The Let's Play Archive


by idonotlikepeas

Part 241: Chapter 241

Concluding Thoughts:

I talked about the origins of the game a bit in the intro post, but I plan to go into a little bit more detail here. If you're tired of listening to me babble about this game or don't have to patience to read through several poorly-edited paragraphs of fanwanking, feel free to skip it; by now, you've seen all the game content you're going to see.

Will Crowther was in a bad state in the early seventies. He and his wife had recently divorced, and as a result he didn't feel that he could participate in caving anymore (since it would obviously be somewhat awkward due to both his ex-wife's proximity and the fact that a majority of his contacts there were hers). He was also missing his children, who he was obviously no longer seeing as frequently. He had also been playing a lot of Dungeons and Dragons. One day, he mixed all these ideas together in his head and decided to use the computer he worked with to make a game.

The idea of computer games was not new. Spacewar! had been around since 1962, after all; it was running on the PDP-1 with an oscilloscope for a screen and switches for joysticks. And you have almost certainly played it, oh yes; it's one of the most ported games ever. Two spaceships face each other over a planet and try to blow each other to hell with missiles. (Ever played Star Control? Spacewar.) He had a different game in mind, though; he wanted something that would let him explore his caves, and he wanted something he could share with his children, and he combined those using the lessons he learned from Dungeons and Dragons. The computer was his DM. You can see that influence everywhere; unlike most games, the parser speaks to you like a living being, has its own "personality" and its own thoughts on matters, and even makes mistakes from time to time.

He succeeded, naturally; his kids loved the game (although one of them later wrote that she got stuck on Woods' dragon) and it let him spend more time with the caves he loved, albeit at a remove. And he succeeded in ways he hadn't anticipated, too; while games predated Adventure, this was (arguably) the beginning of games-as-art; the first game that told a real story. It was also a game that desperately tried to understand human beings rather than forcing them to learn how to play it, although how well it succeeded at that is a matter of opinion.

Woods had more specific and less lofty goals in mind. He wanted to add more fun toys to the game, and that's what he did. While he is not responsible for the larger volume of rooms, he is responsible for the majority of its puzzles. Crowther's game was content to explore the caves with minimal opposition; Woods put things into the cave to be found. Neither of them, working alone, would likely have produced a game with such wide-reaching impact, but their accidental collaboration created an entire industry.

It's hard to look back from our vantage point and understand what this game meant. To us, it seems primitive, and the puzzles are confusing and unfair. But no-one had ever done anything like this before; they had no guide to how the game would be played. No QA, no project plan, and no PR department. The two principal collaborators didn't even work together directly! The impressive part is not to be found in the quality of the game, but in that it ever existed at all. And without this game, we would have no Infocom and no Scott Adams. No Sierra and no Lucasarts. It's not an exaggeration to say that this little all-caps two-word mainframe game inspired an entire generation of game programmers. Now, video games won't win wars or cure cancer, but it would still be a sadder world without them, and Adventure sharped the idea of what games could be into something that was much more interesting and complex than what had gone before.

And that's it for this LP. Thanks again to everyone for playing along! Feel free to ask any further questions you might have, or continue using the thread to discuss the game. I am greatly indebted many sources for all this stuff, but particularly to Rick Adam's Adventure page, to a rather good article in the Digital Humanities Quarterly, and of course to Graham Nelson for the port.