The Post That Cannot Possibly Go Wrong
December 22, 2010 7:28 PM   Subscribe

Halfway through the third book of the Hitchhiker's Guide series, there is a throwaway reference to a doomed starship, one whose incredible splendor was matched only by the cosmic absurdity of its maiden-day annihilation. But the story didn't end there. Unbeknownst to many fans, this small piece of Adamsian lore was the inspiration for an ambitious and richly-detailed side-story: a 1998 computer adventure game called Starship Titanic. Designed by Douglas Adams himself, the game set players loose in the infamous vessel, challenging them with a maddening mystery laced with the devilish wit of the novels. The game was laden with extra content, including an in-depth strategy guide, a (mediocre) tie-in novel by Terry Jones, a whimsical First Class In-Flight Magazine, and even a pair of 3D glasses for one of the more inventive puzzles. Key to solving these puzzles was the game's groundbreaking communications system -- players interacted with the ship's robotic crew through a natural language parsing engine called SpookiTalk, whose 10,000+ lines of conversational dialogue spawned 16 hours of audio recorded by professional voice actors, including John Cleese, Terry Jones, and even Douglas Adams himself in several cameos (spoiler cameo). Want to experience the voyage for yourself? Then watch this narrated video playthrough (intro (ads) - 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9? 10 11 12 13) ...or click inside for a information on how to run the game for free on Windows, Mac, and Linux (along with a bunch of other goodies!).

Extra Content
Excerpts of extra material included with the original copy of the game, including a fictional newspaper, profiles for all the bots and helpful guides to their "cellpoint" settings, the rantings of the infamous parrot, background articles from the strategy guide, and a map of the ship (source for scans). Emulating Starship Titanic
Though an abandonware title, Starship Titanic can still be played using emulation software for its original Mac OS platform. To get this working, you'll need four basic elements: the emulator program, some files necessary to make the emulator compatible, some tools to extract these files, and a copy of the game itself. It sounds complicated, but it's actually pretty straightforward if you follow the directions. The emulator software we'll be using, SheepShaver, is available for Windows, Mac, and Linux, so it should work no matter your set-up (though I've only done it myself on a Windows box).

Here's what you'll need:

- The latest version of the SheepShaver emulator (in a .zip file): Windows - Mac - Linux
- Courtesy of the software archive at MacintoshGarden, compressed copies of the game's three discs: one two three
- A compressed image of the game's original OS, on which to run the emulator: here
- A free copy of 7-zip, to decompress the OS file: here

Depending on your OS, you may also need some supplementary files to get everything working right; for instance, Windows XP users need a copy of SDL.dll in the extracted Sheepshaver folder and need to install the GTK +2 runtime. See Sheepshaver's installation notes for Windows, Mac, and Linux to see if your system needs any additional files; the site usually provides direct links to them.

Once you have that squared away, use 7-zip to decompress the Mac 9.0.4 OS folder. Then, open the Sheepshaver folder and click the "SheepShaverGUI" icon. In the first tab, click "Add," browse to the decompressed OS folder, and select the file "macos9800.image." Next, click the checkbox at the bottom for enabling the external file system (this will let you transfer files between your computer and the emulated Mac). In the next tab over, select the window size and resolution you want for the emulator -- you might need to experiment with different sizes, since the image can look a little glitchy on some settings. Finally, in the "Settings" tab, set the RAM size to 1024 and set the ROM file to be the "Mac_OS_Rom" file that's located in the Sheepshaver folder.

Now, click the Start button. If all goes well, the emulator should boot up a virtual version of Mac OS 9. Once at the desktop, click the icon for your computer's HD ("My Computer" for Windows, for instance) to access your computer's file system. Browse to where you kept the three Starship Titanic files and drag them to the virtual desktop. Now, click the "Stuffit Expander Alias" icon. This will open a tool that will decompress the files. Drag the game files onto the Stuffit window, then browse to a folder on your computer's drive and click "Choose." The game files will be extracted there.

After the files are extracted, exit the virtual desktop by clicking to close the emulator window and then select "Shut Down." If you've got it in fullscreen mode, close any open programs inside the emulator (File -> Quit) and then shut down the desktop by selecting Special -> Shut Down in the menu bar. Now, open up the SheepShaverGUI icon again. In the first tab, click "Add" and browse to the first decompressed game file (STCD1.toast). Once it's added, click Start. The emulator should boot again, but now the icon for Starship Titanic should be on the virtual desktop. Click it to start installation, select a folder (in the virtual system) to install the game to, and you should be good to go. When the time comes to swap discs, just exit out of Sheepshaver and select the appropriate disc to add in the first tab of SheepShaverGUI.

If you encounter any problems, the forums at E-Maculation (the developer of Sheepshaver) and MacintoshGarden (the home for emulated Mac games) are very helpful. See also the installation guides at E-Maculation, Macintosh Garden, and RedundantRobot for more detailed documentation.

Fabulous Bonus for making it this far:
"Parrots, the Universe, and Everything" - A full-length video and transcript of one of Douglas Adams's final speeches, in which he discusses his environmental book Last Chance to See at UC Santa Barbara.
posted by Rhaomi (109 comments total) 556 users marked this as a favorite
(Astute readers will note that this would have been my 42nd post, if it weren't for that spur-of-the-moment hacked password story. *shakes fist impotently at Gawker*)
posted by Rhaomi at 7:29 PM on December 22, 2010 [52 favorites]

Though an abandonware title, Starship Titanic can still be played using emulation software for its original Mac OS platform. To get this working, you'll need four basic elements: the emulator program, some files necessary to make the emulator compatible, some tools to extract these files, and a copy of the game itself. It sounds complicated, but it's actually pretty straightforward if you follow the directions.

