Galactic Hitchhiker (1980)   20 comments

The Ohio Scientific computer has been one of our more oddball and forgotten platforms, but due to the efforts of Aardvark there nevertheless was a set of original text adventures for the platform (including the first Star Trek adventure game).

The CompuKit UK101 was a clone of Ohio Scientific’s Superboard II (one of their earlier computers) from across the pond.

Post from c3ptik in the Stardot forums, and you should check there if you want a higher-res version.

The machine is notable for both being released early enough in the UK (1979) and having enough memory (8K, just like Ohio Scientific) that it ends up being the platform of the current winner in our long-running Search for Earliest Britventure.

(Technically, there’s a port of Adventure for the PET that came even earlier from Games Workshop, 16K of memory required, but from the descriptions it seems to be a direct port of Crowther/Woods.)

Our honor (ignoring the parenthetical above) goes to Mr. A. Knight of Cleveland, UK, for his UK101 game Galactic Hitchhiker. Gareth Pitchford has collected a set of ads for the game and found the earliest was at October 1980.

A later ad, from Practical Electronics, September 1981.

As you might suspect from the title, it is loosely (loosely!) based on Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Unlike Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy from a year later (which we’ll be playing next), it was not the target of a lawsuit, but again note the “loosely” — mainly it just copies the attitude, although there is a certain catchphrase that will feature very prominently.

Notice how it attempts an in-world explanation why the parser is going to be limited. You’re “helping” Maurice Marina with commands, Spike is sort of an “intermediary” between you and the avatar but mainly just makes the occasional comment on what is going on.

As Spike explains, Maurice Marina is stuck on a planet that is being evacuated, and your job is to get him home.

Weirdly enough, our avatar has a conversation with our computer guide.

It is squeezed into a tiny amount of space (the same as It Takes a Thief) and allows only a tiny verb-set:


(Even INVENTORY doesn’t work; you get a rucksack in your first move, and then OPEN RUCKSACK to find what you are carrying.) There’s also a fair number of spots you can die and no save-game feature, a good chunk is really just a “walking simulator”, exits are most not described so you can only map by testing every direction (GO NORTH, GO SOUTH, GO EAST, GO WEST, GO UP, GO DOWN) and if you successfully do a command, while it fails to give an error command, it isn’t clear what happened until you check the room (and LOOK alone doesn’t work, the only way I was able to re-examine a room was to leave and come back).

Still, this game is far better than it ought to be. I’d very tentatively recommend it (instructions are in this post although before you play you first need to do a “Cold start”, type “8192” when it ask memory size, and 46 when it asks terminal width, then double click RESET to restart the system — then you can pick up the instructions from there) although a port to something easier to work with would bump it up to … well, still only tentatively recommended. It has problems. But there are parts (likely partly spawned by often not worrying about describing exits) where the writing approaches something Good.

So for anyone brave enough to try it, veer away now, but for the rest of you, I’ve played it so you don’t have to:

Our hapless hero awakens without a ticket, although there is a rucksack nearby. All subsequent items are held in the rucksack.

This was me mapping things out; again, the room exits are generally left out, so there’s no way to know GO NORTH won’t work without testing it.

There’s not much to see on the starting planet, and it takes only few steps to go outside.


Most of the action involves wandering around and mapping. There’s even a maze, but it’s a “normal-connected” maze where going one direction and going back the opposite direction will return you to where you came from.

Eventually you’ll run into a “PASSENGER LIFT AT THE LAUNCH-PAD” where you find the escape vehicle has already left, and there’s a key left behind. The key lets you go in a small space-craft in another section which shortly after crash-lands on a new planet, Grecian 2000.

There’s a bit of ordinary-countryside wandering (a field blocked off by barbed wire, a chopping-axe, a ravine by a forest, a mountain, a lake with a “pit-prop” that’s a complete red herring) and managed to end my game for the first time in a glorious manner. I found “A LITTLE SHACK” with “A STILL” and “JUG”:


Spike here: He’s getting drunk!

Restart! This would go faster except the keyboard responsiveness of an antique 1 Mhz computer isn’t great, go figure. Anyway: get rucksack, find key, escape planet, crash on Grecian 2000, and keep wandering in circles for a while with no help, other than a message that states that Spike — our extra-narrative computer escort who yet somehow is mentioned in the world itself — already gave the password. (I figured out quickly what this meant, but let me save it for when it actually gets used in the plot.)

I had to poke at hints and realize that the forest being nonchalantly next to the ravine implies that CHOP TREE is possible, despite the noun “TREE” not being explicitly in the text.

Past the vaguely described people is a GERBICOP that, grimly enough, you need to CHOP GERBICOP to get by … in order to get a scarf.

