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Colossal Cave Adventure remake from Ken & Roberta Williams

Joined
Jul 4, 2015
Messages
920
I’m definitely buying this, if only to show my support for Ken and Roberta. It might very well be fun. Would love if they came back to the industry full time. They’re what jumpstarted my love of games
 

Boleskine

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Joined
Sep 12, 2013
Messages
4,045


They married quite young. Ken had just turned 18 and Roberta was 19 1/2.

CgMmLVd.png
 

Morpheus Kitami

Liturgist
Joined
May 14, 2020
Messages
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That photo doesn't quite seem to flatter them that much. Or Ken's hairstyle.
I mean, I'm making fun, but anyone who manages to make it to 50 years of marriage has done something right. Having a slightly goofy wedding photo takes away nothing.
 

Boleskine

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Messages
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https://www.colossalcave3d.com/2022...etirement-to-remake-a-beloved-text-adventure/

Why Roberta Williams Came Out of Retirement to Remake a Beloved Text Adventure

‘Colossal Cave Adventure’ summoned the Sierra adventure game legend to her calling. Forty years later, she’s heeding its call again.

When you are as successful as Roberta Williams, you can decide you are done making video games on land.

Colossal Cave is the designer’s first game in 24 years, and her first designed aboard the Cygnus, a 60-foot motor yacht she captains with her husband Ken. The yacht is the third the couple have sailed since their unplanned retirement from the video game business in 1998. They return on their own terms: writing the checks, calling the shots, and running a fully-distributed independent game studio from the open sea: Cygnus Entertainment, named for the boat. When they’re not working, they sail around the world.

“There’s a trade show a few weeks in Germany,” says Ken, 67, formerly the chief executive of Sierra On-Line. “Our marketing people said, ‘Well, you gotta go to the show.’ And I go, ‘Man, I don’t want to go to Germany.’ We’ve done the whole proving ourselves thing.”

But that’s not totally true. “It’s probably a little more personal than maybe it is for him,” says Roberta, 69, in an interview with Vice aboard—well, where else. As Sierra’s marquee designer, she delivered hit after hit: her King’s Quest series was the guarantor for Half-Life and Leisure Suit Larry;acquisitions and IPOs.

“There’s probably an element of me doing this to prove myself—not necessarily to others, but to myself,” she says. “Does she still have the old magic?”

“You know, can she do this? I mean, things have changed. Technology has changed, gaming has changed. I haven’t even played games since then, not really.”

The project through which she’ll find her answer is a remake of the game that inspired her to all of this. By the end of this year she’ll know whether the game that changed her life can do it again.

Roberta Heuer of California married Ken Williams in 1972, when he turned 18. “He was very straight, very responsible,” she said in 1982, of her husband, a hustling programmer prodigy. “I was this teenybopper, had no idea what I was going to do with my life, didn’t want to go to college, and didn’t want to do anything but party…. He pulled me out when I was ready to go downhill.” By 1979, she was 26, a mother to their two sons and working for extra money as an entry-level programmer—Ken’s idea.

“I hated that,” she says today. “For him, programming is fun. I look at him and it doesn’t look like fun at all. I don’t understand that one. But he loves it. That’s his fun.”

“That’s the ultimate adventure game,” he says.

“I didn’t enjoy it at all.”

Her mom said, what you always wanted to be was a writer.

In ’79, Ken brought home a computer game, Colossal Cave Adventure, created by Will Crowther and revised by Don Woods. It was text only, as all computer games were then, and Ken played it on a terminal hooked up to his work computer. He didn’t have a monitor, so the game spoke through the printer. Ken typed commands, and the printer replied.

SOMEWHERE NEARBY IS COLOSSAL CAVE—the game introduces itself—WHERE OTHERS HAVE FOUND FORTUNES IN TREASURE AND GOLD, THOUGH IT IS RUMORED THAT SOME WHO ENTER ARE NEVER SEEN AGAIN. MAGIC IS SAID TO WORK IN THE CAVE.

Colossal Cave is a puzzle of sentiment. Crowther and his wife were avid cave explorers; after their divorce, he recreated, for his daughters, the wonder of their experiences in a world of his own making. In his game, the player is dropped into a vast, foreign labyrinth and challenged to figure it all out.