THANK YOU! Sometimes other mefites just assume we all have the prerequisite knowledge to do these types of things. I really appreciate you spelling it out for the rest of us
posted by Think_Long at 7:33 PM on December 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

Dude, you are totally getting my vote for best post in December!
posted by jadepearl at 7:34 PM on December 22, 2010 [4 favorites]

Didn't this game get pretty mediocre reviews?
posted by mnemonic at 7:36 PM on December 22, 2010

Holy shit what a post.
posted by uni verse at 7:37 PM on December 22, 2010

This is what MetaFilter is for.
posted by null terminated at 7:37 PM on December 22, 2010 [5 favorites]

I happen to have a copy of this game signed by Douglas Adams. His thumbprint is accidentally embedded in the signature as the ink didn't dry quickly enough as he handed it back.
posted by Neale at 7:37 PM on December 22, 2010 [11 favorites]

I loved this game, but I don't recall the 3D glasses.

Also, despite my computer meeting the published system requirements, it managed to tickle some DirectX bug that kept me from getting to the bridge.
posted by spaceman_spiff at 7:48 PM on December 22, 2010

There went my evening. And probably the next coupla days.
posted by drhydro at 7:49 PM on December 22, 2010

Is the Mac version better than the PC version? It might be easier to run that, since windows is still (sometimes) binary compatible with very old software.
posted by The Lamplighter at 8:02 PM on December 22, 2010

Hmm. A totally interactive Douglas Adams world. I should have built this.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 8:04 PM on December 22, 2010 [22 favorites]

This is amazing, this is amazing, this is amazing. I think about this game all of the time and how badly I wish our old mac didn't freeze every half hour so I could play this game again. This game came out when I was thirteen, I had read the Hitchhiker trilogy ("trilogy") the summer before, I got a paper route specifically so I could buy this game on my own. I didn't have many friends in middle school, I was a severe wallflower, and sometimes interacting with these robots was the most interaction I'd have all day. I'm much more social now, and I probably have this game to thank for that in some part. Having to figure out these robots and their individual personalities, it was sort of a guidebook for real people, you know? I may be giving it too much credit with the warm glow of nostalgia, but hey. I have a long, lonely weekend coming up. Thank you for filling it with something I love.
posted by troika at 8:04 PM on December 22, 2010 [24 favorites]

Yup, I bought the game. Never finished it, though. Got stuck in some weird place in the engine room.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:04 PM on December 22, 2010

I once sat on top of Yoz Grahame, one of the people who worked on Starship Titanic; plied him with Baileys-based cocktails and demanded detailed and extensive anecdata.

This post is ALMOST AS AWESOME as that evening turned out.
posted by rdc at 8:06 PM on December 22, 2010 [8 favorites]

It occurs to me that the instructions given by the OP for running the game sound a little like some of the solutions to in-game puzzles.
posted by clvrmnky at 8:07 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I got stuck with some kind of auto-destruct countdown, and I've been pining for that game ever since I got rid of that windows machine :-(
posted by toodleydoodley at 8:12 PM on December 22, 2010

My hero! My copy is sitting wistfully on the shelf, waiting to be played but -- until now -- I didn't have the means.

Now I can find out whether the game really ends at an ending or if it's actually meant to crash at a crucial point (please don't tell me, I'd love to find out for myself).
posted by prettypretty at 8:20 PM on December 22, 2010

What the fucking what? You win for next year, too.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 8:26 PM on December 22, 2010 [3 favorites]

Think_Long: "I really appreciate you spelling it out for the rest of us"

Thanks! Though I expect it to be pretty bumpy in practice -- it took some doing to get it working on my XP laptop, and I'd be surprised if it worked the same way on another computer, let alone another operating system. But the really hard part was figuring out what was needed to make the emulation system work; with all the files there, it shouldn't be too hard to iron out any remaining problems using the guides, or the forums.

Worse case scenario, you can always watch the video playthrough -- the narrator is likeable and he plays the game to completion.

mnemonic: "Didn't this game get pretty mediocre reviews?"

The worst thing about it was the difficulty -- some of the puzzles were so esoteric that they were almost impossible to solve. The manufacturer actually had to ship out free strategy guides to everyone who bought the game to compensate. That's where the scanned articles come from. It's just too bad it didn't have the rest of the book, too.

Which reminds me! It probably would have been smart to link to one of the many other walkthroughs that are online: one, two (with a fun list of words to try at the bottom), etc. I can't vouch for quality, but there are plenty more if you Google "starship titanic walkthrough," and again the video playthrough works OK, too.
posted by Rhaomi at 8:31 PM on December 22, 2010

I loved the world of this game but hated hated HATED the game play. I should pick it up again some time and see if age has mellowed me at all.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 8:33 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

share more rdc plz
posted by r_nebblesworthII at 8:34 PM on December 22, 2010

Blerontin is not Artifactovol.
posted by oonh at 8:40 PM on December 22, 2010

I guess there's no point in entering the Fantastic Post Contest now.

This is really awesome. I've always been curious about this game, and now I might possibly have a chance to actually play it.

Side note, I was just saying in another thread, it really does seem like there's an awful lot of Douglas Adams quotes floating around MeFi these last couple of days. (Not complaining.) As I also pointed out in that thread, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (the 1981 British TV series, not the movie abomination from a few years ago) is currently available on Hulu.
posted by Gator at 8:41 PM on December 22, 2010

posted by Kloryne at 8:50 PM on December 22, 2010

PISTACHIOS!!! is burned into my memory. That and how well they made use of space in the fully-appointed lower-class cabins.

