Colossal Cave Adventure

Colossal Cave Adventure
ADVENT -- Will Crowther's original version.png
Opening page of Will Crowther's original Adventure running on a PDP-10
Developer(s) William Crowther and Don Woods
Publisher(s) CRL
Platform(s) Many (initially PDP-10)
Release date(s) 1976 (Crowther); 1977 (Woods)
Genre(s) Adventure game
Mode(s) Single player

Colossal Cave Adventure (also known as ADVENT, Colossal Cave, or Adventure)[1] gave its name to the computer adventure game genre [2]. It was originally designed by Will Crowther, a programmer and caving enthusiast who based the layout on part of the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky.[3] The Colossal Cave subnetwork has many entrances, one of which is known as Bedquilt. Crowther reproduced portions of the real cave so faithfully that cavers who have played the game can easily navigate through familiar sections in the Bedquilt region on their first visit.[4]



Will Crowther was a programmer at Bolt, Beranek & Newman, which developed the ARPANET (a forerunner of the Internet). Crowther was an experienced caver, who applied his experience in Mammoth Cave (in Kentucky) to create a game that he could enjoy with his young daughters.[5]

Crowther had explored the Mammoth Cave in the early 1970s, and created a vector map based on surveys of parts of the real cave, but the text game is a completely separate entity, created during the 1975-76 academic year [2] and featuring fantasy elements such as an axe-throwing dwarf and a magic bridge.

Crowther/Woods Adventure (1977) running on a PDP-10

The version that is best known today was the result of a collaboration with Don Woods, a graduate student who discovered the game on a computer at Stanford University[6] and made significant expansions and improvements, with Crowther's blessing. A big fan of Tolkien, he introduced additional fantasy elements, such as elves and a troll.

When Roberta Williams and her husband Ken discovered the game, and were subsequently unable to find anything similar, they were inspired to create their own software house, founding On-Line Software (later Sierra Online, and then Sierra Entertainment), which created the first graphical adventure game (Mystery House), and quickly became a dominant player in the entertainment software market for the next two decades, creating successful adventures such as King's Quest, Space Quest, and Leisure Suit Larry.


Crowther's original game consisted of about 700 lines of FORTRAN code (see the original source code), with about another 700 lines of data, written for BBN's PDP-10 timesharing computer. The data included text for 79 map locations, 193 vocabulary words, travel tables, and miscellaneous messages. On the PDP-10, the program loads and executes with all its game data in memory. It required about 60k words (nearly 300kB) of core memory, which was a significant amount for PDP-10/KA systems running with only 128k words.

Woods also developed his game in FORTRAN for the PDP-10 (see the source code). His work expanded Crowther's game to approximately 3000 lines of code, and 1800 lines of data. The data consisted of 140 map locations, 293 vocabulary words, 53 objects, travel tables, and miscellaneous messages. Like Crowther's original game, Woods' game also executes with all its data in memory, but required somewhat less core memory (42k words) than Crowther's game.

The Adventure FORTRAN code took full advantage of the machine dependent, 36-bit, architecture of the PDP-10. Each PDP-10 word (an integer) packed five 7-bit ASCII characters in the high order 35 bits of a 36-bit word. And programmers could compare integers in FORTRAN directly with five character strings. This architecture was evident to the game player too, since the game only distinguished the first five characters of all the vocabulary words it understood. One feature of the PDP-10 operating system was its ability to save, restore, and restart execution of a program's core memory image, even after a program terminates. This feature was the original basis for saving, or suspending, an adventure game. Suspending a game in this manner saved an entire copy of the game program to disk, rather than just player specific data. These PDP-10 machine dependencies made porting of the Crowther/Woods Adventure to other platforms more difficult.

Later versions of the game moved away from general purpose programming languages such as C or Fortran, and were instead written for special interactive fiction engines, such as Infocom's Z-machine.

Later versions

ADVENT running on an Osborne 1 Computer circa 1982.
Later versions of the game added pictures.