The spelunking simulator soon becomes a quest for treasure in a messy network of twisty passages connecting halls of mist and mountain kings, populated by singing swords, pirates and axe-throwing dwarves. The player must draw their own maps, die for unclear reasons and start from the beginning over and over again. If the game is about anything, it’s being lost, and finding a way through the darkness. Colossal Cave echoes in game design from Myst to Dark Souls.

Ken found it baffling. Roberta, in the cave, found Roberta Williams—and her fortune.

“I was so attracted to it,” she says. “I could hardly leave it.” Late nights, handmade maps, unmade dinners, as goes the Sierra creation myth. When she had finished the game, she wanted to play others like it. When there were no others like it, she wrote her own. Her and Ken’s Mystery House, an Agatha Christie-inspired horror, combined text with graphics and was a triumph; everything that Sierra became flowed from there. So essential are Colossal Cave and Mystery House to the making of Roberta Williams that she cannot imagine life without them.

“I don’t think I’ve ever thought of that. Well, what would I have done?”

“Housewife,” Ken suggests. “Mom.”

“Boy,” she says. “I don’t know.”



Colossal Cave is also known just as Adventure and that one word, to her, is everything. In the ‘80s and ‘90s, her games traded on fairy tales, mythology and genre fiction to give the player, in a conceptual sense, an adventure—an opportunity to inhabit familiar scenarios from the realms of imagination and fantasy. Go on a quest. Climb the beanstalk. Save the kingdom. Rescue the princess from a dragon. Solve a murder. Steal pirates’ treasure. Defeat the minotaur in the labyrinth. Find love. Kill Dracula.

At her peak—which spanned, more or less, all 18 years of her career—Roberta was conscious of a responsibility to deliver huge hits for the company, and confident of the way to do it. Which was her way. “Roberta isn’t always right,” Ken has said, “but her games have sold millions of copies.”

“I can design it and show it to a programmer, and be told, ‘You can’t do that.’ Then I’ll say, ‘Yeah, I think we can. Let’s think about this.’ So we sit down, and I always get my way,” she said in 1982. “As far as programming techniques go, anybody can do it. It’s nothing special. The specialness comes from the stories I make up, and nobody can do that but me. They can do it their way, but nobody can do it my way.”

Nothing frustrates Roberta quite so much as being told she can’t do something, and nobody draws her ire quite like programmers, who she says would often go over her head to complain to her husband. In 1997, she told the Philadelphia Inquirer she found “a lot of arrogance” among the young, male programmers at her company. (This also describes the person she married.) “They like to think, ‘We know something you don’t.’ I remind them that I’m the designer. I know what I’m doing,” she said.



He said, what you do is not real writing.

She remembers hearing that over and over at Sierra. “We know that you design these games, and they have little storylines,” she paraphrases, “but that’s not really writing, you know. You’re more like playing at writing.”

Who said that? “Nobody in particular,” she demurs. “Just, little sentences, little things that over the years you hear about. Not from anybody I’m working with.”

Ken jumps in. “Well, remember working with Christopher Cerf? He was trying to tell you why you’re not really a writer.”

Yes, she remembers. Christopher Cerf—a Sesame Street composer, among many other things—worked with Sierra on behalf of the Henson Company to develop a game adaptation of The Dark Crystal, in 1983.

“I was taking the script of that movie and trying to translate it into the game,” she says. “I was writing the messages for the game, like I always do. Christopher Cerf came along and rewrote all of my messages, all in much more flowery language. He sent them back to me and I said, ‘Well, these are not my messages.’ He goes, ‘Well, you know, you’re not really a writer. You know what to do about putting this together as an adventure game, but you’re not really a writer, and I didn’t think the writing was very good.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but the problem is, your writing is not good for a game.’ So I just rewrote it again. I just put my messages right back in. And then he was very angry with me, but they stayed in.” She cites this experience, and others like it, as her motivation to research, write and self-publish an historical novel37 years later. Objectively, now, she is a real writer, by anyone’s definition.

