Crystal Cave (1977?)   9 comments

I should’ve known better.

I wanted something strictly traditional to trudge through, so I poked through my game list and came across Crystal Cave, a game from an unknown year and an unknown author but one that was made by modifying the original Crowther/Woods source code to Adventure. We have access to it because Kevin O’Gorman ported it to C in the late 80s from UNIVAC FORTRAN, of all things.

Boy howdy, did it break “traditional” in half.

(Year and author unknown-ish — I found someone asking about it in March 1984. 1980 is a decent educated guess. I also have a strong suspicion who the author is and may even be able to verify 100%, but I’ll get into that in a later post.)

If UNIVAC is ringing a bell, you may have heard about it as being the world’s first commercially sold computer. Here’s a spot from an educational video (1950-1952ish) explaining how the keystrokes on the keyboard are turned into electrical impulses.

By 1980 (or so) our code in question was running on a UNIVAC 1100, which had at least moved past vacuum tubes. It was still bulky.

Image from the public domain.

We’ve certainly seen many variants of Adventure now:

This isn’t like any of those. This is a brand-new game which just used the original source code as the base for writing a text adventure. There are very few elements unchanged (most notably, the dwarves seem to be identical to original Adventure).

The port I was playing gave me warning: while the game has some similar elements to Adventure it very intentionally deviates from them in their use, almost like a running joke. Acheton (1978) played with this idea a bit …

You are standing in the depression.
There is a 3×3 steel grate set in the ground nearby.
The grate is open.
> d
You fall into a well. The water is icy cold, and you rapidly die of hypothermia.

… but Crystal Cave grabs the idea, runs with it, vaults over the wall with it, lights it on fire, does an arts-and-crafts project with the remains, then lights it on fire again just for good measure.

You are standing before a barn at the northern end of a road. To the east is a pasture. To the west and north are woods. There are well-worn paths in several directions.
A Boy Scout compass is lying nearby.
You’re in the barn. It has been converted to quarters for spelunkers.
There are electric lights, and a number of mattresses strewn about.
There are some keys on the ground here.
There is a shiny brass lamp nearby.
Your wallet is here, containing 1 dollar in change.
There is a shower here.
There is a cola machine in one corner. The instructions read:

Here’s the start. Nothing too unusual so far, except the standard-issue bottle you get at the start of the game comes out of a cola machine.

Where things get odd is upon arriving to the caves:

You are at a stream exiting from a cliff. A sign says:

> n
You are at the mouth of the cave.
Ranger Rick cautions you not to take or break anything in the cave.
The gate is locked, and guarded by a Ranger. A sign says:

> pay ranger
You are inside the entrance. A stream exits here. A path runs beside the stream.
The gate opens easily from the inside. A sign says:
There is an ancient indian pot here.

Let’s back up to be clear: the opening is designed like a realistic visit to an actual National Park. (Except the reference to Ranger Rick suggests you’re talking to a raccoon, but that never gets spelled out.) The opening section is filled with realistic cave features. Like here …

You are in a long flat room, sloping along a trench in the floor. There is a hole in the ceiling, but you can’t reach it.
There are gypsum flowers here.

… or here:

You are at the intersection of three passages. One rises slightly, one drops rapidly.
There are helictites on the walls.

If you try to touch any of the features, they break and Ranger Rick shows up to chastise you.

The ceiling is covered with soda-straw stalactites.

> get stalactite
There is a Ranger behind you! He says:
“I told you not to take or break anything! Don’t do it again!”
You’re at clock shop.
The ground is covered with pieces of broken soda-straws.

Hence, as what I’m sure is a shock to adventurers everywhere, there are many “items” at the start that you must actively avoid taking and are there purely as realistic cave scenery.

This section is fairly extensive (it took me several hours) and the author clearly did some research; it takes a bit of a puzzle-solving leap (where it helps to know something about caves!) to break into the “inside section” where there are actual treasures you can get and dwarves and a dragon and so on; I’ll save that for next time.

My map of the “realistic” portion of the caves. The east side includes a lake with a boat. You can attempt to sneak into the far west side using a rope but Ranger Rick kicks you out.

ADD: Based on the conversation with Bob in the comments and some other research, I am moving the date to 1977. There is still a question mark attached, but that makes the game very early, before even the first wave of modified versions of Adventure like Adventure II came out. The game includes enough elements that are from the Woods version of Adventure (which we know wasn’t started until March 1977) that I’m not putting it any earlier than that; Bob graduated high school (where he saw the game) in 1977 so that does set a hard limit on there being some sort of version. The only way 1976 would be possible is if a portion of the game was based on the Crowther-only version of Adventure, but even then the majority of the game would have needed to be post-Woods.

Posted June 12, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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9 responses to “Crystal Cave (1977?)

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  1. I had a subscription to Ranger Rick! :D

  2. Your timeline is a bit off, I remember this game being played on a PDP-11 at the University of Delaware back in 1976. If this is a strict translation of the FORTRAN code, then you should have been able to teleport in and out of the game by saying “abandon hope” at certain spots. I also don’t see any references to the flying carpet which was essential to escape the .Orc by flying over the lava lake.

    • I was hoping to find someone who actually played it back then! Both elements you mention made it in the game, but I usually don’t write down absolutely everything that happens (I want the games to still be enjoyable and have some surprises if someone plays it after they read).