Many versions of Colossal Cave have been released, generally titled simply Adventure, or adding a tag of some sort to the original name (e.g. Adventure II, Adventure 550, Adventure4+, ...). Large value numeric tags denoted the maximum score a player can achieve after playing a perfect game. Hence, Crowther/Woods Adventure, the first with a point scoring system, is also synonymous with Adventure 350. Russel Dalenberg's Adventure Family Tree page[7] provides the best (though still incomplete) summary of different versions and their relationships.

Until Crowther's original version was found,[8] the "definitive original" was generally considered to be the version that Don Woods expanded in 1977. As part of that expansion, Woods added a scoring system that went up to 350 points. Extended versions with extra puzzles go up to 1000 points or more. The AMP MUD had a multi-player Colossal Cave.

In 1977, Jim Gillogly of the RAND Corporation spent several weeks porting the code from FORTRAN to C under Unix, with the agreement of both Woods and Crowther. It can be found as part of the BSD Operating Systems distributions, or as part of the "bsdgames" package under most Linux distributions, under the command name "adventure".

The game was also ported to Prime Computer's super-mini running PRIMOS in the late 1970s, utilising FORTRAN IV, and to IBM mainframes running VM/CMS in late 1978, utilizing PL/I.

Microsoft released a version of Adventure in 1981 with its initial version of MS-DOS 1.0 for the IBM PC (on a single sided disk, requiring 32kB of RAM). This was released on a 5 1/4 inch disk and booted directly from the disk. It could not be opened from DOS. This version contained 130 rooms, 15 treasures, 40 useful objects and 12 problems to be solved. The progress of two games could be saved on a diskette.* IBM Archive Page

Dave Platt's influential 550 points version was innovative in a number of ways. It broke away from coding the game directly in a programming language such as FORTRAN or C. Instead, Platt developed A-code – a language for adventure programming – and wrote his extended version in that language. The A-code source was pre-processed by an FORTRAN 77 (F77) "munger" program, which translated A-code into a text database, and a tokenised pseudo-binary. These were then distributed together with a generic A-code F77 "executive", also written in F77, which effectively "ran" the tokenised pseudo-binary.

Platt's version was also notable for providing a randomised variety of responses when informing the player that, e.g., there was no exit in the nominated direction, for introducing a number of rare "cameo" events, and for committing some outrageous puns.

Memorable words and phrases


"Xyzzy" is a magic word that teleports the player between two locations ("inside building" and the "debris room"). Entering the command from other locations produces the disappointing response "Nothing happens." As an in-joke, many later computer programs (not only games but also applications) include a hidden "xyzzy" command – the results of which range from the humorous to the straightforward.[9] Explanations of the origin and meaning of the term are similarly wide-ranging, but Crowther has said "I made it up out of whole cloth just for the game", and "I was considering working for XEROX at the time, which probably suggested starting with an X."[2]

Maze of twisty little passages

"You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike" is a memorable line from the game, popular in hacker culture (where "passages" may be replaced with a different word, as the situation warrants). This phrase came to signify a situation when whatever action is taken does not change the result.

The "all alike" maze was created by Crowther; Woods created a second maze, described as "all different".[2] In the "all different" maze, the player's current location is described in eleven different ways with each description providing a clue as to available exits from that particular point (e.g., "little maze of twisting passages" may have an exit north, while "maze of little twisty passages" may have exits north and south):

  • Little maze of twisting passages
  • Little maze of twisty passages
  • Little twisty maze of passages
  • Maze of little twisting passages
  • Maze of little twisty passages
  • Maze of twisting little passages
  • Maze of twisty little passages
  • Twisting little maze of passages
  • Twisting maze of little passages
  • Twisty little maze of passages
  • Twisty maze of little passages

Don Woods was doing doctoral research in graph algorithms, and he designed this maze as (almost) a complete graph, with two exceptions important to game play.


When the player arrives at a location known as "Y2", the player may (with 25% probability) receive the message "A hollow voice says 'PLUGH'." This magic word takes the player between the rooms "inside building" and "Y2". A popular theory is that the word is short for "plughole" (allegedly a caver term) but no evidence supports this claim, and the game does not feature a plughole in this location.

