The true story behind the first interactive fiction game

“Will Crowther, who never made another game, is now considered interactive fiction’s J.D. Salinger.”

One of the most known interactive text adventures from the 1970s, Colossal Cave Adventure, challenged players to travel through a treacherous and long tunnel with untold riches at its end. Something of a coding feat, Colossal Cave Adventure was the first-ever work of interactive fiction, an innovation that led the way for mediums like modern video games, roleplaying games, AR and VR. 

IF fans may not realize though that the game isn’t just a product of imagination, however. Its author Will Crowther based it upon memories of caving with his wife, Patricia Crowther.

With more than 700 lines of FORTRAN code he turned their experiences of Mammoth Cave, which the couple had previously plotted, into a navigable digital world.

But the coding didn’t happen until after the couple divorced. Alone and surrounded by all their maps, including an extensive survey of the Bedquilt section of Mammoth Cave they’d made together in the summer of 1974, Will Crowther consoled himself with long Dungeons & Dragons campaigns and late nights coding at home.

When his daughters Sandy and Laura visited their father, they usually found him hard at work on a long and elegantly structured string of FORTRAN code. He told them it was a computer game, and that when he was done, it would be theirs to play.

As OneZero writer Claire L Evans says in a recent piece, “Will Crowther, who never made another game, is now considered interactive fiction’s J.D. Salinger.”

Watch for more:

For more details on Will Crowther’s long journey building Collossal Cave Adventure, visit OneZero.

Play The War of the Worlds free now.

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StoryFix Media creates interactive fiction games and novels.

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