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The Completed Adventure, Part 3

04 Jun

The PDP-10 system on which Don Woods completed Adventure was an expensive resource shared by many; Stanford did not purchase it to enable virtual spelunking. Perhaps to head off the inevitable complaints of his superiors, Woods built into the program the concept of “Cave Hours.” If someone tried to play during times of peak demand — by default from 8:00 am to 6:00 pm, excluding weekends and holidays — she was allowed only to take a “short exploration,” limited (by default) to 30 minutes and without the option to save her progress. Some design choices also seem calculated to encourage players to play in shorter sessions over a period of weeks or months rather than binging for hours at a time. For instance, during non-peak periods a player can save her progress, but she is forced to immediately quit the game upon doing so, and cannot restore her session and resume playing for 90 minutes. (Of course, things like this also served, in keeping with the philosophy described in my last post, just to make the game hard.)

These restrictions could be altered by an administrator by entering “MAGIC MODE” at an in-game prompt. If she responds correctly to what follows she becomes a sort of root user, able to change the program’s settings:

MAGIC MODE

ARE YOU A WIZARD?   

YES

PROVE IT!  SAY THE MAGIC WORD!

DWARF

THAT IS NOT WHAT I THOUGHT IT WAS.  DO YOU KNOW WHAT I THOUGHT IT WAS?

NO

NODDG

BMAFH

OH DEAR, YOU REALLY *ARE* A WIZARD!  SORRY TO HAVE BOTHERED YOU . . . 
DO YOU WISH TO SEE THE HOURS? 
YES

         Mon - Fri:  Open all day
         Sat - Sun:  Open all day
         Holidays:   Open all day
DO YOU WISH TO CHANGE THE HOURS?   
NO
DO YOU WISH TO (RE)SCHEDULE THE NEXT HOLIDAY?
NO
Length of short game (null to leave at 30):

NEW MAGIC WORD (NULL TO LEAVE UNCHANGED):    

NEW MAGIC NUMBER (NULL TO LEAVE UNCHANGED):  

Latency for restart (null to leave at 90):

DO YOU WISH TO CHANGE THE MESSAGE OF THE DAY?
NO
OKAY.  YOU CAN SAVE THIS VERSION NOW.   

BE SURE TO SAVE YOUR CORE-IMAGE... 
CPU time 0.01   Elapsed time 33.98

EXIT

The administrator must work out the proper response using a complex cipher algorithm based not only on the randomly chosen sequence of characters the game sends to her but also on the exact current system time. This portion of the source code is obfuscated as much as possible for obvious reasons, although I’m sure the sufficiently determined could work it out. Presumably the algorithm must have been passed secretly among administrators, but this is one aspect of Adventure I’ve never heard too much about. If anyone knows anything more about how this was generally handled, by all means leave a comment to tell us about it.

One interesting aspect of the cave hours system is the way that it treats Adventure not as a narrative or even as a game, but rather as a location — specifically, as a sort of virtual amusement park. The visitor who attempts to enter during peak hours is told, “I’M TERRIBLY SORRY, BUT COLOSSAL CAVE IS CLOSED,” followed by details of its “open hours.” This idea is echoed in the endgame, as the player suddenly finds herself dropped into the control room of this underground park. It all serves to emphasize again that Adventure is ultimately all about location, location, location — and that Don Woods apparently had a bit of an amusement-park fetish.

Whatever its other implications, system administrators would soon have reason to bless Woods for including cave hours, even as they probably cursed him for ever unleashing Adventure upon them in the first place. Because, you see, Adventure turned out to be popular — really, really popular. Solving it became the obsession of hackers across the country and, eventually, all over the world; legend has it that IT departments and university computer-science departments pretty much stopped doing much of anything else until they had won. Even disallowing play during business hours is after all of limited utility when all of the people who are supposed to be accomplishing useful things during said business hours are passed out at their desks after playing Adventure all night. One apocryphal quote claims that Adventure set the entire computing industry back by two weeks.

And once that crisis was passed, lots of hackers in lots of places promptly started trying to make their own versions. Adventure-like games became Adventure games became adventure games, and a genre was born. For several years the most complex examples of the new form continued to appear on larger institutional systems in places like MIT University, the Stockholm Computer Center, and Cambridge University. Jason Dyer has been doing a great job of covering that aspect of early adventure gaming, digging into some largely forgotten works as well as the heavy hitters like Zork. At least for now, though — and, as always, as time permits — I want to look at how the innovations of Crowther and Woods, not to mention those of Gregory Yob and Don Rawitsch and so many others, began to come home, on the first practical home computers that were appearing at the same time that Adventure was paralyzing the world of the institutional computer.

Before I say goodbye to Adventure, here’s a final tally of who created what.

Crowther:
basic concept of the text adventure
compass directions
the dwarves
“Maze of Twisty Little Passages, all alike”
geography and some puzzles up to the “Complex Junction”

Woods:
inventory limit
“Maze of Twisty Little Passages, all different”
cave hours
geography and puzzles from the “Complex Junction”
scoring system
save system
the pirate
limited lamp battery life

You have a lot to answer for, Don Woods! But we love you anyway… at least you didn’t implement any hunger timers.

 

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6 Responses to The Completed Adventure, Part 3

  1. Harry Kaplan

    June 7, 2011 at 11:05 pm

    What you are doing with these early storygames skirts perilously close to archaeology. You locate the site (find the code), examine it to get an overall sense of its expanse and function (play the game), and finally study it carefully layer by layer to see how it evolved over time (read the code, identifying the kernel and deducing how it was rewritten and expanded during its development lifetime). Next step, carbon dating. Oh, I forgot – you’re already married.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      June 8, 2011 at 7:50 am

      So what you’re gently trying to tell me is that I should have been “The Digital Archaeologist,” heh? I hate it when I get my metaphors wrong…

       
      • Harry Kaplan

        June 8, 2011 at 10:02 am

        All kidding aside, a stance that’s tough for me to take, archaeology might be an interesting paridigm for your researches into early storygames if you bind all this material together in a book some day.

         
  2. Charles Richmond

    February 13, 2012 at 10:41 pm

    The “magic mode” incantation only works right at the beginning of the game. Otherwise, the user gets the response “I don’t know the word magic”.

    After the game starts and asks if you want instructions, it says:

    YOU ARE STANDING AT THE END OF A ROAD BEFORE A SMALL BRICK BUILDING.
    AROUND YOU IS A FOREST. A SMALL STREAM FLOWS OUT OF THE BUILDING AND
    DOWN A GULLY.

    At that time, you type “magic mode”… and the sequence you wrote about is followed.

     
  3. Giuseppe

    February 19, 2013 at 9:22 pm

    I’ve been reading your articles, in order, starting with the beginning, and I just have to ask something: why is the player character always referred to as a “she”?

    I may not be a native English speaker, so maybe I don’t get it, but it sort of seems unusual. It stands out.

    Sorry if this question has been already answered elsewhere, but I haven’t read everything. Yet.

     
    • Jimmy Maher

      February 20, 2013 at 5:55 am

      Just one of my ticks as a writer. Since people usually make everyone male by default, I decided to do the opposite. There’s another comment somewhere around here where I talk about it in more detail. Blame it on my graduate-school indoctrination. :)

       

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