Get Lamp: The Text Adventure Documentary

Get Lamp: The Text Adventure DocumentaryIn 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.

Watch the full documentary now

Ratings: 7.46/10from 13 users.

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40 Comments / User Reviews

  1. James

    Enjoyed your documentary. For a child born in the 80s, it still had the air of nostalgia in it. Games are a burgeoning art form, and early forms such as IF will experience a resurgence once initial hype over graphics and technology fades into content and user enjoyment. I found the interviews touching, especially with such masters as John Romero reminiscing. The imagination is a vast place - one that IF recognized - and will not be soon forgotten over the decades and centuries to come.

  2. Arch

    Why do people leave negative comments on a doc that they say themselves is about something they have absolutely no interest in? If you have no interest in it then you probably know you aren't going to enjoy it before u even press play, so why watch it at all? Just so you can leave a ridiculously over the top negative comment? life's too short. get a grip Gary V and go find a film you actually are interested in. Like maybe some footage of apes throwing shit at a wall or something

  3. Graeme Kilshaw

    I wish to encourage all game developers to build text adventure games with our friendship cube code. The Friendship Cube Group has a great interactive hardware and software set that, with the help of some developers, could provide gamers with thousands of hours of valuable and educational game time.

  4. Logan Streondj

    What about MUD's or multi-user dungeons, they are text-adventures that are contemporary and some even make money.

  5. Fionn Coffey

    Hello, nice documentary. Always good to have a record of old things like that.

    Some text based games in their online multiplayer form (mud) have added a whole new dimension to these worlds.

    For example, check out this mud called Akanbar and have a go at some of the things like fighting in it.

    So much more than just going around typing 'kill monster'.

    It was the social side of the mud too though that drew me in, the fact that my friends and I could play together from our own homes and then talk about what happened when we met up.

    The guilds also (and the cities) all had/have a solid structure to them that was/is built into the game but also player run. You didn't get that in the major graphical mmo's like runescape.

  6. Justin Jones

    yeah i'm really fond of this documentary. great job :-)

  7. Bruce Wilson

    Great! As a book industry fellow, I get the stats and reality of the loss of pure readers and instinctual imagination. As a hard-core graphics whore, I love visual stimulation. As the father of a budding game designer, I KNOW this is the first thing she needs to learn. Story telling is story. No game ever grabs you without story.

  8. Christoffer Bubach

    Great documentary that made me think of when I used to play MUDs. As for pure text adventures, I've only ever played one or two for DOS, but as I was watching I started thinking on how this genre could be revitalized and appeal to younger crowds yet again. How about a platform in JS/AJAX with PHP as back-end that would allow for non programmers to put together their own games, or maybe as a kit for faster development? To get kids to try this type of games, in-browser game-play would be very, very good. Especially, as they say - people wanna try quickly in between youtube videos. Not download some chunky interpreter and then configure it to run a game - just to realize it wasn't for them. The platform for games like this should try to keep up with development, and with something made for the browser, using an input text box and mostly JS & AJAX for much of the gaming would also make it viable as Facebook apps. PHP as a back-end would not even be needed on the simpler non-savable or non-multiplayer games. Making it possible to put together a game in this format without prior programming experience could be restricting in what the game format would be, but could also awake an interest into programming if done right.

  9. Kalt Thorne

    I'm only 20 and I found this doc fascinating. Perhaps that's the writer and literature-fan in me. I love games, but I absolutely can't stand Halo or anything else like that. I do play WoW, but most of the time, I role play. I'd just rather make a deep, interesting character and work on him/her than watch explosions and bullets fly. Talk about boring- that kind of stuff bores ME. But thanks for the doc- it was a great find!

  10. soulseekah

    Watched once already around a year ago; will rewatch now. The BBS Documentary series available on YouTube are also a blast, though aren't listed on here, it appears.

  11. prophis

    This was really fascinating to watch. Great history of Text adventures / interactive fiction and the depth behind it all

  12. Ryan Clarke

    I love this documentary, Jason, thank you very much for making it! (I love the coin it came with too, mine's # 3281)

    It captures such an interesting time in computers and gaming and the interviews are excellent. Really looking forward to your next works!


