Happy birthday, Don Woods

Today (April 30th) is the birthday of Don Woods, one of the two authors of the original Adventure. (And also one of the designers of INTERCAL (1972). And also one of the six(?) coauthors1 of the 1983 Hacker’s Dictionary.)

If you have never heard of Adventure — or if you have heard of it, vaguely, via references to “xyzzy” or “twisty little passages”, but have never played it — then you are missing out on a great experience in computer gaming history. You can find many, many versions of Adventure online, including my own faithful port which I will surely write more about at some point.

For those who have played Adventure, I highly recommend Dennis Jerz’s long research paper Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave (2007). It describes the relationship of Crowther’s original game to the “meatspace” Bedquilt Cave, and also engages in extensive source diving to highlight some of Woods’ contributions (and vice versa, debunk some myths about the original):

An examination of this table reveals several insights. Crowther’s original version contains no vocabulary words to represent commands for saving a game, reporting the score, or taking inventory of possessions; all these elements were added by Woods. One of the most versatile objects in the Crowther/Woods collaboration, the bottle — which can be empty or full, and refilled with water or oil — exists in a greatly simplified form in the Crowther original. The word “BOTTL[E]” and the word “WATER” both have the number 1020, indicating that the container and its contents were treated by Crowther as the same object. There are table entries for “POUR” and “DRINK,” both of which will set a flag that indicates the bottle is empty; yet there are no commands for refilling the bottle. Since the last prop in this list is 1023, the numbering suggests Crowther added the bottle at a late stage in the game’s development.

Source divers will certainly appreciate the 1998 collaboration between Don Woods and Don Knuth that produced a translation of Adventure into a CWEB “literate program”. The beautiful (and fairly informative, and fairly entertaining) result is here, and is also included as pages 235–395 of Knuth’s Selected Papers on Fun & Games (2011).

Don Woods actually lives pretty close to me in the grand scheme of things — down in South Bay — and I went to visit him once, about five years ago, during the time I was developing Colossal Cave: The Board Game. He is an avid board gamer — his home page lists Race for the Galaxy and Dominion among his favorites — and so he had some people over and we played a prototype of CC:TBG, and also a game or two of San Juan if I recall correctly, and generally a good time was had by all. In other words, last I checked, he’s a good programmer and a good guy.

Happy birthday, Don Woods!

Posted 2018-04-30