Thursday, July 16, 2015

Colossal Cave Adventure: Victory!

Readers may remember that in my last post I made a big song and dance about consulting a walkthrough to solve some puzzles, and how I was going to try my hardest not to do so in the future.  Well, I did try my hardest, and apparently my hardest wasn't good enough.  Yes, I completed Colossal Cave Adventure, but I certainly didn't do it on my own.

When I last posted, I'd reached the endgame, where the hero is transported to a "Repository" that houses all of the various objects and creatures found in the game, split into a north-east area and a south-west area..  The first time I got to this place I screwed up by making too much noise, and a bunch of sleeping dwarves woke up and murdered me.  I was more cautious on my second attempt, and started exploring the items available to me: empty bottles, lamps, rods, oysters, beanstalks, and some others I'm probably forgetting.  There was also a locked grate in the south-west area that I couldn't figure out how to open.

When I picked up one of the oysters, I saw a message on the bottom, and I thought that I was getting somewhere.  When I tried to read it the game said that I would have to sacrifice 10 points, but I was more than prepared.  I could always play through the game again and take advantage of my new-found knowledge without losing any points.  Alas, this is the cryptic message that I received:

"There is something strange about this place, such that one of the words I've always known now has a new effect."  Not particularly helpful, is it?  I spent the next couple of days wracking my brain and trying all kinds of unsuccessful schemes.  In the end I had to relent, and consult a walkthrough.  I can't say that I was pleased by the solution.

There's a bundle of rods in the south-west area that apparently doubles as dynamite, not that anything in the game would clue you in on this.  If you leave it in the north-east corner, head to the south-west corner, then type BLAST, it will explode and blow a hole to freedom.  Like so:

This, I have to say, is a bullshit puzzle.  I don't know how anyone ever figured this out, short of looking in the source code.  The only clue that the game gives you makes no sense at all, unless you happen to have typed BLAST earlier in the game for whatever reason.  I don't know what that reason would be, unless you're the sort of person that types mild curses when the game gets frustrating.  To top it off, you have to make sure you don't blast a hole in the south-west area, or you'll be flooded by lava. It's frustration all around.

So I'd finished the game (albeit in a less than ideal fashion), but try as I might I wasn't able to get the full 350 points.  I ended up with 349, and I had to look up the solution for that last point as well.  In my first post on the game I wrote about Witt's End, an area that you can wander into that seemingly has no exits.  Just outside of this area there was a magazine on the floor.  To get the last point I had to drop that magazine in Witt's End.  Apparently, if you get stuck in Witt's End, you can get out eventually by going any direction except west.  I never did escape in that way (and besides, wasting that many moves on escaping would cut things very fine in regards to the lantern's battery).  Instead I left this until last, and escaped by being teleported to the Repository.  This is another irritating puzzle, but it doesn't bother me as much as the one above, because it's non-compulsory.  You can quite happily finish the game without it, and if you want to spend your time banging your head against a brick wall to get that last point, then go for it.  Below is a screen cap of the game ending with full points:

I'm not sure what that bit about achieving the next higher rating is about.  None of the sites I've consulted mention a rating beyond Grandmaster, so I'm not going to worry myself about it.  It's time to wrap this baby up.


Obtuse Puzzles: This should come as no surprise, because I've been whinging and banging on about it for the last two posts.  I should say that the vast majority of the puzzles in the game are perfectly fair, and some are even rather clever.  There are two that I take issue with, however.  One of those is the final puzzle mentioned above, with the dynamite.  The other is the dark room containing the pyramid, that can only be accessed by using the magic word PLOVER.  Both of these puzzles have one thing in common: there are no clues in the game that lead to the solution.  The player can only stumble across them by dumb luck, and to me that's just poor design.

(I almost included the KILL DRAGON puzzle here, but there's a cheekiness about it that I admire, and the game does at least prompt you with a question.  Discovering the solution to this made me smile, and that makes all the difference.)

Random Dwarves: This is a minor niggle, but I don't like being randomly attacked and killed in adventure games.  I don't mind dying because I tried something stupid; half the fun of this genre is finding absurd and amusing ways to die.  But having a dwarf pop around a corner and throw a knife through my ribcage isn't fun if I have no way of preventing it.


Places of Interest: Colossal Cave is a joy to explore.  Unlike the RPGs that I started this blog with, there's very little wasted space.  Almost every room has a treasure to find or a puzzle to solve, and more often than not solving a puzzle opens up even more interesting places to see.  RPGs and adventure games, in these earliest days, are both trying to adapt Dungeons & Dragons, but they're approaching it from completely different directions.  RPGs are more interested in the statistical side of things, and the resource management inherent in a simulation of dungeon exploration.  Adventure games strip away that side of things, and focus on the interesting places that spring from the Dungeon Master's imagination, and the struggle of the players to solve the mysteries those places present (and, for better or worse, the idiosyncrasies of said DM's personality, which in adventure games manifests in the perversity of the puzzles).  Both are fun, but adventure games pack more into a smaller space.

