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
The original BBN
IMP team. William Crowther is second from the
a company, Bolt, Beranek and Newman (BBN) had been founded by two
MIT professors in 1948 in Boston as an acoustic consultant
company. They were involved in computer hardware research by
the 1960's and made their most important contribution towards
the end of that decade. Under contract with the government,
they set out to research a method for finding a common link to
allow various computers to communicate.
At the time,
there was no standard communications method. Most computer
manufacturers used their own proprietary methods for encoding
data internally, and in some cases their own networking
protocols as well. The situation resembled the problems
railroad owners in the 1800's had, where owners built their
tracks with different gauge tracks so that trains and their
cars could only be made for a specific railroad line. The
problem was solved when a standardized gauge was made
A similar method was now being proposed by
the government and BBN, whereby a separate smaller computer
would act as an interface to the main computer and act as a
translator. With these translators (referred to as Interface
Message Processors or IMPs) acting as a go between for each
various computer on the network, they would now be able to
communicate in a common language. The IMPs would then
translate the communications back to the native language of
the computers they were representing. Because they not only
"translated" but also took care of routing and other
networking tasks, these IMPs were actually the forerunners of
today's modern Internet routers and gateways as well.
The Honeywell 516R
that served as the basis for the first IMP's. The R
stood for ruggedized.
a contract to build 4 of these IMPs, they decided to use the
Honeywell 516R mini computer and modify it for their uses. The
R stood for ruggedized, and they were only certified as such
after being shaken, shocked, rocked side to side, frozen,
baked, swept to a 10,000 foot altitude, and bombarded with
sudden changes in power supply, voltage, and frequency. And
thusly the Arpanet was born on October 1st 1969 when the first
two IMPs (one connected to a computer at UCLA, the other
connected to one at the Stanford Research Institute)
communicated. Why is this important? With the eventual
addition of more and more college campuses and research
facilities to this new IMP based network by the mid 70's, and
the creation of the TCP/IP protocol by the late 70's, the
Arpanet eventually evolved in to what you now know as the
inventor of email and the use of the character @ for
network address protocol.
1971, networked email was also invented at BBN when Ray
Tomlinson wrote the first program to allow the sending of
files between computers across a network (in this class the
files were text files representing electronic messages). Ray
also invented the use of the @ sign as the method for
specifying the originating or receiving computer's address.
of the people involved in the Arpanet project was a man by the
name of William Crowther. Described as an exceptional
programmer, he was involved in writing the code that ran the
IMPs themselves, as well as the original networking and
routing software. When not coding at BBN however William was
also an avid cave explorer, often going on extended trips to
go spelunking with his wife Pat (also an employee at BBN). The
two went so far as to use BBN's computers to map and catalog
the various cave systems via a teletype in their living room
and a program Pat wrote.
The Mammoth Caves
in Kentucky, the inspiration for
this came to a stop however in 1972 when he and Pat began
divorce proceedings and Pat left with the kids. In a state of
depression caused by missing the constant interaction with his
kids he previously enjoyed, William decided to do something to
bring him closer and connect again.
"I had been involved in a
non-computer role-playing game called Dungeons and Dragons
at the time, and also I had been actively exploring in caves
- Mammoth Cave in Kentucky in particular.
I got involved in a divorce, and that left me a bit pulled
apart in various ways. In particular I was missing my kids.
Also the caving had stopped, because that had become
awkward, so I decided I would fool around and write a
program that was a re-creation in fantasy of my caving, and
also would be a game for the kids, and perhaps some aspects
of the Dungeons and Dragons that I had been playing.
My idea was that it would be a computer game that
would not be intimidating to non-computer people, and that
was one of the reasons why I made it so that the player
directs the game with natural language input, instead of
more standardized commands. My kids thought it was a lot of
fun. - William Crowther
BBN's PDP-10 where
Ray Tomlinson invented email and William Crowther
programmed Adventure from.
the Fortran programming language (the very first high level
programming language, invented by John Backus in 1956 at IBM)
and BBN's PDP-10 minicomputer, he set out to write the
program. He provided imaginative yet accurate descriptions of
the sites and sounds one would experience in reality by using
many of the cave features and descriptions he and his former
wife had cataloged over the years before.
YOU ARE IN A SPLENDID CHAMBER
THIRTY FEET HIGH. THE WALLS ARE FROZEN RIVERS OF ORANGE
STONE. AN AWKWARD CANYON AND A GOOD PASSAGE EXIT FROM EAST
AND WEST SIDES OF THE CHAMBER.
