back to article Life, the interview and everything: A chat with Douglas Adams

Today – March 11th – would have been Douglas Adams' 63rd birthday. To mark this occasion, we are reprinting a lost interview with Douglas Adams. It was focused not on Hitchhiker's, but on Starship Titanic, a text adventure and book. The game had just been released to manufacture and Adams had pulled an all-nighter to get it out …

  1. Phil O'Sophical Silver badge

    Following the link from the article to http://www.theregister.co.uk/2001/05/14/rip_douglas_adams/ it's interesting to see that he foresaw the Twitter app, 5 years before it appeared. Sadly he seemed to think it would be a good idea...

    1. TRT Silver badge

      He also envisaged that the Earth, in all of its plurality, would be destroyed by an annoyingly patronising talking bird.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Better hope that Hilary doesn't get elected President, then

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        "annoyingly patronising talking bird"

        I suddenly thought of the token women on Match of the Day. Can't imagine why...

  2. adnim Silver badge
    Happy

    I used to

    sneak out of work and sit in my workmates Hillman, along with my work mate Harry F to listen to Hitchikers on the radio. Fond memories. Going back into work a little high wasn't always a good thing though. If you read this Harry I thank you.

  3. I. Aproveofitspendingonspecificprojects

    So long and thanks for the new plaice

    I used to write on H2G2 when it was owned by the BBC. I soon grew out of that but Wikipedia is not the answer. Them damn Yankees believe in democracy and that as any Royalist knows mutually exclusively excludes meritocracy. If us British were to put an ape in high office we would at least choose one competent enough to make it as a librarian. (And it wouldn't reign bananas!)

  4. magickmark
    Alien

    Happy Birthday

    Happy Birthday Douglas, you are still missed.

    1. Mark 78

      Re: Happy Birthday

      Only being able to upvote this comment once doesn't seem enough

  5. DJV Silver badge

    TDV

    Amazingly, www.tdv.com is still up and running - well, in a preserved sort of way - last updated 2001. A small homage to a great man.

  6. RobHib

    Ah, I still have my CD of Starship Titanic complete with its strange but alluring cover.

    Adams, a tragic loss. But then, only the good die young.

  7. cdilla

    Never a day...

    Never a day passes in our household that isn't brightened by some reference to DNA or his work. Whether it's in reference to a piece of furniture stuck in a stairwell, missed deadline or the illusiory nature of lunchtime, a grin is had and an inward nod is made to the great man in acknowldgement of his genius.

    HB DNA. If you're up there looking down on us, I know you'll be bloody annoyed, being a fully paid up member of the millitant atheists movement.

    1. James Pickett

      Re: Never a day...

      "If you're up there looking down on us, I know you'll be bloody annoyed.."

      If he was, I'm pretty sure he'd have found a way of communicating the fact by now, assuming he'd got over the initial shock.

  8. Stevie Silver badge

    Bah!

    It's indeed a shame he's gone and the world was a bigger place with him in it, but Starship Titanic is, in my opinion, a monument to getting it wrong.

    Evangelized in the press from the Get-Go as a "Mac First" project, it became an obviously hurried, last minute and accordingly bad port to the PC platform that was always going to pay off the loans.

    The game itself suffered from a number of design issues ranging from poor graphics in places (it was ages before I twigged I was walking up the ceiling rose when I visited Titania), mouse hotspots that were just too narrow to be playable (solving the navigation puzzle stands out here: I wonder how many others figured out what to do but couldn't get it to happen without a cheat book to confirm they were doing what was required, the program was simply badly designed) and text-adventure problem design that was just annoying in a graphic environment.

    Some parts of the game were astoundingly beautiful and clever. The Music Room, the Muzak in the various levels and the Seasonal Garden - boy, I wanted to walk awhile inside that scene but it was a "watch only" experience.

    The robot attitude design was just annoying and should have been dumped at the spiral notebook stage. Every time you failed to hit the exact phrasing each bot was waiting for its attitude would get worse, until you'd have to reset it by trudging through the ship and doing what was required. Fun the first couple of times. After that, just annoying and immersion-killing.

    DA was fascinated by the ironic situation of the service industry and the misanthropes it seems to attract, but failed to realize that while these people jump to the needs of a story, they just annoy in an interaction that may be ongoing for days. I mean, you don't deal with these people for fun in real life, who would want to do so for the entire experience of a game?

    And key to any game design is that you need the players to end it wanting more of the same. How popular would Call of Duty have been if the first one made constant jamming of the firearms a key design feature? How many versions of Grand Theft Auto would there have been if every two minutes you had to go to traffic court to pay speeding fines?

    The robots' conversation was good, but nowhere close to the experience promised on the box. If there were 10,000 phrases in the database, then they were narrow variations on the same 25 or so actually used in-game.

    And if they were aiming for Myst, the development team, er, missed. Myst's puzzles were just as ridiculous in places (I used to say that if a car was built in Myst the steering wheel would be in the boot and it would only go with the lid closed) but they built them so they didn't fight the player as he/she attempted to solve them, relying on the puzzle itself rather than the ability of the player to do what was required in-game to get it done.

    I get the game was technologically ambitious, but the time overruns were also partly the result of bad decisions taken for computer-choice political reasons that should never have been a factor in the first place.

