Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 1    December 1997

Atari 2600 Secrets Revealed!

Discovered and Duly Reported to You by Your Fearless Editors

A little-known fact about the 2600 version of Pitfall II by Activision is that there are at least two cartridge versions! This was brought to our attention when we realized that the theme songs for each version are slightly different!

After we opened up the cartridge (it had to be done), we were shocked to discover that Data Age manufactured the version with the less common music! We did some further covert investigation, and were shocked to discover that the theme music was more sparse for a good reason: The cartridge manufactured by Data Age contains Pitfall III: The Lost Caverns II, previously thought to be available only in the 5200 and Atari 8-bit versions of the game, in the form of a hidden level. The shock went even further when we brought up the program on a PC. Jeff Minter's name -- the guy behind many Atari Jaguar games -- turned up in the source code! We could not believe it. But the tale gets stranger!

We contacted Jeff through e-mail, and he told us the whole story. It seems that in 1983, while working on Gridrunner, Jeff had the opportunity to do some work for Data Age. Jeff, being friends with programmer Bob Whitehead of Activision, pursuaded him that he could fit the secret cavern into the Pitfall II cartridge on the 2600 with a special compression method he had developed. Pitfall II (or Version II, as it was secretly known in-house) took four months to program, including the secret part.

When Jeff finished the game, he showed it to everyone at Activision, and they were quite surprised. A special deal was made with Data Age, Jeff's employer, to produce this special version, which would be sold only via CompuServe mail-order -- and even then, only at 150 baud.

The deal eventually fell through, but not before one thousand carts were produced by Data Age. Most of these were destroyed, but a few happened to get out, probably through some programmers that worked for Data Age. Jeff was quite shocked to find that anyone had the Version II cartidge. He asked for a copy of ours, as even he didn't have one.

But it doesn't stop there, either! It seems that Jeff wasn't the only one who found out that we had located the infamous Version II (or, as its special chip was affectionately known, Henry Winkler).

We were up late one night, typing. We got so tired from working on this newsletter for you good people that we fell asleep in our chairs.

At about 4 A.M., we heard a noise at the window. We peeked through the drapes, and there, with a ski mask on and suction cups in his hands, was someone trying to break in! When we opened the window and told him the jig was up, he removed the mask. It was Pitfall! creator David Crane. He turned beet-red, looked around nervously, and asked sheepishly if we had any duplicates of Fishing Derby that we could give him. We promptly shut the window on his fingers. We then ran downstairs and out the door with an Atari and a portable TV, and tortured him until the cops arrived by making him play his own Decathlon game over and over and over.

The next day, Adam was at the bank alone. As he was leaving, he turned down the dark alley where he'd parked his truck, and felt a Coleco Telstar light gun in his back.

"Let's have it," he heard a voice growl in his ear.

"What?" Adam asked. "Cash?"

"Nope," the voice replied. "Version II. I know you have it on you."

Unfortunately for the robber (later identified as a creatively frustrated Carol Shaw), Adam didn't have the cartridge on him. Four more attempts were made by various programmers (and, for some reason, Matthew Broderick as he'd appeared in Wargames) before we decided to paste a Frogs and Flies label on the cartridge to prevent further interest.

The secret level in this 2600 cartridge is actually a little different than the hidden level in other versions. For example, Pitfall Harry comes across a disheveled, blocky-looking Sammy Hagar, onto whose head Harry must leap before the aging rocker's jaws open up; and toward the end of the secret part, a vine like the ones in the very first Pitfall is encountered, but instead of playing the usual fanfare when Harry grabs it and swings across the pond, the game plays, for some reason that we're still investigating, Culture Club's "Karma Chameleon."

We have risked our lives to bring you this story. What was that noise behin28?*9...,;,;,;. mfdng.syz.?yngy.;','/,,..,!!!.......