ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

5 Years at the Internet Archive: The Party —


UPDATE: The Party happened, and was well attended (dozens of people), the band was great, and we scanned a bunch of heads. Thanks to everyone who showed up, and here’s to five more years!

I’ve been at the Internet Archive for five years as of this month. I am sure I will write some very long, very large essay on here about all the ramifications of that, but for now, I think it’s a party that’s called for. A nice big party.

Sorry for the short notice, but if you’re in San Francisco, this Friday, March the 18th… I’d like to invite you to a party at Codeword, jwz’s newest club. The doors open at 8pm, the drinks are not free but admission is. I’ll be there all night, happy to talk with everyone and ready to dance.

Codeword is located at 917 Folsom at 5th Street, San Francisco.

If you can read this, you are invited.

Again, sorry for the short lead time, but arranging events has always been something I’m always doing on the spur of the moment.

Update: I’ve booked the Cantina Band to play live at the party!

See you there!

The Historical Laundry Conundrum (Find a Home for Shirts) —

Here’s a ponderable.

About 5 and a half years ago, I took delivery of a bunch of shirts from Randal Schwartz, he of Perl fame. The reason for this (as explained in that entry), was that he was doing a major cleanup of life and he wanted to donate them to charity, and I happened to see his “look at all these damn shirts” photo and offered to take them. He agreed.

A few years later, I took a small number of these shirts and photographed them. The collection is now sitting at the Internet Archive. Here is a link to it.

Fast forward to now. I’m in the middle of finally giving away some of the dragon hoard to proper institutions and locations that should have them, now that value is recognized, and that’s been going well – well over a thousand pounds of material have left my shipping container out back.

Now we’re back to the remaining shirts.

So here’s the situation.


Current I have what can honestly be called “a whole heck of a lot of shirts”. They’ve been laundered and folded by a service. They’ve been taking up space in the cube for years, and it’s time for them to achieve some sort of conclusion.

I’ve begun photographing the remaining shirts, intending to have a pretty solid photograph of each one’s design, so the designs have a life beyond these shirts. Old cartoons, logos, events, and other information will exist on in a digital form to allow people to see them, refer to them, and so on.

But the shirts themselves.

I’ve tried a half-dozen locations, including the Living Computer Museum, Computer History Museum, and elsewhere, and nobody particularly wants the shirts. Everybody thanks me for asking, but they’re not overly interested. (My friends at the Strong Museum of Play will want anything with games, but there’s not really any game shirts here.)


So, here’s the deal.

I’m going to photograph all these shirts across the coming days and maybe weeks, going through about 1,200 of them to get their images saved and uploaded. After that, if I am unable to have someone find me a home for them, they’re going to charities, which was their original goal.

If you know an organization that wants them, get in touch with them and ask. Don’t just dump a pile of names on me – I’ve already done that. I’m looking for a place that wants technology t-shirts, 99% of them never worn, all laundered, all ready to go to a home, or to the donation bins down the road.

Act fast.


So, on one level, there are people who think I would keep these items, forever and ever, unchanging, never letting the physical objects go away. I appreciate that reputation, but it’s not earned. I mostly keep things that I think need homes and that people either don’t have homes ready, or the world isn’t ready for.

In the case of these shirts, I was mostly concerned that the designs and information on the shirts would be lost – the graphics, the proof something happened, the logo and mottoes that have been buried by time and would otherwise be hard to find. People who want to make new shirts based on these designs would be drawing off the photographs anyway – making new shirts is extremely easy in the modern era, as are drawing graphics based on a provided image to trace over. I’m not worried that the information within them will be lost.

You start to run into harder use cases for the shirts as a whole – perhaps some production company wants vintage shirts for a scene taking place in the 1990s (but they’d just make new ones, frankly, and browse the web for design ideas). Maybe some of the groups within these piles would love old shirts again (but the matching of shirts to willing people who used to have these shirts is diabolically difficult). And, I thought, a computer museum or technology museum might want these materials, but they really don’t seem to.

But I have done my best, and I will be dedicating hours to this material being digitized and put online, so I’m doing what I can, and more than the original destiny of these shirts.

