpoint system, another possible first. Getting “killed” never ends the game, instead, it just costs points and returns the player’s surrogate Pitfall Harry to the last cross he touched. So anyone, given enough time and effort, can finish the game; they might not have a good score when they do it though, which still leaves room for players to improve.

Pitfall II, with its huge world and great music on a system not known to be able to support either, powered by a custom microchip that Crane himself designed, called the DPC, would undoubtedly have been a giant hit if it had been released a year before. Sadly, it came out right at the end of the VCS/2600’s life. Crane had hopes that the DPC would help revive the system but, sadly, it became the only game to utilize it.

But that wasn’t the end of Pitfall II. While it was designed around the limitations of the VCS, it received ports for several other systems, including the Apple II, the Atari 5200 and Atari’s 8-bit computers (which both had a secret second world to explore after finishing the first!), the Commodore 64 of course, Colecovision, MSX, SG-1000 and ZX Spectrum. It even got a kind of NES port, called Super Pitfall, which was programmed by anonymous NES contractor Micronics and is widely regarded as terrible. And then, there was the arcade version.

Sega’s arcade version of Pitfall II is more of a recreation than a port! It’s divided into levels and goes back to the standard arcade paradigm of limited lives. Its first level resembles a condensed version of the first game, with some extra hazards built it. The game world is both smaller and harder than the original, to make it harder to master and thus entice players to put in more money. You can see for yourself in the below playthrough, a deathless run up on the Replay Burners channel. Videos on Replay Burners are done cheatless and without tool-assist, so you can be assured that an actual player performed this run and not a control script. The video is about 27 minutes long.

News 11/2/2022: Emptying the Ol Bile Gland

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

I’m back! I’ve been bobbing and blobbing around internet slimepools and have dredged from their murky depths the latest gaming information for your consumption! Yum!

Engadget’s Kris Holt tells us that the graphic-based Steam version of Dwarf Fortress is on the way! It’ll cost $30, which it is possible to be dismayed by, except that if there’s any game that offers depth and content worth at least $30, it’s Dwarf Fortress. The version will have not only graphics but a tutorial and updated UI! And the free version will continue to be updated! Dwarf Fortress is going with a paid version because its creators, being not electronic dwarves but actual human being people, need money to live. Please, help them to live!

Liam Doolan at Nintendo Life: Mario Party 1 and 2 are coming to Switch Online’s Expansion Pack. I wonder if the games will destroy Joycons as thoroughly as it did N64 joysticks?

K. Thor Jensen for PC Magazine writes about what he considers the 10 worst arcade conversions of all. They cover a number of likely suspects. Atari 2600 Pac-Man, NES 720°, GBA Mortal Kombat, GBA Marble Madness, PC Thunder Blade, Amiga Street Fighter II, NES Ikari Warriors, 2600 Double Dragon, PS1 X-Men vs Street Fighter, and C64 Cisco Heat. But, I dunno, there are a lot of awful computer ports of arcade games floating around out there. Given the time I could probably redo the whole list, but PC Magazine isn’t paying me to do it. Plus, that kind of negativity is more the Gripe Monster’s lawn.

Ryan Dinsdale at IGN tells us that Microsoft loses from $100 to $200 on every Xbox X and S they sell. Aaahahaha! Yes my minions, exult with me in the misfortune of a major console manufacturer, for no good reason than sheer ill will! Er. Sorry, I let the evil out of my brain for a moment there.

At Kotaku, John Walker says that Playstation Plus has lost two million subscribers after its relaunch! Haahaha! Revel in their misfortune! Giant corporations will destroy the earth, at least they suffer very slightly every once in a great while! Oops, sorry again, I really need to get my bile gland emptied more often. The article mentions that the higher-priced tiers mean Sony is actually making more money now anyway.

Homebrew Atari VCS/2600 Arcade Ports

The long-running Atari fansite AtariAge sells a number of carts that run on classic Atari VCS systems that make it do things you might not expect that system could do. Some of the most impressive of these are remakes of classic arcade games that go far beyond what was possible at the time. A number of these were developed by Champ Games. Here are links to a number of videos showing them off, although sone of the may not currently be in their store:

Galagon” – Wizard of WorZoo KeeperAvalancheScrambleSuper CobraMappy (especially this one!)

A few others, not from Champ Games: Aardvark (Anteater) – Venture ReloadedSpace Rocks (Asteroids) – Star CastlePac-ManDraconian (Bosconian)

Commodore Basic 2.0 for Other Systems

Say what you will about Commodore BASIC 2.0, the built-in programming language and makeshift shell for the Commodore 64, written by Microsoft employees and descending from code written by Bill Gates himself, it’s certainly, um, basic. Nearly everything that takes advantage of that machine’s graphics or sound features involves POKEing values into memory at various locations, requiring a programmer to memorize a long list of important numbers.

Because it doesn’t interface with the system’s unique features to any great extent, it’s a very generic version of BASIC. But this means it can be ported to other systems without tremendous effort. Fancy-pants commands don’t have to be converted to another architecture’s norms, because there aren’t any! And lots of systems used the instruction set and general capabilities of the MOS 6502, upon which the Commodore 64 is based, so now we have versions of its BASIC that work on the Nintendo Entertainment System and the Atari 800. They’re both based off of Project 64, an annotated disassembly of the C64’s BASIC and Kernal ROM code.

The NES port should be able to run on actual hardware, but you’ll need the Family Keyboard that was made to work with the Famicom’s own official BASIC to use it, which was only released in Japan.

By the way, the reason that I write BASIC in all-caps is, it’s an acronym! It stands for Beginners’ All-purpose Symbolic Instruction Code.