From Ken’s Desk ~ “For the first time in our newsletter we actually have an article by Roberta. She talks about the game and why we decided to come back from retirement and make a game after all these years.
I hope you will enjoy this issue of the newsletter!”
In this edition…
- Why Roberta Loves Colossal Cave!
- Livestream event with GOG.com and Kilg0re_Tr0ut! Ken & Roberta play Colossal Cave!
- New Accolades Trailer!
WHY COLOSSAL CAVE?
by Roberta Williams
The past two years, I have been asked, repeatedly, “Why Colossal Cave? Why bring it back?” Essentially, the question really means, “What is it about Colossal Cave? Why now? And what’s really your motive?” I’ve detected that implication each time those innocent questions are asked. So, I feel compelled to confess my real thoughts and inner feelings on the subject of this game, Colossal Cave Adventure.
Much has been written about the history of Colossal Cave, about William and Patricia Crowther, and Don Woods — and I won’t delve into the history of the Colossal Cave Adventure game itself, as that information is readily available on the Internet. (A quick aside – I find it interesting that we can search for information about William Crowther on the internet, yet without William Crowther, there might not be an internet! He was a senior software engineer on an elite team developing the Arpanet – the precursor to the Internet – but also, he was the inventor of the Colossal Cave Adventure game! Kind of cool, huh?) But back to the question of “Why bother with Colossal Cave now?” Well, here we go then, taking a deep dive into my past and early psyche!
Ken and I married very young – him 18, me 19 – in November of ’72. I was always a bright, imaginative child, but remained immature as I entered my teen years. In my mid-teens, I must have appeared capricious, impulsive, and even a bit flighty. However, in my own mind, I was not really ‘that,’ but instead was an awkward and somewhat shy girl – and deep inside, unsure of myself. My personality does tend toward the idea of ‘adventure,’ though, and still today, I can get excited by ‘possibilities’ which, when you’re a teenager and you’re still a bit immature, can gain you a reputation for capricious behavior and impulsiveness. That was me then, and I had no idea what in the world I wanted to do! Ok, I take that back — I kind of did and had I gone that way, it’s very possible that I might have turned into a world-famous archeologist!
In my senior year of high school in southern California, my father was desperate to focus me on a stable future with a good job – he knew that I was smart and could do anything – if I wanted to. He constantly advised (maybe, nagged) that I should go to a university and become a dentist, an optometrist…or a nutritionist! Why those three occupations? I have no idea, but that was my dad! My retort to him always, “Ugh, I’d like to be an archeologist or a Hollywood script writer – or maybe write children’s books.” To him, those sounded like silly, childish ideas. “What kind of money do you think you’d make doing that?” he’d respond, dismissively. So, I rebelled and refused to go to college at all! That was me then: rebellious, stubborn, creative, silly, immature.
By the beginning of 1974, I was a young mother and Ken had just graduated from a technical school called Control Data Institute to learn how to operate and program computers on large corporate or government mainframe computers. He turned out to be a super-whiz at computers and programming, absolutely a natural! He loved everything about computers (still does!) and his career took off immediately. His first job was as a computer operator for a junior college in southern California – operating an IBM 360 mainframe computer. Many nights, I remember bundling up our new baby and going with Ken to the college computer room to ‘help’ him — meaning I was doing the actual computer operating while he was using the computer to hone his skills as a programmer. A few months later, he got his first job as an actual programmer, and from that point on, he was ‘in demand,’ constantly changing jobs – seemingly about every 6 months – getting better and better jobs and salary. In those halcyon days, being young and starting our married life at the beginning of the computer industry, life just seemed unbelievably fortunate and bright! I got in the act, too; because I had learned how to operate IBM 360 computers, I was able to obtain a couple of jobs as a computer operator — for a junior college in Springfield, Illinois and later on, for the County of Los Angeles in LA. But, for me, those jobs were boring and totally ‘unfun.’ Intermingled somewhere in those first 3 to 4 years of marriage, I had also taken some COBOL programming classes and somehow managed to get a trainee programming job at a southern California food company. But though I was doing a ‘reasonable’ job at it, I just didn’t like programming. Computer operations or programming jobs were definitely not for me! I just didn’t know what I wanted to do!
