Following on from my review of Microbrits: A Tapestry of the British Gaming Industry. The author S.L Perrin very kindly answered my questions and gave us a deeper look into the inspiration and drive that created the book.
This is a wonderful, no holds barred dive into the mind of a passionate gamer and talented writer. As S.L Perrin explains exactly how he more or less accidentally wrote a book about 40 years of British gaming history, why he quit at one point, and how Peter Molyneux is yet again responsible for one of the greatest things in British Gaming History.
The ladies and Gentleman I give you Mr S.L Perrin:
What inspired you to write Microbrits: A tapestry of the British gaming industry?
Truth be told, I never intended to write a book, to begin with. It all started with an article on Peter Molyneux which I had written for my blog years ago. I was still finding my feet as a writer and hadn’t mastered the art of forming readable paragraphs and the article was pretty poorly researched. In short, it was a mess.
So a couple of years ago, and I re-read the article and it was terrible. I realised I had grown as a writer since then and wanted to re-write the whole thing… so I did. Only this time I REALLY researched, made copious notes and sat down to do the article justice. It grew and grew and grew to a point where it became way too big to be an article on a blog. So I just left it in my drafts without publishing it. But while researching Peter Molyneux for the article, I discovered how when he was working with Microsoft that he oversaw other game studios outside of his own, Lionhead, one of which was one of my favourite developers, Rare. I decided to look into Rare just for fun and that took me back to Ultimate Play The Game, from there I learned how Geoff Brown of U.S. Gold bought the Ultimate name… and if you’ve read the book you know just how important Geoff Brown becomes in it, he pops up in several chapters. Anyway, when I got to looking into U.S. Gold/Geoff Brown the floodgates opened up and I began finding all these connecting stories and how many of these companies crossed paths.
With all the info I had collected from researching Peter Molyneux and U.S. Gold/Geoff Brown and all the connecting stories I had discovered, I ended up losing myself in the research and kept finding more and more stories and connections. I had hundreds of notes and just thought – why not put it all into a book?
The book is more of an anecdotal journey through history than a dry recounting. Was that a conscious choice?
Eventually yes. It took a while for me to get to grips with exactly how I wanted the book to come across though. The first couple of drafts were very dry and just read like lists of info, like a Wikipedia entry. Then as I edited and went through the first drafts, I just began to add little spikes of humour, a few personal memories from growing up as a gamer, silly similes, gaming references and so on. Then before I knew it, the whole thing just gelled and that dryness eventually disappeared and the book became, as you say, more anecdotal.
The subject matter is so interweaving. How difficult was it to avoid becoming incomprehensible?
Good question. Originally, I had the idea of writing it in chronological order starting in the early 80s and ending in the present day. So for instance, I’d cover 1984 and every studio that was involved in gaming in that year. Then move onto 1985, 86, 87 and so on, covering new studio openings, games released and everything I could cram in. Doing this, there was a lot of jumping from company to company and I got myself lost. You know, I’d cover the first year of Imagine Software then jump over to Ocean (and others) opening, then go back to Imagine to cover their closure then back to Ocean (and others). I just had all these threads hanging and trying to keep them all in check was confusing with multiple studios opening around the same time. So I thought about doing it in chunks instead, say cover 1980-1985 then 85-90. I thought doing it in 5-year increments might make it easier to follow… it wasn’t.
So I kind of confused myself and knew that if I didn’t understand the book then there was no way readers would. I was genuinely stuck and just could not work out how to make all this interconnecting info readable… so I quit. I just gave up and decided not to carry on with the book. Yet it just kept niggling away at the back of my head, I had a tonne of info I had researched, this great idea of exploring the British gaming industry via connecting stories but I could not make it work. Then a few weeks after giving up and out of nowhere the most simplest of ideas hit me, why not just make each chapter follow each company? Cover Imagine from start to finish, then cover Ocean, then cover Psygnosis and so on. It worked, it became readable and far less confusing.
