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!

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.

Audio-Only Version of GET LAMP Pax East Panel

Posted: April 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | 2 Comments »

For those who are quite content not to watch video of the PAX East Panel, or who can’t, here’s an mp3 of the entire panel (64mb, stereo):

GET LAMP Panel at PAX East (2010)

Thanks again to everyone who agreed to be on it!

PAX East Panel Video (Rough Cut)

Posted: April 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, interviews, Text Adventure History | 7 Comments »

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.

GET LAMP Pax Panel: Part 1 (Rough Cut) from Jason Scott on Vimeo.

and part 2:

GET LAMP Pax Panel: Part 2 (Rough Cut) from Jason Scott on Vimeo.

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:

Mike Dornbrook’s Desk

Posted: February 21st, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, Text Adventure History | No Comments »

Mike Dornbrook, who was one of my favorite interviewees for GET LAMP, was recently profiled on the website for one of the products made by his company, Harmonix. Called “Mike Dornbrook’s Desk”, it shows how great his office is, and how much respect he affords his days with Infocom.

Click on the image of his office to read further. It’s well worth it, and not that long.

Subtitle Files Will be on the DVD-ROM

Posted: February 20th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production | 4 Comments »

The whole GET LAMP movie has subtitles, as well as all the bonus features and episodes on it. It’s actually pretty simple to do, and after my team of transcribers has completed the work, it’s almost a realtime process to say “this goes here at this time, this goes there at that time”. I do it using a program called Subtitle Workshop. It really is the greatest thing.

I just wanted to let people know that I will be including the .sub files generated for my software in the DVD-ROM section of GET LAMP, so that others who want to translate or use the subtitles for their own purposes can do so. I would include translations on the DVD but it’s quite an involved process to work in translation, so I’m going to just stick with making it easy for folks to do their own translation/modification work and share them. If people do translations and want to send them to me, I’ll make sure the site has them. The timings should work with any ripped DVD stuff, and of course any high-resolution versions that come out in the future.

When I pop in an independent documentary and there’s no subtitles, I’m immediately suspicious about the creators’ dedication and interest in their work. Subtitles are easy as pie, and they make life so much easier for the deaf, for people who are having trouble catching everything going by, or even (as I’ve heard) parents who want to watch a film but have to keep the volume down low so as not to bother/wake the kids. And come on, Subtitle Workshop is world-class software and absolutely free. No excuses!


Posted: February 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production | 9 Comments »

You’re probably wondering why so many postings are coming in at this time, after periods where no posts came for months. Mostly, it’s because as I near the end of production, all the little loose ends I’ve had are being wrapped up as fast as I can, and the machine is mostly being used to render out final versions of various extras. There’s still some editing and other work to do, but I can breathe now. More critically, I am able to work on the other stuff required of the DVD set: the packaging, the artwork, and the coin.

The coin?

If you ever played the old Infocom games at the time, and by “played” I mean “bought the package”, they always included all sorts of tie-ins.  Marketing at Infocom called them “feelies”, that is, an additional layer of interaction with the game letting you feel that you’d not just bought a game but an experience. Infocom had tons of feelies over the years, be they peril-sensitive sunglasses, a glowing rock, a swizzle stick, or a business card. In interviews with people, among the best memories they have are of the feelies, some keeping the items long after everyone else was lost. I found people who, for 20 years have kept the little glowing rock from Wishbringer. It wakes something up in the player, something special.

So naturally I knew that GET LAMP needed something like this. This was planned years ago.

The original plan was to include Invisiclues, the invisible-ink printed text that a stroke of a special pen would reveal. The idea was to put spoilers related to the movie in this booklet and have a fun little way of revealing them. After research (and some very kind people found places I could contact to even have this done), the numbers were just staggering: I needed to buy 10,000 sheets of paper, they’d be a significant amount apiece (something like $.50) and the little discussed fact is, after a while, the revealed clues will fade away. The marker will get old and you can’t just buy replacements, and we’re talking a single folded sheet, not a booklet. And so on. Just not enough value for the money, basically.

So then I decided, how about something styling, something that will be memorable, something that will last. And so I decided on having a coin done.

I’m working on the artwork and am submitting it to the vendor tomorrow. This will set a few things in motion, and we can all hope it won’t be too difficult to pull off. I’ve worked with DVD duplication before, but never coin creation. It should be exciting, and I’ll talk about it, whether it goes well, or goes off the rails.

There is a notable precedent for coins in packages related to interactive fiction, by the way. The Zorkmid.

Some people sigh in happiness when they hear the word Zorkmid. Some have no idea of what I’m talking about.

Here is what a Zorkmid looked like:

(This zorkmid and photograph of same is from


The Zorkmid came with a specific repackaging of Zork, called The Zork Trilogy. It was one of the most popular “feelies” of all, and it is highly sought after. It’s so sought after, there’s a project that’s been around for 10 years called The Zorkmid Project.

Reading the Zorkmid project page always drives me nuts, because it’s classic Big Company Driving Minor Projects Into The Ground. The conditions put on the project leader are, in a word, stupid. I’m sure the person approving it and providing the conditions is not stupid, it’s just him having to follow what someone on the legal staff says, and people on the legal staff are required to come up with work that completely protects the company. Sounds almost… reasonable. Except there is no way Activision is ever going to make Zorkmids. Come on, they’re never, ever, ever going to, and if they do, it’s 2010, and they’re going to be big stupid dumb Zorkmids, completely unlike the original Zorkmids. That someone would even be so touched and entranced by a wrap-in from nearly 15 years previously (at the time; now it’s 23 and counting) should be a place for joy, not a place to suddenly halt the Zorkmid market in its tracks. At most, probably 500 people were going to want Zorkmids, maybe a few apiece, but good ol’ Activision, Keepers Of The Flame, couldn’t be bothered to let this person put the project together without making it sound like one wrong step would blacken the sky with lawyers.

Where was I? Oh yes, Coin.

So I’m working on this coin, and if you ordered a copy of GET LAMP you are getting a coin, and if you order one now, you get a coin, and I am ordering enough coins to cover the entire run of 4,000 copies of GET LAMP. It is not likely there will be a second run of the coins. The coins will also be individually numbered – collect them all!

So congratulations, people who already pre-ordered… your package is going to have a little more than you expected.

I’m very happy to include something a little extra into this. It eats into profit, of course, but it’s not about profit – it’s about giving people something special when they order using the old school way of physical media, and something which I hope to see in photos and on people’s shelves for some time to come.