The Magnetic Scrolls fact sheet

Here you can find all what we know about Magnetic Scrolls Ltd. and their works. This collected information originates mainly from third party sources, so it might contain errors and is certainly incomplete. For your reference you download a plain text version of the fact sheet.

Magnetic Scrolls was founded in 1983 by Ken Gordon and Anita Sinclair.
They started with an office in Eltham/South London and later moved to
1 Chapel Court
London SE1 1HH
England

From 1985-1989 their games were published by Rainbird, a label of British Telecomsoft. When Telecomsoft was bought by Microprose (UK) in early 1989, Magnetic Scrolls did not participate in the merger and took the distribution of the classic games in their own hands. They bought the remaining stock and distributed the games themselves through Inter-Mediates Ltd. until the stock was sold (see note, taken from Fish! box for the Archimedes). Here are some hints on identifying an Inter-Mediates release. During that time they found Virgin Games as the distributor for the upcoming Wonderland. When the company got defunct in 1992, Microprose bought up all the rights, but except for releasing the game "The Legacy" under the Magnetic Scrolls label, they never made any use of it. The rights on the games are held by Magnetic Scrolls Ltd. They reverted back to Anita Sinclair and Ken Gordon after some time without the games being published.

Magnetic Scrolls' era started with the release of QL-Pawn for the Sinclair QL in 1985. QL-Pawn was distributed by Sinclair Research.

Several years ago Ken Gordon has registered the domain
http://www.magneticscrolls.com
but it intenionally carried only the Magnetic Scrolls logo and got defunct some years ago.

A special member of the Magnetic Scrolls team was Murdoch, Anita Sinclair's bull terrier and in fact the corporate mascot.

In 1988 Infocom had actually planned to release the sequel to Douglas Adams' The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. When it became clear, that the inhouse development might fail due to the lack of ressources, one option discussed among the heads of Infocom was to hand over the development to Magnetic Scrolls. Eventually Infocom agreed on an internal solution, but because of the closure in early 1989 the game was never finished.

From 1985 to 1991 Magnetic Scrolls released seven games. Thrilling stories, a trailblazing parser and wonderful graphics made them a true competitor to Infocom and most probably the best and most successful European adventure game company. Like almost all text oriented game developers Magnetic Scrolls did not survive the start into the multimedia age.

The following list mainly describes the original Rainbird releases of the games. The later Inter-Mediates releases were shipped in the well-known Rainbird boxes, but normally they had a small label on them showing Inter- Mediates as the distributor. The included disks did not carry the Rainbird logo anymore and were just made as a white label with the Magnetic Scrolls logo, a copyright notice and the name of the game. Some (all?) Inter-Mediate packages also contained a short note rendering clear, that Rainbird was no longer the distributor and thus defective disks had to be sent back to Inter-Mediates. Since Magnetic Scrolls had only limited supplies and game props left, these packages sometimes contained reproduced materials (like game manuals with a black cover instead of the well-known blue ones).

The Apple2 and Macintosh versions were only released in North America and thus only available as imports throughout Europe.

The first game released by Magnetic Scrolls was QL-Pawn, the original version 1.0 of the later so popular The Pawn. QL-Pawn came on two micro drives that were enclosed within a micro drive wallet that was badged by Sinclair Research (size: 9.6 cm x 12 cm - 3.3/4" x 5.11/16"). A sleeve was also produced for the wallet along with an instruction booklet containing a short narrative to introduce the adventure. The game was text only, but it already had the powerful parser which was one of the basics for the success of Magnetic Scrolls. QL-Pawn also was the only Magnetic Scrolls game that was produced for the ill fated QL.

All the ports of QL-Pawn, then called "The Pawn" had version numbers 2.0 or higher.

