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

Our man Rockman met his hero in 1998

Spooky talk

There aren't any real people on the starship – just androids and a demented parrot. However, you can end up in some long conversations with the crew. There are 10,000 responses, adding up to a total of 16 hours.

It's great to hear the careful terms in which Adams couches the way this works. He's keen to distinguish between Starship and artificial intelligence. Starship Titanic doesn't employ Al. The name The Digital Village has adopted for the real-enough sounding phrases that emanate from the characters is Spooky Talk. The game is so deep that in many ways it's more like a book

Adams' two favourite characters are the Deskbot and Liftbot – bot being, of course, short for robot. The Liftbot is based on the old-fashioned lift operators who worked at the BBC: they have one arm and tell lies about the war. Liftbot is principally a product of Michael Bywater; who along with Neil Richards collaborated with Adams on the game.

The Deskbot is a fundamental character based on a check-in person for British Airways. To cut a long story short, Adams was sent on an assignment by a national newspaper. Being well over 6ft, he only agreed on the basis that he wouldn't be sent economy. When economy tickets arrived, he questioned this with the newspaper; but was told it was OK – he'd be upgraded at check-in. At the airport, of course, things were a little different. Adams explained about the arrangement and was asked: "And who is going to pay for this?" After an increasingly haughty conversation, Adams paid for the upgrade himself. Thus was born the mission you undertake on the Starship Titanic.

Starship Titanic is a great place to wrangle with bureaucrats. The artwork is stunning, using pre-rendered images with a 1930s feel. Adams says he looked at the original Titanic, but it was mostly Edwardian, which isn't, he feels, very easy on the modern eye. So the interior is modelled on the Queen Mary.

The great graphics limit the game's potential for playing over the web. At an early stage in the design, it was envisaged that there would be two levels – the smart high-resolution version and a kind of virtual reality level that had simple graphics. Some of the problems would have been VR- based. In this form it would've used a low enough bandwidth to be played across the web. However, other aspects took priority and the only artefact that remains is the blocked entrance to this world: an SCSI cable, which you'll find in one of the rooms.

Next page: End of the liner

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