You wake up. The room is spinning very gently around your head. Or at least it would be if you could see it which you can’t.
If you recognize these sentences, then geek out with me. This past weekend was a joyous one for Douglas Adams fans. The delightful, classic Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy text adventure PC game was modernized and relaunched Saturday by the BBC Radio 4 Extra in honor of its 30th anniversary. March 8th was also the date of the Hitchhiker’s Guide radio show’s first broadcast in 1978. Episodes are being curated and rebroadcast here.
One of the first video games based on a science fiction book, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy sold an amazing 350,000 copies on its initial release for Apple II, Macintosh, Commodore 64, DOS, Amiga, Atari 8-bit, and Atari ST. 350,000 copies may not seem like a big deal now, but in 1984 when PC owners were very much in the minority, it was almost unheard of. It placed the game solidly in Infocom’s all-time top five bestsellers.
Gaming in the olden days…
The original packaging included a “Don’t Panic!” pin-on button, a packet of “pocket fluff” (a cottonball), the order for destruction of Arthur Dent’s house, the order for destruction of Earth written in Vogon, official Microscopic Space Fleet (an empty plastic bag), Peril Sensitive Sunglasses (made of black cardboard), the brochure How Many Times Has This Happened to You?, and no tea (a recurring theme in the game). The online 20th anniversary edition won an Interactive BAFTA Award for Best Online Entertainment in 2004. Still located on BBC Radio 4’s ancient server, it has never stopped attracting visitors on a daily basis. The new version has HD graphics and sound, as well as a Twitter feed @h2g2game.
I have unsuccessfully tried to explain to my offspring that, even though our Jurassic-era PC games lacked sound and graphics, they were still fun! Like Planet Fall and other Infocom games, playing Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy meant that you died in a multitude of ludicrous ways. Mashable’s Stan Shroeder called the game “infamously hard and wickedly funny. Often the most logical course of action will only yield a sarcastic remark from the game’s AI engine, while to progress you must do something completely ridiculous.” Many puzzles, especially the first few, were notoriously difficult to solve even if you had read the book. There were even T-shirts printed up by Infocom for braggarts wanting the world to know they had freed the Babel fish.
An early review of the game from 1985 in Personal Computer News said:
I doubt if there’s ever been anything funnier on a computer than this. That goes for the adventure itself which veers from the storyline of the book, but I was so overcome with the excitement at getting a babel fish out of the dispenser that I couldn’t go any further. Buy it.
A walk-through of the original text game: