CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 1 / JANUARY 1984 / PAGE 242
It is that special time of the year. Time for New Year’s resolutions, wild orgies, and other behavior that most sane people would not be caught doing during the rest of the year. It is also a time for journalists, critics, and other soothsayers to come up with a list of the year’s best. Whether the topic is movies, football games, or software, there is a surfeit of lists from every imaginable source.
At the risk of being labeled a curmudgeon I will add my own list to the bevy. The topic will be light so that you can concentrate on the important things like partying and carrying on. We Atari owners know we have the best game playing computer on the market. Its sound and graphics capabilities are rivaled by none. Although our machines are capable of more serious endeavors, we of the faith take gaming seriously. In the next few pages will be the 1983 Outpost: Atari Game Awards, or as I call them, the “Outies.” But before we get to that, allow me to take care of a little business.
The Coleco Adam has been getting a great deal of press for the past several months. First they could meet their original deadline, then they couldn’t, then they changed the deadline. I got tired of trying to keep up with the Adam saga. Apparently I was not alone. An enterprising retailer in Cedar Knolls, NJ has been selling since mid-October a packaged Atari system he has dubbed Eve. For under $600, Gemini Enterprises is offering an Atari 600XL computer, Atari 1027 letter quality printer, Atari 1010 cassette recorder, and the Atariwriter word processor. Atari has an official version of a similar system package called the Writer, but it does not include the 1010 cassette recorder.
Eve is a nifty package. Not only is the price right, Atariwriter is, in my opinion, the best word processor for the Atari. (For a thorough description of Atariwriter see my review in the November 1983 Creative). When using Atariwriter with the 16K Atari 600XL, you still have about 10K of memory in the machine available for text. This translates to about 20 double-spaced typed pages—more than enough for most term papers and reports.
Normally, using a cassette recorder is not the preferred method of data storage because the speed of loading and saving files is terribly slow. But here it is no problem. There is no reason to access the recorder while you are performing your word processing. Only when you want to save a file or load a previously created file will you suffer the speed penalty.
Another plus for this particular selection of components is that the Atari 1027 printer does not require the Atari 850. Interface Module. It attaches directly to the serial interface daisy chain. And it has a good quality output for an inexpensive printer.
While the speed of the printer is almost an order of magnitude slower than the fastest dot-matrix printer, it will probably fit the needs of many users. It may be best suitable for someone who is not sure he wants to do a great deal of word processing and therefore does not require high speed output. At the same time, the results are truly letter equality. The Atari 1027 printer offers bidirectional printing, underlining capability, a speed of 20 characters per second, and 12 fully formed characters to the inch.
I have only two criticisms of the Atari 1027 printer. First, it lacks pinfeed paper capability. It handles only single sheets of paper. This is fine for typing a letter to Aunt Emma, but is somewhat inconvenient for program listings. My other complaint is the price. It generally sells for about $300. This is about $100 to much considering a generic dot-matrix printer can be had for about the same sum. A lower price would be more competitive and perhaps win back some of Atari’s sagging sales.
All things considered, I believe this Eve package to be very tough competition for the Coleco Adam. When you throw in the thousands of existing Atari programs that are available, I don’t think Coleco has a chance.
There has been much talk about the new Atari XL computers. Rumors have been more prevalent than facts. One of the major points of concern (even in past Outpost columns) has been the question of compatibility. The type of operating system for the new machines was unknown. Would they have the 400/800 Operating System, or would they have the less than popular 1200XL Operating System? All existing software can run on the former, but much of it cannot run on the latter.
The facts are in, and there is some good news and bad news from Atari. The bad news is that the XL computers have the 1200XL Operating System and therefore a great deal of software will not run on them. The good news is that there will be a “Translator disk” (and cassette version) available from Atari that will modify the Operating System in the XL machines to look like the 400/800 OS. If this comes to be, one of my Christmas wishes from last month’s Outpost has been granted.
John Anderson, my predecessor as author of this column, was quite vocal in past Outpost columns about Atari products and practices. His critical comments were intended not to slander Atari but rather to stimulate them to change. I share many of his views, but Atari has taken exception to certain points. In an effort to be fair and to present their opinion, column space this month is being made available for Atari to tell their side of the story (see the sidebar). I will wait until next month to comment on their remarks.
With that behind us, let’s move on and have some fun.
Some video game magazines present dozens of award categories. I—and most people I know—have difficulty dealing with that kind of video game overload. Instead, I have simply chosen eight categories that best represent the various types of games for the Atari computer. In each category I have chosen a winner and a runner-up. To qualify as an entry, a game had to be available for the Atari computer in 1983.
The following list is based upon my own set of criteria. These include the overall quality and playability of the game, its use of sound and graphics in appropriate ways and the extent to which the game utilizes the capability of the Atari computer. I have spent many hours behind a joystick playing these games and that is reflected in my choices.
The 1983 Outie for best game goes to Archon by Electronic Arts. Archon has broken new ground in the video games world by combining the elements of a strategy game and an arcade shoot-’em-up.
Archon is an excellent example of what a computer game can and should be. There are already rumors that Archon is attracting a dedicated following and fast becoming a national craze. Tournaments are springing up here and there, and since the game is available for most micros, all can compete.
Runner-up: Choplifter by Broderbund for its challenge, playability and unique non-violent approach to shoot-’em-up scoring: points are awarded only for saving the hostages. The goal of the game is to rescue hostages in your joystick-controlled helicopter and return them to safety. Your purpose is to defend rather than destroy. Memories of the Iranian crisis are brought to mind.
This Outie must go to Atari’s Donkey Kong. The scenario is simple: Mario must rescue his girlfriend who is being held captive by Donkey Kong. Mario is at the bottom of a pile of girders and ramps. His goal is to climb a series of ladders to reach the girl at the top. Donkey Kong attempts to thwart him by rolling barrels down the ramps. Mario can either jump over or smash the barrels.
Like the arcade version, there are four screens, each of increasing difficulty. Moving elevators, falling girders, and conveyor belts comprise the advanced screens. The graphics and sound effects are great. Animation is excellent, and the game is exhilarating. To call this game fun would be an understatement. Donkey Kong for the Atari computer is equal to the original in all important respects. It has a catchy tune, too!
Runner-up: Q-Bert by Parker Brothers. Faithful graphics and sound make this game a close second. The movement and playability are almost identical to the arcade version. And besides, Q-Bert is a cute little guy.
Although I am not proficient at this game, the ultimate shoot-’em-up to date is Atari’s Defender. This is a high-quality rendition of the popular arcade game. Your mission is to defend the last humanoids from the alien kidnappers. You maneuver the laser-equipped ship up, down, left, and right. Smart bombs are used to destroy everything on the screen when the pace gets too hectic. Horizontal scrolling is the name of the game, with the radar display at the top of the screen always showing the whereabouts of the enemy.
You really have to experience the excitement, intensity, and playability of this excellent arcade adaptation for yourself. Defender can easily be played for hours at a time.
Runner-up: Super Cobra by Parker Brothers. Another arcade adaptation, this challenging game has attractive graphics and life-like sound effects, especially when heard through an amplifier and speakers. If you like Caverns of Mars but require more challenge, then check out Super Cobra.
Necromancer by Synapse is an atypical game. The three game screens are more like acts of a play. Each has its own theme, yet are all part of a larger story. The animation throughout the game is unmatched by anything I have seen for the Atari, and the hauntingly beautiful music adds to the overall effect of the game. Necromancer gets high marks for playability, too.
Runner-up: Worms? by Electronic Arts for its good-looking graphics that are both fascinating and relaxing. We are talking mind-expanding games here. The game is also educational in that principles of geometry are readily demonstrated.
