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.

Locking in Extras

Posted: February 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 3 Comments »

I’m in the process of locking in extras. This means that I’m doing final edits and renders on what I think are the final versions of all the extra bits of footage on the DVDs. This actually constitutes hours of content, so it’s pretty significant. I don’t have the exact numbers yet, but it’s in the dozens of extras ranging from under a minute to up to 15, and with all sorts of subjects thrown in there.

Some are sequences I liked but which just didn’t let the movie breathe, while others are planned sequences meant to cover something I always knew would never make it in. For example, I have a 10 minute meditation on the Z machine that Infocom implemented. Trust me; if you don’t know much about interactive fiction and the creation of it, this sequence would murder you. If you are, you will enjoy watching Andrew “Zarf” Plotkin, creator of the Blorb format, happily trounce over the history of the creation of the Z machine, backed up by… the co-creator of the Z machine, Marc Blank.

I’ve used markers to ensure the items can be re-rendered over and over if need be. It will be going to a small group of people who will inspect the final work and let me know if something needs repair. This will take some time, but it’s worth it. And so begins the big run towards filling the DVDs with final pieces.

Original Artwork Arrives

Posted: February 17th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: production | 3 Comments »

When you pay an artist to do artwork, at least, a full-on professional, you often buy the rights to artwork but not the original artwork itself. It’s cheaper, and if you run through a lot of contractual artwork and don’t feel like building a gallery, then you don’t really need it. In my case, this painting obviously has special meaning to me, so I bought it from Lukas.

He shipped it to me and it arrived today:

A Package Arrives With Cool Stickers No, thank YOU Lukas Tweetie Investigates The Artwork Why Hello Marc

It’s even more beautiful in person. It’s different than the final artwork in a few ways (mostly missing details added in Photoshop) and to me that makes it even more unique. I intend to be one of Lukas’ more insistent and positive references, should he ever need a reference. (Who needs references when you have a portfolio like he does?)

The original is not for sale, in case anyone’s wondering. Not anymore.

I’ll be researching doing a poster soon. The big issue is finding out the minimums and what the costs would be. If it’s crazy or if there’s not enough pre-orders, then I won’t do it, so let me know if you’re interested….

Disc Artwork

Posted: February 16th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production | 2 Comments »

For the disc artwork, I wanted something relatively simple.  So I purchased reprint rights from Lukas Ketner for the sketches of his artwork. (I don’t believe that purchasing the rights to the final artwork automatically means process artwork, and anyway Lukas’ price for reprint rights was very generous.)

Here are the two images, as they appear on the template:



Simple, evocative and easy to put together. I love it.

This represents the last bit of my side for the packaging. Now there will be an iteration or two while working with the duper for making sure everything looks good.

Packaging Done

Posted: February 4th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production | 5 Comments »

I finished the designs of the packaging. Here’s the inside fanfold:

And the outside slipcover:

This is going out to the printer and we’ll be doing the proofs and all that fun now. Once it’s all approved, they will make 4,000 copies of it.

First-Through Renders

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

I’ve been rendering out 1.0 versions of the movie pieces to disk.

This takes a while – one 20 minute sequence takes about two hours, and that ratio seems to hold up with a few other sections. The machine can be used for other things while this goes on, so it’s not a complete paperweight, but editing on the same machine is pushing it a bit. Doubling the editing machine’s ram from 2GB to 4GB made a huge difference – crashes were happening previously and the machine kept running out of memory. All that’s gone.

After I know all the assets list (the amount of ‘items’ on the DVD) I’ll list it here, in general terms, just so you know. There’s a DVD-ROM section with games, photos, speeches and other material – that’s a different deal. This is just all the different stuff you can watch. It looks like it’ll be upwards of 4 hours of “stuff”.

Still trying to have stuff ready for PAX, but it’s coming down to the wire, and again, quality wins. I have many hundreds of orders, and obviously they get this stuff first – it’s going to be quite a few days of mailing for me.

Two Interviewees in the Colbert Nation

Posted: January 27th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production | No Comments »

Two of the interviewees in GET LAMP have been on the Colbert Report show.

One of them is Ian Bogost, teacher of things interactive and member of the Atlanta Nerd Mafia.

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Ian Bogost
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy

Also, Robert Pinsky, one-time Poet Laureate of the United States, and someone willing to have quite a bit of fun:

The Colbert Report Mon – Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
Meta-Free-Phor-All: Shall I Nail Thee to a Summer’s Day?
Colbert Report Full Episodes Political Humor Economy

Why the mentions? Mostly, I was editing some sequences with both of these fellows appearing, and it reminded me about their appearances.

Colbert, sadly, is not in the movie.

The Eye Shines Through

Posted: January 22nd, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production | 2 Comments »

One of the secret weapons in the War On Producing This Documentary is one of my friends, Jim Leonard. But I don’t call him Jim Leonard. I call him The Eye Of Doom.

