In the mid-1990s Douglas Adams formulated the idea for a new storytelling concept, an idea that would span multimedia formats. Providing a basic background and cast the story would effectively evolve along many different threads but retain the same general theme. This was the Starship Titanic, the starship that cannot possibly go wrong.
And so The Digital Village - Adams's online thinktank, multimedia company - and the ex-Python Terry Jones were set to writing material about the great, but unfortunate, vessel called the Starship Titanic. A game, book, T-shirts, towels, pamphlets, Help Guides, chat rooms, Band-Aids, calendars, screensavers, mouse cursors, breakfast cereals and engine lubricants were produced and released with much fanfare.
Starlightlines Inc.: The Forum
Amongst the mass of material that came about in the wake of the creation of the Starship Titanic was the Starlightlines Employee Forum. For those who were interested it was reached by way of some interesting, if unintelligible, e-mails that related this existence of a mainframe of information maintained and supported by Starlightlines Inc., the company responsible for co-ordinating the construction and staffing of the Starship Titanic. Visiting the site - the Starship Titanic Construction Intranet - provided overviews of the Ship, it's robots, various systems and two Forums - the Management Forum and Employee Forum.
While both Forums had security passwords, the Management version was purely designed as a means to provide additional background to the Starship Titanic story. It related conversations between Leovinus, architect of the Starship Titanic, Antar Brobostigon, project manager, and Droot Scaliontis, Accounts Manager, concerning the mismanagement of the ship's construction and funding, and the inclusion of parrots anywhere onboard.
The Employees Forum, however, was an entirely functional location for the exchange of messages. The tone was immediately set - humorous frolics within the setting of the Starship Titanic, pre-launch.
The Employee Forum is not a slave to the plot line of either the game or the book and never has been. It has instead taken the premise, some of the individuals and the overall tone and taken it's own route through the cosmos. All of the major characters of the games - like Leovinus - have found time to drop by, but by and large the differences have outweighed the similarities.
Many of the locations have appeared but seem to have taken on new dimensions and functions of their own. The Embarkation Lobby, which originally was a reception areas accessed by the primary lifts into the vessel, became a much larger chamber which has been home to ice sculptures and minor wars in it's time. The Grand Axial Canal, home to irritating gondolas and their gondoliers in the original, became the location of numerous illegal substance dumps 1 , provided passage through to just about everywhere else through a series of lifts and a labyrinth of passages and became home to a department store, a casino and a Blue Bridge.
New locations also appeared, with the most important being the Promenade. This location became home to just about every business venture aboard the ship - and the success or failure of each became an issue of efficient management and how vocal posts to the Forum about each location were. Notable success stories were The Little Chuff, Lobo's Bar, SniftPoft's Laundrette and Woodear's Sauna - a low-class, high-value eatery, a rough-and-ready bar and a general purpose service outlet, respectively.
The Forum has been filled with events and developments that have twisted this thread of the Starship Titanics reality beyond recognition.
- A Ruined Rectory on Earth - Also visited in the book and the computer game, it seemed only right that the Forum should visit too. many of the inhabitants spent time wandering the fields and villages nearby and at least two temporal events and a battle between a demon and an angel occurred within spitting distance of the ruined building.
- The Big Bang Burger Bar - The less frequented eatery, compared to Milliways, the Burger Bar is situated in a reality stasis bubble on an asteroid just before the Beginning - and the Titanic managed to crash there before accidentally slipping out of reality altogether.
- Admiral Blarg's Internal Organs - Attempting to kidnap an important member of the crew the villainous Executive Harry managed to cause a molecular miniaturisation of the Titanic which was inhaled by the Admiral. The crew managed to reverse the effect in time to foil the plot and the kidnapping.
- Arthurian England - The Ship was visited by a time-travelling, alternate reality version of Executive Harry when the original Harry kidnapped members of the crew and ferried them through a temporal/spacial rift into ancient Earth history. The crew travelled to the past to find that the original King Arthur had been killed by the evil Harry, but his ploys were defeated and the good Harry, along with his main squeeze Clarisse, took over the roles of King and Queen of Britain.
- Several Alternate/Mirror/Negative Universes - The very nature of a ship that suffered a Spontaneous Massive Existence Failure (SMEF) meant that a lot of time has been spent in various realities where particular people or events have no occurred or populated with evil duplicates or foul nothingness.
- The Gerbil Wars - There have been two Gerbil Wars, both events that resulted in significant damage by rodent forces led by deranged commanders. The second event occurred as a result of a re-enactment of the first that went awry.
- A Universal Reboot - Following events that brought into doubt the reality of reality a variant of SMEF resulted in the complete reboot of the storyline back to before the Starship Titanic's launch.