It was a game with a tremendous amount of personality, but ye gods the puzzles. A lot of them seemed designed to make the famous babelfish sequence in the Hitchhiker's Infocom text adventure seem straigthforward by comparison; by rights the end credits should have ended with God's final message to his creation.
posted by Drastic at 8:53 PM on December 22, 2010

What a frustrating game. A good friend / coworker had a copy, and I recall him getting stuck at some puzzle involving the captain's wheel (or something like that), and every interaction with it involved some catchphrase being spoken—something about being challenged to a duel, I think. I must have heard the damned catchphrase a thousand times before we both finally cracked. That was the end of Starship Titanic.

And, since you mentioned "Starship Titanic," the 1998 book by Terry Jones that came out a few months prior to the game, I have to point out that "mediocre" is far too kind of a word to use to describe it. It was utter garbage, worse than some fan fiction. What a disappointment that was.
posted by waldo at 8:53 PM on December 22, 2010

It may also be relatively easy to get this running using Virtual Box and an image of Windows 98 (you'd need the windows version of the game, of course).
posted by The Lamplighter at 8:59 PM on December 22, 2010

This was probably the last computer game I ever bought -- and I returned it because I found it profoundly un-fun.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 9:07 PM on December 22, 2010

One fun fact I neglected to mention: Terry Jones allegedly wrote the entire book in the nude. Maybe that would explain the mediocrity.

And yeah, the game is extremely frustrating if you try to solve it blind. I'd rely heavily on walkthroughs and treat it more like an interactive Adams novel with pretty graphics. Or just watch the video playthrough above the fold -- only the first entry has ads, and the player, who already knows how to beat the game, runs through it pretty quickly with interesting commentary on the side.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:20 PM on December 22, 2010

Dolphins of earth applaud you. Thank you..
posted by jbalwen52 at 9:24 PM on December 22, 2010

(Astute readers will note that this would have been my 42nd post, if it weren't for that spur-of-the-moment hacked password story. *shakes fist impotently at Gawker*)

As of this moment, your 42nd post has been favorited 42 times
posted by Hoopo at 9:34 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I love you.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:37 PM on December 22, 2010

I remember this game. I got it because I spent many hours as a kid playing the original Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy game circa 1987(?) and getting absolutely nowhere. That stupid tea machine! I was hoping I'd do better at this one, but it was not to be, I also got stuck in the engine room fairly permanently. I'm off to watch the walk through to see how smarter people than me got through it.
posted by fshgrl at 9:40 PM on December 22, 2010

Thanks, Hoopo -- that would be a nice addition to the semi-serious "42 sightings" journal I kept for awhile after reading the first book, long before I'd ever heard of confrmation bias. It still won't top the best entry, though, when a talk show on channel 42 had a segment at 3:42 about a midget circus acrobat who was 4'2''. (no joke)
posted by Rhaomi at 9:44 PM on December 22, 2010 [1 favorite]

I realize this is not a tech support forum, but I'd be interested to know if it will run natively (i.e. without needing the SheepShaver emulator) on the on PowerPC Mac under the Classic OS 9 environment available with (for example) Panther and Tiger.

I suppose it's worth trying...
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:08 PM on December 22, 2010

I still have my box copy for Old Mac OS if anyone wants it and will pay shipping, its yours.
posted by MrLint at 10:34 PM on December 22, 2010

Brilliant post, though I finished the game a while back (with help, I admit). Even if you get stuck the Parrot is worth the price of admission.

More than that, I will not say, except to point at this thread and whisper the words

D64 by Telarium - Nine princes in amber, Below the Root, F451 and Alice.
posted by Sparx at 10:59 PM on December 22, 2010

I loved this game! It was frustrating, but mostly in a good way. Thanks for the great post!
posted by haveanicesummer at 11:14 PM on December 22, 2010

Oh. I was scarred for life by the wretched roast chickens.

Now if someone could just come up with the rest of the Zork Grand Inquisitor trilogy for xmas...
posted by peekorama at 12:05 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Above my desk at home is a Starship Titanic poster signed by Douglas Adams. My favorite puzzle was the musical instrument one that relied entirely on listening skills. I got stuck and frustrated on the chickens and eventually cheated to finish but it is still one of my all-time favorite games, up there with the classic LucasArts ones. I still have the box and game (but I save all my game boxes).
posted by girlhacker at 12:42 AM on December 23, 2010

rdc: "I once sat on top of Yoz Grahame, one of the people who worked on Starship Titanic; plied him with Baileys-based cocktails and demanded detailed and extensive anecdata. This post is ALMOST AS AWESOME as that evening turned out."

posted by Rhaomi at 2:11 AM on December 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Didn't this game get pretty mediocre reviews?
yes, it got awful reviews, but was also was hyped big in Wired before it was finished. Anyway, the game was the only hook I had when I suggested Douglas Adams as a speaker for an Ericsson staff conference in 1999 (topic was virtual reality). It was enough, they flew him in and that was the best staff conference evah.
posted by dabitch at 2:48 AM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Not only are we seeing some Douglas Adam love at the moment, but this post presented itself with 42 comments. I've just broken that, but *shiver*
posted by seanyboy at 2:58 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Douglas Adams. Damn it.
posted by seanyboy at 2:59 AM on December 23, 2010

Oh wow. Oh wow. Rhaomi, thank you thank you thank you.

Hi! I'm Yoz Grahame, mentioned by rdc above, and I was the main web hacker working on ST and its associated sites. There is a massive post to be written about The Digital Village but it's way past my bedtime, so here's a frantic braindump with lots of 12-year-old TDV linkage...

