GET LAMP: The Text Adventure Documentary

Google TechTalks
Google Tech Talk (more below)
March 7, 2011

Presented by Jason Scott.


Jason Scott will talk about making the documentary and we’ll be screening some portion of the film.

In the early years of the microcomputer, a special kind of game was being played. With limited sound, simple graphics, and tiny amounts of computing power, the first games on home computers would hardly raise an eyebrow in the modern era of photorealism and surround sound. In a world of Quake, Half-Life and Halo, it is expected that a successful game must be loud, fast, and full of blazing life-like action.

But in the early 1980s, an entire industry rose over the telling of tales, the solving of intricate puzzles and the art of writing. Like living books, these games described fantastic worlds to their readers, and then invited them to live within them.

They were called “computer adventure games”, and they used the most powerful graphics processor in the world: the human mind.

Rising from side projects at universities and engineering companies, adventure games would describe a place, and then ask what to do next. They presented puzzles, tricks and traps to be overcome. They were filled with suspense, humor and sadness. And they offered a unique type of joy as players discovered how to negotiate the obstacles and think their way to victory. These players have carried their memories of these text adventures to the modern day, and a whole new generation of authors have taken up the torch to present a new set of places to explore.

Get Lamp is a documentary that will tell the story of the creation of these incredible games, in the words of the people who made them.

Speaker Info:

Jason Scott ( )

Jason Scott is a digital historian and archivist who specializes in early microcomputer history and dial-up bulletin board systems. He is the webmaster of, a collection of BBS-era textfiles that has been open to the public since 1998. In 2001, he began filming a documentary about BBSes called “BBS: The Documentary”, an 8-episode mini-series about BBSes spanning 25 years and totalling five and a half hours in length. This documentary series was released on 3 DVDs in early 2005. He has been playing text adventures since he was 10, and to this day does not understand why the rod scares the bird.


  1. Try marketing your games to kindle or the tablet community. You need to target readers and not gamers.

  2. Anyone else remember where just the name Scott Adams would fill you with awe? I used to just read the adverts imagining what they could be like if I ever had the money to try them. Finally I played Adventureland, The Count, and Pirates Cove on the Vic20. I treated them with such respect, mapping everything out in my best writing. What special times they were.

  3. I think there should be an Infocom reunion, and they should do another game set in the Zork universe. With packaging complete with feelies etc.

  4. Love this documentary used it for a school project and fell in love. I was born in 1992 so I didn't get to see the text adventure craze. I've always had a strong imagination however and take great interest in this! 🙂

  5. Great documentary, but should rather be called ''Adventure Games – the US story'. There is no proper introduction or mention of the hundreds of European adventures. Especially from UK: Level 9, Magnetic Scrolls, Melbourne House, Channel 8 and lots and lots of other companies. They were all in English language AND they used a much better technological approach than Infocom regarding compressing text and also including graphics IN ONE LOAD (no multiloads due to Cassette being so popular in Europe). I have the utmost respect for Scott and I really liked his previous project on BBS, but considering he spent 4 years making this documentary he could have done much more to make a wholesome documentary on the subject of Adventure games. Also I missed more on the packaging regarding Infocom. It was mentioned, but as a collector of computer games from the 80's I'd like to hear more about who was involved in the whole process of making the game. Why they made them the way they did, etc.

  6. If you're so into the subtitles, spend some time doing them RIGHT!

  7. Outstanding documentary! Thank you very much! The history portion was my favorite part. Interactive fiction, believe it or not, is still marketable in Japan. Google "Hatoful Boyfriend," for example.

  8. New gen needs this badly. Their instant gratification needs are ruining the gaming industry. Games today costs 80+ and no they're just mediocre at best except new gen gets off on it.

  9. Movie starts at 7:50 if you want to skip the talk at the beginning

  10. For those interested, it is now late 2017 and Amazon Echo devices have several “skills” (downloadable apps) that are basically text adventures, where the speaker speaks all the descriptions and takes commands spoken from you (like “North”). They are really fun!

  11. Is the cave adventure still downloadable?

  12. Really enjoyed watching not only the documentary but the Q&A after. Just recently had a friend tell me about Inform and recommended I watch this to get some inspiration, and it fucking worked. Thanks for this tech talk.

  13. Great documentary, thanks to the creator. My only disappointment was no Graham Nelson! 🙂 But so brilliant to see all the heroes of my youth talking about their passion.

  14. I called Dave Lebling about 6 years ago or so and said thank you. Very nice guy

  15. While pure, only words, text based interactive fiction (IF) is so niche it's basically a zombie nowadays, there is a very slight variant that is alive and well. Visual Novels are that variant that is alive and well, and they are text adventures with very basic still pictures to go along with the text. If you are interested in IF, maybe think about adding pictures to help the narrative along. And your dead forgotten games can breath again.
    And offer the text only based version alongside the Visual Novel for the gamer on the go. Same exact game, with or without pictures, as the user chooses.

  16. i mean if they were so inclined they could put out commercial products on digital distribution platforms like itch dot io, Steam & etc. and judge for themselves & see if it's worth it or not. On another note, i enjoyed watching the documentary, it was fun learning about the beginning of text adventure games.

