Adventure (1979 video game)

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This article is about the Atari 2600 video game. For other games with the same name, see Adventure (disambiguation).
Adventure Box Cover
Developer(s) Atari, Inc
Publisher(s) Atari, Inc
Designer(s) Warren Robinett
Platform(s) Atari 2600, PC, PlayStation 2, Xbox, Nintendo DS, iOS
Release date(s) Christmas 1979[1][2] or 1980[3][4]
Genre(s) Action-adventure, maze, fantasy
Mode(s) Single-player

Adventure is a video game for the Atari 2600 video game console, released at Christmas time in 1979[1][2] or 1980.[3][4] In the game, the player controls a square avatar whose quest is to hunt an open world environment for a magical chalice, returning it to the golden castle. The game world is populated by roaming enemies: dragons, which can eat the avatar; and a bat, which randomly steals and hides items around the game world.

Adventure was conceived as a graphical version of the 1977 text adventure Colossal Cave Adventure. It took developer 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. 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.

As the first action-adventure and console fantasy game, and with more than one million vintage copies sold, Adventure inspired the creation of those genres. It has been included in numerous Atari 2600 game collections.


According to the game's instructions, an evil magician has stolen the Enchanted Chalice and hidden it somewhere in the kingdom. The player's goal is to find the Chalice and return it to the Golden Castle.[5] The player character, represented by a square avatar, explores a multi-screen landscape containing castles, mazes, and various rooms, with thirty rooms in all. Hidden throughout the world are a sword, keys that unlock each of the three castles (golden, black, and white), a magic bridge that allows the avatar to travel through barriers, and a magnet that attracts the other items toward it.[6] 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.[7]

Roaming the world are three dragons. Yorgle, the yellow dragon, is afraid of the gold key and will run from it. He roams the game freely, but can guard the Chalice or help the other dragons guard items.[8] Grundle, the green dragon, guards the magnet, the bridge, the black key, and the chalice.[8] Rhindle, the red dragon, is the fastest and most aggressive. He guards the white key and chalice.[8]

The dragons have four possible states, all indicated with different sprites: chasing the player, biting, having swallowed the player's avatar, and death.[9] When initially encountered, a dragon is in the chase state. When a dragon collides with the avatar, it will enter the bite state, freezing in place. After a fraction of the second, the dragon completes the bite. If the dragon has a second collision with the avatar at that moment, it swallows the avatar,[10] who becomes trapped in the dragon's belly.[9] The delay between biting and swallowing is shorter if the console's left difficulty switch is in the "A" position.[11] While biting, a dragon cannot be killed.

When eaten by a dragon, a player does not need to start again. Hitting the game reset switch reincarnates the player back at the Yellow Castle. As a penalty, any dead dragons are reincarnated as well; the objects all remain in place at the time of the player's death, including whatever items the avatar may have been carrying.[9] This is one of the earliest usages of the "continue game" feature, now common in video games. Hitting the game select switch after death returns the game to the game select screen, losing the current game's state.

The sword is used to kill dragons. The arrow-shaped end of the sword was designed to improve the chances of scoring such a hit.[12] If the console's rightmost difficulty switch is in the "A" position, the dragons will run away when they see the sword.[13]

The player in the catacombs of the White Castle, carrying the White Key and being chased by the green dragon, Grundle.

A black bat roams the entire game world randomly carrying any single object, including live or dead dragons, which it occasionally swaps with another object along its flight path. The bat was the first video game character to have two possible states: agitated and non-agitated.[14] In the agitated state, the bat is ready to swap items. In the non-agitated, or ignore state, the bat is content with its current item. This ignore state lasts for about ten seconds, to prevent the bat from getting stuck in a single room swapping back between two items endlessly.[10] The bat can swap items even in areas where the player is not present.[15] The bat was added to the game with the intention of adding unpredictability and confusion to the game.[10]

The bat continues to fly even after the player has been killed, and occasionally the bat will pick up the dragon whose stomach contains the player's avatar, giving the player a whirlwind tour of the Adventure universe. The player can sometimes trap the bat inside castles, or can capture and carry it. The creature's name was intended to be Knubberrub, but that name was not included in the manual.[16]

There are three different games available via the game select switch:

  • Level 1 is a simplified version of the game and does not have the red dragon, the bat, the catacombs, the white castle, or the maze inside the black castle. The objects in game 1 are always in the same starting locations.[17]
  • Level 2 is the full version, having all the features described. At the start of a new game, the objects' locations are always the same.[18]
  • Level 3 is similar to Game 2, but the initial locations of the objects are randomized, providing a different game each time.[18]

The player always begins at the Golden Castle.


