Colossal Cave Adventure is the first computer adventure game and was created in 1976 by programmer Will Crowther. Crowther was an experienced caver and wanted to create an adventure games that his children could enjoy with him when they came and visited. The original version was based mostly on Crowther’s experience in exploring Mammoth Cave in the early 1970s. Though the game is based heavily on the real cave, fantasy elements were introduced to add excitement.
Crowther explained the initial idea:
"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. Suddenly, 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."
The version that most people associate with Crowther today is the version that was collaborated with Don Woods. Woods was a graduate student who discovered the game and made significant expansions and improvements. He added many additional fantasy elements, such as elves, dwarves, trolls and more.
Matt Barton uses Colossal Cave Adventure as one of the four predominate precursors to the Computer RPG genre. He also includes J..R.R. Tolkien's Lord of the Rings, tabletop wargames, and sports simulation games.
The game has no graphics and is presented in text format only. The player moves around a cave system by entering simple, two-word commands and reading text describing the result. The game relies almost entirely on the player’s imagination. The player's job is to navigate the cave, fight the enemies, and locate treasure.
“Xyzzy” is a command that can be entered in the game as a magic word that teleports the player between two locations. Entering the command anywhere other then the two specific locations produces the response “Nothing happens”. Many computer games and programs developed later would use “xyzzy” as an in-joke reproducing “nothing happens” or other humorous results.
Some notable examples:
- Minesweeper has a cheat mode triggered by entering the comment xyzzy
- Diablo II, the command /xyzzy literally does nothing as opposed to any other unusable command giving the feedback "That is not a valid command."
- Deus Ex, JC Denton uses "xyzzy" to unsuccessfully guess the Mole People's password if he has not yet received it.
Many versions of Colossal Cave have been released, mostly entitled simply Adventure, or adding a tag of some sort to the original name (e.g.Adventure II, Adventure 550, Adventure4 ). Large value numeric tags denoted the maximum score a player can achieve after playing a perfect game.