Milliways: the Restaurant at the End of the Universe (Max Fog)
I am astonished that this game exists. Picking up where Douglas Adams left off seems like a ridiculously daunting task. I am even more astonished that the game was allowed in the comp, as it clearly uses copyrighted material well beyond what I would naturally consider to be ‘fair use’. But, OK, it’s not my job to judge that sort of thing, merely the result. What did I think?
I suppose I will start by saying that I admire the sheer chutzpah of willing this game into existence, and writing it in ZIL, no less. I was, however, not expecting the game to be any good, because surely anyone who truly appreciated the mad genius of Douglas Adams would not be so foolish as to think they could actually pull off a whole game in Adams’ world that wasn’t either pure mimicry or a shallow extension of his highly idiosyncratic humor.
But I gave the game a shot, and at first was cautiously optimistic. Early on you find a ‘blue frob’. It has a ridge. It’s inscrutable! But hey, maybe the Guide has something to say?
>look up frob in guide
The Guide checks through its Sub-Etha-Net database and eventually comes up with the following entry:
A frob. Now what can one say about this object? The official definition of this
object is this:
FROB (plural FROBS)
A frob is classified as a small object which can be changed or manipulated in
form. The form you will generally find a frob in is when it appears as just a
colourful object. However, if you are lucky you may find one in its true form,
or be able to change it to that. The true form relates to a certain statistic,
such as wealth, knowledge, or charm. It is said that all the frobs were made
from the splintered remains of the 5 pieces of the Wikkit Key. Some true forms
include a knife, a perfect sphere, a complex shape, or a wiggly line in multiple
dimensions (whilst visible in 3D without needing an alternate entity, if that
makes sense, which it doesn’t).
Now, this may seem Like the premise of an epic hero film or something, but
frobs are known all across the galaxy as things which you might use every day.
Try looking for one! You can probably find a frob in the bathroom, or maybe in
Possible uses of the word FROB:
- Old man, give me the frob
- “She took the frob and threw it in the test tube.”
So hey! Unless a frob shows up in one of the (few) unread-by-me works of Adams, this is a genuine extension of HHGG lore, and it fits reasonably well! The ‘possible uses’ are amusingly useless, and there’s an obvious tie-in to the Krikkit plot, and the whole thing seems set up as the probable MacGuffin for the game, and introduced pretty seamlessly. So, OK then!
But for me, this was unfortunately the high point, and the tone of the rest of the game and its attempts at humor just didn’t work for me. Instead of making me happy to wander around in the world of Arthur, Ford, Zaphod, Trillian, and Marvin again, it instead made me sad that those days were forever cut off when Adams died.
It started with the general tone of the game, which for me was desultory and mean/angry in a way that Adam never was (admittedly, ‘as I perceived it when I was 14’. But also for re-reads.) Even the blurb for the game hit me this way:
Should you hitchhike the galaxy, or stay home and drink beer?
Oh, right. Your home was destroyed ages ago. I guess there’s only one way to go then.
I feel like that’s not the way Adams would have put it, though I’m at a bit of a loss as to explain why. I’ve seen Adams describe the books as “A cheery little comedy that begins with the end of the world.” There’s a certain lightness he uses to describe horrible things, a half-parody half-loving take on the British ‘stiff upper lip’ culture. Saying “I guess there’s only one way to go then” is maybe too on-the-nose for me, in a somewhat ineffable way? Like it’s something a certain type of American would say, but not a British comedian? I felt the same way about the game’s various death scenes: that they lacked the lightness of Adams’ original: “Unfortunately, you don’t get to do much after that, because you trip up in the dark trying to stand, and impale yourself (in a very un-family-friendly way) on a shard of bone.” “[…] nobody really cares. Your ‘friends’ don’t. Your family doesn’t, because whatever is left of their bodies remain in orbit around the dust cloud once called Earth.” That’s… just kind of mean-spirited? Again, Adams would absolutely point out that situation, but while cheerily ostensibly talking about something else. And, you know, Ford Prefect is actually Arthur’s friend; he’s not a ‘friend’. He would care if Arthur died!
Or take even the bit of the frob entry: “(whilst visible in 3D without needing an alternate entity, if that makes sense, which it doesn’t)” Ending a line like that with a contradiction is indeed somewhat Adamsian, but the joke in that aside is claiming that the writing is poor, not claiming that the universe is insane. Adams never made fun of his writing; he made fun of the world.
[EDIT to make it clear that I’m not saying the writing is poor, but that the joke itself is making that claim.]
The moment in the game where my hope finally died was the introduction of the ‘first class idiot’ when you make it to Milliways. I am 100% convinced (fight me!) that Adams would never describe someone as ‘an idiot’, with no other characterization. He would absolutely describe characters that were idiots! But he would describe them in such a way as to make you draw that conclusion, not just tell you outright. (Side note: I was unable to find a searchable Adams oeuvre or even sample to test this hypothesis. He may have used that word at some point. But in this context, it struck me the wrong way.)
So it was with a somewhat sad sense of relief that I set the game aside when my time was up. I felt bad about it, and I almost just skipped over this game entirely and didn’t mention that I had played it or reviewed it at all, because, again, I am very impressed that someone took on this challenge. And I knew I was going to be impossible to please. I adored Adams at 14, and am now remembering the books through the haze of 35 years of nostalgia. How on earth could anything match that? This didn’t; is anyone surprised? That it had moments of being close is frankly amazing. I am happy the game exists. I hope (perhaps foolishly) that this review will be helpful to someone. And I am very glad (and relieved) that other reviewers didn’t have the same reaction I did, and were able to just hang out in Adams’ universe one more time with the author. I wish I could have joined them, but wish them well.
Did the author have something to say? ‘I am an overconfident madman.’
Did I have something to do? Press F to pay respects.
Transcript: h2.log - Google Drive