The first version of was designed as a promotional brochure for tours on the ship itself, trying to persuade you to book one. (I'm sure all that site code must still be around somewhere, but I'm buggered if I can find it right now. Sean, can you post a link to it?) The copy was written by Michael Bywater and Neil Richards, for whom "Reborzo" was the best word ever, and it contained pitches along the lines of "You're the kind of person who doesn't take no for an answer. Sometimes you don't even take yes for an answer..." As the game neared release, it was replaced by the site you see now. (Be sure to read the FAQ.) Along with the site was a shop which sold all kinds of Actual Things, including a fabulous Mondrian-ish bag (styled after the coach class rooms on the ship, or Super Galactic Traveller Class, as it was called) with all kinds of ST-branded travel goodies inside.

I wasn't involved with the creation of much of the game, but Douglas definitely was; while he wasn't the only person designing the core gameplay he did do a huge chunk of it, including writing the music for the Music Room puzzle. Most of the dialogue was written by Bywater, Richards and the astonishingly-talented and much-missed Debbie Barham.

The whole thing was tons of fun to work on, especially if you were working on a web side-project and not the seriously deadline-challenged main deliverable. (We ended up sending Sophie on Concorde with the gold masters to make SSI's deadline.) Huge kudos to all the team, especially Emma Westecott who took over the producer role very late in the project, Tim Browse, the lead software engineer, and Robbie Stamp, CEO, who had remarkably few heart attacks.

Random bits of trivia:
  • The original intention was that Douglas would work on the game, not the novel. That'd be someone else. TDV shopped around for another writer to take it on. After several failed attempts (including a horrible first draft from Robert Sheckley Douglas declared that he would do it after all. A year passed. Three weeks before the deadline, Douglas confessed that (to almost no one's surprise) he'd made very little progress, so Terry stepped in and wrote the whole thing in the remaining time.
  • Douglas, being enamoured of the Internet, wanted to put the whole text of the novel online, and was disappointed when the publishers nixed that idea. However, we still found a way to do it. It ends with the contest mentioned above. The book text was shuffled by one of the best/worst bits of Perl I've ever written, which I've since improved and reused on another book.
  • The Spookitalk natural language parser was a heavily modified version of the Velocitext engine from Virtus Corp. It was renamed "Spookitalk" by (I believe) Douglas, who noted that it was so good at understanding what you typed that it seemed spooky. The secret of having a spookily-good parser is to just beat the basement-low expectations that people have of natural language processing, and this was done by Jason spending many hours routing all the inputs logged during playtesting.
  • The Mac version was delayed for two reasons: Firstly, SSI correctly estimated that the 1998-era games market was considerably larger on the PC side, and that was where our resources should go. Secondly, it was bloody impossible to find any decent Mac game coders in London at the time, and it ended up with our own dev team getting to grips with the terrible state of OS 8 and Codewarrior.
  • Talking of the Bad Old Days of Apple, TDV was one of their ten worldwide partners at the time (a fact we related to anyone who stood still for long enough). During the early development they tried to get us to use QuickTime 2 for video. Tim spent trying to get the thing to perform with the agility we needed for the navs (the little whooshy transition videos you see with each movement) and declared it couldn't be done. Apple told us to wait for QT3; we chose Intel's Indeo codec instead. QT3 eventually shipped a month before ST did.
  • Talking of the navs, we were incredibly proud of them. When Riven (Myst 2) came out in the middle of ST's development, the whole team was crowded around a Mac watching Emma start it up, desperately hoping they hadn't stolen our thunder. She clicked the first movement, the picture just flipped to the next and a huge cheer went up from the assembled.
  • A small percentage of the ST team, including Tim, Emma, Sean, Cynthia and myself went on to create h2g2 with Jim and Shim. I mention those names because most of us went on to work on other projects together, including helping out with the movie version of Hitchhiker's and its associated marketing, along with lots of stuff for The IT Crowd. Tim died earlier this year, and we all miss him terribly.
Now, the easter eggs.

Firstly, if you click the picture of Fentible the Doorbot in the Windows installer, this happens.

Secondly, look at the source code of the HTML pages included with the game.

Thirdly, the biggest easter egg of them all:

When we created the initial fake-brochure site, we thought it'd be a fantastic laugh if the fictional shipbuilders had their own intranet. If you filled in the form on the brochure site (specifying your name, email address and favourite species of frog) we followed the occasional mail about the game. Then, one day, folks got a mail from the intranet admin, "Chris Stevedave", giving folks the link to the intranet and the current password, which was hurriedly followed by a second mail apologising for the accidental mail leakage and urging customers not to click the link, then a third email noting that Chris Stevedave had been demoted to Bilge Emptier Third-Class. It worked fantastically (so fantastically that some people really did send the emails back, reassuring us that they hadn't looked at the site) everyone poured into the Starlight Lines intranet.

(Bugger, the links off the front page are broken, but the sidebar nav works fine.)

Have a wander around the intranet. Look at the wireframes, enjoy the status reports and play with the currency calculator.

Then go look in the forum.

The idea was to present a read-only Senior Management forum in which you'd see some of the key backstory characters getting on each others' nerves. But we figured there should probably be a writeable forum for the lower-level employees, so I spent half a day hacking up a stupidly basic forum system and forgot all about it.

Six months after the site launch, I happened to peek at the employee forum and there were ten thousand posts in there.

