Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Game 44: Colossal Cave Adventure (430 point version) (1978)

When I played Colossal Cave Adventure II, the 440 point expansion of the original Colossal Cave Adventure, I wrote a whole paragraph about how the game had a lot of expansions and variants but nothing that could be classed as a sequel.  In my supreme ignorance, I even went so far as to say that the game's original authors - Will Crowther and Don Woods - never made a follow-up.  Well, today's game is the 430 point version of Colossal Cave Adventure, written by none other than Don Woods.  It's not exactly what you'd call a sequel, but more of an expansion to challenge expert players.  Woods wrote it in FORTRAN in 1978, and later ported the code to C in 1995.  Certain places list it as a 1995 game, but I'm covering it as a 1978 game.  I'll be playing the DOS port.

I'm not sure how widespread it was at the time; certainly it didn't circulate in the same numbers as the ubiquitous 350 point version.  From what little I can gather, it seems as though it was pretty much unknown until the release of the C port.  Whether Woods considered it the true final version of the game or an "expert mode" variant is unknown, but regardless of his intent the matter was out of his hands.  His first revision went on to become the template for the entire genre, and the 430 point version languished in obscurity, where it remains as a historical curiosity and nothing more.

I doubt there's anyone out there who needs a refresher, but here goes: Colossal Cave Adventure was written circa 1975 by Will Crowther as a text-based representation of a section of the Mammoth Cave system in Kentucky. In 1977, Don Woods took the game and added to it, expanding the already-present fantasy elements.  The goal of the game was to explore the caves, solve its puzzles, and find all 15 of the treasures hidden within.  The 430 point version has the same premise, but has 20 treasures to find.  If you want even more of a refresher, (and you might, because I'll be referring to the original game quite a bit) my posts on Colossal Cave Adventure can be found here.

(From this point forward, I'm going to refer to the game as Adventure 430.  I've generally gone with Colossal Cave Adventure as the title for these games as a way of distinguishing them from the many other games with a similar name. Adventure is the original game's proper title though, and it's customary to use the points total as an identifier.)

You lose points for reading the instructions, just FYI.

The game begins in the same way as its predecessor, with the player standing at the end of a road in a forest next to a brick building.  The building is a well house, and inside can be found some food, keys, a bottle of water and a lamp.  It was strangely comforting to return to this familiar setting, and I had to resist the urge to head straight down into the caves and start playing through the parts of the game that I remembered.  I had to remind myself that I wasn't here to experience the familiar, but to find the parts that were new.

I had an inkling that the forest would be one of those places that Woods expanded, and I was right about that.  In the original version, the overworld was really small.  There was just the well house, a hill, and a gully leading down to a grate that gave entrance to the caves.  The forest was a mere two areas, although it was made to feel bigger by having a lot of the exits loop back on themselves.  In Adventure 430 the forest is huge.  It has over 20 locations, and I had some trouble finding enough inventory items to accurately map it.  I probably didn't need to do that; there are only two locations of note, and I found those easily enough just by stumbling through at random.  But you never know in these games when you've found everything, so I had to make a map.

The first of those two locations was a clearing in the forest, where I found a "severed leporine appendage".  A quick bit of googling revealed that a leporine is a hare, so what I'd found here was basically a rabbit's foot.  I didn't put that together until much later though.

The second location had an urn embedded into a rock.  I wasn't strong enough to pull the urn out, so I left it for now, thinking that I'd come back after I found some tools or somehow became stronger.  As I later discovered I was on completely the wrong track with this, but I'll get to that.  It's one of the bigger grievances I have with the game.

It's called an urn. Remember this.

With the overworld done it was time to head into the caves, where I set about testing the boundaries of the original map.  I was expecting to find new areas to explore, much as I had in Adventure 440.  What I didn't expect was to find nothing.  I scoured the old map, went through every location, and didn't find a single new path or area.  I was baffled, to be honest.  How was I supposed to find the new content in the game if there was no new content?  Aside from the new forest areas this game appeared to be identical to the original.

