Classic ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy’ video game gets a makeover for its 30th anniversary


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:

Posted by Kimberly J. Bright | Leave a comment
Back to the future: Douglas Adams’s ‘Hyperland’

In 1990, Douglas Adams wrote and presented a “fantasy documentary” called Hyperland for the BBC. In it Adams dreamt of a future where he would be able “to play a more active role in the information he chooses to digest.” Adams throws away his TV and is met by:

[a] software agent, Tom (played by Tom Baker), [who] guides Douglas around a multimedia information landscape, examining (then) cuttting-edge research by the SF Multimedia Lab and NASA Ames research center, and encountering hypermedia visionaries such as Vannevar Bush and Ted Nelson. Looking back now, it’s interesting to see how much he got right and how much he didn’t: these days, no one’s heard of the SF Multimedia Lab, and his super-high-tech portrayal of VR in 2005 could be outdone by a modern PC with a 3D card. However, these are just minor niggles when you consider how much more popular the technologies in question have become than anyone could have predicted - for while Douglas was creating Hyperland, a student at CERN in Switzerland was working on a little hypertext project he called the World Wide Web…

Hyperland is an excellent film - prescient, fascinating and greatly entertaining.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
Douglas Adams’s Doctor Who story to be published

A novelization of the “lost” Doctor Who serial “Shada”, scripted by Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy author Douglas Adams in 1979, will be published next year, the Guardian reports:

Adams wrote three series of Doctor Who in the late 1970s, when he was in his twenties and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was first airing as a BBC radio comedy. “Shada” was intended as a six-part drama to finish off the 17th season, with Tom Baker in the role of the Doctor.

The story features the Time Lord coming to Earth with assistant Romana (Lalla Ward) to visit Professor Chronotis, who has absconded from Gallifrey, the Doctor’s home planet, and now lives quietly at Cambridge college St Cedd’s. (The Doctor: “When I was on the river I heard the strange babble of inhuman voices, didn’t you, Romana?” Professor Chronotis: “Oh, probably undergraduates talking to each other, I expect.”)

Chronotis has brought with him the most powerful book in the universe, The Worshipful and Ancient Law of Gallifrey - which, in a typical touch of Adams bathos, turns out to have been borrowed from his study by a student. Evil scientist Skagra, an escapee from prison planet Shada, is on its trail.

Large parts of the story had already been filmed on location in Cambridge before industrial action at the BBC brought production to a halt. The drama was never finished, and in the summer of 1980 “Shada” was abandoned – although various later projects attempted to resurrect it.

Douglas Adams’s Doctor Who series are among the very few which have never been novelised, reportedly because the author wanted to do them himself but was always too busy. Gareth Roberts, a prolific Doctor Who scriptwriter, has now been given the job.

Publisher BBC Books declared the book “a holy grail” for Time Lord fans. Editorial director Albert De Petrillo said: “Douglas Adams’s serials for Doctor Who are considered by many to be some of the best the show has ever produced. Shada is a funny, scary, surprising and utterly terrific story, and we’re thrilled to be publishing the first fully realised version of this Doctor Who adventure as Douglas originally conceived it.”

Ed Victor, the literary agent representing the Douglas Adams estate, said: “The BBC have been asking us for years [to allow a novelisation of Shada] and the estate finally said, ‘Why not?’” Having Roberts novelise the Adams script was “like having a sketch on a canvas by Rubens, and now the studio of Rubens is completing it,” he added. The book will be published in March 2012 as a £16.99 hardback.

Adams died in 2001, and a posthumous collection of his work, including the unfinished novel The Salmon of Doubt, was published the following year. A Hitchhiker’s Guide followup, And Another Thing…., written by Eoin Colfer, was published in 2010, but Victor said there were “no plans at the moment” for more such sequels.

Bonus clip: Andrew Orton’s animation on the Daleks, inspired by Adams’s Hitchhiker’s Guide.


Posted by Paul Gallagher | Leave a comment
The new Word Lens iphone app is truly impressive
09:48 am


Douglas Adams
iPhone apps
Word Lens

I’m not someone who is over-impressed by gadgets and technology. I realize it’s almost heresy to admit this in today’s world, but even though I own a cell phone, I never, ever carry it. I just don’t like to be bothered. BUT, that is not to say I wasn’t kinda bowled over by the new iPhone app called “Word Lens” which was released yesterday from Quest Visual.

You simply point your iPhone’s video camera at text and it will do a real-time Spanish to English translation (or vice versa). Other languages to follow. As one of the reviewers points out, “It’s like a visual version of Douglas Adam’s Babblefish.”

That it is! Once they load up on some more languages, this puppy would really come in handy hitchhiking around the galaxy, eh?


Posted by Richard Metzger | Leave a comment