Sometimes you just don’t see what’s right in front of you, you don’t always see the easiest solution.
There’s still some of that original chronological order thing in the book anyway. I start with Imagine Software in the early 80s and end with Rockstar North today… not counting the Peter Molyneux finale. The book still kind of follows that first draft chronology, it’s just a lot easier to read what with me separating each company.
Microbrits: A tapestry of the British Games Industry was a labour of love for you. How difficult was it as a solo project?
It was as easy as it was hard. You know, when you have a passion for something, it stops being work and soon becomes fun. I love writing, I love gaming. So I never really looked at putting this book together as ‘difficult’, or at least not at first. But doing the whole thing solo? Yeah, that proved tricky more than once. I often thought that maybe I took on more than I could handle and definitely felt lost a few times.
But now it’s done, now it’s out there, I’m well chuffed I did do the whole thing on my own. I kind of proved to myself I can do something as hefty as Microbrits on my own.
What was the hardest part of completing the project?
Probably the first draft, same with anything I have written or ever will. That first draft is a bitch as I often feel lost and unsure if I really want to continue with it. Plus I started the first draft last year and got about halfway through when the summer of 2018 kicked off and that summer was a major distraction for me. We had some amazing weather, we had like 3 months of solid heatwaves every day, every day was glorious and with weather like that, who wants to be indoors tapping away on a keyboard?
Then there was the World Cup and England were playing amazingly well. So, of course, I watched a lot of footie. It’s my Birthday mid-July, my daughter’s birthday in August and we also had our daughter christened over the summer too. Basically, I kind of got distracted, the book fell by the wayside and I lost my flow. I didn’t start writing the first draft again until late in the year.
What was the most enjoyable part of completing the project?
The research was great fun, I just kind of lost myself in it all. Digging up old gaming magazine interviews and articles that I instantly remembered reading decades ago once I found them. Finding YouTube videos of old gaming conventions. It was all a real trip down memory lane.
When I knew I was about to publish Microbrits and I kept teasing info on Facebook and so on, already fully aware the book was pretty much done. Then surprising everyone with an early release.
I really enjoyed designing the cover too. I know nothing about graphic design but just messed around and knocked up about 8 different designs. It was great fun tinkering with ideas I had and shaping the cover.
The whole thing has been enjoyable really.
You researched the book all by yourself. What was the most interesting or surprising piece of information you learned?
There’s loads of them from major info to little fun tit-bits.
I love how the Houser brothers came up with the name Rockstar. When I discovered that Ocean and U.S. Gold were partners as I always remembered them being rivals. Discovering the whole Commercial Breaks documentary on Imagine and Ocean, that is full of great and surprising info especially how monopolistic Imagine became. How Geoff Brown pushed for the then unfinished game that would become Tomb Raider to be completed.
Perhaps one of the most interesting and surprising bits of information is just how many of these amazing companies were not based/founded in London. You just think of London being England’s capital city and easily the most famous city in Britain as it’s the main hub, it’s heart. Yet very few of the companies covered were from London. I think there were The Bitmap Brothers… and that’s about it. Everyone else came from the Midlands, the North (a lot from up North), Manchester, Liverpool. A few places just outside London like Essex, Guildford and so on.
Whilst the book is on sale now you actually have plans for a bigger, better version of the book. Could you explain that vision to us, please?
To be honest, the bigger and better version was my original vision. But after trying and failing to gain interest in the project and hitting a few dead ends, I decided to release a simple paperback version instead to hopefully gain some interest and money that I can re-invest in getting my original vision off the ground.
As for what the bigger and better version will have? Some of it I’m keeping secret until I get it off the ground. But I have a very specific design in mind that will lend way to more features in the book outside of just reading about gaming companies. Features that will include getting fans involved as credited writers without them having to write a single word. There are chapters I have written in the first draft that didn’t make it into this version but I’ll add to the hardback one. Fun little features just for a laugh that are ties to the design I want.