  17. Interactive Fiction hasn't truly gone out in my opinion, look at VNs and dating sims for example. They all ask for a hell of a lot of reading.

  18. This is a great video.
    Interactive fiction isn't dead though, and im not talking about visual novels.
    There's this type of IF, that's sort of a combination of text adventures and webcomics. The author writes and draws a story in chunks at a time, and in between these chunks, the readers give 'commands' for what the characters should do next. The author then uses these commands in the next chunk, and the readers see what effect their actions have.
    This type of IF is usually called "quests" or "forum adventures"(because they're usually run on a forum) and they're quite enjoyable to follow.

  19. IF is not a mass market product, like it was once. It was a mass market for computer users when the audience of computer users was rather different, dare I say more intellectual.

  20. Straight up, this is one of highest quality thought provoking, enticing documentaries I have ever seen. It makes you think, and that is a good thing. TY all that interviewed, the producer/director, etc and of course historically to those no longer with us and unwilling to participate. Its perfect, well done!

  21. I still have Zork I, II & 3 on an official Infocom CD release beside my desk still.

  22. Greedy Gulch was the first text adventure I played, but went on to play Colossal later on. Mountains of Kett later on and then of course on to Zork & Infocom…

  23. I think the text adventure game that came out a couple of years ago called "Stories Untold" reignited interest in a new generation ! Check out "Stories Untold" if you guys haven't already !

  24. The Interactive Fiction Community has degenerated itself into an incestuous, peer-worshiping, elitist echo chamber. It has crushed any actual "free speech" as it transformed itself into a safe-space for marginalized people that are entitled to release any piece-of-shit work of interactive fiction and the community can only say nice things about them. Any actual critical discussion labels you a hatemonger. (This doesn't count scathing, unfounded reviews as those aren't real reviews as will be discussed in a minute.) Every work you release to this community needs to have trigger labels so that you don't, in any way, put a dent in the uber-PC fantasy world in which these "authors" have immersed themselves. And this doesn't mean just trigger warnings where they might actually, arguably, be warranted such as extreme violence. (I don't believe they should ever be used as adults who read things need to be prepared to read something upsetting.) They want trigger warnings for any and every tiny aspect of life that might trigger some singular asshole. I'm not kidding. There was even discussion about how, if your work includes food (just a passing reference, even) then there needs to be a trigger warning about food in case someone reading it has an eating disorder. I wish I was kidding. I wish I wasn't describing such an asinine community.

    Another reason to avoid this literary cul-de-sac is the utterly embarrassing amount of hagiographic peer-worship that goes on. The IF community is not happy having among them visionaries of the craft; people who have done much for the community such as creating software so that people can actually code IF with ease. No, the community decides to worship these people as if they were saints among men. Let's take a look at some examples.

    Of course, we need to start with Saint Zarf, that is Andrew Plotkin, who, I will readily admit, truly is a "visionary" with the craft of Interactive Fiction and this is proven by his countless contributions of software, games, and other organizational credits. But you know what? That's really it. I've seen community members embarrass themselves, clamoring over one another, to sycophantically greet and compliment Plotkin as he enters any chat room and they are sure to refer to him only as "Good Sir".

    Plotkin's sense of humor is a yawning chasm of nothingness. In fact, I've never met anyone online with such a lack of a sense of humor. I take that back. Most of the other well-known IFers suffer the same, sad humorless disposition. Like Jacq, the annoying busybody who is married to the irrelevant and insufferable critic Sam Ashwell whose reviews have gone downhill in quality faster than a short-run sitcom. These bloviating asshats wouldn't know a good joke if it took a dump in their mouths.

    There's Ryan Veeder, IF's Golden Boy who can do no wrong. If there were a full IF convention sometime, I'm positive there would be dozens of IFers lined up to suck his dick. His latest work was about fly fishing. Fly fishing. And the 5-star reviews and ratings couldn't come in fast enough. Fly fishing.

    Let's not forget Porpentine. At this point, as far as the IF community is concerned, Porpentine can literally upload a jpg of one of her turds and it would place in the top 10 of any IF competition. Porpentine is actually a terrible, terrible writer. It's not even a matter of style over substance because there is neither. Some of her works are WRITTEN ALL IN CAPS. This is seen as unbelievably artistic of the highest caliber among many in the community. And I'm not attacking her because of her advocation of trans rights. Every human should be an advocate of trans rights. My best friend is trans so don't bother accusing me of being hateful. I'm positive I've done more for trans rights than nine out of ten people reading this. So don't bother going there. I'm speaking about how Porpentine's "stories" are a miasma of asinine cliches. It's like this: I attended art school in Philadelphia. There are two types of art school students: actual budding artists who take their craft seriously, and green-haired, pierced and booted crybabies who say things like "Oh, I'm too weird to go to class today." Yeah, Porpentine is obviously the latter. The community has rallied around her talentless ass, circling their wagons, ready to lash out at any of her critics, branding them as hateful. I've been messaged by jerk-offs trying to admonish me for daring to inquire if Porpentine is actually any good or if people are just parading around her like jackasses.