  13. yttkaaa

    Will definitely try this :)

  14. Kateye70

    @wald0: Only 38 and done with games? So sad...almost 59 and an avid gamer, myself. Most of my online gamer friends range in age from mid-20's to 40's and beyond.

    I did try to play the early text games when they first came out, but I only got as far as the Heart of Gold (in Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy text game) and realized I'd missed picking up the screwdriver I needed to move on to the next section...and no clue how to get back to it, haha!

    When the Zork games were eventually translated into graphic adventures I played them...but I'm visually oriented, and the text games just weren't my thing. They do seem like they would appeal to the people who also play board RPG's, so it's not surprising that there is still a strong niche market for them.

    I'm thoroughly enjoying the doc, myself--but as stated previously, I'm still, gaming!

  15. Morsie

    I used to be an avid player of adventure games in the early to mid '80s. We had a Vic 20, then a Commodore 64, and my son (who is now 40) would play these games for hours. It's just like some of the programmers in the movie said, that when we got stuck, and eventually had a breakthrough, it was like, eureka!! It wasn't just the picking up of items that got you through the game, it was knowing the correct word that the programmer would be using. So it helped that we were brought up on American films and TV shows.

    I can see the interesting connection these text adventures had with caving. We would draw up maps as we went along, adding rooms at a time and what items were found where. I'd 'save' the game many times, naming them, game1, game2, etc., As was mentioned in the movie, everything would be in the mind, and imagination. I don't know what year it was when I realised that adventure games were non-existent. I used to sort through the games in the stores, looking for the adventure games that didn't contain shooting and war. The good old text adventures just disappeared, but no they didn't disappear, they evolved through the years into the 'sophisticated' weaponry games that are being sold now. Saying that, I don't know if I would be able to play a IF adventure again, it might be like going back in time now and watching silent movies!

    However, I really found your movie to be exceptionally informative and interesting, and hearing all those programmers having the same love that I had with each others games, brought all the memories flooding back. While I was watching Jason's movie, I googled Adventure Games and it brought up a very good collection of them. However, they look like they were made for very, very young children. Still, I'm going to look for the 'Lost Pig' and see if that can whet my appetite! By the way, I'm a great-grandmother.

    1. jr dobbs

      Google "interactive fiction" instead of "adventure games", and you'll find the 21st treasure of Zork.

  16. Jason Scott

    When I made GET LAMP, the goal was to tell the story of a genre of games that have, to many people, disappeared, and which are long since gone as far as being the dominant form of computer entertainment as they were in the early 1980s. I included the people who made them, and the people who played (and make and program them to this day). I knew the subject was not for everyone, and I definitely knew that it wasn't out to be general release, hence I sell it myself and don't try to get it into places like Netflix or iTunes.

    I get good reviews from a certain type of audience, and hope the price and wrap-ins associated with the film will limit it to people who want it. As the film is creative commons licensed, people are free to share and watch it for free, but I do occasionally see it go to people who watch it and are very unhappy with the tone or the structure. I apologize for that - it was made for a specific reason and isn't for everyone.

    1. Vlatko

      No worries @Jason. The documentary is fine. It just targets very narrow audience. Keep up the good work.

    2. jr dobbs

      When it showed up in my feed burner box, I set aside a morning's worth of writing in order to watch it. And when I found out that you'd made the BBS doc, too, I was doubly ecstatic. Both are really good documentaries that cover the subjects quite well. Keep up the great work!

    3. wald0

      Actually you did a great job, it just didn't appeal to me because of the subject matter. I am sure those that enjoy these kinds of games or gamers in general may really like it. Don't let the negative comments get you down. Like Vlatko said, its not the quality of the doc just that it targets a certain demographic that isn't very prevalent on this site I would imagine. You had a vision and you carried through with it, thats more than I can say for most- including myself. Hats off to you sir!!

  17. Jason Scott

    That's quite a review! I like to think there are much worse documentaries than mine.

  18. Soul

    Ah... with the beginning that has no end!!!

  19. David Foster

    OK... 1/3 was enough for me. Not a gamer.

  20. Crab_Nebula

    Where in the world is Carmen Sandiago?

  21. NAND Gate

    omfg neeeeeeeeeeeerds

    1. Guest

      not surprising! Psinet is the only one to be smart to Psinet...twice said your way.

    2. Guest

      why omfg...i thought you didn't have a god.

