Gamers with a sense of history and a taste for text should check out Get Lamp, a new documentary about old adventure games.
There was a time, many years ago, when the quality of a game’s visuals were dependent entirely upon the player’s ability to conjure images in his head. The industry was dominated by “adventure games” that displayed “text” on a screen that players would “read,” while interaction was handled through “words” the player “typed” into the game’s parser. It sounds quaint now, but there was a time when this was mainstream.
For gamers who’d like to get a taste of that era, or old-timers looking for a heaping helping of nostalgia, Get Lamp might be just the thing: A new film from Jason Scott, the man behind the 2005 release BBS: The Documentary, that looks at the good old days of interactive fiction.
“In the early 1980s, an entire industry rose over the telling of tales, the solving of intricate puzzles and the art of writing,” the Get Lamp website says. “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.”
The title, for the uninitiated, refers to the act of retrieving a light source for use at a later point in the game, typically in areas of pitch blackness where the risk of being eaten by a grue is abnormally high. While most famously associated with Zork, any adventurer worth his salt will tell you that no matter what you’re playing, getting a lamp is an essential part of long-term survival.
Get Lamp includes dozens of interviews with people including Steve Meretzky, Scott Adams, Ian Bogost, Chris Crawford and John Romero, an introductory essay by Scorpia, a numbered coin, a DVD-ROM section with photos, audio recordings and games, and, aside from clearly-marked bonus materials, an entirely spoiler-free experience.
Unfortunately, all that goodness doesn’t come free: The two-disc Get Lamp documentary lists for $45 in North America or $49 internationally. It may not be the cheapest independent documentary film you’ll ever see but for fans of the genre, it’s hardly the worst way you could blow a few bucks.