This Outie must go to the game that essentially duplicates the user interface of an Apple Lisa: Pinball Construction Set by Electronic Arts. This unique interface is comprised of a split screen, containing a blank pinball field on one side and a variety of little pictures (icons) representing flippers, targets, bumpers, etc. on the other. A handshaped cursor is moved around the screen with a joystick to point to a particular icon, say a flipper. The object is then picked up and dragged over to the play field where it can be placed anywhere you want. All of the objects are assembled on the play field to create your very own pinball games.
All aspects of a pinball game can be created, edited, and saved for future use, including ball characteristics such as speed, elasticity, and gravity, title screens, scoring logic, and sound effects. You even get five complete sample games that you may play, modify, or simply use as examples of what can be done with this wonderful package.
The Pinball Construction Set is a pinball wizard’s dream come true. An example of state-of-the-art software on the Atari computer. A virtual graphics tour de force and a video game classic.
Runner-up: M.U.L.E. by Electronic Arts for its animation, challenge, and ingenuity. This imaginative game is really an economic simulation. Up to four players complete in an effort to monopolize the natural resources of an alien planet. The players buy, sell, and trade property in an attempt to amass the greatest wealth, and win. Animation is excellent, and there are many interesting complexities to the plot.
The design is well conceived and executed. The theme song has a good beat; you can dance to it; I’ll give it a 98.
To earn this coveted Outie, a game must not only be challenging but also repeatedly playable. In fact, the game should be so good that the Game Over display of one round automatically prompts another round much like the reaction of one of Pavlov’s dogs.
Miner 2049er by Big Five Software is such a game. In this climbing and jumping game, you move your player, Bounty Bob, throughout 10 different levels of a mine. Each screen increases in difficulty as you race against time to complete all of the levels. Even in you finish all ten levels, you begin again at a faster pace. There are various hazards throughout the mine, and your goal is to traverse all of the platforms in each screen.
The graphics are very colorful and the joystick control is responsive. Miner 2049er is one of the few games that I have played all night long. And I still go back for more!
Runner-up: Jumpman by Epyx. A very close second, this similar jumping and climbing game has 30 screens worth of play. Although the graphics are less polished than Miner’s, Jumpman is very playable and offers continuous challenge.
This Outie is simply for the game with the best graphics. Playability and other variables are not being considered. There is a tie for the award between A.E. by Broderbund and Astro Chase by Parker Brothers. Both are shoot-’em-ups, but A.E. offers a little more variety. However, both offer dazzling graphics and animation. The best animation in Astro Chase occurs during the intermissions every four screens. The best animation in A.E. is the swirling and diving alien ships.
To be fair, each of these games should also get another award. The Outie for the most difficult game should go to A.E. It is really a tough game, and only the serious Atari gamer will put in the time to master it. The Outie for most hype should go to Astro Chase (with Zaxxon by Datasoft a close second). This game was originally marketed by First Star Software and was written by Fernando Herrera, winner of the first Atari Star Award. The latter fact was over-used and the game was advertised continuously for six months prior to its actual release in most of the computer magazines. Their slogan was “There is No Escape.” What they did not mention was, from what? I now know—there is no escape from their hype.
The Atacky goes to the grossest Atari computer game we saw in 1983—the one that more than any other merits an airline sick sack. I am happy to report that it is no contest this year. And the winner is Orc Attack from Thorne EMI.
Not to say that Orc Attack is a bad game, because it is not. It is really quite playable. You control a medieval army, protecting the parapets of your castle from seige. Below, enemy hordes raise ladders and fire arrows at your defenders. The animation is gripping and the pace of the game is exciting.
It’s just that a carefully aimed swing of your sword decapitates attackers, and you have the pleasure of watching their heads sail slowly back to earth in the breeze. Especially fun for the little ones.
Orc Attack is fun to play while eating, and sure to appeal to critics of the violence in video games. “Hats off” to Thorne for this heads-up approach.
Firms Mentioned In This Column
San Jose, CA 95150
Big Five Software
Van Nuys, CA 91405
1938 Fourth St.
San Rafael, CA 94901
9421 Winnetka Ave.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
2775 Campus Dr.
San Mateo, CA 94403
Epyx (Automated Simulations)
1043 Kiel Ct.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
50 Dunham Rd.
Beverly, MA 01915
5327 Jacuzzi St., Suite 1
Richmond, CA 94804
1370 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY 10019
Photo: Pinball Construction Set
Photo: Miner 2049er
CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 2 / FEBRUARY 1984 / PAGE 240
Winter is upon us in this part of the country. Fewer daylight hours mean that my Atari (and probably yours too) is seeing a lot more use. I have spent the day at the keyboard previewing software and drinking hot chocolate. My eyes are blurry from megadoses of VDU emissions and the thought of a fifth cup of cocoa sends my mind racing back to the thought that has plagued me all day.
I cannot help thinking that software is just too expensive—especially game software. I know I have said it before, but it is really starting to bother me. I also hear this complaint from many other users. When you think about it, $40 or more for game software in cartridge format and $30 to $40 for disk format is rather expensive. For example, does it make sense that two of the most popular games for the Atari computer, Pac-Man and Star Raiders, if purchased at the list price, would cost more than the Atari 400 they run on? Of course it doesn’t.
It is for this reason that I am eager to champion software that is inexpensive and useful. Below are some capsule reviews of software that I think you ought to know about. The programs are either inexpensive, a good value or both. After that, I offer a new version of the Relisting the Unlistable program which originally appeared, complete with a bug, in the September Outpost.
In keeping with the topic of inexpensive software, there is a new line of software from Datasoft selling under the Gentry label. Let me tell you a little about what Datasoft is doing before I describe one of the games. The entire selection of game software from Gentry is deliberately priced to sell for under $20. In fact, the usual selling price is closer to $15.
What do you get for a sawbuck and a fin? You typically get both a disk and a cassette of the game along with some simple instructions. And you get a game that, a year ago, would probably have been among the top 20 best sellers. Now, before you rush out to buy every piece of Gentry software you can get your hands on, listen up.
I had a chance to take a comprehensive look at three of the new releases. These three games were essentially chosen at random from the dozen or so that hit the stands at once. Two out of three were quite good and kept me occupied for many hours. The other one did not get the same amount of “air time” on my Atari. I have only enough space to describe briefly one of the two better ones.
Like many Atari computer owners, I started out with an Atari VCS game. My wife had surprised me with the most unusual anniversary gift, an Atari VCS and two cartridges. The games were Asteroids and Space Invaders. It was late that night when we exchanged presents, so video game fever did not set in until the next day.
We played Asteroids and Space Invaders all day and all night on Saturday. On Sunday, the marathon continued. The leaves did not get raked that weekend. Our chicken dinner burned in the oven. The cats missed their meals. All work ceased. The obsession was recalled by Starbase Fighter from Gentry.
When I first booted Starbase Fighter, I could feel all the excitement of that early VCS experience. My thoughts ran immediately to Asteroids, because the game begins with vertically scrolling rocks. Your mission is to find the enemy satellite and enter it through the bottom portal. This is done by maneuvering your ship through the asteroid field while dodging enemy space ships that are determined to destroy you.
The vertical and horizontal scrolling is good. Once you reach the satellite, you enter the enemy city. Now you are flying horizontally, maneuvering around the enemy gun emplacements and avoiding contact with enemy scout ships. After safely passing through the city, you arrive at the Alien Brain. There you must destroy the brain by shooting at the moving wall surrounding it. Kill the brain, get your butt back to your home ship, and you will be rewarded with the next, more challenging level.
The asteroids themselves are not depicted in the finest detail, but this is one tough game. For $15.95 it is a steal. Once you play the game, which was writtne by John Petritis, it will be difficult to stop. Good job, John.
There you have it. Not exactly “no frills” software, but certainly generic pricing. I hope that Gentry’s intelligent pricing policy starts a trend. By lowering the price, the amount of software piracy may also be decreased.
I have been using VisiCalc for several years. When I first bought the Atari computer, I was pleasantly surprised to learn that this ubiquitous spreadsheet was available for my home computer—then I heard the price. At the time it retailed for $250. I gulped and bought it anyway, needing it for my work. However, I always thought that it was terribly overpriced.
