March 13, 2014

Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text-based game is the answer to life, the universe, and everything


400px-The_Hitchhiker's_Guide_to_the_Galaxy,_english.svgHold on to your towels, folks: BBC Radio 4 has put up a free, online version of the 1984 text-based Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game. You can tell your productivity “So long and thanks for all the fish,” because the game is delightfully snarky and fiendishly hard. I didn’t even make it to 42 moves before, after being hit in the head with a brick, I “expire[d] in silence.”

The original version, put together by Infocom’s Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams himself, sold 350,000 copies when it first came out, according to BBC Radio 4. That’s 350,000 people (and all of their bratty younger siblings and mooching friends) who were willing to sit and stare at white text on black screen as they tried to navigate the labyrinthine network of commands it takes to get Arthur Dent out of his house and across the galaxy alive. Ten years ago, BBC Radio 4 put up a fancier flash version of the game on their site for the 20th anniversary. They left Adams’s writing largely alone, and the result was fantastic. As the site explains, “their efforts made a big impact, and not only raised the traffic to the Radio 4 website by 1000%, but also scooped a BAFTA.”

Adams’s brilliant repartee certainly helps take the edge off of the sheer frustration of dying before you even get to the pub, but the new 30th anniversary version has some added functionality to help. Thanks to the new HTML5 coding, users can now save their game if they have a site login, and can tweet from within the game. But why stop there? BBC Radio 4 explains how “things started to get silly”:

“Having covered the basics, we decided to slip in an ‘Any’ key, just because we could. The $, % and ^ symbols were replaced with new ones for the Altarian Dollar, Flanian Pobble Bead and the Triganic Pu, not because they are needed in the game, but just because we felt like it. We then decided that rather than having a simple functionality where the user could tweet, we would allow the game itself to tweet, based on the actions of users in the game.”

Radio 4 even has the original game hints as written by Adams, with questions like “Is it important to stop my house from being destroyed?” being answered by gems such as “If you owned a house, even a little ugly one like Arthur’s, wouldn’t you want to keep it from getting destroyed?”

So check out the game! But be aware that your interest in doing anything else is going to drop faster than a whale hurtling towards a planet.


Sadie Mason-Smith is a Melville House intern.