One of the Last Editing Updates

Posted: June 30th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 7 Comments »

If all you essentially do is edit 24/7 to get things done on time (and by time I mean way behind schedule), you end up looking like this:


Note pale complexion, haunted eyes, overarching awareness of editing issues.

You also end up spending way too much time here:


Note stacks of hard drives, useless glowing blue fan that’s still way too noisy, uncomfortable (for sitting) couch.

Last night, I rendered out various versions of the MC Frontalot music video shot years ago for this very production, and which has done very well by Mister Frontalot since that time.  A bizarre set of bugs related to upgrading from Sony Vegas 6.0 to 9.0 caused me have to re-render the poor thing 5 times before getting it right. I also rendered a hi-def mp4 version that will be on the DVD-ROM.

Today, I am working on the Infocom episode, including realizing yet another bonus feature was going to pop out of it, where I’d focus on the games as much as possible (in the episode it would just be too long a travel, although the games are discussed in some fashion, of course).

Sometime today, I will probably record my commentary tracks for the production.

Tomorrow night I show the Infocom episode in its fashion to a small group of people at a conference room in Google. It’ll help me make final editing decisions.

I will be in Boston on Saturday, most likely, to record the last commentary tracks.

Wednesday, I hope to have a DVD ISO set, which I will share with some testers.

Thursday, it all goes to the duplicators.

I get a check disk back from them by fedex, I test it like crazy. Then give the go-ahead.

It’s getting busy around here.

Test Screening for Infocom Episode (Update: All Set)

Posted: June 26th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | No Comments »

UPDATE: We’re all set for attendees for this screening! Don’t worry, the real and full deal is coming out very soon now.

To make a documentary without going through a test audience is absolute madness.  Even if you think you know how something will “play”, you spend a lot of time looking at a timeline, a lot of time making a hundred internal assumptions with yourself. The resulting film will have things about it that hit audiences in ways you’d not have expected, and then it’s on plastic and you’re stuck.

The Infocom episode is the last piece. Everything else is done. I’m rendering out DVD versions of all the bonus features, one last time, as well as the episode pieces and all the rest. I’m snapping sequences together as fast as I can, and it’s coming along nicely. I am being a little extravagant with running time, giving a lot of the subject a lot of space to breathe. This thing is a big love letter and I can’t really claim otherwise. Bad things happened and people made mistakes, but there’s no implication of evil or malevolence. That’s how it goes.

With the caveats that it might not happen, that it might happen with little notice and with rapidly switched locations, I am putting out a call for people who want to view a test screening of the Infocom episode next week. You will see something that’s probably a little broken, with a few gaps here and there, and missing music occasionally. Ideally, it will have none of that, but that’s ideally.

It will be somewhere highly informal, it might be off a laptop. It would be in the NYC area at 7pm.

If you’re interested, e-mail as soon as possible with an e-mail address. Like I said, it might not happen, and it might catch people by surprise, but I like having a sanity check before presenting the work.

Trivia of the Day

Posted: June 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Uncategorized | 6 Comments »

Even though the name of the film is GET LAMP, TAKE LAMP works as well.

How the Final Rounds Go

Posted: June 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 5 Comments »

This posting is entirely technical, doesn’t have an illustration to go with it, really (but I’ll stick one in anyway) and is of very little use to most people buying the documentary. But I did want to get it down somewhere, especially while the machine keeps getting tied up with this very process and I can’t do other editing.

GET LAMP is a series of episodes, bonus features, and additional material in a DVD-ROM section.  In the parlance of DVD making, these are called “assets”, and you add menus and the rest from these “assets”, like “make a menu which has this asset for a background and when people click or select this part of the image, it goes and plays this asset and then heads back to this menu”.  At some point in DVD-making history, it was a lot more complicated, but everything’s been simplified/dumbed down over the years, so it’s actually rather easy. It even handles the layer breaks in a sane fashion, but the less we say about the layer breaks the better.

The big deal is making sure all the assets are as good quality as you can make them, be they audio or video, or still image or whatever. And then comes the combining of everything into a cohesive whole.  The biggest deal is that I shot in hi-def and I’m rendering to a widescreen standard def, and this confuses Sony Vegas if you don’t make sure a few things are in place (setting the project to be the same as the hi-def footage, even though setting the whole project to widescreen dv will render faster, it’ll add annoying bars on the sides). But once it’s rendered, it looks pretty good.

…well, until it all gets checked, and checked again.  So that’s what’s going on, rendering out every possible asset when not working on the Infocom episode, which is nearly done. I’ll probably have over a few hundred assets in play with this DVD, not counting the DVD-ROM section (but that thing’s set, and doesn’t need any massaging or anything).

