The Many Ways To Play Colossal Cave Adventure After Nearly Half A Century

Born from a passion for caving and the wish to turn this into a digital adventure for all ages, Colossal Cave Adventure has grown from its quiet introduction in 1976 by William Crowther into the expanded game that inspired countless others to develop their own take on the genre, eventually leading to the realistically rendered graphical adventures we can play today. Yet even Colossal Cave Adventure has recently got a refresh in the form of a 3D graphical version, which has led [Bryan Lunduke] to take a look at how to best revisit the original text adventure.

Your Colossal Cave Adventure awaits... (Credit: Bryan Lunduke)
Your Colossal Cave Adventure awaits… (Credit: Bryan Lunduke)

For those who are on Linux or a BSD system, the easiest way is to hop over to the package manager and install Colossal Cave Adventure straight away with the package bsdgames on Debian-based systems, or colossal-cave-adventure on others. A port by Eric S. Raymond of the 1995 version of the game can also be found as Open Adventure, and there’s a 1990-era DOS version you can experience on real hardware or even in a browser window, if that’s your thing. Or get it for your Amiga, Macintosh or OS/2. These days you can even get ready-to-use maps of the entire cave and surroundings, which along with walkthroughs can make things far too easy.

As for the newly released version of the game, it’s available on the usual store outlets, including GoG, and reviews of the game do seem to appreciate that it is essentially a like-for-like translation of the texture adventure into a graphical one. As for whether a nearly-half-a-century old game holds up to scrutiny by sticking to what worked when Dungeons & Dragons was still the new kid on the block and systems like the PDP-10 ruled the roost, this is very much debatable, but one has to have respect for a game that has stuck around for so long, across so many system architectures and programming languages. Plus it also gave us Zork.

(Thanks to [Stephen Walters] for the tip)

15 thoughts on “The Many Ways To Play Colossal Cave Adventure After Nearly Half A Century

  1. Fantastic! I recall how mad my wife got with me many decades ago when the guy who lived in the apartment upstairs would come by with a “portable” computer and we’d play many hours long into the night while she tried to go to sleep. Ahhhh, the good ‘ole days! 🤣

  2. I spent far too many hours (days?) playing this on an Apple II. I think it ran in Integer Basic. I made a ‘map’ using index cards (one for each room) which listed where each path went and where objects could be found. I borrowed a printer and printed out a listing and traced the program’s operation, only to find that there were several errors in the code that prevented certain objects from being claimed and certain rooms from being entered. I didn’t know where to connect the missing rooms so I moved on to other things. Still had fun.

  3. When the two big magtapes that came from Columbia University were loaded onto our DECSystem 20, we got advent and dungeon. I spent a lot of time in the terminal area in a hard plastic seat in front of a hard plastic ADM-3A after midnight, because CPU and terminal time were cheaper and your hundred dollar SNSR account went a lot further. It was probably 1978, in another world.

    You can get an app for your android phone to play Colossal Cave Adventure, too.

  4. Our nearest university used to open its computer laboratory to the public on our national day (St Andrew’s Day; see if you can work out what country I was in.) The VAX systems had a “ST ANDREWS PACX” of games that they ran for the visitors, and Colossal Cave was one of them, so I have had the experience of playing it on a minicomputer. I never got very far, inevitably. Another interesting machine they had down there with which we were allowed to play was a PERQ, which had a portrait-orientation screen with a graphics tablet and a very early GUI. This would have been in about 1986. Goodness knows what goes on in that building nowadays; I’m sure the VAX systems were retired long ago.

  5. Back in 1985 I met a girl at a party and was delighted to have a conversation about Colossal Cave with her. Talking to girls was hard back then. It’s now 2023 and we’re still together. :)

  6. Colossal Cave taught me a life lesson: The same personality traits that allow persevering when faced with challenging issues (bugs, tough coding challenges, etc.) also “allow” me to keep grinding away at a game program like Adventure.

    My wife refers to this as “one trial learning”.

    3:00PM Wednesday, some time in 1979: Write a financial report program (microfiche images of customer records) due tomorrow morning. Not a complex task, I have time for some Adventure.

    6:00PM: Good progress on adventure, another hour would be OK

    10:00PM: In a maze of twisty passages, all different

    2:00AM: Good progress, only another hour solving the game, then code the report

    5:00AM: Found The Room! How in the world to get the report coded?

    9:00AM: code complete

    9:30AM: Generate test output for review

    10:00AM: Don’t do this… Next time won’t be so lucky!

  7. I have collected information about Advent or “Colossal Cave Adventure” as it’s called and it’s many forms for years. There are many versions of the game and they are often designated by the number of treasure points they contained. The 1st one I played when I was very young was on a CP/M computer. The Eric S. Raymond port is a good version, but has some extra treasure which some old school speed runners may which were not there. That version is also easier to compiler and works better than some of the others out there. *** It’s worth mentioning that the new graphical version which came one last year was written by Ken and Roberta Williams who are old school adventure game royalty. It’s a work of love and respect for the original.

  8. ESR here. I want to note that my “Open Adventure” is a direct port of the last version Crowther and Woods worked on; I added nothing myself other than a version command. I think it should actually be possible to produce a workalike of the original 1977 version by removing or conditioning out some parts of the YAML file that describes the dungeon, but nobody has actually tried to do this yet.

  9. I wrote an interpreter so that the original can be played over SMS. (currently turned off because it cost a lot of money to run it).

    For comedic purposes, I also adapted my interpreter to be playable in the browser. This is probably unplayably slow (it’s going from FORTRAN IV to Python to JavaScript), but it’s cool to watch it execute the FORTRAN line by line.

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