I’m interested in the debate about such things. Naturally the world is full of cases of people saying “If only I had glass marbles” and someone else going “what do I do with all these goddamn marbles”. This may be another one of those. Maybe the heretofore-unknown 100-year old Museum of Old Shirts is going to ask me about these in 3 years. But that’s the froth and weirdness of life. I’ve done my best. Everything else is gravy.

But let me know.


The Emularity Sounds Better —

The Emularity, which is the name for the emulation loader framework that the Internet Archive uses, has gotten a notable upgrade in sound performance.

While hanging around in the IRC channel, a relative newcomer, Grant Galitz/Taisel, mentioned doing lots of optimization work with sound on his own project, IodineGBA. I asked him to take a quick look at how JSMESS/Emularity did sound loading, and he suggested a few quick optimizations.

They worked handily.

All JSMESS-emulated operating systems on the Archive are now “better”. Better is, of course, relative. If your system is slow, we made it slightly better. If your system was fast, then little crackles are now gone. You’re probably somewhere in between.

Here’s one to test with: Jumpman, a truly amazing classic released by Epyx.


It’s a beautiful classic, and the opening song is very charming. The only problem is that it previously sounded terrible, everywhere. Now it sounds pretty good, in a lot of places. (Bear in mind that all Atari 800 programs make that razzing noise at the beginning, as it reads off the “floppy drive”.)

Works best on Firefox. Likes heavy hardware capabilities. Is better than yesterday, worse than tomorrow.

What was nice about this, particularly, is that we made one change to the loader code and suddenly 25,000 items just sounded “better”. That’s the kind of easy upgrade I like to see.

Sound is a very big deal. When it’s not quite up to snuff, people really feel it deep. As time goes on, it’ll improve. Until then, try rediscovering some of the programs up on the Archive and see how much better the sound is.







Reboot Continues —

This one comes pre-formed without the ability to comment!

In late 2015, with my weight hitting a bothersome 245-250 and no end in sight, and with concerns about how much “stuff” is in my office and storage cube, I set off to shed both pounds and the additional stored items.

Since then, and as of February first, I’m at roughly 230 pounds. I’ve also shed 1,000 pounds (!) of materials I had stored in my office and cube. Neither of these trends is intended to stop.

In December, I stopped eating anything with sugar or significant carbohydrates. In early January, I stopped drinking anything with any sweetener (natural or otherwise), stopped taking in Caffeine of any sort, and stopped any non-natural flavoring. Basically, it’s been water and seltzer for over a month, nothing else.

The 230 weight is a bit of a wall, so I’ll be increasing activity (I have more energy anyway) and applying some level of portion control.

My goal is to hit 195, which would make me 10 pounds less than I was when I was 20 years old. We’ll see how that goes.

I’m mentioning all this mostly as a marker in time. I’ve focused the same obsessive approach I do in everything else to my health, and while weight is but one measurement of health, it’s a sign of paying attention to important things. I have intention of being around a significant amount of time.

Updates once a month.


The Secret Feature of EM-DOSBOX on Internet Archive —

There’s been a secret feature on the DOS-related emulated programs on the Internet Archive. It’s been there for over a half a year now. I’ll explain what it is and why I didn’t trumpet it.

Internet Archive made thousands of games available on MS-DOS last year, it got an awful lot of press, and it got an incredible amount of visitors – well into the millions. Through the year of 2015, certain games got more attention than others, and many more got a few ardent fans, but most importantly, emulated programs bounced into the general populace in ways they hadn’t before.

Emulation was and is used by many, many people, both intentionally (by running Emulators they’ve downloaded) and unintentionally (using a lot of applications and systems that have little tiny emulators in them to run certain programs with little change). But we’ve not had as many people who are shown a program that runs in a window and then told “Just use it, it’s an emulator, we’ll work out the details.” They know or they don’t know much about the emulation system beneath it, but the knowledge is heavily optional.

It’s worked in droves – as the millions hit, many of them made use of the system for however they pleased, in the same way people use books for however they please.

But along with this explosion of use came an unexpected (except in retrospect) situation – people were unhappy they would lose their saved games.

They were unhappy they would lose their saved games!