    If some of that time had been saved a detailed playtest could have discovered that:

    The attitude degradation of the bots should have been permanently fixable at some point just so the game wasn't the experience of tramping through the same worn-out scenes over and over to do something annoying.

    The scene interaction hotspots needed widening.

    The reliance on text-adventure pun-puzzles was over-used and inappropriate for the medium.

    Something was needed to address confusing graphics there was no time to redesign and re-render.

    (My favourite solution to the "What if they don't understand WTF they are seeing?" problem was that used in RAMA in which a holographic assistant would simply tell the player what he/she was looking at in unambiguous terms on request - "it seems to be some sort of control panel".)

    It would also have uncovered the bug in the bar that caused the game to hang every time it was entered in a certain way.

    And it would have shown that those few issues were ruining what was otherwise a great game with some absolutely great puzzles, beautiful graphics and startlingly good ideas in places.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Coat

      Re: Bah!

      I think the whole 'robot attitude' was the point of the whole excercise, and according to you, worked splendidly.

      Now where's my towel.

      1. Stevie Silver badge

        Re: the whole 'robot attitude' was the point of the whole excercise

        ... and according to you, worked splendidly.

        Only if you and droves of others bought and played the game.

        You did buy and play the game didn't you? Because if you didn't, you sort of just made my point.

    2. TRT Silver badge

      Re: Bah!

      I re-watched Dark Star this week. The smart bombs had their own individual personalities - Bomb 19 was very Eddie-like with its chipper personality and there was the increasingly tetchy Bomb 20. And then there was "Mother" the computer, a different personality again.

      One has to wonder if that era was one which generated these views of tech.

  9. Sporkinum

    Shada

    Just got done watching the unaired Dr Who, Shada, which was written by him. Fun, even though it was an uncompleted mess. He is missed.

    1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

      Re: Shada

      "Just got done watching the unaired Dr Who, Shada, which was written by him. Fun, even though it was an uncompleted mess. He is missed."

      Ah, ain't Usenet wonderful :-)

      It might be short lived but there is a constant reincarnation.

  10. Zog_but_not_the_first Silver badge
    Happy

    Gone too soon

    There was a lot more wit and wisdom in the man I think.

    I enjoyed reading this but it felt as distant as an Edwardian summer (not that I was there, you understand).

  11. trance gemini
    Pint

    Best use of immortality ...

    ... was that character who was so pissed off at living forever he decided to travel the universe personally insulting everyone, individually, in alphabetical order

    superb wordsmith who made you feel proud to be literate

    we raise the virtual pint to ya, uncle doug

  12. IrishFella
    Happy

    Who the hell is Sri Elkins??? I think I'm in love......... http://www.tdv.com/html/sri_e.html

    1. DJV Silver badge
  13. Alan J. Wylie

    "a stage play"

    a stage play?

    More than one:

    * The ICA in London (clashed with my finals, didn't get a ticket in advance, turned up anyway and saw it up to the destruction of the earth).

    * I also went to the the production at the Rainbow Theatre, Islington.

    * Theatre Clwyd did it too, saw it when it was at the Arts Theatre, Cambridge.

    Knowing what to google for, there was a web site on the subject:

    http://www.douglasadams.eu/en_h2g2_hitchhiker-on-stage.php

    but it seems to be showing default content at the moment. Wayback machine:

    http://web.archive.org/web/20150207084540/http://douglasadams.eu/en_h2g2_hitchhiker-on-stage.php

  14. This post has been deleted by its author

  15. Ol'Peculier
    Thumb Up

    Stage play

    There was also the stage play, with Simon Jones, Geoff McGivern, Susan Sheridan and Mark Wing-Davey that toured in 2012/2013, directed (and playing drums) by Dirk Maggs who was the guy behind the last three radio productions.

    Was well worth a night out to see it, and it had a different voice of the book every time as well.

  16. Yag
    Trollface

    "... speech recognition. The technology isn't quite there yet (although it won't be long)"

    Ah, the optimism of youth :)

  17. A K Stiles
    Go

    an inspiration to procrastinators everywhere!

    A few fabulous books and so much more besides.

    I went to this recently - it was pretty packed! Clearly still an inspiration to so many people, and well worth a watch if you have a spare 2 hours!

    Douglas Adams Memorial Lecture 2015 - by Neil Gaiman, with an introduction from Dirk Maggs

    1. Ol'Peculier
      Thumb Up

      Re: an inspiration to procrastinators everywhere!

      Me too. Was a great evening,

      Met Mr Gainman after the stage show in Edinburgh a couple of years ago, and he stayed in the pub till the very last minute!

  18. Dana W

    It wasn't just text, it was text and graphical. I'm always sorry I never quite got to finish it.

  19. FeRDNYC

    RIP Douglas Adams

    My favorite <i>Starship Titanic</i>-related wisdom/commentary from Douglas Adams was in a different interview about the game's development process, where he explained that he was adamant about the use of recorded audio samples for the in-game speech because speech-synthesis technology invariably resulted in voices that sound like <b>"semi-concussed Norwegians"</b>.

    Which is <i>such</i> an apt description, that to this day I can't listen to a synthesized voice without envisioning a Norwegian who's suffered head trauma. And I'm vaguely worried that, if I ever do happen to encounter a Norwegian with a bump on their noggin, I won't actually believe they're a living, breathing human being.

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