Colossal Cave Adventure was the first text-based adventure game—It was developed in 1976 using one of the earliest computer programming languages, at the same time as the earliest version of the internet itself, ARPANET. The game is an important part of both hacking and gaming history, and now, Colossal Cave Adventure's code is online and open source.
Last week, long-time champion of open source code Eric S. Raymond announced that he'd uploaded the game's code to GitLab, a site for developers to collaborate, with the permission of the game's original designers. People from all over the world can now work together to clean up the code and improve it, bringing it up to speed with modern computing standards.
"This is code that fully deserves to be in any museum of the great artifacts of hacker history," Raymond wrote on his blog. "But there's a very basic question about an artifact like this: should a museum preserve it in a static form as close to the original as possible, or is it more in the right spirit to encourage the folk process to continue improving the code?" He chose the latter.
Colossal Cave Adventure has the player explore a gigantic cave network through text-based commands. The game was the brainchild of programmer Will Crowther, who in 1976 was helping to create ARPANET (the government-funded computer network that eventually became the internet) from scratch. At the time, the game ran on the same primitive, gigantic room-filling computers that were being used to build out ARPANET.
The story goes that Crowder was both an avid cave explorer, and a Dungeons & Dragons enthusiast. The legendary tabletop role-playing game debuted in 1974, just two years before Crowder wrote the first version of Colossal Cave Adventure. He didn't create the game to make money, and it was shared for free even though the game contained many of the elements (puzzles, humor, and fantasy) that influenced subsequent generations of commercial video games.
The game went through numerous iterations as developers upgraded it to run on newer machines, and Microsoft eventually began shipping it with its MS-DOS machines in the early 1980s. But, Raymond wrote in his blog, it's never been packaged for today's computers. The version of the game that Raymond uploaded to GitLab was written in 1995.
Thanks to the developers who will be working together on the game, it won't be long before we have some new versions of Colossal Cave Adventure, a full 41 years after it was first written.
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Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that the game's code was posted to GitHub, when it was in fact posted to GitLab. Motherboard regrets the error.