Warren Robinett presenting a postmortem of Adventure's development at GDC 2015

Adventure was published by the console's developer, Atari, Inc. It was inspired by a computer text game, Colossal Cave Adventure, created by Will Crowther and modified by Don Woods,[1] and was named after their game.[19] Regardless of discouragement from his boss at Atari who said it could not be done,[20] game designer Warren Robinett began designing a graphic game loosely based on the text game in June 1978.[21]

The Atari 2600 has a number of technical limitations, for which Robinett devised workaround techniques. The system has five memory-mapped registers available to represent moving objects. Only two 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.[22]

The total storage space which is occupied by the game program is 4096 bytes (4 KB) on the cartridge ROM,[15] and 128 bytes for program variables in the 2600's RAM.[23] 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.[24] The notable exceptions are 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.[25]

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. At the time of the game's creation, Atari did not credit any of its authors for their work.[26] Robinett included a hidden message in the game identifying himself as the creator,[20] thus creating one of the earliest known Easter eggs in a video game. It occupies 5% of the storage space on the cartridge.[27] Atari found out about the Easter egg when it received a letter from a fifteen-year-old player, but left it in the game, partially due to the expense of creating a new read-only memory (ROM) mask, or memory chip, which was $10,000 US in the early years after the game's release.[28]

Robinett submitted the source code for Adventure to Atari management in June 1979;[29] he left Atari soon afterward.[30] 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,[1] and a 1979 date is also listed in various other sources.[2][31][32][33] Atari began advertising the game as "coming soon" in its 1980 catalog,[34] and several sources indicate the game was released that year, after the Atari 2600 version of Space Invaders was released in January.[3][4]

Easter egg[edit]

Further information: Easter egg (media)
The Adventure Easter egg: "Created by Warren Robinett."
The Easter egg as it exists in the Atari Jakks Pacific port of the original Adventure game where the creator's name, Warren Robinett, was removed and replaced with "TEXT?"

Inside the black castle catacombs (on difficulty level 2 or 3), embedded in the south wall of a sealed chamber (accessible only with the bridge), is an invisible 1-pixel object referred to as the Gray Dot.[35] The player must bounce the avatar along the bottom wall to pick up the dot. The dot is not actually invisible, but is simply the same color as the wall and is easily seen when placed in a catacombs passage or over a normal wall. The dot is not attracted to the magnet, unlike most other objects in Adventure.

Bringing this dot to the east end of the corridor below the Yellow Castle while other differently colored objects are present causes the wall object to similarly become effectively invisible, allowing the player to pass into a room displaying the words "Created by Warren Robinett".[26]

Robinett kept the Gray Dot a secret for over a year. 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, a fifteen-year-old from Salt Lake City discovered the Dot, and sent a letter to Atari explaining how to retrieve it. Robinett had already quit the company by this point, so Atari tasked designers with finding the responsible code. The one 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". Atari eventually decided to leave the Dot in-game, and dubbed such hidden features Easter eggs,[36] saying they would be adding more such secrets to later games.[37]

This Easter egg became a cornerstone of the hunt for the Easter egg hidden in the fictional virtual reality game OASIS in the novel Ready Player One.[38]

The Easter egg text with Warren Robinett's name was removed from the Atari (Jakks Pacific) port of the game and replaced with "TEXT?".


Review scores
Publication Score
AllGame 5/5 stars [39]
How to Win at Home Video Games 4/10 stars [40]

Adventure received mixed reviews in the years immediately after its release, but it has generally been viewed more positively in subsequent decades.

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.[41] 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."[40] 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".[19]

Atari Headquarters scored the game 8 of 10, and noted its historical importance while panning the graphics and sound, concluding that Adventure was "very enjoyable" regardless of its technological shortcomings.[42]

Jeremy Parish of 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".[31]


Atari's Adventure yielded sales of one million copies, making it the seventh best selling Atari 2600 game in history.[43] As the first action-adventure video game[43] and first console fantasy game,[19] Adventure established its namesake genres on video game consoles.[44] In addition to being the first graphical adventure game on the Atari 2600 console,[15] 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.[14] The game is also the first to use a fog of war effect in its catacombs, which obscures most of the playing area except for the player's immediate surroundings.[45] The game has been voted the best Atari 2600 cartridge in numerous polls,[14] and has been noted as a significant step in the advancement of home video games.[46] GamePro ranked it as the 28th most important video game of all time in 2007.[47] In 2010, listed it as one of the most important games ever made in its "The Essential 50" feature.[31]

A sequel to Adventure was first announced in early 1982. The planned sequel eventually evolved into the Swordquest series of games.[48] 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.[49]

Ports and re-releases[edit]

Adventure has been ported to or re-released on several platforms:


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