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 https://archive.org/details/ASDA042198. 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:
- Excerpts from Neil Richards's Starship Titanic: The Official Strategy Guide (1998), including a foreword by Douglas Adams, profiles of and postcards from the bots, and interviews on VelociText by Linda Watson, SpookiTalk by Jason Williams, and the game engine LifeBoat by Sean Sollé. (Plus an ad for exclusive merchandise, about which more below.)
- Interview with Michael Bywater on writing Starship Titanic with Douglas and Neil, from Philipp Lenssen's Graphic Adventures (2010).
- Your Lovely Special Inaugural Commemorative Heirloom First Class' In-Flight Magazine
- Starlight Travel Pre-Launch Passenger Prospectus
- Star-Struct Inc. Construction Intranet: RESTRICTED ACCESS
- The 1998 Official Website