The interface was primitive: There were no menus, no controller or joystick, and no graphics or sound. Nor were there many instructions: Users would have to guess at commands, typing in short phrases in the hope of making progress within the game; the only feedback being written descriptions of locations, situations and objects in the vicinity.
Those able to puzzle out the intricacies of the game found themselves exploring a cave filled with magic, treasures, malicious dwarves, a fierce snake, a fire-breathing dragon, a ferocious bear and even a bearded pirate.
Playing the game was simple, but beating it was hard: Only the most dedicated adventurers could find all 15 treasures and escape the fiendishly difficult endgame with all 350 possible points.
It wasn’t a commercial product sold in stores; there was no marketing or advertising for the game. But it was freely copied and spread like wildfire among programmers in the fledgling computer industry. A common jest is that the release of ADVENTURE set the computing industry back two weeks due to time lost playing the game.
For example: The “look” command, (abbreviated “l”) will trigger a description of your current whereabouts. It doesn’t give you any more detail than you already have, but can be useful to refresh your memory.
To manipulate objects, there’s “get” object and “put” object. Use the “inventory” command (abbreviated “i”) to see what you are carrying with you.
Directional commands allow you to move through the world of the game: You can use “north” / “south” / “east” / “west” (“n” / “s” / “e” / “w”) and also “ne” /“se”/ “nw” / “sw”. Also useful when climbing are the “up” (“u”) and “down” (“d”) commands.
To attack with an object, you can “throw” it. Don’t forget to “get” it again afterwards, or you might leave it behind! Use the “score” command to see how close you are to getting a perfect 350 points.
- Grab a big piece of paper and start drawing a map.
You’ll need it — there are hundreds of locations to explore
once you get inside the cave.
- You use dropped objects to help you make a map because
you’ll sometimes find that there are locations with exits
that loop back on themselves. Going west, for example, may
return you right back where you started.
- Remember that not every exit from a location is listed.
If west and east are given as possible exits, you might
want to try others, too. Just because you go north to a
place doesn’t mean that immediately going south will
return you. Cave passages twist in unexpected ways
- If you encounter an object that has an exclamation point
at the end of its description, that is a treasure! Get it
and return it to the building. (You have a limited number
of objects you can carry, so returning items for safe-keeping is
- If you run across a puzzle you can’t figure out or an
obstacle you can’t get past, explore elsewhere in the cave
— you may find something in another location that will
- If you’re having difficulty phrasing a command in terms the game can understand and getting nowhere, maybe what you’re trying to do just isn’t possible.
GAME: You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building…
COMMAND: enter building
GAME: You are inside a building, a well house for a large spring.
GAME: … A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.
GAME: You are in a valley in the forest beside a stream tumbling along a rocky bed.
GAME: At your feet all the water of the stream splashes into a 2-inch slit in the rock.
GAME: You are in a 20-foot depression floored with bare dirt… The grate is locked.
COMMAND: “open grate”
GAME: The grate is now unlocked.
GAME: You are in a small chamber.
GAME: You are crawling over cobbles in a low passage.
GAME: It is now pitch dark. If you proceed you will likely fall into a pit.
COMMAND: light lamp
GAME: Your lamp is now on. You are in a debris room filled with stuff washed in from the surface. A low wide passage with cobbles becomes plugged with mud and debris here, but an awkward canyon leads upward and west. A note on the wall says “Magic word XYZZY.” A three foot black rod with a rusty star on an end lies nearby.
The first dwarf to attack you will throw an axe at you and miss. Grab that axe and keep it handy. The next time a dwarf attacks, “throw axe.” If you miss, “get” the axe and throw it again. Keep that up until either the dwarf meets his end, or you do.
The other maze will contain a pirate’s treasure chest, provided you’ve already met the pirate that is roaming around the cave. He’ll steal any treasures you have and put them and the chest in the maze. Find the chest and you’ll get your booty back — and the chest itself is a treasure!
The bottle you find in the building can be refilled with water at various places in the cave or in the building itself. It can also be filled with oil. (Don’t try to water the plant with the Ming vase. It’s far too delicate for such mundane tasks.)
Normally this doesn’t seem to do anything, unless the golden eggs have been moved away from the Giant’s Room. Then the spell causes the eggs to teleport back to their original location. This is useful when a troll later demands a treasure from you. Give him the golden eggs! Then later, use “fee fie foe foo” and triumphantly snatch them back.
To experience the game’s signature humor, see what happens when you use the magic word “abracadabra.” Or try to attack the troll at the Troll Bridge with the dwarf’s axe. Water the plant three times instead of two… or pour oil on it. Try watering the door instead of oiling it.
Most of the cave descriptions are remarkably faithful descriptions of the geology of the Bedquilt region of the real Colossal Cave in Kentucky. There actually is a room in the cave with a rock inscribed “Y2” (a caver survey marker), a Twopit Room, and a room called Hall of the Mountain King.
But who were Crowther and Woods, and how did this game come into being?
In 1972, William Crowther and his wife Pat were working for Bolt, Beranek and Newman in Boston, otherwise known as BBN, which was developing the original routers used in creating the ARPANET (the first Internet).
In their spare time the Crowthers, both avid cavers, explored and mapped portions of the Mammoth and Flint Ridge cave systems in Kentucky for the Cave Research Foundation. Still thinking of the many beautiful sights they had seen, including caverns with colorful names like “The Hall of the Mountain King” and “Twopit Room,” Will Crowther produced plotter line-drawing maps of the cave from survey data of their explorations.
Other activities Crowther enjoyed were rock climbing and a regular game of Dungeons and Dragons, a role-playing game in which Crowther took on the persona of “Willie the Thief” among a circle of close friends.
Unfortunately, Crowther’s marriage ended in 1975. Sometime thereafter, feeling estranged from his two daughters and wanting to be closer to them, he decided to write a program that they might enjoy: a simulation of his cave explorations that also contained elements of his fantasy role-playing.
He wrote a computer simulation game based on the maps, for a Digital Equipment Corporation PDP-10 computer, in FORTRAN. Crowther’s daughters enjoyed the game, and it was passed from friend to friend during the early days of the Internet.
In 1976, Don Woods was working at Stanford University’s Stanford Artificial Intelligence Lab. Woods found a copy of Crowther’s game left on one of the university computers. After corresponding with Crowther and getting his blessing, Woods greatly expanded the program and unleashed it on an unsuspecting world.
Overnight, hackers worldwide were obsessed with playing and beating the game, after which many authored similar games such as Zork, birthing an entirely new genre of game known as the “text adventure” or “interactive fiction.”