- A description
from the original Adventure. The game was in all capitalized
letters because the PDP-10's bit structure only allowed for
Upon the completion of the program
later that year and the success of the program (the kids had
enjoyed it as he mentioned) the game was subject to a unique
prospect. Because it was programmed in a standardized high
level (non system specific) language, and it's author had
access to a one of a kind network of computers - it soon found
it's way across the country a relatively blazing speed for the
time. Most programs at that time were widely distributed by
paper printouts of source code, or through distribution packs
featuring collections of software (such as the previously
mentioned Star Trek and Wumpus). William however, passed it to
friends across the Arpanet (then up to a full 23 nodes which
can be seen here) directly
in it's Fortran source code text file format. They passed it
to others and son on, and soon even computers not directly
connected to the Arpanet had copies running on their system as
well. The game became commonly referred to as advent (due to
the often limited length of filenames on many computers back
there) or Colossal Cave (because of it's reference to the
cave), and it soon became a cult classic.
Don Woods, who
expanded Adventure and put it in it's recognizable
fact it was cross country in the California city of Stanford
(home of one of the original IMPs) that a man by the name of
Don Woods ran across
Adventure and made the next important contribution to it.
It was the spring of 1976, and Don was doing research
at Stanford University's Artificial Intelligence lab. The lab
itself had been started when MIT professor John McCarthy (whom
you'll remember from earlier in the series as one of the
mentors to the original MIT hackers) moved to Stanford in 1962
to start it. Don had overheard another student talking about
this interesting game someone had found on the Stanford
Medical Center's computer. He asked the student to get him a
copy of the game, which turned out to be the game Adventure.
After playing it and seeing he'd like to expand it, he managed
to contact William (whose name had been left in the program)
and get his permission.
The version I found consisted mostly
of exploration, with almost no puzzles. But I thought it was
an interesting idea for a game, and wanted to tinker with
it. The game mentioned Crowther as its author, so I sent
mail to crowther@xxx for all hosts xxx on the Internet,
which in those days was still very small - it was called the
Arpanet then, funded by the U.S. Department of Defense's
Advanced Research Projects Agency. I got back several error
messages from sites that had no person by that name, but did
eventually hear from Crowther, who was by then at Xerox. He
sent me the source for his program.
was here that the game took a decidedly Tolkienesque (The
Hobbit and Lord Of the Rings - soon to be released as a major
motion picture trilogy) turn. With characters such as elves
and trolls showing up, as well as increasingly more fantastic
locations and fanciful names, Adventure took a decidedly more
fantasy based spin. Even though Don denies the connection,
this element certainly increased the attraction of the game
and could be considered a sign of the times when fantasy
novels and gaming were becoming extremely popular.
Tolkien was undoubtedly part of the
inspiration for Dungeons & Dragons, and D&D and
Tolkien were the inspiration for a role-playing game
designed by Crowther and his co-workers in Massachusetts.
And that role-playing game - which I believe they called
Tales of Middle Earth - was part of what led Crowther to
write Adventure. It sometimes surprises people to learn
that, when I wrote my parts of Adventure, I had never played
D&D or any other role-playing game. Someone eventually
introduced me to role-playing because they had heard about
Adventure and figured I'd enjoy role-playing - They were
right! I had read Tolkien, but I didn't consciously use it
as a model for anything. Even the description of the
volcano, which some writers have claimed was modeled after
Mount Doom, was written with no particular vision in mind.
Woods also expanded the game to include
350 points of interest now, and unleashed it to the Arpanet.
This Crowther/Woods version became the standard version of
Adventure that all later ports and expansions were based off
Later during the same year, a programmer by the
name of Jim Gillogly came across the Crowther/Woods version
while working at the Rand Corporation (where he still works to
this day). Contacting both Woods and Crowther, he got
permission to port the Fortran code in to a C language
C had been invented in 1971 by Kernhigan and
Ritchie to support their "new" Unix operating system. Unix and
C were fast becoming a powerful force in computers and the
Arpanet, and would eventually become the driving force running
most computers on the Internet. This important development
solidified Adventure for distribution, and it's later porting
to personal computers.
Though the Crowther/Woods
version of Adventure became a standard (now commonly referred
to as Adventure 2.0), many versions of it actually continued
to be developed. A comprehensive family tree of the many
Adventure's can be found here.
In fact in 1995 Don Woods made a small "comeback" with
Adventure 2.5, when he took the C source code and expanded
that to include 430 points or "rooms". The most important
influence to be felt by Adventure however, would occur in the
late 1970's at MIT (and will be covered later in this series).
One man's experience coming face to face with an IMP.
The Rick Adams site
dedicated to Adventure. Very complete, and includes
downloads for almost every computer format.
Adventure was inducted in to GameSpy's hall of fame this
past October. Read all about it here!
A collection of the many many versions of Adventure is
All in source code format.
Even more Adventure goodness, with versions for many
computers ready to run!
of Adventure by Beverly Schwartz, an employee of BBN.