At Sierra, there was always one Cerf or another; even as Roberta’s status in the industry grew to celebrity, she still felt, and bemoaned, constant resistance. “You’d think I could just say ‘Bam, this is how it’s going to be,” she said in 1997, “but I can’t. When you work in a company, there are always people who will try to stop you. They sandbag, delay, drag their feet.”

But she always got her way, and was vindicated—until that year. Sierra was acquired in 1996, by an entertainment and commerce conglomerate, and gradually both Williamses would realize they’d given away more power in the sale than they had expected. At the time, Roberta was directing the eighth King’s Quest game, subtitled Mask of Eternity, with which she wanted to take a giant technological leap forward—for the series, the company, the adventure genre—by building out a fully explorable 3D world. It would look like Tomb Raider, but play like a traditional adventure game. Fine, thought her producers, but as long as they were modernizing it, why not add weapons, combat, experience points, health points? Like role-playing games, like Diablo, which is more popular than King’s Quest anyway? When Roberta took Christopher Cerf’s writing out of The Dark Crystal, it was a fight, but that was the end of it. Not this time. She was overruled, her design overwritten with elements of foreign genres.

She was insulted, and bruised from losing a fight for her design. Mask of Eternity would be released, with her name on it, and it wouldn’t be her design—worse than that, the design it was built upon was wrong. She was certain of it. While Roberta is technologically adventurous, she is orthodox on genre.

“It was trying to be both a classic adventure game, but also an RPG,” she told me in 2020. “It’s this thing or that thing. You have to know what you are. It’s either an RPG game, or it’s an adventure game. To try to mix genres, it can’t be done. People catch on to that. RPG players want to have that. Adventure game players want to have an adventure game.”

She was proven right, more or less. Mask of Eternity is nobody’s favorite King’s Quest adventure, and the appeal to a broader audience was ignored. Publicly, she took the hit.

“I really enjoy the action elements in this game,” she said on the press tour for the game. The game, not her game. The game that ended her career by spurring her and Ken to walk away from the company they felt had betrayed them both.



Her mom said, what you always wanted to be was a writer. And an archaeologist.

An adventurer. If she couldn’t write stories about adventurers, she’d become one herself. If she couldn’t write stories about Agatha Christie characters, she’d become one: the wealthy American of the leisure class, lounging on a sailboat in the margins of a Hercule Poirot mystery. After Sierra, Ken and Roberta sailed the world with their dogs, argued archaeology with archaeologists, bribed museum attendants to see the body of a pharaoh.

Today, Ken thinks better of his answer that, without a career in games, Roberta would have been a housewife. “Roberta would have grown up to be like Indiana Jones,” he says. “That’s the real true story. Roberta likes danger. We actually had another whole career as kind of world explorers. Not everybody can say they crossed the Pacific and the Atlantic on a small personal boat. We went across the Bering Sea. We’ve been in Japan and Russia and all these crazy places. All of it driven by Roberta, while I would say ‘No, I don’t want to go. You’re gonna get me killed.’”

Yes, not everyone can say they’ve crossed the Pacific—and not everyone can say that, after a triumphant career, they literally sailed off into the sunset. You can’t write a better story for yourself than that, so why even revisit it? What makes a person turn back from the sunset?

Boredom, they’ve said. But there’s more to it than that.

In 1989, already established as a legend of the industry, she was asked in an interview: having achieved her dreams, what more, if anything, did she dream about?

“I have dreams of retiring, going off in a sailboat around the world for about two years,” she said, then laughed. “No, not really. I could never not do what I am doing, because I really enjoy it. This is me.”

“You’re going to die. There’s no getting around it, you’re gonna fall into a pit and break every bone in your body,” Roberta says enthusiastically, explaining how great it is when this happens to players who don’t light the lamp in the colossal cave. What a design, what an adventure game!

