Colossal Cave Adventure

Everything About Fiction You Never Wanted to Know.

Colossal Cave Adventure, also known as ADVENT, Colossal Cave or 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 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, and a version of the game is buried as an Easter Egg in the Emacs text editor. The Infocom classic Zork began life as a remake of Adventure.

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 the dragon pretty much anything, 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 used in Colossal Cave Adventure include:
  • 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.
  • Convection, Schmonvection: Played straight. However, you die from poisonous fumes if you try crossing the volcano without protection.
  • Cool Sword: The Singing Sword.
  • Everything's Worse with Bears: Well, until you tame it. Then things get worse for somebody else.
  • 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 winning the game.)
  • Kleptomaniac Hero
  • Last Lousy Point: A particular tricky one, too.
  • Random Encounter: Dwarves. In the AGT version, not equipping the clock allows them to insta-kill you.
  • Scenery Porn: Lots of it, in lovingly detailed text that makes up for the lack of graphics. Especially the volcano.
  • The Dev Team Thinks of Everything: In some versions, swearing can have interesting results.
  • The Many Deaths of You

You fell into a pit and broke every bone in your body!