It turns out that there are new area to explore in Adventure 430, but they're extremely well hidden.  I tried my best to poke around and find what I could, but I had to resort to a walkthrough for pretty much all of this.  I've been trying to avoid that as much as possible, but here I just couldn't make any progress.  After a couple of play sessions where I accomplished nothing at all, I felt pretty justified in spoiling the whole game for myself.  On my own it would have taken me forever to solve these puzzles, and there's one that I would never, ever have figured out.

First, I'll list the differences in the game that I noticed on my own.

  • The game penalises you for saving.  Every time you save your game it takes points off of your score, so a perfect run needs to be accomplished in one go, without any saves.
  • It also penalises you for taking too long.  You lose points after 350 moves, and again after 500 moves.  I had a look in the code, and there are penalties further down the line, but I never played for long enough to reach them.  The lamp would run out of juice and end most games before that anyway.
  • Instead of typing THROW BEAR to get the bear to chase off the troll, you type RELEASE BEAR.  It's a more intuitive command for sure, but it was a change that threw me off for a bit.  I thought that maybe Woods had changed the solution completely.
  • The bird now gets agitated in its cage when you wave the rod (and perhaps at other times, I'm not sure).
  • The dragon leaves behind a bloody corpse when you kill it.

Those last two items are important clues, but I can only recognise that in retrospect.  While I was playing I glossed over them as small touches to add some extra detail.  I should have learned by now that nothing should be glossed over in these games.

I'll run through the five new treasures below.


This one is found very close to the cave entrance, just to the west of where you first find the bird.  In that room there's a crack that's too small for you to squeeze through.  It's in the original game, but it's not important and I'd long ago forgotten about it.  If you release the bird and wave the black rod to frighten it, it will fly into the crack and emerge with a necklace.  I might have solved this one if I'd been paying attention, but I have to say I found it hard to approach this version of the game in a diligent manner.  I was so fixated on looking for new paths and branches that weren't there that I neglected to pay close attention to the room descriptions.

In rod we trust.


The original Adventure had a maze with a vending machine at the centre. If you used the gold coins you could buy a new battery for the lamp, but I rarely did so because you can't win the game afterwards.  That was that maze's only purpose, so going in was completely unnecessary.  In Adventure 430, if you ATTACK or HIT the machine it will open, revealing a secret passage.  Those are the only verbs that I know works for sure; PUSH and MOVE definitely don't.  The secret passage leads to the lair of an ogre, who is guarding a room that contains a ruby.  The ogre can't be killed, and will dodge if you throw the axe at him.  I tried feeding him, but he wasn't hungry.  The solution, believe it or not, is to enter his lair with a hostile dwarf on your tail.  When you ATTACK the ogre, the dwarf throws a knife at you but hits him instead.  Then the ogre chases the dwarf away, and you can nick the ruby.

I'm impressed that this action recognised that I was being chased by
multiple dwarves.


The process for getting this is a pretty long and involved one.  The first step is to release the bird in the forest, which was somewhat hinted at by the bird's agitation when it's in the cage.  If you try to LISTEN, it seems like the bird is trying to tell you something, but you are unable to understand.  The solution to this is to drink the blood of the dead dragon, which is pretty wild.  I might have figured this out if I was more familiar with the story of Sigurd, but I'm going to be real here: all my knowledge of Norse mythology comes from Marvel Comics.  I can tell you a shitload about Volstagg the Voluminous, but I ain't got nothing on Sigurd.  It's pretty esoteric knowledge to expect someone to have.  (I actually did try EAT DRAGON at one point, so my brain was in the right ballpark for a second.  It was just one of many desperation moves when I was stuck, though, and I didn't pursue it.)

Having imbibed the dragon's blood, you can then LISTEN to the bird, who will give you a special password, to be used in an area not far from the Hall of Mists.  Unlike the other passwords in the game (XYZZY, PLUGH, and PLOVER), this one changes every time you play.  Unfortunately for those trying to beat this game in as few moves as possible, that means you can't skip the initial steps of this and go right to using the password.