For those of you who want to use a spreadsheet on the Atari but are not prepared to pay the close to $200 tariff, there is hope. Home-Calc from Sim computer products may meet your needs.
It is billed as the first spreadsheet for the mass market and sells for only $30. What do you get for one-sixth of the cost of VisCalc? You get a program that will do most of the financial calculations needed in a home application at the cost of slow execution speed.
Home-Calc requires the Basic cartridge and either 24K RAM (disk) or 16K RAM (cassette). It comes with a small black “security key,” similar to the one Synapse’s Filemanager used to use. The key is inserted into the left joystick port and must remain there for the duration of the session for the program to function.
After the program is loaded, you enter the number of rows and columns that you will be using. From 4 to 26 columns and from 18 to 99 rows are allowed. Since the program displays only the maximum number of cells, a little math is required (rows x columns) to make sure that you are under the limit. Then you are ready to go.
Unlike VisiCalc, Home-Calc does not allow you to move around the cell matrix entering numbers, labels, and formulas. Instead, you must press the escape key first and respond with a cell address to enter a label, value, or formula. The current entry, if any, is displayed and you have the option of leaving the cell as it was or entering something new. After your entry is completed, the cells are not automatically recalculated. You must specifically give the RECALCULATE command, which takes anywhere from 15 seconds to several minutes to complete.
Five functions may be used: addition, substraction, multiplication, division, and exponentation. There is also a SUM function for totalling rows or columns. All formulas are calculated from left to right: negative numbers are not allowed in expressions; and parentheses may not be used. A REPLICATE command is provided for duplicating the contests of individual or blocks of cells. Worksheets may be saved to and loaded from either cassette or disk, depending on the version you are using. Worksheets may also be printed, but there is no provision for sending control characters to the printer.
Having used VisiCalc and other more powerful spreadsheets. I am somewhat disappointed with Home-Calc. By comparison, it is slow and not sophisticated. But the comparison is really unfair. Home-Calc costs only $30 and will probably suit the needs of most home users. I suggest you give it a test drive at your local dealer before you decide.
A company that calls itself XL-Ent Software is immediately suspect in my book. And if they package their programs in plastic baggies with a couple pages of photocopied documentation, I get read to write them off. But when the product is extremely useful and does not cost more than a couple rolls of quarters, I spread the word.
Such is the case with Megafont from XL-Ent Software. Written by Randy Dellinger and Richard Rognlie, this is the dandiest program lister to come down the pike in a long time. Ever wonder how the program listings in this column are printed, including graphics and inverse video characters? Megafont! Have you ever wanted to print your program listings in a computer font, Greek font, fancy font, or a downloaded character set font? Megafont does the trick.
The program works with NEC, C. Itoh, and Epson printers and comes with a half dozen fonts that may be printed at 10, 12 or 18 characters per inch. Programs must be stored on the disk in LIST format prior to running Megafort. In addition to the program lister, you also get a screen dump utility for Graphics Modes 7+ and 8 and the ability to convert a character set created with a character set editor to a format that can be used with your printer.
If you program in Basic and have one of the printers mentioned above, Megafont is the best value you can get for $20.
Next to game software, educational software is the most overpriced category for the Atari, or any other machine. You can pay $40 or $50 for nothing more than automated drill and practice programs. If you are looking for a drill and practice program with a few nice touches, you should check out the inexpensive Computer Assisted Math Program or CAMP. This $20 program was written by Johnny Masuda and is also from XL-Ent Software.
The program is designed for children ages 6 to 10 and, in fact, was written by the author for his daughter. Answers may be entered via either joystick or keyboard, and the digits may be entered from left to right or vice versa. For multi-digit problems, the right to left entry method mimics the way most people solve math problems. Four different levels may be chosen for addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems.
There are several other useful features in this program. Each problem is presented in both vertical and horizontal format so that the child gets accustomed to seeing it both ways. The individual problems may be timed or untimed, and the sessions may be printed or saved for future use. If a wrong answer is entered, the correct answer is displayed only briefly. It should remain on the screen for at least 5 to 10 seconds—long enough for the child to study it.
The other minor flaw in the program is the overuse of dazzling graphics. They seem to be included to show off the author’s cleverness rather than to add substance to the program. These two minor criticisms aside, CAMP is a bargain-basement value that can easily compete with the high-priced spreads.
Most Atari computer owners are aware that they have the best game-playing computer on the market. It is also no secret that one of the reasons for this is Atari’s unique player/missile graphics system. Unfortunately, learning how to use player/missile graphics is a difficult and time-consuming task. At least it has been until now.
From Don’t Ask Software (the folks who brought you S.A.M., the Software Automated Mouth) comes a new product called The PM Animator. The PM Animator is a set of software tools that allows you to create and then incorporate player/missile graphics routines into your Basic programs. Although no programming experience is required to use this system, some familiarity with Basic will help.
There are two editors in the PM Animator system. The Grafix Editor allows you to create the images that you want to incorporate into your Basic programs. Up to 16 images can be created and stored in one file. These images are a series of graphics frames, each one slightly different from the previous one. When viewed sequentially, they appear to be animated, much like the individual frames of a movie.
It is really quite easy to edit the graphics images. The player is created pixel by pixel within an exploded view window. Also provided are three other windows of normal size. Typically, the previous, current, and next images in sequence are displayed to allow you to work on the current image.
The File Editor allows you customize the sequencing of the files created with the Grafix Editor. In addition to being able to view and manipulate multicolor player sequences, you can also edit, append and copy various parts of your files to create the animation sequence you desire. The File Editor is in the form of a 5 by 10 cell spreadsheet that may contain up to 50 separate frames.
Once you have created the animation frames and sequences, there are machine language subroutines for use in incorporating the graphics into your Basic program. These routines are called by simple USR statements and allow you to load ASCII data quickly, clear areas of memory, and move players horizontally and vertically.
The documentation consists of a 79-page owner’s manual and tutorial. The first six chapters are devoted to teaching the fundamentals of PM graphics to anyone, even those who are novices at programming. The next five chapters deal with the various features of this powerful graphics development tool. Finally, the last four chapters cover such advanced animation techniques as creating motion multiple players and multi-colored players.
The PM Animator sells for $45 and is a useful tool for creating player/missile graphics images. It is not a game, but a utility that will greatly aid the serious programmer with the task of creating and animating graphics sequences.
In the movie “Best Little Whorehouse in Texas,” Dom DeLuise plays a character named Melvin P. Thorpe, otherwise called, “The Watchdog.” He is an evangelical television personality who is constantly on the lookout for corruption and evil-doers. Like Melvin, I feel like a watchdog on the prowl for software that is reasonably priced and of high quality.
Programs that deliver more bang for the buck. If you happen to run across software for the Atari that you think meets these criteria, write and tell me about it. Remember, the watchdog never sleeps.
In the September 1983 Outpost column appeared a program written by Ernie Rice of Summit, NJ, which allowed an unlistable program to become listable again. As it stands, it works just fine. Unfortunately, however, Ernie had not enclosed the original expression in the extra set of parenthesis, which would make it work with the original delister code run in the September 1983 Outpost.
We have gotten many calls from folks desperate to re-list code protected in the original fashion.
Thanks once again to Ernie, Listing 1 is a program that will make the originally unlistable program re-listable. This time, Ernie used a different technique to undo the process, which resulted in an even shorter bit of code. There is however, one caveat: If the program you are trying to make listable does not contain any variables, the procedure will not work.
When the program in Listing 1 is run, it asks you for a filename of the unlistable code. Be sure to specify the complete filename, such as "D1:NEATPROG.BAS". The file will then be read into the computer and written back out to the disk under the original name.
