Adventure (Atari 2600)
Adventure is a video game developed by Warren Robinett for the Atari VCS (later called the Atari 2600) and released in late 1979 or 1980 by Atari, Inc.[a] The player controls a square avatar whose quest is to explore an open-ended environment to find a magical chalice and return it to the golden castle. The game world is populated by roaming enemies: three dragons that can eat the avatar and a bat that randomly steals and hides items around the game world. Adventure introduced a number of new game elements to console games, including a playing area that spanned several different screens and enemies that continued to move even when not displayed on the screen.
|Release||1979 or 1980[a]|
|Genre(s)||Action-adventure, graphic adventure|
Adventure was conceived as a graphical version of the 1977 text adventure Colossal Cave Adventure. It took Warren Robinett approximately one year to design and code the game, during which time he had to overcome a variety of technical limitations in the Atari 2600 console hardware, as well as difficulties with management within Atari. In this game, he introduced the first widely known video game Easter egg: a secret room containing text crediting himself for the game's creation.
Adventure received mostly positive reviews at the time of its release and has continued to be viewed positively in the decades since, often named as one of the industry's most influential titles. It is considered the first action-adventure and console fantasy game, and inspired other titles in the genres. More than one million cartridges of Adventure were sold, and the game has been included in numerous Atari 2600 game collections for modern computer hardware. The game's prototype code was used as the basis for the 1979 Superman game, and a planned sequel eventually formed the basis for the Swordquest games. The Easter egg concept pioneered by the game has transcended video games and entered popular culture.
In Adventure, the player's goal is to recover the Enchanted Chalice that an evil magician has stolen and hidden in the kingdom and return it to the Golden Castle. The kingdom includes two other castles (White and Black) and various obstacles and mazes within them. Furthermore, the kingdom is guarded by three dragons: Yorgle (yellow dragon), Grundle (green dragon), and Rhindle (red dragon who moves much faster than the other two), that protect various items in the game and will try to chase and eat the player's avatar. There is also a bat that can roam across the kingdom freely, carrying a single item (which can include the chalice or a dragon) around; the bat was to be named Knubberrub but the name did not make it into the manual. The bat has two states, agitated and non-agitated; when in the agitated state, the bat will either pick up or swap what it currently carries with an object in the present room, eventually returning to the non-agitated state where it will not pick up an object. The bat continues to fly around even if not present on the player's current screen and may continue moving or swapping around objects.
The player's avatar is a simple square shape that can move within and between rooms, each represented by a single screen. While Robinett originally intended for all rooms to be bidirectionally connected, a few such connections (including one inside the White Castle) were unidirectional, which he considered to be bugs. Such problems were explained away as "bad magic" in the game's manual. The player's goal is to find objects to help defeat the dragons and recover the Chalice. These include various keys that open the castles, a magnet that pulls items towards the player, a magic bridge that the player can use to cross certain obstacles, and a sword which can be used to defeat the dragons. Only one object can be carried at a time. The player can be eaten by a dragon if it is caught in its "bite" cycle, at which point the avatar is stuck in the dragon's stomach. At this point, the player can opt to restore their avatar's life instead of completely restarting the game, reappearing at the Golden Castle while leaving all objects where they were last left, but this will also regenerate any dragon previously killed as well. The ability to reset the player's avatar without resetting the entire game is considered one of the earliest examples of a "continue game" option in video games.
The game offers three different skill levels. Level 1 is the easiest, as it uses a simplified room layout and doesn't include the White Castle, bat, Rhindle the red dragon, nor invisible mazes. Level 2 is the full version of the game, with the various objects appearing in set positions at the start of the game. Level 3 is similar to Level 2, but the location of the objects is randomized to provide a more challenging game. In addition, the player can use the difficulty switches on the Atari 2600 to further control the game's difficulty by affecting the behavior of the dragons: one switch controls the dragons' bite speed, and one causes them to flee when the player is wielding the sword.
Adventure was published by the developer of the 2600 console, Atari, Inc, and programmed by Atari employee Warren Robinett. At the time, Atari programmers were generally given full control on the creative direction and development cycle for their games, but this required them to plan for their next game as they neared completion of their current one to stay productive. Robinett was finishing his work on Slot Racers when he was given an opportunity to visit the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory by Julius Smith, one of several friends he was sharing a house with. There, he was introduced to the 1977 version of the computer text game Colossal Cave Adventure, created by Will Crowther and modified by Don Woods. After playing the game for several hours, he was inspired to create a graphical version of the game.
Inspired by the 1977 text game Colossal Cave Adventure, Robinett began designing his graphics-based game on a Hewlett-Packard 1611A microprocessor computer around May to June 1978. Robinett was aware early on that memory use was going to be critical: Atari 2600 cartridge ROMs have only 4096 bytes (4 KB), and the system has 128 bytes of RAM for program variables; in contrast, Colossal Cave Adventure uses hundreds of kilobytes of memory. The final game uses nearly all of the available memory (including 5% of the cartridge storage for Robinett's Easter egg), with 15 unused bytes from the ROM capacity. Robinett credits Ken Thompson, his professor at University of California, Berkeley, with teaching him the skills needed to use the limited memory efficiently. Thompson had required his students to learn the C programming language; Robinett carried techniques from that language into his programming of Adventure.
