First of all, it’s definitely a real Zork – specifically Revision 88/Serial Number 840726, the “canonical” Zork I, which was compiled on July 26, 1984 and the final version Infocom released commercially. (Infocom sometimes quietly upgraded the software to reflect bugs found or writing errors or any other discovered issues.)
What unintentionally happens here by this easter egg being included is an in-your-face argument of the uphill battle text-based games face in the modern gaming world, at least in terms of bringing in new players from the pool of first-person games. You are strapped in a chair in a small room where monitors and machines blaze and swap around, providing tons of stimulation, and once you break free of the straps in this, the menu, you can walk entirely around the room, interacting with objects, seeing fully-rendered angles of all the material that previously looked like drawings, and then choose to log into a terminal which gives you a variety of choices.
Going from that and finding yourself sitting at your game which itself is sitting at a terminal, which is then playing a game of Zork, the contrast is just blistering. It’s like being in the middle of a football game and picking up a book. To me, it seems a head-on approach towards the people who find the first type of game fun is not the way to do it.
On the other hand, the mere existence of Zork in the game starts a conversation like this one. “What do you mean ‘Zork’, people in forums will say. They’ll look around, find it, and maybe of the thousands who happened to see what everyone is gabbing about, a few will find they actually like this book in the middle of the field. And read it.
A very interesting development. Activision had a good part in killing off Infocom and what was good about it, but this latter-day maneuver is worth watching.
During the JET LAMP showing over at the Mastics-Moriches-Shirley Community Library, I got to meet someone who’s work had been floating around the production for a while. Her name is Mari Michaelis, and she drew a map.
Well, not just a map – a really cool map. It’s one of the original Adventure, and she worked on it just last year, and it’s really nice.
Adventure has, as you might imagine, tons of maps out there from the decades of players trying to make sense of the layout of the cave and surrounding area – some are basic pencil drawings, while others are refined, design-rich presentations. This is one of the second ones.
I considered for no small time to put it in GET LAMP, but opted for some others instead. But I always liked Mari’s take. And meeting her, I got to tell her too.
I’m just including small images of the maps, so nothing gets spoiled for you.
Before GET LAMP, I did a documentary on computer bulletin boards called BBS: The Documentary. This documentary is actually eight documentaries, and one of them is on a very specific part of BBS history, the ANSI art scene. Called “Artscene”, it has all sorts of folks in it. Including this guy:
His name is Ben, he’s in the movie for precisely 7 seconds. He says he likes the ANSI art group iCE.
So, it turns out Ben hosted my appearance at Alpha One Hackerspace last week – I barely recognized him, as seven years had passed. I mentioned he should try to do a little ANSI art now. He deferred, saying he just didn’t have the chops.
Wrong. He just wrote this to me:
Just wanted to say again that I had a great time at the screening in Brooklyn. I grabbed a copy of PabloDraw and started playing around with ANSI again, for the first time in 17 years (well, 13 if you count half an hour in 1997 before giving up due to lack of inspiration). So here’s the result. It really helps that PabloDraw’s keyboard shortcuts are the same as TheDraw’s were back in the day; it really is like riding a bike.
As most people know, Will Crowther himself does not appear in GET LAMP. I have people who worked with him, I have an authority on Adventure mention his preference to stay out of the limelight, and I naturally credit him for the creation of this game and the genre. But the man himself, no.
While researching the movie and preparing to shoot, I knew even then it was unlikely he’d appear. When he and Don Woods were given a special games industry award for being pioneers (by none other than Steve Meretzky and Bob Bates), Don showed, Will didn’t. I figured if you weren’t interested in being flown across the country and given an award for being so awesome, the chances of some dorky filmmaker winning you over was pretty much nil.
Here and there, in mail and in Q&As on tour, people ask me why Crowther declined (specifically, I had people contact him who knew how to and to let me know if he was willing, and nobody had him answer in the affirmative). I have answered this way and that. But the core answer is: He doesn’t discuss Adventure much anymore. I had one person indicate he was somewhat sick of the subject by the early 1980s.
I am sure I could have employed all manner of trickery to get him on camera and get something in the movie. I don’t work that way. I also didn’t go ahead and pull up photos of him (the one I use is not very informative) so he would have the privacy he wants. There was a great image of him as a caver that is in the files of the Cave Research Foundation – and there it will stay.
But if you want some idea of both the triumph of Will Crowther and some of the between-the-lines reason he doesn’t go out of his way to talk about it, there’s this article: Spelunking the American Imagination, by Julian Dibbell. I can think of no finer contextual article of the surrounding aspects of Adventure‘s creation.
During the research phase, I stumbled on this pretty obscure, poorly labelled and indexed (for search engines) interview with Will Crowther from 1994. He mostly discusses his ARPANET work (as he should!) but gets veered into the creation of Adventure in the beginning.
I’ve been getting photos and contributions from people either inspired by GET LAMP or figuring I’d want to see something related to text adventures they have in their possession. I appreciate this very, very much. This falls into the latter camp.
Todd Gaines tells me that he and a friend did this in 1983, making one for each of them and utilizing actual stained glass. This is an actual stained glass window!
This is an example of the kind of inspiration text adventures brought out that I was worried might have been forgotten. Great job, Todd!
So, while you’re waiting for your copy of GET LAMP to arrive (or, as I’ve been told by some, waiting for the copies to start shipping before ordering), may I bring your attention to one of the many helpful introductions to modern Interactive Fiction that are popping up in the world.
It’s called The Gameshelf, a video podcast where you are given a solid introduction to a game or style of game. #8 has just arrived and it’s all IF, all the time.
It’s in high definition, has awesome production values, and really does a solid job of introducing people to the greatness, the problems, and most importantly, the solutions to dealing with interactive fiction. It also dumps into your lap a whole range of games to try out, including ways to try them out immediately. The main GET LAMP site will hopefully follow in the footsteps of this excellent work. (Actually, two interviewees from GET LAMP, Nick Montfort and Andrew Plotkin, appear in this episode as well.)
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.
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.
While you’re waiting DVD release, and before I take it and smooth it over with a couple second camera sources I have been given, I wanted to share the PAX East Panel that occurred after the screening. I know a lot of people wanted to see this, and the room got so packed a few people who wanted to see the panel got turned away, so there’s no reason you shouldn’t be able to properly see it. So here’s a “rough cut” of the panel, split into two pieces because of a size limit on Vimeo.
Panelists, left to right: Dave Lebling, Don Woods, Brian Moriarty, Andrew Plotkin, Nick Montfort, Steve Meretzky, Jason Scott. It’s about 1 hour and 8 minutes.