Some other games recognize "PLUGH" and will respond to it, usually by making a joke.[10] The adventure game Prisoner 2 contained a cavern with the word "PLUGH" written on the wall; if the player typed this word into the command parser, he was sent back to his starting point. The TRS-80 adventure game Haunted House – one of the few commercial adventure games playable with only 4K of RAM – requires the player to type PLUGH to enter the haunted house; another TRS-80 game, Bedlam, replies to PLUGH with "You got better."

Down the hall from Platt, three programmers were developing a debugger for a commercial operating system (CP-6). They added a command to show a stack trace, and called the command "plugh". The command passed all internal reviews for release until a technical writer refused to allow a funny word that didn't mean anything to be included in the product. A lengthy development meeting determined a backronym expansion: "Procedure List Used to Get Here".[citation needed] gives further historical background to the name, allegedly by Don Woods.


"PLOVER" is a magic word that transports the player between the "plover" room, and the "Y2" room. Outside of those rooms, "plover" (like "building") is one of many destination words that players may use to reach an adjacent location. Since the game uses "plover" in multiple contexts, discovering the magic word context is a difficult, if not accidental, challenge.


There is a degree of randomness in the Bedquilt area. If a player persistently tries going in a single direction then they will usually be returned to Bedquilt, but will occasionally be randomly transported to another room. Players can also reliably navigate from Bedquilt to adjacent rooms. For example, "slab" will usually get a player from Bedquilt to the Slab Room.

Fee Fie Foe Foo

One of the treasures the player needs to collect are golden eggs, found in the Giant room. If you say the magic phrase written on the wall of that room (one word at a time), "Fee Fie Foe Foo", the eggs will be moved back to the Giant room, wherever they are and wherever you are. For example:

  • Take the eggs from the Giant room and say the magic phrase. The program replies that the eggs have disappeared. If you go back to the Giant room, you see that they have gone back there.
  • Take the eggs from the Giant room and leave them behind somewhere. Say the magic phrase. The program replies "Done!" without revealing exactly what has happened.

You can use the golden eggs to pay the troll later by throwing them at him. Thanks to the magic phrase, you can get the eggs back.

If you say "fum" instead of "foo", the game commands you to start the phrase over.

Other lines

Other memorable lines from the game are:

  • Rubbing the electric lamp is not particularly rewarding. Anyway, nothing exciting happens.
  • A huge green fierce snake bars the way!
  • (When trying to kill the snake, a dragon, or such:) With what? Your bare hands?
  • (When trying to kill the bear:) With what? Your bare hands? Against *his* bear hands??
  • (If you try to feed the bird:) It's not hungry (it's merely pinin' for the fjords). – a reference to Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch
  • (If you hit the bear after feeding it:) The bear is confused; he only wants to be your friend.
  • The game responds to a frustrated player's swearing with Watch it! and to commands to eat inappropriate things (e.g., the bird, the snake) with I think I just lost my appetite.
  • A sign posted on the bridge reads, "Stop! Pay troll!"
  • (If you type the word blast:) Blasting requires dynamite.
  • (If you type a word that describes an object you see in the forest:) The trees of the forest are large hardwood oak and maple, with an occasional grove of pine or spruce. There is quite a bit of undergrowth, largely birch and ash saplings plus nondescript bushes of various sorts. This time of year visibility is quite restricted by all the leaves, but travel is quite easy if you detour around the spruce and berry bushes.

Continued development

According to author Dale Peterson, Don Woods continued releasing updated editions through to at least the mid-1990s.[11] Just as Woods picked up the development of Adventure where Crowther left off, other programmers continued the story in their own way.

Dave Platt

Dave Platt's 550-point version of Colossal Cave – perhaps the most famous variant of this game other than the original, itself a jumping-off point for many other versions including Michael Goetz's 581 point CP/M version – included a long extension on the other side of the Volcano View. Eventually, the player descends into a maze of catacombs and a "fake Y2". If the player says "plugh" here the player is transported to a "Precarious Chair" suspended in midair above the molten lava. (The 581-point version was on SIGM011 from the CP/M Users Group, 1984.)

