Monday, September 12, 2022

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy: Time is an illusion

Previously on The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, our hapless protagonist narrowly escaped being caught in his own house mid-demolition, subsequently narrowly escaped Earth's destruction by catching a ride on a ship in the demolition fleet, endured horrible poetry, and acquired a valuable Guide, Babel Fish, and atomic vector plotter, before being forced out the airlock and, most improbably, catching another ride on a different ship.


Once again, I regained my senses one at a time. Ford recognized this ship as the Heart of Gold, and after introductions to the crew Zaphod Breeblebrox and Trillian, ditched me for the sauna.

The Heart of Gold is a small area of only eight immediately accessible rooms, but for the first time yet, I was free to explore.

  • The Bridge's main feature is a console for Eddie, the shipboard computer. Also found here are Ford's satchel, a handbag containing a pair of tweezers, and a molecular hyperwave pincer.
  • A short corridor below deck connects the rest of the rooms. Marvin, the paranoid android, wanders around here spreading ennui. A room to the west is sealed by a door that won't open until you can impress the computer with your intellect.
  • A featureless entry bay connects to the north. The name implies there is at least one other.
  • The galley has a "Nutrimat" machine which dispenses unsatisfying imitation tea. Zaphod may enter and dispense himself a pan-galactic gargle blaster. A carton here contains a gun.
  • The parser dispenses many warnings before entering the engine room, but nothing of interest is found there.
  • A hatchway connects access to the space hatch, and a small access space for servicing the hatch mechanism.


I was stuck here and had to look at a walkthrough. The parser is lying when it says the engine room is empty - keep looking, and you find a portable improbability generator, an ionic diffusion rasp, and a pair of hypersonic pliers.

Some of this sci-fi junk had to be useful, but without any clues what any of it did, so I consulted the Guide on each thing. Most pertinently, I learned that improbability may be generated from an atomic vector plotter and "Brownian motion," which is found in hot liquids. By dipping a "dangly bit" of the former device into the tea substitute and plugging in the portable improbability drive, I could warp to a dark cavern and get torn apart by a Bugblatter Beast (my gun didn't help).

Death just took me back to the Heart of Gold, where I activated the drive again. This time it took me to a battlecruiser's war chamber, where I grabbed an "ultra-plasmic vacuum awl" before becoming swallowed by a dog.

Another vignette took me to a house party in the past, as someone else, presumably Trillian, where a socially awkward Dent responds favorably to the removal of a tuft from his suit, and a hostess that we're informed we don't like follows you around everywhere. Eventually, a party crasher named "Phil" picked me up and brought us into space, and darkness again.

In a fourth vignette, as Breeblebrox (this time I typed "who am I" to confirm my temporary quantum leap identity), I drove a speedboat to steal the Heart of Gold. The boat smashed into the rocks, ending the scenario.

A fifth scenario QL'd me into the past of Ford Prefect, where I got to experience the game's opening act from his perspective, first giving Arthur his towel back, then convincing Prosser to lie down in the mud, escorting Arthur to the pub for beer, and finally watching him blunder his way off the doomed planet, right as the Vogons came on time to destroy it.

One last scenario was real quick - getting gunned down by Vogons on their flagship.

I figured each scenario had a task to complete, and reloaded to try them again.

The Guide had informed me that the Bugblatter Beast is phenomenally stupid, specifically pointing out that it believes it cannot see you if you can't see it. Closing my eyes wasn't obvious enough, but putting a towel on my head was, and this bought me enough time to enter its inner lair and carve my name on its memorial, tricking it into believing it already ate me. I then retrieved a "Nutrimat/Computer Interface" from a corpse and, through a non-interactive but characteristically absurd side-vignette, got sucked into a black hole and warped back onto the Heart of Gold.

I put the board into the galley Nutrimat, and when I activated, it was flabbergasted by the very idea of making tea, and rebooted itself. Meanwhile, Eddie announced that nukes were inbound. I scrambled up to the bridge, plugged the portable improbability drive into the console (I had previously tried this and it had done something detrimental to the ship, but from that experiment I knew it to be an option), and pulled the switch, transforming the missiles into a sperm whale.

