Tag: Adventure

Adventure (Atari, 1979) appreciated

Adventure is commonly regarded as one of the best games on the Atari 2600, and is certainly a top original title for the console. Out of all the games released for the system, this one stands out as being the one that best represents what was unique to the system.

A great introduction

It’s also a fantastic example of game design, with a built-in tutorial. Super Mario Bros has been recognized as having an excellent introductory level for teaching the fundamental concepts of the game, but Adventure did this just as well a good five+ years earlier, with game variation 1. Intended to be an easy difficulty version of the game, suitable for young children, it also works as a way to introduce the gameplay basics to new players of any age.

In Game 1, you start out in front of the Gold Castle, right in front of the gate.

This communicates to the player that this is your home base. The castle is locked, but the Gold Key is conveniently right there on the screen. Since the key and the castle are the same color, this communicates a strong clue that the key must unlock the castle. Since there’s an item in the starting room, and that item is usable in that very room, every basic element of the game is present on the first screen, so the player has the opportunity to learn the game immediately, before they start wandering and get lost.

If the player grabs the key and opens the castle, very likely they will enter inside, where they will find the Sword. The player may drop the Key by pressing the button, but more likely will run to the Sword and pick it up, and in so doing discover that picking up one item drops an already-held item. Either way, the player learns an important aspect of the core mechanic of the game, carrying an item.

This rewards the player for exploring, and for solving a simple puzzle with one of the objects found in the Adventure world.

If the player doesn’t enter the castle, regardless of which direction they explore, they will run into one of the two dragons: left, and they will encounter the Yellow dragon, and right, they will run into the Green dragon.

Without the sword, either encounter forces the player to run away, or be eaten — unless the player is carrying the Gold Key, in which case the Yellow dragon will flee from him.

Whichever is the case, something unique and different happens — thus demonstrating to the player that the inventory of items found in the game each change the game in distinct ways.

This is enough to encourage the player to experiment with each item they find in the game, in order to discover all the possibilities. But some of the most interesting special item properties in the game are introduced right away.

If the player has the sword, what happens will depend on the difficulty switch position, and the orientation that the sword is held.

If the right difficulty switch is set to A, dragons will flee from the Sword. If set to B, the dragons attack.

If the player is positioned such that the sword is between him and the dragon, the outcome is almost certain victory for the player as the charging dragon runs straight into the sword and dies. Thus, the game teaches the player how to kill dragons in a basic, direct way.

Otherwise, the combat can get exciting, as the player must dodge and move to touch the dragon with the Sword. In other variations, roaming dragons can and will often randomly encounter the player, coming at him from any angle, and this is good practice for such situations.

Again, the game design subtly hints the player toward the more exciting combat — the Sword sprite is always positioned with the hilt to the left, blade to the right. Despite the fact that the player can pick up the Sword (or any of the items) from any direction, most new players will instinctively grab the sword by the hilt-end, which will put the player in front of the sword when they encounter either dragon, making for a more challenging and more interesting combat.

If the right Difficulty switch is set to A, dragons flee from the Sword. Otherwise, they will directly charge the player. If the player is carrying the sword on the side the dragon approaches from, the combat is usually over quickly, as the dragon impales itself on the sword, and is slain.

But if the dragon flees, the player will have a much harder time slaying it — it will take a bit of luck for the player to enter the room positioned in such a way to have a chance at reaching the dragon with the Sword before it runs away. It’s very difficult to do this. One tactic that is effective is to walk near the edge of the screen, such that the Sword is actually off the edge of the screen, then wait for the dragon to approach near, and then attack.

If the player encounters the Green dragon, they will find the Black Key, which the dragon guards. The dragon guards the key, which is positioned on the left side of the screen, so will always charge the player from the left when the player enters the room from the top of the screen.

If the player runs away, the Green dragon will not give chase, as it is programmed to guard the black key, and will stay on the same screen as the key. This gives the player the ability to flee and return to the room repeatedly, and try several approaches to dealing with the dragon.

If the player grabs the Black key before running off, he will be pursued by the dragon.

