Now that we’ve got that settled, let’s double check the essentials. Do you have a towel with you? A towel is the most massively useful item an interstellar hitchhiker can carry. Next, find your copy of “The Best Vogon Poems of 1984.” Once you’ve got that, burn it and scatter the ashes where they’ll never be found. We can’t take any chances. If you’re panicking or don’t happen to have a towel on hand, I will wait while you settle down and pay a visit to your linen closet.
Now that that’s all taken care of, you’re finally ready to play The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the 1984 text-based adventure based on Douglas Adams’s six part trilogy. The game features you as Arthur Dent (though you occasionally perform actions as Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox and Trillian), and vaguely follows the plot of the first book in the series, or at least meanders along side the original plot for a bit before venturing off on its own. As Dent, you narrowly escape the destruction of Earth, hitch a ride on a Vogon ship, endure terrible poetry, search for a legendary planet, and make a rather important cup of tea. You direct Arthur through these tasks by simple typed commands. Certain tasks and puzzles must be completed within a set number of turns or else the game will end. Over. Kaput. So long, and thanks for all the fish. Along the way, you discover the actual Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, a book with a good deal of information that can help you solve some of the games’ puzzles.
One of the puzzles, the Babel Fish Puzzle, has become one of the most notorious gaming challenges of all time. The point of the puzzle was to catch the babel fish, which could translate any language once inserted into your ear. You captured the fish by arranging objects as the fish bounced about the room. Problematically, each solution introduced a whole slew of new difficulties.
As would be expected from a Douglas Adams story, the game had a few unique quirks. It would occasionally lie to you. One of your inventory items was “no tea”. Later, you could acquire tea. This would place you in the curious position of having tea and no tea at the same time. In order to resolve this existential conundrum, you drop your common sense. Another curious inventory item was a “thing your aunt gave you which you don’t know what it is.”
There were no graphics in the original release of the game (though some were added for the 20th and 30th anniversary re-releases). It debuted on a number of systems, including the Apple II, the Atari 8-bit, Amiga, Atari ST, and the Commodore 64. Developed and released by Infocom, it came with a number of “feelies,” unique promotional items that aimed to help the player dive fully into the world created in the game. The feelies included in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy were: a “Don’t Panic” button, a packet of pocket fluff, an order for the destruction of Arthur Dent’s house, a Vogon order for the destruction of Earth, Peril Sensitive Sunglasses, an official microscopic space fleet, and a brochure titled, “How Many Times Has This Happened To You?”
Designed by Douglas Adam and Steve Meretzky, the game remains a classic of the text based adventure genre, guaranteed to keep you entertained as you drift through the universe searching for the meaning of life, the universe, and everything.