Written by Joe Pranevich
The 1984 release of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy game was a shot in the arm to a flailing Infocom. Immediately rocketing up the charts, it nearly single-handedly saved the company. Even better, Infocom had negotiated the rights to five sequels. If those sold even a fraction as well as the first, Infocom would have a solid revenue line for years to come. There’s a parallel universe out there where all that came to pass, but that’s not the world that we live in as Infocom failed to capitalize on their hottest new brand. As 1984 rolled into ‘85, then ‘86, Infocom released zero of the anticipated sequels. Even after Activision acquired the company, their goldmine remained stubbornly unexploited. The holdup was Douglas Adams: while Infocom had the right to make sequels without his assistance, doing so could have soured a relationship critical to the future success of the company. Instead, they were forced to humor his different idea of a game: one based on a poor experience he (supposedly) had changing his address at a bank. Seeing no way forward without indulging the whim of its celebrity sponsor, Infocom reluctantly agreed to invest in this new title. Bureaucracy was born.
I’ll have more to say about the history of this game in a moment, but let me start by admitting that I am playing this game at exactly the wrong time. This is a game that parodies frustrating and repetitive tasks, usually by forcing you to do frustrating and repetitive tasks. Even the parser hates you: every typo or incorrect verb causes your “blood pressure” to increase, hastening your demise. I started writing this post just prior to the 2020 United States election, completed it in the heady days of slow counts in Pennsylvania and Georgia, and then edited it while our departing President refuses to agree to leave. It’s an incredibly stressful time for those of us in the United States and playing a game that thrives on stress is too much at times. I will do my best to look at this game with a clear head, but this is almost certainly the worst possible time to play a game that includes blood pressure as a key game mechanic.
|If I had just one last wish, I would like a tasty fish.|
By the end of 1984, when the original Hitchhiker’s game was published, Douglas Adams was in a great place financially and professionally, but stress and the weight of expectations took their toll on the popular humorist. By this point, he was working on his fourth Hitchhiker’s Guide book, but the first one based on original material. (The first two were based on his radio scripts, while the third was an adaptation of a rejected Doctor Who serial.) This fourth book, So Long and Thanks for All The Fish, was difficult for Adams to write. An expert procrastinator at the best of times, he had barely begun the book weeks before it was due. His friends and publisher arranged an intervention and he was essentially sequestered under their watchful eyes until it was done. It was a deeply dissatisfying experience for him and resulted in a book that he was not fully proud of.
The outcome of this was two-fold. First, Adams began to develop a nervous perfectionism. By his later admission, he was falling into a trap where he had to work twice as hard to ensure he “didn’t let by stuff that wasn’t good enough”. Now joined by perseveration, procrastination had a new ally in his war against deadlines. Second, Adams was more or less done (for the time being) with the Hitchhiker’s series. The final book left a bad taste in his mouth and he canceled or ignored related projects almost immediately. In one case, Adams was paid £50,000 (about $163K today!) as a commission for a low-effort Hitchhiker’s calendar, but he couldn’t bring himself to work on it. The third and fourth series of the radio show were placed on hold; they would not be completed before his death. The remaining five Hitchhiker’s games on his Infocom contract would similarly have to wait.
Adams knew that the way out of the rut was to work on other things. He summed it up himself:
“I don’t feel as if I have anything more to say about that particular medium [Hitchhiker’s series]. There are other things I want to do. [...] Really, the whole thing is to find a new set of characters and a new environment - it isn’t just that it’s new, but it’s an environment and a set of characters that I, now at age 33, thought up, rather than what I came up with when I was 25.” - Douglas Adams, October 1985.
I’m sure there are better pictures of Islington, but why bother?
In this spirit, Adams negotiated with Infocom for a hiatus from the series that made him famous in favor of a new idea: Bureaucracy. The game would, as pitched, tell the hilarious tale of one man’s attempt to change his address at the bank. While the true story behind the game is likely lost, Adams claimed that it was based on an experience with his bank after moving to Islington in 1981. He attempted to change his address, only to have them send the change of address form to his previous address. Hilarity ensued as he jumped through increasingly complex hoops to convince the bank that he obviously wasn’t where they insisted he had to be, to change his address to where he was. This story is likely apocryphal, perhaps elaborated so far from a real incident so much that it was unrecognizable; Adams’s earliest interviews cited difficulties with “the electricity board, the gas board, and the post office” rather than his bank. Regardless of the inspiration, Infocom agreed to collaborate on the game-- under less than optimal financial terms-- and work very nearly began.