A brief aside: Working for Douglas Adams, you get exposed to a huge variety of Hitchhiker's fans. Somehow, these fans think that Douglas's humour is a rarely-enjoyed thing, only appreciated by a specifically-tilted mind, and so in meeting other fans they will find a kinship. It's bollocks, of course; Douglas's humour has very wide appeal and these people tend to have surprisingly little in common with each other. But the effect at the TDV end was that any online community we created with Douglas's name attached was instantly flooded with fans looking for their kinds of people and their kinds of silliness.

But what happened inside the Starlight Lines employee forum was even stranger than that. Because it was buried one password and six clicks into the site, only a few dedicated people found it, and found each other. And once they were there, they started roleplaying Starlight Lines, and didn't stop evolving a long and bizarre narrative for the next thirteen years. When TDV died I moved the forum to my own hosting; every so often one of the players will poke me because something's broken, and I'll eventually fix it and they can carry on with their adventures. It's been thirteen years of hosting an accidental community. It's somewhat like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera. It's one of the most remarkable things I've seen on the internet and I'm honoured to have inadvertently helped create it, not least because it got me a few fun speaking gigs.

Many thanks again to Rhaomi; I'll be installing ST on my MacBook Pro tomorrow.
posted by yoz at 3:30 AM on December 23, 2010 [530 favorites]

Reading back, I may have inadvertently given the impression that the participants of the Employee Forum are nothing more than a random bunch of freaks. On the contrary, they are a uniformly lovely and unreasonably forgiving bunch of freaks, and I hope they continue to stick around and co-create the web's longest and silliest bit of collaborative fiction.

Also, jesus christ I'm going to regret this in the morning
posted by yoz at 3:35 AM on December 23, 2010 [17 favorites]

and I need to get the others posting in here too
posted by yoz at 3:44 AM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

Fucking awesome, yoz! You are every MeFi OP's dream come true.

The employee forum saga is fascinating; I regret not digging deeper into the Starlight Lines site for the purposes of the post. It's in there as a half-broken cache, but I messaged the mods earlier to replace that link to the properly-working mirror at

I'm crashing now -- it's waaay too late/early and I'm likewise going to regret this in the morning. But it was worth it to stay up a bit to read your excellent commentary, and I can't wait to see what your old colleagues have to offer (if you manage to summon them).

posted by Rhaomi at 3:54 AM on December 23, 2010

Well, now that is how I like my Metafilter. Awesome post, followed by a cameo that reveals all sorts of goodness.

PS - the game was too hard!
posted by bystander at 3:55 AM on December 23, 2010

Oh what fun to see this posted here! I had to purchase a new computer to run the game when it was released. Took me six months to finish it and it was tremendously satisfying.
posted by kthanksbai at 3:56 AM on December 23, 2010

Am I the only one tearing up reading the Douglas Adams page at TDV? "Please write to me there - with the understanding that I may publish your letter and my reply here on this website." How can I so profoundly miss someone I never met?
posted by jbickers at 4:58 AM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

This game was one of my favorites. I look back upon my time on that ship as almost a vacation, crazy as that sounds.

I don't have time to investigate all of these wonderful links now (supposed to be doing actual work), but I plan on exploring them fully over the holiday break. And I look forward to more comments with more insider info!

Thanks, everyone! :)
posted by MsVader at 7:27 AM on December 23, 2010

I inherited a copy with a whole bunch of other '90s games when my now-wife's roommate was leaving town but I'd read so many bad reviews that I never fired it up. It's still probably in a box in the garage somewhere. I do miss '90s computer games, very little in the gaming world (other than CIV4) has interested me in the last decade or so.
posted by octothorpe at 7:52 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

How can I so profoundly miss someone I never met?

I know exactly how you feel, jbickers.
posted by dry white toast at 8:11 AM on December 23, 2010

Metafilter: It's somewhat like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera.

really, I don't think we'll ever get a better one than that
posted by mikepop at 8:20 AM on December 23, 2010 [24 favorites]

It's somewhat like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera.

You are god for hosting that forum for so long. Thanks yoz!
posted by dabitch at 8:30 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, wow. Rhaomi, yoz, thanks (for all the... oh, you get the idea)!
posted by ChrisR at 8:31 AM on December 23, 2010

My god, I spend endless hours wandering around this game when I was 12. I solved some of the puzzles but I think I always got stuck on the Observation Deck (? there were many elevators, lots of gold, and few staff, which is all I really remember)-- but I would stay in the game because I loved it so and was determined to solve it. I also have the book more or less committed to memory. Thank you for reminding me, I'm downloading it now.
posted by verbyournouns at 8:49 AM on December 23, 2010

My favorite puzzle was the musical instrument one that relied entirely on listening skills.

I'm pretty sure that's the one that ended the game for me.

P.S. - Amazing post made more amazing by yoz's contributions. Metafilter at its best.
posted by Bookhouse at 8:59 AM on December 23, 2010

This. Is. Awesome.
posted by mintcake! at 9:03 AM on December 23, 2010

Awesomeness. I loved this game back in the day, and actually recently invoked the design of the SGT class rooms as an inspiration piece for the design of a kitchen, so it's even timely for me. The game was so beautifully open ended; while the end goal was to get back home, it basically boiled down to "ramble around this amazing ship and interact with stuff." It's quite the contrast to modern games which are increasingly goal and task oriented. Many of the puzzles are so opaque they don't even look like puzzles.

I have the strategy guide/book on the shelf somewhere around here and might be inclined to scan it and post it online in a few days.

Also, Yoz: in a world where Yahoo kills Geocities and wipes thousands of pages of history off the planet in an afternoon, it's all the more impressive that you've kept this stuff online through all the years.
posted by zachlipton at 9:18 AM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Where do I find the form to nominate this post (and the amazing replies) for the title of "Supreme Winner of All the Internets Forever and Ever... Twice"?