The Puzzles That Made Sense: Despite my misgivings about a couple of puzzles above, I must say that most of the puzzles in Colossal Cave Adventure are logical, and not too difficult.  The highlight has to be the sequence with the Troll.  Crossing his bridge requires that several puzzles have been solved, and ends with a bear attack.  I want more weaponised bears in my gaming, is what I'm saying here.

Historical Legacy: There's no doubting that games like dnd and pedit5 are foundational for the RPG genre, but nothing I've played comes close to Colossal Cave Adventure.  It's quite astounding just how advanced it feels; the text adventure has arrived here almost fully formed.  Playing it felt very familiar.  Part of that came from the interface, but in large part it's due to the game's massive influence on ZorkZork is probably the most famous example of it's genre, and the amount of stuff it takes from Colossal Cave Adventure is almost too much to list.  The treasure-hunting quest; the lantern with a time limit; the enemy who steals your stuff; the maze of twisty passages, all alike.  Zork is a more polished affair by far, but it (and consequently the text adventure as a whole) owes a lot to its progenitor.


Some time after completing this game I instituted a scoring system with which I can rank the games I play.  I've been gradually going back and rating the games I played earlier in the blog, and now it's time to give Colossal Cave Adventure the same treatment.

Story & Setting: The story, a bog-standard treasure hunt, is as generic as it gets for this game genre.  The setting, however, is quite evocative.  Certain sections are based on Crowther's caving experiences, and the end result is that the places in the game feel authentic.  There are other areas that feel tacked on, though, and the endgame is pure nonsense.    Rating: 2.

Characters & Monsters: There aren't a lot of characters in this game, and the ones that are present have a limited range of interaction.  Most of them are obstacles (the troll, the snake, the dragon), some are nuisances (the dwarves, the pirate) and one is a useful tool (the bear).  None of them are actual charact6ers, though.  Rating: 1.

Aesthetics: Text adventures are never going to score highly in this area, I'm afraid, but I'm going to award Colossal Cave Adventure an extra point for its evocative descriptions.  Rating: 2.

Mechanics: Colossal Cave Adventure has a simple parser, but very few of the problems I had with the game stemmed from that aspect.  The random elements were perhaps a little too frequent.  Being surprise attacked and killed by dwarves in a CRPG is all fine and dandy: that genre is usually heavily based around combat.  But in a genre geared towards puzzle-solving, it can get really irritating.  Rating: 3.

Challenge: Some of the puzzles in this game are fun, and well thought through.  Others are obtuse as hell, to the point where the game is unsolvable without extreme luck and guesswork.  For that, I have to knock it down significantly.  Rating: 2.

Innovation & Influence: Given that this is the first ever game of its genre, I have to give it a maximum score here.  Rating: 7.

Fun: Despite its flaws, I enjoyed Colossal Cave Adventure a lot.  Perhaps it was just the change of pace from playing lengthy PLATO CRPGs, but I found this game to be really refreshing.  Rating: 5.

I don't feel any particular urge to play this game again, so it doesn't get the bonus point.  The scores above add up to 22, which gives it a final score of 44 out of 100. This puts it slightly ahead of Adventureland (the only other text adventure I've rated at the time of writing), which feels about right.

Final Rating: 44 out of 100.


Somewhat later in this blog I made the decision to overhaul my Final Rating system, so I'm going back through and fixing all of the games I've already played as of March 2020.  I've ditched the Innovation and Influence category, and replaced it for adventure games with a category for Puzzles.  I've also changed the purpose of the bonus points, saving them for games that are important, innovative, influential, or have features that are otherwise not covered by my other categories.

Also, the Final Rating is a boring name.  The CRPG Addict has his GIMLET.  The Adventure Gamers have their PISSED rating.  Data Driven Gamer has his harpoons.  So I'm ditching the generic name and calling my new system the RADNESS Index: the Righteous Admirability Designation, Numerically Estimating Seven Scores. It's a pretentious mouthful, but I'm going with it.

Puzzles: This is the formative adventure game, so a lot of the puzzles seen here are massively influential.  Most of them are fair, and I think the dragon puzzle is amusingly clever.  I have to knock this one down for it's final puzzle though, as the BLAST command is never made known to the player at all.  I'm not a big fan of the PLOVER puzzle either.  Rating: 3 out of 7.

Bonus Points: 2. The influence of this game is so massive that the entire adventure game genre is named after it. It's shadow is long, and I'd hazard a guess that I'll be at this blog for many years before I find an adventure game that doesn't have any of the DNA of Colossal Cave Adventure in it somewhere.

Colossal Cave Adventure's RADNESS Index is 38. So far that puts it third, behind The Game of Dungeons and Orthanc, and ahead of The Dungeon. It's the top-rated adventure game though!

NEXT: I'm still playing Moria, so I'll do a check-in with that.  While I continue to plug away at that game in the background, I'll check out either Oubliette or the DND game designed for the PDP-10 system.


  1. As noted in my comment to the previous entry, there *is* actually a clue to the magic word plover -- it's the hollow voice.

    1. I could be wrong about this, but I don't think I ever saw the hollow voice say "plover". That's one of the problems with playing mainframe games, with years of constant development: there are a lot of different versions and revisions out there. Still, it's possible that I just missed it.