Jim was a critical part of the BBS Documentary’s success. He earned this odd title from me because he has an amazing capacity on two fronts: the technical issues behind the production of DVDs, and a hyper-awareness of the visual and sound components of a production, enabling him to see flaws that a majority of the population would never catch… but a minority would be driven bonkers with. He notices dropped frames, shearing, odd transitions, weird color spaces, lacking bitrates, you name it. If he signs off, it’s about as good as most mortals will get it.

This is where the Eye of Doom comes from – he’s like the unblinking eye of Sauron:

There’s Jim on the left there, seeing all. I’m not sure what’s on the right there – probably the DVD duplication facility. I don’t quite know how all that works. Looks right, though.

I mention for two reasons – first, Jim and I spent a good hour or two double-checking all my rendering and project settings to ensure they’re as good as they can be, and second, while the myth of the single person against the world is kind of fun for public relations and self-aggrandizement, it’s crap – I’ve had a lot of people help me along the way, and a lot of good eyes and hands have been a part of the production. I’ll credit everyone I can, and I’m sure a few will be missed, but they’re all important. Like I learned when I signed up to go into the real Colossal Cave, you don’t go it alone.

Thanks, Eye.

One last detail: When the Eye isn’t helping people tell the story of text adventures well, he’s involved in a project to bring the latest in computer graphics and sounds in the Demoscene to your door. The Mindcandy series has been amazing for the first two releases (which you should consider buying; they really show off your home video setup), and now they’re doing it in HD. Check out the details at the Mindcandy 3 page. Believe me, you won’t find a better and more amazing project of this type anywhere. I look up to these guys. Check them out.

Back into the editing bench!

GET LAMP Artwork and Poster

Posted: January 19th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production, Text Adventure History | 5 Comments »

I have a great announcement to make.

Along with finishing up editing, designing menus, planning out bonus features, and all the rest, I also have been working on the packaging for GET LAMP, which I want to be as enjoyable and true to the subject matter as possible. I am following the same template I enjoyed with the BBS Documentary, that is, a somewhat simple outside slipcover with a complicated and interesting inside multiple DVD tray. GET LAMP has two DVDs to BBS Documentary’s three, but the look is the same. (If you go over to the BBS Documentary order page, you can see what I’m talking about).

This time, I knew I wanted the back three-panel space to have one big piece of artwork on it. I wasn’t exactly sure how that was going to be accomplished, and I didn’t let indecision hold up other aspects of production, but it was somewhere there in the back of my mind.

Then I saw this weblog entry from a software house called Panic, who had decided (for fun) to come up with a fictional alternate history of the company extending a couple decades back, and one in which they had a financially-unsound decision to go into the Atari 2600 game business. They had realistically-weathered artifacts, a fake magazine ad, and some absolutely amazing cover art. Even though the company didn’t exist back then, the artwork captured the look of the old cartridge cover art perfectly.

I knew I’d found my artist.

His name is Lukas Ketner, he’s a Portland-based freelance illustrator, and together, through rounds of revisions and designs, we’ve come up with the artwork that will grace the inside of GET LAMP’s packaging.

Ladies and Gentlemen, allow me to introduce the GET LAMP poster:

This will be the first thing you see when you open up the package, and I think it makes just the right impression about what’s waiting for you.

Lukas was an absolute joy to work with, and I recommend him for art projects you’re seeking to do – he was on time, on budget, and listened every step of the way.  His website has many more examples of his artwork and styles – he doesn’t just do retro 1980s box art!

So, I am so bowled over about this artwork, I am considering making it available as a poster for sale. This would be a high-quality print on really good paper. I’m researching this now, but I’d like to reach out and ask if you want to be notified if such a poster becomes available, and at what price.

If you’re interested, please mail me at and I will do a one-time mailing when final details about the poster’s availability and price are solid.


Interactive Non-Fiction

Posted: January 18th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Interactive Fiction, production | 3 Comments »

This had been in planning for some time, but I wanted to wait until I was nearly done with editing before announcing it.

GET LAMP will be partially interactive.

Basically, the main GET LAMP stops and then splits into multiple directions, when you choose. This is how I can have it have about 3 hours of movie (which is roughly what it is looking like) but not murder the audience. It will also allow you to address the Interactive Fiction story from multiple angles, which otherwise would be competing for your attention.

It will, of course, be possible to skip the interactive portion and just see the different mixes, and it will also be possible to say “just go ahead and show me that 3 hour movie”. But this potential for having some amount of say on the film’s progress is, to me, part of the nature of interactive fiction, and the movie will reflect it.

I’m calling this feature Interactive Non-Fiction and it’s meant a lot of work in some aspects, but I am secure the result will be unique indeed.

I won’t claim this hasn’t been done before, because I simply have no easy way to research it, but I think we can assume this doesn’t happen all that often.

Prepare to Choose!