Robinett first identified ways to translate the elements of Colossal Cave Adventure into simple, easy-to-recognize graphics that the player could interact with directly, replacing text-based commands with joystick controls. Due to the limitations of the system's graphical hardware, Robinett noted the dragons ended up looking more like ducks. Robinett developed workarounds for various technical limitations of the Atari 2600. The system has only one playfield and five memory-mapped registers available to represent moving objects. Only two of these registers are capable of representing more complex sprites. Robinett used those for objects and creatures within the game. He used the register originally designated for the ball in games such as Pong to represent the player's avatar. Finally, he used the registers assigned for missiles, such as the bullets in Combat, for additional walls in the playing field to be able to represent different rooms within the game with the same playfield. Another hardware limitation forces the left and right sides of nearly every screen to be mirror images of each other; this fostered the creation of the game's confusing mazes. The exceptions include two screens in the black castle catacombs and two in the main hallway beneath the Yellow Castle. These two hallway screens are mirrored, but contain a vertical "wall" object in the room in order to achieve a non-symmetrical shape, as well as act as a secret door for an Easter egg.
Robinett overcame these limitations to introduce concepts that at the time were unfamiliar to players. He had been able to construct different rooms in the games (thirty in the final version), at a time when most games took place only on a single screen. Furthermore, off-screen objects such as the bat would continue to move according to their programming behavior.
In addition to the technical limitations, Robinett had struggled with Atari's management over the game. Around the time of Adventure's development, Atari, now owned by Warner Communications, had hired Ray Kassar as general manager of their Consumer Division, and he was later promoted to president and CEO of Atari in December 1978. Kassar interacted with the programmers rarely and generally treated their contributions with indifference. Robinett was initially discouraged from working on Adventure by his supervisor, George Simcock, who said the ambitious game could not be done based on knowing how much memory Colossal Cave Adventure used. When Robinett developed a working prototype within a month, the management at Atari were impressed, encouraging him to continue the game contrary to his supervisor's initial response. The management later tried to convince Robinett to make it a tie-in work for the upcoming Superman movie, which was owned by Warner Communication. Robinett remained committed to his initial idea. Instead, Atari developer John Dunn agreed to take Robinett's prototype source code to make the 1979 Superman game.
A second prototype, completed near the end of 1978, had only about eight rooms, a single dragon, and two objects, and Robinett recognized that the game, though demonstrating what he had set out to do, was boring. He put the game aside for a few months and came back with additional ideas to improve the game, finishing it by June 1979. Two changes that Robinett added were the possibility of being eaten by the dragon, as well as the means to reset the avatar if this should happen, and the addition of the sword object, which could kill the dragon. Robinett found the various possibilities that arose from this combination of elements improved the excitement of the game, and subsequently made three dragons, reusing the same code for the behavior of all three. The magnet was created to work around a potential situation where the player could drop an object into a wall space and make it irretrievable.
Robinett worked with Steve Harding, the author for nearly all Atari 2600 game manuals at that point in time, to develop the plot for the game. Harding developed most of the plot after playing the game himself, with Robinett revising elements where he saw fit. Robinett states that he had come up with the names for the three dragons as well as offering a friend's suggestion for "Knubberrub" for the bat.
Robinett submitted the source code for Adventure to Atari management in June 1979; he left Atari soon afterward. The game was released by Atari some time later, though the exact date is unclear. In a 2003 interview, Robinett recalled the release date as being Christmas 1979 though noted he had left the company by this point and was traveling in Europe at that time, but knew the game had been released worldwide by early 1980. Early releases of the game cartridge showing only the game modes on the label (also known as the "text label" version) show a copyright of 1980 on the bottom. A 1979 date is also listed in various other sources. Atari began advertising the game as "coming soon" in its 1980 catalog, and several sources indicate the game was released that year, after the Atari 2600 version of Space Invaders was released in early 1980.
Generally defined as a "message, trick, or unusual behavior hidden inside a computer program by its creator", the Easter egg concept was popularized by Adventure, influenced by the corporate culture at Atari. After Atari's acquisition by Warner Communications in 1976, there was a culture clash between the executives from New York, and the Californian programmers who were more laid back. Atari removed the names of game developers from their products, seeing it as a means to prevent competitors from identifying and luring away Atari's programmers. Atari's decisions led to several programmers leaving the company; notably, David Crane, Larry Kaplan, Alan Miller, and Bob Whitehead all left Atari due to lack of recognition and royalties from the company, and formed Activision, which started making third-party games for the 2600 in competition with Atari.
Robinett, as a means to leave his name in his game, included a hidden message in Adventure identifying himself as the creator, inspired by the supposedly hidden messages left on various songs recorded by The Beatles. In discussing the game in 2015, Robinett considered the message as a means of self-promotion, noting that Atari had paid him only around US$22,000 per year without any royalties, while Atari would sell one million units of a game at US$25 apiece. This secret is one of the earliest known Easter eggs in a video game.