To people who know exactly what’s going on (this is a Javascript application running an emulation of a system inside of a browser window), the sadness is understandable but also laughable as a solution set. Of course you can’t save your games! They’re not some actual thing playing on your operating system. They live inside a window. You might as well be sad you can’t crane your head to one side of a video playing and see what’s behind the left border of the player window.

But we got a lot of complaints about it.

So we fixed it.

Through the work of multiple people, including John Vilk, DFJustin, bai, db48x, and other contributions, the BrowserFS extension that JSMESS/Emularity uses can maintain filesystems across sessions, in the LocalStorage API.

It’s been doing this for six months.

Complaints about saved games have dropped to zero.

Every day, dozens (occasionally hundreds) of people are playing long-term role-playing games or ongoing arcade games and shooters, saving off their games where the system provides that as an option, and they they come back later and pick up where they get off. It just works.

Want to try it out? Here’s a nice weird one. Using VEDIT, a rather obscure DOS-based text editor from 1992, made by Greenview, Data, Inc. It’s the demo version of the word processing program, but that’ll be fine enough.

If you go to the page for the program, you’ll be able to boot the emulator.

Within it, you press any key to get to the editing window, enter anything you want, and then press F10, which will give you a glorious retro drop-down text menu. From there, you can save whatever you type into a file. (Or, you can press ALT-S and ALT-Q, which is the same thing.)

You have now saved a copy of the file away on the virtual filesystem of the emulated program.

You can now close the browser window, or close the browser entirely. You can reboot. But as long as you come back to the same machine, and the same browser, the file you wrote will come back.

Why not announce it?

Well, for one thing, it’s slightly confusing. Right now it only works on our EM-DOSBOX emulations, because the way that MAME/MESS handles filesystems is notably different (although who knows, we might come up with a solution in the future).

Another is that there’s no quality check, per se. The BrowserFS plugin has plenty of testing, but this whole environment is off the wall. We’ve done as much testing as we can, from a lot of different approaches, but I don’t believe in announcing this feature as a guarantee. You might still lose your games. You might have a blocker, run in private mode, or clear out cookies using some way you don’t know. Poof goes the saved data.

But I’m mentioning it, primarily, for one reason: There are still people who think Emulation is not a solution, or think it’s not ready, or think there’s some other magical, scalable, universal solution to having people interact with this old data.


There isn’t.

And people playing endless games and programs all throughout the world for half a year, without giving one thought to the fact they’re saving their games “somewhere” and coming back to play later, is a very large army of proof.



Archivebot and Automatic Betterment —

One of the most successful (and ongoing) projects that Archive Team has done is Archivebot. It’s a crowdsourced archiving operation that goes after anything that needs archiving, be it webpages, tweets, videos and other online scrapings, and allows them all to be captured in a competent, useful manner, 24/7. It has grown over the years and is ridiculously flexible now, with a command language so variant that it has this unbelievably high quality manual for all it can do.

Archivebot is at its best with on-the-ground shifting-sands events, like tragedies/celebrations, they-said/others-said controversies, and capturing things the way they “are” just before the new news flattens the pages before they’re taken down. If you watch the Archivebot Twitter account, you can see the bot in action, in real time.

As it goes along, generating these WARC’d pages, it stores them in 100 gigabyte chunks. (Yes, Gigabytes.) Usually between 100-300gb of this data comes in a day. The chunks are then uploaded into a collection, where they are then absorbed into the Wayback machine within a day or two, meaning the world benefits from the data almost immediately.

ArchiveBot has two mascot images. They are both accurate:


Looking at the Archive’s statistics, some of these pages are called up through the wayback machine hundreds of thousands of times. (One of them has gone past 600,000 recalls.) Many, many more are called “merely” tens of thousands of times.

Occasionally, Brewster gets an idea in his head, and I hear of it, and fly with it. (It’s nice to have a boss that inspires.) One of them was that the new Internet Archive interface is rather visual in nature (by default), and so it would be nice if some of these more data-heavy items in the collection had some sort of visual component to them, if possible.

I set off on that work last year. The idea was to use a WARC playback mechanism (WebArchivePlayer) to bring back pages out of the WARC files, take screenshots, and then upload those screenshots into the items as “previews” of what’s inside.

It’s taken a while, because these have to be downloaded, then played back, then screenshot, then checked if the screenshots are any good, and then removing the ones that don’t have any data in them, and so on.