If the player encounters the Yellow dragon first, the dragon will chase the player from screen to screen, as the dragon does not have an item to guard. But if the player happens to be carrying the Gold Key, this will scare the Yellow dragon off. If the player has entered the castle and grabbed the Sword, the Yellow dragon will approach the player at a slow, deliberate pace, and attempt to eat the Player. If the player is grabbing the sword by its “hilt” side, the player will be to the left of the sword, and this will cause the dragon to trigger its bite attack before it runs into the sword and becomes slain. Thus, the player will learn a) how the dragon moves and attacks, b) that the dragon is temporarily invincible while it in its bite attack mode, but also temporarily fixed in place, and c) that the dragon is dispatched by the Sword by touching it.

If the player is grabbing the sword from its right side, he may slay the dragon directly, without triggering its attack; in this way the player discovers that the sword is lethal regardless of its orientation. Later, the player may discover that the sword is always lethal to dragons, even if it is not in the player’s hand! This is perhaps surprising, but it is highly useful knowledge once discovered, as the player may run around the sword while carrying another object, and lure a pursuing dragon to run into the sword, killing itself.

Once both dragons are dead, the game is easily winnable. The player simply has to take the Black Key to the Black Castle, unlock it, retrieve the Chalice, and bring it back to the Gold Castle, and the game is over.

In order to do that, however, the player must first solve the blue labyrinth. The labyrinth is illogical — it is comprised of 6 screens of interlocking passages which cannot be mapped onto a Euclidean plane.

When you try, certain pathways overlap others, creating a bizarre, confusing maze. The maze is actually fairly easy to traverse, but how the different screens connect to each other don’t quite make sense — space here is warped, somehow.

There are several pathways through the labyrinth, but only one will take you to the Black Castle. 

However, due to the placement of the Bridge, there’s a second possible way through the labyrinth. In the first room of the Blue Labyrinth, there are four branching paths: left is the true path through the Labyrinth; right is the secret Bridge shortcut, and the middle two paths loop around to connect to each other, returning the player to the start of the maze.

So, regardless of the direction chosen by the Player, they’ll either a) quickly loop back to the start of the labyrinth, where they can start over without a lot of frustration or risk of getting hopelessly lost, b) go left and make their way through the labyrinth to discover the Black Castle, or c) go right and discover the Bridge shortcut, and a shorter path through the Labyrinth to the Black Castle.

This again shows good design, by demonstrating to the player a) how the Bridge functions, and b) a reward that shows how the Bridge can provide an advantage to the Player, thus demonstrating its value. It’s likely that the player will inadvertently touch the Bridge as they pass over the wall, and thus discover that the Bridge may be picked up like any other object, and that its portability makes it even more useful.

When the Player discovers the Black Castle, they’ll probably know immediately what the Black Key is for, and if they don’t have it with them, will know from their experience in the first screen that they will need to go back to retrieve the Black Key in order to proceed. If the player has yet to encounter the black key, their previous experience with the Gold Castle will have taught them that this Castle must also have a Key that will open its gate, found somewhere.

Upon unlocking the Black Castle, the Player enters into a room where they discover the Magnet. It’s common for players to drop the key upon entering the castle, perhaps in order to retreat and grab the Sword, which they may have also brought with them, just in case there is another dragon to fight — and if they do drop the key, they’ll immediately discover what the Magnet does: attract other objects.

The Player may pick up the Magnet and interact with it, dragging it around as it slowly attracts the key to follow it about the room. This invites the Player to see what else the Magnet will attract. (It works on all the other items in the game, but not the dragons or the Bat.)

When the player proceeds to the last room of the Black Castle, they’ll find the Chalice. From here, all they need to do is bring it back to the Gold Castle, and they win the game. There’s nothing in the game to tell the player that they need to do this, but it is provided in the written instructions pamphlet that comes with the game.

Otherwise, the purpose and use of the Chalice is mysterious. The Chalice is unlike the other items in the game, in that its color flashes and shimmers. This makes the Chalice stand out as a special object, and probably more likely for the player to pick it up, even if they skipped reading the instructions and don’t know what to do with it. Since it flashes a golden color, that may be enough of a clue to the player that they should bring it to the Gold Castle, as they did with the Gold Key.

Once the player knows what to do, they can complete Game 1 in a minute or less. Even without knowing what to do, it’s likely that a first time player can complete the quest in just a few minutes.