- Digitisation of Reality - A digital entity known as Quinrex living in the DataSide 2 of the Starship managed to infest the ship with probes that digitised almost the entire crew. Quinrex then attempted to seize full control of the Ship, but failed due to the co-operation of the digitised crewmembers in disrupting his DataSide lifeforce.
- A Wedding and a Birth - The Starship Titanic was home to a wedding ceremony between Goblin, the Tea Boy, and the Unidentified Girl in Pigtails, or UPiG. Amidst all the usual problems associated with a wedding, the event included a massive wrestling bout between various guests, including several 'priests' who were keen to run the occasion in their own special way. They later went on to have a baby boy, christened PiGPiG, who had an eye for the ladies and a good cigar.
- Bi-Polarix Occurrence - A massive failure of the Ship's experimental engine caused the ship to diverge across three realities, creating a perfect version, a decrepit wreck and a grey middle ground which lacked the essential elements of either extreme. The crew were trapped on different versions and had to establish an Einstein-Rosen Bridge, or wormhole, between the Ship using it's secondary engines to gather together and merge the three Ships back into one.
- Time Loops - The existence of various means of time-travel, including the pyramid like MATRICES and the patented Blargomatic time-scooter, has resulted in many individuals travelling forward or backwards into the Forum timeline. This has resulted in Messages being posted before they occur or events in the past suddenly making sense in the future because someone went back to do the thing in the first place.
- DreamSpace Conversion - The digital entity Quinrex used devices called DreamThieves to fool people into believing they could live out their fantasies but in fact robbing them of the ability to wake up again. He managed to infect a large proportion of the crew before his twin brother, Phindex, tapped directly into the DreamThief booths and swapped himself for all the consciousnesses absorbed by the device. The booths were then powered off and mothballed.
- Qeek - The Ship maintains a slightly divergent system of time-keeping including qeconds, qinutes, qeeks and qonths.
- Soup In A Buzzard - A hugely popular nutritional supplement created by the masters of cuisine at the local franchise of The Little Chuff. The exact ingredients - and indeed the appearance - of the meal have remained, happily, unexplained.
- Get Back To Work - Something between a slogan and a battlecry, the crew of the Titanic rarely do anything for any reasonable length of time. This has become the favoured catchphrase in bringing about some form of order.
- Bok - A seemingly illogical and incomprehensible game popular aboard the Starship Titanic, apparently based on pan-dimensional strategy and played by two or more players. To non pan-dimensionals the nearest equivalent would be higher dimensional chess interfaced with a particularly wily game of poker. Broadly the game involves the movement and manipulation of objects, people and concepts within the general proximity of the players. Common gambits are 'The Doodlenut Draw'; 'The Table's Gone'; and 'The Royally Flushed Jabberwock'.
- Sudden Airlock Evacuations - For a time the most common form of pastime was fooling people into getting into airlocks and then flushing them out into space. The record holder for Most Evacuated Crewmember falls to the individual known as Bystander.
- Tinkering - The many and varied technological systems onboard the Starship Titanic are, primarily, jury-rigged and half-finished. This is a result of under-financing the whole construction operation and cutting corners on materials and devices. The result is that many crew members indulge in further jury-rigging and experimentation of their own, seeking to coaxing greater potential and enhanced capabilities out of existing technology. Those who wish to seek further entertainment generally expand into out-and-out invention of new, and often paradoxically mind-numbing, gadgets.
- Canal Contamination - Rumours suggest that at one time in the distant past the Grand Axial Canal (both First and Second-class) contained pure, unadulterated hydrogen dioxide (or water). Since that mythical point in the past, however, the Canal has become the dumping ground of everything from porridge oats to dead bodies. For some this is an inconvenience, but to others this is a worthy pastime.
The Who's Who on the Forum
Passengers aboard the Starship Titanic are many and varied. There has been enough time, and posting, to allow everyone the opportunity to make a brief appearance (even if they weren't necessarily aware of it).
There are some broad categories into which these individuals can be dropped:
- Crew - There are a few steadfast individuals who function as members of the crew with very little variation in their perceived duties. They indulge in the same activities and adventures as everyone else, but ultimately they are the crew of the ship and that is their primary duty. The definition of the word Crew stretches to merchants in the vessels shops, hired hands and individuals with a recurring role within the Ship (even if that role involves causing mass destruction and mayhem). Such individuals include Grand Admiral Blarg (notional commander-in-chief), Dirigible St. John-Joop (Chief Steward), Baza Lo-Ths'm (manager of The Little Chuff), Ondreayap Brindlesnart (Art Gallery owner), Mzpit (general store manager), Goblin (the tea-boy), and Harry (Senior Executive with the Very Big Company of Everywhen and ongoing thorn in the Starship Titanic’s side).
