I recently watched Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary, which is about the pioneers of and interactive fiction and, in some way, the ARG.
In 1980, when Zork was released by Infocom, I was 6 years old.
Founded in 1979 by staff and students of MIT, Infocom had the kind of charismatic personnel that 60 Minutes might do about 20 minutes on. If that were indeed a segment, I can easily imagine what would have happened had I watched it. I would have wondered what it was like being an adult with a computer in the kitchen. Young Chuck would have said something naive about that and my father would have reminded me that the man on TV with the beard had to learn all that stuff and it didn’t just happen. He might then have pointed out that I had enough trouble putting away my Star Wars figures, let alone growing a beard, owning a Honda or making a computer game.
Growing up I always knew who Infocom were – they were the ones who made text adventure games. They made the games that smart people liked, and always had a strong presence in the home computer game market with iconic advertisements in comic books and magazines. This presence was there throughout my childhood and continued till I was in high school.
Only part of Get Lamp is devoted to the story of Infocom. It also delves into the lives of the people behind some of the earliest designs of interactive fiction. Computer historian and director Jason Scott guides us through those very early days of computer gaming, when there were no graphics – only text. In contrast to some other documentaries about gaming culture, this film strikes a more cerebral tone while the ambient music and strong visuals help focus the attention of Get Lamp squarely on the people that wrote these adventure stories.
The film depicts the very organic beginning of the genre, a synthesis of spelunking and the creation of text-based type of cartography that eventually led to the design of the first adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure. Scott goes on location at Bedquilt Cave in Louisiana, the real life inspiration for Colossal Cave Adventure, to learn more about the art of putting together interactive fiction. From there, he ably charts the strange rise and fall of the entire genre.
One of the unique things about Get Lamp is the packaging. The two DVD set includes a numbered collectible coin reminiscent of feelies that were included in game packages in order to bring the consumer closer to the fiction. Sometimes these feelies were integral to the game play (as an early form of copy protection) others were simply a token of appreciation.
The DVD box itself showcases the artwork of Lukas Ketner with a painting inspired by the box art of early Atari games. It really captures the essence of those early days of games when the box art was always much more realized than the game graphics, if there even were any graphics.
Get Lamp is an incredible DVD that has dozens of interviews with creators, fans and interesting authorities on the subject of adventure games. Watching these features reveals a thriving community of people that still support and enjoy these types of games.
Games of a genre that is, at least commercially, dead.
Games with unlimited potential running on limited hardware.
If titles like Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Zork or Planetfall have any meaning to your youth, check out the Get Lamp website and pick up a copy of the DVD.
Right now, director Jason Scott is doing Jet Lamp: The Get Lamp Showings Tour showing the movie in theaters and taking questions. See his schedule for details, or contact him to do a showing in your neighborhood.