Back in early February I began a study of Rob Swigart’s hypertext narrative Downtime, produced with Director and published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 2000. Rob had begun the work in the 80s when he was “doing tech writing for Apple” (5 Feb. 2020).
I own three copies of the work:
The 1st is dated June 15, 1999, was created with Director 6.5, and requires QT 3. It has a hand-produced label.
The 2nd is dated May 11, 2000. It is also created with Director 6.5 but requires QT 4.0.3. Someone used a marker to label the CD-ROM.
Finally, the 3rd is the version published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. and dated June 4, 2000. It is much like the previous copy, save a few less files. I haven’t dug in to see which files have been eliminated, but it seems to be some of the Windows files. All three versions are created for Macintosh Classic OS 9.0 and Windows 95, 98, and NT. I looked at it on both platforms and prefer the Mac. It is more compact and functions better.
One of the many aspects of Downtime I found interesting is the robust use of audio ––approximately 400-416 files are included in the work. Intrigued by this discovery, I tracked down Rob on LinkedIn. During our exchanges I learned that the programmer he worked with on the project was Patrick Milligan. With the email address Rob gave me, I began an email conversation with Patrick. He told me that Rob’s friend, Dan Shafer, started the programming, but later Dan turned the project over to Patrick, which was when he first met Rob. “Very little of Dan’s code survived the transition,” Patrick reported (3 Feb. 2020). He also said that “[t]he only technical issues I recall had to do with compressing the audio so that it fit on the CD-ROM but also sounded reasonable. Rob handled that aspect of the project, trying several different codecs to achieve the best sounding result” (3 Feb. 2020).
Later Rob verified that the three copies I own indeed constitutes three versions of his work. Then he mentioned that there is also an “audible version that is the same as the Eastgate, though obviously just audible” (Swigart, 1 Feb. 2020). This 4th version, published 16 May 2012, is still available at Audible as a download. Learning that I was interested in the physical artifact as well as the digital, Rob mailed me the seven sound files on DAT tapes marked “Original Masters.” He does not believe them to represent “all of the stories, but they are all [he has].” He mentioned that the “[l]abeling looks like it might have been the studio engineer whose name I don’t remember (mid 90s). I found a DAT recorder too but can’t get it open, even with new batteries. It’s been in the drawer for 20 years at least” (2 Feb. 2020).
My husband, John Barber, who is a sound artist, took the DAT files to a sound engineer friend in Portland to digitalize for me. The seven files amount to close to 300 gigabytes. It will take me a while to organize and upload them to Soundcloud. But when I finish these tasks, Version 4.0 of Downtime will make a fascinating study of media translation for Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 4.