Adams’s same desire to work on anything other than the Hitchhiker’s Guide series, also inspired him to put pen to a new series of novels. By November 1985, Adams had a basic outline and characters for a new series, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency. Thanks to his fame and success, he was able to auction off the rights to a two-book deal. He walked away with $2.2 million dollars for the US rights to the series, plus £575,000 for the UK rights (totaling somewhere around $7.2 million today). He would have a year to write the first one, then jump immediately to the sequel. With his stated desire to work on new characters and situations, the book was both a delight and a challenge. Adams, by his own admission, “spent a year thinking about it, worrying that I couldn’t do it and getting into a bit of a panic”. The deadline passed and Adams barely had more than an outline, cribbed heavily from his unused Shada script for Doctor Who. Once again, he had to be nearly locked away and ultimately pulled together a finished novel after a few weeks of directed effort. Once done, he claimed that the book was the one that he most enjoyed writing, but the process of completing it was long and difficult.
Yes! The Adrian Mole story we’ve all been waiting for!
It wasn’t just Dirk Gently that proceeded poorly, Adams seemed to have spent much of this period in something of a working funk. For example, Adams was instrumental in the launching of Comic Relief in the UK, and was the editor (as well as a contributor) to their 1986 charity work, the Utterly Utterly Merry Comic Relief Christmas Book. He contributed three short stories to the collection, two of which were Hitchhiker’s-adjacent: “Young Zaphod Plays It Safe” (a prequel to his series) and “The Private Life of Genghis Khan” (based on a sketch written by Adams and Graham Chapman in 1975, but updated to include a Hitchhiker’s cameo). Although he contributed those stories, other sources within Comic Relief complained that Adams did very little actual editing and left the real work to others. Adams’s inattention affected him in other ways as well, most notably by providing an opening for his account to embezzle £375,000 (roughly $1.2 million dollars today). The accountant committed suicide during the resulting litigation and Adams never recovered the funds. This is also the period where Adams’s collaboration on Labyrinth took place (as described in a previous post), and whether the authors of that game knew it or not, they had the right approach to keeping Adams engaged: a short writing stint and plenty of food.
It should be no surprise that with Adams’s many other challenges, Bureaucracy fell by the wayside. What was intended to be a brief interlude before the next Hitchhiker’s game suddenly took three years to write. It was, in a word cursed: Adams was difficult to work with and the game stubbornly refused to come together. Time and time again, the lead designer would quit (perhaps in frustration), Adams would provide very little feedback, and the next designer would try to pick up where the previous one left off. Marc Blank (Zork, et al), Jerry Wolper (Cutthroats), Paul DiLascia, Jeff O’Neill (Ballyhoo), Chris Reeves, and Tim Anderson (Zork) all took their turns at bat. Adams eventually agreed to delegate much of the writing to Michael Bywater, Adams’s friend and fellow humorist. (He was the basis for the character of Dirk Gently. This would also be the beginning of a short game-writing career for Bywater and perhaps we will look at his next game, 1987’s Jinxter, in the future.) Before release, Bureaucracy would be touched by almost everyone at Infocom; it was truly a team effort. To celebrate the collaboration, or at least to deflect blame, the game was credited to “W.E.B. ‘Fred’ Morgan”, the team’s collective pseudonym.
Joan Rivers packed a lot of the 1980s into her brief late night talk show career.
