Monthly Archives: August 2015

Not Mostly Harmless

How to Torture Gamers Without Even Trying

Woe to the poor gamer who slid the floppy for Infocom’s computer adventure game adaptation of Douglas Adams’ seminal book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into their unsuspecting drive. Not because it was a bad game; it wasn’t. Unless you mean bad as evil. Then it was very, very bad, indeed.

Adams was an early technophile, quickly falling in love with the Apple II, and subsequently with Apple’s revolutionary Macintosh computer. He was also fond of Infocom’s adventure games, and signed a multi-game deal with the company in early 1984. Paired with famed Infocom game implementer Steve Meretzky, the two banged out the Hitchhiker’s game over a six month period; Adams writing passages in England and emailing them to Meretzky in Cambridge, MA. Meretzky ended up having to chase famous procrastinator Adams down to a remote British resort  to finish work on the game.

Cover of Hitchhiker's game, Atari 8-bit computers version

Cover of Hitchhiker’s game, Atari 8-bit computers version

 

Upon release in late 1984, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a huge hit, moving over a quarter of a million copies. Breaking many cardinal rules then established in interactive fiction, it also caused a million hairs to be pulled out by frustrated gamers. Transgressions included outright lying to the player about available directions to travel in, and even what the player was able to see. It also often required players to have read the book to know what to do in certain situations. Perhaps worst of all, a favourite torture of Adams was to let you miss some critical piece of equipment during a scene that would cause the game to dead-end later, with no recourse but to reload a save or replay the game. At times it seemed that Hitchhiker’s was purposefully created as a ploy by Infocom to sell more of their Invisiclue hint books.

These brutalities aside, Hitchhiker’s is still an entertaining and interactive excursion through one of the greatest science fiction comedies of all time.

For more information on Hitchhiker’s and Infocom, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Ad for Infocom's computer text adventure game Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams

Raise a beer to the great Douglas Adams, 1985 Ad

 

Still from Astron Belt, an arcade laserdisc game by Sega 1983

Astron Belted: Losing the Race to the Arcades

Something about the laserdisc video game craze of the early 80′s was and is fascinating to me.  From little pixellated images and 3 octave repeating tunes, we leapt into professional quality live-action or animated games with orchestrated scores. It seemed that arcade games had suddenly jumped into the future.  

Sega previewed their first video game to feature laserdisc technology, Astron Belt, in the fall of 1982 at the A.M.O.A. or Amusement & Music Operators Association trade show in Chicago. It wasn’t the first commercial interactive game with video footage: horse racing game Quarter Horse by Electro-Sport was shown at the 1981 A.M.O.A., and most likely released to the public that same year.

Laserdisc game Quarter Horse

Quarter Horse arcade laserdisc game, by Electro Sports

 

Even so, Quarter Horse was merely a betting menu accompanied by video footage of horse races. Sega’s machine allowed players to control a computer generated spaceship superimposed over movie footage. Players flew through space and over alien planetary landscapes, shooting enemy craft spewing laser fire and avoiding the tight confines of rocky canyons. It was a real game.

It was also real late. Shown at the 1982 AMOA, the game still needed refinement, and as it was being worked on the U.S. coin-op division of Sega was sold to Bally/Midway, prompting further delays. By the time Astron Belt reached U.S. arcades in late 1983, the  laserdisc video game craze had already been created earlier in the year by the animated extravaganza Dragon’s Lair, from Rick Dyer and Don Bluth, and was subsequently exhausted by a rush of carpetbaggers.

Hobbled by a lack of interactivity for players, along with nagging technical issues for arcade operators, these games were ultimately shown to be a brief respite for the slumping arcade market. The popularity of laserdisc games had begun faltering, and Astron Belt did little to improve this situation.

For more information on Astron Belt and the 80′s laserdisc craze, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Image source: Quarter Horse flyer, The Arcade Flyer Archive

1983 ad for Astron Belt, a laserdisc arcade video game by Bally Midway