The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981)   7 comments

Not the 1984 Infocom one written by Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky, but the Supersoft one by Bob Chappell.

We haven’t had much yet at this blog on legal tangles; the history of adventures is not chock-full of them like, say, Atari. I’ve skipped over EduWare’s Space I and Space II games despite them being listed at the Interactive Fiction Database as they are really RPGs (the CRPG Addict covered them here) and they were even based so much on a pencil-and-paper RPG (Traveler) that Game Designers’ Workshop dropped a cease-and-desist. I also didn’t mention how with The Prisoner (by the same company!) the producers got permission from ITC Entertainment to open a Prisoner-themed restaurant (??) hoping that would be sufficient cover. Other similar violations were generally done with a computer-games-aren’t-that-big-let’s-hope-they-don’t-notice stance. (This is how Atari was in contrast — it started making “real money” early, and roughly the same time all this was happening they sold millions of copies of Space Invaders for the Atari 2600, as opposed to thousands or hundreds.)

The original version (the tape picture from earlier) was for Commodore’s earliest computer, the PET. This screenshot is for the later C64 version.

It’s certainly tempting to look at the opening screenshot “with kind permission of Douglas Adams and Pan Books” and be skeptical, but at least the Pan Books part was true: Bob Chappell wrote a letter asking if he could make a game based on Hitchhiker’s and they sent back a letter saying yes. After finishing his game he sold it to Supersoft for “500 pounds worth of equipment and assorted programs”. Keep in mind this is extremely early in the UK commercial adventure game market; Hitch Hiker’s was first advertised Summer of 1981 around when most of the other releases I’ve highlighted (like Planet of Death) landed (one earlier game, Catacombs — first advertised March 1981 — was also by Supersoft, although it isn’t available for download). So we’re talking about a request for a license at the very tip of an industry, it is understandable they were a little informal with it.

As Supersoft in 1983 tried to come out with versions of the game for Commodore 64, Vic-20, and Dragon, Douglas Adams’s agent Ed Victor came knocking; a settlement was made out of court, and Pan Books footed the legal consultation bill, so it wasn’t like there was simple amateur confusion going on, just it was easier to avoid a legal fight altogether and settle. It is possible Supersoft had a leg to stand on but Douglas Adams himself wasn’t involved in the original deal, implying shaky ground; it is also possible based on the wording of the letter the rights only applied to Chappell’s original PET version of the game but the physical letter hasn’t surfaced to confirm or deny this.

Unsold copies of “Hitch Hiker’s” was destroyed as part of the settlement and the game was put back onto the market later as Cosmic Capers. (Incidentally, the weird anomaly of Galactic Hitchhiker which I covered last time went entirely untouched by the legal stick, but it stayed on the fringe system of the UK101. No doubt had an attempt been made to republish it would have raised the legal sirens.)

Additionally, the somewhat … unimpressive … text and interaction of the game is still fitting in with most of the product in the UK at the time. You can see what feels to modern eyes like a modern-shovelware-grab-bag, but for the time was a normal commercial game written in BASIC.

Based on a December 1981 review from Computer & Video Games magazine it wasn’t ill-regarded (“a well thought-out attempt to reproduce the imaginative radio/T.V. series”); this is, simply put, yet another typical-for-the-market minimalist treasure hunt with a light dusting of Hitchhiker’s.

Having said all that, I can’t defend the end result. I’m not having a good time so far.

My no-doubt incomplete map of the starting area.

You start in a Quiet English Village near a Five Artefacts Inn (where I presume the “treasures” go) and find, minimalistically and randomly, a white mouse — no doubt one of the hyperintelligent ones involved in the compute that answered the Ultimate Question — a rusty car engine (marked as being an Improbability Drive that is made in Hong Kong), a bowl of petunias, the Encyclopedia Galactica, a Vogon Battle Cruiser (shown above) and The Heart of Gold (also inexplicably parked nearby).

There’s a Kil-O-Zap energy gun I found that I attempted to use on the Vogon captain here. No luck getting by yet. The “set” is the Galactic Encyclopedia, and there doesn’t seem to be a way to read any entries other than the one about aquatic bipeds.

The Heart of Gold does not resemble that from the books/radio show/play/etc. and is mostly just a maze.

The maze has an energy gun (which I already mentioned but haven’t used yet), an Arcturian MegaDonkey steak, some keys that appeared randomly, and a cheque signed by Zaphod Beeblebrox that I assumes is one of the Treasures. There’s also a very tempting lever:

PULL LEVER only is bad at randomized times. (I tried to see if some item I could hold affected it, but no — you just wait for the dice roll to go your way.) When it does trigger, you get zapped into outer space, rather like the scene in Galactic Hitchhiker where you need to wave a scarf, except here there is no scarf.

Maybe that direction is a dead end? You do get a number of turns floating in space before death which strongly suggests there’s some way of flagging down a passing ship, but I don’t even have my towel with me, and WAVE isn’t a recognized verb besides. Other than the typical “go”, “get”, and “drop” there’s just

READ, OPEN, CLOSE, KILL, SHOOT, PUSH, PULL, SAY, PANIC

which isn’t much to work with. At some level having less options to test is nice, but the situation is too heavily constrained as is on the window it shows the player; the least it could do is allow the player a few extra actions for breathing room.

Given only the Vogon captain to work on otherwise there isn’t much for me to whack at, but I’m going to keep trudging at this a bit longer before giving up. I’m not sure why I’m putting so much solving energy into such a dodgy game, but I guess I found the story of its creation a little more motivating than normal. (I’ll still take hints in ROT13 format if anyone wants to give them.)

Posted November 5, 2021 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

Tagged with

7 responses to “The Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (1981)

Subscribe to comments with RSS.

  1. Not in ROT13, because you probably won’t make much progress without it, but I seem to remember that you need to turn the gun on first… Something like ON GUN in most versions, I think.

  2. I don’t even have my towel with me

    Most unfroody, dude.

  3. It’s been a fun couple of posts. I remember Jimmy Maher mentioning this in his write-up of Infocom’s HGttG, The edited and rereleased Cosmic Capers is a funny bit of rebranding. Sounds like a tough (unfair?) game. Good luck!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: