ASCII by Jason Scott

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Scanning Infocom: Done Scanning —

Well, that took quite a bit of time.


To recap. Some time last year Steve Meretzky let me go into his basement and scan a selection of items for my documentary. Some time later, I asked if it might be possibly to fully scan some of these notebooks and documents, for posterity. Steve agreed, which was a huge showing of trust, as they’d never been out of his possession. So he started lending me notebooks, and I started scanning them.

This week, Steve’s house was sold and he has moved permanently to California. (Massachusetts is poorer for having lost him, but on the other hand he’s much less likely to slip on ice.) In the time since I’d first proposed this project, he’d made arrangements to have all these papers and artifacts donated to an archive, the identity of which I will leave up to Steve and the archive to discuss publicly. The upshot is, he could have called my project to a halt, but he didn’t, and only the logistical situation of the documents going elsewhere did so. There, a full-time person has been assigned to curating the documents, so they’re in a good home.

So, in rough, here’s what I scanned:

  • 6,830 individual scans.
  • Design notebooks for everything from Steve from Planetfall to Zork Zero.
  • Years of Infocom memos.
  • Years of Infocom phone lists.
  • Sales, Marketing and PR notes.
  • Pay stubs, contracts and parking forms.
  • Basically, anything that Steve could hold onto that was made of paper.

Some of this doesn’t really have a place out in public, but Steve gets a copy of the scans. I just barreled through entire folders as much as I could. Other stuff might have a place in public. To ensure nobody is left regretting I was allowed to do this, a range of quality control has to happen, wherein private information is excised (for example, lists of the home addresses and phone numbers of playtesters), while other documents saved which are written by non-Steve people need to be signed off on by the people who wrote it.

Obviously, I have a movie to finish, but my hope is that eventually will have a collection of very nice documents indeed. When that will happen, I don’t know. How, again, can’t really define. But there’s some amazing stuff in here, and well worth the time I spent scanning it.

I didn’t get everything – there’s probably another 4000-7000 more pages of various bits that could stand to be scanned.  But I feel like I did my part. I don’t know if the archive will want my versions of the scans, but they’ll get them and if they help someone spend less time scanning and more time curating, that works out for everyone. It’s amazing stuff. It should be saved.

So there we go. I’ll let you know if there’s an update on this project.

Long live Meretzky! Without him caring for over 20 years about this history, we’d have nothing.

Categorised as: computer history | documentary

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  1. Chris says:

    It is sad that most companies put little or no emphasis on preserving items of obvious historical significance such as these, and it seems that it only gets worse as a company grows. I have a very small cache of stuff from a company that I worked for years ago (and that is sadly no longer in existence), items that the average person would have thrown in the trash, such as company newsletters, department telephone lists, promotional items that we used to give out at trade shows, etc. (People say “packrat” like its a bad thing…)

  2. Rubes says:

    Great job, congrats. We may not get to see all the documents, but thanks for putting all the time and effort into it.

  3. l.m.orchard says:

    @Chris: Most companies are too busy doing their thing, and not self-aware enough to think their random detritus is worth curating. And then by the time enough people do think that stuff would have been worth keeping in hindsight, anyone who would have cared with access to preserve it has long moved on.

    Then again, other companies are full of themselves and accumulate crap no one really cares about. It’s a crapshoot.

    The only company I’ve ever worked at that seems to have an internal function for such things as a supported and ongoing concern is where I’m at now, which is Mozilla. We keep and document a lot of crap, some of which ends up being interesting.

  4. Jason F says:

    On the flip side of the “keep everything” impulse that archivists and historians want to foster is the fact that most companies have “document retention” protocols, which are actually document destruction protocols.

    In order to keep things out of lawyers’ hands in the event a company gets sued, documents must be disposed of, usually after 90 days unless it’s still relevant to what you’re doing.

    This obviously wouldn’t include published things, or things that were purchased for the company’s use, but if Infocom were making games today most of those notebooks would probably be tray liners at a Mickey-D’s by now.