Wow. Just wow.
posted by ElDiabloConQueso at 9:37 AM on December 23, 2010

Tim Berners-Lee cribbed his best work off of Douglas Adams.
posted by Fupped Duck at 9:38 AM on December 23, 2010 work here is done.
posted by rdc at 10:36 AM on December 23, 2010 [2 favorites]

How did I miss this post?? Thank god for the sidebar.

I still have a recurring dream about being able to actually walk into that room that changed seasons.
posted by Mizu at 10:45 AM on December 23, 2010

There are many things here of which it could be said "if it contained nothing else, the thread would have been worth it for this alone." Arbitrarily enough, my favorite at this moment is:
It's somewhat like ignoring the vegetable drawer of your fridge for a year, then opening it to find a bunch of very grateful sentient tomatoes busily working on their third opera.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:47 AM on December 23, 2010 [6 favorites]

Argh. Must remember to read all of the thread. I'm like the fourth one to quote that.
posted by George_Spiggott at 10:49 AM on December 23, 2010

What a great post. Brought back the surreal, muted-colours graphics (as I remember them, anyway) of ST. And the incredible frustration. Also on the first computer I installed it on I had no sound, wch was another level of difficulty.
posted by paduasoy at 10:57 AM on December 23, 2010

I inherited a copy of the game from a friend. Think I may even still have it, not sure. I do know that some of the bits may be missing. And for sure the music room ended my game. I tried playing it post-Quake, so I was expecting to be able to navigate more freely rather than by clicking around (which was understandable given the time the game was made, but still I was a bit disappointed). Despite that, I was still drawn in enough to burn a decent amount of time trying to play. Was kinda bummed I never finished it. Never was much for the Zork-style games so I don't think I had the wherewithal to plow through it anyway...
posted by caution live frogs at 11:14 AM on December 23, 2010

dear yoz: holy fuck, wow. thank you for posting that.

As an aside, I didn't have a computer when the game came out, but I did have a pair of eyes and a bookstore next door, so I bought the book. The worst thing about it was that it wasn't even particularly bad, or good, or really notable in any way at all. I read it, I finished reading it, I closed it, I went, "Hm. OK." and that was that. I'm not even sure if I still have it.

Just kind of baffled me.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 11:28 AM on December 23, 2010

I haven't geeked out like this since woz swung by. POTY, no question.
posted by NeonSurge at 12:09 PM on December 23, 2010

Thank you for this post! Starship: Titanic is in a three-way tie for my all-time most-purchased games.

I remember my brother and I got it soon after it came out. We played it then like we did many games: Abe sitting at the computer, playing the game, and me watching on, occasionally writing down things we wanted to remember, and occasionally offering ideas. I remember loving the parrot and weaseling our way into upgrades. We'd spend hours in the elevator, asking the bot all sorts of nonsense. I remember the music perhaps most of all - like elevator music everywhere, but strangely...good?

I've always wondered why Starship: Titanic's natural-language interactions never took off. NLP is a notoriously difficult problem, I know, but even ST's somewhat naive approach worked, as Yoz says, spookily well. Most of the time, you'd get the answer you expected...or a cool little story. It created such a depth of characterization that more modern games rarely get.

My brother went off to college, took the game with him one semester and we never saw it again. I remembered the music, and I remembered the game, which we had only played through once or twice, when I went to college myself. I hunted on ebay for weeks before finding a new copy (which came with a strategy guide that I, of course, wouldn't use). I tried to install it on my laptop: then a cutting edge laptop pc which cost far too much and broke far too often. The game simply did not work. It was designed for Windows 95, and XP confused it way too much. While I found some approximate solutions, my best attempt was still corrupt. When it came time to catch the chicken, all I saw was a black square where the animation should have been. There was no getting past it.

One of the things I like best about that entire genre of games is the atmospheres - wonderful imaginary locations which seemed so perfect. In Myst IV, there was a room of emerald crystals, but in Starship: Titanic, it was the gondola ride: the bot serenading as the boat slid past marble columns. This was where the game was most immersive: just me, a dozen crazy robots, and a luxury spaceliner all to ourselves.

In college, you end up moving all your possessions three to five times a year and somewhere between freshman and senior year, my disks again disappeared. But my senior year, armed with a new set from ebay, a copy of VMWare and licenses for several old versions of Windows through MSDN Academic Alliance, I tried again. A few weeks later, I had a Win98 image which played the game perfectly. I got maybe halfway through, opening most of the locations, before I stopped really playing the game, and started just wandering, clicking around aimlessly and enjoying all the hidden gems. I plied the elevator-bot for stories, and tweaked the deskbot's cell-point settings. I rode the gondola up and down the ship, and attempted to exit from the wrong side in the pellevator. I played with / antagonized the parrot, and all was well. A great game filled with beautiful places and funny characters; I wish there were more like it.
posted by ADoubtfulTrout at 1:11 PM on December 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Heh, I just created a VMWare image and installed all of that and got it running. Geek points for getting the game running in an emulator working in an emulator?
posted by twidget at 1:12 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

I just skimmed the comments, but it doesn't seem like anyone else has mentioned that the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy text adventure game, also penned by Adams, is available online for free as well through the BBC.
posted by sandswipe at 1:32 PM on December 23, 2010 [5 favorites]

yoz > woz
posted by PercussivePaul at 1:59 PM on December 23, 2010 [4 favorites]

Just wanted to throw in that this is one of my all-time favorite games, and say:

"This was where the game was most immersive: just me, a dozen crazy robots, and a luxury spaceliner all to ourselves."

posted by buriednexttoyou at 3:46 PM on December 23, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dammit, yoz! You've given me *another* reason to be your devoted fangirl!

