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The Daily Telegraph Feb 12, 1998



Steve Boxer

When buying computer games, as in everything else, the public can often be fickle. Perfectly good, even great, games have been known to sink without trace. It can be stated categorically, however, that one game scheduled to steam gracefully into the shops next month will not, indeed cannot, under any circumstances, possibly end up in such a watery grave.

That game, Starship Titanic, has been impressively constructed using the very latest technology, and is the brainchild of Douglas Adams, master of the humorous paradox.

Throw into the equation the public's new-found appetite for anything even vaguely Titanic-related and you will surely agree that only the razing of the Earth in order to make way for an intergalactic bypass could prevent Starship Titanic from being a watertight success.

Since The Hitch-Hiker's Guide to the Galaxy series of books, Adams has reinvented himself as a bit of a technology guru (his fondness for all matters Macintosh is legendary), so graduating from print to computer games would seem to be a perfectly logical step. Having tasted the world of games in the late Eighties, with Infocom's text-based Hitch-Hiker's Guide interpretation, he says: "It seemed like I was doing it the wrong way round, doing the hard work of writing and then handing over the fun games part to someone else." So he formed The Digital Village, which appears to operate much like any other games development house, and set to work on Starship Titanic.

The game, although it essentially belongs to the point-and-click adventure genre, attempts to break new ground, as Adams explains: "We decided to try to come up with a system in which you could say whatever you liked to the game's characters and they would answer. In a couple of years' time we might be tempted to do online speech recognition. But now, with the Internet and so on, we're a post-post-literate society and people are typing again. So we considered a text-to-speech output system, but all the characters sounded like semi-concussed Scandinavians, so we settled on pre-recorded speech output."

Adams and his team of writers (including Connected 's Michael Bywater) have tried to give each of Starship Titanic's characters a pre-recorded answer to every question they could imagine anyone asking them. This system works well enough for you to be able to elicit the information necessary to complete the game and even if you catch the characters (which all have split personalities) when they aren't co-operating, there are lashings of trademarked Adams humour to enjoy.

The game itself is complex, involving, deliciously absurd (naturally, you have to blag your way from steerage to first class) and hilarious. The ability to chat aimlessly with in-game characters creates the illusion of a game that moves faster than the point-and-click norm, and plenty of surreal touches keep you amused inside its stately hull. Which of course, is guaranteed iceberg-proof.

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