Dave Platt's 550-point F77 version had some memorable moments as well:

Into view there bounces a horrible creature!! Six feet across, it resembles a large blob of translucent white jelly; although it looks massive, it is bouncing lightly up and down as though it were as light as a feather. It is emitting a constant throbbing sound, and it >ROAR<s loudly as it sees you.
—this is a reference to Rover from The Prisoner

Platt also had a number of "cameos" – very rare random events of no consequence. For example:

From the darkness nearby comes the sound of shuffling feet. As you turn towards the sound, a nine-foot cyclops ambles into the light of your lamp. The cyclops is dressed in a three-piece suit of worsted wool, and is wearing a black silk top-hat and cowboy boots and is carrying an ebony walking-stick. It catches sight of you and stops, seeming frozen in its tracks, with its bloodshot eye bulging in amazement and its fang-filled jaw drooping with shock. After staring at you in incredulous disbelief for a few moments, it reaches into the pocket of its vest and pulls out a small plastic bag filled with a leafy green substance, and examines it carefully. "It must be worth eighty pazools an ounce after all" mumbles the cyclops, who casts one final look at you, shudders, and staggers away out of sight.

Other versions

Other versions added their own flavour to the proceedings.

With extreme difficulty, you take down from the wall a seven foot high, twenty foot long, three hundred and sixty degree view of Mars taken from the Viking lander.
—from the Witt's End extension in Mike Goetz's CP/M version (1983); this action would summon Rover (see above)
I am sorry, but magic rug flying regulations specifically prohibit any activity other than (a) enjoying the view (recommended), (b) reviewing one's possessions (optional) and (c) clutching rug edges in sheer stomach-churning terror (not recommended).
—from Mike Arnautov's 770-point version (2003)
A tiny elf runs straight at you, shouts "Phuce!", and disappears into the forest.

Critical analysis

Graham Nelson's Inform Designer's Manual presents "Advent" as the pioneer of the three-part structure typical of 1980s adventure games; he identifies the "prologue" with the aboveground region of the game "whose presence lends a much greater sense of claustrophobia and depth to the underground bulk of the game", the transition to the middle game as the "passage from the mundane to the fantastical", and the endgame or "Master Game".[12]

See also


  1. ^ Crowther, 1976; Crowther & Woods, 1977.
  2. ^ a b c d Jerz, Dennis (2007) Somewhere Nearby Is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther's Original “Adventure” in Code and in Kentucky, Digital Humanities Quarterly
  3. ^ Montfort, Nick (2003). Twisty Little Passages: An Approach To Interactive Fiction. Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-13436-5
  4. ^ Mel Park. Bev Schwartz meets the real Bedquilt
  5. ^ Rick Adams. "Here's where it all began…". The Colossal Cave Adventure page. 
  6. ^ L’avventura è l’avventura » Interactive Fiction? I prefer Adventure
  7. ^ Russel Dalenberg (March 20, 2004). "Adventure Family Tree" (ASCII Art). 
  8. ^ "Adventure: Crowther's original source code found; photos from inside the real Colossal Cave". 
  9. ^ Rick Adams. "Everything you ever wanted to know about ... the magic word XYZZY". The Colossal Cave Adventure page. 
  10. ^ David Welbourn. "plugh responses".  A web page giving responses to "plugh" in many games of interactive fiction
  11. ^ Peterson, Dale: "Genesis II: Creation and Recreation with Computers", (1983)
  12. ^ Inform Designer's Manual, Graham Nelson, 2001 edition, 375-382

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Colossal Cave Adventure — Adventure (1976) Entwickler: William Crowther Verleger: CRL …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Colossal Cave Adventure — Éditeur CRL Développeur William Crowther et Don Woods Concepteur …   Wikipédia en Français

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  • Colossal Cave — Adventure (1976) Entwickler: William Crowther Verleger: CRL …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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