But it’s coming along really well.

The played-back WARC files work remarkably well. Naturally, if something is a Javascript or embedded-object nightmare, it doesn’t look good at all. But many do.

I’ve got the script working chronologically right now, so it’s doing the oldest items first and then moving on from there. It takes it anywhere from a half-hour to a couple hours to make the preview images. Most of that is because I’m giving every single grab a chance to produce images, and some of those grabs go into the gigabytes.


The result, which is now 99% automated, are pages after pages of beautifully rendered, verified-as-historically-relevant or at least gawkishly-fascinating web pages and sites. The thumbnails look good, and going to the individual chunks will give you an interesting (and potentially disturbing) slideshow of events and strangeness.

I mention this all for two reasons. The first is just to put a line in the sand at a point in Archivebot’s journey to reflect on how far along that amazing project has come. It continues to innovate, thanks to the efforts of an all-volunteer force, and addresses the ever-changing aspects and requirements of being a chronicle of the archiving of the web.

But the other is the template that this thumbnail and slide-generating aspect represents at the Internet Archive, which is heavily machine-augmented human work. I go through the items that come out of the contraption, pulling out the sideways-broken ones and the weirdly-off rejects, leaving thousands of screenshots with no human intervention whatsoever. It’s grinding away 24/7, doing something both useful and not worth throwing a person at. It’s how I think a lot of the work will continue to be handled with an ever-increasing workload.

And it’s fun.

00_coverimage00000_Header00000_Header (1)

Even Just the CD-ROMs —


The joke, which I used in a lot of introductory speeches about the Internet Archive Software Collection, was that we are the largest collection of downloadable software on the planet, period. Find us a bigger one, and we’ll download it and add it.

The reason I can make that declaration is because the first few years I got involved, it was a binge of acquisition both online and off, including downloading of FTP site collections, CD-ROM sets, floppies, and all sorts of online collections. It’s very big. It’s somewhat problematic to step through it all, but it’s all there, in one form or another.

Circuit_City_Games_CD_Bonus_from_Advantage_Protection_Plan_Circuit_City_2004 Delphi_Programming_Unleashed_SAMS_Publishing_1995 developerWorks_Speed-Start_your_Linux_App_-_3Q_2002

It was important to me to gather as much software as possible as quickly as possible because I was very worried we were going to fall into a “too late” situation, be it one of original media dying, or previous (excellent) attempts to gather software fading away into obscurity. There have been some pretty amazing large collections in the past; but then again, most of them ended up on CD-ROMs, so it’s been a case of just gathering CD-ROMs and getting the data off them. Which I did, by the thousand.

The Archive now has something on the order of 8,000 CD-ROMs at least, contributed by myself and dozens of other people. They range from installation disks for modems to entire collections of software from various historical sites. They are companion CD-ROMs to magazines, driver compilations, and promotional one-offs. In some rare cases, they’re CD-Rs acquired from collectors that have very rare material indeed.

They are rather difficult to search.

Dr Duke_Nukem_3D_Complete_Version_3D_Realms_1996 Estate_Planning_Adr_Research_Institute_of_America_June_1996

In the Archives “Biz”, there’s various schools of thought about willy-nilly acquiring “stuff”. All acquisition comes at a cost, be it large or small, and it comes with ongoing issues of maintenance, accessibility, and resource draw. That’s all to be expected, but the approaches have variance and there are some hard-core beliefs and policies out there that, when encountering someone not going in that direction or following those policies, gets a little bit of shade thrown.

I get a lot of shade thrown.

Games_Machine_CD-ROM_Gangsters_1998 Games_Machine_CD-ROM_Hollywood_Monsters_2000 Games_Machine_CD-ROM_Rayman_1995

2015 was the year that, getting a few articles about me in various rags, and URLs being available towards those articles, that I stumbled on the most scintillating subtweeting that had been going on (for some time!) about the work I do and how I approach it.

Now, I assure you, not a tear was shed on my part, mostly because I’ve been involved in tight-knit communities, and their little paper dramas and kabuki theater of outrage and nose-raising. It was mostly a surprise because my whole thing of “Archive Guy” had been, generally, a positive one – folks either liked what I’m doing (I thought), or had no particular opinion and a kind of “well, it’s your shitpile” approach. Not so! The anger is palpable out there, in a small and delightful crowd of archivists and librarians who think I’m doing actual damage.

