Starship Titanic: The Video Game Created by Douglas Adams (Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), with Help from John Cleese & Terry Jones

“The star­ship Titan­ic was a mon­strous­ly pret­ty sight as it lay beached like a sil­ver Arc­turan Megavoid­whale among the laser­lit trac­ery of its con­struc­tion gantries”–writes Dou­glas Adams in The Life, The Uni­verse and Every­thing, the third nov­el in the Hitchhiker’s Guide tril­o­gy–“a bril­liant cloud of pins and nee­dles of light against the deep inter­stel­lar black­ness; but when launched, it did not even man­age to com­plete its very first radio mes­sage —an SOS—before under­go­ing a sud­den and gra­tu­itous total exis­tence fail­ure.”

This para­graph is a tiny humor­ous flour­ish in a series of nov­els filled with hun­dreds of them, but for some reason—possibly its rela­tion­ship to the orig­i­nal doomed lux­u­ry liner–the Star­ship Titan­ic would go on to have an amaz­ing­ly detailed sec­ond life as a video game. And while a paper­back copy of any of Adams’ work is read­i­ly avail­able, it can take some hunt­ing to find a work­able ver­sion of the game.

Dou­glas Adams designed the game him­self, start­ing in 1996. A decade ear­li­er, he had helped design the text-based adven­ture game adap­ta­tion of Hitchhiker’s Guide, and had expressed a desire to do more work in the video game field, after play­ing Myst and its sequel Riv­en. How­ev­er, he said, “noth­ing real­ly hap­pens, and nobody is there. I thought, let’s do some­thing sim­i­lar but pop­u­late the envi­ron­ment with char­ac­ters you can inter­act with.”

Co-found­ing the mul­ti-media com­pa­ny Dig­i­tal Vil­lage, Adams wrote the game’s script, set aboard the fail­ing Titan­ic. The big dif­fer­ence, com­pared to Myst, is that the char­ac­ter can inter­act with char­ac­ters on board, many of them but­ler-like robots. And instead of typ­ing in com­mands, play­ers could speak to the char­ac­ters in real time using a nat­ur­al lan­guage pars­ing engine called Spook­italk, uti­liz­ing over 10,000 lines/16 hours of dia­log. Like its puz­zle-game influ­ences, it was mad­den­ing to play.

But also fun, as Mon­ty Python’s Ter­ry Jones and John Cleese both turn up among the voice actors, the for­mer as a par­rot, the lat­ter as a dooms­day bomb.

An arti­cle in Kotaku from 2015 men­tions a tie-in nov­el that Adams was to write him­self, after first assign­ing co-writ­ers Neil Richards, Deb­bie Barham, and Michael Bywa­ter to the task. But then:

Liv­ing up to his rep­u­ta­tion for seem­ing­ly infi­nite tar­di­ness, Adams admit­ted just three weeks before the book’s dead­line that he hadn’t writ­ten a thing, and in the end the nov­el Dou­glas Adams’s Star­ship Titan­ic was writ­ten in a furi­ous cas­cade of words by none oth­er than Ter­ry Jones (who claimed that he wrote the whole thing in the nude).

Even more inter­est­ing, Yoz Gra­hame, Dig­i­tal Village’s web devel­op­er had been put in charge of cre­at­ing the game’s pro­mo­tion­al web pres­ence. Buried deep down in a page was a mock forum sup­pos­ed­ly being writ­ten by the low­er-lev­el crew of the Titan­ic. Gra­hame kept the forum open for fans of the upcom­ing game, only to find lat­er that Adams fans had tak­en this com­ic east­er egg to heart. Six months lat­er there were ten-thou­sand posts in the mock forum. Users had con­tin­ued on the sto­ry in the spir­it of Adams.

“It was like ignor­ing the veg­etable draw­er of your fridge for a year, then open­ing it to find a bunch of very grate­ful sen­tient toma­toes busi­ly work­ing on their third opera,” Gra­hame told Kotaku. This forum went on for six years, with lay­ers and lay­ers of run­ning jokes.

At the time of the Kotaku piece, the game, orig­i­nal­ly released on CD-ROM was func­tion­al­ly unplayable on mod­ern video game sys­tems.

Not so now. Six bucks will buy you a mod­ern­ized copy of the game on Steam or GOG. If you’re curi­ous like me, but have no time to devote the many, many hours to fin­ish­ing the game, you can watch a 13-part walk­thru video. (Note: Adams him­self turns up at the very end in an unin­ten­tion­al­ly poignant cameo.)

via Metafil­ter

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Video Game Free Online, Designed by Dou­glas Adams in 1984

Hyper­land: The “Fan­ta­sy Doc­u­men­tary” in Which Dou­glas Adams and Doc­tor Who‘s Tom Bak­er Imag­ine the World Wide Web (1990)

Ital­ian Astro­naut Reads The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy on the Inter­na­tion­al Space Sta­tion

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

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