The Gold Left Behind

Posted: May 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production, Text Adventure History | 9 Comments »

Here’s something not going into the movie or DVD:

I recorded 120 hours of interview footage from 85 interviews conducted over a few years.  From those hours, I cut things down to about 30-40 hours of clips. From those 30-40 hours of clips, I ended up with 4-5 in the rough mix of things, and now it’s getting to be an amount smaller than that.  People who made or are interested in text adventures have a few shared traits, one of which is they are brilliantly well-spoken.

Therefore, my cut-aside and ultimately left-aside clips are sometimes really cool on their own.  Where I can, I’ve made them bonus features, especially when I’ve edited a large sequence only to find it doesn’t fit anywhere in the branches.

Ultimately, of course, the full interviews will be uploaded, but that’s a lot for people to go through, although I think a lot of the interviews are fascinating on their own.

Until then, enjoy the clip.

Some General Time Goalposts and Update

Posted: May 25th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 4 Comments »

So here we are, getting towards the end of May. People are being polite but the questions are increasing. Here we go with details:

First of all, I have passed 800 pre-orders. That’s pretty amazing. Many bought it as part of the VEZZASPELL period, when you were getting a discount but had no idea what was coming out at the end. A lot of those folks are probably unsurprised that deadlines have slipped. Similarly, people who are buying after the deadline slipped are also showing nice faith. This is all very much appreciated.

As I’ve mentioned here and there, the documentary starts in one direction, then lets you go in multiple other directions. I want each direction to be full and complete, and not just a thin bunch of footage for you to then jump back and see other stuff, forgetting it. That does take a bit of time. All told, my estimate is that it’ll be roughly 2 hours of footage in that set.

There’s three featurettes, ranging from 12 minutes to an hour. One is basically done and going through the Brutal Render, the other two are piecemeal.

There are about 30 bonus features I don’t count as featurettes (although some might leak into that territory). They range from 2 minutes to 15. They’re now in the Brutal Render.

The DVD-ROM portion was finished a while ago.

So basically, a lot is done and a lot is not as done as I like. How this is all going to fit on 2 DVDs is going to be a fun challenge in itself.

I’ve told myself I will not be editing past the second week in June.  Crunch time ahoy.

There we go.

SIGINT Showing Wrapup

Posted: May 23rd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 4 Comments »

So, apparently during rush hour in New York, the two blocks leading to the Holland Tunnel can become a traffic jam so horrific, with cars so terrible at basic driving skills, that a person on their way to an airport can find it takes an hour and a half to get through them. Two blocks.

Green is where I needed to be by 4pm, red is where I still was at 5:30pm.

So after getting to the airport, being told I couldn’t get on the flight, and contacting the CCC folks, I was asked to research the possibility of getting them to convert my flight. I stood at the counter for over 40 minutes, watching five people at the Amsterdam KLM/AirFrance/Delta argue, in front of me, how to get rid of me. It was quite something.  Ultimately, I was told with a straight face that it would cost $3750 to get another flight. I was told if I talked to a manager, it might be $250. I talked to a manager. She said no. So that was that.

People trusted me to go and had paid my way, and I felt it wrong to disappoint them.  So I bent one of my rules and transferred the PAX East mix to a friend attending SIGINT, and the show went on, without me.

Before and after the showing, I made a presentation via Skype. At one point I shouted out to a few people who said they’d traveled hours just to see the film, and I guess they were recording my whole Q&A and Intro, as they put up the part mentioning them:

I’ll have to wait for the reviews, so I don’t know how well it went yet, but in a nice touch, they left the skype line running so I could hear audience reaction. Once you’ve finished a film cut, hearing audience reaction is critical. So thanks for that.

I’ll be attending other showings in person, of course. And I will never drive to the airport through NYC again.

Packaging is Complete (and a lost puzzle)

Posted: May 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 1 Comment »

The slipcover for GET LAMP is complete.  I just got a sample in the mail, and it looks fantastic. I put the packaging in the slipcover, looked it over – it’s a nice piece of work. I’ll be fine living with it for years hence, as I’ve had to do with the BBS Documentary’s packaging.

I’ll take some good photos of it after I get back from the European premiere of GET LAMP, being held at SIGINT.  They’ll replace the ones on the pre-order page.

One small (in terms of importance) problem happened during the making of the slipcover, which I wanted to mention both in the context of how I liked putting puzzles in this documentary, and how you have to always expect unusual reasons that prevent you from doing stuff, once actual physical processes are in place.

So I had to put something into the packaging that rewarded effort, and wouldn’t be discovered for a while, and be pretty out there. So here’s what I originally planned:

The slipcover is basically a loop, glued at the bottom, with a flap to close one side. If you’ve seen the BBS Documentary’s packaging, it’s very similar.

In my design, I put writing along the glued flap. The only way to see it would be to destroy the packaging.

