You Really Should .... a cautionary tale

by Robert Howell


Issue 10

Jul/Aug 84

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adventure (ad-ven-tur), n. A bold undertaking in which hazards are to be met and the issue hangs upon unforeseen events; a daring feat; a remarkable experience.

addict (a-dikt), v. To devote or surrender (oneself) to something habitually or excessively.

Adventure Addict (Ad-ven-tur A-dikt), n. One surrendered to locating and exploring the gigantic Colossal Cave, willing to face any and all hazards, unforeseen events and vile creatures in order to gain vast treasure and wealth rumoured to be hidden within the cave!

It all started innocently enough in the Spring of 1979. Being a manager of computer programmers at my company, I hired two college students from a local University to do some programming during the summer. I mean, after all, there is nothing unusual about that. Ever since the invention of the abacus, college students have been used during the summer to provide companies with extra calculating/ computing expertise.

Well, not too far in to that summer, one of the two students who had noticed my interest in computer games made a seemingly innocent seven word statement to me. A statement however, unbeknownst to me at the time, that was to change my whole life. He said 'You know, you should really play Adventure.'

Now, let me tell you what I should have done at that point. I should have ignored his remark and gone merrily about my business of managing programmers. I tell you this as a forewarning. Should you find yourself confronted with a similar statement, IGNORE IT! I repeat, IGNORE IT! Take this advice from a man of experience, a man who choose not to ignore that simple little seven word remark and suffered the consequences thereof.

All of those cute little clichés like 'Curiosity killed the cat' etc. are applicable in this situation. Alas, my curiosity had peaked. I stopped in my tracks and momentarily pondered what my reply should be. lt was as if something, someone, was saying to me, 'Don't speak. Ignore him. Go about your business. You'll be sorry...'. Nevertheless, I looked him square in the eye.

'What is Adventure?' I said. A seven word remark followed by an innocent three word reply and little did I realise it but I was on my way to being hooked, to becoming an Adventure Addict!

'You mean you haven't heard of Adventure?', he replied.

'No' was my simple straightforward response.

'The Colossal Cave with magic and treasures?' he said. 'The pirate and dwarves. The most fantastic game ever invented?'

I was intrigued beyond measure. 'Tell me more' I replied.

His smile turned to a frown. It was as if a cult member had revealed too much of the cult and was in danger of punishment. ' I've already told you too much' he said and abruptly turned around and walked off.

I was puzzled and shocked. After all, I had hired him. I was the boss. I had a right to know more. But, alas, he avoided me the rest of the day, staying in his cubicle, working on the programming project I had assigned to him. Besides, that last look on his face told me I would get no more information today.

The next day both students greeted me with grins that rivalled that of the Cheshire Cat. 'Hey, boss', they said, 'Come over here. We've got something to show you.' I walked over. The two of them were sitting in front of one of the company's computer terminals. 'Last night we went over to the University and got a copy of the Adventure. We put it up on the network. Sit down. We want you to try it.' They motioned to the chair in front of the terminal. I obviously had no choice. Curiously (and somewhat apprehensively) I sat down.

One of them reached over my shoulder and typed: RUN ADVENTUR (RETURN)

The terminal sprang to life:

Nearby (legend says) there is a Colossal Cave where others have found fortunes in treasure and gold. However, it is rumoured that some who enter are never seen again. It is also said that magic works in the cave!....

Other information was given about how to move, about a rod, a bird, cave passages that twist a lot and..... Well, I've told you too much already. It was fascinating. I had never seen a game like it before. I was hooked.

I turned round to my two friends. 'Well what do I do next?'

All I got in return were two grins.

'Where's the cave? How do I find it?'

More grins.

'Aren't you guys going to help me?'

Grinning silence. It was obvious they thoroughly enjoyed watching me fumble about trying to find the cave, smug in the fact that they knew all the answers and were not about to relinquish even the slightest hint to alleviate my suffering. After all, they were GRANDMASTERS, having thoroughly conquered the cave, whereas I was a lowly form of life that hadn't even scored any points yet.

To make a long story short, I became an Adventure Addict! For the next three months, I literally lived and breathed Adventure. I spent every possible waking moment (and most of my sleeping time too) inside of the Colossal Cave. I mapped and mapped it out. I found treasures that dreams are built on, only to lose them to some greedy fiend in the cave. I battled snake and dragon, pirate and troll until I was exhausted beyond belief. I got hopelessly lost in mazes, sat in ecstasy at the breathtaking view, I..... There I go, telling you too much again.

Finally, after three agonizing months, bags beneath my eyes, loss of all my friends, 20 pounds leaner and a nervous wreck, I solved the final puzzle, brought the last treasure to the surface and became a GRANDMASTER. Then, and only then, would the other two GRANDMASTERS even begin to talk with me about the intricacies of the Colossal Cave, how it was programmed etc. I was now part of the cult, I had achieved the coveted status of GRANDMASTER. What a feeling that was. It was literally exhilarating!

Next I bought an Atari 800 computer and I proceeded to implement the whole Colossal Cave Adventure on the Atari in 32K of RAM. (40K for the disk version.) Believe me, that was no easy task. My article in the August 1981 issue of Creative Computing magazine explains how I did it, and it gives a lot of hints on optimizing memory in Atari Basic.

Well, that's my story concerning how I became an Adventure Addict. The road to GRANDMASTER status is long and agonizing. Many start but few persevere and finish. Give it careful consideration and very seriously weigh the pros and cons before you decide to begin but, dear reader, let me leave you with one seven word final thought

'You know, you really should play Adventure'

Bob Howell