Before Adventure, Part 6: The Public Caves (1973)   3 comments

HAVE SHOES ON THEIR FEET
AND SOMETHING TO EAT
WOULDN’T IT BE FINE
IF ALL HUMAN KIND
HAS SHELTER
HI THERE
************* TO GET TO THE UDDER SYDDE

WHAT WOULD YOU LIKE TO DO NEXT? MOVE
TUNNELS LEAD TO:
1 ‘OUTSIDE OF YOU’
2 ‘PIPPIN TRIPPING’
3 ‘SPACEMEN AND OTHERS FROM AFAR STAR’
4 ‘OUTSIDE OF YOU’
5 ‘CAN’T DIG TO THIS ONE !’
6 ‘ADDENDA, ADDENDA, ADDENDA !!!’

The last we saw of the Caves series by Dave Kaufman was perhaps a little underwhelming. The game generated a set of “caves” in tree format and challenged you to escape, but it was arranged in a manner that didn’t provide any challenge.

However, Mr. Kaufman wasn’t quite done yet, and according to the date on the source code, returned to the Caves in August 1973.

PCC Nov. 1973. “The ‘Public Caves’ are ever-expanding and forever changing. Each visit, the graffiti is different; new tunnels have been dug and new caverns added. New names have appeared and there is always someplace new to explore!”

One of the issues (perhaps, the only issue) with both Caves and Wumpus passing into adventure-game territory was the sameness of the rooms. The Public Caves does away with that. Each new room is built by a visitor who names it, each room has “graffiti” that the visitors can add to.

PCC Nov. 1973. While a touch confusing to read, this is showing an actual gameplay transcript.

The system is very clunky (although to be fair, the first of its kind). You must type WRITE, MOVE, BUILD, DIG, or OUT in full to do a command. WRITE lets you add to the text of a room. MOVE gives a list of adjacent rooms; if only one room is adjacent, you are moved there automatically. BUILD lets you make a brand-new room that is linked to your current room, and DIG lets you make a new tunnel into an existing room (which requires you type the exact name of the existing room you’re thinking of).

You can only BUILD once and DIG once per visit. This does not seem to be due to the technical limitations of the system, but as a sort of social engineering: encouraging people to contribute as a mass group, rather than having one person dominate and write a lot of content at once.

During the weekend that this post is going up, a version of The Public Caves will be live at the conference Narrascope. (I typed the 1973 source code and compiled it with QBASIC, so it runs under DOSBox.) The plan is to take what is collaboratively built and make it accessible to everyone. I will modify this post after the conference is over and include a link to play online.

(Incidentally, the Narrascope setup is using a batch-file loop, so it’s not hard to quit and return to make more rooms, but I’m guessing that was true of the original game as well.)

Now, is this an adventure game? This post is part of “Before Adventure” so I guess I’m still waffling, but mainly on a technicality: it’s a system for creating a world but doesn’t come with one. (Of course, it’s possible to render the screenshots above as the start of a world, so if you consider the November PCC article part of the source code then that objection is taken care of.) The other question is if adventure games need puzzles. A fair number of definitions require them, like:

Adventure games focus on puzzle solving within a narrative framework, generally with few or no action elements.
adventuregamers.com

or

a video game in which the player assumes the role of a protagonist in an interactive story driven by exploration and puzzle-solving.
Wikipedia

although the mention of “puzzle solving” is more to distinguish the mechanics from, say, that of an action or strategy game. If you want to get technical, you could say there is an “narrative/exploration genre” but there needs to be some puzzle element added on to be a full “adventure game”. To which I say: fair enough. Game genre definitions can be useful for identifying what techniques work in which settings (see: Quarterstaff having a bad time when RPG and adventure elements clash) and isolating exploration games may even be useful in finding things adventure games can’t do that exploration games can (like having the audience itself make all the content).

But whatever this game’s designation, it gets tantalizingly close to a new era, and it seems like that’s worth celebrating. To paraphrase Stanley Kubrick, the universe may be dark and devoid of meaning, but that just means we get to create our own light and meaning to bring to it.

Posted June 14, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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3 responses to “Before Adventure, Part 6: The Public Caves (1973)

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  1. Maybe you could classify this game as the very first ‘walking simulator’.

  2. Looks like a MUD to me!

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