After leaving Sierra, Roberta harbored vague thoughts of making games again, but a non-compete clause prevented her or Ken from immediately acting upon them. By the time the clause expired, they were out on the ocean. “I felt kind of sad about it,” she says. “Just sort of sad. You always think, if I’m going to leave what I’d been working on for 20 years, and all my games, and I’d built a reputation and everything—you want to leave on a high note. You don’t want to leave on a little bit of a low note. Not that [Mask of Eternity] was a low note, but it wasn’t up to my expectations. I have very high expectations. It was a little sad for a while, and it took probably a year to kind of get over all that, and back into the swing of things. Boating helped us with that. I really sort of divorced myself from the gaming industry. I know that I got this reputation for not wanting to talk to anybody and have interviews and everything. But I think it was part of my sadness.”

In the last five years, she’s become more comfortable talking to the press, and warming back up to games. “Maybe I might want to get back into it. ideas start popping up in my head.” In lockdown, Ken expressed an interest in programming a game again, for fun, and for the first time in about four decades. Roberta, who had not really kept up with games at all since her departure from the business, encouraged him to remake Colossal Cave. “I was probably doing it because I wanted to see if he would follow through on it. He did, and I was showing more and more interest in what he was doing.”

On her husband’s computer, like all those years ago, she saw that cave. Colossal Cave. Ken brought it back to life. Maybe not the way she first saw it, in her mind, but that cave still has power over her. She feels as drawn to it as before, but it’s a different lure. Then, she watched her husband struggle with Colossal Cave and said, let me play it. Now, she watches her husband hack together a modern remake of Colossal Cave and says, You’re doing it wrong. I know how to do this. I am extremely good at it.

“I was going to stay out of it,” she says. “But I’d look over Ken’s shoulder and I’d say you know what, you’re not doing that right. You need to change that.” The dwarves should look like this. The VR must work like that. Unity, the developer of the game engine Ken was using, got interested that the Sierra co-founder was making a new game with their technology, and what began as a lockdown project became a game that would probably be released. “It would come out, and it wouldn’t be right,” Roberta says. “And I knew people were going to say, ‘Why didn’t you get involved, Roberta?’ So finally I said okay.” She wouldn’t let them call it Roberta Williams’ Colossal Cave. It would be Crowther and Woods’ game, but the way it looked and lived in 26-year-old Roberta’s head.

It’s Colossal Cave—reimagined by Roberta Williams. She is remaking the game that made her.

“I’m in deep now,” she says. “I’m in very deep and I’m enjoying it. I’m glad I did it. I’m firing on all… how many cylinders?”

“Four,” Ken says.

“Four?!”

“Eight. Twenty.”

“Twenty cylinders. I’m firing on all cylinders right now. I’m enjoying it and have been extremely surprised about how quickly, given all the years and not even having really played games since, that I’m just right back in it as if I never left. It’s amazing.”

She wants to make the game as close to the original as possible. Colossal Cave as she saw it. She wants you to experience what she experienced, which was nothing less than formative. Of course, back then it was a text adventure that she played on a printer—can she recapture the game’s essential magic while changing everything about the game’s presentation and how the player interacts with it? Can she make a game on a boat, without the massive infrastructure of a Sierra On-Line, after 25 years out of the industry?

Well, if not—if it flops, Ken says, it’s not going to change one thing about their lives.

“No,” Roberta says. “But will it change… You know, will I be sad for another year? No. I don’t know. We’ll have to, we’ll have to see. I feel very strongly about things that I believe in or have confidence in. If it doesn’t work out, then I could see myself being very disappointed.”

Does she still have the old magic, she asks herself. Can she do it again? She does want to know. And Colossal Cave had magic, for her, once. It did something to her. Whatever happens, she has gone back into that cave, and something is going to happen.
 

Blackthorne

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It's been cool working on this, though I'm starting to dream about the damn cave in my sleep!! You end up playing games you work on SO much, it's ridiculous. But it's been fun watching this one come to life and develop - especially coming from playing the text adventure when I was a kid. Plus. Ken has really cool stories from back in the day and you can get him going on stuff sometimes and, well, the kid in me that grew up playing Sierra games has to try hard not to geek out. He's been sharing some cool old Sierra stuff, videos and scans of old magazines and stuff... I'll be sharing some on social media soon, but it's cool stuff. Got this one video, Roberta is talking about making The Dark Crystal and working with Jim Henson in 1982. Really cool.
 
