PAX East Premiere: Success!

Posted: March 31st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 5 Comments »

Sorry about the radio silence there. Summary of reasons: fatigue and then a terrible cold. Feeling much better now. Anyway, on with the details.

PAX East 2010 Photos

I basically spent a month editing a cut of the movie for PAX East. This PAX Mix, which I mentioned before, was intended to be an introduction to what the final DVD will entail. I’d forgotten what a perfectionist I am about footage and editing, about all the little bits that put a movie together. It’s why the movie has been delayed, and it’s all on me. My hope, however, was that the audience seeing it would be happy with what they saw, and appreciate the work it took to put it there.

All told, the final render went on the CF card on Thursday, and I drove up to Boston, stuff in tow, preparing for a weekend at PAX East. I’d been to a few PAX Primes, so I knew a lot of the score, including to ask for a Bandland booth since it would get heavy traffic. (That’s what the “Bandland Presents” banner is, upstairs.

Also, this was the beginning of a culmination of four years of work, so proper dress was a requirement:

PAX East 2010 Photos

I attended an IF dinner on Thursday night, and that’s when it really became apparent for me, as well as a lot of other folks in the community, that this had, by dint of using my film as the stone in the stone soup, become the largest assembly of interactive fiction folks in history. Creators, players, and legends were going to assemble on PAX East, and make it something very, very special. There are better write-ups of the other IF stuff that happened at PAX, so I’m going to just list those at the end and leave the better writers to better write. For my own bit, I attended (and recorded) the other “official” IF panel at PAX East and made a number of stops by the IF Suite, a beautiful environment for learning and socializing put on by Andrew “Zarf” Plotkin. So rest assured, that part of things was a huge success.

But for me it was about my movie, and to that end, it was all about 9:30pm at the Naga Theater on Friday night.

A boatload of people were there from a lot of different parts of my life and IF history – besides about 20-25 interviewees from the film, we had Infocom alumni, bits of my family, my college film teacher (!) and an awful lot of fans. The room (which was smaller than I’d hoped it would be) neared 500 people in attendance:

GET LAMP Audience

Many, in fact, had to sit on the floor, something I am both embarrassed had to take place, and truly complimented that people stood up (sat down) for it. I’d reserved a space for the Infocom alumni I knew were showing up, as well as friends and family, and the place eventually was jam packed.

I kept the introduction short, just to let people know this was a 1 hour cut of the film, and while it was meant to be rather a good introduction and general overview (read: someone with a glancing care in the subject would be satisfied), the movie would be much longer, interactive, and have a lot more depth. While doing this, I looked like this anachronistic fellow:

PAX East 2010 Photos

There are reviews aplenty already, and I expect more.  The cut had a few rough edges, mostly owed to the final cut not getting a test audience like I had had a few weeks earlier, but the whole thing was a lot more smooth thanks to the efforts of Rob Isaac, who worked as a spotter/checker for the cuts as they were complete, which helped me enormously in making sure stuff was appropriately contextual and clean.

I was surprised to find that people have been most touched/emotional/intrigued by the sequence related to blind players – I think the creators of modern games might not have known how this special audience sees the works, or maybe people just generally don’t know how the blind get about with stuff.  I’d been contacted by blind players almost since the first day of shooting, so I was just steeped in it and was endeavoring to give an overview of the subject.

Similarly, other sequences got applause or laughs and I took personal notes on what worked and what didn’t, and will smooth out both this mix and the DVD work.

And after the very pleasant ovation at the end of the film, the panel assembled:

The Get Lamp Panel En Regalia

Left to right, this is Dave Lebling, Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, Nick Montfort, Steve Meretzky, and myself.  A delightful powerhouse of panelists to discuss Interactive Fiction!

I have had very bad luck with conferences recording panels, and since I’d sprung for a couple plane tickets to bring this august group together, I had a couple HD cameras running, and have been sent the footage from a third camera. So as soon as I can, I’ll have a nice recording of this panel up on vimeo, for free. There was talk of putting this on the GET LAMP DVD… but believe it or not, there’s no room; I just don’t have the space for another hour of video anywhere on the discs. (If I spontaneously get it back from some final renders, then maybe, but that’s not all that likely). Either way, this fun event should be out there generally, so out it’ll go.

