GOG Adds D&D Strategy, Genies And Douglas Adams’ Starship Titanic

GOG are still capable of serving up a dangerous dose of nostalgia from time to time. Three releases yesterday all gave me reason to reflect on sometimes misspent and sometimes well-spent youth. The game I remember as Stronghold has been released as D&D Stronghold: Kingdom Simulator, presumably to avoid Firefly-related confusion. Then there’s Al-Qadim: The Genie’s Curse, a D&D-inflected Arabian Nights puzzle-adventure. And, last but not least, Starship Titanic, the game wot Douglas Adams did.

Let’s tackle these one by one.

I loved Stronghold but it’s worth remembering that I played it at a time in my life when I pretty much had to love every game I owned, because I had to save up for months to buy the next one. It was the perfect game for that time though because it didn’t have a story with a beginning, middle and (most dreadful of all) an end. It’s a real-time strategy game, though more Civ than Command and Conquer, and I thought it was the bee’s knees. Even so, I remember the interface being almost indecipherable and the graphics being a bit cack. No idea how it holds up but it’s a fairly unique entry in the D&D world.

Al-Qadim is a mystery to me. I’m fairly sure I bought it as part of the same Masterpiece Collection. Wikipedia says not, which means it must have been a different collection – I think I had two, one containing some of the Gold Box games and one with Stronghold, the Dark Sun games and Al-Qadim. Any idea what I’m talking about? Al-Qadim was in the AD&D Masterpiece Collection but Stronghold was not. If anyone knows which collection Stronghold cropped up in, we might get to the bottom of this mystery. Whatever the case, I know I either enjoyed Al-Qadim or persevered with it because I completed it and that was a rare thing.

And then there’s Starship Titanic, which is the second Douglas Adams’ game I played, the first being Infocom’s Hitchhiker’s Guide text adventure.

“Douglas Adams told a very brief story once, it took up one standard page at most, depending on whatever font was selected for the exact copy you might have stumbled upon at the library, your aunt’s place or wherever it is that you browse through assorted bookshelves. This was just one of his very many stories, and while some were told before and some after, it was this particular one that just happened to inspire the proper person who just happened to be born at the right time, the right place, and was presently in the right kind of mood to make a video game.

“This is the tale of a glorious, flying monument to humanity’s rather presumptuous dominance over life, the universe, and everything.”

The raising of the Starship Titanic is one of GOG’s archaeological undertakings, the likes of which we covered in detail recently. I had a copy at one point – somebody bought it from a charity shop as a birthday present when I was in my mid-twenties. It was a time in my life when everyone else was buying me very serious books about literary theory and Starship Titanic, in a battered old box, stood out somewhat. I was chuffed to bits with it but didn’t expect I’d be writing about the game ten years down the line rather than about very serious literary theory.

Sadly, I don’t think it’s a particularly good old game. Interesting, yes, and a lovely piece of history, but stubbornly difficult and not as funny as you might expect. I’m glad it’s back though. I’m glad all of them are back because recognising the importance of preservation doesn’t have to go hand-in-hand with celebrating every piece of the past as if it’s a marvel.

23 Comments

  1. mrwonko says:

    Starship Titanic may not have been a very good game, but I love the setting and art design. Glad it’s on gog now.

  2. Humppakummitus says:

    GOG just got the Shovel Knight extra campaign too. It’s brand new, though. :)

  3. Great Cthulhu says:

    According to the English wikipedia at least, Al-Qadim is included in the Masterpiece Collection. I’m fairly certain that’s correct too, but it’s been a while since I looked at my own copy of the collection.

  4. FunnyB says:

    If memory serves me correctly, Starship Titanic was very briefly mentioned in Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy. Later, one of the Monty Python members (Terry something) wrote the book, which I believe was quite funny.

    Never played the game though.

    • malkav11 says:

      Yeah, Adams had next to no involvement with Starship Titanic, whereas he actually wrote the Infocom text adventure Bureaucracy. The difference is, alas, palpable.

