Videogame (1984). Infocom. Designed by Douglas Adams, Steve Meretzky. Platforms: AppleII, Atari8, C64, DOS, Mac (1984); AtariST (1985); Amiga, Amstrad (1986).
Hitchhiker is a text-based Adventure game, a variation on the theme established in the Hitch Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy radio show, television series and books. While the game starts in a similar manner to the radio series, it rapidly veers off along its own unexpected tangents. Hitchhiker is remarkable for including some of the most perverse puzzles in the history of Adventure game design, and yet still being highly enjoyable, an effect due entirely to the quality of Adams' and Meretzky's writing. A striking example is the extremely complex puzzle which must be unravelled in order to obtain a "Babel Fish", which enables the player to understand alien languages. If the player fails to solve the problem there are no immediate consequences, but they will discover much later in the game that it is impossible to complete without the fish, forcing them to restart almost from the beginning. At another point Hitchhiker will actively lie to the player about the geography of the room they are in. These techniques have not been revisited by later Adventure game developers, and it is unlikely that many designers could achieve the atmosphere of comic frustration which makes them successful here. Ingenious conceits and surreally humorous moments abound. At different moments the player can find themselves unexpectedly adopting the identities of four different characters due to the side effects of the "Infinite Improbability Drive", a situation that can cause some confusion. The game addresses this problem by adding a novel command to the system: "WHO AM I". Hitchhiker remains a masterful example of how to subvert the conventions of a form in the name of comic absurdity.
Related works: The game was remade in 2004 by the BBC, with static illustrations added by Rod Lord and the winners of a promotional contest. [NT]
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