As usual, Ernie Rice may be contacted at (201) 277-6785 and welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions on this particular technique or programming in general. Be sure to ask him about his fine line of utility products for the Atari. He is not bashful, and will be glad to tell you all about them.
That’s about it. Another exciting adventure into the world of Atari computers. Amid rumors of Atari’s imminent demise, you can bet your bippy that I will support the machines until my last breath. Atari computers truly represent the Zeitgeist in home computing.
Firms Mentioned In This Column
Don’t Ask Software
2265 Westwood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90064
9421 Winnetka Ave.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
Sim Computer Products, Inc.
1 100 E. Hector St.
Whitemarsh, PA 19428
P.O. Box 5228
Springfield, VA 22150
Listing 1. 10 DIM FN$(15),TABLE(4):OPEN #6,12,0,"E:" 20 ? #6;"FILENAME:";:INPUT #6;FN$ 30 OPEN #1,4,0,FN$:A=8:TABLE(1)=0:TABLE(2)=0:TABLE(3)=0:TABLE(4)=0:TRAP 60 40 A=A+1:GET #1,X:IF X=22 THEN TABLE(1)=TABLE(2):TABLE(2)=TABLE(3):TABLE(3)=TABLE(4):TABLE(4)=A 50 GOTO 40 60 CLOSE #1:FOR X=1 TO 4:? TABLE(X):NEXT X 65 IF TABLE(1) =8 THEN ? "ERROR - NO VARIABLES":STOP 70 OPEN 111,12, 8, FN$ 80 FOR A=1 TO TABLE(1)+2:GET #1,X:NEXT A 90 PUT #1,(TABLE(3)+3)-(TABLE(1)+3):CLOSE #1
CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 3 / MARCH 1984 / PAGE 252
Hello there. Once again our paths have crossed. Sit down, put your feet up, relax and let’s talk shop. Around here we are pretty excited about Atari home computing and like to share what we know.
This month I have a couple of odds and ends to share with you but I want to spend most of the time talking about languages. Computer languages to be sure, but there are many similarities between a spoken language and a computer language. Just as you and I communicate in English, a computer language allows us to communicate with our computers.
For example, words spoken (or entered) into the computer must be spelled correctly or the computer will not understand. Misspelling a computer command or statement is like mispronouncing a word. If the word was unfamiliar to you, you probably would not catch my verbal mistake nor would you understand what I was trying to say.
I have been programming computers of one sort or another for more than ten years and have learned to speak about a half dozen different languages during that time. But every time I sit down to learn a new language I am reminded of going to the beach. Learning a new computer language is like taking a swim in the ocean.
At first you walk up to the surf and look around. You want to see if anyone is already in and how the water is. Then you figure that you might as well get started, so you test the water with your big toe. Not bad. You then wade in up to your knees thinking, “how will I ever get all the way in?”
You continue inching forward until the water is over your hips. The worst is past; you have reached the point of no return. You continue ahead cautiously until you are suddenly engulfed by a wave, and you realize that it is not so bad now that you are in.
Think of a computer language. First you open the manual and try to read it like a novel. No way! You convince yourself that this stuff is totally incomprehensible. So you look around to see who else knows this language. You figure maybe he can help, so you talk to him. What you get is a familiar reply: it is not so bad once you learn it. In fact come on in; the water is fine.
Your next step is to sit in front of the computer, manual at your side, and try a few simple commands. Maybe a few statements such as PRINT, C = A + B, LIST, etc. That is not too hard. So you try a few more statements and commands. Gradually you learn more, and your self-confidence is increased. Maybe you discipline yourself to spend only an hour at the keyboard at each session. Your first successful program comes and goes, and the next thing you know, the wave has enveloped you, and you find yourself working on a program to maybe keep track of your business expenses. That is how it usually is when learning a computer language.
One of the programming languages of which you should be aware is Atari Microsoft Basic. It is now in a cartridge version, and for about $80 you get a 16K cartridge, an extension disk, a spiralbound user manual, a quick reference guide, and a brief overview.
When the cartridge and the disk are used together, this version of Microsoft Basic is exactly the same as the disk-based version released about two years ago. The main difference is that Atari was unable to fit 18K bytes worth of Microsoft Basic into a 16K cartridge. Therefore, the accompanying disk contains 2K bytes worth of “extension” features. Fortunately, the extension disk is copyable under DOS, so a backup can be made. This is especially useful for combining the extension commands with your own programs on disk. Disk swapping is minimized, and once the disk is inserted into drive 1, it need not be removed until the end of your programming session.
There are ten commands that did not make it into the cartridge that are on the extension disk. They are: AUTO, for automatic line numbering; DEL for deleting individual or blocks of lines; RENUM for renumbering lines; TROFF and TRON for tracing (on and off) the sequential flow of a program; NAME . . . TO for renaming disk files from within Basic itself; VERIFY for comparing a disk file with the current contents of memory; DEF for defining numeric or string functions; NOTE for obtaining the disk sector number and byte count of a DOS file; and PRINT USING for formatted screen or printer output. Seven of these commands are development aids, while three (DEF, NOTE, and PRINT USING) are used from within a program. However, once the extension disk is booted up, the entire language is memory resident.
The other major difference between the current and previous versions is the documentation. The user manual accompanying the previous release was adequate but nothing extraordinary. The new documentation is much easier to understand and use.
For example, the PRINT USING statement was not explained very well in the old manual and consequently was confusing to use. The section pertaining to this command in the new manual is much clearer and includes some examples. Also included in the user manual are tutorial sections on player/missile graphics and character graphics. The separate quick reference guide is especially helpful, well organized, and clearly presented.
When using the Bit-3 80-column board with Atari Microsoft Basic II, there seems to be a problem switching to the 80-column mode in DOS by means of the binary load ON file. When the ON file is loaded, you are returned to Basic but without a screen display. If you then type (very carefully) DOS, L and OFF, which calls DOS and then loads the OFF file, you are put back into 40-column mode with the screen displaying the DOS menu.
The only solution to this problem that I have found is to turn on the 80-column mode with a USR statement. Typing A = USR(54818) from Basic puts you into 80-column mode. As long as you have previously created a MEM.SAV file, you can do your programming and go in and out of DOS while retaining 80 columns.
The Atari Microsoft Basic II language, documentation, and packaging are well done. Having it on a cartridge will eliminate most of the previous complaints. Specifically, the inability to make a backup disk of the language, which discouraged the development of any serious software, has now been eliminated.
Another language worthy of mention is the new Atari Logo. This long-awaited language is unique compared to other implementations of Logo, in that it allows up to four turtles to be on the screen at once, has a two-voice sound capability, and permits the turtles to be dynamically controlled.
Logo, like Pilot, is finding itself in schools. For children, or as a first language, it really cannot be beat. This is because it is easy to use, and provides quick feedback. Take error messages for example. In Basic, misspelling a command like LOAD would result in the computer responding with a Syntax Error message. In Logo, if you typed LAD instead of LOAD, the response would be I DON’T KNOW HOW TO LAD which is obviously much more friendly and less intimidating to the novice. It also is more helpful since it points out the source of the error.
For $100, Logo comes with a 16K cartridge and two glossy spiral-bound manuals. One is a 215-page reference manual, and the other is a 156-page book entitled, Atari Logo: Introduction to Programming Through Turtle Graphics. A rather complete quick reference guide is also included.
Logo is similar to Lisp in that procedures may be named and later used as if they were built-in commands, and that lists are used for printing and recursion (a part of a program calling itself). Unlike Basic, Logo allows parameters to be passed between procedures. To write a procedure to create a square, I would use the following steps:
ST TO MYSQUARE > FORWARD 30 RIGHT 90 > FORWARD 30 RIGHT 90 > FORWARD 30 RIGHT 90 > FORWARD 30 RIGHT 90 > END
ST means show turtle and TO MYSQUARE initiates the ability to write a procedure. Each of the first four lines tells the turtle to move forward 30 units and then rotate to the right 90 degrees. Using abbreviations and the idea of a list to repeat a series of steps, the following is a shorter, equivalent program:
ST TO MYSQUARE > REPEAT 4 [FD 30 RT 90] > END
Once this procedure has been defined, I can simply use MYSQUARE as a new command. In fact, I can use it in a new more complex procedure. The following procedure draws a square 12 times and turns right 30 degrees after each square.