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It's been cool working on this, though I'm starting to dream about the damn cave in my sleep!! You end up playing games you work on SO much, it's ridiculous. But it's been fun watching this one come to life and develop - especially coming from playing the text adventure when I was a kid. Plus. Ken has really cool stories from back in the day and you can get him going on stuff sometimes and, well, the kid in me that grew up playing Sierra games has to try hard not to geek out. He's been sharing some cool old Sierra stuff, videos and scans of old magazines and stuff... I'll be sharing some on social media soon, but it's cool stuff. Got this one video, Roberta is talking about making The Dark Crystal and working with Jim Henson in 1982. Really cool.
Even though you have to live every day with a life-threatening condition I am super jealous of you.
 

Blackthorne

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Codex 2014 Divinity: Original Sin 2
It's been cool working on this, though I'm starting to dream about the damn cave in my sleep!! You end up playing games you work on SO much, it's ridiculous. But it's been fun watching this one come to life and develop - especially coming from playing the text adventure when I was a kid. Plus. Ken has really cool stories from back in the day and you can get him going on stuff sometimes and, well, the kid in me that grew up playing Sierra games has to try hard not to geek out. He's been sharing some cool old Sierra stuff, videos and scans of old magazines and stuff... I'll be sharing some on social media soon, but it's cool stuff. Got this one video, Roberta is talking about making The Dark Crystal and working with Jim Henson in 1982. Really cool.
Even though you have to live every day with a life-threatening condition I am super jealous of you.
You take the good with the bad. I've had a lot of super shitty awful things I've had to endure, but I got to do some cool shit too. All in all, it's been an interesting existence.
 
Joined
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Really curious to see how this turns out. I'm going to buy it regardless, but that trailer (coupled with the fact that Ken has a track record of getting all starry-eyed about gimmicky tech that wears out its welcome after two or three years) reeeeeaaaaallllly makes me think that they're prioritizing VR over other platforms.

Blackthorne what say you? Is VR getting the brunt of attention, or will the PC version truly play as well (don't lie to me or I'll revoke my organ donor status out of pure spite :P)?
 
Last edited:

Wirdschowerdn

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Colossal Cave review


Ever wondered what adventure games were like in the ‘70s?​


By Jeremy Peel
published about 3 hours ago

Why you can trust PC Gamer
Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.


Need to know
What is it? A slavish graphical remake of a classic ‘70s text adventure.
Expect to pay: $39.99
Release date: January 19, 2023
Developer: Cygnus Entertainment
Publisher: Cygnus Entertainment
Reviewed on: Windows 10, AMD Ryzen 5 5600X Six Core CPU, 16GB RAM, Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060
Multiplayer? No
Link: Official site

Every child who falls in love with a fantasy novel dreams of its big-screen adaptation—the perfect cast, a goosebump-inducing score, and 40-foot dragons plastered across an IMAX screen. But every adult who has seen that monkey’s paw curl knows the cost. The director’s lens replaces the mind’s eye, becoming the definitive vision of a place that was once malleable and personalised. That beloved world shrinks to become tangible—sacrificing the infinite scale and limitless budget of the imagination, and colouring in the corners where once there was still mystery and potential.
It’s this conundrum that haunts Colossal Cave, a new version of the classic text adventure from the late 1970s. While not the first attempt at a graphical reimagining of its namesake—that honour goes to 1980’s Adventure, still spoken of with reverent tones and wistful smiles by today’s game designers—it is the first to render the Cave in full 3D, with WASD and mouse controls, leaving nothing to the imagination whatsoever.

A trippy mushroom den in Colossal Cave


The prose lives on as narration, which is thoughtfully implemented as a ‘look’ interaction attached to your cursor—always available to flesh out a scene or describe an object, but rarely forced upon you. And its presence allows you to appreciate just how faithful a rendition this is. The level designers of Cygnus Entertainment, led by King’s Quest legend Roberta Williams, deserve kudos for translating a tangle of flowery descriptions into a consistent geographical space, lending a natural flow to the initial journey down from a forest well house, along the bank of a trickling stream, and through a locked hatch into the cave network below.

