Jo Kent saves cult hg2g game from scrapheap

Jo Kent with the game on screen Jo Kent used her 'ten percent time' to oversee game's HD makeover

A business analyst has rescued a cult computer game from the BBC scrapheap.

Jo Kent, who works for radio and music interactive, saved the Bafta-winning Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy game from a server that is due to be decommissioned and volunteered to give it a new lease of life.

The revamped game was launched at the weekend on Radio 4 Extra - 30 years after Douglas Adams created the original text-based interactive quest for devotees of his science fiction comedy radio series.

Adams admirer Kent came across the files for a 20th anniversary edition of the game - enhanced by Rod Lord graphics and dressed up in Flash - when she was working through the websites on a server that was to be shut down.

'Initially we thought we could just pick it up and move it across,' she tells Ariel, 'but the new server didn't support the old technology. It seemed a shame to just let it go.'

Short history of the hg2g game

  • Geeky Douglas Adams created the first hg2g game in 1984 - six years after the first broadcast of his radio series which inspired it.
  • His piece of interactive fiction was one of the bestselling games of its era.
  • Ten years ago, the BBC made a new version of the game to accompany the launch of the third, fourth and fifth hg2g radio series.
  • Available via the Radio 4 website, it won a Bafta for best online entertainment.
  • Between 70-100 people still play it every day on a mothballed page of a server due to be switched off.
  • It's now been revamped for a 30th anniversary edition.
Ten percent time

Instead, she got permission to use her 'ten percent time' - the part of the working week Future Media staff are encouraged to devote to reading articles, attending courses or lectures or trying out new projects - to give the game a makeover.

'It had to be rewritten in HTML5,' explains Kent, who found no shortage of hg2g fans in Future Media and beyond who were willing to help. FM's games unit even offered some funding, allowing some of the development work to be put out to tender.

'We got back some outrageous quotes while others were desperate to work on it for free,' she laughs. 'It's quite incredible how many people are fans of the series and see it as yet another of the BBC's crown jewels.'

Kent persuaded artist Lord - whose Bafta-winning graphics featured in the 1981 tv version of the series as well as in the 20th anniversary game - to let them use his drawings ('he had to rummage around in his garage to find the old machine he'd drawn them on'), while he created some bespoke branding for the hg2g 4 Extra webpage.

And she encouraged the digital radio station to start a rerun of the first series to coincide with the game's launch on Saturday's 30th anniversary. 'Luckily, they'd finally got the rights for the first time in a decade,' says Kent.

Any key

The latest, spruced-up HD version of the game features a few more bells and whistles, including a specially-designed, in-built keyboard, which players use to enter commands and win achievements. There's a special key that sends out pre-written tweets to tell others you've hit an achievement, while the inclusion of an 'any key' (press any key to continue) was Kent and the team having a bit of fun.

Cast of first radio series The hg2g radio series was first broadcast in 1978

The wilfully awkward game is designed to test even the most diehard of devotees. Adams described his original version as 'not only user unfriendly but user mendacious'.

'It actually lies to you,' says Kent. 'And it kills you all the time in a variety of ways - but you don't get annoyed with it; you laugh at it.'

She has been getting the word out about the game to the right people. She set up a Twitter feed, following people with character names like Arthur Dent or Ford Prefect. Some of them followed her back.

And she tweeted a daily countdown - from 42, of course (the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything in the Guide). 'When we got down to single digits it started to get scary,' she admits.

The tactic seems to be working, with more than 35,000 UK visits to the game page on Monday as well as another 150,000 from outside the UK.

'I wanted to do this partly because I love Douglas Adams' writing and partly because I thought it was a wonderful game,' says the business analyst. 'We won a Bafta for it, it's part of our digital heritage and it would have been a real shame to see it go.'

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