Best Games - The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
There was never any chance that text adventures would last. Not in any real way. There are a lot of people who still dabble in the genre, and a few techno hipsters that would swear up and down that text based games are more pure than games with graphics, or some such nonsense.
Text adventures were a stopgap of course. They were the best that developers could do with the resources that they had. If they could have made an interactive story with graphics and sound there is no way that they would ever have stuck with text. In a lot of ways, games like the Elder Scrolls or Mass Effect series are direct descendants of text adventures. Had it been possible to have your character walk through lavish locations rather than describing them in text, that’s what would have happened. It’s tough to get the same level of detail in 200 pixels with a pallet of 4 colors than you can in one well worded paragraph.
Text adventures were always destined to be overtaken. All of the great games from the text adventure era could be realized better today with a modern audio visual experience. All of them except one.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy banks entirely on the writing. Not writing in the sense of vibrant descriptions of locations, or interesting nuanced characters. The literal, one word following another to create a clever joke type of writing. The precise placement of words magic trick comedians tend to use to such great effect. The writing in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is all setup and punchline. Even the puzzles. Especially the puzzles. There are several occasions where the game plays with the text you type in to create either a setup or a punchline, as if the writers could predict your behaviour well enough to invite you to participate in the joke.
The game itself is damn near impossible to beat without repeated playthroughs. It might even be unfair from time to time, dangling an easy puzzle solution in front of you just to yank it away and then joke about it. I certainly never completed it, back when I was much younger, and slower at typing. I did keep playing it though, for the near endless supply of funny phrases, situations, and asides that could be unearthed from every command you punched into the text parser. I pull it up on one of the many places it can be played on the web, probably once a year at least. I play through until just after I get the babel fish and then usual mess up and have the game murder me in some hilarious fashion.
Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is one of the few games that was such a perfect blending of time, execution, and technology that I don’t think there is any way to meaningfully improve on it with new tools. Graphics wouldn’t improve it, and the only sound that could be added might be a skilled narrator. Specifically a skilled, british, narrator. You would probably do just as well to imagine John Cleese reading all the lines.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is still on the of the best games.