Mark Bult Design: San Francisco, CA, Established 1988

Web design and development for small and large business, e-commerce, b2b, b2c, SAAS, and community websites. User experience design and usability testing.

Tuesday, February 15, 2005

Interactive fiction

Back in the mid-'80s, a then-famous computer game company named Infocom put out a game version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Notice that I called it a "computer game" company, not a "video game" company. This was well before video games took off. Not before they existed, just before they exploded and turned into the huge industry they are now.

Infocom made what they termed "interactive fiction" games. Perhaps you remember (or at least have heard of) Zork. Or, if you're really cool, (or just really old and were a geek like I was when I was 12), you remember the game Adventure, which started on mainframes. Yes. Mainframes. This was pre-personal computers, people. Yes, I'm that old.

I was in high school when the Hitchhiker's game came out. Infocom was huge at the time, and it was huge that they were putting out a Hitchhiker's game. I remember pilfering a copy and playing it with my friend Jim Stickney on his Apple II. Yes, this was pre-Macintosh. Yes, I'm that old.

This was a role playing game. I know some of you have heard of that. You played the role of Arthur Dent, the hapless human whose house gets knocked down at the beginning of the book. And the radio series. And the record album. And the play. And the movie (but more about that later).

Unlike the RPGs of today, there were no graphics in this game. That's right, none at all. It was all ugly green text on a black screen (you did click on the Apple II link, didn't you?), almost as enjoyable to look at as a DOS startup screen. But it didn't need to be good-looking, because it was written by Douglas Adams. And it was brilliant. It contained all of his wit, all of the absurdity of the now well-known novels, and step after step it kept you guessing and anguishing and making mistakes and ending up dead and pulling your hair out (explains a lot, doesn't it?).

You see, the plot of the game, while based on the characters and events in the books, didn't exactly follow the storyline of the books. That's right, as usual, Douglas threw his fans into a tizzy by changing things around again, as he tended to do in each and every iteration of the infamous Hitchhiker's series. So, while it helps a lot to be familiar with the books, it doesn't mean you'll actually win the game.

Jim and I played that game to death. I think we finally solved it, but we certainly had to use the Hint Book (sold separately).

I still have the game and its cool packaging, or most of it anyway (it came with a Don't Panic button, some pocket fluff, and Vogon-signed orders for the destruction of the Earth, among other things). I even have the 5-inch floppy disk it came on, although you'd have a hard time finding anyone who still has a computer that can play it.

But the great thing is, now I don't have to.

The BBC has brought back the game, put it online, and even added a graphical interface so it's actually interesting to look at as well as frustrating as hell and completely and utterly enjoyable to play.

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Blogger monocle_man said...

Are you old and freaky enough to remember xyzzy?

2/16/2005 08:08:00 PM

Blogger ynnej said...

Did you know that this is Neil Gaiman's favorite game too?

2/21/2005 09:05:00 PM

Blogger espd said...

"Are you old and freaky enough to remember xyzzy?"

I guess I am neither old nor freaky enough. Alas.

"Did you know that this is Neil Gaiman's favorite game too?"

I did not, although I think he was joking when he said that to the interviewer.

2/24/2005 04:57:00 PM

Blogger ynnej said...

I wouldn't put it past him to be into cheesey shit like that. He's a pretty eccentric guy.

2/26/2005 01:31:00 AM


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