    3. tomregit

      Just another insightful comment from Psinet. (Sarcastic voice) ;-)

    4. NAND Gate

      nerd wedgie

  22. Guest

    This reminds me of playing Zork 30 years ago on the apple II. Kind of sad to see what video games have devolved into today but at least they are more profitable now...

  23. Guest

    Good grief! tried to watch also, just people talking, boring.

    1. Sylvia North

      Not enough explosions for you? Spoken like a true, addled gamer--ideas and conversation are "boring." Grow up, sonny.

    2. David Foster

      Heh... I wasn't going to bother watching this documentary; but now I believe I shall, just because of your reply.

  24. capriciouz

    I hope it's not as bad as Gary says. I used to play L.O.R.D. (Legend Of the Reg Dragon) on BBS' almost religiously. That was the most brilliant game I had ever seen, even after playing Wolfenstein and other entirely graphic-based games. They were an amazing breed of games which has all but disappeared from the internet. Yes, you can still find these games if you look hard, but nothing like them are considered 'popular' today, by any measure. It's certainly a sad loss -- both in a literature- AND a gaming-sense.

  25. Gary V

    Without doubt the worst doc that I have ever seen in my entire life. I managed 20 minutes & had to switch it of before I gave up the will to live. The most mind-numbingly boring waste of 2 hours that you will ever spend in your lifetime. Watching paint dry would be more entertaining.

    They should use this doc at Guantanamo Bay to interrogate the prisoners, I guarantee that after 30 minutes of this they will confess to anything & tell you whatever you want to know just to make it stop. lol

    1. Gary V

      Don't let me put anyone off from watching it, It's just not my sort of thing. You will probably enjoy it if you are into computer games, maybe it's just my age.

      Maybe I was a little harsh with my review, it's 8.50am here & I have been up all night watching docs again. I think that I'm just a bit overtired & grumpy. Sorry folks.

    2. wald0

      Dont sweat it man, I totally agree with you. I couldn't get through but about twenty minutes and I fell asleep. Of course I am 38 and have very little interest in video games of anykind, so maybe thats why. I don't think they are a bad influence or anything, I just don't see how anyone can sit and play those things for more than say thirty minutes. It makes me feel like a couch potatoe, and a bored one at that.

      Besides all anyone does now days is complain about government and that we dont have any decent candidates, yet they spend thier time playing video games and trying to decide which cell phone makes them look the most important. Where do they think a decent candidate eventually has to come from, we don't import them. They come out of the culture we create. Just think about thirty years from now and the choices we will have then. Its scary to me.

    3. DigiWongaDude

      @ Gary V...and all, I'll gladly give this doc 10/10. Highly recommended, as appropriate.

      Yours is an amazing counter view to my own, and disappointing to read!

      I don't know how many times I've watched and rewatched this one. It's one of my absolute favourites. I have watched hundreds of the best documentaries ever produced, across many diverse subjects.

      I can only guess you were not around at the time of these games?

      I went on to read some of the entire fascinating thesis by Mary Ann Buckles, seen here, but found a more impressive followup of her work by David Graves "Second Genration Adventure Games" [1987]. I'm taking his advice in creating new forms of character development, based on his observations of what has been lacking. What's amazing to me is that I'd already stumbled across some interesting branching, using very simple mathematics, and didn't have an application for it...till I read David's work.

      If I pull it off, and I'm about 33% percent there after several years working on and off, it will be the academic achievement of my life, without a doubt, and I've had a couple that I'm proud of so far. The possibilities that this could open up to future web interaction and even A.I. really gets my heart pounding.

      There is a great I.F. community that still exists, where these games can be tried out and puzzled over but I found a, not so harmful, virus in one of them so it would be irresponsible to paste the link here.

      Suffice to say, if you ever played D&G in the eighties, or played with early computer games, this is a rare and delightful programme, with some special interviews and insights of a [maybe not so?] bygone era. I even love the computer generated song at the end!

      Also by this guy (Jason Scott) is the great story of bulletin boards, the precursor to our public internet, "The BBS Documentary", something I was sadly not privy to, but fascinating stuff nonetheless.

  26. Robert M

    :o 2 hours on text adventures? Now maybe I'll finally finish that HHGTTG I started playing in the 80's