I’d say this paperback version is perhaps about 60% of what I really want the book to be. This version is my ‘Within The Woods’ and if anyone gets that reference, then we can be friends.
Why have you published Microbrits: A Tapestry of the British Games Industry now when you have plans for a hardback version?
As mentioned above, I really, really tried to get the hardback version done first. I explored a few avenues but just could not get it off the ground. So this paperback version exits just to try and gain some interest and money to make the hardback, glossy-paged tome I really want it to be… oh and I definitely won’t be handling that part single-handedly.
So yeah, I need people to buy this book and help spread the word so I can deliver the main event later down the line.
Are there any plans for a sequel book? Featuring studios such as Hewson Consultants, Virgin Interactive etc?
How do you not know those chapters don’t already exist to be added to the hardback version? 😉
I don’t have plans for a direct sequel but I do have ideas for other gaming books. I’ve already been thinking about and even outlining 2 other gaming books, one possibly working with one of my all-time favourite gaming journalists. But until I get anything set in concrete… I’m keeping quiet.
Reading about the legendary game studios of Britain’s past has a lot of similarities with today’s indie studios. Any plans for a follow-up book featuring present-day indie devs/studios?
No plans, but I certainly wouldn’t rule it out.
I’m a big fan of the indie scene. As I say in the book, the indie gaming scene we have today owes a lot to those bedroom programmers of the British gaming industry. I’d love to do an indie gaming book perhaps starting with the pioneers of the industry like Matthew Smith and Jeff Minter going through to today and celebrating all that is indie worldwide. It’s possible…
The book finishes with a very personal almost love letter to Peter Molyneux. That personally dissipated a lot of my hatred for him. Was that the intention?
The open letter was genuinely from the heart. I don’t hate Peter Molyneux, I used to when I was younger during the whole Lionhead/Fable years. Now I’ve grown up a bit? I love the guy, looking back and Molyneux helped shape me into the gamer I am today, more so than anyone else in the business. The man created/help create Populous, Theme Park/Hospital, Syndicate, Flood. Some the very best games ever made and games that were my childhood and titles I still play today. As I already explained, if it wasn’t for Peter and that article, then Microbrits wouldn’t even exist. So if you enjoyed the book, you have him to thank.
The whole Peter Molyneux multi-chapter finale really is me trying to convey why I’m not a hater like so many others are. Still, I don’t hold back when covering his career. I don’t just highlight his greatest hits like some rose-tinted glasses wearing fan, I also go into detail over his lies and bullshit, his deceptions. I tried to be fair as I can to explain that despite his failings… he is still the most important person in British gaming.
The letter at the end was not to try to calm other’s anger over Peter Molyneux. If you or anyone else sees him in a different light or have those strong feeling of hate after reading it, great. That was not my intention but still great none the less.
The letter really was me reaching out to Peter to try and tell him that the direction his studio, 22 Cans is heading is the wrong one. All these freemium, ‘tappy-tap’ games loaded with microtransactions that I call ‘the cancer of gaming’. These are the kind of games people desperate to make an impression on the industry make to be noticed. But this is Peter Molyneux, the man created some of the greatest games ever. It’s like Paul McCartney doing a duet with Justin Bieber just to try and seem relevant. You just don’t need it, man. Peter Molyneux is better then the games he is making right now and I just wanted him to know that. That was the point of the letter.
Obviously, there was no way I’d know Peter even read the book so writing an open letter to him was pointless… until I came up with the idea of directly sending him a copy. He sent me an email back thanking me for the book and how moved he was. I was and still, am well pleased. I don’t think he read the whole thing, just his chapters. But I hope he does read the whole book when he has time.
What can we expect next from S.L Perrin?
I’m writing, always writing. I have a short story collection and a novella covering my feelings and fears of becoming a father for the first time, both can be easily found on Amazon, just search S. L. Perrin.
Earlier this year I finished my first ‘proper’ novel in the first draft. It’s a vigilante thriller with a big twist. I love the vigilante sub-genre but have to admit to finding a lot of the stories all samey. So I’ve done something a bit different and unique with the idea. Still, it is only the first draft and needs a lot more work to be done to it, maybe next year before it’s released?
