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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    - Corruption
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    - Myth
    - Wonderland
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       Of Terror
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(Inaccurate) Memories Of Memories - A Conversation With Michael Bywater

Admittedly I was a bit nervous when it came down to interviewing Michael Bywater. After all we are talking about THE Michael Bywater. Accomplished writer of numerous books, long-time friend of the late Douglas Adams (Michael was even the inspiration for Douglas' Dirk Gently character), a regular columnist for "The Independent on Sunday", and contributing editor for iconic "Punch" magazine. He wrote for, to only name a few, "The Observer", "The Times", "Cosmopolitan" and the "Daily Telegraph", is a regular broadcaster for the BBC and certainly no stranger to computer gaming.

Not only did he happen to write my all-time favourite Magnetic Scrolls game, but was also involved in the making of such great gaming experiences as Infocom's "Bureaucracy" and "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy", or Douglas Adams' "Starship Titanic".

Needless to say my excitement knew no boundaries when Michael agreed to do an interview for the Magnetic Scrolls Chronicles. On the following pages, you, gentle reader, will learn everything Michael has to say about his time working for Magnetic Scrolls, the writing process of their third game "Jinxter" and his thoughts on interactive fiction in general.


Michael, first of all let me thank you for taking the time to do this interview. Before we start revisiting your time at Magnetic Scrolls, is there anything you'd like to say?
Certainly is. What I want to say is this all took place over twenty years ago and the actual Magnetic Scrolls bit was a small part of my life, so memory may be inaccurate. Inaccurate memory usually works in one's favour, of course. But it's still inaccurate so take what follows as memories of memories and not necessarily of reality.


Just to fill people in who are not familiar with your work - can you talk a little about what you did in the times before Magnetic Scrolls?
There was not really a time "before" and "after" Magnetic Scrolls. It was something I did a bit of, largely for fun and because I think we all thought then that interactive fiction (IF) was a new sort of literary form which would get bigger and bigger. It didn't. Which I think was a shame. I could go into why I think it didn't take off as we all expected, but that would take hours and hours and probably would interest nobody but myself.


Well, a few thoughts from you on the matter would be really interesting ...
I think IF didn't take off as I expected it would -- as a lot of people expected it would -- largely because it was superseded by the lure of graphics. I don't know whether it was because people bought more graphics games, or because the IF companies thought more people would buy graphics-driven games; but like anything else, it becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. There were all sorts of peripheral things involved, like the unstoppable rise of the games consoles etc, but the primary reason, I'm sure, was that as PCs became more powerful and graphic complexity became more feasible, people felt the need to use that power and complexity. Feature bloat at the expense of narrative subtlety (but the narratology of IF is another story altogether).

Michael Bywater in 1999 (photo taken by Nigel Spalding and used with kind permission)

"I was sleeping with the boss. No; literally."

- Michael Bywater


Well, there is still a small but thriving, non-commercial IF-community out there that churns out quite good games now and again. Did you ever check out any of the recent IF?
Not really. I've been rather out of that world for a long time now, but I'm thinking of dipping a toe back into the water… I think the problem with IF, apart from the fact that the average gamer seems to prefer graphics and whizz-bang special effects, is that it imposes all sorts of narrative essentials on the writer. Primarily I think the idea of the puzzle-based narrative is a big limitation but I can't see in general how to overcome that. See, with ordinary linear paper-based narrative - fiction or non-fiction - the author can propel the thing along, keep the reader turning the page, by a whole lot of little tricks we all learn at mother's knee. In IF the reader/player expects to be invited to interrupt the narrative at regular intervals. That means puzzles, until such time as we have a much more sophisticated game engine running underneath. You can fudge the business of NPCs acting independently; you can make something that looks as if the player is able to interrogate NPCs (as in the Infocom detective-style IF); but it's not really convincing. I think Starship Titanic was an example of a game which was graphic-based in look but IF in feel and we totally overshot the mark. We kept thinking "We have to move beyond Magnetic Scrolls and Infocom" which was fine, but we then went on to think "…which means bigger, better, more complicated puzzles" which wasn't fine at all.

Having said that, one of my next projects has got me interested in IF all over again and I've been trying some things out in Inform, which (if anyone doesn't know this already) is a wonderful IF authoring system that works in pretty much natural language and I wish we'd had it around years ago. This project, about which I can't say too much obviously, is perfectly-suited to IF. The paper text is sort of puzzle-based; its primary attraction is the world in which it's set (which is very strange but only when you look closely); and the puzzles don't involve NPC interaction. So it suits IF well.

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