Atari and Colossal Cave


Just a little detour - this was way before Magnetic Scrolls' time, but it is interesting reading nevertheless.

What jumped out to me was this :

Adventure (the original Colossal Cave) consisted only of text, which the VCS wasn’t terribly adept at displaying, and its parser accepted typed commands from a keyboard, which the VCS didn’t possess; the latter’s input mechanism was limited to a joystick with a single fire button. The program code and data for Adventure took more than 100 K of storage space on the big DEC PDP-10 computer on which it ran. The Atari VCS, on the other hand, used cartridge-housed ROM chips capable of storing a program of a maximum of 4 K of code and data, and boasted just 128 bytes — yes, bytes — of memory for the volatile storage of in-game state. In contrast to a machine like the PDP-10 — or for that matter to just about any other extant machine — the VCS was shockingly primitive to program. There not being space enough to store the state of the screen in those 128 bytes, the programmer had to manually control the electron beam which swept left to right and top to bottom sixty times per second behind the television screen, telling it where it should spray its blotches of primary colors. Every other function of a game’s code had to be subsidiary to this one, to be carried out during those instants when the beam was making its way back to the left side of the screen to start a new line, or — the most precious period of all — as it moved from the end of one round of painting at the bottom right of the screen back to the top left to start another.

The rest of this article is here for your enjoyment..

Hugh should be glad he have smartphones and tablets to play around with :smiley:


  • Hi,

    Thanks for posting this, because it was a real flashback - i actually remember playing this game in about 1980 or so. A friend had it on his Atari and showed it to me.

    The article covers the history but not the gameplay; IIRC, there was golden chalice that you had to capture and return to your castle, and the game was multi-user. So it was a bit like "capture the flag". But i can't remember whether each player had a chalice each or whether it was the same one. I any case, the players took turns to try to get it.

    The players had different colours, and the game had great sound effects (for the time) as typical with Atari games (Most games didn't have sound at all back then).

    There was an annoying bat that tried to steal your treasure and a dragon where, often, you'd be killed.

    The area wasn't so large by text adventure standards, but it was big enough that you had to make an effort to remember how to get from A to B.

    I can't remember the maze, I think it was best avoided because it would just waste time and didn't lead to any treasure.

    It was a cool game, but it didn't register as a adventure in any traditional sense. It was more of a real-time, graphic puzzle game.

    You know, something like this, but massively updated and improved could work as a mobile game. It was all visual with no words (or almost none), and this would translate nicely to a "finger" movement action game.


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