“Experiencing the Garden, Again”
By Dene Grigar


Austin Gohl, Andrew Thompson, Arlo Ptolemy, & Holly Slocum studying Victory Garden in the Electronic Literature Lab


Since January 2022 the Electronic Literature Lab (ELL) has been busy doing many reconstruction projects aimed at preserving early interactive media. One of them is Stuart Moulthrop’s hypertext novel Victory Garden, published by Eastgate Systems, Inc. in 1991. Over its 30 year history the work has gone through numerous updates of its software and packaging, the last one in 2002––what I call “Version 4.0 CD-ROM for Macintosh and Windows Computers.” Unfortunately, that version was rendered inaccessible to Macintosh computers in 2007 when Apple upgraded to MacOS x 10.5 (Leopard). And of course, today a CD-ROM drive is no longer a common feature of computers. So, for the last 15 years, Victory Garden has not been easy to access. That said, a study I did for a chapter about the work for Rebooting Electronic Literature Volume 3 shows that since its publication, the novel has been the subject of 100 books, essays, and theses and dissertations, close to 40% of these from 2007-2020 when the work has not been easy to experience (Grigar, “The Persistence of Genius”). It is this ongoing popularity of the novel that has served as the impetus for the lab to undertake “Victory Garden 2022,” or more formally “Version 5.0 Archival Web Version.” 

The project is managed by ELL’s Arlo Ptolemy, who is also handling bug testing and other QA activities; Austin Gohl, who as Web Designer is producing the archival website hosting the work; Andrew Thompson, who is working with Stuart to code and style the output Stuart is producing  from the original Storyspace software via Tinderbox as open web languages; and Holly Slocum, who doing the design work for the updated logo and interface. Along with those four primary team members and Stuart, I’m handling the copywriting for the archival website, and Greg Philbrook is managing the server and files associated with the work.

As you can see from the image to the left, Austin has completed prototyping the archival website in Adobe XD using art that Stuart has supplied and Holly’s excellent interface design, not to mention Andrew’s maze pattern. Arlo reported at the weekly ELL Team meeting last Monday that Victory Garden will be ready early this April. This means that we will be ready to launch the project in time for the Electronic Literature Organization Conference in late May. 

Mariusz Pisarski and I are working on a book that addresses, in part, the migration of early interactive media into new formats for the purpose of preservation. The work ELL is doing to preserve Victory Garden will figure in it, primarily because there is much to be said about the way in which it is translated into across platforms and formats to achieve some semblance of the original in the new presentation of the work.

For example, this hypertext novel consisting of 993 lexias and 2804 links, which is as Raine Kosimaa points out far outstrips the sizes of Michael Joyce’s afternoon: a story (539 lexias and 951 links) and Shelley Jackson’s Patchwork Girl (323 lexias and 462 links) took over five minutes to load on the Macintosh Classic II in 1991. I often quip that I would click the launcher icon and depart to the kitchen to make a pot of coffee before the work finally loaded and was ready to read. This level of patience is no longer needed (or desired) in the age of 4G technology. Added to the expectation of speed is the assumption of color. in its original iteration Victory Garden sported black and white (and shades of gray in between). The 2022 version will offer many full-color images, like those of the character Emily seen in the prototype. In fact, with hues of sand figuring as a dominant color scheme, the palette for Version 5.0 has been devised to underscore the atmosphere of the story, which is set during the First Gulf War.

High pixel density has made the contemporary web audience accustomed to crisp images, and so the bitmapped images used for graphics and maps in the Storyspace versions of the work have been updated for the web. The logo itself, which suggests the Borgesian labyrinth that Stuart so often discusses in his theory of hypertext and is addressed directly in the story’s title (re: Borges’ “Garden of Forking Paths”), maintains the style of the original but sharpens the borders for high resolution display. Even aspects of Victory Garden‘s original packaging, like the photo of the author, critical praise, and publishing information, is maintained on the website so that this new version is tied inextricably to the original.

While loading speed, color, resolution, and packaging may seem trivial in comparison to the code underlying the work, they and other features contribute greatly to our experience and, so, should not be taken lightly. Much of what we are experimenting with in ELL is this very issue. The question we seek to answer with Victory Garden and other projects (like migrating Annie Grosshans’ “The World Is Not Done Yet” out of Adobe Muse, Richard Holeton’s Figurski at Findhorn on Acid from Storyspace, and updating Deena Larsen’s “Kanji Kus,” produced in iFrames and with Java Applets) is: What is the best way to preserve interactive media that takes into account the human experience with the work? Maybe Stuart’s hypertext novel may lead us to victory.