Besides the video assets, you actually can attach as many soundtracks as you want to the video, either the soundtrack we’d all expect, or commentary tracks, or tracks with just the music, or whatever you want – another item in my “why don’t more independent productions do this” list, which is long and cranky, and also includes “lack of subtitles/captions” and “using an amray case”.

When I did bonus features on the previous documentary, I just chose clips I decided not to use in the movie and rendered them. This was about as simple as it got. With GET LAMP, some of the bonus features are, in fact, 5-10 minute short films, with music, editing and lots of places to double-check quality.  This is part of what adds time and another layer of checking them out for flaws.

After all this, I assemble the DVDs. One of the complicating aspects (and I hope this was expected) is that starting certain episodes different ways results in them being slightly different. This means more rendered material, but more importantly, more assembling of lists of assets where it’s easy to get something wrong.

It is boring as anything. There’s very little room left for creativity – it’s just getting it right.

That’s why I’m happy the Infocom episode is coming along at the same time.

Indulgence at End

Posted: June 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 1 Comment »

As I’m wrapping things up, there’s one major piece left: the Infocom episode.

For some people, they’d probably expect an Infocom episode to be what GET LAMP would have been in total: a documentary about this fascinating and famous company.  Certainly I took no small amount of amusement when Infocom alumni would reference me to each other, saying I was doing “an Infocom documentary”.  After all, what else would it be about?

I have an additional featurette about the cave that Adventure is based on and the community that exists in Caving, so of course it would be logical to also have a lot of focus on Infocom itself, stuff that would bloat a documentary about all aspects of Interactive Fiction but would be perfect for someone who just wants to soak in the history of Infocom.

Obviously, I need to get back to editing, but I wanted to take a moment to mention how much fun this part is. The rest was some parts fun and some parts exhausting, but this is just pure fun. The subject is fun, the resource materials, thanks to a wide set of Infocom people, are great. I’ve got over 100 photographs, video snippets, scans, and of course interviews from all things Infocom.  I do not want for stories, for things to add, for stuff to cover. It’s snapping together quickly, and I also wanted to mention a funny thing.

I had 10 minutes from the beginning in some range of beta. I always like to render out stuff, so you don’t have the distracting timeline to change/deform the passage of time in a clip. I rendered it out, then watched it the next morning.

It was too fast. It went through too much stuff, too quickly. This hasn’t happened once before – I’ve always had sequences where I go back and try to optimize. I was shoving too much in too little time – I need to expand it out!

It’s all going great. I’ll keep updating, but they’ll be short before this goes out the door. I’m really trying for this in the next two weeks or less.

Current Status

Posted: June 10th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 3 Comments »

GET LAMP, the movie, is now edited and finished, and being polished.

I’m now finishing up the INFOCOM featurette, and will record a commentary track with Infocom people shortly.

My plan is everything is wrapped up within the next two weeks.

It will then take 2-3 weeks for the duplicator to duplicate, under ideal conditions.

That is the status.

The movie is rather good! I think people will really like it.

The Guy

Posted: June 8th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production, Text Adventure History | 7 Comments »

So a few people, over the past months, have asked or commented about the guy in the inner artwork spread:

Some of it’s about the hair, or that he’s strongly built (unusual for a computer geek) and so on. Others, of course, have just assumed he’s “a guy” and nothing else.

When I was working with Lukas Ketner to do the artwork that became the inner spread, I gave him a ton of suggestions, requests, and reference photos. Some he used and some he didn’t, and over a short period of time we had a very nice artwork indeed. One of the reference photos was “the guy”:

This is in fact Marc Pacilli, my cousin.

It is rather a painful thing for my family, even over twenty years later – Marc was killed from a fall while on a scouting trip, in 1988.  He was, especially with the passage of time, very young – still in his teens.

Marc was the one who really introduced me to adventure games. I found an adventure game on the mainframe terminals at work when I visited my father at IBM’s research center, but the IBM PC in my aunt and uncle’s home had Microsoft Adventure, and it was there we got to experience this game properly – not in a solitary fashion in some cold research facility, but surrounding the computer in the den, trying to figure out what Woods and Crowther had planned, sketching out maps, going crazy trying to know where we were in mazes.

Marc solved a lot of it, including the endgame. Marc was, and this is not some warm nostalgic hindsight, goddamn smart. Marc could have been anything he wanted to – an athlete, a computer guy, a musician.  He was good at stuff, and was one of the most balanced people I’ve ever known. Had he been running some company in later years, I’m sure he would have been able to go out and kick everyone’s ass in the company’s basketball court or during a pickup game of football in the park, and then go back and nail what was slowing up the code builds. He was just that kind of guy. It’s why the artwork shows a muscular guy working at a computer – that was Marc.