The tightness and self-teaching design of Game 1 of Adventure is nothing short of impressive. Considering how early this game came out in the life of the system, the level of refinement present in the level design is amazing. As obvious and intuitive as the placement of the objects and dragons is, we must recognize that these were the result of deliberate design choices, and that any other arrangement would have made the introductory level of the game less inviting, less intuitive, and less fun.

Advanced Adventures

Game Variations 2 and 3 introduce the player to a larger world, with a third castle (White), and two Catacombs (in the Black Castle, and en route to the White Castle). The White Castle itself adds another Maze, and in total the world has about doubled in size.

The Epic Quest

Game 2 is the canonical full Adventure experience. You have to visit every castle and use every item in order to complete the quest. This game introduces the Bat, which appears on the start screen, and swipes the Sword which appears where the Gold Key was in Game 1.

The timing here is tight enough that it must have been deliberate — try as you might, there’s no way to beat the Bat to the Sword. It will get there just barely ahead of you no matter how fast you can get there. 

Another thing about this introductory encounter: the Bat continues in a straight line, continuing to wrap from bottom to top of the screen in an endless cycle, which lasts until the Player either leaves the room, or touches the Bat or the Sword. 

Because the Player has learned the value of the Sword, very likely they will try to grab it and fight the Bat for control of it. The screen wrapping behavior of this initial encounter invites and practically guarantees that this will happen. The Bat is programmed to win these contests, thwarting and frustrating the player.

This teaches the player everything they need to know about the Bat, immediately: the Bat steals the item you need.

Best case, you can grab the Bat, and carry it with the sword until the Bat either drops the sword, or picks up another item. If the player does manage to grab the Bat, capturing it, sometimes it can struggle free, often at the wrong time.

Going to the right, where in Game 1 you found the Green dragon guarding the Black Key, you’ll encounter the Catacombs that lead to the White Castle. In the Catacombs, you’ll find the Yellow Key, the Bridge, and in the room South of the White Castle, the Magnet. The Green Dragon is wandering nearby, and will likely encounter the Player in a situation where the Bat has dropped the Sword, and picked up one of the other items.

If you’re lucky, you may dispatch the Green Dragon in the catacombs without much trouble, but it’s just as likely that you’ll get stuck in the catacombs without the Sword, which is very dangerous — especially prior to learning how to navigate the catacombs. If you can, kill the Green Dragon as quickly as possible, but if you lose the sword, try to grab the Gold Key and run for it so you can at least get the Gold Castle open. The Green Dragon will always guard the Magnet or the Black Key, so you can use the Magnet to “trade” for the Gold Key so he’ll ignore you while you run to the Gold Castle and unlock it.

Here, the Player is carrying the Bat, who is carrying the Bridge, just after the Player killed the Green Dragon with the Sword. With so many objects on the screen, they flicker, so this is a composite image of several screen captures.

The White key is found in the Blue Labyrinth along the path to the Black Castle, and inside the White Castle is the Yellow Dragon, and the Black Key. If you’re new to Game 2, you’ll probably head up the familiar path to the Black Castle, and discover the White Key here.

You’ll need to run with the White Key to unlock the castle, then come back with the Sword so that you can face the Yellow Dragon and slay it. If you can, once you open the Gold Castle, go back and grab the other items in the game and bring them to the Gold Castle. The Bat does not enter the Gold Castle ordinarily (he will only be found there if you grab him and drag him there yourself) so anything you store in the Gold Castle is generally safe from the Bat randomly picking it up and moving it somewhere.

If you can, put the Sword in the Gold castle for safekeeping, and then go unlock the White Castle, run back to retrieve the Sword, and return to the White Castle and slay the Yellow Dragon. The White Castle’s maze is divided into two interlocking sections. To get to where the Black Key is, you’ll need the Bridge.

To get the Black Key, you need the Bridge, and the insight that the maze is larger than it seems.
The Black Key is well-hidden inside the inner chamber of the White Castle maze.

