William Crowther

William Crowther

William ("Willie" or "Will") Crowther (born 1936) is a computer programmer and caver. He is best known as the co-creator of "Colossal Cave Adventure", a seminal computer game that influenced the first decade of game design and created a new game genre, text adventures.


During the early 1970s Crowther worked at defense contractor and Internet pioneer Bolt Beranek and Newman (BBN), where he was part of the originalsmall ARPANET development team. His implementation of a distributed distancevector routing system for the ARPANET was an important step in the evolution ofthe Internet.

Following his divorce from his wife Patricia, Crowther began using his spare time to develop a simple text-based adventure game in FORTRAN on BBN's PDP-10. He created it as a diversion his daughters Sandy and Laura could enjoy when they came to visit. (Montfort, 2003, pp. 85–87)

In "Adventure", the player moves around an imaginary cave system by entering simple, two-word commands and reading text describing the result. Crowther used his extensive knowledge of cave exploration as a basis for the game play, and there are many similarities between the locations in the game and those in Mammoth Cave, particularly its Bedquilt section. (Montfort, 2003, p. 88) In 1975 Crowther released the game on the early ARPANET system, of which BBN was a prime contractor. (Montfort, 2003, p. 89)

In the Spring of 1976, he was contacted by Stanford researcher Don Woods, seeking his permission to enhance the game. Crowther agreed, and Woods developed several enhanced versions on a PDP-10 housed in the Stanford Artificial Intelligence Laboratory (SAIL) where he worked. (Montfort, 2003, p. 89) Over the following decade the game gained in popularity, being ported to many operating systems, including personal-computer platform CP/M.

The basic game structure invented by Crowther (and based in part on the example of the ELIZA text parser) was carried forward by the designers of later adventure games. Marc Blank and the team that created the Zork adventures cite "Adventure" as the title that inspired them to create their game. They later founded Infocom and published a series of popular text adventures.

The location of the game in "Colossal Cave" was not a coincidence. Will and his first wife Pat Crowther were active and dedicated cavers in the 1960s and early 1970s—both were part of many expeditions to connect the Mammoth and Flint Ridge cave systems. Pat played a key role in the September 9, 1972 expedition that finally made the connection. (Brucker, 1976, p. 299)

As a member of the MIT Outing Club during the late 1950s and early 1960s, Will has also played an important role in the development of rock climbing in the Shawangunks in New York State. (Waterman, 1993, p. 146) He began climbing there in the 1950s and continues to climb today. He made the first ascent of several classic routes including Arrow, Hawk, Moonlight, and Senté. Some of these routes sparked controversy because protection bolts were placed on rappel; a new tactic that Crowther and several others began to use at the time. The community reaction to this technique was an important part of the evolution of climbing ethics in the Shawangunks and beyond.

Will continues to lead an active life. On June 15th 2008, at the age of 73, Will became a certified SCUBA diver in Lake George, NY. Fact|date=June 2008


* Dibbell, Julian: "A Marketable Wonder - Spelunking the American Imagination", [http://www.juliandibbell.com/texts/cavespace.html]
* Brucker, Roger W.; Watson, Richard A. (1976). "The Longest Cave". New York: Knopf. ISBN 0-8093-1321-9.
* Montfort, Nick (2003). "Twisty Little Passages: An Approach To Interactive Fiction". Cambridge: The MIT Press. ISBN 0-262-13436-5.
* When Wizards Stay Up Late, by Katie Hafner and Matthew Lyon
* , by Steven Levy
* The Soul of a New Machine, by Tracy Kidder
* "Computing in the Middle Ages: A View From the Trenches 1955-1983" by Severo Ornstein ISBN 978-1403315175
*IMP team photo, BBN [http://www.livinginternet.com/i/ii_imp.htm]

External links

Jerz, D.G. 2007. [http://www.digitalhumanities.org/dhq/vol/001/2/000009.html Somewhere Nearby is Colossal Cave: Examining Will Crowther's Original "Adventure" in Code and in Kentucky] . "Digital Humanities Quarterly" 1:2, summer 2007.

NAME = Crowther, William
SHORT DESCRIPTION = computer programmer and caver

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