Like most Infocom games of the period, Bureaucracy did not sell as well as desired. According to leaked sales data, only 28k copies of the game were sold between 1987 and 1989, around a third of what Hitchhiker’s Guide (a three year old game!) sold during the same period. Obviously the game did not have the brand recognition of the previous series, but neither did Dirk Gently and Adams’s new series of novels sold relatively well. One reason could be due to marketing-- Dirk Gently books were heavily advertised and promoted as “DOUGLAS ADAMS” books (in all caps on the cover!), while Bureaucracy seems embarrassed to mention its author in small print at the bottom of the box. Adams did a small publicity tour for the game, including appearances on Nightlife with David Brenner and The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers, but neither had the market impact that was needed. Despite being ostensibly written by one of the world’s leading humorists, the game barely made a mark on its release.
After Bureaucracy's poor sales figures, work resumed on a sequel to the Hitchhiker’s Guide game, but the project never made it far. I will be looking at the history of the failed sequel once I make it to 1989 in our marathon. Adams would not return to making computer games until Starship Titanic in 1998. I look forward to covering that game… someday. Bywater would embark on a career writing for Magnetic Scrolls; he contributed to several adventure games there until their closure in 1990.
I’m ready to move onto the game, please!
The Manual & Feelies
Like all Infocom games, the stuff that came with the game is nearly half the fun. In Bureaucracy’s case, we have several interesting nuggets:
- Instead of the usual plaudits from happy customers, the “quotes” page at the front of the manual consists entirely of snippets from complaint letters. My favorite: “Finally, an Infocom game that doesn’t make any sense.” - Liz, age 26 Beverly, Massachusetts
- A “You’re Ready to Move” brochure from Fillmore Fiduciary Trust, a surprisingly long and complicated explanation of all of the steps that you will have to take to change your address, including a flow chart and line-by-line instructions. Those of you fortunate to have lived in the US before the advent of tax software might recognize the style as a parody of IRS instructions included with American tax forms. Yes, they really are that terrifying. (I finally broke down and hired an accountant this year.)
- A letter from our new employer at Happitec telling us about our all-expenses-paid trip to Paris for new employee training.
- An application for a “Beezer” card in triplicate, presumably a parody of “Visa”. (Visa cards were first brought to market in 1976, eleven years prior to this game being released.)
- A few pages of “Popular Paranoia” magazine, marking yet another game that includes a magazine as a feelie. This one is not as fleshed out as Hollywood Hijinx’s magazine, but they seem of the same spirit.
- A pencil.
This game marked the end of an era in another way: it was the final work to be distributed in the ubiquitous “greybox” packaging adopted during the launch of Cutthroats and used retroactively for all titles. While some design elements such as the Infocom “stripes” would be retained, this was another sign that Infocom’s distinctiveness was slowly wearing away.
Seems vaguely familiar...
Playing the Game
The game opens with a fake out: we are greeted by a window that states that we do not have a license to operate the software. We must fill out an “on-line” application, mail it in with proof of purchase, and then wait 4-6 weeks for processing before we can play! As introductions go, it is unique. The license application feels like an insane version of Cornerstone (although it is probable that many other productivity applications for DOS used a similar color scheme) as we enter the text boxes in random order, are unable to backtrack, etc. It’s designed for maximum frustration and I suppose they succeeded. I picked “Henry Stiles” as my player name and was careful to take a screenshot, just in case any of that stuff is needed later.
The introductory text is fun so I’ll just recap it in full:
Well now, Ms Stiles, aren’t you glad you left your previous job? The Deep Thought Corporation of America was of course a great company to work for, except for the no-coloured-socks dress code, and you really enjoyed being Vice President (Software Development), especially the opportunities it gave you to cause considerable inconvenience to many hundreds of thousands of people you had never met.
But Happitec is going to be MUCH more fun. The money’s better, it’s a great place to live and work and you’re really looking forward to your Paris vacation.
You’re pretty pleased with your new home, too, and don’t really mind that the removals company fouled up slightly due to a computer scheduling problem.
Of course you know that sort of thing. It’s exactly what has happened to you. But Happitec’s enlightened employee policies mean you don’t really care. After all, who needs money? Pick up your Happitec cheque, grab a bite of lunch, a cab to the airport and then you’ll be living high on the hog at Happitec’s expense. What a truly ENVIABLE situation you find yourself in, Ms Stiles.