ST TO RESQUARE > REPEAT 12 [MYSQUARE RT 30] > END
So far I have defined two procedures. Either one may be used by just typing its name or including it as part of another procedure. The other Logo commands are equally easy to use. The manual, which teaches programming via turtle graphics, is well written. Variables are used in an understandable way. If I wanted to modify my square drawing procedure to include the capability for specifying the length of each side, I would change the program to the following:
TO MYSQUARE > REPEAT 4 [FD :LENGTH RT 90] END
The following program shows all four turtles drawing in three different colors at the same time. The background cycles through 26 of the 128 colors. The program will continue until you press the BREAK key.
TO ALLFOUR > TELL 0 > ST PU SETPOS [50 50] > TELL 1 > ST PU SETPOS [-50 50] > SETPN 1 > TELL 2 > SET PU SETPOS [50 -50] > TELL 3 > ST PU SETPOS [-50 -50] > PENCOLOR > TELL [0 1 2 3] > PD SMALLB 0 > CHGCOLOR 0 > WAIT 360 > END
TELL lets you talk to a particular turtle, 0 through 3. PU is pen up. SETPOS places the turtle on the screen at the coordinates given. SETPN means set the pen number. PENCOLOR, SMALLB, and CHGCOLOR refer to procedures listed below. PD is pen down, and WAIT is a delay in 60ths of a second. Typing ALLFOUR will start the program once all of the procedures have been entered.
Here is a very short program that demonstrates the dynamic aspect of Logo. The turtles may be given commands while they are moving. For example, typing TELL 0 LT 30 SETSP 150 will make turtle 0 turn left 30 degrees and increase its speed to 150. Try experimenting with some of the other commands.
TO SHORTY > TELL [0 1 2 3] ST SETSP 25 > END
There is much more to Logo than the few examples I have presented here. I have not even mentioned the TOOT command for sound, for example.
Logo is a very accessible language for chidren. I have seen children spend hours in front of the screen trying out different procedures and ideas. It takes only a few minites to learn enough about Logo to start being creative.
Listings 1, 2, and 3 are procedures to get you started. Try to figure out what they do, then run them and incorporate them in some programs of your own.
Listing 1. TO PENCOLOR > TELL 0 SETPN 0 > TELL 1 SETPN 1 > TELL 2 SETPN 2 > TELL 3 SETPN 0 > END
Listing 2. TO SMALLB :SIZE > FS > IF :SIZE > 80 [STOP] > PD > MYSQUARE :SIZE > PU > REPEAT 2 [LT 90 FD 5] > RT 180 > SMALLB :SIZE + 10 > HT > END
Listing 3. TO CHGCOLOR :CODE > IF :CODE > 127 [SETBG 74 STOP] > SETBG :CODE > WAIT 60 > CHGCOLOR :CODE + 5 > END
For a long time I have stayed away from text adventure games. I thought that they must be pretty dull because there are no graphics on the screen. And besides, it takes hours and hours to complete one. Boy, was I wrong in a big way.
I have recently begun playing PLANETFALL by Infocom. Perhaps a better description is that I have recently become hooked on Planetfall. The game is superlative. It is humorous and witty. If you enjoy science fiction and a challenge, Planetfall deserves a closer look. For a complete review of this excellent adventure game see the December issue of Creative Computing.
As their ads proclaim, the graphics inside your head are far better than those appearing on any video screen. This is also true for other Infocom adventures including: Starcross (science fiction), Deadline and The Witness (mystery), and Suspended and Enchanter (fantasy). You owe it to yourself to own at least one of these marvelous text adventure games from Infocom. You will be in for hours of enjoyment. And now for something completely different.
You are probably asking yourself why the name Commodore is appearing in the Atari column? Normally I would not even think of such a heretical act lest my loyal Atari readers string me up by my Basic bariables.
But there is a good reason to mention the word, if only in a hushed whisper, because they have a video monitor that is simply fantastic. I am of course referring to the Model 1702 (formerly the 1701) color monitor. This little beauty makes the Atari computer look like the king of the graphics machines that it truly is. Somehow, I find it ironic that Atari has to rely on Commodore to make its computer look good. I guess that is show biz. Come a little closer and let me tell you why I like this tube.
The model 1702 is a 13″ NTSC color video monitor measuring 14½″ × 14½″ × 15½″ and weighing about 32 pounds. On the rear of the unit are three RCA phono jacks for luminance, chrominance, and audio imput. There is also a slide switch for selecting medium or high-resolution mode. On the front are two additional RCA phono jacks for composite video and audio input. Behind a flip down panel are the usual controls you would expect to find: tint, color, brightness, contrast, horizontal position, vertical hold, and volume.
To describe how well the Commodore monitor works, I must first explain the video signals that are produced by the Atari computer. Those of you who are familiar with this topic are excused for the next four paragraphs. For the rest of you, here it is.
The Atari 800 computer has several types of video output. RF or Radio Frequency is sent through the cable that is permanently attached to the computer. The RCA phone plug on this cable plugs into the antenna switch box on the back of your television. RF is really a variety of different signals, including the brightness of the picture (luminance), color (chrominance), audio, TV synchronization, and modulation.
Your TV set takes this signal and breaks it down into the components. The quality of the picture you see on the screen is a result of how well your TV performs this process and its convergence capability. Convergence is simply the ability of the TV picture tube to focus a signal on the screen. An RF signal fed to your TV, generally produces a low-to medium-resolution image.
Another type of video output generated by your Atari computer is called composite video. This medium-resolution signal is made up of color, brightness, and synchronization. It is available at the monitor jack on the 800 on pins 4 and 2 (ground). The third type of signal coming out of your computer is called composite luminance. This signal lacks color information and is typically used for monochrome monitors. It yields the sharpest and brightest picture possible. Pin 1 of the 5-pin D.I.N. jack carries the signal.
The other signal that is produced by the Atari computer is called composite chrominance, or chroma. It is found on pin 5 of the jack. This signal has only color information. Normally, it is not used because few video monitors can accept it. By the way, pin 3 of the D.I.N. jack is the audio signal. If you want to hear the best sounds you ever heard from any computer, run leads from pins 2 and 3 into the auxiliary input of an amplifier and crank up the volume. I guarantee you will be impressed.
Okay, now you need a cable that has a 5-pin D.I.N. plug on one end and four RCA jacks on the other. You can make your own if you wish (see Figure 1 for the Atari D.I.N. jack pinouts). I know of one source for this type of multi-jack cable. It is Gemini Enterprises, 86 Ridgedale Ave., Cedar Knolls, NJ 07927. The cable costs $9.95 (plus $1.50 shipping) and is part #AC54.
Once the Luma, Chroma, and audio plugs are connected to the back of the monitor and the composite video plug is attached to the front, you are all set. With the rear slide switch set to “rear”, you will see the most stunning and crisp picture that rivals that of an expensive RGB monitor. Boot up Q-Bert, Pole Position, Axis Assassin, or Donkey Kong and marvel at the quality of the high-resolution video image. It is so good it really has to be seen to be appreciated.
When the rear slide switch is set to the “front” position, you are using the composite video outpur of the Atari and the quality is about the same as a very good TV set. When you are running software that uses artifacting, a technique used to get multiple colors out of a single mode, the Commodore monitor must be set in this mode. Otherwise you will have only a black and white image on the screen.
I am very excited about this video monitor. It has the best quality image I have seen on any color nonitor. The audio section of the monitor is just as good. You can turn the volume up and not have to suffer the distortion that is usually heard on TVs and other monitors. I highly recommend this non-Atari peripheral, which carries a suggested retail price of about $300.