Graphic in nature​

Yet that narration also highlights the compromises made to bring the Colossal Cave into new dimensions with a small development team. What 3D art can live up to the idea of a “splendid chamber, the walls frozen rivers of orange stone”? Certainly not that which you’ll find here. Then there’s the outsized abode of a giant, its ceiling “too high to see with your lamp”. Except that, now, you can see it—a fact that somewhat takes away from the scene’s implied vastness.
The worst culprit is a self-described “breathtaking view” deep underground—an active volcano. In the most lavish and indulgent description written for the game back in 1977, Don Woods pictures a “blood-red glare, feigning a macabre appearance”; air “dense with sparks of ash”; tortured rock, and alabaster formations which scatter the murky light to create “sinister apparitions upon the walls”. The new reality inevitably falls far short, especially when it comes to the neighbouring geyser of “blistering steam”—reduced to a feeble jacuzzi setting. This partial panorama is a sorry stand-in for what should be Colossal Cave’s payoff, the reward for working your way into its blackest abyss.

Watch out for the bear


The translation from text to 3D creates problems in the Cave’s most intimate moments too. This game was in many ways a blueprint for the point-and-click adventure genre as we still know it today, asking you to scour the environment for objects to place in your inventory, and then to find places where those objects might be applied to allow you further progress. In the most satisfying case, Cygnus provides you early on with a simple bottle of water—which can be poured away to replace the contents with oil that might ease a door’s rusty hinges, or refilled at an underground reservoir in order to compel a beanstalk to grow. There are just a large handful of items like this in Colossal Cave—more than you can carry in your tight inventory at once, but few enough that you can find a specific purpose for each.

Yet they share the screen with similar detritus that can’t be picked up. Where a text description can cast a spotlight on a single magazine, guiding your gaze with clarity and purpose, this three-dimensional Cave is also home to countless decorative items—its opening area littered with old newspapers and discarded bottles which, unlike your designated vessel, can’t be picked up. A metallic sheen makes it easier to distinguish usable objects from the backdrop, but it’s still jarring to adjust to the arbitrary distinction Cygnus draws between the important and the ignorable. It’s a problem the point-and-click adventure genre still grapples with, but one that feels more stark than usual in immersive first-person.

Knife time​

Ultimately, your goal is to find treasure that will contribute to your point total, up to a maximum of 350. You’ll get a handful of points for discovering shiny things, but a whole lot more for delivering them to the starting well house. One treasure, a nugget of gold as large as a human head, is too heavy to take back up the stairs—which clues you into the idea that there might be ways to get back and forth across the map magically, using spellwords whispered to you in the darkness. Often, you’re forced to make a tough decision about whether to drop a fistful of diamonds to make room for a more innocuous item that might prove to be a puzzle solution—knowing you’ll want to come back for the former eventually.

A dwarf throwing an axe in Colossal Cave



Considering its age, dating back to the dawn of digital game design, Colossal Cave’s puzzle logic is surprisingly robust—much of it extending naturally and pleasingly from the small pool of tools available to you. But surrounding these puzzles are elements that have weathered the decades less well. Take the dwarves, who intermittently spring out of the earth to hurl a knife in your direction. They usually miss, but an RNG-determined hit will kill you instantly, sending you back to the well house. Worse, resurrection has a cost, pulling directly from your point total—making a perfect score a frustrating ambition to reach for.

Then there are Colossal Cave’s mazes, so notorious at the time that one repeated description—“You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike”—has resonated across the years, becoming a byword in hacker culture for a situation in which no possible action affects the outcome. Escape is possible, with patience, but torment is inevitable. A fact which makes you wonder whether parts of Colossal Cave might have been better left buried deep beneath the rock. Both from a design and aesthetic perspective, there are far fairer caverns to delve into these days.

55
Only for nostalgists and those who love getting lost on spelunking holidays.
 

Taluntain

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Colossal Cave review


Ever wondered what adventure games were like in the ‘70s?​


By Jeremy Peel
published about 3 hours ago

Why you can trust PC Gamer
Our expert reviewers spend hours testing and comparing products and services so you can choose the best for you. Find out more about how we test.