Along the flap, was the following riddle, in both Telugu and English:

Andamaina cheruvu lo / Muddanki pitta / Mootiki bangaaramu / Tokato neellu taagutundi (mp3)

In a pretty lake / Is a wet bird / Wears gold on her nose / And drinks with her tail

I won’t spoil the riddle here.

So this little conceit got all the way through the production process until it was time to be finally printed. At that point, some gnome deep in the printer’s bowels came back and vetoed the printing on the glued flap. Years of experience had taught that extending the printed surface onto the flap and printing on it would cause the package to fall apart sooner rather than later – even the relatively small text would contribute to that.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s to listen to the guy in the back office who touches the hardware. If the issue is moral or tradition, push it. If it’s mechanical or safety, listen. Find another way to express what you want. So that’s what’s happened here.

So now I have all the pieces except the DVDs themselves. And that part’s being worked on, I assure you.

And when your package of GET LAMP continues to hold together for years to come, thank that guy in the printer’s office.

The Brutal Render

Posted: May 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 9 Comments »

Parts of the GET LAMP footage are going through The Brutal Render.

While I’m behind on deadlines and milestones with this project, I’m glad to have major things finally hitting this stage.

Bear in mind that pretty much all the roughly 30 bonus footage sequences went past this stage, but the standards on them are reduced – they are, after all, bonus footage, and as long as things flow relatively well, people are watching them because they are being told a simple story, or are being shown some comments by folks about a subject that would drag the actual film down.  Also, some are as short as 60 seconds – it’s not hard to do quality verification and checking on a single minute of footage with no cuts or music.

But the main film, well, it’s a big deal we’re finally getting there. I’m talking about this mostly to indicate some of the work that goes into a project that isn’t as obvious as it could be.

The original footage of GET LAMP is primarily 720p progressive HD footage. The output for the DVD will be widescreen (anamorphic) standard-definition MPEG-2.  From the source to the final, there’s a lot that can go weird – unusual artifacts, flickering, colors being jarring or wrong, and sound clipping/cuts that aren’t great.

The mind is a fantastic tool for overcoming these issues – as long as the subject is compelling, we kind of stop paying attention to process and focus on the content. But the fact we have this capacity is not some license for creators to push out any old junk and feel good about it. Some do treat it as a license, but I’m not one of those.

My attitude is the independent films, and let’s focus on documentaries, are actually under more pressure to release a quality product. We can’t just make sure everyone who isn’t in a coma is aware of the film, and we’re going after subjects that others either chose not to cover or haven’t found an effective way. At least, I am being nice here – lots of people do independent stuff that is a smaller, less compelling version of big stuff. And I’m also probably making a mistake calling it “independent”, because that word now means “a smaller, more petulant Hollywood that would become Hollywood given half the chance”. Regardless, I think it’s the case that the smaller films have to really bring skills and craftsmanship to the table, since they can’t just ride the publicity bulldozer and make back the cost.

Remember that GET LAMP is a little odd in that there are branches the DVD goes in. This means that there’s a sequence at the beginning with an overview of the commercial side/standard information on text adventures, and then it lets you go focus on branches about players, puzzles, and so on. So the first “branch” is basically done. And that’s rendering.

After it’s rendered, it’s going to a couple of people who don’t interact (so we don’t end up with groupthink). They look at:

  • Flow and pacing: does it feel generally right?
  • Sound and music: mixing good? Voices clear? No pops or clicks at the beginning and end of clips?
  • Visual cues: Does a person seem uncomfortable? Is there unexpected creepiness, hilarity or sadness when that wasn’t intended?
  • Image quality: Is something added/ingested (the video editing term) in such a way that frame rate or interlacing is off?

There’s a time-costing factor in here, too: video noise reduction. Many of the shots have video noise, which adds nothing to the image, but costs dearly in terms of MPEG size. I use something called the Neat Video Plugin to remove the noise (not TOO much noise, or it smooths too far out and we end up with a Britney Spears video). This takes a lot of time. Neat video can increase the rendering by over 20+ times. But the result, as I said, is cleaner, more quality, and a smaller footprint.

This is slow, boring work. But it needs to be done, and it’s being done. And when it’s done, you will hardly notice it. But your lack of noticing it means it went well.

How to Play IF: A Postcard

Posted: May 14th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction | 2 Comments »

During PAX East, a postcard was released with a ground-up explanation of interactive fiction and how to play it.  It’s meant to be something you can print out or put on a card and show people who’ve either never played text adventures or who could use a quick brush-up of what the whole thing means. Written by Andrew “Zarf” Plotkin, it’s a lot of information nicely presented in a small space.