    Another huge problem with this sad excuse of an online community is how, in their zeal to protect everyone's fucking feelings, they allow critics (or any untalented asshole who fancies himself a critic (see Patrick Brian Mooney)) to write scathing reviews chock full of unfounded opinions and, unbelievably to me, totally wrong information. Basically, in short, if I wrote in my game that the cow was brown, a critic will say that I described it as red. This obviously isn't a specific example, it's to say that I've seen these terrible armchair critics write shit about people's games that just weren't true. And the artist can't correct them because that's against the community's asinine competition rules. They coddle jerk-offs that do that while the author and the exposure to the work suffers. It's a case of stifling speech and unpopular opinions.

    If you post an unpopular opinion on the forum, expect it to be removed and expect to be suspended. I've had idiot IFers like Jenni Pelodna who attempted to dictate how I should tweet and the language she wanted me to use instead of the uncomfortable thing I said, whatever it was. I had to remind her, like I've reminded Zarf more than once, that if they want to control the conversation, they need to start private forums. Telling someone how to tweet is just ignorant.

    Anytime on the forums anyone mentions anything the least bit political, Zarf exasperatedly chimes in and discourages (or outright forbids) it. I still don't know what he has against any sort of free-form political discussion. Most likely, he feels that only he knows how everything is currently working politically in America and therefor, we shouldn't bring it up on the forums as he just doesn't have the time to lead us idiots through such a treacherous conversation.

    These are people who do not understand the concept that, if you don't like the forum thread you're reading, you are free and clear to jettison that thread, and try to find something that isn't uncomfortable for them. No. For them, they need to control what is said and written about interactive fiction (among other topics), and they believe humor, at best, is a polite giggle at a cocktail party, and nothing beyond that. If I was on Reddit and I was reading something I disagreed with by someone I don't like, I either cast my opinion and/or move on. The IF community would move to have that Redditor suspended and their posts removed.

    And the IF community wonders why it's dying. They wonder why they can't attract new members to their dying craft but they coddle and protect critics who write scathing reviews that only discourage authors. They expect a certain language and way of communicating on their forums and twitter threads and discourage anything that doesn't immediately cozy up to their Mount Rushmore of certain IF assholes or any sexual minority. (I'm gay so save me your knee-jerk responses.) Their yearly competition is so out of control, close to a hundred entries litter the playing field and, apparently, an author's behavior outside of the competition's time frame, can still be reprimanded or expelled from the competition. So, if they don't like something you wrote in your blog in January, I hope for your sake it goes unnoticed or else the cunt Jacq Ashole will take you out of the SEPTEMBER competition.

    At this point, it's obvious that the IF community should be quite happy our country's Constitution is disintegrating. It's not something they're used to. They don't like the idea of average community members saying things that aren't things that their handful of worshiped idols would say.

    I used to love interactive fiction but after eight years, I see the community is still infested with snarky, smarmy, haughty, untalented, unfunny, humorless, thin-skinned, annoying losers that have destroyed its appeal.

  25. 53:29 That thought experiment of directly accessing the imagination is beautifully poetic in it's circularity and ironically satisfying in its conclusion.

  26. Hehe the question with the audience about AR, like VR before…. the vid 9 years old and AR/VR still haven't really had jack or shit done with it and need to sit on the back burner for another iteration for it to become mainstream…. it almost did with the Pokemon game but that fad died quick.

    Like the content, a part of history I lived through.

  27. Anyone remember the old webpage The Old Infocome Shoppe?

  28. I think text adventure games on ebook readers is a match made in heaven. Amazon could make this go commercial if they started offering those on their kindles.

  29. I learned to touch type in 1983 as a 13 year old kid on the horrible spongy ZX Spectrum keyboard playing Planet of Death, Inca Curse, The Hobbit, Eye of Bain et al. I still have that sundial from Trinity. As a 51 year old chap, I’ve just put 4 hours into Ghost of Tsushima. Some things never change! If you like video game documentaries, check out High Score on Netflix, it’s excellent!

  30. Thanks for having this up. Now I can share it with people who NEVER would have otherwise know about it.
    Also, that lady who says drawing maps is cheating can fuck right off! People are SUPPOSED to draw maps while playing. It's part of the game. That comment should never have been included in this documentary.

  31. The closest thing to this type of game I have played is Disco Elysium. I hope the folks who loved these games in this documentary have had the chance to play it, as I think they would love it, or at least respect it. I think it’s a literary masterpiece.

  32. I played Zork I at the Radio Shack in South Weymouth, MA everyday after school. I managed to get a score of 220, the highest anyone could figure out at the time. Our school got two TRS 80 IIIs that year leading me to skip woodshop class every day for the rest of the year.

    Also where I got my IRC nick, GrueLurks lol.

  33. You are likely to be
    Eaten by a Grue

    If this predicament seems particularly
    cruel . .

    Consider whose fault it could be . .
    Not a torch or a match
    In your inventory . . . .

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