This weblog went down due to a long-forgotten DNS change, and the main website was doing fine, so it went dormant for a couple years.
While there’s not been a lot of eventful items in the years since the last entry, it’s probably worth throwing out a few items of note.
First, as of this writing, the documentary continues to sell copies (a few a week) after the initial release of 2010. So 5 years! Not bad at all. At this point, I’d estimate there are about 250 physical copies left, after which I am not reprinting them (the documentary is likely to go fully digital-only at that point). So if you want the pretty packaging, then definitely stop by the site and get a copy.
One of the figures in the movie, Andrew Plotkin, had a kickstarter to go full-time interactive-fiction writing, and he got it, and he did! And a few years later (these things do take years), he released Hadean Lands, a fully-realized modern interactive fiction project, which is for sale, and which brought with it all sorts of technical innovations he worked on. Bravo!
I occasionally check in with other interviewees from the movie – they’ve all been doing well, as far as I know. Steve Meretzky moved to California, Nick Montfort released a lot of fun computer poetry, and footage from GET LAMP was used for an awards ceremony recognizing Mark Blank, Dave Lebling, and the rest of the contributors to Zork. (Nobody asked me, but that’s what Creative Commons is for – and honestly, I’m proud as hell it was used that way.)
The GET LAMP footage has been used extensively by The Digital Antiquarian, who has been doing brilliant, brilliant posts for years now based off those interviews and tons of other research. Until a couple other possible Infocom-related books come out (one’s been at it for 7 years), this is your best way to really get the amazing overview of the 1980s software world from both a business and creator standpoint.
I’ve made another documentary and am working on three more, and I work for the Internet Archive in San Francisco, and… well, look, just go visit my main weblog ASCII if you want that information.
And as for the picture above – I finally got the artwork for the packaging framed! This is the original, by Lukas Ketner, before he did a few digital manipulations for the final work. I’m glad it’s finally going up on my wall. What a great piece of work.
I’ll avoid making it another few years before another update.
As part of the production of GET LAMP, Jason Scott arranged a day of filming in the Bedquilt section of Mammoth Cave, Kentucky, which had been the inspiration for the computer game Adventure by Will Crowther and Don Woods. Negotiations took roughly one year and involved both the CRF (Cave Research Foundation), a non-profit organization associated with cave exportation, and the National Park Service (NPS), which oversees the administration of care of the Mammoth Cave park. Requirements to film inside the cave system for a for-profit enterprise included: million-dollar insurance for the expedition, a fee for a park service employee to accompany, no revealing of the location of the Bedquilt system, and to release the footage to the public.
This footage was recorded over roughly 8 hours in Fall of 2007 and was ultimately used both in GET LAMP and a smaller documentary episode on the experience of caving. This includes everything shot, as well as a small additional sequence recorded at a party earlier in the year with a user of Adventure from the 1970s.
The expedition included Jason Scott, Dave West, Peter Bosted, Bruce Hatcher. Travel included both a walk past the original starting location of Adventure, the location of the two-inch slit, and then into the Bedquilt system itself, covering roughly 10 locations from the game (including the Hall of the Mountain King, Y2, and the Bird room). Filming was done using a Canon HV20 HD recorder, both on and off tripods, and lit with both LED lighting kits and caver’s lights.
Most of the footage has Jason discussing filming plans and the intended scope of the GET LAMP movie with the expedition, including a spoiler of a few IF games. (The footage is generally more useful without the soundtrack.) This footage is dedicated to the public domain and may be used for any purpose.
I won’t even pretend to claim much knowledge of Auntie Pixelante, because I don’t really have much beyond having followed the weblog for the site for about a year, and keeping track of a lot of the tools and assisting programs that are cited there, stuff that gets you out and running if you have some ideas for a game. Lots and lots of embryonic game ideas come out of that place, so it’s pretty easy to just sit back and enjoy the feed. I didn’t notice the review until my RSS scanner that looks for mentions of the movie kicked it up, but then I saw it in my regular newsreader, so destiny was at hand.
I also won’t pretend to definitively summarize the review in a way that you shouldn’t read it completely; but I’ll take a shot at saying the review is primarily one of disappointment at focus on Infocom, lack of coverage of the more experimental aspects of interactive fiction, and a monolithic point of view with Infocom constituting the majority of discussion or subject matter in the movie.
