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Wednesday, April 8, 1998 Published at 17:34 GMT 18:34 UK


Starship Titanic has everyone talking
image: [ You can chat to the barman for hours on the Starship Titanic ]
You can chat to the barman for hours on the Starship Titanic

Anyone familiar with Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which began as a wry inter-planetary comedy series on radio, might hesitate to accept an invitation, extended over the Internet these past few months, to embark on the maiden voyage of his Starship Titanic.

The full implications of such a trip will become apparent on Thursday when Starship Titanic is launched in Britain. No, not the spaceship, well not a real one anyway, nor is it a new radio or TV series.

[ image: Douglas Adams at work at Digital Village]
Douglas Adams at work at Digital Village
Starship Titanic, the computer game, two years in the making and costing nearly £2 million pounds could mean sink or swim for Douglas Adams' company Digital Village, although chances are that his tremendous cult following on the Internet, and the presence of Monty Python's Terry Jones and John Cleese with voice characterisations, will ensure decent sales figures on both sides of the Atlantic.

Inter-galactic chat

Titanic is a computer game with a lot to say for itself. A main feature is the conversations you can have with characters, a major leap forward technically from those in Infocom's early text-based adventure game related to Hitchhiker's Guide.

Internet correspondent Chris Nuttall reports on Starship Titanic
You still have to type in questions, answers, comments and even insults. But the characters talk back with an amazing vocabulary range able to respond to popular cultural references such as the Spice Girls or Men in Black. The scope of the dialogue and the plot variations of a computer game meant Adams had to make it a team effort, rather than writing it all himself.

"There's something like 10,000 lines of dialogue in this, there are 16 hours of pre-recorded dialogue. so there was a small team of us who worked on that," Adams told News online.

Lost looking for the plot

The game begins with the Starship crashing into your virtual living room. You are ushered aboard by an android and are soon light years from home. The ship is populated by a crew of dysfunctional and extremely rude robots along with a deranged parrot. Your task is to roam its 26 rooms trying to find out why the ship crashed and then find your way back home.

[ image: The Succubus likes to suck]
The Succubus likes to suck
Experienced PC gamers who tested Titanic for News online found themselves frustrated by the slow navigation through the lush graphics of art-deco interiors and by the lack of a decent plot. They found the conversations aimless, lacking in proper rewards and the characters irritating after a while.

Although it is meant to appeal to all ages, nine-years-old Luke Geogehan was equally unimpressed:

"It's a bit boring and slow," he told us. "It's quite good to be able [to have conversations], don't know what I'd ask it. My friends might like it, but not a lot of them."

The future of the universe and the Web

Adams' next project is even more ambitious: to chart the Internet properly in the manner of Hitchhiker's Guide.

Douglas Adams News online interview
"It's a huge, huge task and it's beyond the resources we have at the moment. But it's something we do have in our sights," he says.

He does see the similarities between the galaxy and the World Wide Web. "They're both vast wildernesses," he adds.

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