Once you have the Black key, you’re ready to take on the final challenge. Take the key to unlock the castle, then return to the White Castle and grab the Sword, and return to the Black castle. You’re about to face the Red Dragon, who is the fastest and fiercest of them all. He guards the Chalice in the catacombs of the Black Castle. All you have to do is kill him and take the Chalice. Fighting this dragon in the tight confines of the catacomb is tricky, but not too difficult. Just keep the Sword between you and the Dragon.

Once the Dragon is defeated, there’s nothing left to threaten you; run back to the Gold Castle with the Chalice and win the game.

The way this variation is laid out guarantees the player will take the longest path through the game, and experience all of it. It’s well designed from that standpoint. The Bat’s mischief can greatly lengthen the time taken to complete this quest. It’s very common for the Bat to grab the item you need right when you are about to use it, and leave you with something you don’t need, or even bring a live Dragon to eat you! If you’re accustomed to the layout of Game 1, you’ll probably spend a lot of time exploring the Blue Labyrinth, where you’ll find nothing of value, only dead ends. But by exploring the new catacombs area, you’ll quickly find most of the items in the game, and it’s just the chance interactions with the Bat, and the risk of being caught without the Sword when a Dragon draws near that can lengthen the game.

The randomness of the Bat makes Game 2 somewhat different each time you play, but the initial position of the items is always the same, and the order in which you must unlock the castles always is the same. So playing this variant repeatedly doesn’t offer a lot of replay value. Even so, the random element introduced by the Bat still gives this variation a decent amount of replayability.

The Random Remix

Game 3 randomizes the starting position of every item in the game. There are a few constraints, of course: no key can be locked in its own castle (although, there is a bug, by which the Gold key can sometimes start out locked in the Gold Castle, rendering the game unwinnable), the Chalice never can start in the Gold Castle, but otherwise everything is random. It can happen that you start out getting attacked by all three Dragons immediately, with no Sword in sight to save you. You’ll have to explore everywhere and anywhere to find the Chalice, and the items needed to get to it.

This is my favorite variation of the game. It’s the most replayable, because every time you play you’ll have to figure out where things are and which ones are needed in order to unlock the Gold Castle and retrieve the Chalice — the only two things in the game that you must do to win. Everything else is optional. And due to that fact, it’s often possible to complete the quest more quickly than is possible in Game 2.

Screwing Around

Once the Dragons are killed, the Player is safe. This frees him to explore the game and experiment. The Bat can get annoying, but it’s fairly easy to grab it, run to one of the castles, and lock it inside.

It’s an interesting discovery that you can carry the Bat into a castle, run out quickly, locking the gate behind you, and never have to see the Bat again. The insight may be learned by the fact that in Game 2, the Yellow Dragon never appears in the game until you unlock the White Castle. Since that is the case, the Yellow Dragon must have been confined in the White Castle. Might this work with the Bat also? It does!

It’s also possible to gain this insight by locking a Key in its own Castle. It’s possible! To do this, you need to touch the open castle gate with your Key, which causes the gate to lower. If you drop the key in the doorway, as the gate lowers, the Key will disappear, apparently into the castle. Now behind the locked gate, the key and anything else inside that castle is forever locked, inaccessible to the player evermore.

At this point, Adventure becomes a sandbox game. You can play around with the items and figure out all kinds of things to do with them. Mainly this means playing around with the Bridge and Magnet. The Bridge may be placed at various walls, and you can even try to use it to cross the boundary of a room that is normally blocked by a solid wall. This sort of, almost works — you can see into an adjacent room this way, but not quite enter into it.

Experimentation is at the heart of what makes Adventure special.

Eventually, through much trial and error, but more likely through reading about it or being shown by someone who knows, you may discover the Easter Egg, the hidden room with the Dot, which is used to access a secret room where the author’s name is hidden.

Items with purpose

One of the great aspects of Adventure is how purposeful every item and character in the game is. The items in the game give the player the capability to do anything they might need to do, and give the game’s design a sense of completeness. There’s nothing missing, and nothing obvious to add. 

Keys unlock Castles, and there is one key per Castle. They give the player something to find and something to do in order to access parts of the map that are locked when the game begins. They give the Dragons something to guard (or flee): The Yellow dragon runs from the Gold key; the Green dragon guards the Black key, and the Red dragon will guard the White key.