Within Adventure, the Easter egg is accessed by first retrieving the "Gray Dot" from the black castle catacombs in difficulty levels 2 or 3. The dot is a single pixel object which is embedded in the south wall of a sealed chamber accessible only with the bridge, and the player must bounce the avatar along the bottom wall to pick it up. The dot becomes invisible when carried or dropped in most rooms, but can be seen when in a catacombs passage or when held over a normal wall. The dot is also not attracted to the magnet, unlike all other inanimate objects in Adventure. The player must bring the dot along with two or more other objects to the east end of the corridor below the yellow castle. This causes the barrier on the right side of the screen to blink rapidly, and the player avatar is then able to push through the wall into a new room displaying the words "Created by Warren Robinett" in text which continuously changes color.
Robinett kept the existence of the dot and the hidden room a secret for more than one year, and did not mention it to anyone at Atari prior to his departure. He was unsure of whether or not it would be discovered by other Atari personnel prior to publishing. The dot was not mentioned in the game's manual, as the manual's author was unaware of the dot's existence. After the game was released, Adam Clayton, a fifteen-year-old from Salt Lake City, discovered how to use the dot to enter the secret room, and sent a letter to Atari explaining the steps he used to do this. Robinett had already quit the company by this point, so Atari tasked designers with finding the responsible code. The employee who found it said that if he were to fix it, he would change the message in the game to say "Fixed by Brad Stewart". Furthermore, the cost of creating a new read-only memory (ROM) mask, or memory chip, was around US$10,000 at the time of the game's release, making this change a costly endeavor. Steve Wright, the director of software development of the Atari Consumer Division, argued for retaining the message, believing it gave players additional incentive to find it and play their games more, and suggested these were like Easter eggs for players to find. Atari eventually decided to leave the Dot in-game, and dubbed such hidden features "Easter eggs", saying they would be adding more such secrets to later games. Wright made it an official policy at Atari that all future games should include Easter eggs, often limited to being the initials of the game developer.
The Easter egg text with Warren Robinett's name was removed from the version on the Atari Classics 10-in-1 TV Games standalone gaming unit, replaced with "TEXT?" It has been included in most subsequent reissues of the game, however.
More than one million copies of Atari's Adventure were sold.
Adventure received mostly positive reviews in the years immediately after its release and has generally been viewed positively since then.
Norman Howe reviewed Adventure in The Space Gamer No. 31. Howe commented that "Adventure is a good game, as video games are measured. It is neither as interesting nor as complex as Superman, but it shows great promise for things to come. If you have access to the Atari game computer, it is an entertaining cartridge to have."
Bill Kunkel and Frank Laney in the January 1981 issue of Video magazine called Adventure a "major design breakthrough" and said that it "shatters several video-game conventions" such as scoring and time limits. They added that it was "much more ambitious" than average home video games, but noted that the graphics were underwhelming, such as the hero being a simple square. The 1982 book How to Win at Home Video Games called it too unpredictable with an "illogical mission", concluding that "even devoted strategists may soon tire of Adventure's excessive trial and error." Electronic Games in 1983 stated that the game's "graphics are tame stuff", but it "still has the power to fascinate" and that "the action adventure concepts introduced in Adventure are still viable today".
Jeremy Parish of 1UP.com wrote in 2010 that Adventure is "a work of interpretive brilliance" that "cleverly extracted the basic elements of exploration, combat and treasure hunting from the text games and converted them into icons", but also conceded that it "seems almost unplayably basic these days".
As the first action-adventure video game and first console fantasy game, Adventure established its namesake genre on video game consoles. In addition to being the first graphical adventure game on the Atari 2600 console, it is the first video game to contain a widely known Easter egg, and the first to allow a player to use multiple, portable, on-screen items while exploring an open-ended environment, making it one of the first examples, even as small and primitive as it is, of an open world game. The game has been voted the best Atari 2600 game in numerous polls, and has been noted as a significant step in the advancement of home video games. GamePro ranked it as the 28th most important video game of all time in 2007. In 2010, 1UP.com listed it as one of the most important games ever made in its "The Essential 50" feature. Entertainment Weekly named Adventure as one of the top 10 games for the Atari 2600.
A sequel to Adventure was first announced in early 1982. The planned sequel eventually evolved into the Swordquest series of games. In 2005, a sequel written by Curt Vendel was released by Atari on the Atari Flashback 2 system. In 2007, AtariAge released a self-published sequel called Adventure II for the Atari 5200, which is heavily inspired by the original; its name is used with permission from Atari Interactive. Robinett himself took the idea of using items from Adventure into his next game, Rocky's Boots, but added the ability to combine them to form new items.
In both the novel and film versions of Ready Player One, the Easter egg in Adventure is prominently mentioned as the inspiration for a contest to find an Easter egg hidden in the fictional virtual reality game OASIS, and finding the secret room within Adventure is a core plot element within both versions, with footage from the game (specifically the Easter egg) incorporated into the film version.
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- Atari Flashback Classics, Vol. 2 (PS4, XBox1, 2016 and Switch 2018)
- Atari Flashback Portable, 60 game and 70 game versions (2016, 2017)
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