The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Posted by Joshua Mintzer.
First posted on 10 July 1998. Last updated on 12 August 2009.
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The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
The game is based on the novel series of the same name.

In 1984 during the golden age of Infocom when interactive fiction is king, Douglas Adams is asked to write a text adventure game based on his popular BBC sci-fi series The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Intrigued by the possibility that computers can tell stories, he readily agrees. The game he has created with Infocom is The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, based on his book series of the same name. The game is richly described, backed by an excellent forgiving parser, and more fun to play than you can shake a stick at. The only dark spot in an otherwise sterling effort is Adams' convoluted sense of logic, compounded by an unsatisfying ending. Other frustrations of the game owe more to the paradigm of game design from the early era of interactive fiction than anything Adams has done himself.

You are Arthur Dent. Waking up with a massive headache, you soon find out that this is the "Very Worst Thursday There Ever Was". Your house is being torn down to make way for a new bypass. Your best friend of 8 years, Ford Prefect, is really an alien from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Beatelgeiuse. Oh, ironically enough, the Earth is about to suffer the same fate as your now demolished house and for roughly the same reasons. Before the day is out, you find yourself ended up on an alien spaceship, subjected to the Universe's Second Worst Poetry, and blown out from an airlock. Can you believe this is a comedy, folks?

The game roughly follows the events from the beginning of the first book in The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy series to the point where Arthur Dent and company step onto the surface of Magrethea. A sequel is initially planned, but has never been completed after Adams turns his attention to writing the Dirk Gently book series. There is not much you can say about the production value in of a text adventure, or is there? The description of each location in the game is smashingly done, full of vibrant detail, though sometimes it may be too wordy. Still, you can easily get a mental picture of where you are, what the room looks like, and how to navigate around. Of course, this is the sort of imaginative jazz and detail that Infocom is best known for. This is what interactive fiction is meant to be. Like any great book, the sights and sounds are all generated by the best computer available--your mind! I suppose this sort of old thinking does not wash with the majority of game players in this day.

The game is based on the concept of interactive fiction told through a story interpreter pioneered by Infocom. The Infocom story interpreter is platform independent, and the game themselves are complied for a virtual computer architecture called the Z-Machine. There have been 5 versions of this game released since 1984 using two different versions of Z-Machine. The last version dated 1987 uses Version 5 of Z-Machine. The game supports 31 rooms and 45 objects, with a vocabulary of 971 words and 10,723 opcodes.

The text parser in this game is quiet advanced and is able to give out helpful tips if you are having trouble phrasing your commands while occasionally letting you know if you are on the wrong track. This is a vast improvement over earlier versions of the parser, such as those used in the first 3 games in the Zork series. The game is not the pinnacle of development like Beyond Zork, but it is still damn good! The story progresses along in a rather nice and linear fashion until about the latter half. From there, it suddenly transforms to become a game largely on exploring many different paths, events, and even lives. Despite the fact that some of the puzzles in this text adventureare infuriating, it is really quite satisfying when you realize how each of the little mini-quests you are sent on fits into the overall goal of the game--a nice ah-ha quality that makes playing such titles worthwhile.

Amongst the many game devices used to enhance the gameplay I like the most are the cute little toys scattered throughout. My favorite is the "weird thing your aunt gave you". You can cram a tremendous amount of items into it, lightening up your inventory. Even better is the fact that no matter where you are or where you go, if you drop it, it returns to you in 6 turns. This greatly alleviated inventory juggling throughout the game. Another example of clever game devices is the primitive "Infinity Improbability Device" you create midway through the game. I shall not give away any spoiler on how to build it, but some of the most interesting parts of the game occur as you jump from one body to another, having little adventures that are all just infinitely improbable! This is definitely a game where there is a lot to see and even more to do.

A high point occurs midway through the game when the storyline becomes semi-nonlinear. There are all sorts of strange items to collect and play. Of course, the Guide device is probably most useful device in the game. Richly detailed rooms and a well thought out story have made this game a joy to play. At the very least, there are hours and hours worth of gameplay crammed into this little title.

One of the biggest complaints of this game is Adams' infamous sense of logic. Even though his puzzles may seem logical in hindsight, what is logical to Adams is not usually quite so obvious to the rest of us initially. Nowhere is this truer than in this game. I do not want to give too much away without spoiling the game for you, but suffice to say there are more than a few puzzles where you may be ripping your hair out. This is not an easy game for novices. The only advice I can give you to help is this—consult the Guide about everything (no matter how trivial it seems), ask it about every item in your inventory, and pick up everything (no matter how inconsequential it may seem). In addition, there are several puzzles, including the infamous "Babel Fish" puzzle, where if you do not do everything correctly you may be stuck at the end of the game and be forced to restart. The ending of this game is somewhat anticlimactic. After spending a lot of time on the game whereby you end up having to go naked (believe it or not), all you get is a a single screen worth of description of the planet's surface, followed by a little note telling us to buy the sequel! Well... 14 years, and we are still counting!

The success of this game is seen in the fact that over 350,000 copies of this game has been sold over its 4-year release. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy is a surprisingly faithful rendition of the Adams' written work, with richly detailed descriptions and more fun gizmos than a Sirrus Cybernetics warehouse. This is not an ideal game for novice adventure gamers. While the ending is somewhat disappointing, I feel this is a game where the journey is more important (and enjoyable) than the end.

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