The plotter, used with the real tea, now finished brewing, unlocked a new scenario, inside the belly of a whale plummeting to terra firma. It didn't last long at all. I noticed soon after that my inventory was gone, and reloaded.

Going back to tea substitute, I found the scenarios occurred randomly. Trillian's came next, but I couldn't think of anything new to do. Simply getting picked up awarded points, so I figured this was likely the complete sequence.

In Zaphod's scenario, I got his boat to launch me up onto a raised dais by steering it hard to port at the last moment, but couldn't figure out how to escape the cheering crowd there. From a walkthrough, I learned I just had to wait for Trillian to show up and take me "hostage," setting up a standoff with the guards. I figured the guards could be ordered to drop their rifles, but I had to look again for the next and final step - order Trillian to shoot the rifles.

Next, I redid Ford's scenario, and after receiving points and returning to the Heart of Gold, Eddie announced we made planetfall and was jamming the hatch while scanning for habitability.

It took several more cycles of activating the improbability drive in tea substitute before re-arriving in the last unfinished scenario of the group - the war chamber. The improbability drive repeatedly warped me into scenarios already completed (and now instantly fatal) - but eventually I did land there. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to do here, apart from grabbing the awl, which itself awarded no points.

A walkthrough revealed, infuriatingly, that success depended on an action all the way at the beginning of the game; buying a cheese sandwich from the pub and feeding it to a dog.

Utterly. Ridiculous. It's bad enough that I had to restart the game after getting so far in, but the action performed is obscure and nonsensical. I tested and found that Ford's scenario technically gives you a second chance to perform the required action, but the time-loop setup, complete with a temporal paradox condition that, should you fail to perform Ford's predestined actions, boots you out of the game with the message that your actions destroyed the universe, strongly suggests that there is nothing else to do here.

The game does clue you in, subtly, that the dog at the start is also the one that winds up eating the miniature space fleet that you wind up being on. In fact, in Ford's scenario, it clues you in again, which I had picked up on before turning to a walkthrough, though at the time I assumed it to be a clever bit of attention to detail and not a sign that my intervention was required. The connection between a dog gulping during the earth's last moments and a warship getting swallowed is, if not exactly logical, at least consistent with Adams' particular brand of illogic.

But even with foresight knowledge that the dog at the start of the game will eat you later, there's no indication that you can buy sandwiches at the pub, let alone that feeding them to the dog will prevent this event from happening. You'd have to stop to examine the shelves in the pub to even know there are sandwiches there, which you're not likely to do as Arthur because the world is ending (and Ford is urging you to hurry up and drink your beer), and you're not likely to do as Ford because the world is ending (and the parser is urging you to hurry up and not cause a time paradox). Never mind the Babel Fish, this is the game's truly evil puzzle.

So far.


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. Yeah, this game is infamously bad. I don't know why anyone takes it seriously. On the other hand, the nonsensical logic and walking dead scenarios are common in other text adventures, so I don't know that it's that different, honestly.

    1. I don't mind a game that has walking dead scenarios, per se, but this last one is a really a perfect storm of IF cruelty - an obscure, unmotivated action required at the start of the game during an otherwise railroaded sequence with consequences much, much later that don't even clue you in to how you screwed up (at first I thought I was supposed to do something on the warship before getting eaten), and the game's railroad design discourages trying stuff while its lack of exploratory freedom also makes the replays you're forced to endure much more boring than, say, Zork.

  3. Making matters worse is the fact that if you buy the sandwich as Arthur but don't feed it to the dog (a perfectly reasonable sequence for the player who has learned to take everything that's not nailed down, and also to not waste resources frivolously) the sandwich is gone when you play as Ford--the pub only having one cheese sandwich apparently.

    1. I'll give credit for one thing - when you do take the sandwich, you're told it isn't fit for human consumption. IMO, this is a rather clever clue about what you're supposed to do with it, though perhaps not enough to reasonably figure it out on your first playthrough.


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