The Archivist Speaks ... [9]

A look at the V2_archive on occasion of the premiere of the interactive film 'Order' at V2_.

On January 27th the interactive feature film Order by Oliver Otten will be premiered at V2_. This made me think of some of the earlier 'attempts' at making interactive film.

Quite recently I put up a couple of descriptions of 'interactive' CD-roms from the 1990s which I found more or less 'hidden' in the archive database. They were there because they had been presented at events like Wiretap 1.04  - The Electric Book and  Wiretap 5.13 - Story-boards for Interactive Media. Others had been 'on show' at a Digital Dive at DEAF, or been part of a workshop like CD foROM,  in a time when playing a CD-rom was something most people could not do at home. (There was certainly no easy possibility to copy the CD-rom and burn a copy for yourself).

At the time a lot was made of the possibilities of this new medium, and a host of innovative-minded designers and young talents turned their attention to it. This was the time of Bob Stein's Voyager disks (only for the Mac) – like Laurie Anderson's Puppet Motel. Voyager published their first CD-Rom in 1989 and went bankrupt in 1997. Their demise was something like the end of the 'interactive CD-rom' as follow-up to the illustrated book. Nevertheless interesting work was produced in those years. Two examples that I imagine still stand the test of time are Scrutiny in the Great Round and Blam!. Whereas WAXweb, the 'hypermedia'-version of David Blair's WAX or the discovery of television among the bees, simply deservers mentioning because it has been online since 1994. It is not a CD-rom, but for years was considered one of the prime examples of interactive non-linear narrative.

The growing possibilities of the World Wide Web took away a lot of the energy from the 'medium' of the interactive CD-rom, which in retrospect almost seems a stillborn medium. Interactive narrative became the domain of games. Art never took well to the CD-rom, and for the rest the CD became an 'extra', just a storage disk with interative features that in principle could also be found online. A third area in which some of the 'artistic energy' that was invested in interactive CD-roms was played out, is interactive Flash movies.

Though the CD-roms from the 1990s are on the shelves in a cupboard at V2_ – unplayable on new computers, you'll have to fire up one of those old Mac Performa's – the first thing I did when checking the information, was a quick google-search. In many cases not much came up – sometimes not more than an orphaned entry at Amazon. I also found pages that looked like parts of forgotten websites on the VPRO-server, looking for information on Virtual Conversation. (Amongst the people who worked on that were Taco Stolk, Bert Mulder, and a very young Gideon Kiers).

I wonder if we have a good account of those years. In the Netherlands we had the first websites of V2_ and Mediamatic, and all the activity a the digital 'attic' of the VPRO. My guess is that people have the remains of it on old harddisks: saved copies of simple websites, Director-files, maybe even Hypercard-stacks. Some of the organizations Sometimes pages are even still online, but hard to find, and only partly functional. (There are some such 'forgotten' things at v2.nl as well).

I did not do an awful lot of research into this area. It might be that I simply missed the website of the researcher or enthusiast of early interactive CD-roms, which gives a full account of these times, still I was surprised at the small amount of information that I (quickly) found, and how scattered it is.

Btw: I think it's great to find pages like this one: web.media.mit.edu/~minsky/Voyager.html.

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