      You’re welcome to check out the C source code here.

      It does compile on UNIX just fine, I haven’t tried it on other things.

      I don’t see how 1976 would work — the Woods version of Crowther/Woods adventure wasn’t until 1977 (and we have very exact dates on that; the files recovered from Woods’s account with his initial edit to compile are dated March 1977) and there are elements (like the ability to take INVENTORY, the pirate, and the rare spices) that weren’t available until that version.

      1977 or 1978 would be doable; if 1977 then it’s actually _very_ important in text adventure history, coming about the same time Zork was being developed; even being in 1978 would be quite tremendous to know.

      Could you give more details?

      a.) Did you play Adventure beforehand? (And if so, with what point maximum?) Do you recall any other games on the same system?

      b.) Do you know anyone that might still have the original FORTRAN source code?

      c.) Do you have any notion who might have written it? (If nothing else: was the access such it had to be an undergrad? a grad student? a professor?)

    • Here’s some dates on the PDP at University of Delaware system from this timeline which might help:

      August 1971
      A PDP-11/20 running RSTS-11 replaces the PDP-8 in Newport.
      The PDP 11/20 moves to 240 DuPont Hall under the aegis of the University’s Electrical Engineering Department.
      Intel introduces the 8008 chip.
      To handle the increased user load, a PDP 11/50 is purchased to replace the 11/20 and Delta moves to 360 DuPont Hall.
      During this period, Dan Grim and other graduate students use Delta as a research tool while helping Dr. Robinson and Mrs. Green run the system. They develop a “virtual terminal handler” networking system that is intended to use the old PDP 11/20 as a multiplexer for downstate schools and to allow school districts with their own computer systems to network to Delta.
      Responsibility for DELTA is transferred from the Department of Electrical Engineering to the College of Education, Department of Occupational Education. Membership grows to 30 high schools and colleges.
      Edward E. Boas Jr. replaces Teresa Green as project leader. DSAA funding is phased out. The 11/50 is moved from room 360 to room 358 (previously a terminal room) in DuPont Hall. Ed Jones becomes system manager.
      DELTA is transferred to the Educational Resource Center of the College of Education. The 11/50 is replaced by a PDP 11/70 housed in the University of Delaware Computing Center. The staff room is moved to 203-1 Willard Hall.
      Dr. Robert L. Uffelman becomes DELTA Director, supervising Ed Boas. Shift in focus away from hands-on education of high school students begins as DELTA wins contract to develop Jobs for Delaware Graduates software. Staff room moves to 011 Willard Hall, known as the “fishbowl” because it was glass-enclosed and just off the main lobby.

      • Sorry for the delay in getting back to you. But 1976 would be the absolute latest date it could have been; my high school had 2 teletypes and three dumb CRTs hooked up to the U.D. PDP-11 via modem (300 baud for the CRTs, and 110 for the teletypes). The person I watched playing the game graduated a year before me and I graduated 1977. Also, now that I think of it, my high school (Alexis I. DuPont) got it’s very own PDP-11 in my senior year.

        I’m not sure the version I saw being played was in FORTRAN, there’s a good chance it was rewritten into BASIC-PLUS to port to the PDP-11. Other games I remember were Star Trek with the 8×8 square and the Enterprise represented as an E and Klingons as Ks, and Civ War which allowed you replay the Civil War and win as the south. I’m sure there were other games too, but we’re talking over 40 years ago. And some of the real programming brains in our HS club even wrote their own games in BASIC.

        I didn’t really get into playing the Crystal Caverns myself until several years later. In 1982 I was working on the Dept. of Commerce payroll system and they had the FORTRAN version on their Sperry Univac 1100, That version was written in FORTRAN and mentioned the author at the beginning; unfortunately, I do not remember who that author was.

      • Does Keith Barnett ring any bells? He was at the same high school. I have a BASIC-PLUS port of original Adventure from him.

        The only way 1976 would work is if you saw an early version of the game (not unusual in this era) and the parts from Woods got added later. Like possibly: the middle section (with the Siege Perilous) was added sometime post-1977, but the bottom layer with the magic carpet and the balrog was done only based on Crowther. That bottom part has the magic word thing you remember.

        The timing is still extra-tight. Crowther worked on Adventure his 1975-1976 academic year. It’s slightly fuzzy exactly when he finished — but he was showing it off to family in January of 1976.

        I’d estimate the first chance it had to be “in the wild” was March 1976 — since you’re talking about someone graduating 1976, that means the original version of Crystal Cave was before May?

        It’s possible, but note this would be pretty extraordinary news in computer history news — essentially, a second person entirely separate from Woods saw Crowther’s unfinished code and started their own game — so I’m trying to get all the information I can.

        (The Woods code we have exact dating for because we have his directory with files dated March 11, 1977, including his very first edit he made in order to be able to compile the code. The rare spices-bear situation which is in Crystal Cave doesn’t even show up in the first Crowther/Woods version, either — the first release had the Troll Bridge marked Under Construction.)

  3. Pretty sure the person I watched playing it was David Humphrey, I sent him a Facebook DM asking if he remembered it, and included the link here. No response from him yet, though.The other two possibilities would be Ron Dozier and Gary Luckenbaugh, but I’m 65% sure it was Dave.

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