Computer Game #15: “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”
Way back in the year 1984, when personal computers were the size of small goats and had the power of pocket lint, computer games were essentially bits and bloops that implied something more than represented it. There just wasn’t enough memory or power in the hardware of the day.
The fastest way around this limitation was by using … text … just words. Simply describe the scene and let the player fill in the details. Infocom made millions selling a dozen or so of these text-only games, wherein players typed in what they wanted to do (“Get Lamp“), and proceeded to have grand adventures exploring dungeon mazes, vast kingdoms‚ or a whole galaxy, all by typing in a few words or phrases.
“Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” — first a radio show, then a book, then a TV show, then a computer game, thereby entirely by accident becoming the first transmedia success story — became Infocom’s all-time best seller by tapping into what made “Hitchhiker’s Guide” so successful in the first place: Douglas Adams’ adroit use of language. Each iteration of H2G2 followed the hapless protagonist, Arthur Dent, on a improbable adventure across the universe after Earth is destroyed, and the computer game proudly continued this tradition in suitably maddening fashion.
Best yet, because the game was text-based it wasn’t limited to the latest operating system, meaning — unlike virtually all other computer games that are eventually left behind as upgrades abandoned them — it could still be played on today’s computers. And even if you didn’t buy a copy back in the day, the BBC offered a free, updated version of the game to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the original.