The Long-Lost Earliest Version of Crowther/Woods Adventure, Hiding in Plain Sight   5 comments

Starting in 1975, Will Crowther wrote a game that began thusly:

WELCOME TO ADVENTURE!! WOULD YOU LIKE INSTRUCTIONS?

YES
SOMEWHERE NEARBY IS COLOSSAL CAVE, WHERE OTHERS HAVE FOUND FORTUNES IN TREASURE AND GOLD, THOUGH IT IS RUMORED THAT SOME WHO ENTER ARE NEVER SEEN AGAIN. MAGIC IS SAID TO WORK IN THE CAVE. I WILL BE YOUR EYES AND HANDS. DIRECT ME WITH COMMANDS OF 1 OR 2 WORDS.
(ERRORS, SUGGESTIONS, COMPLAINTS TO CROWTHER)
(IF STUCK TYPE HELP FOR SOME HINTS)

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.

The original, abandoned in early 1976, was thought to be lost forever until it was unearthed in 2007 by Dennis Jerz. It included three puzzles, axe-throwing dwarves, and an early version of the twisty maze of passages, all alike. Aside from the recently-discovered Castle (which never had an impact at the time) it was the earliest text adventure.

Now, the way the story traditionally continues is this: Woods comes across the source code in 1977, and codes the game to completion, with a maximum score of 350 points attained by finding all the treasures and winning the endgame. This version spreads the world — including to Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels and Dave Lebling, the creators of Zork — and a new genre is born.

This story is close, but not quite right. The first Crowther/Woods version didn’t go up to 350 points.

I only know about it from this recollection:

I’m relying solely on memory which tends to be fallible (see above: the dwarf ‘vanishes’, not ‘disappears’) but my best recollection is that ADVENT.EXE first appeared on the PDP-10s at ADP (the old First Data in Waltham, Mass.) in 1977. It was an incomplete version which only had about 250 points worth of treasure. I seem to recall that there was nothing past the troll bridge but an ‘under construction’ sign or some such. I believe our copy came from WPI, but word at the time was it was developed at Stanford. Two or three months later we got the full 350 point game.
— John Everett

I admit, I didn’t think much of this account, and neither did anyone else, apparently; even this exhaustive family tree of versions of Adventure doesn’t mention it. Given the lack of material I figured it was the last I would hear about it.

Now, I was just embarking on my playthrough of the 550-point version of Adventure as part of my All the Adventures project when I found this map while looking for images to use with my blog posts:

It was drawn by Dave Lebling (of Zork) himself, so I figured it would make a nice starting image. I noticed, idly studying, that the usual exit southwest of the Hall of the Mountain King leading to the dragon was absent; I assumed that was a mistake. I tagged it as being a rendition of 350-point Adventure, and that was that.

Later, I decided to browse over the entire map (find the high-res version at the Adventure Gamers link) and I spotted something in the southwest corner:

The chasm section of the map is missing and the portion of the map is marked with an under construction sign.

That consequently means this is a map of the first release of Crowther/Woods Adventure.

Not only that, this is the version Lebling played before embarking on writing Zork.

There’s not a lot of differences; other than the disconnect with the Hall of the Mountain King (which I still grant might be a mistake; the map shows the entrance works the other direction), the maze of passages all different is absent. If you also slice away the two treasures past the chasm (the golden chain and the spices) and cut the endgame (it’s a decent assumption it wasn’t done yet; it also doesn’t show on the map), I get 244 points, close to Mr. Everett’s recollection of approximately 250 points.

In the end, this might be trivia and will not do much to change adventure game history. Still, it’s a lovely surprise.

Again note, the full high-resolution version can be found at the Adventure Gamers article.

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Posted July 25, 2017 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “The Long-Lost Earliest Version of Crowther/Woods Adventure, Hiding in Plain Sight

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  1. Well spotted, Jason! This is a brilliant find.

    Btw, the “exhaustive” Adventure Family Tree page says “None known” under “Download” for the Apple II version of ADVENT, but isn’t this the download in question?:

    https://archive.org/details/a2_Adventure_1980_A_Bit_Better_Associates

    • It looks like the one mentioned on the chart might be a different Apple II port.

      You might want to let Nathanael know — his last update was earlier this month so he’s still at it.

      • I am indeed still at it. Though “exhaustive” might be a bit of hyperbole (“exhausting” might be nearer the mark): there are (probably far) more versions out there I haven’t uncovered yet (and folks are *still* porting and adapting it forty years later), and I’m always open to corrections, additions and differences of opinion.

        The previous poster did contact me (thank you!) After some discussion with Arthur O’Dwyer I concur that APPL0350 and SCBA0350 are probably the same — or at least the MOCAGH entry alone is insufficient evidence to distinguish them — and I’ll be merging them in my tree as soon as I’ve finished this post.

        Arthur is of the opinion (and I think I concur) that what you’ve found may be not so much a predecessor to WOOD0350 as simply a snapshot of a game still in development. The “Bridge Under Construction” note, for example, suggests as much. So it probably becomes a question of interpretation as to whether the evidence warrants treating this as a complete version in its own right, or merely WOOD0350 in progress.

        I would note, however, that in the version notes from MAIN.C of Adventure 2.5 (WOOD0430), Woods himself doesn’t mention any interim versions:

        /* ADVENTURE (REV 2: 20 TREASURES) */

        /* HISTORY: ORIGINAL IDEA & 5-TREASURE VERSION (ADVENTURES) BY WILLIE CROWTHER
        * 15-TREASURE VERSION (ADVENTURE) BY DON WOODS, APRIL-JUNE 1977
        * 20-TREASURE VERSION (REV 2) BY DON WOODS, AUGUST 1978
        * ERRATA FIXED: 78/12/25 */

        [Pardon me if this is a duplicate. My first attempt at posting doesn’t seem to have stuck.]

      • The “under construction” (and the fact he already knew it was going to be a troll bridge) certainly suggests he wasn’t done yet.

        Crowther’s original also had the same, but in his case he had abandoned it, so I suppose it was “done” there.

        I’m not particular either way how you do your chart, although it certainly was useful to know about the intermediary version, otherwise I would be baffling over the Lebling map for a while.

    • The “A Bit Better Associates” game is listed as SCBA0350; but http://www.virtualapple.org/2listA.html uses the same splash-screen art to identify a game called “Apple Adventure”, so probably APPL0350 is a duplicate. http://www.dadgum.com/giantlist/ concurs that “Apple Adventure” was written by Schmuckal and Barshack, and doesn’t mention the existence of any other “Apple Adventure” game. (A very weak point on the other side: http://mocagh.org/loadpage.php?getgame=appleadventure shows the paper packaging, which doesn’t mention “A Bit Better Associates” at all.)

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