Released: 1985
Distributed by: Firebird / Rainbird
Story: Rob Steggles
Graphics: Geoff Quilley
Programming: ?
Packaging: There are two different packages known, which can roughly be separated into "small banner" and "large banner" cover. The small banner version seem to be the early releases and are rarer than the large banner packages.
Size: 15.2 cm x 21.4 cm - 6" x 8.5"
Goodies authoring: A Tale of Kerovnia by Georgina Sinclair
Package contents: A tale of Kerovnia (there exist at least two versions of this novella. The second issue states "Version II" on the front page),
The Pawn Guide (platform dependent),
The Pawn Game play,
The Pawn poster,
Addendum,
Disc,
At least the early Atari ST versions contained a "STOP PRESS" indicating a minor bug in the online hint system (all ciphered answers must be terminated with CO)
Platforms: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Apple2, Archimedes, Atari ST, Atari XL/XE, Commodore 128/ 64, IBM-PC, Macintosh, Sinclair QL, Spectrum 128K, Spectrum +3
Known versions: 1.0 (QL-Pawn)
2.0 (Atari ST)
2.2 (Amiga)
2.3 (Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW,Archimedes, Atari XL, C64, Macintosh, IBM PC, Spectrum 128k)
2.4 (Spectrum +3)
Unknown versions: none
Addendum: The beautiful graphics were created with "Neochrome" on Atari ST.
Released: 1987
Distributed by: Firebird / Rainbird
Story: Rob Steggles
Graphics: Geoff Quilley, Tristan Humphries
Title picture: Duncan McLean
Programming: ?
Packaging: One known package (standard blue Rainbird box)
Size: 15.2 cm x 21.4 cm - 6" x 8.5"
Goodies authoring: What Burglar by Michael Bywater
Package contents: Bank of Kerovnia account card,
Die,
Magazine "What Burglar" (you could order another issue
of What Burglar from Magnetic Scrolls),
Kerovnia Guild of Thieves Discrete Entry And Removal
Operatives contract,
Adventure Guide,
Disc(s)/Tape(s)
Platforms: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Apple 2, Archimedes, Atari ST, Atari XL/XE, Commodore 64/128, IBM PC, Macintosh, Spectrum +3
Known versions: 1.0 (Atari XL, C64, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Apple 2)
1. 0 (Amiga, Atari ST, Macintosh)
1.1 (IBM PC)
1.3 (Archimedes, Spectrum +3 and Collection Vol. 1)
Unknown version: none
Released: 1987
Distributor: Firebird / Rainbird
Story: Georgina Sinclair, Michael Bywater
Graphics: ?
Programming: ?
Package: One known package (standard blue Rainbird box)
Size: 15.2 cm x 21.4 cm - 6" x 8.5"
designed by Michael Bywater
Goodies authoring: Michael Bywater
Package contents: Magazine "The Independent Guardian",
Staff Memo,
Adventure Guide,
Beer mat "Old Moose Bolter",
Disk(s)/Tape(s)
Platforms: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Apple 2, Archimedes, Atari ST, Atari XL/XE, Commodore 64/128, IBM PC, Macintosh, Spectrum +3
Known versions: 1.01 (Amiga)
1.05 (Amiga, Apple 2, Atari ST, C64, IBM PC, Spectrum +3,
Amstrad PCW)
1.1 (IBM PC)
1.2 (Amiga)
1.22 (Atari XL, Macintosh, Amstrad CPC)
1.3 (Archimedes)
Unknown version:
none
Addendum: There exist at least three variants of the "Old Moose Bolter".
During development, the game was named "Green Magic".
Released: 1988
Distributor: Firebird / Rainbird
Story: Rob Steggles, Hugh Steers
Music: John Molloy
Graphics: Alan Hunnisett, Richard Selby
Title picture: Duncan McLean
Programming: Hugh Steers
Packaging: At least two different packages are known: A standard blue Rainbird box whose extents were smaller than the blue boxes before and a larger white box which was distributed on the US market.
Sizes:
European Box: 15.2 cm x 18.3 cm - 6" x 7.25"
U.S. Box: 17.8 cm x 23.9 cm - 7" x 9"
Goodies: Michael Bywater, Martin Atkinson, Damon Jones, Richard Cubison
Package contents: Tape "Derek Rogers, March 25th",
Casino chip 500,
Adventure Guide,
Gameplay guide,
Hint section,
Guide to casino games,
Personal organizer pages,
Disc(s)/Tape(s)
Platforms: Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Apple 2, Archimedes, Atari ST, Commodore 64, Macintosh, IBM PC, Spectrum +3
Known versions: 1.09. (Atari ST)
1.11. (Amiga, Apple 2, C64, Macintosh, MS DOS, Amstrad CPC, Spectrum +3)
1.12. (Archimedes and Collection Vol. 1)
Unknown version: Amstrad PCW
Addendum: Normally the game releases came with two different guides:
One for the technical aspects like game loading and one gameplay guide. The Archimedes release only had one guide covering both topics.
Some sources tell that the working title was "Upon Westminster Bridge", but thusiss unconfirmed. This might refer to a different game in development.
Released: 1988
Distributor: Firebird / Rainbird
Story: John Molloy, Pete Kemp, Phil South, Rob Steggles
Graphics: Geoff Quilley, Alan Hunnisett, Chris Kent, Richard Selby, Tristan Humphries
Title picture: Duncan McLean
Music: John Molloy
Programming: Richard Huddy, Bob Coles
Packaging: At least two different packages are known: A blue Rainbird box which was sized like the Corruption box, but it was printed "landscape" and also a larger box which was distributed on the US market (printed in portrait format). The US package calls the game just "Fish" (without the exclamation mark).
European Box: 17.9 cm x 15.1 cm - 7.1/16" x 5.15/16"
U.S. Box: 17.8 cm x 23.9 cm - 7" x 9"
Goodies: John Molloy
Package contents: One week travel card - Hydropolis Underground Omnibus Company,
Fish identification chart,
"How to take care for your fish",
"The 7 Deadly Fins - Project" files including hints and Gameplay guide,
Adventure guide (platform dependent),
Disc(s)/Tape(s)
Platforms: Amiga, Amstrad PCW, Apple 2, Archimedes, Atari ST, Commodore 64/128, Macintosh, IBM PC, Spectrum +3
Known versions: 1.00 (Atari ST)
1.02 (IBM PC)
1.03 (Amiga, Spectrum +3)
1.07 (C-64)
1.08 (Archimedes)
1.10 (Collection Vol. 1)
Unknown version: Amstrad PCW, Apple 2, Macintosh
This game was only available as a welcome present in the UK adventure club Official Secrets and never released to the public. It is rather rare and often goes for several hundred dollars on auctions. The game itself is much shorter than the other Magnetic Scrolls' games and contains only four graphics while the other games have about 30. Official Secrets was founded by Tony Rainbird (also founder of the British Telecommunications' label Rainbird).

Released: 1989
Distributor: Firebird / Rainbird
Story: Paul Findley
Graphics: Geoff Quilley, Tristan Humpries, Chris Kent
Programming: ?
Packaging: The game was shipped in a rather simple card folder, printed in b/w.
Size: 14.4 cm x 14.4 cm - 5.5/8" x 5.5/8"
Platforms: Amiga, Amstrad PCW, Atari ST, Commodore 64/128, IBM PC, Spectrum+3
Package contents: Installation and Adventure guide,
Disc/Tape
Known versions: 1.0. (Amiga, Atari ST, C64, IBM PC)
Unknown version: Amstrad PCW, Spectrum+3
This game introduced the "Magnetic Windows" system, featuring an graphical user interface and a slightly enhanced interpreter.

Released: 1990
Distributor: Virgin Mastertronic
Story: David Bishop
Graphics: Alan Hunnisett, Chris Kent, Geoff Quilley, and Anna Williams
Music: Michael Powell
Programming: Bob Coles, Paul Findley, Ken Gordon, Richard Huddy, Steve Lacey, Doug Rabson, Anita Sinclair, Hugh Steers, and Mark Taylor
Packaging: They published at least two different packages, again one for the European and one for the US market. Both packages were similiar in design, however the color scheme and the fonts were different. The US box came in two flavours of identical size: A slipcase box and and a two-piece-box.
European Box: 18.3 cm x 23 cm - 7.25" x 9"
U.S. Box: 17.8 cm x 23 cm - 7" x 9"
Platforms: Amiga, Archimedes, Atari ST, IBM PC
Package contents: 66-page user guide,
Wonderland poster,
Map,
Quick reference guide,
Voucher for single-sided disk set (Atari ST),
Discs
Known versions: 1.21 (IBM PC)
1.27 (Amiga, Archimedes, Atari ST)
Addendum: Wonderland was later released on CD-Rom for IBM PC. It was also part of UbiSoft's Fantastic Worlds compilation. The game version is in both cases identical to the disk version.
This release contains renewed and partly enhanced versions of "The Guild of Thieves", "Corruption" and "Fish!" running in the new Magnetic Windows system.

Released: 1991
Distributor: Virgin Mastertronic
Story, Graphics, and Programming: refer to Fish!, Corruption, The Guild of Thieves
Packaging: Two known boxes of the same size as the Wonderland box, one for the European market, one for the U.S. market. The colouring ist very similar, however the box extents are slightly different.
European Box: 18 cm x 23 cm - 7.1/16" x 9"
U.S. Box: 20.4 cm x 23 cm - 8" x 9"
Platforms: Amiga, Archimedes, Atari ST, IBM PC
Package contents: "Getting started",
92-page manual,
Quick reference guide,
Poster map (The Guild of Thieves),
Fish identification chart (Fish!),
Page from personal organizer and tape "Derek Rogers,
March 25th" (Corruption),
Discs
Addendum: The Collection was later also released on CD-Rom for IBM PC. The game version is identical to the disk version.
A second "Collection" with the other three classics (The Pawn, Jinxter, Myth) running under the new Magnetic Windows system was in the making. The implementation was mainly done by Paul Findley while the management was done by Ken Gordon. Since the development of The Legacy had already started and Ken worked at Microprose in Tetbury while Paul was working in London, the management was not all that easy. So the second collection never got completely finished although it was well underway.
This horror RPG game was the last game of Magnetic Scrolls released by Microprose in 1993. Several ex-Magnetic Scrolls employees worked on it with Ken Gordon being the lead programmer. The box contained a manual, a Player's Guide and seven 3.5"-disks. It was released in slightly different boxes for the European and the the US market. The game interface was based upon the Magnetic Windows system.

Released: 1993
Distributed by: Microprose
Packaging: Two known boxes of the same size, one for the European market, one for the U.S. market. The colouring is slightly different and the fonts differ.
Package contents: Manual,
Hard disc installation guide,
Discs
Platforms: IBM PC
Known versions: 1.154 (IBM PC)
Addendum: An Amiga version was in the making, but never released. In the U.S. the game was also available as a special collector's edition from Radioshack. There is a small speaker inside the box that makes a creaking noise when the box is opened.
* The Magnetic Scrolls Collection contains the following versions of the three classic games: Guild of Thieves: 1.3 Corruption: 1.12. Fish!: 1.10
The Inter-Mediates boxes that Magnetic Scrolls sold after the Telecomsoft buyout differ in several aspects from the original Rainbird releases. Since the Inter-Mediates boxes do not necessarily show all these characteristics, they can not be more than indicators:

  • The box has a sticker on the backside reading:
    Magnetic Scrolls
    c/o Inter-Mediates Ltd
    2 South Block
    The Maltings
    Sawbridgeworth
    Herts. CM21 9PG
  • The game disk has a white label carrying the Magnetic Scrolls logo, the name of the game, the target platform and a copyright notice which is (normally?) dated to 1989, also for the earlier released games.
  • The game boxes are often relabeled. The orginal sticker with the target platform is pasted over with a new white sticker.
  • A note explaining the change in distribution and a demand not to return defective disks to Rainbird, but Inter-Mediates instead.
  • The game manuals are sometimes reproductions. These reprinted manuals have a black coloured cover instead of the original blue.
  • Game feelies, especially the hard-to-reproduce ones, might be missing, e.g. the die of The Guild of Thieves or the beer mat of Jinxter.
Magnetic Scrolls/Rainbird shipped the games with a manual called "Adventure Guide" that contained the platform-specific instructions to run and play the games. These guides were independed from the actual game and shipped unchanged or only slightly changed with all the classic games. The one exception is The Pawn which partially seems to have had its own batch of manuals. In contrast to the later manuals these were not called "Adventure Guide" but just "The Pawn ... guide".

Somewhere noted on these manuals is a small id number. These numbers correspond to the follwing manuals (list is incomplete):

The Pawn Technical Guides
No ID Atari ST
E1012 Amiga
E1013 Macintosh
E1014 Commodore 64
E1015 Amstrad CPC
E1016 Atari XL/XE
E1017 Amstrad PCW


Adventure Guides:
K612 Spectrum 128k
K630 Atari ST
K6309 Atari ST (German version)
K630 Amiga
K6319 Amiga (German version)
K632 Macintosh
K633 Commodore 64
K633F Commodore 64 (French version)
K633G Commodore 64 (German version)
K634 Amstrad 6128
K634G Amstrad 6128 (German version)
K635 Atari 800XL/Atari 130XE
K635G Atari 800XL/Atari 130XE (German version)
K636 Amstrad PCW
K637 IBM PC
K639 Apple 2
K640 Spectrum 128k/+3
K10720 Archimedes (Corruption "Key guide")
K10311 Amiga
K11120 Archimedes
  • Major parts of the games were implemented with a tool called FRED. Mainly Fred was a data entry tool which was used to store the descriptions of objects, rooms and NPCs and describe the properties of each object (e.g. weight, movable, burnable, container,...). Each object had a 14 byte descriptor block. For The Pawn Fred 23 was used, the later games were done with Fred 23junior, which were both developed by Hugh Steers. In several games magazines (e.g. the german Happy Computer) FRED was incorrectly denoted as a "language".
  • Eventually this game code was compiled into an intermediate code called ELTHAM (Extra Low Tech Highly Ambiguous Methodology or alternativly Extra Low Tech Highly Ambiguous Metacode).
  • The ELTHAM code implemented a subset of the 68000 machine code. It was executed "natively" on ST, Amiga, QL, Macintosh and emulated on the other systems. The virtual machine used up to 64k. On 8 bit machines they used virtual memory mechanisms. On the C64 non-active pages were held on the floppy disc. Only "read-only" pages were swapped.
  • In contrast to the Infocom games the stack is part of the 64k.
  • Except for The Pawn, the game text is stored externally. It is encoded with Huffmann algorithm.
  • The pictures of the 16bit ports are RLE encoded.
  • Except for The Pawn the game dictionary is stored externally. With The Pawn it is stored plainly within the 64k segment.
  • Due to the emulation the game itself is not aware of the environment it is using. The communication between emulation and real system is done through LINE_A commands.
  • The I/O model is quite simple. It just supports streams for input and output and routines for drawing the images. The output is much more limited than for example the Infocom output. However the simple I/O model has huge adventages when porting the games to new operating systems.
  • With Wonderland and the Collection the communication between emulation and real system was heavily enhanced. The 64K limit disappeared. This was used to add new features to the games, e.g. the FIND (object) command in Fish!
  • The disc protection for the Atari ST (which could only be copied with ACopy 1.2p) was realized through a BBC Micro. The ST and the BBC used different floppy controllers. The copy protection relied on some special features of the BBC controller to write sector numbers > 0xF0. Those sectors could be read with the ST floppy controller, but normally it was impossible to write the format, because these sector numbers were treated as "magic". Though a BBC Micro should not have any problems with making copies of the discs.
The games are long out of print and not available through "standard" channels anymore.

One alternative are the numerous online auctions like ebay or yahoo. Magnetic Scrolls' games come up there occasionally. However, sometimes the prices that are payed there are beyond rational, so you might prefer to check "Classic game specialists" first. There is a well-known seller (see 5.[3]) with reasonable pricing.
In 1997 Niclas Karlsson has published the first release of his Magnetic interpreter. This original release supported all the "classic" games including support for the wonderful graphics from the Atari ST. Later this version was extended with support for the title screens and the title music. In December 2000 the second major release Magnetic 2.0 was made available to the public (written by Niclas Karlsson, David Kinder, Stefan Meier, and Paul David Doherty), now with support for the Magnetic Windows games including the animated graphics. In March 2003 Magnetic 2.2 was released which came with support for the online hints of the Magnetic Windows games. The latest version of Magnetic is 2.3, which was released in September 2008. It adds support for the ingame music scores of Wonderland that were originally included with the Amiga, Atari ST, and PC versions. Magnetic has been ported to a variety of platforms. You can find the Magnetic ports at the Magnetic Scrolls Memorial (5.[1]), the development project page at Sourceforge (5.[5]) and the IF Archive (5.[6]). The interpreter requires the game data and the image data in a proprietary format. Magnetic comes with several tools helping you in extracting the data from your original discs. Alternatively, you can download pre built files from the Memorial pages (Please keep in mind that downloading any of the game files is technically speaking illegal if you do not own the appropriate originals of the games). The following table provides you with a short overview of the features supported by the various ports. All versions support the classic games. If a field is marked "-" the feature is not supported. If support is introduced in a specific version, that version number is indicated. Generally, it is recommended to use the latest available version for your desired platform. If a particular option is set in braces, it might be functional according to the documentation of the port, but it is unconfirmed.
(*) Magnetic interpreter is part of Kronos package. (#) Interpreter features are partially implemented using web standards and thus are not using the normal interpreter data files, e.g. for graphics.
If you have an option to transfer your original floppy disc to a newer machine like a PC, you can probably run the game under one of the many emulators. The games are more or less supported on many of them. Some ports of the Magnetic Scrolls games used advanced programming techniques on the various platforms, e.g. the title screens on the Atari ST were displayed in a non-standard graphics mode (requiring an emulator which supports these modes like Pacifist) or the extensive use of the floppy disc processor on the C64 (requiring an advanced floppy emulation, e.g. in Frodo). Enumerating the various emulators is beyond the scope of this document, but a good emulation starting point is at 5.[4]. Besides there are some guides available for running Magnetic Scrolls games on selected emulator at 5.[1].
Please refer to the Links section.
Many people from all over the place provided me with information about Magnetic Scrolls. A big Thank you to all of them. Some special thanks for exhaustive help and sharing their memories go to (in random order):   Paul David Doherty, Stefan Jokisch, Niclas Karlson, Rob Steggles, John Molloy, David Kinder, Michael Bywater, Anita Sinclair, Roddy Pratt, Richard Hewison, Peter Verdi, Matthias Bücher, Ken Gordon
2016-05-11 Minor corrections
2015-10-16 Added Amiga Jinxter 1.2 to versions table
Fixed some formatting errors
2015-10-08 Added several adventure guides and technical guides
Removed wrong entry about Kerovnia map
2015-08-15 PCW game version of Pawn, GoT, Jinxter
Added Magnetic Scripts
Minor additions and corrections
2014-01-20 Game manual id for Atari XL (engl.)
Added Jinxter 1.2 Amiga version
2013-10-22 Minor updates to Magnetic section
Game manual IDs
2010-11-13 Minor addtitions to The Legacy and Corruption
2010-04-15 Minor corrections (Thanks Maddes!)
2010-03-27 Minor corrections
2009-05-07 Expanded Legacy chapter
Note about legal rights
2009-02-02 Fixed founding year and Collection v2 info
The Legacy part rewritten
2008-11-01 Fixed a lot of spelling and formatting errors (Thanks to Matthias Bücher!)
2008-10-26 Added two-piece-box of Wonderland
2008-10-13 Added Spectrum+3 version of Myth
Minor corrections
2008-09-08 Updated Magnetic part to release 2.3
Minor corrections
2008-07-19 Added Amstrad PCW releases
Minor corrections
2008-07-11 Details about Inter-Mediates boxes
2008-04-28 Inter-Mediates Kerovnia map
Minor corrections
2008-04-22 Version of Wonderland for Archimedes added
2008-04-21 Fixed YOIS link
"Restaurant" story
MS Chronicles Website
Removed MS Gallery link
CDRom-Versions
Fixed paragraph numbering
Release overview
Renamed MS-DOS to IBM PC
Jinxter 1.01 version
Collection US box
Box sizes
2008-04-05 Renamed "Legacy" to "The Legacy"
Added note on variants of "Old Moose Bolter"
Fish note
2008-04-03 Inter-Mediates notes
Release note for Apple2 and Mac versions
Renamed Schneider CPC to Amstrad CPC
Update JMagnetic notes
Archimedes Corruption note
Minor corrections
2007-07-15 Minor corrections
2007-06-16 Updated Magnetic section
Specific game versions added
Minor corrections
New contact address
2003-12-30 Updated Magnetic section, links
2003-08-22 Added some notes about FRED (provided by Rob Steggles)
Removed link to Software and More (only selling on ebay now)
2003-03-27 Magnetic 2.2 update, fixed some typos
2002-07-11 First release