Classic Computer Magazine Archive COMPUTE! ISSUE 61 / JUNE 1985 / PAGE 58


The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy

Neil Randall

Requirements: Commodore 64 with a disk drive; Atari 400/800, XL, or XE with at least 48K RAM and a drive; Apple II-series computer with at least 48K RAM and a drive; Apple Macintosh; IBM PC, PCjr, or MS-DOS 2.0 compatible computer with at least 48K RAM and a drive; TI-99/4A with 48K RAM, a disk drive, and Extended BASIC or Mini-Memory or Editor/Assembler cartridge; or a Kaypro II with CP/M. Versions for the Apricot and Epson QX-10 are forthcoming.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy may well be Infocom's best effort to date. There are several reasons for this. First, the comic absurdity of Douglas Adams' popular radio/television/novel series translates well to Infocom's style of interactive fiction. Second, the story has a built-in sense of humor, which increases the player's enjoyment and reduces frustration. Third, the story itself is fascinating.

A best-selling novel and hit BBC radio series, later adapted for TV, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy follows the hilarious adventures in space of Arthur Dent. Dent is an ordinary Englishman who one day witnesses the destruction of Earth (to make room for an Intergalactic Bypass). He eventually gets caught in the problem of finding the ultimate question to Life, the Universe, and Everything. The story is filled with absurd characters and wonderfully illogical events.

The narrative nature of The Hitchhiker's Guide is well suited to Infocom's text-only adventure format. In addition, Infocom's software boasts the industry's most advanced parser, that part of an adventure program which interprets the commands you enter. This means you can enter commands as normal English sentences and generally the computer will understand you. Infocom adventures take a long time to play, mainly because each contains several major puzzles you must figure out.

Comic Relief

Infocom's version of the story begins like the original series. Playing the role of Arthur Dent, you awaken to the sight of a bulldozer about to demolish your home. Solving this puzzle is quite easy, but the next major puzzle, aboard the Vogon spacecraft, is more difficult. In order to understand all alien languages, you have to find a way to get a Babel Fish into your ear (honest!). Although somewhat frustrating, this puzzle is entirely true to the humor of the radio series, and even if you don't solve it, you'll get several good laughs.

Humor, in fact, is the game's saving grace. It distinguishes The Hitchhiker's Guide from several other Infocom adventures. Most Infocom games take a long, long time to play, and for the most part you are simply solving puzzles. After awhile the puzzles may become frustrating, and in desperation you may begin seeking out other people to assist you in your struggles.

Not so with The Hitchhiker's Guide. I am committed to solving the thing myself, since I believe I have as small a grasp on logic as did the original series. I am far enough into the adventure to report that the game's humor consistently prevents you from becoming too frustrated. Adams' humor is sprinkled throughout, in descriptions (one object you find is "the thing which your aunt gave you which you don't know what it is") and in the actions of the characters and robots (Marvin the Paranoid Android never fails to elicit a laugh). For Infocom's version of The Hitchhiker's Guide to be successful, it had to be consistently funny and consistently absurd. Happily, it is both.

It also had to diverge from the series in one major respect: Arthur Dent's role had to change from spectator to major participant. In the original story, Dent is swept along by the strange happenings around him. But interactive fiction is strongest when your character can, to some degree, affect those happenings. The role of passive observer does not translate well to an adventure program.

If it ever does, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy may be redone with a different emphasis. But until then, Infocom has given us a thoroughly enjoyable rendition of a delightfully bizarre story. Recommended for all adventure gamers.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
Infocom, Inc.
55 Wheeler Street
Cambridge, MA 02138
$34.95 (Atari & Commodore 64)
$39.95 (all other versions)