Adventure: The Colossal Cave

a.k.a. ADVENT

created and published by Author in 1976, running on DEC PDP-1
type: maze, adventure, role-play
genre: Fantasy, Interactive fiction
perspective: other
player options: single player
languages: eng


This game was originally for the PDP-10 platform. It was translated to many other platforms. Also known 'Colossal Cave', or simply 'Adventure'. This is the one that started it all. The layout of the game is based on 'Bedquilt Cave' and named after 'Colossal Cave' which are both part of the 'Mammoth Cave' system in Kentucky. Designed by Will Crowther in from 1972-1975 as a sit down family game to appeal specifically to young girls (his family). Initially released on the local university network in 1975. It became required matiral in one of the school's courses within that same month. Crowther's final version was virtually the same with a bit of polish bug fixes in 1977-03-11 (this is the FORTRAN source code and data file we have today). Written in the only computer language available to him. Later in 1975, it was on the ARPANET (which Crowther helped design) where students and staff discovered and played it. It is estimated by scholars to have delayed the world's computer industry for 2 weeks (but set hundreds of students off to found the gaming industry). Crowther didn't put it there, but didn't mind. Don Woods found the game on his companies mainframe computer 1975 and, with Crowther's blessing, and original source code recieved, made many improvements and added Tolkienish elves, trolls and a volcano. Magic and dwarfs were already included in Crowther's version. Woods' version wasted a massive 300KB of storage space! (A year later, Atari VCS cartridges would be using a whole 2k). Jim Gillogly then found the game and converted it to C, so it could be ported to UNIX. Several text adventure interpreting languages and frameworks were invented just to run this game. Different versions of the game are often referred to by the number of possible points that can be scored. The 550 version was written in A-Code (invented for this game) and introduced random events and variations in the way the player was informed about their environment.

FORTRAN is extremely limited when it comes to text. Every word in the game had to be 5 letters or less. No one is sure what 'plugh' means. Most variations of the game use bigger words and have a unique response to the word 'plugh'. Many videogames, and some profession software, reference this word to this day.

Crowther designed the game to respond to key words in such a way that the game can seem to be using Artificial Intelligence. Or at the very least, an advanced text interpreter. However, its only a key word system such as is used in the Ultima series. His genious desing was a type of logic puzzle whereby seeming unrelated words are defined in the code as synonyms; Rather than making sense of what the player enters. I relies on players making sense and reacts to every reasonable word that might be typed in the given circumstances. For instance, ENTER, DOOR, GATE, 3, are synonyms.

There is a difficult maze in the game made of 12 rooms. The 12 rooms are named:
Little maze of twisty passages, all different.
Twisty little maze of passages, all different.
Maze of little twisting passages, all different.
Little maze of twisting passages, all different.
Twisty maze of little passages, all different.
Twisting little maze of passages, all different.
Little twisty maze of passages, all different.
Little twisting maze of passages, all different.
Maze of little twisty passages, all different.
Twisting maze of little passages, all different.
Maze of twisty little passages, all different.
Maze of twisting little passages, all different.
Someversions omit the "all different". However, Crowther's original version contained 10 rooms in this part of the game. All of them are described as:
Many videogames reference one of these phrases.

xyzzy is recognized by the game but results in 'Nothing Happens' when used in the proper place. Because of this, xyzzy is often used in incomplete computer source code to indicate where a section code should be but isn't implemented yet. xyzzy has been part of many videogames.

Ken Williams found this game while telecommuting to IBM. He showed it to his wife, Roberta Williams. This got Roberta interested in text adventures and eventually led them to create their own games and start Sierra On-Line (after they beat the this game).

(Zerothis) - # 2006

Technical specs

display: text

Editor note

# 2024-01-13 10:09:51 - source

Authors / Staff


Will Crowther (Author)


Don Woods (programming)
Jim Gillogly (c conversion)
Jim Gillogly (unix port)
Will Crowther (programming)


Dave Platt's (adventure 550 version)
Don Woods (fictional elements)
Will Crowther (spelunking)
Will Crowther (map)

Contributors (4)


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Adventure: The Colossal Cave in-game screen.
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