Need to know
What is it? A slavish graphical remake of a classic ‘70s text adventure.
Expect to pay: $39.99
Release date: January 19, 2023
Developer: Cygnus Entertainment
Publisher: Cygnus Entertainment
Reviewed on: Windows 10, AMD Ryzen 5 5600X Six Core CPU, 16GB RAM, Nvidia Geforce RTX 3060
Multiplayer? No
Link: Official site

Every child who falls in love with a fantasy novel dreams of its big-screen adaptation—the perfect cast, a goosebump-inducing score, and 40-foot dragons plastered across an IMAX screen. But every adult who has seen that monkey’s paw curl knows the cost. The director’s lens replaces the mind’s eye, becoming the definitive vision of a place that was once malleable and personalised. That beloved world shrinks to become tangible—sacrificing the infinite scale and limitless budget of the imagination, and colouring in the corners where once there was still mystery and potential.
It’s this conundrum that haunts Colossal Cave, a new version of the classic text adventure from the late 1970s. While not the first attempt at a graphical reimagining of its namesake—that honour goes to 1980’s Adventure, still spoken of with reverent tones and wistful smiles by today’s game designers—it is the first to render the Cave in full 3D, with WASD and mouse controls, leaving nothing to the imagination whatsoever.

A trippy mushroom den in Colossal Cave


The prose lives on as narration, which is thoughtfully implemented as a ‘look’ interaction attached to your cursor—always available to flesh out a scene or describe an object, but rarely forced upon you. And its presence allows you to appreciate just how faithful a rendition this is. The level designers of Cygnus Entertainment, led by King’s Quest legend Roberta Williams, deserve kudos for translating a tangle of flowery descriptions into a consistent geographical space, lending a natural flow to the initial journey down from a forest well house, along the bank of a trickling stream, and through a locked hatch into the cave network below.

Graphic in nature​

Yet that narration also highlights the compromises made to bring the Colossal Cave into new dimensions with a small development team. What 3D art can live up to the idea of a “splendid chamber, the walls frozen rivers of orange stone”? Certainly not that which you’ll find here. Then there’s the outsized abode of a giant, its ceiling “too high to see with your lamp”. Except that, now, you can see it—a fact that somewhat takes away from the scene’s implied vastness.
The worst culprit is a self-described “breathtaking view” deep underground—an active volcano. In the most lavish and indulgent description written for the game back in 1977, Don Woods pictures a “blood-red glare, feigning a macabre appearance”; air “dense with sparks of ash”; tortured rock, and alabaster formations which scatter the murky light to create “sinister apparitions upon the walls”. The new reality inevitably falls far short, especially when it comes to the neighbouring geyser of “blistering steam”—reduced to a feeble jacuzzi setting. This partial panorama is a sorry stand-in for what should be Colossal Cave’s payoff, the reward for working your way into its blackest abyss.

Watch out for the bear


The translation from text to 3D creates problems in the Cave’s most intimate moments too. This game was in many ways a blueprint for the point-and-click adventure genre as we still know it today, asking you to scour the environment for objects to place in your inventory, and then to find places where those objects might be applied to allow you further progress. In the most satisfying case, Cygnus provides you early on with a simple bottle of water—which can be poured away to replace the contents with oil that might ease a door’s rusty hinges, or refilled at an underground reservoir in order to compel a beanstalk to grow. There are just a large handful of items like this in Colossal Cave—more than you can carry in your tight inventory at once, but few enough that you can find a specific purpose for each.

Yet they share the screen with similar detritus that can’t be picked up. Where a text description can cast a spotlight on a single magazine, guiding your gaze with clarity and purpose, this three-dimensional Cave is also home to countless decorative items—its opening area littered with old newspapers and discarded bottles which, unlike your designated vessel, can’t be picked up. A metallic sheen makes it easier to distinguish usable objects from the backdrop, but it’s still jarring to adjust to the arbitrary distinction Cygnus draws between the important and the ignorable. It’s a problem the point-and-click adventure genre still grapples with, but one that feels more stark than usual in immersive first-person.

