Hitchhiker’s Guide Becomes A Reality

Surely, the application the iPad was created for?

“I read an article when the iPad came out,” recalls Joel de Young, a producer at digital developer Hothead, “and Stephen Fry did a review of it and at the end of the article he said, ‘You know it’s a shame Douglas Adams isn’t with us any more because this is really is the closest thing to a Hitchhiker’s Guide that we’ve ever seen.”

So, it’s little surprise that – just a couple of years on – that’s exactly what we’re getting: a version of The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy for the Apple iPlatforms. It’s a marriage made in digital heaven

“We’re trying to create the sense for Hitchhiker’s fans that they’re actually holding the Hitchhiker’s Guide in their hands,” explains de Young. But he’s the first to admit that the simple idea was far from simple to make a reality. “I mean, I’m a huge Hitchhiker’s fan myself – it was really super exciting to be allowed to do this. I’ve been making video games for 15 years or so, and this is the most excited I’ve ever been. But once you get over the initial exuberance, it’s like, ‘What are we actually going to do with it?’ For us it seemed that iPad and iPhone were the right platforms, first of all.”

The application is set to be launched some time this Autumn, but news that a Hitchhiker’s Guide app was in the pipeline leaked out a while ago, leading to a lot of speculation the internet as to its nature. Hothead’s rather vague press announcement added to the confusion, which is one of the reasons why de Young has decided to give this interview.

“It was a bit surprising to us that when we made the announcement that we were working with Hitchhiker’s – and yeah, it was a pretty vague announcement – and everybody jumped to the conclusion that it would be a game. ‘Maybe it’s the old text adventure being recreated?’ and all that stuff. So we wanted to make sure we set the record straight.”

So, he stresses, what we are getting is as near to the Guide as possible on an iPhone, including as many entries from the books, radio series, TV series and even the film. De Young also reveals that, in time, with various add-on to the app, some items may be interactive.

“We see it as the kind of app that’s going to be living and breathing, and we want feedback from people who use it. And our plans is, if people like it, to add to it and expand it over time. Like the real Hitchhiker’s Guide would have been. I think it’s hilarious how prescient Douglas Adams was coming up with the idea for the Guide. That’s what Wikipedia tries to be, after all.”

But don’t go thinking you’ll be able to add entries willy-nilly, he warns.

“Yeah, I’m not trying to create the impression we’re creating a Wikipedia-style thing where it’s just user-edited. That’s not the case. We’re taking great care with all the content we’re putting in the Guide. As the rights holders it’s very important that we manage that very carefully. But I do see it as… If you were a real Hitchhiker and you had the real Guide in your hand, Megadodo, the people behind the Guide, would be contacting you on a regular basis, and giving you information, and updates, and new entries, and alterations. And you would be giving feedback as well, and perhaps even, if you were a really hardcore hitchhiker, you might even be contributing to the Guide. We don’t have any hardcore or established plans for that right now, but it’s definitely something we’re thinking about.”

In fact, keeping the app feel authentic has been central to its development.

“As we’ve started work on the project and we’ve publicly announced it, reality has set in. It’s terrifying. I know that there are a lot of very hardcore fans out there and it’s a very beloved property. And the fact that Douglas Adams is no longer alive, it makes it an even more challenging thing. We’re working closely with his estate, and we’re being very careful with everything we’re doing with it to make sure it’s respectful and appropriate and genuine. So it’s very important to me personally that it’s something that fans are gonna love, and that it’s something I can be proud of and that my team can be proud of. So we won’t release it until we’re sure it’s in that state.”

Part of that authenticity included finding someone with Hitchhiker’s cred to provide the voice of the book. De Young and his team decided on Simon Jones, the man who has been playing Arthur Dent for over three decades now.

“He is narrating the Guide. It’s great because his voice is so recognisable from both the radio series and the TV series. We wanted to get someone who was really close to Hitchhiker’s so that people would feel it was authentic. Plus, he’s been a great resource to us. He was very close to Douglas, so he’s been great at giving us some guidance. Plus he’s very professional. I mean, I was amazed. We allowed for a day in the studio and he just blasted through it. He was great. He got a lot of stuff done first take.”

In one area, though, de Young decided that maybe authenticity was not the answer,

“It’s been tricky because we wanted to keep the Guide works as close as possible to the way Douglas Adams described it in the books. The way Ford describes to Arthur how it works, is, ‘It’s all quite simple. You look in the index and you find the entry you’re looking for. And then you look up the number beside it and you punch it into this keyboard.’ That predates the wide use of hypertext, and I don’t think people would put up with it working that way today. So it’ll definitely be updated into an interface that people will be more familiar with on a modern device. But other than that, we’ve done everything we can to make it feel like the way Douglas described it.”

When it comes to the graphics, de Young reveals, “Something I like about them in the TV series, and something we tried to bring to this as well, is that you have to hit pause to see all the jokes. While the narrator is speaking there is all sorts of other stuff going on visually. And you can’t read it all at once. You have to actually pause the picture to see everything. And that’s something we’ve really tried to bring to this as well. I love those inside jokes. There’s just such a density of comedy.

“Of course, we looked at all the stuff that’s ever been associated with Hitchhiker’s property. The feature film had some good points and some bad points obviously that are well known, but I think one of the better parts of the film are the Guide entries. I thought the style they used was very interesting. You can see from the screen shots that we’ve distributed that we’ve taken our own take on it, but we’ve definitely tried to pull in best bits from all of those parts, including the TV series.”