Years ago, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a fine and unique antidote for all the humorless sci-fi futurism of Robert Heinlein’s Stranger in A Strange Land, Arthur C. Clarke’s The Garden of Rama, Frank Herbert’s Dune and the awful Michael Moorcock that so captivated so many of my contemporaries. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was definitely one of my all-time favorite books. Later, partially thanks to his creativity and an ability to think outside the clichés of the rigid conceptual boxes of the time, its author, Douglas Adams, helped create a game of the same name.
This is not a ‘modern’-type game. A text adventure game —the description won’t mean much if you’re less than 40-years-old, but it’s definitely an opportunity to learn something new, original and cool for free! The BBC has issued The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Game – 30th Anniversary Edition. And like I said, it’s free to play on your browser.
The original game, launched in 1984, was a text game into which you typed instructions and the game responded by offering you a description of your surroundings and then what has happened as a result of each previous action. The 30th Anniversary Edition game remains essentially unchanged and the original writing by Douglas Adams remains untouched. It is still played by entering commands and pressing return. Read the text, follow your judgment and before you inevitably get killed you will have many adventures.
A text adventure works like this: You’re given a brief description of where you are and what you see. No graphics, no sound effects, just text. To progress you type commands: “Open door,” “Pick up key,” “Go north,” and so forth. Atypically, Hitchhiker begins by telling you that you’re shocked awake by the dawn as you wipe the sleep from your eyes and focus, finding yourself shackled by the ankles in a room of shadows with nothing but a cot and a bowl to do your business in. There’s nothing to shoot here, no candy to crush, no ridiculous birds to toss at pigs. It’s just you and your keyboard against the game’s AI. Figure out the right commands to enter at the right moments – and be sure to avoid the inconvenience of dying, which can actually happen quite often.
Minimalism rules but the blessed BBC smoothes your experience somewhat. There are some neat basic wireframe graphics representing your surroundings, a visual inventory, a directional control pad, move and score counters, and even some goofy-ass occasional sound effects. I have to fess up to the fact that this is a more winning experience for the player than the original silent, text-only game. Fear not if you love the book, all of Adams’ humor remains intact. This game makes many rib-tickling jokes. Animals and aliens, you see, as you may or may not know, make excellent ammunition.
The new interface brings in some excellent new functions. There’s the location screen where superb illustrations of locations by Rod Lord and Nolan Worthington bring the scenes to life. There is a single illustration of the scene as it is when you arrive for each of the locations, although it does not update when you pick up one of the objects pictured. When you examine an object you get details of it and an attached diagram. It will take a while to get used to, but the information will appear in the location screen, then disappear and reappear as you do something else.
Below the location screen is the inventory, which allows you to keep track of all of the items you have picked up. Click on an item, its name will appear in the command line. To drop an item, type ‘Drop’, click on the item and hit ‘return’ and it will drop off. Double click on any item you and get its full details in the location screen.
When you first start, this will be dark, but Earth will show an icon of planet Earth in blue. Each zone is different, and each output element reflects the color of your zone. A compass shows you which direction you are facing in.
Anyway, if you have the time, patience and an old school love of the out-of-the-ordinary that tickles the funny bone this is a fantastic free toy that will make you look very sage as you explain it to kids and innocent bystanders.