Friday, March 24, 2023

Starship Titanic 25th anniversary

Forget ChatGPT. A quarter of a century ago, a point-and-click CD-ROM adventure game from Douglas Adams featured a groundbreaking conversation engine called "SpookiTalk", which allowed you to chat with actual robots.

To celebrate the release of Starship Titanic 25 years ago this April, here's a panel discussion with members of the dev team which I hosted as part of my York U course Writing for Games and Interactive Media this time last year. 

March 2022 was the 25th anniversary of the game's original deadline whooshing by, and as I'd actually worked at The Digital Village back in the day, I figured I'd introduce my old colleagues to my first-year Media Arts students, none of whom were alive when the game was released, so we could all feel old together.

In preparation, I assigned for homework J.C. Herz's 1998 New York Times review, PushingUpRoses' 2014 YouTube review, and the following brief audio interview of Douglas Adams by Aram Sinnreich on the release of the new game: 

(CC Attribution-Share Alike 3.0. Excerpt from original audio file "Aram Sinnreich interviews Douglas Adams," publication date 1998-04-21, at Photo by Robbie Stamp of Douglas Adams working on Starship Titanic in 1997 at The Digital Village, Camden, London.)

With the table set, the class welcomed our guests in from three timezones. Here are our contemporary portraits and job titles at TDV:

Clockwise from top left:

• Robbie Stamp (Chief Executive, The Digital Village)

• Emma Westecott (producer)

• Neil Richards (writer)

• Yoz Grahame (web technologist)

• Jason Williams (software engineer)

• Alison Humphrey (web producer)

Enjoy the chat!

For extra credit:

The website is miraculously still live, but the Starship Titanic online shop, which I ran from 1998 to 2000, alas, is not. 

Here's the SuperGalactic Traveller Class In-Flight Bag, sold IRL alongside other less-bonkers merch (like t-shirts, posters and an embroidered jean jacket):

The bag came packed with everything you could need as a SuperGalactic Traveller Class (steerage) passenger, including towel, slippers, sleep mask, shampoo, conditioner, shower gel, toothbrush, sewing kit, airsickness bag, note pad, ballpoint pen, and shoeshine sponge, all emblazoned with the Starship Titanic logo.

Michael Bywater wrote the bag's immortal Contents Card:

Starship Titanic is available on Steam for Windows and Mac. (The anniversary of the Mac version's 1999 release won't be for another year – something Douglas, a notorious Apple fan, would never have lived down if he hadn't sadly passed away just two years later.)