Deviating backward a moment, when I was in high school, I began to notice the Women’s Liberation Movement. But being me, didn’t really pay much attention to it; it was too serious of a subject, and I wasn’t into serious thinking. As I hinted earlier, I was into fun, rebellion and being very unserious. Had I been more of a thoughtful girl, I probably would have taken my dad’s advice on majoring in dentistry or optometry. Alternatively, I might have really tried to have a serious discussion with him about my passion of studying archeology. I probably could have convinced him if I had really tried, but I was into boys and fun and looking ‘cute.’
And besides, I had just met Ken, and there was nothing to keep me from continuing my generally aimless ways. However, during the 5-year gap between the birth of our two sons, I became more aware of the Women’s Liberation Movement and began to think more about it. In fact, my lack of earnestness on the subject began to weigh on me and I began to grow a bit alarmed by my fleeting approach to life – relying too much on Ken and not doing much for myself. I felt that I could do more! But what? I could feel that I was losing my sense of ‘fun’ and ‘adventure,’ and that I didn’t really seem to be going anywhere. I remembered, as a girl, getting after my mom for never following through with her dream of becoming a graphic artist – she was very talented! But she would respond that her life was as a wife and a mother, which was very common for women in the 1960’s and 70’s. Was I going in that direction, too? Did I want to be more than that? Yes, I did, but the big question was…
What should I do?
Enter Colossal Cave! Our second son was just a baby when I discovered Colossal Cave Adventure in November of 1979. It was simply called Adventure on the IBM computer on which Ken was doing some after-hours contract work. He had brought home a teletype machine with which he could sign into the company’s mainframe computer from our home in Simi Valley, California to the company’s location in downtown Los Angeles. One evening he decided to search deeper into the computer’s server, and he found some games. Wow, he thought! What are these? From my memory, there was a text-based Star Trek game, a text-based football game with X’s and O’s representing the players — and one other game with the odd name of Advent. Ken tried out those other two for a while, and then checked out the curious Advent. Turns out that it was a text-based cave adventure called Colossal Cave Adventure. He started playing it, then decided that I might like playing it while he went to work at his day job. He introduced Colossal Cave to me — and my life changed! Well, actually, it was even more profound than that; what it really did was to help me ‘find myself.’ Yeah, I know that sounds so New Age-y, and I’m definitely not a New Age-type of person – though I do admit to practicing yoga! – but, underneath it all, I’m basically a pretty down-to-earth person. What I mean by ‘find myself’ — as explained above — I was lost and didn’t know what I really wanted. Colossal Cave gave back to me my ‘inner child,’ of whom I had honestly lost track. Playing Colossal Cave, I became obsessed and addicted to it, really. I played it every spare hour I could — possibly even ignoring the baby more than I should have (though he turned out all right!), but I couldn’t help myself. An idea began to form in my head as I continued playing this game. I had never felt like this before! I found myself thinking and planning a game of my own in bed at night and became so excited by the idea that I drove to a local art store and bought oversize pieces of thick white paper. I brought them home and sat down at the proverbial ‘kitchen table’ to start sketching and doodling out a game map of my own. In my mind, I was calling it Mystery House because I based it on the board game ‘Clue’ and a story much like an Agatha Christie novel.
It was an impulsive thing to do, but I found myself compelled, and just knew that I was on to something! I convinced Ken to work with me on it, and together we created the first computer game with graphics – for the Apple II computer. So, how did Colossal Cave Adventure manage to change my world in such a profound way? It did it by reaching deep into my soul, my very brain. Though I was ‘spelunking’ in the Colossal Cave game, Colossal Cave had entered into the crevices of my own grey matter and dug out forgotten urges of fun, adventure, creating, and storytelling.. In actuality, I had never really lost those, but had locked them deep inside and tossed aside the key. Colossal Cave recovered that key for me!
… to be continued…
Look for Part II to this story in the next ReAction Newsletter!