No, not games inspired by hopeful looking individuals standing near the exit of Strensham Services holding up a piece of card with ‘Islington’ rather optimistically scrawled upon it. For today is Towel Day, when the Universe acknowledges one of its greatest ever occupants, Mr Douglas Noel Adams, author of The Hitchhikers’ Guide to the Galaxy.
It is an important and popular fact that Megadodo Publications is home of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, the most totally remarkable book in the whole of the known Universe. It is less well known that the corporation’s software arm, Megadodo Software, is home of Pheenix, the most totally remarkable Phoenix clone (you see what they did there?) in the whole Spectrum universe.
And speaking of firey birds, in 1985 Firebird Software released a little arcade game in which a robot mercilessly zaps innocent looking teddy bears for no obvious reason; this has nothing to do with the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy beside the fact that it has the words ‘Don’t Panic‘ in large, friendly letters on the cover.
Also having little to do with Douglas Adams beyond the title and a semi-amusing attempt at recreating the Guide, is the Backpacker’s Guide to the Universe; but you would be far better spending your time with Universal Hero, which features far better Hitchhiker’s references including, if you can find them, Slartibardfast (sic), Eddie, and a Babel Fish, and possibly some others which temporarily escape me.
Anyway, that’s enough arcade nonsense, let’s not forget that there was, of course, the official, partly Adams-penned, Infocom adventure, which was first released in 1984 and ultimately appeared on Amstrad, Commodore, Atari, Apple, Amiga… In fact, just about every platform except the Spectrum.
Although there was a typically colourful unofficial Hitchhiker’s Guide game on the Spectrum, which claimed to have the permission of author and publisher – presumably given in a flurry of publicity without giving the game itself a second glance, because it’s a frankly terrible mish-mash of things that appear in the books/TV show/radio series stuck randomly next to each other in rural England, with no jokes or plot anywhere to be seen.
The even more unofficial Don’t Panic…Panic Now! looks more fun – unfortunately I haven’t had time to try it out yet, so it could be a pile of fetid dingos kidneys too for all I know.
The one I did play back in the day, however, was Hitcher on the ZX81, a pure text adventure (obviously) which played so fast and loose with those tortuous Galactic Copyright laws that my main memories of the game consist of ‘HHG SAYS…’ and then being presented with some advice which utterly prevented me from being struck down by a light sabre wielding Romulan Tyrant. Yes, really.
And to save me loading that one up on an emulator to prove I didn’t make it up, let’s finish on a high – a video game actually made by Bop Ad: Starship Titanic.
Starship Titanic started out as a throwaway paragraph somewhere in the middle of the Hitchhiker Trilogy, but was later developed into a proper video game of the point and click adventure type – a fully visual equivalent of those old text adventures – released on PC and Mac in 1998.
And it has this brilliantly meta opening scene.
Happy Towel Day, froods.