You’ll notice that we have been misgendered. How rude! With some vague hints as to what to do (pick up a cheque, eat lunch, and take a cab to the airport), we begin the game in earnest!
“A Paranoid Fantasy”. I’m going to have pain in the diodes all down my left side, I just know it.
We find ourselves in a house with no furniture as the movers (“removals company”?) haven’t delivered all of our things yet. This happened to me once; I had to live out of my luggage and sleep on the floor for two weeks. (I also didn’t have a car at the time and the apartment was less heated than advertised. December 1999 was a challenging month.) Although the front room is empty, the the next room over is filled to the brim with adventuring goodies:
- An answering machine.
- A hacksaw
- An address book
- A case containing two computer cartridges, one for Dork I and another to predict eclipses (the most recent eclipse was yesterday in game time; what a sad coincidence)
- A letter, as reproduced in our game documentation
- Our passport
- A Boysenberry computer
It should be noted that our player character is a fairly modern sort. Answering machines, although commercially available for decades, only became common starting in the 80s. The Boysenberry computer is a strange duck and seems to be one part a parody of the early Macintoshes, another of a Commodore 64 or similar system (judging by the cartridge slot), and even an early laptop since we can carry it around and use it on the go. The first Macs shipped in 1984 while the first commercial laptop (the Compaq Portable) was released in 1982. Either way, it suggests a character who is well off enough to buy toys and has relatively recent stuff. As we were supposedly an executive at our previous job, it makes sense for us to have all of this stuff.
I muck with the answering machine first. Each time someone hangs up without leaving a message, our blood pressure goes up. (More on that in a bit.) Listening to the messages, I learn that a letter from my bank (no doubt the missing change of address form) arrived at my old residence, but the new owner hates me and returned it to the bank. None of the other messages seem to be plot-relevant, but listening to all of the irrelevant ones increased my blood pressure to 135/87. Presumably we’ll have a heart attack if we let the stress meter get too high.
A 1987 answering machine. Beep.
Before I can explore any more, the doorbell rings and I am greeted by a delivery man. While I know I didn’t order any llama treats, this is an adventure game so I pay for them anyway using the Beezer credit card that I discover in my wallet. (The treats were sent COD. Does anyone remember COD packages?) Back to exploring.
My address book lost most of its pages, but it too offers plenty of clues to follow up on:
- The first page contains my current and former addresses, probably so we’d have a reference to see what we entered at the beginning of the game. If we call our old number, it still goes to our old house! Unfortunately, the new owner is having a party and will not speak to us.
- The middle page contains numbers for “Alpha” and “Beta”, as well as bank branches near both my old house and my current one. In fact, there’s a branch only a few doors down!
- The final page contains my boss’s number, as well as a taxi company. I bet I’ll need the latter to get to the airport.
Since I know that my change of address form was returned to the bank, I try calling them to straighten this all out. I wait on hold for a long time, finally get to ask about an address change, then put on hold again. Eventually, someone comes on to tell me that the form was sent to my old address and then cannot help without it. I try the same conversation with the nearby branch, but it ends in exactly the same way. I guess I’ll just have to go there myself.
I head outside and check my mailbox and it only contains a leaflet… addressed to a different house. It’s another ad for a game but contains a stamp that looks like I could get it off if I find a way to deal with the glue. Steaming it off is the trope-ish way to do that, right? I’ll be on the lookout. Unfortunately, since there’s no $75 check in my mailbox ($170 in today’s money) and there is clearly a problem with mail delivery, I’ll need to explore around. Speaking of the letter, it more or less tells me what I think I am supposed to do:
The $75 money order is in the mail to your new home. To obtain your airline ticket, simply take this letter to your travel agency. Then you're on your way to Paris! Be sure to be on time for your flight. We've found that new employees who miss the training seminar usually aren't very happy at Happitec.
Rather than give you a play by play as I explore the neighborhood, I’ll summarize what we are dealing with:
Outside, a new day is dawning. Outside suburbia's sprawling everywhere.
Our house number and street are based on the information that we entered at the start. Houses proceed both north (lower numbers) and south (higher numbers) from where we are. I didn’t test what happened if we picked a very low house number; perhaps they go negative? I didn’t explore deeply on the first pass as I just wanted to take stock of the area.
