At the beginning of April 2016 Peter Verdi's Magnetic Scrolls Chronicles website went offline. So far all my attempts to contact Peter failed. His site carried some invaluable interviews with former Magnetic Scrolls people. To preserve the work I temporarily uploaded a dump of his site taken in summer of 2015. All you can see below is 100% Peter's work! Hopefully his site will reappear soon! Peter, if you read this, can you contact me?

Remember how it's like to ride on a cloud? How it feels to be squashed by a bus, or how to get that damned gold disc from Micky? Well, here's your chance to relive all these situations.

Have a chat with the devil in THE PAWN, ransack an entire island in THE GUILD OF THIEVES, restore luck itself to a whole country in JINXTER, uncover a conspiracy in CORRUPTION, become an inter-dimensional secret agent in FISH!, an ancient god in MYTH, walk in the footsteps of Alice in WONDERLAND and inherit a haunted mansion in THE LEGACY.
Become a part of the fantasy of Magnetic Scrolls - you certainly won't regret it . . .


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Fish!'n (Micro)Chips - an Interview with Peter Kemp (page 2)


Had you heard of Magnetic Scrolls before your time working there?
No. I met Anita (Sinclair) and Ken (Gordon) via John Molloy. As I remember, I was visiting John one time when we took a detour to meet Anita. (I can't remember the reason.) This was the early days of Magnetic Scrolls. Anita and Ken were able to demonstrate an *early* version of what was to become 'The Pawn'. It was clear, even at that time, that the Magnetic Scrolls parser was significantly more sophisticated than the one used by Infocom.


How impressed were you by that demonstration?
Until I saw the first Magnetic Scrolls parser, there were really only two flavours:

a) the strict two-word parsers, such as found in the Scott Adams adventures. Verb + noun pair.

b) the 'flexible' two-word parser created by Infocom. (I can't think of anyone else.) This was still pretty much verb/noun pair, but it allowed you to create compound commands (eg "Get bucket and sword then go east" all on one line, rather than having to type in three separate commands.) It was also a lot smarter, being able to answer questions with jokey responses (eg it would respond to the question "What is a grue?")

The Magnetic Scrolls parser seemed to be everything the Infocom parser could do, with added bells and whistles. I can't remember the exact details, but I seem to remember Anita showing how it could handle adjectives (eg get yellow bucket). Even better, it could handle ambiguous statements (eg "Get bucket". "Which bucket, the red bucket or the blue bucket?". "Blue". "You pick up the blue bucket".)


Were the plot and the puzzles already in place in that version of the game?
I'm sorry to say I can't remember any particular plot or puzzle elements from what we saw at that time.

One minor snippet - the development team was using Sinclair QL machines, which were - for the time - absolutely the leading edge technology. (Sometimes called the 'bleeding' edge.) The microdrives were ever so impressive.


The ill-fated Sinclair QL - cutting-edge technology from the mid-eighties

Since you mentioned the QL (I think that stood for "Quantum Leap", didn't it?) - were you actually surprised that, despite the QL's rather impressive technology, it did fare so poorly in the end?
The history of Sinclair machines is a little complicated. The ZX-80 and ZX-81 were truly groundbreaking. For all their (many!) faults, they did offer a (sort-of) usable machine at a (sort-of) affordable price to just about anyone. For that, Clive Sinclair deserves to be acknowledged and applauded.

However, it's my opinion that he is/was more of a 'boffin' rather than a businessman. In a number of cases, products were hyped beyond what they could actually deliver - the C5 'electric car' being a classic example. In the case of the ZX-80 - and particularly the ZX-81 and Spectrum - the sheer ingenuity of users managed to exceed the machines' shortcomings.

The QL suffered because of this. As I remember, the machine was promised before it was properly finished and physically available for delivery. In addition, the machine was forced up a blind alley by insisting on the microdrive for mass storage. In theory, the microdrive was a wonderfully clever piece of hardware, but its high failure rate in the early days meant it wasn't satisfactory in the real world. People began to realise locking themselves into proprietary hardware was a bad idea and there were plenty of alternatives on the market.


How would you rate machines like the Atari ST and the Commodore Amiga? Especially the Amiga did create quite a stir when it was introduced to the public ...
Oh, the ST and the Amiga...! Both were great machines, hampered by price and lack of software. I think both were superior technically, but the UK market was dominated by two groups: the ZX-81/Sinclair Spectrum and the Amstrad CPC machines. I believe those two groups accounted for a major percentage of the market, leaving pretty much everything else (Apple ][, Macintosh and IBM PC) scrambling for the remaining share. Because they were imported from the US, they weren't helped by greedy companies over-charging: simply substituting a £ sign for the $ price. (OK, I know we have VAT in the UK, but that ran at 17.5% whereas the importers were (roughly) doubling the price.) Against that sort of competition, the 'home grown' machines appeared much better value for money. (Most people, I think, were playing games and weren't really interested in features that added nothing to the game-playing experience.)

As memory serves, wasn't the Amiga a particularly big success in Germany?


Well, I daresay that Commodore pretty much dominated the German home computer market in the eighties, first with the Commodore 64 and later with the Amiga. How was the situation in the UK?
In the UK, the Amstrad series of machines were wildly successful. Alan Sugar had a knack for delivering good value for money machines.

Nothing fancy, but they did what they said they'd do. One of the reasons he was so successful was that he included a lot of very good documentation with the machines (really, very good and accessible to a non-technical audience). More compellingly, however, was that he made it simple to *use* the machine: "plug this into that, turn on the power and press this button" sort of thing. For a reasonable price the user got a decent processor and memory, a proper keyboard, CP/M operating system and a 'proper' printer (even though it wasn't really, but that's another story). The consumer could buy a machine in the morning and be printing off their first page of word processing in the afternoon. Revolutionary...

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