The Electronic Literature Organization
In 1999 I was a founding member and Secratary of the board of the Electronic Literature Organization, which has been promoting reading, writing, and publishing in electronic media ever since. The organization has grown up. I continue to support their work.
Hypertexts and Games
In the 1980s I wrote technical user manuals for Apple Computer among other companies, but I had the most fun designing and scripting computer games.
My dream project was Portal, which came out in 1986. I had thought, since writing The Time Trip, that computers would make an interesting medium for storytelling — interactive, dynamic, immersive and technical.
Portal was a real interactive novel on disk and designed from the beginning as a computer experience. The conceit was that the user is an astronaut returned to Earth after a failed mission. He or she finds the planet empty of people and one tiny cursor blinking on an abandoned terminal…. Waking up the Worldnet (an imagined internet before there was such a thing) and puzzling out the story of what happened to mankind was the goal. Though this was in no way a game, Activision, the publisher, utterly failed to understand this. Portal was later published in hard copy (see Books).
About Time two parallel stories, one about a contemporary business guru who tries to prove there was a migration from Australia to the western hemisphere many tens of thousands of years ago, and the other about the family of Australian Aborigines who actually did it. This is a satire on pundits and pop archaeology. Unfortunately it requires Flash, which is very, very dead, so there is no sound or animation. De mortuis nihil nisi bonum. Still, you can experience it in silence.
Directions was an extended Hypercard poem. The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext, volume 1 number 4. Unfortunately bit-rot has set in and Hypercard is no longer a viable platform, so Directions has gone the way of the pterosaur. Or About Time. Or any computer game, experimental fiction, Director, Flash and many other now languishing standards. This is the price of progress. We may be encouraged, though, that some art is meant to be evanescent, and to fade away without a trace.
Down Time was a CDROM of short stories, narrated, with excellent music by electronic composer Alan Strange. There were some interesting navigation features in the original. Coded in Director and published by Eastgate Systems in 2000, it is no longer readable. The audio book version remains available from audible.com, Amazon, or iTunes.
I worked on several other computer games during the 1980s besides Portal (though I always said it was a new kind of experience and not a game). One project I worked on was an underground tunneling adventure called Hacker, certainly one of the first 3D experiences on computer. Here are a couple of others, all equally extinct.
Murder on the Mississippi was one of my favorite scripts, a riverboat filled with eccentric characters, a murder, and the clock ticking before landfall at the next stop, when the murderer would get away. I worked on a remote terminal at home connected to a PDP11.
L.A. Crackdown, the last game Epyx did before it went out of business, was another I scripted. I disclaim all responsibility for the company’s demise. It was about surveillance, well before Homeland Security.
© 2020 Rob Swigart