Adventure

Why Roberta Williams Is Reviving A Colossal Cave Adventure In 2022

Why Roberta Williams Is Reviving A Colossal Cave Adventure In 2022

Even after retiring from making adventure games, Sierra On-Line co-founder Roberta Williams never stopped having adventures.

After a legendary career as a pioneer in the adventure genre, creating games like King’s Quest, Mystery House, Phantasmagoria and many more, Williams spent her retirement sailing the world with her husband and co-founder of Sierra, Ken Williams. And she also continues to create, having just published her first novel last year – a historical fiction titled Farewell to Tara.

“I make adventure games and live my life as an adventure,” she told me in an interview with GDC last week. “I love adventure! I’ll get it wherever I can get it.”

Roberta Williams

But when the COVID-19 pandemic caused lockdowns that interrupted many of his usual adventures, Williams needed a new project. At the time, Ken was learning Unity with the intention of creating her own game when Williams suddenly remembered a game that had been very, very special to her years ago: Colossal Cave Adventure.

“Without Colossal Cave, Sierra On-Line would never have existed, and neither would I have had my career, nor Ken,” she says.

“I was so immediately drawn to it that I was addicted to it, literally,” Williams recalled of his first participation in the 1976 text adventure. “I couldn’t stop playing it. I I played for weeks. I wanted to get every point, and it’s a tough game to get all the points. And I did, and when it was done, I wanted to play more games like that, and he there wasn’t. Not like Colossal Cave. I remember thinking how I was so drawn into this game to the point that I couldn’t quit, I just had to keep going, and I couldn’t be the C That’s why I started with Mystery House, my first design, and went from there.

Williams suggested to Ken that instead of his project, they attempt to remake Colossal Cave Adventure, turning the old text-based design into a modern 3D game.

Ken and Roberta Williams at Sierra On-Line Days

Ken and Roberta Williams at Sierra On-Line Days

“His eyes kind of lit up,” she recalled. “He said, ‘I don’t know if we can get the rights. So I left the office and went to do something else, then an hour later I came to ask him about lunch and he said, ‘I just hung up on Don Woods.'”

Don Woods is not the creator of Colossal Cave, but he played a vital role in its ultimate popularity. The game was actually created by caver and programmer William Crowther in 1976 based on his ex-wife Patricia Crowther’s recordings of an actual caving trip, combined with elements from Dungeons & Dragons. Then, while on vacation, a group of his colleagues found the game left behind on a mainframe at the research company where Crowther worked and began distributing it to other computers. That’s how Woods found it and started building on Colossal Cave with more high fantasy elements, puzzles, a scoring system, and more. It was Woods’ version that was later released more widely, and which Williams played and used as inspiration for his own adventure games.

Woods explained to Ken over the phone that no one technically owns Colossal Cave Adventure, due to the organic way it aired. Neither he nor Crowther had ever attempted to claim the rights. Instead, they wanted it to remain free to play, redo, retool, and iterate. So the Williams could do it again if they wanted to – as long as they didn’t try to claim the rights to it themselves. As Roberta Williams says, “It’s the game of the world.”

Roberta Williams tries out the Quest 2 on a boat.

Roberta Williams tries out the Quest 2 on a boat.

That’s how Roberta and Ken Williams ended up remaking Colossal Cave Adventure into a 3D adventure game for PC and VR, in partnership with Unity. In many ways, that’s as real as any remake they might create. All original source code is used, along with all original narration. Williams says she’s not adding any of her own puzzles either, and while players no longer have to type in commands like “take key” to move around, the same messages, items and actions are available – just in a point-and-click style this time.

[Update: Ken Williams reached out after publication to clarify how the original source code is being used. “We’re sticking to the source as close as we can, but it’s more like constantly referring to a book while writing the script for a movie that is based on the book. They are different mediums and don’t directly translate.”]

“I want people who’ve played this game…to feel yeah, it’s good,” Williams said. “It’s Colossal Cave. It’s history. I can see it now.”

But that’s just it – now people can really to see the cave, not just imagining it. What Williams brings to the table is her own take on what Colossal Cave Adventure looks like. She works with multiple artists to stay true to the original storytelling, especially where there were lots of detailed descriptions of caves, objects, and creatures. But in some places, she says, there isn’t much description. And this is where she was able to add her personal touch.