Why am I linking to/bringing attention to a negative review? Because the fact is, it’s a review. More than that, it’s a specific call-out to a perspective on the film, and yes, ultimately disappointment that that perspective feels unfulfilled, and there’s just not been that many for GET LAMP, even as we pass a year of release. I know tens of thousands of people have seen the work, and I have seen people write about text adventures and mention they saw GET LAMP, but there’s only a tiny handful of actual film criticism aimed at the work, and that’s always made me a bit sad.
I did go to film school, after all, and part what got drummed into me was the idea that film criticism is part of the process of a film – after it’s finished, after the ballyhoo and the screenings and the promotion would come informed, thoughtful essays as to what the whole thing meant or what meanings and ideas could be teased from the work that the creators either intended or unconsciously added along the way. To that end, I’ve just had very little in that direction. The BBS documentary got some, but even then, nothing even approaching the gold standard of film criticism, which is this article.
And so for me the whole thing is incomplete until it gets reviews, essays and thoughts, good and bad, and any move in that direction pleases me, so thanks to Auntie Pixelante for this review.
And as for the review?
Well, on the charge of “seems way focused on Infocom”, totally guilty as charged. Infocom is so important to the story of interactive fiction that besides a healthy mention in the middle of the main GET LAMP movie, there’s a whole other 40 minute movie called EXAMINE INFOCOM on the disc that covers Infocom and Infocom, Infocom, Infocom. On the second disc, I have extended bonus features discussing nothing but Infocom’s Z-Machine, the unique aspects of Planetfall and a whole other host of Infocom-ish subjects. That’s a fact. Book me.
I’ll take issue with the portrayal of the film as monolithic in opinion – as mentioned Chris Crawford gets a few shots in, but even across other people like inky, Adam Thornton, Andrew Plotkin and Ron Martinez, the entire medium and its failings come in for some shots, and the question of “what’s next” comes up. But, and this is the important aspect that I think is missed, this documentary bootstraps you from nothing about text adventures to going into incredibly detailed discussions of the nature of puzzles and the issues of overflowing object tables with irrelevant descriptions in the name of “realism”, as well as a host of other ethereal subjects that come down to unique problems of the collision of writing with this whole game/experience thing. The movie, that is, is not for people long off the beaten path of game design seeking ever more whacky and up-ending paradigms in the demolishing of current expectations of the very nature of interactive writing – this movie is meant to be a ground-up bringing in of the idea of text adventures and what it all might have meant, from both the idea of an industry and what would draw people to the present day to keep creating in it long after the commercial interest has receded back into the ocean.
There’s a point of view that has occasionally come in, which I call the Mass Effect group, although it’s not directly tied to that specific game, but along the lines of “Why didn’t GET LAMP cover Mass Effect/Bioshock/Cryptozookeeper”. It’s considered a missed opportunity that I didn’t draw a direct, bold line from the text adventure medium into these modern works, but I didn’t think that was the job of this film. It wasn’t even the job of the film to cover point and click games like King’s Quest, Leisure Suit Larry, or The Last Express. I thought that there was no video documentary covering text adventures, and I do believe I was right. In terms of the “coverage” the review mentions, that’s all generally written interviews (and usually just of Steve Meretzky), or essays and recounting of artifacts. If there is another film, television production or even audio production with Amy Briggs, Stu Galley and Marc Blank all discussing their work and the general aspects of the text adventure medium, I’ll be down at Cafe du Chapeau chowing down.
What I was worried about was that all these great folks would pass on without portraying the emotion of the work they were doing, and that this community of text adventure writers, which in some ways is always on edge to tearing itself apart, would fade into self-containment without their work reaching a wider audience. For that, I say mission accomplished. Expecting it to then go on past an hour and a half into realms still experimental, or even attempt to bring in the full parallel line of related game approaches, was just not in the cards, and I hope the next text adventure documentary someone makes covers that.
As part of the Curtain Up! celebration weekend, American Repertory Theater of WNY is proud to bring in as a quest speaker, noted cave explorer and author Roger Brucker, for an one-night only lecture on September 17th, 6:45-7:45 pm, with the performance of FLOYD COLLINS to follow at 8 pm.
The stage musical by playwright Tina Landau and composer Adam Guettel is based on the true story of Floyd Collins, who was trapped in a Kentucky cave in 1925 and could not be rescued. The tragedy received national publicity and attracted thousands of spectators to the rescue site, becoming one of the most sensational news events of the early 20th century.