Knife time​

Ultimately, your goal is to find treasure that will contribute to your point total, up to a maximum of 350. You’ll get a handful of points for discovering shiny things, but a whole lot more for delivering them to the starting well house. One treasure, a nugget of gold as large as a human head, is too heavy to take back up the stairs—which clues you into the idea that there might be ways to get back and forth across the map magically, using spellwords whispered to you in the darkness. Often, you’re forced to make a tough decision about whether to drop a fistful of diamonds to make room for a more innocuous item that might prove to be a puzzle solution—knowing you’ll want to come back for the former eventually.

A dwarf throwing an axe in Colossal Cave



Considering its age, dating back to the dawn of digital game design, Colossal Cave’s puzzle logic is surprisingly robust—much of it extending naturally and pleasingly from the small pool of tools available to you. But surrounding these puzzles are elements that have weathered the decades less well. Take the dwarves, who intermittently spring out of the earth to hurl a knife in your direction. They usually miss, but an RNG-determined hit will kill you instantly, sending you back to the well house. Worse, resurrection has a cost, pulling directly from your point total—making a perfect score a frustrating ambition to reach for.

Then there are Colossal Cave’s mazes, so notorious at the time that one repeated description—“You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike”—has resonated across the years, becoming a byword in hacker culture for a situation in which no possible action affects the outcome. Escape is possible, with patience, but torment is inevitable. A fact which makes you wonder whether parts of Colossal Cave might have been better left buried deep beneath the rock. Both from a design and aesthetic perspective, there are far fairer caverns to delve into these days.

55
Only for nostalgists and those who love getting lost on spelunking holidays.
Sadly, pretty much as expected. Even the interest among the few active Sierra fans left was close to zero for this remake. The target audience for the game was practically non-existent to begin with, and with such negative reviews even most of them won't bother.
 

Blackthorne

Infamous Quests
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Developer
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981
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Codex 2014 Divinity: Original Sin 2
Eh, PC Gamer reviews are always dodgy!

As for the VR vs. PC thing? I think it's awesome in VR. Do I want to play it for hours in it? No... I get kinda sick. But it's neat as hell. I mostly played the PC version when I played and tested it. I had a good time working on this - honestly, the game is faithful as hell to the original. You can use a walkthrough for the original 350 pt version and make your way through ours. It's pretty cool. It was cool as hell working with Ken & Roberta, I got to hear cool stories while making it, and lord... I hope its popular enough so I can make more games with them! It's an old school game with a visual interpretation. Comes out tomorrow, I hope folks like it. Me? I'm going to drink some NyQuil, and enjoy my last few months before I go back on dialysis!
 

LostHisMarbles

Learned
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Apr 28, 2021
Messages
956
I don't watch youtube shit, so got no idea how this's shaped up; but i have to say, the few screenshots (actual stills) i've seen look amazing for me, blast in the past.
What the fuck are these nujournos talking about? "Splendid chamber, certainly not"? What did they expect exactly.. Bitch go die in a fire.

Also, glad for Blackthorne , to be sure. He deserves it. My very best wishes to you man, sincerely.

That said, i fucking hate it when devs come here to shill and hype.
* even if they mean every word, hell, even if it's God's honest truth they're spouting; it's still hyping. And when money's involved, yeah, i fucking hate it when they come here to hype their own shit, or shit they're working in. No exceptions, because rules/precedents being set, norms followed and so on. Sorry man, just being honest.
** try follow Vince and company's attitude? Never once seen them come in here telling me how awesome everything's been, just wow! It's rather insulting. Again, sorry for being blunt.
 

Rean

Head Codexian Weeb
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Messages
1,956
Strap Yourselves In
That said, i fucking hate it when devs come here to shill and hype.
* even if they mean every word, hell, even if it's God's honest truth they're spouting; it's still hyping. And when money's involved, yeah, i fucking hate it when they come here to hype their own shit, or shit they're working in. No exceptions, because rules/precedents being set, norms followed and so on. Sorry man, just being honest.

You heard him Steve, don't come here to talk about how excited you are to be a making a game on a gamer forum.
It's just not cool.
 

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