“The only thing we don’t want [is], it is a cave. And there are caves, and more caves, and caves and caves and caves. Rocks and stalactites and stalagmites. But there weren’t a lot of stories woven into the original design… so I wove a story to make it more interesting and to help us graphically.”

She can’t share too many details yet, but says this includes defining dwarves a bit more with the personality and roles of miners, and fleshing out existing areas with additional details like an ancient civilization with a reptilian religion. , artifacts left behind by the previous ones. explorers, and the area with giants and golden eggs. Plus, everything gets music and sound effects, of course.

What you knew 25 years ago is not necessarily what you know now. It was really scary at first.


And everything will also be in VR. Originally, the plan was just to remake Colossal Cave Adventure on PC. But as Ken tells me in the same interview, they got into VR “accidentally.”

“I found a photo of me from 25 years ago with virtual reality glasses from that time,” he says. “I said at the time that I didn’t think that would happen for a while. It seemed really uncomfortable and not fun, why would anyone want to do that? But then we actually fell asleep for a while. 25 years old, a modern Rip Van Winkle.”

When they started working on Colossal Cave they needed some art and started snooping around the Unity Asset Store. Ken found good things there, he says, but wanted more, and consulted fellow 3D artist on the Marcus Maximus Mera project.

Mera, a big advocate of virtual reality, encouraged them to try it too, especially because Unity would allow them to grow in both. “But then we found out it wasn’t that simple,” adds Ken.

Virtual reality, he notes, made the project much more complex. There were framerate issues. At one point, someone asked him if the game would be connected or not, and he didn’t know what that meant. “If we had known everything we are doing now, the project would have been much shorter,” he says.

Ken Williams, trying out virtual reality over two decades ago.

Ken Williams, trying out virtual reality over two decades ago.

Roberta adds: “For Ken and I it was a great learning experience. What you knew 25 years ago is not necessarily what you know now. It was really scary at first. We had to learning very, very fast, getting the lingo and the technology and really rethinking our minds around what we were doing and jumping in there. And we did. Ken and I are very fast learners and we love a challenge. I would call risk takers, we’ve always been that way, we were up for the challenge and we’re into it.

In some ways, the Williams’ task fits well with their own personal experiences. After being away from games for over two decades, they’ve arrived to take a game that hasn’t really had a full remake and reinvent it for the modern world. Williams compares it to taking a silent film and remaking it today with modern effects.

But one thing hasn’t changed, she continues: adventure games are still adventure games, and storytelling is still storytelling.

They say there are about 37 or 36 real stories ever written,” she says. “Every story since ancient times has fallen into one of these scenarios or themes. I think that’s true, and I think in the case of game design, at least for adventure games and probably for many, many games, it’s the same pattern. They fall into a certain theme and a certain way and it’s probably almost impossible to find a new one.”

Having been away from development for so long, Williams is candid that she hasn’t really played games during that time, so she doesn’t look for inspiration in what adventure gaming has evolved into. . She just remade Colossal Cave Adventure as it was, but now with visuals, sound and music. She thinks old Sierra fans and adventure gamers of the era will naturally be interested in the reimagining, but isn’t sure what a modern audience will make of it. If it sells well, she says, she and Ken could make more games, perhaps revisiting Ken’s idea she hijacked when she suggested Colossal Cave.

“As for young people who haven’t experienced it, they’ve experienced every game that’s come out now and are very used to it – that’s what I don’t know,” Williams said. “Is it going to be popular? Is it going to be something they want to try? But it’s so different. It’s not hand-eye coordination. It’s not quick reactions It’s not multiplayer. It’s its own thing. It’s slower. You have to think, you have to explore, you have to figure things out…”

I suggest that some people already like games like this today.

“I hope so! If so, this could really bring adventure games back. That would be good.”

Rebekah Valentine is a reporter for IGN. You can find her on Twitter @duckvalentine.

This article has been edited after publication to accurately reflect Patricia Crowther’s contribution to the original Colossal Cave Adventure.