Pretty sure we have a random Dr. Who reference too.

In a different parts of the city you can find meat, a wire-cutter, and a loading bay with a “WIRE-MESH FENCE” accompanied by a “HUMMING NOISE”. Trying to apply the wire-cutter to the fence is fatal:

Spike here: He’s been electrocuted!

The wire-cutter is instead useful back in the countryside, where I mentioned a field blocked by barbed wire. CUTting the wire there is the correct route, letting you arrive at a “SPACETRAN” you can board, but it’s another doomed vehicle.

The button ejects you into space, where the only recourse is to WAVE TATTY OLD SCARF (you have to type all that out), which is apparently enough to attract attention:


Gomerial, the third planet, mostly consists of a plaza blocked by a “SPACE RANGER” (I knew enough to stay back and not find out what kind of death I’d suffer) and a desert. The desert again is a very simple not-really-a-maze, with a “ghoulibrute” at the end who fortunately is persuaded to not eat you by an offering of meat off of Grecian 2000.

Next to the ghoulibrute is a shed which has a BLASTER. I took a guess and toted the blaster back to the SPACE RANGER:



Not even described! But there’s a DEAD SPACE RANGER here now. This opens a route to a the offices of TEMPORAL TRAVEL CORP and a PLUSH OFFICE where you’re asked for a password. This is where the earlier message about Spike is useful: at the beginning of the game, he gave the advice DON’T PANIC.

Pulling the lever takes you back in time to just before the start of the game, where there’s a ticket laying around that you can just take. Yes, this is a time-travel game: our hero dropped his ticket and couldn’t get it because someone else picked it up, but that someone else was just the hero from the future. The rucksack the person stealing the ticket had is the same one we’ve carted throughout the whole game.

The same planet map from the start of the game applies, except this time the escape ship hasn’t left yet, and you can win.

Really, with some extra polish (and presumably, a more powerful system) this game could’ve gone near to something modern. Allow me jump back to a particular moment, right after being rescued from space via waving the scarf.


Spike here: You got LUCKY, man.

This is written from the avatar’s perspective in a concise way that nonetheless avoids the weirdly distorted minimalism of Scott Adams and related games; they’re sentences a person would actually write normally. The subjective confusion of the protagonist is really the thrust of the narrative, and Spike’s interjection, while cliché, still drips an injection of character. In other words, the game has description that matches the ludic action/plot and interplay between two personalities, not counting that of the player themselves. Not what I expected at all from a system with 8K of memory and 1Mhz of speed.

Posted November 4, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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20 responses to “Galactic Hitchhiker (1980)

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  1. I suppose that the narrative mixes with a limited parser which is explained before playing, instead of pretending that you can do anything you can imagine…

  2. “IQ approaching zero from the negative side” is pretty funny.

  3. Another wonderful article! Thank you!, Jeff

  4. Maurice Marina, meet Ford Prefect. Ford Prefect, Maurice Marina.

    • Yeah, my family had a Morris Marina when I was a kid. We also had an Austin Allegro, at one point, which also would make another great Ford Prefect-type name. It’s weird how that’s now one of the most dated jokes/references in the whole of the Hitchhiker’s books. I think it was one that was obscure even by the time I first read HHGttG myself as a youngster in the 1980s.

      • I’m American and never learned Ford Prefect meant anything until years later. So of course, the fact that there was a joke here totally passed by me as well (although I have heard of the Morris Minor).

    • I _think_ IDI GERB is supposed to be an Idi Amin reference but I’m not sure.

      I’ve heard the mice used to be gerbils in the radio script but they got changed by the producer, but not from a source reliable enough for me to put in my main blog post.

      • It’s mentioned in Neil Gaiman’s “Don’t Panic” as well as lots of other places, such as the Hitchhiker’s Script book and the Penguin website. so, yeah, the mice were originally gerbils (Adams’ ex-girlfriend kept gerbils).

      • There are lots of other funny 1980s references in the game. Grecian 2000, for example, is the name of a very well known men’s hair dye.

  5. Hey Jason,
    Thanks for the helpful post. Just recoded the game in BASIC. Some of the worts you mentioned should be gone now, while (hopefully) preserving the original game and (hopefully) its charm.

  6. I’ve now disassembled the machine code for the UK101 version of Galactic Hitchhiker and done some minimal hacking of it to convert it to a form that can be reassembled (with beebasm) and run on a BBC Micro. The game logic and data (messages, room descriptions, etc.) are exactly the same as in the original. Online-play link included on Github:

  7. Pingback: Galactic Hitchhiker (1980): inspo a-go-go | Retroactive Fiction

  8. Pingback: News: Podcast + Hitchhiker’s Guide Updates | Renga in Blue

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