I listened thoughtfully to the arguments, engaged a few folks, got the lay of the land with regards to criticisms.

And then? Well, full steam ahead.

Games_Machine_CD-ROM_Total_Annihilation_1997 Graphics_Blaster_RivaTNT_Creative_1998 HP_Application_Server_8

Related to my 2016 goals, I’ve gone ahead and have started shoring up a small choice I made some time ago, and which had some interesting outcomes.

In the rush to get CD-ROMs online, I chose to rip them as fast as I could and get the ISO images up into the Archive, while not scanning any of the CD-ROM covers or discs and certainly not going into any excessive metadata work.

This is a mortal sin in some circles. I did it willfully and gleefully, knowing that materials would be harder to find, but they’d be up somewhere, ready for people who really needed to know it was there, and where to send their own collections. It was a gamble, and it paid off.

Now, I’m in the process of scanning in those CD faces, as the images in this entry can attest. They’re weird as art, and very helpful as reference points. I’ve been intrigued that for many people, the art alone is giving them visual alerts to the materials inside. That means that it’s one thing to have a CD-ROM of old computer art, another entirely to have the hand-drawn label on the CD-ROM that people remember clearly from the past.

The collection, in other words, did the important thing first, and the next-important thing is happening. I am digitizing these sleeves very quickly, at about 500dpi, and taking these TIFF files, uploading them, then running a script that makes a nice JPG image that you can look over quickly.

As I finish a pile of CD-ROMs, these discs will be going to the Internet Archive’s physical storage, where they are available for reference and access in the future, or even rescanning.

Of course, they don’t have an indexing system there, yet.

That’ll happen later.


What 2016 Is —


As is usually the case, my need to get things done means this weblog does not get anything updated on it. I see the last time I posted was in November, and here we are at the strike-out of the new 2016 year. 18 years of running TEXTFILES.COM! Five years at the Internet Archive! And I am now in the back half of my forties. What an excellent time to hatch plans, in advance of them all being dashed because of something I haven’t forseen yet.

Speaking of forseen, one thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people in my age/lifestyle, that is “born in the 1960s or 1970s, and then sitting down a whole lot for 40 years while staring at glass”, usually have something crazy bad happen to them health wise in their 50s. Super incredibly bad: strokes, diabetes onset, full-on heart attack… you know, something. And then depending on where and how this happens, they keel the fuck over.

As someone who gave a rather life-affirming speech some time ago, I am most interested in sticking around a bit. So changes are in place.

First, I have a general plan that, before I am 50, everything under my direct physical control will fit in a 15-foot moving van. This means that I will have books that either friends wrote or who I know the author of or they are particularly inspiring. It means that I’ll have my computer tech that represents what I need to edit video or to do some amount of scanning but I will not have 14 Apple IIs in a massive storage container 50 feet from my bedroom. And it will certainly mean that I won’t have, like I currently do, thousands of floppies and CD-ROMs piled around me like some testimony to lost digital landscapes.

The reasoning behind this reduced-space goal is this: It’s obvious that this monk’s lifestyle of working on things and travelling is something I like, and there is no indication that I will ever want to move into some big house again, or have a mortgage, or any of that. The chances of me being one of those people with a RV outfitted as a working base is non-zero. So I don’t want to be the place for storage of masses of computer history that should really be in a different entity. Additionally, it is not very fair to the material I have that has some very good utility and use, that it languish under my direct control in an area with absolutely no policy and facility for others to interact with them. In other words, do not think this is me saying I’m going to throw out all this stuff I have here; it means that I’m going to find homes for them that are open, easily accessible, and with them doing the maximum good. I always thought of the Information Cube as an Ark, not a final resting place – this is just the end result of that.