Subjects included remembering history, talking about stuff not mentioned in the PAX Mix cut, and taking questions from the audience. There were some great moments in there, including the audience finding out the hard way that Nick Montfort blows out some world-class groaner puns, and that Steve Meretzky really is that hilarious. There was also a wonderful moment when Brian Moriarty thanked Don Woods (who he’d never met) for his career. Don has gotten a lot of recognition over the years for his work with Adventure, but seriously – can he ever have too much?

After that, it turned out a few people had been told there’d be another showing of GET LAMP and they’d walked out of the line to come back, even though people had gotten mostly accepted in. So I ran it a second time, for a group of about 8 people and some Enforcers (PAX Volunteers). They were both grateful, and in some cases pretty buzzed. So we now know it plays well with people who’ve been drinking!

The rest of the weekend, I mostly spent at the table in Bandland, sometimes with guest stars like Robb Sherwin. Here’s a nice photo of us:

Hangin' With Robb Sherwin

As you can see on the table, I was handing out postcards of GET LAMP, selling things like the BBS Documentary and Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, and showing off both the lamp and the first printing of the case for the GET LAMP packaging.

It was, in other words, a fantastic premiere, and a wonderful time. Now, I just have to do a bit of travel I’d paid for last November, and get back into deep editing. Yes, things are delayed, but it’s really looking like it’s everything I’d hoped it would be. Thanks for waiting, thanks to everyone for showing up, and thanks to PAX East for their part in making it all happen.


Dear Ben: Voice Activated Adventure

Posted: March 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction | 1 Comment »

I was contacted a while ago by Richard Rutenberg, a fun and dedicated fellow who has been spending quite some time making a voice-activated version of the original Adventure/Colossal Cave! Available at 610-DEAR-BEN (610-332-7236), a quick visit to his website,, and you can see the leaderboard, learn of projects to translate to other languages, and just marvel someone spent this time doing this.

Initially, the thing ran a bit slow – now it’s fast as lightning. Trust me, it’s worth a couple tries. Give it a whirl.

PAX Panel Details

Posted: March 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production, Text Adventure History | 8 Comments »

I was holding back on the surprise guest, but it already leaked out, and what the heck, people should have all the facts before they show.

The GET LAMP panel will take place right after the screening of GET LAMP’s PAX mix, in the same theater. By my estimate it’ll convene somewhere in the range of 11pm and go on for a tad.

Here’s the participants:

PAX East Mix Vs. DVD Mix Clarification

Posted: March 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 10 Comments »

I wanted to drop some information about the premiere at PAX East, for the folks at home.

What people will see at PAX East is a truncated version of GET LAMP, something in the run-time amount of 75 minutes to 90 minutes, which I am going to probably call “The Pax East Mix” mentally and in various locations. It’s more what people think of when they think of a documentary, that is, an encapsulated film discussing a subject and touching on parts of that subject from various angles and points. If you were bringing your game-playing buddies to PAX, they’d get behind this mix. Your non-game-playing family members are likely too.

What’s on the DVD is going to be something in the range of a 120-150 minute movie, split into interactive parts (you choose which way to go at one point) which goes into much greater depth in various directions. It’s much better suited for a smaller group showing (1-50) instead of a larger group showing (50-800), which has less tolerance for in-depth study. It’s a big issue, balancing one group’s needs versus the others.

I’m polishing the PAX East mix as we speak, and that version will eventually, down the road, be available in some fashion for free or at cost to the purchasers of the GET LAMP DVD, as per the GET LAMP Upgrade Guarantee.  So if you watch the premiere and go “I like THAT mix, and while I like the DVD version, I want to show THAT mix to my family/friends”, then you’re going to get that one as well, so don’t worry.

The DVD set has the larger version, plus a bit on gamebooks, plus a bit on infocom, plus a bedquilt featurette and a couple dozen other overviews of extremely technical or exacting subjects (there’s one extra on nothing but A Mind Forever Voyaging, one on nothing but The Z Machine, Photopia, etc.). It’s quite packed, actually. Oh yeah, and a music video. And hundreds of games.

Anyway, I had this feeling in the back of my mind someone would attend the showing and go “wow, GET LAMP doesn’t cover XXX in much depth” and you should be aware that it likely does… just not at PAX. PAX East is for us all to enjoy the movie together and talk with some great people on a panel and the DVD is for feeling good that we captured some portion of the wonder of interactive fiction and adventure games.

