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Review: Get Lamp Documentary

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I've had a chance to review both DVDs in Jason Scott's epic Interactive Fiction documentary Get Lamp and I'm blown away.  I'm impressed not only that he kept at this for four years, but that he has single-handedly created the only documentary on the subject.  

Despite the fact that Get Lamp is a one man operation, the end result is a professional quality film with all of the trimmings: good navigation, compelling content, interviews with almost all of the luminaries in the field, bonus features, cool retro packaging and a unique numbered commemorative Get Lamp coin.  And the whole thing is just 40 Zorkmid plus shipping. 

I consider myself well-versed in Interactive Fiction (IF) but there are still plenty of things learned:

  • Adventure's original Fortran code was ported to C by DEC employee Bob Supnik
  • Infocom's Deadline packaging was inpired by the 1936 book "Murder off Miami"
  • Activision once tried to sell the rights to Infocom for $25,000 but had no takers
  • Spellbreaker was originally to be called Mage, but marketing overruled
  • Chris Crawford is a condescending windbag  (Ok, I knew that already)
  • Infocom tester and Borland exec Paul Gross once had hair (proof below!)
     

Infocom_paulgross
 

The film comes in a regular version (90 minutes) as well as an "interactive" version that lets you make decisions about which sections to view.  There are also two supplemental shorter movies, one detailed film on the history of Infocom and one on the Bedquilt cave which was the inspiration for the original "Colossal Cave" adventure written by Will Crowther.  Unfortunately, Crowther declined to be interviewed, but Don Woods, who went on to add additional sections to the game, is featured.  There are also 40 or so short snippets on the second disk providing additional commentary on topics like beta testing, bug fixing, programming, the development of InvisiClues, origins of Grues and more.
 

Getlamp_menu

Scott manages to interview some of the most famous folks from both the golden era of Interactive Fiction (Stu Galley, Steve Meretzky, Dave Lebling, Mike Berlyn, Hollywood Dave Anderson, Amy Briggs, Scott Adams, Bob Bates, Mike Dornbrook, Mary Anne Buckles) as well as modern authors (Adam Cadre, Andrew Plotkin, Nick Montfort, Aaron Reed, David Cornelson, Jeremy Douglass). 

The one area that I felt the film fell short was in not interviewing Graham Nelson, creator of the Inform programming language.  Perhaps Nelson is as much of a recluse as Crowther, but it would have been good to have had some presentation of the impact of Inform on the development of modern Interactive Fiction.

If you are at all interested in Interactive Fiction and its history, you should order Get Lamp. I mean, where else are you gonna find videos of Marc Blank talking about Deadline, Steve Meretzky's inspiration behind A Mind Forever Voyaging or Stu Galley talking about Witness? Plus you get a cool commemorative coin.

  Getlamp_coin

Comments

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Good review!

According to Scott, Graham Nelson declined his interview requests.

Yes, Graham Nelson declined to be interviewed.

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