Video Game: Colossal Cave

"WELCOME TO ADVENTURE!! WOULD YOU LIKE INSTRUCTIONS?"

ADVENT, also known as Adventure or Colossal Cave Adventure, is the ur-Interactive Fiction game. Originally written by Will Crowther in the mid-1970s as an attempt at a computer-refereed fantasy game inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, based on his map of the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky. His version was ready by 1976. The game was then greatly expanded by Don Woods in 1977.

According to legend, Don Woods played Adventure in its original form, and attempted to contact Crowther for permission to expand the program. Naturally, Woods didn't have Crowther's mailing address, so he resorted to the fledgling Internet and e-mail; as the Internet itself had only about three hundred networked systems at the time, Woods simply sent a blanket e-mail to 'crowther@' every network.

Colossal Cave Adventure is a text-based game in which the player explores a large complex of underground caverns — Will Crowther wrote the game for his daughters, who were at the time too young to join him on caving expeditions. The layout is so precise that, in at least one instance, an inexperienced caver was able to navigate flawlessly in the Mammoth cave system on her first visit.

The dryly humorous, terse narration style of the game set the standard for future Interactive Fiction games. Much of the style also influenced early MUDs, still evident in modern examples.

Developed on BBN's PDP-10, the game was written in FORTRAN and later ported to C under UNIX. Further iterations of the game were re-written in custom languages developed specifically to handle the unique features of text-based interactive adventure games.

Many versions and descendants of the game have been released, mostly under the title Adventure or some variation thereof (e.g., Adventure II, Adventure 550, Adventureland, etc.) Even Microsoft published a version of the game, packaged with its original MS-DOS 1.0 for the IBM PC. The Infocom classic Zork began life as a remake of Adventure, and both Zork and Adventure influenced Dunnet, a cyberpunk text adventure buried as an Easter Egg in the Emacs text editor, which is in turn included as standard with Mac OS X.

Some phrases popularized by ADVENT are:

  • "A huge green fierce snake bars the way!"
  • "I see no X here." (for some noun X).
  • "You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike."
  • "You are in a little maze of twisty passages, all different."
  • "With what? Your bare hands?" (When encountering a hostile creature, and you type "kill [it]")

Advent is also responsible for the Classic Cheat Code "XYZZY".

'Advent' is believed to be directly responsible for coining the term 'adventure game', and is known to have inspired Roberta Williams to develop her first computer game, Mystery House, which would, in turn, lead to the founding of On-Line Systems (later Sierra Online) with her husband Ken.

In addition, the game inspired an offbeat 'hobby' known as 'urban exploration', or 'vadding'. An often-illegal pursuit, 'vadding' involves entering steam tunnels, access tunnels, sewers or abandoned buildings to explore and take photographs. The term 'vadding' came directly from 'Advent' — a great number of urban explorers were Colossal Cave enthusiasts, and the game would appear with remarkable frequency on college and university computer networks under the name 'Advent'. When system administrators caught on to the game's presence, they began to remove 'Advent' whenever it was discovered. Enterprising players then simply renamed the game 'Adv', and when that tactic was discovered, reversed it, turning it into 'Vad', which (because of the game's emphasis on exploration) became the de facto term for referring to the real-life hobby.

(Public Service Announcement: Readers should be aware that Vadding may be illegal (if it involves trespassing or breaking-and-entering), and can be quite dangerous (as in serious injury, possibly death). Follow the Urban Explorer's Golden Rule: Do NOT go Vadding alone).

For more information on Advent (external links):

Much of the information on this page comes from the Jargon File entry.

Tropes

  • Alien Geometries: When you go west and then east, you might not be in the same room you started from. The problem is not actually the geometries, it's that the various locations are notionally connected by twisty passages, such that you might for instance leave one location heading east and arrive in the next location heading north; but the effect is the same.
  • Alien Sky: On the beach.
  • Artistic License Geology: Crowther's original version, drawn from first-hand knowledge, is set in a reasonably accurate version of a limestone cave system. Some of Woods's additions, not so much. Of particular note is the active volcano.
  • Bears Are Bad News: Well, until you tame it. Then things get bad for somebody else.
  • Convection Schmonvection: Played straight. However, you die from poisonous fumes if you try crossing the volcano without protection.
  • Cool Sword: The Singing Sword.
  • Darkness Equals Death: you fall in a pit, and break every bone in your body.
  • Dead End Room: the aptly-named Witt's End. Actually not quite an example — you won't get out if you try going back the way you came (or in just about any other direction), but if you persist in heading north, eventually the game will relent and let you out.
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: In some versions, swearing can have interesting results.
  • Dummied Out: The 550- and 580- point versions contain functions to support running on a shared computer such as a mainframe, allowing time limited games or restricting play to between certain hours. On PC-hosted versions, all the code's still there, but the "is this a shared computer?" check is a dummy and so the rest of the code is never used.
  • Glowing Gem: The source of the light in the Plover Room.
  • Guide Dang It: It would be quicker to list the puzzles that aren't illogically difficult.
  • Functional Magic
  • Infinite Flashlight: ...after you install fresh batteries. (Which require you to sacrifice some treasure to purchase, and therefore prevent you from getting the best ending.)
    • Averted in some versions of the game. The fresh batteries eventually wear out as well, and the game narrator suggests that you start wrapping things up.
  • Kleptomaniac Hero: You. The purpose of the game is to find all the treasure.
  • Last Lousy Point: A particular tricky one, too.
  • The Many Deaths of You
    You fell into a pit and broke every bone in your body!
  • The Maze: Three mazes complete with Alien Geometries
  • Missing Secret: Two rooms with a window facing another window across a room, with a "Shadowy Figure" in that other window. The player would like to know who the heck he is, and what the heck to do with him. Turns out the two windows are over the giant mirror room, and the "Shadowy Figure" is your own reflection.
  • Random Encounter: There are Dwarves wandering the caves, who will chase and throw knives at you. Some versions limit them to five. In the AGT version, there an infinite number, which randomly appear, block you from exiting a room, and can randomly throw their knife just as soon as they appear. This means you need to wear a magic cloak to prevent being insta-killed, and keep it for the whole game because there's an infinite number of them.
  • Rhetorical Question Blunder: Exploited in one of the most difficult puzzles of the game. "With What? Your bare hands?" is the rhetorical question asked when you forget to specify a weapon in an attack. After a few weeks of utter frustration, the player angrily types, "Yes" more or less at random. Tada!
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of it, in lovingly detailed text that makes up for the lack of graphics. Especially the volcano.
  • Shout-Out
    • There are seven dwarves in the cave.
    • If you try to open the treasure vault with the wrong password, you're hunted down and killed by a Rover from The Prisoner.
  • Throwing Your Sword Always Works: In some versions, the parser doesn't know a command for melee fighting, so the only way you can attack something with the axe is to throw it.
  • Timed Mission: If you spend too many turns in the game without getting to the endgame area, a voice will intone "Cave closing soon."
  • Troll Bridge: You have to hand over a piece of treasure to get past.
  • Videogame Lives: Based on the amount of orange smoke left to revive you.
  • Wall of Text: The volcano.
  • World of Pun:
    • The Bare Room. Which contains a large, hungry, initially very grumpy ... well, guess.
    • In some versions there is a flask that says "London Dry," containing a jinn.
  • You Can't Get Ye Flask: The Ur-Example.

Alternative Title(s):

Colossal Cave Adventure, ADVENT