Another major change is the boring health stuff. I’ve stopped drinking anything but water (carbonated and spring) and I’m on one of those ridiculous diets that makes you hellishly thin by freaking your body out. We’ll see how that goes, but before I move into an exercise regimen, I want to get the ol’ carcass down to something workable. One side effect of a thinner frame will be the exotic and interesting outfits I’ll be able to fit into, but another will be that I can kill off a range of health problems I’m already exhibiting and maybe hit a more respectable lifespan. The days where I could just reach for anything at the supermarket and grab something wrapped in plastic that’s been sitting there for weeks and eat whatever the hell is in that thing are pretty much over. I’ll enjoy a good restaurant here or there but not as a staple. It’ll be good, trust me. Note that this is not an invitation for you to send me a multi-paragraph, multi-link treatise on how to do my health.


Most importantly, 2016 is now officially scoped as the year I really hope to fulfill my to-do list and promises.

Living the way I do and getting the attention I do, I’ve now built up a backlog of requests, goals, intentions and wishes that is yawning back for years. And then what do I do? Agree to travel to talks, agree to get involved in time-consuming quick projects, and always taking on more and more things. In one context, this is fun, but in another I am now beset with what feels like an endless pile of promises that are not fulfilled. Some people are rather pissed (or melancholy, or zen) about this. Others are under the impression I’m waiting around for the chance to do something, so they send more to me. It’s now officially out of hand.

As such, I will be making very few trips and appearances this year. I’ve already committed to Shmoocon and Magfest, two events I try to attend for various reasons, and I doubt strongly I will miss Kansasfest (although HOPE happens on weekend of that event). But I’ve been intentionally cutting back on saying “yes” to any appearances in 2016. Podcasts I’ll do. Stuff in New York City (which I live very close to) I will also do. But 2016 is the year I am going to be spending a LOT more time working on things and a LOT less time talking about how I do things.

Subsequently, this weblog is going to cover things, but they’ll be projects that I need assistance for, or which I want folks to be aware of. It’ll (hopefully) be a cacophony of completion, at least for this coming year.


Let’s see what happens!



JSMESS Achieves a Hero’s Death —


With the release of MAME/MESS 0.168 today, JSMESS achieved something special and something final: Irrelevancy.

Through the work of JSMESS team member DopefishJustin and MAME/MESS developer Micko, assisted by a number of other contributed factors by both teams, per-driver compilation of MAME/MESS into Emscripten-converted Javascript just “happens” now. It’s one of the features built into MAME/MESS, and further work can be refined there as needed.

Volunteer teamwork for this project therefore shifts over to The Emularity, which is the loading structure for Javascript-based emulators, including MAME/MESS, EM-DOSBOX and others that will be added. The Emularity allows and will continue to allow ease of loading for this breed of emulator in a variety of ways, making the embedding of software history available everywhere, ubiquitously, for a very, very long time.

Pushing it through Emscripten also makes way for a future in which a replacement candidate like WebAssembly will be the eventual final target. Emscripten’s continued dedication to cross-platform compatibility and refinement of the compilation process means that now there’s a dedicated team for compiling (Emscripten), and a dedicated team for emulation (MAME). It’s as sweet as it gets.


This has been a very long road for me. I announced this project idea in this very weblog a mere four years ago. 4 years! (And note that DopefishJ is the first to jump in with assistance. Four years ago! And he’s never wavered.)

4 years is a very long time to bring something like this together. Granted, we had something sort of working within the first year, but to continually refine, improve, find the bugs, re-engineer the whole thing and attempt to make it functionally easier to keep on top of… that took a core set of people a lot of time.

They’re owed a lot of gratitude and thanks, and I need to assemble the canonical list of everyone who helped, but the efforts of DFJustin, Vito, bai, devesine, dreamlayers, clb, jvilk, yipdw, antumbralbalrog, MooglyGuy, haze lord_nightmare, and many others are what brought us to this point.

So, what’s next?

Well, the emscripten support in MAME/MESS is not perfect – it definitely needs eyes looking at it to improve the accuracy and the implementation. But it just got added this month, and I’m quite patient about these sorts of improvements.

The Emularity will need more refinement in terms of making it easier for “just folks” to start embedding software wherever they want it. The code works nicely, it’s just a matter of sitting down and going over how a person who had not had to program javascript would make something run.

And of course MAME/MESS can always use the addition of more people helping it with support, refinement and improvements. The Emscripten/website use case is a strong one – it’s going to be very easy for museums, university teachers, and everyone else to be interacting with this emulator going forward, and so the more focus on getting it comprehensive and quick as well as accurate, the better. It’s instant reward.


