Versioning Rob Swigart’s Down Time
As Holly was updating the metadata for the ELO Repository, she realized that there were different CD-ROMs called Down Time held in the various collections. Upon closer inspection, she guessed that they were not copies but rather potential versions of Rob Swigart’s interactive narrative and asked me to look over them. And, of course, she was right.
Versioning born digital literature is something I love to do and have been doing officially since working on the chapter about Judy Malloy’s Uncle Roger (1986-2014) for Pathfinders. Curious about a work that has endured close to 30 years of technological upgrades to hardware and software, I set off on a journey to determine just exactly how many versions she produced to sustain its accessibility to the public (The answer is seven).
First, I visited The Judy Malloy Papers held at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library at Duke University and went through the archives associated with the work, an activity that involved scouring through six boxes of materials (Re: Boxes 2, 3, 9, 13, 14, and 25). Because I wanted to see the 5.25-inch floppy disk of Uncle Roger and other materials belonging to Malloy held at MoMA’s Library, I journeyed to NYC and went through its collection. That experience provided me with the opportunity to see the emulation of Uncle Roger produced by the Media Conservation Team. A lot of time was also spent conversing with Malloy via email and reading the many interviews and articles about the work. To get a better understanding of the 5.25-inch floppy disk for PCs, a rare item indeed, I contacted my colleague Lori Emerson at the Media Archaeology Lab at the University of Colorado Boulder who owns a copy of it, asking her for screen shots and information about it. I examined the 5.25-inch floppy disk for the Apple IIe held in my own collection, contextualizing it within the others I had seen. My sleuthing even uncovered an analog art work that Malloy produced while she was in the midst of creating the digital versions. Results of this undertaking were published in the book, Traversals (The MIT Press, 2017).
Since then I have versioned many other works of born digital literature, most recently Stephanie Strickland’s True North and Tim McLaughlin’s Notes Toward Absolute Zero, publishing the results in Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 2. Those two, like Malloy’s, involved a work expressed as both digital and analog media––and in the case of McLaughlin’s, the analog media entailed three different approaches to an artist’s book.
Swigart’s Down Time has proven to be just as satisfying to work with. Here are my preliminary findings. I am still waiting for my copy of the Audible version that Rob alerted me to in one of our many conversations.
Version 1.0 CD-ROM with home-made label, dated June 15, 1999; produced with Macromedia Director 6.5 and Quicktime 3; subtitled: “Tales of the Computer Age by Rob Swigart”
I opened this CD-ROM on my iMac G4 (“Lampshade”) computer, circa 2002-2004, running Classic OS 9.2; it also opened on my Compaq PC running Windows 98 but its performance was spotty. The CD-ROM contains three files and three folders:
- DownTime: Macromedia file, version 6.5, dated June 9, 1999
- Quicktime 3: Folder containing software for 1) Macintosh, dated May 11, 1999 and 2) Windows 95, 98 and NT, dated May 11, 1999
- Xtras: 15 files, created May 26, 1997-May 20, 1999
- Media: folder, containing 13 files and 2 folders: The “Audio” folder found in the Media folder has 416 files—one more than Version 2.0 and are dated October 5, 1998-January 8, 1999. The “Video” folder has the same number of files as Version 2.0 and are dated from October 4-5, 1998. All of the files not in folders are dated from November 24, 1998-June 9, 1999.
After examining all of the files associated with this version, I determined that production took place from May 26, 1997 to June 9, 1999.
Version 2.0 CD-ROM, hand-lettered by programmer, “Down Time” “with QuickTime 4.0.3” “5/11/00;” produced with Macromedia Director 6.5 and QT 4.0.3
This CD-ROM opened on my Performa PowerPC 5215 CD running System 7.6, but I could not run it because the computer was missing the requisite version of Quicktime. It did, however, open and perform well on my iMac G4 (“Lampshade”) computer, circa 2002-2004, running Classic OS 9.2; it also opened on my Compaq PC running Windows 98 but its performance was spotty.
It contains 4 files and 3 folders (one more than Version 1.0, with the additional file being “QT3Mix.dll”)
- Down Time: Macromedia file, version 6.5, dated June 9, 1999
- DownTime.exe: Dated June 9, 1999
- DownTime.ini: Dated April 7, 2000
- Media: folder, dated May 9, 2000 and containing 13 files and 2 folders, dated from November 24, 1998-June 10, 1999: Audio (folder): 415 .mov files created September 25-26, 1999
- QT3Mix.dll: Dated July 13, 1998
- Quicktime: Folder, dated April 6, 2000, containing 2 folders, one each for Macintosh and Win 95-98-NT
- Xtras: Folder, dated October 25, 1998, containing 15 files, created May 20-27, 1999
I surmised that the production of this version began a day after the previous version and occurred from November 24, 1998 to June 10, 1999.
Version 3.0 CD-ROM, “The Eastgate Version,” created with Director 6.5 and Quicktime 4.0.3
This is the version published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 2000. The CD-ROM contains four items: 1 file (the Macromedia Director file) and 3 folders (Xtras, Media, and Quicktime 4.0.3). This is two less than Version 1.0 and three less than Version 2.0.
The “Media Folder” contains the same 15 items as the previous versions. The “Audio” folder contains 400 items—2 less than Version 1.0 and 1 less than Version 2.0. The “Video” folder contains the same 5 files as previous versions.
The Audio files are dated from September 25, 1999-October 2, 1999. The Video files are dated from October 5, 1998-April 29, 2000. All files not in folders are dated November 24, 1998-June 4, 2000. Thus, I surmised that the production of this work took place from October 5, 1998 to June 4, 2000.
Version 4.0 “The Audible Version,” dated 16 March 2012; 5 hours/14 minutes
4.1 Five CD-ROMs
4.2 Download from Audible, https://www.audible.com/search?searchNarrator=Rob+Swigart
The conversation I had with the work’s programmer Patrick Milligan revealed much useful information. First and foremost, he addressed the issue of the 400+ audio files, which had surprised me, reporting that “compressing [them] so that [they] fit on the CD-ROM but also sounded reasonable” was the “only technical issue” he remembered having with the work. He also said that he did much of the programming in Lingo, Director’s language, as well as “Xtras for dealing with File I/O, Dialog boxes, QuickTime support and Shockwave Audio. Xtras were plug-in applications that provided extensibility to Director” (4 Feb. 2020). When I asked him about why The Eastgate Version had not been built in OSX since it had already been released, he responded that
“Mac OS X 10.0 (aka “Cheetah”) was released on March 24, 2001. A public beta of Mac OS X (aka “Kodiak”) had been released prior, on September 13, 2000. At the time we created Downtime, I don’t recall any discussion with Rob about supporting Mac OS X. We were dependent on Macromedia (publisher of Director) to create a version of Director that supported Mac OS X. My guess is that we would have done a version for Mac OS X if the sales of Downtime warranted it.” (3 Feb. 2020)
Curious about which Mac he used when programming Down Time, he said it was one running ClassicOS but could not remember which particular computer it was. “It’s been years since I tried to power up one of my PowerMac laptops,” he said.
In my conversations with Rob, I learned about the Audible version, which I had no previous knowledge about. He said he would send me a copy of this version for the lab.