That’s a wrap for this month. Next month I will shed some light on a game that has been called the sleeper of 1983: Planet Missionary by Magical Software. I will also revies some new software from an unusual source, a supermarket, and have a few other surprises. Until then, happy programming.
Photo: Figure 1. Atari 800 monitor jack.
I have been using an Atari 800XL computer for about a week. Although I do not have enough space to present a full review of this long awaited machine, I wanted to give you some good news: the 800XL is software compatible with the 400/800 computers!
This is achieved through the use of the Translator disk, a pre-boot program that loads the old operating system into the XL computer. Existing programs that use non-standard calls to the operating system will then run. The Translator also works on the Atari 1200XL.
I have tried the Translator with just about every major program available for the Atari computer. From Pinball Construction Set to VisiCalc to Letter Perfect. they all work.
There are actually two Translator programs. One is supposed to take care of 95 percent of the “problem” programs while the other handles the remaining 5 percent. The only program I found that required the “industrial strength” Translator was the original version of the Bank Street Writer word processor.
Remember, it is not necessarily Atari’s fault that these programs did not run on the XL machines. The programs were written using non-standard calls to, and locations of, the operating system, against the guidelines suggested by Atari. When Atari changed the operating system, the programs did not work. If Atari can be blamed, it is for taking almost a year to find a solution to this problem. The Translator programs solve the problem so the issue is now dead.
In the January Outpost. Atari’s Bill Bartlett stated that compatibility was a central theme of the new XL line of computers. Although software compatibility does now exist, I have found several hardware incompatibilities of the 800XL. The video output jack lacks a chroma output. That means if you were to buy the Commodore color monitor, described in this month’s Outpost, you would not be able to use it in the high-resolution mode. You can cheat however, and route the composite video output into the chroma input of the monitor.
If you have been unable to find an 850 interface to operate a printer, you might have purchased one of the printer interfaces that connect to serial I/O port and receive power from pin 10 of the I/O bus. On the 800XL, pin 10 no longer has +5 volts, therefore the current models of these printer interfaces will not work. Finally, the RESET key on the 800XL causes a cold start rather than a warm start as it does on the 400/800. This could cause a few rude surprises for the unsuspecting programmer.
There are several human factor problems as well. The power jack and the video output jack are similar DIN connectors. One has seven pins, the other five. That means you can plug your monitor into the power jack. I do not know if this will cause any damage but I am unwilling to find out. The left SHIFT key presents the other problem. Since this oversize key has only one contact point on the left, it is possible to press down on the right edge of the key and have it tilt to the right, rather than travel directly down to make contact.
All things considered, I like the 800XL. The keyboard feel is somewhat different from the 800 but I soon became accustomed to it, and now actually prefer it to the 800. The computer is certainly attractive, and the fit and trim are of a higher quality than a certain computer named after a naval rank.— AL
CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 5 / MAY 1984 / PAGE 191
This month we have a surplus of new hardware and software to report on and barely enough room to cover everything. Therefore, I will spare you the small talk and get right down to the serious business at hand.
I have just returned from the Winter Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas. Everything I have ever heard about Las Vegas is true—and more. If Disneyland is the fantasy world for the young, then I would argue that Vegas is the fantasy world for adults. This desert Ortgeist was an appropriate setting for software and hardware companies gambling on their future with new offerings.
Without any “significant” new product announcements by Atari, it was difficult for me to come up with a clever title for this segment. The possibilities were: “No News is Good News,” “No News is No News,” and “All the News That’s Fit to Print.” Trouble is, the first one has a negative connotation, the second is not very catchy, and the third is already taken. All of these titles, however, do capture the essence of Atari’s new posture: We have made serious mistakes in the past. They will not happen again. And we are in the home computer business to stay (including hardware).
The important Atari news of the show was their new attitude as evidenced by these and other candid remarks made by James Morgan, chairman and C.E.O. of Atari. According to Morgan, the three major causes for losing a half billion dollars in 1983 were 1) rapid and unchecked growth, 2) following the industry phenomenon of getting to the market quickly rather than strongly, and 3) subscribing to the Silicon Valley ethic of making products that are easily made rather than products that the consumer wants. (Check out the sidebar for a very frank and intelligently written letter by Morgan.)
For the future, Atari’s new missions are profitability, reliability, and creativity. The steps being taken to attain these laudable goals are the reduction of overhead cost by 40%, operating the company professionally by delivering what has been promised, and critically focusing the creativity and talent of the company.
Atari users may justifiably be skeptical at these words since we have heard similar promises before. As far as profitability and creativity are concerned, we will have to wait and see what Atari offers in the future. In terms of reliability, however, a local retailer who sells Atari computers and software has told me that out of the 100 Atari 800XLs he has sold so far, not one has been returned as defective.
There is no denying that Atari intends to make the 600XL and 800XL the workhorses of their computer line and their ticket to financial recovery. The key is making a reliable computer that is compatible with the thousands of existing programs. This has already been accomplished with the Translator disks.
There is also no denying that James Morgan is at the helm, and he should be given credit for being a quick study, especially having come into a new industry. The Atari ship was so far off course that it will take time for Morgan’s assessment and new direction to be seen. Having attended a meeting with James Morgan, I think it is obvious that he has a game plan. Although no new computers were announced at the show, there was evidence to suggest that Atari is about to make a comeback.
One example of this is a new game called The Legacy. A result of a six month effort in Atari’s Advanced Games Research Lab (I did not even know they had an advanced games lab), The Legacy is the first of the next generation of video games. These games are designed with the home user in mind and therefore take advantage of the home environment.
The Legacy is not a shoot-’em-up or an arcade clone but, rather, an original game that combines separate interactive game modes. It takes place in a world decimated by nuclear war. All that remains are toxic wastelands known as the dead zone and a handful of survivors. Although the survivors are attempting to rebuild the world, they learn that the original holocaust is not complete. A computer error has made a follow-up attack imminent. The player’s goal is to pilot a technologically advanced ship on a mission to find and destory the missile silos.
This game is totally different from the usual game fare to which we have all become accustomed. Strategy and timing are the important ingredients here.
Atari’s most significant software news was the announcement of the trilogy of home management programs purchased from Synapse. Originally introduced by Synapse at CES in June, the products include database, spreadsheet, and graphics programs. SynFile+ is the database program that is the successor to the popular Filemanager+ program. However, the name of the product and the company who produced it are the only similarities with the older program. SynFile+ has been entirely rewritten in Forth and completely restructured. The specs are impressive: up to 16 files may be opened at once; 66 fields per record are allowed; thousands of records may be maintained in a file; table look-up capability; and compatibility with Filemanager+, Atariwriter, and other “Syn” products. Very impressive to be sure.
Another program in the series is called SynCalc. This is a menu driven spreadsheet program that offers individual column widths; special format options like comma insertion and centering; multiple spreadsheet linking; and compatibility with VisiCalc format files. Logic, sorting, and financial functions are also supported.
The third package is called SynTrend and is composed of two parts: Syngraph and SynStat. Based upon my hands-on use, I would say that this package is “Synsational.” Compatible with the other products in the Syn series, SynTrend can produce bar, pie, line, and scatter plots. The program is menu-driven, and compatible with VisiCalc files. It supports multiple disk drives. Also included are descriptive statistics and multiple regression analyses. Each of the “Syn” programs distributed by Atari retails for $99.95.
Other software announced by Atari included the Music Learning Series, a new Disney video adventure called Captain Hook’s Revenge and DOS 3 for the dual density 1050 Disk Drive. DOS 3 is now packaged with the 1050 and will be given free to all current owners of the drive. This is yet another indication that intelligent life exists at Atari.
