Before Adventure, Part 3: Caves (1973)   9 comments

Let’s start things a little differently.

Visualize you are living in 1973, where there are almost no computer games at all, and those that exist tend to be conversions of board games and educational games, with a smattering of simulation games and Star Trek.

WELCOME TO THE CAVES

IS THIS YOUR FIRST VISIT (1=YES, 0=NO)? 1

DO YOU WANT AN INTRODUCTION (1=YES, 0=NO)? 1

IMAGINE YOURSELF AN EXPLORER OF THE FAMOUS
DUZZLEDORF CAVES. YOU'VE BEEN UNDERGROUND
FOR DAYS, TRIPPING THROUGH THE CAVERNS AND
TUNNELS. UNFORTUNATELY, YOU'RE LOST, AND
YOUR FOOD HAS RUN OUT.

THERE IS ONLY ONE PATH OUT. SEE IF YOU
CAN FIND IT.

WHEN I TYPE A '?', YOU GIVE ME THE NUMBER
OF THE CAVERN YOU WANT TO GO TO. LIKE THIS:

WHERE NEXT? 7

ADVICE: MAKE A MAP AS YOU GO - IN THE HARDER CAVES
YOU SOMETIMES HAVE TO GO BACK AND TRY ANOTHER
WAY, GOOD LUCK!

YOU'RE IN CAVERN # 1
# 2 # 3 # 4 ARE WHERE YOU CAN GO
WHERE NEXT? 4

YOU'RE IN CAVERN # 4
# 5 # 6 # 7 # 1 ARE WHERE YOU CAN GO
WHERE NEXT? 5
DEADEND
WHERE NEXT? 6
DEADEND
WHERE NEXT? 7

YOU'RE IN CAVERN # 7
# 8 # 9 # 10 # 4 ARE WHERE YOU CAN GO
WHERE NEXT? 10

YOU'RE IN CAVERN # 10
# 11 # 12 # 13 # 7 ARE WHERE YOU CAN GO
WHERE NEXT? 13

!!! SUNLIGHT !!!

!!! FRESH AIR !!!

... REPORTERS ...

WELL, AT LEAST YOU'RE OUT

CONGRATULATIONS, INTREPID EXPLORER
OF THE FEARSOME CAVES. IF YOU WANT TO
EXPLORE AGAIN, YOU CAN CHOOSE A HARDER SET
OF CAVES OR ANOTHER ONE JUST AS DIFFICULT

AGAIN (1=YES, 0=NO)?

Again: take a moment, visualize, imagine your take of the transcript above as of you-in-1973, not you-in-now. Hold that thought.

From People’s Computer Company newspaper, May 1973.

The first mention of Caves, aka Caves1, aka Lost in the Caves, is from PCC May 1973, which gives a “sample transcript” of the game being played, and labels it as being by Dave Kaufman. It does not provide source code, which doesn’t appear until a special “Games” PCC publication from 1974, presumably because the game is fairly long by PCC standards.

Back to you-in-1973: what do you think? Is it a different experience, at least? Does it make you want to try again, at a harder difficulty?

From a 2019 perspective, the game doesn’t offer much: it’s a pure-exploration game in a morass of undifferentiated rooms. To summarize: you’re dropped in a cavern that is numbered, with other caverns attached, and need to navigate from cavern to cavern until finding the exit. Although not clear from the transcript above, every map is in the form of a “tree”, with each cavern branching down.

For 1973, there was definitely some novelty. While prior games had placed “you” in a simulation context (most notably in HIGHNOON from 1970) this was “you” as an explorer navigating a space at a “first person” level.

But in 2019 … argh. Although the author doesn’t state it outright, I suspect there was a pedagogical purpose of exploring a computer science structure; the end result is a very mechanical feeling to gameplay. The higher difficulty levels aren’t much better; sometimes you have to backtrack, but there is very little surprise. This is map-as-topology rather than map-as-exploring a real place, and the difference is fairly clear after a few playthroughs.

Of course, you don’t have to just trust me, you can try it yourself. The source code isn’t easy to get to these days, so I hand-typed the entire thing from the PCC publication.

Caves1 BASIC source

This is in a modified version that QBASIC can handle. While I’m not selling the game very well, it does verge close enough to Adventure Games to be worth a try by anyone interested in the genre.

Perhaps sensing the gameplay needed more complexity, the author tried very hard to add “meta-game” activities. Here’s one example, from the book What to Do After You Hit Return:

As shown above: play through, pick a room, swap places with your friend, and have them try to find the room you picked.

This is the sort of thing people do all the time with video games (i.e. playing Halo by ignoring the objective and trying to do stunts instead) but I’ve rarely seen endorsed. Board games, sure. But video games always present a veneer of only the “official” rules being used. Anyone else have some more examples of playing video games in an “alternate” way?

One of the newspaper clips above mentioned Caves2, Caves3, and Wumpus. Wumpus deserves its own post, but let’s get Caves2 and 3 out of the way. They’re both “create your own” games.

Caves2 has the exact same structure as Caves1, except you enter the maze yourself first, rather than having the computer randomly generate it. The idea is that you can then challenge friends to solve your maze.

The problem here is, again, the “tree” structure is highly limiting. There’s not much to differentiate a “creative” maze from one made at random. I suppose someone could try alternating patterns, or embedding Fibonacci sequences, or spelling words based on the numbers the dead ends are at.

Caves3 is a bit more interesting; now connections can be arbitrary.

PCC September 1973.

With Caves3 it might be possible to make something approaching a real map, but without distinguishing factors like names, the rooms are still just undifferentiated topology. There needs to be either be a.) some activity other than pure map-making which makes otherwise “blank” rooms gather narrative value or b.) some extra element to the rooms themselves that make them interesting to look at.

In the remaining posts for the Before Adventure series, we’ll be looking at a set of games that does (a.) first, followed by a fascinating attempt at (b.)

Posted March 20, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with ,

9 responses to “Before Adventure, Part 3: Caves (1973)

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  1. “Anyone else have some more examples of playing video games in an “alternate” way?”

    I would venture that speedrunning is pretty much the canonical alternative. In an arcade context, virtually anything short of “achieve high score” (including: last a long time, have fun) is an inferior alt mode. These days, 100% completion is another popular alternate mode.

    • Speedrunning is a pretty good example! There are also “multiplayer” stunts like two-people-one-controller. (I have additionally seen speedruns “endorsed” by a company even on games with no timer.)

      Trivia: I used to hold the world record on all three modes of Atari 2600 Adventure. (I claimed back Game 2’s record recently, but have lost it since someone found a crazy strategy involving a bat that I have yet to duplicate.)

  2. I’ve played Hunt the Wumpus in Slackware Linux, and this Caves game seems remarkably similar. I’ve also played a DOS game from Apogee Software called The Thing, which is basically the same thing as Hunt the Wumpus. It seems to be one of those games that got copied by so many different people it became a genre in itself.

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  4. To be honest, I think even back in 1973, I’d have pretty quickly picked up on the fact that this is just a purposeless tree diagram navigation tool with the “objective” of finding some randomly determined spot, and that all the multiplayer variants can just as well be played on a piece of paper, then gone back to playing Checkers against the computer or something along those lines.

    • Yeah, it’s not-really-a-game-yet in tree form (I wish CAVES3 which broke off from trees-only had a generator, because it would feel *slightly* more interesting to map but it doesn’t).

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