The musical was inspired, in part, by the book TRAPPED! THE STORY OF FLOYD COLLINS, which Brucker wrote with historian Robert K. Murray. While researching the book, Brucker and Murray studied hundreds of documents and interviewed dozens of individuals who were involved in the actual rescue attempt, or who knew Floyd Collins personally. Brucker even risked his life, crawling to spot underground where Collins was trapped, to better understand why rescue efforts failed.
“This musical is brilliant,” Brucker said. “Tina Landau and Adam Guettel did a superb job of capturing the essence of the historical Floyd Collins and the people who tried to save him. In spite of the morbid subject, it is beautiful and uplifting.”
Brucker has explored Mammoth Cave in Kentucky for more than 55 years, and is recognized as the leading authority on the Floyd Collins tragedy. He has consulted for National Geographic Television, and has been interviewed by national media, including NPR and the CBS Evening News. He has written five books about cave exploration.
“We are truly fortunate to have Mr. Bucker come in and share his thoughts on this American story,” ART of WNY’s Executive/Artistic Director Matthew LaChiusa said. “It will be a wonderful opportunity for folks to meet the author and learn about the rich history behind the events surrounding Floyd Collins and how the story influenced this amazing musical.”
Mr. Brucker will speak with audience members, with an Q & A session after his lecture as well as the opportunity to pick up a signed copy of TRAPPED! THE STORY OF FLOYD COLLINS.
GET LAMP continues to sell, regularly, to people who are finding out that such a documentary was made. I like to think they’ve really enjoyed what they’ve gotten in the mail. Someone asked a while ago if there were “still coins”. Well, there are – as many as copies that have been made, so if you order you still get one of the coins.
Recently, someone was shipped a duplicate, and he gave the copy to a friend who then went off to review it. The resulting review is rather positive.
Since the last entry, I’ve done a couple showings here and there of the film, but I was especially pleased to have a showing at Google, with none other than Don Woods and Marc Blank in the audience. I’d brought Don out for the GET LAMP premiere at PAX East, but I’d not seen Marc since our interview – and he looks great!
As with my previous work, the idea for these films is to provide something that wasn’t there before, and be a delight for people who remember a subject or are curious about it, and get all the information and backstory they could want. It’s doing that, and I’m happy to be part of the tech documentary landscape.
As I write this, a huge batch is going out, all over the world (well over half of the GET LAMP copies go outside of the US), and I hope to make a lot more people happy about this film in months to come.
In the beginning of GET LAMP’s production, I made that decision to put some sort of “classic” brass lantern into every shot, and to make said lantern into the central identifiable image for the movie. So I knew I better buy a really nice one, and I should buy a few of them.
I chose this one:
Like the Olsen twins, there were three different lamps I bought. Let’s name them BROKE, FLAME, and TOUR.
BROKE was the initial model, which I posed with for this shot:
As you can see, he’s pretty shiny at that point, having recently come out of the package.
BROKE followed along for the next 45 interviews, until one sad trip his glass exploded in a checked suitcase. I still used him in a few interviews, without the glass, and put it far enough in the back you couldn’t see it. If you look carefully at the full resolution from this shot, you can see it has no glass:
So BROKE got replaced by TOUR, who did the rest of the shots in the film, and continued with me on the GET LAMP tour. If you look at a shot of it on tour, you can see that the lamp is getting rough around the edges:
I mean, I wouldn’t say it’s ruined, but it had lost some shine.
FLAME never went anywhere – once it got kerosene in it, it was unable to fly anymore, and that was that. FLAME is the lamp that is in the menus, the MC Frontalot video, and a few other random points. It’s the only time there’s fire in a lamp.
I was about to leave on a trip recently, when I discovered I’d misplaced the lamp I was carrying around. Couldn’t find it! And I decided to see if I could get another one or two.
It turns out I can.
The original three were bought from a small, small company, very earthy-crunchy in style, that sold this lantern and some polished stones, and mushroom sculptures and all that sort of thing. It indicated the lamp was manufactured in India. Then, a year or two into production when BROKE lived up to its nickname, I went looking for this company, and couldn’t find them. Oh well.
And while you’re listening to it, consider purchasing her second album of music with many pieces also from GET LAMP, entitled “Winter”. You can listen to the whole thing online and buy the entire package (a good deal) or buy individual tracks, instead, in a whole range of formats. If you liked the first album, you’ll like this one as well. The tone of her music set GET LAMP in just the direction I wanted it to go, and it stands well on its own. Check it out today!