Monday, September 27, 2021

Infocom make me read Douglas Adams

 My introduction to both Infocom and The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy franchise was the interactive fiction game back in 1984.

You know, it wasn’t the best introduction to either of those things :D 

While I’m prepared to listen to an argument that the books or the radio plays or the BBC TV series    is the best way to  first learn about the Hitchhiker world, the game doesn’t have the narrative strength of any of them. As for Infocom, the Hitchiker game pretty much trolls the player :D.

Despite that fact, I came to love both the Hitchhikers franchise and Infocom. So everything worked out in the end.

Really, though, the interactive fiction game is ridiculous. Not only is it surprisingly nonlinear, it is relentlessly unintuitive. The thing breaks tons of written and unwritten rules of both fiction and gaming.

The babelfish puzzle (which happens early enough that I don’t feel like I’m spoiling anything) which requires you to jury rig a Rube Goldberg device that hinges on a quirk in the way the parser works. Namely, that you can only fit one object on a satchel but a pile of mail counts as one object and a bunch of objects. So the solution plays the meta nature of how the game works. 

Honestly, not only have I never come close to winning the game fairly, I don’t think I’ve made it through the game cheating with a full set of hints!

But the game is a beloved classic for a couple good reasons. Most obviously, it is really funny reading. I played the game over and over not to win but to read it. Infocom knew how to put the fiction in interactive fiction, which I would go on to learn in many of their other games.

More than that, by being so ridiculously iconoclastic, it’s a fascinating exploration of what you can do with fiction, interactive or otherwise. Not that I appreciated that back in the early 80s. But it is a weird experiment in how computer games and fiction works.

As of the time writing, the BBC will let you play the game online. I might do that and see if I can get to the end.

No comments:

Post a Comment