One of the magic words I got was F'CUW, which sums up my reaction to
certain parts of this game.

When spoken at the reservoir (which is like five whole rooms away from the Hall of Mists, so I call BS on you, bird), this password causes the waters to part.  From there you walk through to the base of a cliff, with the corpses of adventurers piled at the bottom.  Sure enough, if you try to climb up your foot will slip on a rock and you'll tumble to your doom.  This is the one thing in the game that I worked out on my own: you need the rabbit's foot in your possession for the extra boost of luck that will get you to the top safely.  There you can claim the statuette and then climb back down.

(Look, I say I figured it out, but what I actually did was take a guess that the one new inventory item that I'd found might help me.  The luck bonus didn't occur to me until I saw it explained in a walkthrough.)

Some of those adventurers were me, and "several" is an understatement.


This puzzle made me so mad.

Remember that urn embedded in the rock, that I was too weak to move?  It turns out that you don't need to get it out at all.  What you actually need to do is fill it with oil, and light it.  Then you rub it, and a genie pops out and pulls the urn out of the rock, to reveal the amber gemstone beneath.

I have a huge problem with this, because I have never in my life heard an oil lamp referred to as an urn.  At first I thought that maybe the failing was mine, but I just checked a bunch of on-line dictionaries, and all of them define an urn as a container for ashes, or for dispensing tea and coffee.  Not one of them defined an urn as a lamp, so I feel justified in being annoyed at this one.  Text adventures live and die based on the accuracy of their descriptions, and this is a pretty big failure.

(Like the dragon, I was in the ballpark with this one for a bit.  Thinking I might be able to loosen the urn from the rock, I tried to OIL URN.  It didn't work, obviously, but I was so close.)



Next to the area with the urn is a chasm, with a ledge that can be seen on the far side.  It's too far to jump across, though.  What you need to do is fly over on the Persian rug, but before you can do that the rug has to be activated.

The genie gave a clue about this in his warning before revealing the amber gemstone.  He even mentioned the words "traffic" and "light".  What you need to do is remove the amber gemstone from its cavity and replace it with the green emerald.  After this you can fly the carpet over the chasm, take the sapphire, and fly back.  You can't pick up the carpet afterwards until you fill the cavity with the red ruby.  Of all the new puzzles in Adventure 430, I feel like this one is the most clever.

Getting the final treasure.

I may have spoiled the entire game by looking up the solutions to all of the puzzles, but that didn't mean there was no challenge left: I still had to try to get the full 430 points.  To do this I'd need to play through in under 350 moves, without saving.  To call this tricky would be a huge understatement.

There are a number of factors that make doing this nigh-impossible.  The first of those is the dwarves, who roam about the caves and try to murder you with knives whenever they see you.  All it takes is one unlucky shot and your game can be over in an instant.  Then there's the pirate, who will show up eventually to nick whatever treasure you're carrying and take it back to his lair in the maze.  Depending on where you are when it happens, and the number of treasures he takes from you, getting them back can add a lot of moves to your total.  Finally - and this one is the worst - there's the closing stretch of the game, where you have to wait around in the caves until you're whisked off to the end.  This can take around fifty moves just on its own.

I was going to need a meticulous plan to beat this one, so I sat down and worked out every single one of my actions in advance, trying to shave off moves wherever possible.  I used all the short-cuts I could think of, and tried to make the best use of the PLUGH, PLOVER and XYZZY passwords.  I went for the treasures that are deepest in the cave first, because the pirate doesn't appear until later in the game, and I tried to work it so that he'd rob me when I was getting the treasures closer to his lair.  I spent hours on this, trying to come up with the perfect run.

The best I could come up with was a win in 339 moves.  The problem is, that doesn't take into account the time spent waiting around at the end.  It also assumes a perfect run, where the pirate shows up exactly when you want him to, and a dwarf is there to follow you into the ogre's lair at exactly the right moment.  Those things never happen. I mean, I suppose if I tried enough times I might eventually get a game that goes exactly according to plan. That would be great, but the waiting at the end would still put me over 350 moves.