As others have noted, this post wins the internet and all future incarnations and subsidiaries thereof.
posted by yarnivore at 4:04 PM on December 23, 2010 [3 favorites]

posted by serazin at 5:41 PM on December 23, 2010

Keeping this thread alive a little longer, here's another treat for fans of Douglas Adams, retrogaming and interactive fiction (which I originally tried to post as a new thread, until I was rightly slapped down for linking to my own stuff - sorry, MeFites, it's been a long time):

In 2004, the BBC's remake of the classic Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy adventure game won a BAFTA Interactive award. (Coincidentally, the aforementioned Sean and Shim did the bulk of the client & server dev on that one.)

To celebrate, we got Steve Meretzky (co-author of the original, creator of many other legendary games and co-star of at least one music video) and Michael Bywater (writer of most of Bureaucracy, Starship Titanic, Magnetic Scrolls's Jinxter and the never-completed Milliways, author, raconteur, pilot, harpsichordist, self-deluded old goat and the real-life inspiration for the character of Dirk Gently) and put them in a room together.

This is what happened. (96MB .ogg audio file, mirror of last resort)
posted by yoz at 5:41 PM on December 23, 2010 [15 favorites]

And, we all agree this wins best post of December, right?

(And there have been some great ones.)
posted by serazin at 5:43 PM on December 23, 2010

BTW, though a 90min OGG file is understandably daunting, try streaming the first 4 mins and you'll get a good flavour of it. Steve has loads of great history, Michael is elaborate and effortlessly witty, it's great.

"You made a game with Douglas, whereas I... made a game instead of Douglas."
posted by yoz at 6:00 PM on December 23, 2010

Wow. This post is totally an early Christmas present. As a DNA fan, I have all the books (including the first Dirk gently one, autographed) but I never got around to buying StarshipTitanic.

'scuse me I need to start some downloading.

Many, many, many thanks.
posted by Artful Codger at 6:22 PM on December 23, 2010

So is there anything that the Let's Play in the OP is missing in terms of easter eggs? What's the deal with that sealed off corridor?
posted by codacorolla at 10:10 PM on December 23, 2010

Many thanks for this awesome post.

Mind if I ask a troubleshooting question? I got the "standard" install to work with SheepShaver for Mac OS X (10.6.5, Intel Mac), but couldn't get the full install to work. When I start up the game with all 3 CD images mounted (and visible on the desktop), the game prompts me to insert CD 1. As far as I know, Mac OS 9 believes the disc to be inserted already, so I'm not sure what to do next. Anyone figure this out?

Thanks again!
posted by dan_of_brainlog at 11:50 PM on December 23, 2010

dan_of_brainlog, try mounting only one disc image at a time. That's what I did (I never considered mounting them all together), and I was able to start the game without any "insert CD" prompts.
posted by Rhaomi at 12:33 AM on December 24, 2010

yoz's comment has been posted at Boing Boing.
posted by octothorpe at 6:49 AM on December 24, 2010

Grabbing the files from Megaupload now. It's making me wait 42 seconds.

posted by buriednexttoyou at 10:16 AM on December 24, 2010

Does this mean any lovingly crafted Frasier post is destined to be gatecrashed by Peri Gilpin?
posted by fullerine at 10:29 AM on December 24, 2010

My goodness, I still have that e-mail from Dave Stevedave:

SUBJECT: Confidential Titanic Project Area Access
TO: All Star-Struct Staff
DATE: Welday, 12th Voedio, 122 R.E. (25:06)

Following repeated requests from members of the Starship Titanic construction team, it has been decided to offer access to the restricted Titanic Project Intranet Website ( from the public-access site maintained by our agents Starlight Travel. The restricted internal site can with immediate effect be accessed from Starlight Travel's site ( without needing to go through the secure intranet system.

You will find the relevant links on the Starlight Travel home page and at the end of the ship's tour. Simply click on the logo beneath the line "Star-Struct Inc. (a wholly-owned subsidiary of Starlight Lines Corp.)" and you will be asked for your level 6 secure password, which is:


Please note that the links have NOT been highlighted, to prevent members of the public from tying up network time with hopeless logons or hacking attempts.


-- Dave "Steve" Stevedave (Corporate Code Team)

posted by eschatfische at 11:12 AM on December 24, 2010 [11 favorites]

Still have the game and box. A classic favorite, though I too could never finish it. I'm gonna watch all those narrated vids today. Thank you Santa.
posted by mouthnoize at 11:38 AM on December 24, 2010

To celebrate, we got Steve Meretzky (co-author of the original, creator of many other legendary games and co-star of at least one music video ) and Michael Bywater (writer of most of Bureaucracy, Starship Titanic, Magnetic Scrolls's Jinxter and the never-completed Milliways, author, raconteur, pilot, harpsichordist, self-deluded old goat and the real-life inspiration for the character of Dirk Gently) and put them in a room together.

Thanks for doing that! I was there, and it was a curious evening. I'm definitely going to listen to the recording for a memory refresh. I remember some die-hard text adventure advocates getting a bit fired up about all this new-fangled graphics technology that was ruining games, ruining them!
posted by Magnakai at 12:02 PM on December 24, 2010

Small addendum since I just got around to watching the video play through, there's not actually a missing video 9, the 9th update to the lets play was the "Starship Titanic Missive-O-Mat records" in this post (you may have to be an SA member to read that thread), it's basically a google doc of the missives of each person in the game (google doc here). So after that update bobulus skipped 9 in the video naming sequence for some reason. Just to clear that up.
posted by dead cousin ted at 12:36 AM on December 26, 2010 [2 favorites]

Holy Crapoly
posted by Potomac Avenue at 11:42 AM on December 26, 2010

Hello. I'm the guy who did the LP linked in the original post, and I'm both embarrassed and flattered that anyone found them after several years! I did a terrible job, having done no research before filming the game for the internet.