- Passengers - Somewhere between fare-paying stateroom occupants and trouble, Passengers aboard the Starship Titanic normally serve the function of filling space and engaging in uncontrolled havoc. Most Passengers will adhere to a specific location which they consider their Home Ground – like the Magrathea Suite or Cabin acdc – but will most often be found roaming all too freely around the Ship. Passengers may fall into other categories as well, but having a home to go to tends to label them as Passengers. Model Passengers include Kenegan Shreen (mercenary and Grandson of the original designer of the Magrathea Suite), Glen/da (sexual connoisseur and long-term occupant of Cabin 4acdc), Lobo (owner-occupier of the Starship Titanic’s most popular drinking hole), The Gat of Blerontin (figure of dubious authority and intermittent occupier of the Executive Suite), The Apprentice (kitchen assistant and Biscuit Barrel resident) and Koenig (goddess with an office).
- Pan-Dimensonals - While a few of these individuals fall temporarily into other categories (like Crew or Passengers), they are effectively too powerful to be contained, coming and going as they please. Pursuing fancy and whim normally satisfies their existence. They vary in power from practitioners of supernatural arts to full blown deities. Examples of Pan-Dimensionals include InfoMage (who occasionally runs the Information Booth at the bottom of the Central Well), Birch (a notable deity), The Cloaked Figure (riddle poser and regular troublemaker), The Milk Man (virtual lactic crusader for the common good and some time irritant), Phindex/Quinrex (enigmatic dimensionally nimble schizophrenic) and Joshua Angel (guardian entity of the Starship Titanic from the Beginning to the End).
- Concepts - Flying on a higher level even than the Pan-Dimensionals, the Concepts are a gathering of entities that provide ongoing input without manifesting any physical presence aboard the Titanic itself. They are commonly instigators of plot movements and are known for the otherwise detested act of multiple consecutive posting. Archetypes of the Concept include The Observer, The Visitor, Ann Other (all contributors of social comment), Event Horizon, Liff (both significant drivers of random events and plot tangents), Specificity (Specifically) and Continuity (both firm believers in strong spelling, grammar and awareness of past events).
- Extras - The role of the Extra is normally anything from completely pointless posting to brief periods of excellence or enthusiasm, followed by a permanent silence. Extras are normally people who have stumbled across the Employee’s Forum by accident or arrived believing its purpose to be the support of the Game. Those seeking game advice are always soundly slapped and set straight in understanding the context of the Forum’s existence. The remainder are gently informed about the basics of Form Etiquette and allowed to find their way – either merging into the flow and contributing to the Forum or dropping from view, either quietly or after losing their rag. Examples are excluded to protect the innocent (and not victimise the guilty).
- Real People - From time to time posts have been delivered by individuals, both factual and fictional, who could be considered as Real People. Where factual façades are assumed these are normally, without exception, not genuine – but then again, it’s hard to tell. Examples of Real People who’ve cropped up include Doctor Who, Zaphod Beeblebrox, Ford Prefect, presidents of the United States, characters from Star Wars and Star Trek, Site Administrators, and Douglas Adams.
The Forum is open to everybody and that’s clear to anyone who samples just a handful of the Forum’s entries.
Starship Titanic Forum Etiquette
There are a few basic rules for those who are visiting the Forum for the first time:
- Read as much of what has happened before in the Forum as practically possible. If nothing more read the last one hundred posts - the last few dozen as an absolute minimum. This will give an overview of the current plot situation and the characters involved. It will also offer something of an insight into the types of posts that are made and the way they are written.
- Be cautious and try to fit into what is going on. Trying to create new situations or forcing other characters to do things they don't want to is just going to stir up a hornet's nest. Having a big mouth and wanting to be heard is just about acceptable (barely) if some attempt is at least made to get involved in what's happening. Posters who make too much noise or start begging for attention are more likely to receive a verbal slap in the face or stone cold silence than the pandering they desire.
- Introducing invincible entities or killing off existing characters is definitely not going to make you any friends whatsoever. Some of the characters in the Forum have been there since the beginning - death is something that a lot of characters have managed to handle several times without any long term problems.
- Don't ask questions about the computer game as this is not a support network. It's quite possible that a few of the people involved have played the game, but this isn't the place to talk about it and questions will usually be ignored or met with a reply that essentially says that this is not the place for asking questions about the game. The regulars are nothing if not helpful.
- Don't venture too far into out of character posting. The Forum is a home to fictional happenings and real life messages and questions do not sit well in the flow of things. If there are questions to be asked then there is a support group at SST Employee Forum.