Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The words "frustrating" and "'fun" don't pop up often in the same sentence, but I think both words could be used to adequately describe Infocom's classic text game of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy.
Penned by HG2G mastermind Douglas Adams about a quarter of a century ago (gah!) it was one of many pitstops taken by the story as it traveled from medium to medium. And, like all of Adams' other translations of HG2G, it sometimes contradicted other versions of the story (as well as sometimes contradicting itself.)
This game emerged in the days of "text adventures," a short-lived era that also produced the original Zork games. It didn't take long for programmers to figure out how to add graphics and music to the events, though, with games like Questprobe, Danger Mouse, Maniac Mansion and Monkey Island evolving from those early efforts.
And HG2G isn't content to simply walk you through a story. It's loaded with jokes, some of them at your expense. At one point in the game, for example, you have to find your way through a not-so-difficult maze of spaceship corridors. There are only three ways to go, but all appear to lead to dead ends. Only one of them is not a dead end ... the game is simply lying to you and will admit to such if you continue to pressure it. Bastard.
And then there's the famous solution to the game, which is probably responsible for more than a few aneurysms. It's been about 25 years since I was snookered by the game and I'm still equal parts bemused and pissed off.
The version of the game I had as a kid came with a "Don't Panic" button, a zip lock bag holding a microscopic fleet of spaceships, a pair of panic-sensitive sunglasses (made of black cardboard) and some navel lint. That last little item was a clue, though I wouldn't know it until it was too late.

The game maintains a cult following and has been revived a number of times. It's even been tweeked during some of these revisions, sometimes in splendid ways. You can currently play it online for free at BBC Radio 4, pictured above. Check it out.

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