I’m currently just finishing up my second short story collection which is bigger and much more experimental than my first one. I’m looking at publishing that pretty soon, July-ish. The fact I got Microbrits finished earlier than expected has given me some free time to really crack on with more writing. Then once that is done, I’ll turn my attention back to my vigilante novel. Plus I have 4 other books I have already pre-planned, one I’ve already begun work on… I write a lot.
As I said, I have been pre-planning 2 other gaming books, I’ll see how all that turns out. And of course, there is still the whole making Microbrits that glorious, hardback, glossy-paged tome with all the added bells and whistles. Fingers crossed.
Oh and I still do the occasional article over on my blog at littlebitsofgaming.com where I cover games and movies, feel free to check it out. You can also find that terrible Peter Molyneux article I wrote that lead to the creation of Microbrits. Though recently my blog writing has died off while I concentrate on my books this year. I still do the odd post now and then, I have something gaming related planned for Halloween, already thinking ahead. I like doing my Halloween specials each year
Finally, this space is for you to talk directly to our readers. Why should they head over to Amazon and buy Microbrits: A Tapestry of the British Gaming Industry?
Microbrits is a pretty rare book. When you think of gaming how much it has been covered over the years, the British side of things is often overlooked for the more famous American and Japanese markets. Everyone knows the likes of Electronic Arts, Nintendo, Sega, etc. But us Brits are rarely given a mention and when you read the book and see just how many major big names still going today are British and how they started, it makes you wonder why the Brit side of thing is not covered more. I mean just to use one small example of many in the book, who would’ve thought that perhaps the biggest gaming studio right now with Rockstar North (many people don’t even know they’re British) got their start via a studio born from the ashes of one of British gaming’s biggest disasters? Confused, intrigued? Well you’ll have to buy a copy to find out how and why it all connects.
It’s the interweaving stories, these connections is what really carries this book and what makes it such an interesting read. You know, you read about Geoff Brown at U.S. Gold and get to the end of that chapter, only for Geoff to pop up several more times tying games studios to other game studios (I particularity loved the Gremlin Graphics chapter and all it’s connections). Microbrits is full of these connections, you can play a fun game of ‘Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon’, or as I now call it ‘Six Degrees of Imagine Software’ because you can link each company covered in Microbrits back to the pioneers of the British gaming industry that were Imagine Software.
There’s just a lot to this book and you can read it on different levels. I didn’t want it to just be a list of stuff, I wanted to to be interesting and entertaining… I think I did a pretty decent job. As you mentioned earlier, it’s not dry. It’s ‘an anecdotal journey through (British gaming) history’. I love that descriptive, sums Microbrits up perfectly.
Also if I
may turn on beggar mode for a second…
I really really, really want to make the hardback tome that I originally envisioned Microbrits to be. I want to give people the complete and full version, I want to entertain them and give them a bloody great read. The very reason this paperback version exists it to help raise funds and awareness… mainly funds, that I can use to make that book come to life. So when you buy a copy of the book, you’re not just getting a great read, you’re also helping me make that read even better.
I put a lot of effort into this. 12 months of research alone, never mind the countless hours huddled over my laptop tap-tap-tapping away to get the thing written over several drafts in the space of about 18 months. I’ve taken a huge step to get Microbrits made and to hopefully turn it into the hardback, glossy paged tome I want it to be, but it is just one step and I need need everyone else to join me on that journey, support me along the way. By buying a copy and helping to spread the word, you are joining me on that journey and I will always be thankful of that.
I could’ve gone the more direct begging route, I could’ve set up a Go Fund Me to beg for cash (full disclosure, I originally did before taking it down in favour of doing this paperback). But I wanted to give people something for their money, something that actually exists, something they could hold, something they can read and enjoy – hence this version of the book. As I said before, this is my Within The Woods…
Thanks for the interview and thanks for reading,