I'll die mad about this.

In practice, the best I could do was a win in 456 turns, with a total of 428 points.  Unless there's a way to speed up the endgame, or a whole load of shortcuts that I'm not aware of, I can only conclude that a win with full points is impossible.  I've read that not even Don Woods could finish it in under 350 moves, which is simultaneously heartening and maddening.  I mean, if the guy who created it couldn't do it I shouldn't feel so bad, but I also think that maybe he should have made the time limit more achievable.  Those two points are going to nag at me forever.

Judging Adventure 430 is going to be difficult, because at its core its still a pretty good game.  The additions don't do much to add to the experience, though, as they just make the game far more frustrating to complete.  If I was going to return to Colossal Cave Adventure, I definitely wouldn't pick this version over the 350 point version.  Hell, I don't even think I'd pick it over the 440 point version, which had its own frustrating elements.  At least I could finish that one.


Story & Setting: The treasure hunt story isn't going to score highly here, but it would be churlish of me to criticise it on that score; the game it's based on did originate the trope, after all.  The caves are taken straight from the original, and are similarly well-realised. Rating: 2 out of 7. 

Characters & Monsters: I gave the 350 point version a one in this category, which is too low in retrospect.  The pirate makes for an extra challenge, and the dwarves (although annoying) make the game that bit more dangerous.  This version adds the ogre, and gives more for the bird to do.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Aesthetics: This is a text-adventure, but it's a well-written one. The new content keeps up the same level of prose. Rating: 2 out of 7.

Puzzles: The bulk of the game's puzzles are identical to the original game, which I scored as a 3.  The urn puzzle is worth a docked point, but the traffic light puzzle is rather clever, and I like the use of the dwarves to get rid of the ogre.  I'll call it even. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Mechanics: It's a decent parser that usually recognises what you're trying to do, but I dinged it a point originally for the randomness of the dwarves.  I'll stand by that. Rating: 3 out of 7.

Challenge: Beating the game would rate as too hard, and beating the game with full points seems to be impossible.  I toyed with the idea of handing out my first zero, but in the end I relented.  I'll save that for games that just can't be beaten at all, not ones where you can win but can't get a perfect score. Rating: 1 out of 7.

Fun: I really did not enjoy the process of playing this game.  A part of that is my own inability to solve the puzzles, but most of it stemmed from the futility of trying to get a perfect score.  I can't give it a minimum rating, though, because the heart of it remains a game that I still enjoy a decent amount.  Rating: 2 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 0.

The scores above total 15, which doubled gives a Final Rating of 30.  It comes in equal 23rd, and 13th out of 32 adventure games.  For comparison, the 350 point version scored 8 points higher, and Colossal Cave Adventure II beat it by a single point.  If the full 430 points had been achievable, it would have scored somewhere in the middle of those.  It still has the core of a good game, but it adds a bunch of flawed content on top of that.

NEXT: My next game was going to be Goblins, a graphic adventure for the Apple II, but it presents me with a chronological dilemma.  The original release was all-text, but because it sold about 30 copies it's not out there for download.  The graphic adventure was released in 1981.  I feel a little weird about playing that version in my 1979 chronology.  I shouldn't, because I've played mainframe games in their earliest year of development, and I've been playing ports of games from later years.  I'm still going to kick it down the line to 1981 though, mostly so that I can fast-track the next game on my list.  That game?  Rogue, the second of my priority CRPGs.  I've played this game before, but I've never beaten it.  I'm looking forward to taking on the challenge again.


  1. Just wanted to say that it really makes me happy to see that you're on such a regular schedule now! I haven't managed to catch up with you yet but it's nice to get a glimpse of what lies ahead, as I'm still really enjoying this blog a lot!

    1. Thanks, it's fun to be on such a regular schedule. I probably won't be able to maintain it once I'm back full time at work, but for the moment I'm enjoying making multiple posts per week and achieving some genuine progress.