I was actually playing the windows DVD version of the game, so I didn't have to fuss about with any mac emulation - I just installed it on my Windows XP machine and it ran perfectly fine, except for the 3d puzzle at the end, which ran entirely too fast on a modern machine.

I bought it in middle school, before I'd even heard of Douglas Adams, and having never played an adventure game, because it was a game set in space! My friend and I immediately set about trying to figure it out, and he got very angry with me when I peeked at the game guide between play sessions. Put the game down for years...

...until I found the game box, nearly ten years later, and set down and played it. And loved it, despite how freaking hard it was at times.

I'm glad there are others that love this quirky little game. :)

(And I need to apologize to the designers for disparaging their Spookitalk system, which is much better than I give it credit for in the videos)
posted by Bobulus at 5:07 PM on December 26, 2010 [9 favorites]

Still a good lp, bobulus. Man, this post is bringing everyone out of the woodwork, awesome. Post of the month!
posted by dead cousin ted at 5:48 PM on December 26, 2010

Yay bobulus! You did a great job, man. A lot of LPs are a drag to listen to, because of an obnoxious voice or attitude (or both), but yours was a real treat. Thanks for playing it all the way through and making it available to everyone -- the post would have been considerably less fun without you.
posted by Rhaomi at 5:58 PM on December 26, 2010

One of my roommates bought ST, and I spent a good couple weeks playing it when I got home from work. I think the bartender was where I got stuck; even though I had what he needed, I couldn't get him to acknowledge that I was giving it to him. Eventually I gave up -- and in fact mostly gave up on computer games in general (not that I was that into them to begin with). This post makes me want to go back and play it all the way through.
posted by me3dia at 8:45 AM on December 27, 2010

Best game ever! I could hum the music even having not played it in 10 years!
posted by miyabo at 9:38 PM on December 29, 2010

As a consolation for missing the 42nd post, I gave you the 42nd favourite (and even spelled favorite wrong for you).
posted by forforf at 3:11 PM on January 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

A beautiful moment which I grabbed for posterity when the two favorite counts inevitably change: link
posted by lifeless at 6:18 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm late to this party, but just have to share for posterity that my husband and I were quite severely put out to find our ST game from way back when was missing a disk. We were both looking at the disks forlornly, like maybe one would materialize.

And here we go!
posted by jeoc at 6:39 PM on January 6, 2011

Many thanks for this.

For those of you who want to try it on a PC (I couldn't get SheepSaver to load the CD, the game started and then waited on 'Insert CD1'), I managed to get it running on Windows 7, after downloading this patch and following the instructions here:
I replaced ICCVID.dll Cinepak codec to version as per the XP compatibility solution on the official Starship Titanic website FAQ.
I replaced SH33W32.dll (Smartheap library) with version - you will need to Google it to find a download source - this has become necessary since I upgraded Vista to Windows 7
I right-clicked st.exe and chose Properties-Compatibility. I ticked "Run this program as an administrator" and chose "Run this program in compatibility mode for: Windows Vista"
Note that the DLL must be copied in the Starship Titanic Folder, not the windows folder.

Hope this helps.
posted by motdiem2 at 3:40 AM on January 8, 2011 [1 favorite]

I simply cannot add this post to my favorites list, because then it would have 443 favorites.
posted by fartknocker at 12:29 PM on January 11, 2011

Ok, well now I can. Mine will be the 444th favorite.

The link to the OS image is down, sadly.

Работа сайта приостановлена
(The site is suspended)

Недостаточно средств (insufficient funds) на аккаунте. Если вы администратор этого сайта, то вам необходимо пополнить баланс вашего аккаунта.

(blah blah blah)
posted by fartknocker at 12:20 PM on January 13, 2011

fartknocker: "The link to the OS image is down, sadly. "

That actually happened to me once already, just before I was finished making the post. The site stayed down for a week or so and then popped back up again. I'm guessing that all the people downloading the file depleted their bandwidth allowance or whatever.

Just in case the site doesn't return, here's a link to a mirror of the OS file on Mediafire. It's pretty easy to find old OS files like these, but this one comes pre-loaded with the software you need to extract some of the other files, which makes it uniquely suited to the how-to in the post.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:26 PM on January 13, 2011 [1 favorite]

Wonderful, fantastic, brilliant, incredible post. Thank you!!!
posted by zarq at 10:57 AM on January 18, 2011

Thanks, zarq!

In the last few days before this thread closes, I'd like to know: did anybody actually manage to get the game running using the instructions in the post? I tried making the installation method as platform-agnostic as possible, but you never really know for stuff like that, and I never got the opportunity to test it on another computer. Oh, and the OSVirtual site hosting the OS file is back up, btw. For future reference, it has back-up links to download the same file from Rapidshare or via torrent.

Also, I came across this cool blog post by one of the flagship members of the Starlight Lines forum; she got an email from Yoz requesting comment for an article that is apparently in the works about the whole affair. She's got another post from 2007 reminiscing about her first experiences with the site.
posted by Rhaomi at 9:09 PM on January 18, 2011

FYI: I ran into Yoz at a party in SF last night. He was unaware of the best post contest that was going on, and was thrilled that Rhaomi's post won it.
posted by the_bone at 9:03 AM on January 22, 2011 [2 favorites]

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