The card is available at screen resolution, PDF format, 300dpi printable  and a number of other formats at the People’s Republic of Interactive Fiction.  The PRIF is a new Cambridge-based initiative to discuss contemporary IF and what it all means, plus discuss projects and outreach.  I interviewed several people involved with this project, although not about the project itself. Still, I can vouch that these are very smart people who have done a lot for interactive fiction and it’s great they’re reaching out like this.

Grab the card for yourself, friends, or anyone else you want to introduce to the world of IF.

Editing Update

Posted: May 13th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 12 Comments »

People, thanks for being so patient. I know I’m behind schedule, and that the release date I thought I’d have this out has flown by.

It’s not for lack of working on it. I chose a very complicated approach and that means that there’s a lot of footage I’m still making into cohesive sequences for the various branches.

Bonus features are done. The main branch is done. The bedquilt special feature is done. A lot is done. But I am not completely done.

During part of this year, I changed up a lot of my life, and that took time, and I also am an incessant, insistent editor, trying to make stuff flow best.

That’s all I can really say. It’s going to come out. But it’s delayed, and I realized that. When the DVDs are finished and they arrive from the printer, I will be up solid for days mailing out hundreds of pre-orders.

Until then, I am very appreciative of everyone being patient. I could drop teaser sequences, but I don’t know if that’s going to change anyone’s opinion in any directions. I think it’s better to just present the whole thing, a finished package.

I’ll try and keep up the granularity of information on where I am. For example, I spent the last two days editing dozens of comments about the nature of puzzles for the Puzzles Branch of the main feature. It’s coming along nicely. But it’s not quite done. And so on.

Work continues. This is what I am primarily doing with my days.

Coins Arrive

Posted: May 12th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 10 Comments »

The coins have arrived from the Monterey Company. These are the custom GET LAMP coins that will be included with each and every copy sold.

I could only afford to order enough for half the GET LAMP run (2,000 coins), but as soon as I can afford it, the second 2,000 will be ordered.

In case you’re wondering how big or small a pile of 2000 coins is, here’s some photos.

Sent Fed Ex, the coins came in 5 boxes, each with a few smaller boxes inside them:

Box of Coins

Written on the top of the box is the number series that’s inside, like 0200-0300 and so on.

Inside each of these smaller boxes, to my surprise, was a bag:

Bag of Coins

There’s something kind of cool about getting a bag of coins. And as we were taught from childhood, if you get 100 coins, you get an extra life.  I currently have 20 extra lives.

The bag contains a clear plastic bag with stacks of the coins:

Bag Inside the Bag of Coins

They almost look like teabags inside this thing. I split apart the 0001-0100 series and put them into the box, so I could sort through them:

Coins in a Box

So, for the record, here is coin 0001:

Coin 0001

Coin 0001 is about to be shipped to Don Woods.

And here is coin 0042:

Coin 0042

As per the request of quite a few people, both privately and publicly, Coin #0042 is going to be given to Steve Meretzky.

If I wasn’t already committed with the pre-orders and the duplication payment to have the packaging made, having thousands of coins in my room would seal the deal. This is quite a lot of coinage in one place, and it will never be in the same place again.

So there you go, the coins are a reality, and waiting to be paired with the packages in the future.  Great stuff.

Slipcover Done

Posted: May 11th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 1 Comment »

I finally approved the slipcover for GET LAMP. It took a while.

Actually, there’s some very minor changes in this JPEG from the final work, and this version has some of the registration marks on it, but this is basically what it looks like.

So, it turns out the CMYK values for “black” as any normal person would perceive it is not 0,0,0,0.  It’s best to ask the printer/ duplicator what “black” actually is.  I also ran into super-crazy thing involving photo contrasts and brightness, where it all looked fine except for the paper. It costs $95 a shot, but it’s vital to do a proof, especially if, like me, you’re going to have 4000 of something made – check it out completely. Get it right. You shouldn’t wince when you glance at your own packaging.

There’s 4,000 of the inside DVD case, and now there’ll be 4,000 of the slipcover shortly. Hot stuff. The setup is not dissimilar from how I did the packaging for the previous production, BBS. I like the feel of it all, so it’s more of the same. They’ll stand nicely next to each other, on a bookshelf or under a bed.

Upcoming Screening: SIGINT 2010

Posted: May 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 5 Comments »

As the year progresses, the 1-hour “PAX East” mix will be shown at various events around the country and world, often with me in attendance for Q&A. I am in discussions with many different groups, when I’m not over here editing the rest of the film. (More on how editing is progressing in a future weblog entry.)

The next screening will be the European premiere of GET LAMP. I’ll be showing it at an event called SIGINT, held in Cologne, Germany.  The showing is in the evening of May 22nd, so basically next week.

Here is the entry in the (as usual) well-constructed and details-heavy schedule.

As I’m still finishing things up, copies will not be for sale at this showing, although I’ll have a proof coin and the packaging to show.

See you all (in the general area of Cologne Germany) there!