Digipak Production Sample Arrives

Posted: March 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 2 Comments »

There are 4000 digipaks sitting in a warehouse right now, waiting for slipcases and two DVDs. I asked the duplication house to send some samples along I can bring to PAX.

They’ve arrived.

GET LAMP Digipak Samples IMG_4589 GET LAMP Digipak Samples GET LAMP Digipak Samples GET LAMP Digipak Samples GET LAMP Digipak Samples GET LAMP Digipak Samples

This is the tray that will hold the two DVDs. There will be a slipcase that goes around this, just like a slipcase did for the BBS documentary.

Aesthetically, there’s a bunch of stuff going on here, and there will be more related to the slipcase. (Also called a slipcover, but I like slipcase as a term.) The outside artwork and image is very sad and forlorn, almost monochrome, while the inside artwork is bright, vibrant, and huge.

More as it comes.

GET LAMP Shipping Delayed; PAX Premiere On as Scheduled

Posted: March 6th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 21 Comments »

I had been hoping not to write something like this, but I hope the reasons for writing it make sense.

Basically, things are taking a lot longer on a lot of fronts and GET LAMP will not be released on DVD within March. I’m now shooting for April, early May. I’d love to be surprised and have it earlier in April, but I don’t think it wise to commit to that.  While many pre-orderers are fans and a bunch bought the BBS Documentary and might remember that delay, I also understand people saying they’re not comfortable with this, and would prefer a refund and to order GET LAMP when it’s out, and if so, please mail me and I’ll make the proper arrangements with you to get your money back.

Make no mistake: this project is real. 4000 DVD digipaks which I’ve paid for are sitting in a warehouse, and 4000 slipcases are about to be printed with my final approval. The proof coins are now being made and will be sent to me shortly, at which point the coins are going to be sent to me as well. (I wonder how much 4000 coins weigh, anyway….)

There’s multiple reasons for the delay. I’ll explain them but first, let me say the PAX premiere is going to happen, have no worry there. I’ll see you there, and I can tell you with pride that on schedule for the panel after the movie is Steve Meretzky, Dave Lebling, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, and Nick Montfort. Plus a surprise guest or two. So that’s on, don’t worry about that.

One major delay has been rendering the material from the HD master files, and using video noise reduction. This adds hours to the process, which basically ties up the machine. That’s why things got so far into this year.

Another has been that I’ve been very careful about proofs of EVERYTHING, so I’ve made the various places send me verified PDFs and hard-copy proofs in the mail. This somewhat-more-expensive process has already paid off, fixing a problem with colors on the slipcase. I’ll be doing the same with the DVDs (printing proofs and then testing and approving them). This adds iterations to what’s completed.

Next is the opportunity to record additional commentary tracks with some of the people associated with the content and movie – arranging schedules and preparing track lengths so people can add commentary is taking some time. I have a field of betatesters watching footage, and they keep finding minor but important bugs, like a mis-defined acronym or a transition that’s broken. They make it better but then we end up with that rendering again.

Finally, I’ve just been making absolutely sure everything is as high quality as it can be. I’ve watched stuff a dozen times, have been making changes, clearing up lines of narrative, adding in additional informative shots, and so on. The DVDs have 25 extras of footage and counting, the ROM section is huge, and so on. It’s just a big project.

So there we are. I’ll be taking pre-orders at PAX and at a booth to discuss the movie/production and answer questions, and I hope that you’ll see the causes for the delay. Thanks for understanding.

In which a coin is revealed

Posted: March 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 7 Comments »

The first coin company I called, who seemed good enough online, was staffed by a salesperson who acted as if I was reading her the weather in Moonbeam, Ontario; uninterested and not overly prone to at least answering questions. I worked overnight to create some sketches of the coin, and then didn’t hear from them the next day. Or the day after that. I don’t work with places that run this way, so I looked up another coin company. The person who answered the phone at this new place was personable, helpful, answered all sorts of crazy pictures and asked for more information about the project itself, to understand the coin’s context in all of it.

I mailed along my rough sketch, and a few days later, their art department mailed me the following proof:

I’ve approved this artwork, and this is what the coin will look like.

People who’ve seen this and asked if they can buy the coin separately (I would like to think to have a second coin, but maybe they just want a coin?) have been told that yes, I am open to that.

It’s all getting closer!