Sep 21, 2010

Get Lamp - A DVD Review

Get Lamp

Get Lamp, as the more faithful readers of this blog should already know, is a documentary about video games. Old video games. Mostly old video games. Mostly old video games that do not sport graphics and are not to be played on consoles. Actually and to finally get to the point, it's a documentary about a very special kind of text-only video games: interactive fiction (or text adventures). A documentary about the most literary and rewarding form of digital gaming so far and the only genre to truly and fully challenge ones imagination and intellect.

What's more, Get Lamp is a brilliant and quite impressive -both in scope and execution- documentary, that, carrying on with the themes of impressiveness and brilliance, also makes for a rather great movie. After (not so) extensive field testing I can actually assure you that even people who couldn't care less about any form of interactive entertainment whatsoever, thought it was fascinating and were actually moved to give Infocom's Planetfall a try.

Get Lamp was directed and produced by Jason Scott, the same person that was responsible for the BBS Documentary, and the same person that apparently traveled throughout the US in a quest to conduct almost a hundred interviews, that were eventually molded into the basis of the documentary. Among the interviewed, you'll find such impressive names as Don Woods, Scott Adams, Ian Bogost, John Romero and almost everyone from Infocom, as the movie takes viewers on a mostly chronological trip through the history of interactive fiction, stopping only to focus and expand on the important bits, in what can only be described as an excellent whole. This main feature comes in interactive (something like a simple but well-implemented choose your own adventure thingy) and non-interactive flavors and covers the genesis, rise, fall and current evolution of the genre.

But you think I'm over-reacting, don't you? Well, I could be, though the truth is that Get Lamp is very well shot, masterfully presented and quite extensive in its coverage. It also sports some amazing production values, filling two DVDs with hours of greater and smaller features and featurettes, comes in a beautifully illustrated case (complete with a fantastic coin), features a written intro on text adventures by Scorpia, and even provides gamers with more than a few interactive fiction offerings and a variety of other digital goodies. Oh, yes, and everything is fully subtitled too.

Actually, the only thing lacking and my main gripe -both regarding the main feature and the tons of extras- is coverage of the European and generally non-US text adventure. Now, I do understand that traveling to Europe would have been far too costly, but the omission of Magnetic Scrolls, Level 9, Zenobi, Delta 4, Gilsoft and a variety of other classic publishers and developers was quite a bit disappointing, especially as Get Lamp is such an immensely enjoyable and frankly brilliant offering.

To grab your own copy of Get Lamp, simply follow this very link to its official website. Anyone ever interested in interactive fiction will simply have to own the thing.

Related @ Gnome's Lair:


  1. BBS Documentary was probably the best documentary I have ever watched.
    So Get Lamp has got to be good.

    But it does look pricey...

  2. It really isn't that pricey considering you get two DVDs packed with tons of content and one lovely coin. I think it will be worth a purchase really.

  3. I pre-ordered this ages ago and loved every minute of it. I was a big Infocom junkie back in the day, but you're right about the lack of non-US games. My wife (who is British) used to buy text adventures for the Spectrum back in the day, and according to her there were tons and tons of them. It would have been interesting to learn about those.

    Still, it was cool hearing what folks like Michael Berlyn and Amy Briggs had to say, since we don't often see them around. And I got a little hoot out of seeing the brief appearance of the infamous Howard Sherman.

  4. Who's the audience for the documentary? Fans of text adventures? Gamers in general?

    I'm curious if it attempts to introduce the topic even for non-gamers and how well the interviews go for those who are not necessarily fans or know little of the genre.

  5. I'll say it again - I love Infocom. ...and text adventure games in general for that matter be they of U.S. or U.K. origin (or elsewhere too if I discover those).

    I didn't pre-order but I've been waiting for this thing to start shipping for quite a while - I wasn't aware that it had so thanks for the reminder! I'm DEFINITELY buying a copy.

  6. Oh my - Scott Adams too. I used to play his adventures on my trusty VIC-20. Still have the cartridges (pre datasette days).

  7. @ Wadjet Eye: You really can't believe how many brilliant text adventures appeared on the Speccy. They were literary hundreds, and I do suggest you search this very blog for Zenobi stuff. Still, as you say, this was a great documentary, despite the shocking appearance of Howard 'AdventureCon' Sherman.

    @ Guttertalk: Well, my friend, I'd say this is for everyone, as it does explain how the genre works. Of course it does get a bit more hardcore as time goes by, but my tests have shown that non-gamers don't mind. They usually get incredibly intrigued. And I am talking about women in their very late 20s / early 30s too.

    @ MadPlanet: A wise move dear MadPlanet and I'm absolutely positive you too will love it. As for me, it made sured I re-installed almost a dozen interactive fiction classics and am about to try a few more modern ones.

  8. @ MadPlanet: Mind you, never tried a Scott Adams adventure yet. Have read a ton about them, but played? not really. Should remedy that soon.

  9. Something inside me protests against calling text adventures "video games".

  10. Ok then. Uhm, computer games?