- Our house is in the middle of the street. I numbered it 200, and I’ll use that numbering here, but you probably picked something different. On the opposite side of the street is an alley leading to the backyard of a nearby mansion.
- That mansion (#201) is just south of our house. We can ring the doorbell from the front and someone will eventually greet us at the door. We can also use that alley to sneak in the back through an unlocked screen door. We don’t get far because a vicious macaw guards a stack of unopened mail. If we continue further into the house, we’ll be confronted by a very angry homeowner with a gun.
- Further south (#202) is a llama farm, the likely intended destination of the llama treats that I recently paid for. The owners left a note that they are out of town, but the post office has continued delivering their mail. For reasons that defy explanation, the owners have the mailbox open straight into a llama pen and so we now have a llama standing guard over a pile of unread mail. Could my check be in that stack?
- The final house to the south (#203) belongs to a paranoid recluse with an impenetrable gate and the constant feeling that we are being watched. Shortly after we arrive, a voice will intone “Unfortunately, there’s a radio connected to my brain.” over the intercom. Exactly what that means is as yet unclear.
- North of our house (#199) is a restaurant and bookshop. Unlike a US street, they somehow both have the same house number despite being on opposite sides of the street. (Is this a British thing?) The bookstore sells computer software, although the sales agent tells us that the game from the leaflet hasn’t been released yet. I also see a cash register that I can peek into, but not while the clerk is there. Across the street is the restaurant and that is an adventure to itself (more on it in a moment), but let’s just say that I fail to purchase a hamburger because I have no money.
- Further north (#198) is a travel agency and a tenement building, on opposite sides of the street. The tenement’s only apartment door (that I can get to) is locked, so I may or may not be able to explore that later. The travel agency is more straightforward and I have no difficulty (following the instructions in my letter) claiming my airline tickets. My flight is at 4:00 PM and it’s presently just a bit after 10:00 AM, so I have plenty of time.
- The final building to the north is the bank. It’s closed when I arrive, but opens in just 6 minutes so I hang out outside. It has numerous teller windows, most of which are unoccupied, but three are for changes of address, deposits, and withdrawals. I don’t see any way to get any money out of the bank immediately as my checking account is at the minimum balance.
During all of this, I am approached several times by a kid trying to sell me something: a game, an executive planner, etc. Everything he sells is very expensive and as I cannot presently even afford a hamburger, I ignore him.
Where are your pajamas?
The first puzzle that I go back to solve is the llama. It’s pretty clear that my first mission is to figure out which stack of misdelivered mail contains my $75 check from Happitec and deposit it into the bank. We saw stacks in at least the llama pen and the mansion, but I expect there may be more to find elsewhere.
Approaching the llama isn’t difficult, although he will not let us at the mail and will lick us (increasing our blood pressure) if we try to approach. The solution is likely the llama treats, although the game is deliberately frustrating as you try to use them. We have to remember to open the bag first and then the treats are slippery and fall from our hands. We need only to pour the open bag into the mailbox. Doing so scores us a satisfied munching llama and we can collect the mail. Flipping through it, we find a copy of Popular Paranoia (no doubt the same one that appeared in our game packaging) which is addressed for #203, the well-guarded house.
I also notice that there is a locked farmhouse on the other side of the street from the pen. With no obvious way in, I leave it alone for now.
American fast food in 1987.
The Restaurant at the End of My Patience
The fast food restaurant offers an interesting look at what passes for a “frustration puzzle” in Bureaucracy. Much like with the llama, where the parser is deliberately obtuse to frustrate you, here we have to navigate a painful ordering sequence… twice, just to get a hamburger that we cannot pay for. It starts when we arrive in the restaurant and wait around for someone to come by and take our order. Even in 1987, all fast food restaurants had ordering counters and I’m not sure what they are parodying here. Once one arrives, we are greeted by a tremendously long cycle of questions about exactly what type of burger we want to order. Let me give you a taste:
A harried-looking waitress appears at your side. “May I take your order now, sir?”
