Got Lamp, but It’s Old News

Posted: August 18, 2010 in Blogroll, interactive fiction, Textfyre
Tags: , , , ,

I interviewed with Jason Scott for the Interactive Fiction documentary Get Lamp a few years ago. I was just getting Textfyre going and was excited about the potential of modern IF. I’m even more excited about modern IF than I was back then, and that has nothing to do with Textfyre. There seems to be a new push to widen the interest of IF. New websites like, server tools, javascript based interpreters, new books, and more.

So Get Lamp kind of lands in the middle of this period of time and from my perspective sinks like a lead weight. From a nostalgic perspective, and certainly if you’re an Infocom fan, Get Lamp is fantastic. But if you’ve been working at IF for the last 15 or 20 years as a hobbyist and the passion for Infocom or Level 9 has faded, Get Lamp is like a mint without the dinner.

Get Lamp completely ignores the modern IF movement. There is nothing in the documentary about modern IF platforms like TADS 3 or Inform 7. I’m not sure Graham Nelson or Emily Short are even mentioned (how is it possible to discuss IF without their efforts?). There aren’t any discussions about Curveship, a new platform being developed by Nick Montfort. There isn’t any talk about any games that have come out in the last ten years. There’s no talk of how we’ve evolved and grown. How we’ve adapted to changes in technology, content, and communal expectations. Jason literally only touched the tip of the iceburg. Get Lamp should have a subtitle: The History of Interactive Fiction.

In general, there is absolutely nothing in the documentary about what the IF community is doing right now and I think this is a huge gap in the film. I think Jason Scott made Get Lamp for his own Infocom fanboy moment. Those are harsh words, but it seems pretty clear to me that Jason has zero connection to the modern IF world. Now that the movie is completed, and after he sells a few hundred or few thousand copies, he will be off to make some other documentary and leave IF behind. I’ve reflected on my own Infocom fanboy moments and realized that I love Interactive Fiction. Not just Infocom. If anything, Get Lamp’s lack of interest in modern IF has ignited my passion for promoting modern IF, either through Textfyre or through open source tools or general community outreach. I realized this while having a drink with Lebling, Meretzky, Dornbrook, and Moriarty at PAX East. They loved Infocom. But they believe if there were ever a new IF age, it would have to be new and different. Like me, they actually love Interactive Fiction more than Infocom and IF’s history.

Anyway. I propose we all pitch in and do interviews of each other and post them on a website somewhere. These interviews will talk about what we’re all doing now and how IF has evolved into something well beyond the days of Infocom. We have an opportunity at PAX Prime to do a few interviews. I would like to encourage someone else to grab a camera and sit a few people down for 15 minutes or 30 minutes and get them on film talking about modern IF. We can do more at PAX East next year.

In the next six months we could produce enough material to be a sort of addendum to Get Lamp that fills in the gaping hole left by Jason. I can work with the Chicago IF group to interview Chicago people. I would spend time talking to Peter Nepstad, Jeremy Freese, and a few others. It would be good to create an outline of things we’d like to see discussed on film. Maybe I’ll setup an IFWiki page and everyone can add their “wish” list. I really believe we need to capture the modern IF community on camera. Its participants, but also its evolution and branches.

  1. midiguru says:

    Thanks for saving me a few bucks on that DVD, which I won’t order a copy of.

    Your interview project is a great idea. But since the IF community is somewhat spread out, I’d like to suggest a 21st century modification. We could submit questions to one another via email or however. Then any author could interview himself or herself, using whatever video gear is available, by reading the questions aloud and responding to them.

    Naturally, the results would be uploaded to a YouTube channel rather than sold as a DVD.

    I’m actually quite serious about this. For one thing, the IF presence on YouTube appears from my poking around to be pretty minimal. A few people have uploaded I7 tutorials, but they’re all crap, except for Aaron’s, which he didn’t upload himself, I believe. There are a couple of things from Dennis Jerz and one from Nick Montfort (the latter, again, firmly in the nostalgia bin). Building a good YouTube presence would be … challenging, but worthwhile. And interviews would be one important component of it.

  2. Manolis says:

    I just received my copy which I had preordered since December and i’m very happy..

    Imho every fan of IF, or at least good old days of Text Adventures should support this movie.. Now, i haven’t seen it yet, and if the case is as you say it certainly isn’t good that modern IF is absent, BUT you have a GREAT idea about creating another dvd compilation/youtube vids/whatever of how things are today in IF world..

    So, thumbs up and let’s hope that something like that will happen too..


  3. ed says:

    i think this is a fantastic idea. i have nothing but the utmost respect for the original folks, and i think it’s fantastic that there’s a film to commemorate and honor their work, but there’s so many exciting things going on in IF right now, or in the recent past…

    i also especially like the idea of having it as a youtube channel, or something like that. we’ll have to talk about this more on the 9th.

  4. Okay so I have to add an addendum to my addendum. My frustrations with Get Lamp are far more about my own realizations than about the film itself. I realized that the last 20 years are significantly more important to me than what happened before. It doesn’t mean that the vast majority of Get Lamp isn’t a good documentary. I think if you skip the last few minutes where we’re left with this feeling that IF is dead, it’s a good film.

  5. Russian Guy says:

    Make it international

  6. I would love to see a project like thus. I’m sure Jason has hours of footage of people talking about recent IF, but the narrative he chose definitely focuses on history. I really don’t see that as a flaw, or a surprise, since the tagline “before the first-person shooter, there was the second-person thinker” is pretty open about the intended approach.

    My students will be posting how-to Inform 7 podcasts and demos of their creations thus fall, and just the other day my son said he wanted to do another IF play through screen cast. So I expect YouTube will see some more IF action recently.

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