As I’ve indicated earlier this month, my focus is not on making sure emulation in the browser is a fact – that’s been established. My focus is entirely on transferring as much lost or in-danger digital information into modern-computer-readable-form as absolutely fast as possible. The emulators are here, and they’re waiting. Now we have to focus on these poor, solid magnetic souls keeping their precious contents, day by day, until they’re rescued.

I am not sad in the least. It was so fun to work with this team to get things where there are, and it’ll be so great to refocus them on parts that need more attention and love (like automatic new-driver building when new versions of MESS/MAME come out).

It is, all told, a great day.

Thanks to everyone.





The Rest of the Infocom Cabinet —

Here’s an update on the Infocom Cabinet, with a side order of ethical debate.

Michael Berlyn

I’ve now dumped the balance of materials I have around into the Infocom Cabinet collection on the Internet Archive. There’s some scatterings left on my hard drives, but they are either 100% personal (think: pay stubs and employee evaluations) or they’re duplicated in many ways in what did go up.

So with this little update comes:

All told, we’re somewhere in the range north of 5,000 individual scanned pages in this uploaded collection. It’s worth it to note that this wasn’t even the full extent of Steve Meretzky’s file cabinet – this was just as much as I grabbed with a sense of “this needs to be saved” cross-purposed with “this will look good scrolling by in the final film”. There’s likely piles of interesting material in the collection, including all of Steve’s work with Boffo and Legend Entertainment, two companies he worked at after Infocom – I just had to call it at some point, or I’d probably be scanning to this day. I again note that Stanford University was donated the entire Meretzky collection, where it sits safely to this day.

For the “what about” crowd… yes, there’s a few other items in the collection, and I may put them up if it makes sense to, but this should really be enough for anyone to produce a reasonably informed opinion on the goings-on, from nearly day one through to the office closing and all the remaining items shipped away, of Infocom, Inc., 1983-1989. They’re readable in the browser, and the original scans that are up are all 600dpi, meaning they can be zoomed in for artistic meaningfulness, which as a documentary film guy I’m pretty big on. It’s a triumph! People are talking about it! It’s making waves!

Now what?


So, there’s an important factor in this. The vast, vast majority of Infocom employees are very much alive, some still working in the games industry, and others who have possibly not thought about the words “Zork”, “Infocom”, or “55 Wheeler Street” for a very long time. And now, out of nowhere, related to no particular anniversary or event, the sum total of the company’s materials are now online somewhere, browsable, and thousands of people are poring over them, studying and commenting.

Some will be delighted. Some will be confused why anyone cares so much, and maybe one or two will be in some ways horrified or nervous, especially if they haven’t gone over what’s been posted themselves.

For the film, I interacted with a variety of Infocom staff, some of them for just one day (interview), some just over a single phone call (saying they wouldn’t be in the film), and others on and off for years. I can’t pretend to call myself their friend beyond the Meretzky family and especially Steve, who I spent a large amount of time with during production and who I occasionally see when I’m in California.

There’s a situation in making a documentary I call “Stop-Motion Interaction” where you interview someone, spend 3 years working on the movie, and then either have the person at the premiere or run into them, and you have been spending months inside your head getting to know the person from what they talked about, and then you see them and to them, you’re just this old dim memory and to you, you’re seeing an old friend again. It can be jarring for both parties.

But there were people I didn’t get the opportunity to talk with at all. They literally have nothing to know about me or my methods or what I’m about, beyond I made some sort of film and that film had an Infocom aspect to it. (Some Infocom alumni just called GET LAMP “The Infocom Movie”, presuming that’s what it’d be about.) For some of them, they will likely see what just happened with all this documentation and have a “reaction”.


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This gets enormously complicated. And painful. But if I’m going to talk about where I got to with releasing all this historical information, and to stand as some sort of example of the issues involved, I gotta go here.

It’s explained in excruciating detail in this podcast, so I’ll go with the Cliffs Notes version, like someone explaining why one shoulder blade is 2 inches higher than the other, and why there’s a scar going from one ear to the forehead.