The Dragons exist to create danger and tension for the player, something to overcome and defeat. They make Adventure be a game about more than simply exploring.

The Bat exists to give the game randomness that makes the game world feel “alive” as the Bat randomly moves items around the world, which would otherwise only move if the Player moved them. The Bat is a mischievous and frustrating enemy, who cannot be killed, but may be dealt with by locking it in a castle. The Bat makes the Dragons more dangerous while they’re alive, since it can take the Sword or bring a Dragon at an inopportune time. But the Bat’s randomness also means that it can sometimes aid the player, by taking a threatening Dragon away, or dropping a needed item that the player had trouble finding. This redeems the frustrating aspect of the Bat, to a degree, and makes it an entertaining character.

The Sword gives the player a way to defeat the dragons.

The Magnet gives the player a way to grab items that are stuck in walls, or otherwise inaccessible, making it much less likely that the player will get stuck in an unwinnable situation due to a trapped object that they cannot reach.

The Bridge serves a similar purpose to the Magnet, in that the Bridge can enable to Player to get around dead Dragons that may block narrow paths. But the Bridge also has several specific purposes: A) To enable a short-cut to the Black Castle by Bridging over the dead-end of the right branch of the Blue Labyrinth; B) access the inner chamber of the White Castle maze, necessary to complete the quest in Game 2; C) to reach the hidden room in the Black Castle labyrinth, where the Dot is hidden, necessary to unlock the now-legendary easter egg and find the secret screen with the creator credits. 

The Chalice gives the player a goal, and something to do to give the game an ending. The existence of the Chalice makes the game about more than merely exploring, more than merely slaying dragons. It gives the player a quest and a purpose.

Speculating on a Sequel

Adventure has been a frequent target of homage for homebrew and hacks and indie game developers. I don’t know how many projects I’ve seen over the years that took direct inspriation from Adventure, but I can recall a Quake mod from 2002, and unofficial sequels for the Atari 5200 and Atari Flashback system, a pair of homebrews called Evil Magician Returns and Evil Magician Returns 2, and certainly others too obscure for me to find with a quick search.

I’ve played some of them, and of those that I have played, I have found them to be lacking in some way — they just don’t feel as good as the original, for various reasons. Either they offer more of the same, without offering enough new, or they attempt to update the graphics in ways that spoil the utter simplicity of the original graphics. The graphics weren’t really the point of the original — the Player is represented by a simple square pixel, after all — and so I would like to see a sequel that focuses on gameplay, but retains the graphical style and overall feel of the original, but adds new items and new areas to explore.

Making it my own

I think anyone who loved the original has probably thought about what they’d want in a sequel. So in that spirit, here’s my proposal for how I would extend the original game. Perhaps I’ll try to program it at some point.

My idea is more like a “Game 4” variation of the original than it is an Adventure II. A “Game 5” variation would be a randomized version of the game with all of the elements from Game 4, much as Game 3 is a randomized version of Game 2.

Here’s what I would add:

  • There are three empty rooms in the area (Marked 1, 2, 3 in the map below) where the White Castle is found:Adventure MapThese feel like unfinished, purposeless rooms in Adventure. This is where I would extend the world map. I would replace these empty rooms with entrances to new mazes that lead the player to new areas of the game. Perhaps I’d have all three entrances lead to three inter-twined mazes, which require the use of the bridge to go between them. The Brown Key would be hidden somewhere in this new maze. The exact details of the maze aren’t shown, but the maze would occupy the empty region shown in the map detail below, with the new Brown Castle somewhere in there, perhaps where indicated… but possibly not.Adventure-Variation 4 Detail
  • I’d add at least one new castle, but probably just one, found at the other end of one of the mazes. The existing castles are White, Black, and Gold, this castle would be some new color. Which color? It should be a color that is possible with the Atari 2600, and not already in use as a Castle or Dragon color, or a color that is close to one of those colors. This rules out Green and Red, Yellow, Black, and White. Probably a good color for a fourth castle would be Blue, or Brown.
  • I’d add a new Dragon. The existing Dragons are Red, Yellow, Green. The new dragon should be a color that is possible with the Atari 2600, and not already in use as a background or Dragon color. This rules out: Black, White, Gold, Yellow, Green, Red, and Blue. I’d also avoid Purple, since that’s the color of the Bridge.
  • The trick with the colors is that the Atari 2600 can only produce 128 distinct colors in NTSC, as shown by this chart. While the RGB color space isn’t exactly gamut compatible with what the Atari 2600’s TIA chip generated, this is close enough for our purposes.
    Atari 2600 NTSC paletteThere are only 16 hues to choose from, and we don’t want to pick something too close to what’s already in use. This may not be exact, but my best guess as to which colors are already reserved in Adventure is as follows:
    There’s a lot of possible colors still available, but many of them are too light or don’t contrast well enough. But a purple, green, aqua, or brown would seem to be the best candidates. Brown seems like a good choice for a Castle, or Blue, while an aqua or orange shade seems like the best choice for a Dragon.
  • Spider Spider (New Character). The spider’s purpose is to create Webs. Like the Bat, the Spider is black. The Spider cannot be killed. Can he be picked up and carried? I haven’t decided — probably not, just to make him different from the Bat. The Spider lurks in the Brown Castle, spinning webs inside, making the catacombs inside the Brown Castle more challenging to get through. When the Brown Castle is unlocked, the Spider is set free, and can roam about the rest of the world.
  • Web WebWebs are obstacles which slow the player down, but do not block him. Webs will stick fast to any Object in the game, so that they cannot be moved, will not be attracted by the Magnet. When the Player is holding the Sword, he can cut through the Webs, so moves at normal speed. Cutting the web destroys it, freeing up any trapped objects so that they can once again be picked up and carried, or moved by the magnet. Dragons ignore Webs, and are not impeded by them. The Bat can pick up a web and move it to another part of the world. The Bridge can be used to navigate over webs without being slowed down.
  • TorchNew item: The Torch. The Torch serves to light up catacombs areas, making them easier to see in when present. It can also be used to destroy Webs, by touching them. The Torch will destroy Webs whether or not the Player is holding it, and the Torch will light up a catacomb maze whether or not the Player is holding it. The Bat may pick up the Torch. The Torch is found in one of the new maze areas in the game. This maze area is very dark, and has the shortest catacomb sight radius yet, when the Torch isn’t present.

Anyhow, this idea isn’t quite fully formed, particularly in terms of the map. But as a general sketch of a concept for an extended “variation 4” game, I think it’s got potential. I think the Torch and Spider give the game new features that have purpose, without wrecking the balance of the existing items.

Who knows if I’ll develop it — it’d definitely be a challenge to build.

Adventuring with Warren Robinett

One of my earliest videogaming experiences was with the classic Atari 2600 game, Adventure. A favorite of many who played on the system, this game has attained legendary status for it’s brilliant design, a technical accomplishment that pushed the Atari well beyond what its designers had intended it to be capable of, fun and replayability, inspiring a genre of adventure games, including the Legend of Zelda series, and of course becoming as known as the game to feature the first “easter egg”.

The game is still fun to play today, and remains one of my favorites to revisit. It is extremely replayable, and much of the fun that I had playing it was with investigating and experimenting. In 1981, I played this game with my brother all the time. We learned the basics in Level 1, which was a truncated version of the full game, with a smaller map and only two of the three dragons, and no bat. I moved on to Level 2, which introduced an expanded world with one more castle, a dragon, and the bat, and had all the items in prescribed locations so that the quest was the same every time, but you had to go to every castle and defeat every dragon in order to win. The new dragon, Rhindle, was so fast and aggressive that he scared my brother, who was about 4 at the time, so much that he could only watch me play. After winning Level 2 a few times, I proceeded to Level 3, wherein the item placement was randomized, making each re-play a unique experience.

One time, my older cousin came over and we were playing Adventure, and she showed me a secret room in the Black Castle, accessible only by using the Bridge, where she found a mysterious, invisible Dot, which she used to reveal the most amazing thing: the first Easter Egg: a hidden secret that revealed a message from the game’s creator!

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This was how I came to know the name of Warren Robinett, who designed and programmed Adventure and became famous for being one of the first game developers to have their name known publicly.

Even before being shown the easter egg, I had spent many hours exploring and experimenting in the world of Adventure. I played not just to win the game, but to do crazy things with the objects in the game to see what might happen.