So when working on the artwork design, I knew that there would be a guy working at a computer – and that guy could be anybody. So why not Marc?

I’m sorry that when you search for his name, you don’t get any hits – if he’d been around in the 90s, you can be sure we’d both have been in contact talking about httpd and getting it working and designing web pages and the whole deal. You’d have had hundreds of hits for his name, I just know this. But this weblog entry will be one of the only ones, and that sucks. The whole thing sucks, actually – but it wasn’t incompetence or evil or disease or any of a hundred things that took him from our family and the world.  It was just plain stupid chance, a freak accident, an unwanted set of circumstances. I remember the hole it left, a terrible blankness, that never got filled, by any of us who knew him.

In a few weeks, hundreds of people will have Marc’s image in their homes and work – it will eventually be thousands, all over the world. An image of Marc sorting out a problem, or maybe discovering a link, with a whole range of possibilities and ideas and dreams around him.

It’s maybe not much at all, but it will have to do.

And that’s the story of the guy.


Posted: June 7th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production | 2 Comments »

The Puzzles Cycle has gone into Brutal Render.

It also stands as my least favorite editing job, ever, for myriad reasons.  The result of the editing job, I really really like. But the job itself? Egad.

First, the subject is obscure and ethereal, while also being of general interest and something people have opinions on – the worst of both worlds. Then, there was the process of piecing together many hours, dozens of them, to come up with the best statements that fit together – but it was all essentially about one subject. And then there was the part where I wanted it to be intensely interesting, even if you didn’t work with puzzles all the time. And finally, it had to flow as smooth as it could without dragging.

So it’s a short branch, under 18 minutes. It’s also packed with all sorts of opinions, people, and scans of design documents. And of course I put a few puzzles in.

I’m happy when I can take a subject I didn’t think anyone would cover and turn it into something giving that subject respect –  hence once of my favorite pieces of work, the Fidonet Episode of the BBS Documentary, which tells a 15-year arc of a story about a computer network and somehow generally ties it together enough that’s actually coherent and in some cases entertaining. So that’s definitely the case here.

I err in the side of short length because there’s not a specific story arc that’s being brought out in talking about puzzles – just a lot of different (well-spoken) opinions and ideas and a way for you to see how deeply these folks have thought about this specific angle of interactive fiction/text adventures. I’d rather have people wish there was more than have them wish there was less. As the raw interviews will generally be released, you can listen to some very smart folks say some very smart things for hours and hours if you wish – I just don’t know if you need that to be on an edited DVD.

What’s left now is the finish editing the Modern Cycle and the Infocom Featurette, and then we’re in the polish stage. Hooray!

Gamebooks Goes Independent

Posted: June 1st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 9 Comments »

As you might expect, I’m constantly refining all aspects of GET LAMP as I go. I made a lot of choices over the past few years, and took the filming in lots of directions; some of them paid off and others didn’t.

One of them paid off, but I’m making a big decision with it anyway.

As part of the filming, I did a few interviews related to gamebooks, those interactive books where you can make a choice about where to take the story next.  I am not calling them by their colloquial name on purpose. I got a nice round of people, too, creators and writers and collectors and more. The episode that would focus on them is in okay shape, worked on here and there.

But I’ve decided it’s not going to go on the DVD.  Instead, after the GET LAMP DVD goes off to the printers, I’m going to finish editing it, and release it for free.

Let’s be clear – nobody is doing anything to me, nobody is making me make this choice.  I just looked at the whole gestalt of the production and the DVD and find that the gamebooks episode is both an odd duck and a problematic use of the space of the DVDs. It’s a cool story, and I’m very glad I filmed everyone, and obviously I’m going to release it, but absolutely nothing else on the DVD relates to it. Everything else is about computers and interactive fiction and text adventures. It just doesn’t belong there.

That’s one of the advantages of the modern era – even with something cleaved this late in the game, there’s a place for it. It’ll be online, in high definition, and accessible to everyone. The story will be told, and the people will have not wasted their time, or, conversely, I am not really forced into putting it in even though I feel it doesn’t fit on the disc anymore.  So really, everyone wins on this.

Of course, if you were buying the DVD specifically and only for the Gamebooks episode (and I think that would be strange), let me know, I can issue a refund.  But I promise you, the remaining items are stronger and thematic for it.

So, enjoy the free documentary, when it comes out.  It’s another subject that should have gotten a documentary long ago, and I’m happy I’ll be able to tell its story.