The waitress sighs too loudly. “All right, sir, how would you like your burger done? Raw? Rare? Medium? Well-done?”
“Bar-b-que sauce on that?”
“Very well, sir. Melted cheese?”
“Swiss, American, or Cheddar?”
“How about bacon?”
You get the idea. It goes on and on. She’ll eventually get around to asking for sides (I choose a salad), drinks (cola), and even if we want an extra cup of water on the side. Each option leads to more questions (what type of dressing, diet or regular, etc.) and it’s quite a long way until the end. I pay more attention to this than I should because any of these things could end up being needed for a puzzle later. If there’s a bacon-cheeseburger-eating monster or a houseplant that needs to be watered, I want to be prepared. As soon as she finished, she marched off to put our order in the machine, only to return immediately to let me know that the computer crashed and it was time for her break. Someone else would be around to help me shortly. Eventually, another waiter arrives and goes through the exact same spiel again. I half expect that order to end in failure as well, but it seems to go through… until the waiter comes out with a “standard, smells-like-a-dog’s-ear burger, with nothing on it”. All thirty of those questions were just to waste our time.
Even once I work through all of that, I cannot pay for the burger because I’m out of cash, they don’t take Beezer, and my US Excess card is expired. While I can quickly “dine and dash” out the back door, that feels like I am setting myself up to get arrested at a random point later. I abandon getting food for now and will come back once I have some funds.
|This seems to be the type of (European?) bank the game features. The shocking thing is how similar this image is to the fast food restaurant...|
Failing to Make a Withdrawal
I head to the bank next, but it is a strange place. When I arrived the first time, it was closed for seven minutes. As I explore this time, I will be kicked out for another break. As best I can tell, it closes at random moments for random amounts of time, just to frustrate us. When we make it in, we find a row of tellers. We start at Window #5 and can go up and down numbers by moving west or east. The vast majority of windows say “next window please”, but there are a few that have real tellers behind them:
- One teller only does changes of address, although she gives me the same runaround as before where we cannot change our address until we return the (mis-directed) change of address form.
- One teller only does withdrawals. Doing a withdrawal involves getting a slip, filling it out-- careful to use the same details we entered in the opening of the game-- and handing it back with our passport, only to learn that we only have $10 in our account with a minimum balance of $10.
- Two other tellers only cash checks or perform deposits. I expect those ones will be useful once I locate my Happitec check.
I leave empty-handed and with no clear idea of what I am supposed to do there yet. One probably unintentional aggravation is that the game cannot decide whether “check” (American) or “cheque” (British) is the correct spelling; it flips back and forth and drives me nuts.
|Like this but in 1987. (Borrowed lovingly from NPR. Please don’t sue me.)|
A Well-Regulated Militia?
I discover a clue to the next puzzle as I wander down the street: the llama farmhouse has been broken into and ransacked. When I visited it the first time, it was locked up pretty tight. I head inside and find it empty, but am soon greeted by an unexpected visitor:
A stranger bearing really rather a horrid resemblance to Woody Allen appears in the open doorway. He is carrying a colossal armoury for one so runty, and his general twitchiness doesn’t help you feel any more secure. Guns, knives, hatchets, and bombs dangle from various belts, straps, and D-loops. For some reason, he makes you feel nervous. He peers around the room uncertainty, then turns to stare at you. “Ahem”, he says, shuffling his feet expectantly.
If that guy makes you think of the well-secured house in the south end of town, then you are in good company. Thinking that he wants me to ask him the passphrase, I try to “say” and “tell” it to him, to no avail and he soon leaves. I restore and just enter it directly:
> Unfortunately, there’s a radio connected to my brain
The weirdo consults some notes on his shirt cuff and shows a look of understanding.
The weirdo looks you straight in the eye and says, “Actually, it’s the BBC controlling us from London.”
Aha! Now, I have the counter-phrase! I’m not even going to complain about how he is clearly parodying a US 2nd Amendment-type while making references to the UK-based BBC. American paranoid rednecks don’t even know about the BBC! Or were there gun-toting folks like this in Britain, also?