I put the Bridge in walls and used it to exit the screen and appear on another screen, where normally you couldn’t get to.

I tested putting all of the objects in one room to see if anything special would happen. I discovered that when there were too many objects in one room, the Magnet would stop working. Or the Sword would not be able to slay a live dragon. Or keys would fail to unlock the castle gate. Somehow, if there were too many objects in one place, the Atari couldn’t handle it. But I could always move, I could always pick up objects and carry them, and walls always worked (with the exception of the wall involved in revealing the Easter Egg room.)

I learned how to “break” the game in other ways. I discovered that if you dropped a key in the doorway of a castle while you were closing the gate, the gate would close in front of the key, which would disappear inside the castle, forever sealing it. I learned that if a castle’s gate was closed, if there was a dragon or the bat inside, it couldn’t get out. And I learned that unlocking a castle would release any creatures inside, and that if a dragon did not have an item to guard, it would leave and roam around, hunting me down.

I learned that while I couldn’t carry or move a dead dragon, the bat could, and I could catch and carry the bat, which allowed me to use it to move dead dragons (or live ones, which was always a risky proposition!) So then I took to using the bat to grab dragon carcasses and move them to an otherwise-empty castle, and lock everyone in there so that in the event that I got stuck and had to reset the game to get unstuck (an action which resurrects every dead character in the game, you and the dragons) the dragons would be safely contained, leaving me free to continue exploring and experimenting without interruption, for hours.

I took time to carefully explore the mazes and learn how to move through them quickly, and to get to any area in the maze that I needed to. I learned places to put the Bridge to take shortcuts. I puzzled over three empty rooms in the vicinity of the White castle, wondering what their purpose was, if they contained any hidden secrets, and how to unlock them.

Despite being pretty sure that I knew everything there was to know about Adventure, I never could say for certain that there wasn’t something that I didn’t know, and this (as well as the fun of speedrunning the game) gave me the incentive to play the game endlessly, for years. While I figured that I’d found all of its secrets, I still had questions.

Recently, I was thinking about Adventure again, and played it a few times, and did some reading about it on various websites, and stumbled upon Warren Robinett’s website. There, I learned that he is writing a book on Adventure that will be coming out in 2015! I am so excited about this. His webpage mentions that to receive updates about the book project to send him an email with the word “annotated” in the subject line, so I did. I wrote him a short note thanking him for creating such a wonderful game that I have enjoyed these many years. And I wasn’t sure if he would read it, or if he merely set up a listserve bot that would automatically subscribe me to his mail list, and maybe he’d never read my message. But a day later I had a response from Mr. Robinett in my inbox!

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Holy shit! Granted, it’s a sentence long, but he read and replied! So, not wanting to be too intrusive, but curious about some of the questions I’d had about his game since forever, I wrote back and politely asked. And he responded again, short and sweet, but I’m thrilled to have corresponded with a true legend of the industry.

At any rate, here’s the excerpt from our correspondence where he answers my questions:

csanyk: I have always wondered about the empty rooms in the area outside the labyrinth near the White Castle. Apart from occasionally holding random objects, I always thought that those rooms felt like they should have had some more purpose than they did. After learning about the easter egg with the dot, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out if there wasn’t some kind of hidden secret in those rooms, and as it turned out, there wasn’t. But boy did I try everything I could think of just to make sure!

Warren Robinett: Well, you are probably aware that the game world was bigger for levels 2 and 3 than for level 1. Level 1 was for beginners, and some of the difficult stuff was intentionally left out of the game world. I regarded level 1 as being “truncated”, because I changed the room-to-room links to leave out more than half the rooms. So the two rooms you asked about had different functions in level 1 — one was the interior of the Black Castle (just a single room in level 1), and the other was where the Catacombs are in levels 2 and 3 (again, just a single dead-end room).

In level 3, the random positioning of object was supposed to put stuff in those rooms sometimes, but I made some mistakes in the random number generator, and it seems they were nearly always empty.

csanyk: If you could have had more time or more computing resources to put something in those rooms, to make a Level 4 game, what would you have populated them with? Another castle and dragon? Some type of new item? Was there something that was meant to be there, that never made it in to the game due to constraints? Or were these rooms always intended to be empty spaces?