There was hardly a surfeit of hardware news, but that is consistent with Atari’s new policy of not announcing products until it can deliver them. I applaud this strategy and wish more companies would follow suit. The 600XL, 800XL, and 1450XLD computers were on display. But the long-awaited 1450 was, in Morgan’s words, “exhibited only as a demonstration of the company’s intent to market a high-end computer in 1984, although the specifics of such a product are currently under review.” Absent from the hardware catalog was any word about AtariTel. As Morgan explained it during an analysts’ meeting, the first AtariTel product is somewhat lackluster. Rather than introduce the line with a thud, the second, more exciting product, will be announced as the first entry during the second half of the year. We are asked to go along with this switcheroo because the product is said to be worth the wait.
Other hardware news included the announcement that the Touch Tablet and AtariArtist software will be shipped in the first quarter. I can vouch for this, having been using one for almost a month. It lists for $89.95, and the software is similar to that of the Koala pad.
Atari also demonstrated its light pen peripheral and AtariGraphics software. This light pen is the best I have seen for the Atari. It is manufactured by Gibson, the makers of the high quality, expensive light pen for the Apple computer. The Light Pen sells for $99.95 and will be available during the first half of 1984.
Atari also finally announced the 48K memory upgrade for the 600XL computer. Called the 1064 Memory Module, it is expected to sell for approximately $100. It gives full 64K memory to the 16K Atari 600XL computer.
Atari once again showed the AtariLab electronic science kit for the home computers. Developed by Dickinson College, the AtariLab peripheral allows various probes and sensors to be connected to the Atari computer. Data can be collected manually or automatically and can then be analyzed and displayed. The AtariLab Starter Set sells for $89.95 and includes the interface and temperature module. It is ready to ship now. Additional modules, the first of which is the Light Module, will sell for $49.95.
For the hard core Atari user awaiting news of MS-DOS compatible computers, CP/M boxes, and other fancy hardware, the news from Atari at the winter Consumer Electronics Show is disappointing. But for the Atari user seeking future products from a company that many thought would be out of the computer business by now, the news is relatively good. James Morgan has been in command for only four months, and there are already signs of change in Atari’s business strategy.
The advanced games R&D lab mentioned above is a healthy sign. The new policies of not announcing new products before they are ready and re-assessing the markets in which the company wants to compete are also positive. And, we will soon (finally) see the Syn software series.
Although Atari displayed very little hardware (outside of the AtariLab) at the show, all things considered, 1984 should prove to be a very interesting year for Atari users. To the predictors of doom for Atari, I qute the immortal words of Yogi Berra, “it ain’t over ’til it’s over.”
The Atari computer is a versatile machine. Among its many strengths is the ability to combine audio from a cassette recorder with graphics generated by a program. This is accomplished on the Atari 410 and 1010 recorders by storing audio on one track of the cassette and digital data (programs) on the other.
Although this approach has great potential, especially for educational material, it has not been used often. Maximus, a company new to the software business, has introduced two products that use this technique effectively. Called Software Movies, these programs tell a story by using the audio track for narration and presenting cartoon style animation on the screen.
One program is called Safetyline. Here, Max the Cat narrates two stories with a safety theme. One story concerns crossing the street safely, and the other stresses the importance of not getting lost or talking to strangers. The stories are presented just like movies with scrolling title credits, interesting plot, and cute animation.
Additionally, there are two games associated with each story. These games are fun for the child and reinforce the lesson in the story. For example, the Street Cross game requires the child to get Sam, Max the Cat’s friend, to school safely. Quickness counts, but points are deducted for trying to cross in the middle of the street. Throughout the game, safety tips are provided. These tips are also summarized at the end of the game in an unusual and clever way.
The other Software Movie is called Storyline. Here, Coover the Clown presents two familiar fairy tales: Rumpelstiltskin and The Ugly Duckling. Both stories are told well and should hold a child’s interest. One of the games associated with Rumpelstiltskin is called Promises, Promises. The lesson of not making promises that you cannot keep is taught within the game context. I know many adults, myself included, who could benefit from this lesson as well.
Overall, I like these Software Movies. My only criticism is that the animation does not use the maximum graphics potential of the Atari. Perhaps future releases will. Also, there are times when there is no action on the screen even though the narration suggests that there should be. This is because the program is waiting for synch marks from the tape.
These minor criticisms aside, Maximus’s Software Movies are a novel approach to storytelling and will delight children in the 3 to 7 year old range. I look forward to future “movies” from Maximus. Both programs require 48K memory and are available on either disk and cassette or cassette only versions.
Synapse was showing what turned out to be the most interesting product of the show. A combiantion biofeedback monitor and graphics display, Relax is intended to help the individual relax and reduce stress. It is the first of a series of products to use the capabilities of your home computer to monitor and improve your health. Creative will have a thorough review of this interesting and unique product in the near future.
Other new Synapse products for the Atari include SynChron (a personal calendar), SynComm (a telecommunications program), SynStock (a stock portfolio analysis program), and SynTax (a federal income tax preparation program). These products will be available during the first quarter and will retail for $34.95. SynStock will sell for $49.95. All seem easy to use and powerful.
Dimension X, originally shown at the Summer CES last June, will finally make its debut during the first quarter of 1984. Having undergone several revisions, the incredible 3-D action is still present. You navigate over the surface of a planet, piloting a hot rod skimmer, finding, and destroying all enemy skimmers.
CES would not be CES unless Atari had some new game titles on display. In addition to The Legacy mentioned above, some other exciting titles will soon be released. Berserk, which should be in the stores by the time you read this, is a highly playable game. Much like its arcade namesake, it offers an unusual feature for a home video game: speech.
In a voice similar to but much better than the voice in Atari’s E.T., such expressions as “Fight like a Robot” and “Intruder Alert” are heard. The game play is excellent.
Other games announced for the computers by Atari were adaptions of Mario Brothers, Robotron, and Donkey Kong Jr. All are slated for second quarter release. ■
Firms Mentioned In This Column
P.O. Box 50047
San Jose, CA 95150
6723 Whittier Ave.
McLean, VA 22101
5221 Central Ave.
Richmond, CA 94804
Photo: Storyline by Maximus.
Photo: The Relax System: Headband, Training Tape, Workbook, and Interface.
CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 6 / JUNE 1984 / PAGE 212
The interval between Outposts grows shorter every month. And there is always plenty to talk about. This month the topic is graphic tablets. But before we get to the main feature, here is a short subject of interest.
It is impossible for you to know this by reading the column, but I am using a different word processor this month. In the past LJK’s Letter Perfect has served me well, and occasionally Atariwriter has been called in from the bullpen for special assignments such as proportional printing on my Epson FX-80 printer. I have graduated to the big leagues and am now using WordStar by Micropo. “Impossible!” you say. “Don’t believe a word of it,” I hear? Rest assured that this is not the April Fool’s column.
Through the miracle of modern science, or more precisely, through the miracle of SWP, my Atari is now capable of running CP/M software on a Z80 microprocessor. Some of you have already guessed it, I am using an ATR8000. There will be a complete feature review of this marvelous product in an upcoming issue of Creative. Rather than gives the store away now, I just want to whet your appetite by telling you what this product can do.
Without hesitation, qualification, or any payola changing hands, I can say that the ATR8000 is the most exciting Atari peripheral to appear since the first Atari computer made its debut on the home computing scene.
Why is it so important? Because the ATR8000 combines several peripheral devices into one and is affordable. In its simplest form, it takes the place of the Atari 850 interface, providing a parallel printer port and rs-232 port. Also included in the 16K basic configuration ($350) is a 12K print buffer.
This would be a bargain in itself if that were all there were to the unit. But there is more. Generic disk drives in the $150 to $300 price range can be added to your system. And with the onboard Z80 microprocessor, a 64K upgrade (an additional $200 for memory chips and software) will allow you to run CP/M software and maintain full Atari software compatibility. For the person who finds price to be no obstacle, a fully configured system will boast 256K RAM and MS-DOS (as in IBM PC) compatibiliy.