In any event, the guy follows me out of the farmhouse, realizes that he’s come to the wrong address, and then marches off. But, now it’s my turn to do some spy-stuff because I head down to the paranoid’s house and give him my newly-learned counter-phrase. He unlocks the door and we enter, although he doesn’t give us much of a welcome:
The completely, utterly paranoid owner of the house is here. He is also twitching nervously, and holding a machine gun. You are surprised that there are so many heavily-armed Woody Allens in this neighborhood. He looks you up and down suspiciously. You get the distinct impression that touching the mail you see here would be extremely unwise.
I’m not alone: the strange guy from outside beat me to here and the homeowner is convinced that one of us must be the imposter! (Of course, it’s me. Shhh.) And yet, the paranoid guy knows my name!? That’s just creepy. To prove that we are really in his club, he challenges us to a set of extremely difficult copy-protection questions. His first might seem easy, but answering it will take some explanation: “What is the breeding ground for most major diseases?”
I sit here alone and I wonder why.
|There's a new wave coming, I warn ya.|
The copy protection for this game appears to be based on the Popular Paranoia magazine that was included with the documentation (as well as virtually located in-game). The first section of that insert includes sixteen questions which match the ones that are given by the militia member. Identifying where the questions come from is easy, but answering them is harder. In the text of the “magazine”, there are twenty-one text blurbs which more or less correspond to the questions… but even having them in front of you doesn’t always make it clear which answer is correct. There’s no order to the answers that I could see and often several delusional theories seem like they could be correct for the same question.
A few examples.
The answer to our question, the “breeding ground for most major diseases”, is yogurt. Once we get one right, our host asks us several more and we must get them all correct or the game ends. Even with the manual in front of me, it takes me three tries to get past this sequence. You may also notice in the above scan that at least the words we need to type in as answers are in bold; at least one of the manuals I located on-line had the same without the helpful bold text. Could it be that the copy protection was so hard that they made it easier in a second printing? Or perhaps just one of the re-releases neglected to bold the words.
After answering six questions correctly, the paranoid guy decides that he still cannot tell which of us is real and which is the fake. He pulls a lever and we both fall into a “gaol” (jail) cell that he conveniently keeps in his basement. We’ll have to learn to collaborate to get out!
Not to leave you all on a cliffhanger, but I think that is a good stopping point for this week. I’m mixed on this game so far, but that could just be because its specific humor is not appealing to me right now. Another thing throwing me off is the strange mix between UK and UK-based references and spellings; it feels like a British guy trying his best to write about an American experience without having actually had one. The bank and fast food restaurant feel off, the mix of terminology is all over the place (“removals company”, “gaol”, “cheque”), much of the humor assumes a British perspective (few Americans know about the BBC or the late Queen Mother), and even the idea that we are heading off to Paris for training feels unlikely. And yet, the game forces you to provide a US address at the beginning and is clearly intended to an American suburb. I’m almost certainly over-reacting, but it all conspires to make the game feel just a little bit “off”.
Time played: 2 hr 10 min
Score: 1 out of 21
Inventory: magazine, eclipse-predicting cartridge, adventure game cartridge, Beezer card, wallet, US Excess card (in wallet), hacksaw, address book, passport, digital watch.
I panicked, sorry.
I enjoyed the chance to catch up on the next few years of Douglas Adams’s life. For the history section, I am indebted to several great references:
- Neil Gaiman’s Don’t Panic - The Official Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Companion, both the 1988 and an updated version from 2009. The original version was contemporary with the development of Bureaucracy and sheds some light on future plans for more games, while the latter editions are clever enough to excise those bits since they never came out.
- M. J. Simpson’s Hitchhiker - A Biography of Douglas Adams. This is an amazing biography of Adams and hits on his life exceptionally well.
- Infocom’s Status Line newsletters for Winter/Spring 1987 and Summer 1987, both of which include details about the game.
It’s also time for you to guess the score! Infocom games are currently averaging 40 points and given all the designers that pitched into this one, perhaps an average of all of the company’s talents is a good place to start. Douglas Adams’s first game, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, scored a reasonable 49 points. Labyrinth scored only 33 points. Which will this game be more like? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introductory post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 50 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.