Warren Robinett: I talk about that in my book The Annotated Adventure, which I hope to be finished with this fall.

csanyk: I discovered that if you press select until you have the option for game 3, and then pull down on controller 1, the player spawns into the game select screen and can walk about the room. Was this something that was put into the game deliberately, and if so why? How did it come about?

Warren Robinett: The game-select screen was a room. I re-purposed a room as the meta-game UI screen to save memory. I put the Man down in the corner (I thought he was totally trapped) so he wouldn’t be there to distract you. You found a way to break him free.

csanyk: As a kid, after killing the dragons, I spent hours trying to put the Bridge everywhere I could think to and see what would happen. In a few screens, there are places where you can put the bridge off the top or bottom of the screen, and use it to “break through” the bottom wall of a room that you shouldn’t be able to pass through, and end up somewhere else, only to become stuck. To me, a huge part of the game’s lasting appeal and replayability was that it seemed to invite this kind of experimentation. For example, if you go one room down and left from the Yellow Castle, and stick the bridge in the bottom wall of the screen and pass through it, you end up in the White Castle screen, stuck between the towers:

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or in the room one screen down from the Gold Castle, putting the bridge in the bottom wall will warp you to the Gold Castle, again between the towers:

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or from this room in the labyrinth, you can travel to the room next to where the secret is hidden — only you appear at the bottom of the room, and can’t quite break free into the room, and have to retreat back up through the bridge to get back to the labyrinth.

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Warren Robinett: Every room had a link to four other rooms. No exceptions. If you could get through the wall, you could find out which room that was.

Since the Bat and Dragons could move around in different directions, there had to be a new room off each edge.

csanyk: I loved the fact that when you are eaten by a Dragon, you can still move, confined within its stomach. Also, when two dragons are on the screen, and one eats you, the second dragon will come up and eat you again, while you’re in the first dragon’s stomach. And most fun of all was if you left the game run, and the Bat would come by and pick up the dragon whose stomach you were in, and fly around with you, giving you a bizarre tour of the kingdom. The idea that the game world continued after you died was very novel.

Was that a design choice or an accident?

Warren Robinett: The thing you need to understand was that developing the game was incremental. You add some code, you fix a bug (or try). And see how it plays.

I didn’t plan for the Man to be able to wiggle after he was eaten. But when I saw, I liked it. I could have eliminated that by re-ordering some subroutine calls. But it didn’t do that.

I didn’t plan for the Bat to be able to pick up a Dragon that had eaten the Man. But I had coded each piece separately. So it just fell out of the simulation with no effort required. I liked it — it was hilarious. No way would I “fix” that.

csanyk: How did you ensure that the randomization in Game 3 would not result in the game sometimes becoming unwinnable, such as by locking the Black Key in the Gold Castle and the Gold Key in the Black Castle?

Warren Robinett: I tried to make sure each random positioning was winnable, by choosing from certain ranges of rooms for each object. But I botched it, and it DID sometimes generate unwinnable configurations.

csanyk: I think I’ve played the game enough to have seen everything you can expect to happen. I’ve seen the Bat, carrying the Sword, accidentally kill a Dragon. I’ve closed the castle gates and dropped the key inside as it was closing, locking it in forever. I’ve seen so many objects on one screen that the Sword or Magnet wouldn’t work any more. I’ve seen the Bat fly by the castle gate with a Key, opening it. I’ve worried ever since that I could get locked inside of the castle by the Bat if I left the key outside where it could grab it, but this has never happened. It doesn’t seem like objects can interact with each other unless they’re on the current screen, with the notable exception that if you hold the Magnet off the edge of a screen, you can attract objects in the next screen. And also the above-mentioned trick with the Bridge going off the top or bottom of certain screens. The amount of exploration and experimentation that I’ve done in this game, for as small as it really is, is pretty breathtaking, when I think about it. Were you ever surprised to hear from fans just how much they replayed your game? What things have players done in Adventure that surprised you?

Warren Robinett: The stuff you mention above is correct. The Bat could also pick up objects off-screen.

I am now eagerly awaiting the publication of his book later this year. So stoked!