      • Guiscard says:

        Adams was responsible for much of Starship Titanic. According to the credits, he wrote the script and story, outlined the design of the game, and was involved in composing both music and sound effects. He himself appeared as one of the characters in the end-game, and he voices one of the robots. He wasn’t involved with the novelisation, that being Terry Jones’ affair, but for better or worse, Adams was irrevocably involved with the project.

      • binkbenc says:

        But..but..Bureaucracy is a terrible adventure game. It’s one of those times where a developer gets so sucked into the idea that they lose sight of the game. “I know, the games about tedious bureaucracy, so let’s fill it full of tedious bureaucracy.” Never a good idea. (Another example is the Spellcasting series, where they got so sucked into making you feel like you were really at school – sitting through hours of lessons, etc., where you did actually have to pay attention – that they forgot that many people play games to get away from that kind of thing.)

        • jrodman says:

          Huh, I had a pretty different reaction to Bureaucracy. It’s one of the few times in adventure games where I really lost myself in trying all kinds of wrong things and seeing what result the game gave me. Admittedly, a couple of puzzles were a bit crap, but I just hintbooked my way through those and loved the experience all the same.

          My view may be colored by the fact that most adventure games get me irrevocably stuck in a way that I feel is unfair pointless and unwelcome, while in Bureaucracy somehow it felt in-theme.

      • Big_Bag says:

        Interestingly enough, Bureaucracy is an example of something Douglas Adams had next to nothing to do with. There’s an incredibly interesting article all about it here if you want to read about how much of a development hell that game went through.

        • jrodman says:

          Unfortunately I’ve found that particular blog to be far more interested in semi-accurate editorializing than careful investigation, with the compounding sin of claiming authoritativeness. I suppose so long as you think of it as entertainment rather than a historical record, then it’s not a bad thing.

    • Scurra says:

      The best thing about the novel (which I have and still think is quite funny) is that they released the text as a free download, but they’d sorted all the words into alphabetical order first. Which definitely felt like the right sort of Adams-Python cross-over that the novel was.
      I still have a lot of respect for the parser in the game itself, which is hyper-sophisticated but ultra-constrained. It’s surprising how good a conversation you can get going without the tricks being too obvious.

  5. gbrading says:

    Yes Douglas Adams’s Starship Titanic! I know it’s not great apparently but it was a really important game, and anything Douglas Adams did is worth saving. I’m still going to give it a go as I’ve never played it before.

    • phlebas says:

      It’s amusingly scripted and very nice looking but poorly designed as a game – full of dead ends, backtracking and the solutions to a few of the puzzles seemed completely arbitrary (to give some sense of scale: I consider the Babel fish puzzle basically sensible).

  6. Guiscard says:

    Starship Titanic. I will remember it for one thing. Annoying the hell out of a bomb voiced by John Cleese by pushing all of its literal buttons.

    • bonuswavepilot says:

      Yes! I don’t think the bomb would actually ever explode though – the phrase to solve it was quite funny too. It had a text parser for talking to NPCs too, which was kind of unusual and would occasionally lead to amusing responses. (Though more often meant fruitless minutes of trying silly things hoping for a response.)

  7. Premium User Badge

    Neurotic says:

    Still got my boxes Starship Titanic here. No idea why, but I do.

  8. BrillBill says:

    I also got this back in the day, in an SSI compliation.
    I think it was “Fantasy Fest” – Dungeon Hack, Unlimited Adventures, Fantasy Empires and Stronghold. I remember playing Fantasy Empires a lot, but never got into Stronghold…

  9. Emeraude says:

    The game wot Douglas Adams did.

    What do you mean “the” game ?

    Text adventures don’t count now ? Not cool enough for you, are they ?

    You parsist !

  10. Martel says:

    Stronghold! That is one of the first PC games I owned, man did I love that game.