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Ken and Roberta Williams’ Colossal Cave is secretly a turn-based game

One of January’s most interesting upcoming games is Colossal Cave, a 3D version of the classic and highly influential text adventure game made in the Unity game engine by Sierra On-Line co-founders Ken and Roberta Williams. At first glance, their version of Colossal Cave looks like a typical real-time, first-person adventure game like Gone Home. But in an interview with Digital Trends, the Williamses revealed that their 3D, first-person adventure version of the game is secretly turn-based, just like the original text-based Colossal Cave Adventure.  

“The original game was turn-based, as you’d type in one- or two-word commands, and it would then tell you what’s happening,” Roberta Williams explained to Digital Trends. “Ken figured out how to emulate, programming-wise, a turn-based game [within Colossal Cave]. You don’t notice that if you’re playing it. You’re not going to get the sense that you’re playing a turn-based game, but it is.”

Gold puzzle in Colossal Cave.

Quit or complete a Colossal Cave run, and you’ll see that the game counts the number of turns you had during your playthrough. That’s because the game secretly tallies up specific actions, including looking at something new, entering a new room, and clicking an inventory item on something. Ken Williams admits that this secret turn-based structure has been a major subject of debate within the development team, as Cygnus Entertainment is currently discussing whether obtaining room descriptions should count for a turn. Still, it’s a surprising aspect of Colossal Cave that helps it stick out from other games in the genre.

Regardless, Ken Williams also has a tip for players trying to min-max the number of turns taken and the score they receive: avoid reading instructions in-game on repeated playthroughs. “The game gives more moves if you take instructions than if you don’t,” Ken says. “The best strategy for playing the game is to ask for instructions while you are learning to play, and then play again, without instructions, when you are going for the maximum score. “

Stay tuned for our full interview with Ken and Roberta on Monday, January 16. Colossal Cave will be released for PC, PS5, Xbox Series X, Nintendo Switch, and Meta Quest 2 on January 19. 

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