Besides this treasure trove of infocom documentation in Steve’s basement, I had someone contact me saying, basically, “So, you’re working on this movie. Would you like The Infocom Drive?” Like everything else, I said YES without needing any details because that’s how I roll. When the Infocom Drive arrived (a roughly 150mb .zip), it was essentially a snapshot of Infocom at the end of days, Knowing that this was a goldmine that needed to be in some way preserved, I gave three copies away to trusted sources, and one of them wrote an article about a particular narrative thread in the drive’s contents, got a ton of attention, some extremely angry ex-Infocom folks (both privately and public, to me), my movie almost died in the cradle and I didn’t talk to the author for about six years.

Again, the podcast goes into this whole thing for the sake of the looky-loos, but I’m trying to get to the core of the discussion/debate here – that to tell this narrative thread, this article used e-mails, entirely private, pulled from the hard drive and which were never, ever published anywhere and I’m sure the employees on both sides of each letter had no idea their writings survived and just imagine waking up to that nightmare scenario.

Reconciliation did happen, and I did have conversations with a lot of people about it, and I definitely still harbor both the sadness at the initial event and the lost opportunities of six years of potential collaboration.

So then, what exactly am I doing here?


First, I tried to take lessons from the debacle of a half-decade-plus ago and implement them in a way that would protect people:

  • Removal/blacking out of personal information in the realm of addresses and phone numbers, that are surprisingly still intact to the present day;
  • Employee evaluations and specific medical information
  • Anything that might be construed as a personal attack, especially on a person not along the chain (name-calling against specific managers, or a parody gossip article naming two employees, the “parody” aspect possibly misconstrued in modern times)

Steve has been rather open with how he does his work, so there are things in there that I wouldn’t do if I hadn’t worked things out with Steve and gotten his opinion on what’s acceptable. For example, I left in a salary listing for Steve just because it’s both historically interesting and because I think if he had it on his computer, he’d make it part of a presentation at GDC. But only Steve gets that treatment in any way.

I worry about someone defending decisions made decades ago, with 20/20 hindsight applied by groupthink hive-mind perfection-oriented knowledge. I hope that doesn’t happen. People in this group range from early 20s to early 30s (with a few noted exceptions) and Infocom was often either their first job, or a completely crazy 90 degree change in career. They did what they did, and it came from competence and doing the right thing as they saw it. I don’t know if any of us could stand up to such scrutiny and get top marks across the board.

Beyond this, though, there’s the situation itself.

This is probably going to be the only time, outside of maybe Sierra and Broderbund, that this level of depth of the life cycle of a game company will ever end up online. And while I know there are archives of some game companies, I don’t believe any had the meticulousness that Steve showed in gathering up company work and management product and placing them into perfectly boxed-up folders indicating what aspect of the firm they were. We literally have the memos introducing the start of the sales team, company library and health insurance… and then the “we’re not doing so well”, the resignation letters, the calls to sell furniture and office supplies. It’s all in there.


It is my strongest belief that this collection will instruct, inform and change things in games, if only to show what situations have persisted for years, and what aspects are evolved from how things were. It’s hard, cold source material, unprettified and unsummarized, and showing something else: Just how fucking amazing Infocom was.

These were good people. Hardworking employees, creative geniuses, and driven towards the goal of being the best of the game companies. A place that people dreamed of being part of from the outside. A company that stood as doing all the right things, until it wasn’t doing the right things. A chance for people to figure out where the cracks showed, where the triumphs were, and where dreams were actually and truly formed and hewed on a daily basis. That’s pretty amazing.

Infocom alumni can e-mail me ( any time if they have concerns about something, or which I overlooked the nature of (I tried to be very careful about this and all the thousands of pages have been vetted by me personally – the buck stops here.) Naturally, the world at large can e-mail me too.

I should rush to say that the reaction on the part of everyone I’ve found has been 100% positive. I’m writing this not because someone complained, but because I saw in a potential scenario that angry and betrayed researcher I was so long ago with my friend (who is still, again, very much my friend) Andy. I know that the result is often not shouting but seething. That solves nothing. I wanted to get ahead of it.

For everyone else, please enjoy this rare and possibly unique peering into what is, ultimately, one of the high holy grails of gaming history.