If I say much more, there will be no need to publish the full length review, and you will think is all a commercial. But in closing, I want to dispel a couple of popular myths that I have been as guilty of perpetuating as anyone else. Namely, the CP/M oparating system which originally grew up with those early S-100 computers is difficult to use. It isn’t.
And much to my surprise (and embarrassed amusement), I found it to be very similar to Atari DOS 2.0S. This is no coincidence, since Bill Wilkinson and company, designers of Atari DOS, had a systems background and were quite familiar with CP/M.
Another myth I would like to debunk is the WordStar is difficult to use. Ain’t true. Sure, the help information seems to overwhelm the screen, but it can be turned of gradually as you learn the system. As with learning anything new, WordStar takes a little time to get used to. Although I have the complete two-pound reference manual, I used only the section on installation and bought myself an inexpensive quick guide. Eventually, I will read the entire manual, including the tutorial sections and will include a review of it as part of the ATR8000 piece. Graphics, Art and Touch Tablets
One of the reasons I purchased an Atari computer was for its excellent graphics capability. However, although I have been programming in Basic for many years, I was not ready to invest many hours into developing graphics programs. My first alternative to this time-consuming project was to use a couple of the drawing programs that are available. These included Paint, Micropainter, and Fun with Art. All of these products required the use of a joystick as a “paintbrush.”
I soon became accustomed to using a joystick for drawing and control, but I knew there had to be something better. My main problem was control. I was just not able to get as fine a movement as I wanted. One solution was to use a trackball instead of the joystick. This was clearly an improvement, but the response was rather slow.
Next I tried a light pen—actually a couple of different light pens—and found that approach to be completely unacceptable. I was better of sticking with the joystick. Pen position was critical in order to have the program see my movements. Also, there was something foreign and uncomfortable about drawing with my arm extended toward the screen.
It was at about this time that graphic tablet started to appear. I was able to obtain a KoalaPad, an Atari Touch Tablet, and a Powerpad tablet for review. I am pleased to report that I have at last found the answer to my graphics needs. All three products give you more control than a joystick or a trackball, are more reliable as input devices than a light pen, and are so versatile that new uses for them will continue to be found.
Interestingly enough, the graphics drawing program for which I was searching is almost identical on all three tablets. The tablets differ primarily in size and “feel.” I will first describe the physical aspects of these three different yet similar products. Let’s Get Physical
The Atari Graphics Tablet measures 7.5″ × 9.5″ × 1.25″. The drawing surface is horizontally oriented and measures 5″ × 6.5″. A stylus containing a pushbutton plugs into the back of the tablet, and the tablet is attached to joystick port 1. Two large pushbuttons, one on each side, are located toward the top of the tablet. A clear, removable piece of plastic allows a piece of paper to be inserted underneath for tracing.
The KoalaPad is slightly smaller than the Atari tablet and measures 8.5″ × 6.5″ × 2″. The square drawing are is 4.25″ on each side. The pad has a vertical orientation, and the two large horizontal pushbuttons are located on top. Also, the pad is angled about 30 degrees so that the back of the tablet is higher than the front. A separate, unattached stylus is used for drawing.
Chalkboard’s Powerpad is the largest of the group. The dimensions are 17″ × 19″ × 1.5″. The Powerpad has 12″ square drawing area and is horizontally oriented. A separate, unattached stylus, slightly thicker than that of the Koala, is used. One interesting aspect of the Powerpad is that the cord that plugs into the joystick port on the Atari computer is detachable. One end of the cord has a joystick plug, and the other has a modular telephone plug. If this modular telephone plug were inserted into a modular wall jack rather than the Tablet,96 volts would be sent into the delicate innards of your computer when the phone rang. Best keep the Powerpad away from telephones.
Mylar overlays come with the software and are placed on top of the pad. Some areas are defined as keys, while others may have symbols, shapes, or figures. The Powerpad itself contains an x,y matrix of 120 by 120 wires. Signals from this grid of 14,400 points are digitally sensed, encoded, and read by the computer. One advantage of the Powerpad is that multiple points can be sensed simultaneously. Both the Atari and Koala tablets can only sense one point at a time. The Software
The graphics drawing program used by the Koala, Atari, and Powerpad tablets is called the MicroIllustrator. The Atari version was written by Steven Dompier and Robert Leyland of Island Graphics Corporation. Atari calls it AtariArtist. Both the Atari and Powerpad programs are cartridges. The Koala program comes on a disk, but it will soon be available in a cartridge version. However, the programs themselves and the disk files are not compatible with each other.
The MicroIllustrator program is very powerful. As an electronic drawing tool it allows you to draw freehand using several different brushes and colors. You can create geometric shape of all kinds and sizes and change colors of the drawings at any time. There is also a magnify option for detail work, and you can save your masterpiece to disk or tape.
The program is incredibly easy to use. You can begin using it immediately by selecting from among the dozen menu items. The choices are divided into three sections: commands, brush set, and color set. For example, with the menu screen displayed, move the stylus to DRAW and press the left button on the tablet. This selects the DRAW option, which allows you to draw freehand on the screen.
Say you want to use a different color? Press the left button once again to bring back the menu and position your stylus over one of the colors on the bottom of the screen. Press the button to choose that color, move back to the DRAW box, and press again. You can now continue your drawing with the new color.
In addition to the pushbuttons on each side of the tablet, the Atari tablet also has a button on the stylus itself. It functions exactly as the tablet buttons do. The Powerpad tablet has, instead of pushbuttons, two areas on the tablet itself. One is labeled Menu and the other Pen Down. Pressing these two labels corresponds to the button presses on the Atari and Koala tablets.
Here are some of the other options. LINE draws individual straight lines, K-LINE is similar, but the end point of one line becomes the beginning of another. RAYS makes lines that radiate from one point. BOX and FRAME allow you to make squares and rectangles by specifying two corners. The frame is filled with color with the BOX option. CIRCLE and DISC work the same way. CIRCLE is just the outline, and DISC fills in the circle. Any portion of your drawing may be filled with color by selecting the FILL option, pointing with the stylus, and pressing the button.
The ERASE and STORAGE commands are easy to use and include fail-safe techniques to prevent you from accidentally erasing a drawing or destroying a file. File loading and saving is also a breeze.
One of the more unusual options with this graphics program is the MIRROR mode. This choice lets you create duplicate or reverse images of your stylus movement. You can choose from horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or all (four-way) on the AtariArtist, whereas the Koala and Powerpad programs have only four-way. Some very pleasing effects may be created using these options. Using the Touch Tablets
All three of these touch tablets are a pleasure to use. The choice is not whether you should buy one, but rather which one. You could not go very wrong choosing any of them. The deciding factor will probably be size (the Powerpad is the largest and probably easiest for young children to use) and future products.
The KoalaPad already has several additional titles that work with the pad. These include a simple music program and several disks of geometric shapes that may be colored much like a coloring book. Koala is just beginning to use overlays with their products. There is also a programmer’s package that shows how to use the Koala tablet with your Basic programs. It even includes some Basic routines to get you started.
Although it has the smallest drawing area, the KoalaPad was liked by all who used it. Its performance was judged to be second best, but given the available software, price, and ease of use, it appeared to be the all-around favorite.
The Powerpad has the most ambitious collection of ancillary software. These titles include several games and a four-voice music program that uses the multiple sensing aspect of the tablet to play chords. Another advantage of the Powerpad is that it uses overlays. This makes operation of the touch tablet much easier than if input from the keyboard were required.
Although the Powerpad has the most software of all three tablets, I know of several users (including me) who are disappointed with its performance. Specifically, the Powerpad will miss points if you draw too rapidly. With the MicroIllustrator and Leo’s ’Lectric Paintbrush programs, moving the stylus across the pad had to be done very slowly so as not to miss points.
The Atari tablet was clearly the most attractive and the best performer. Zigzags can be made from one end of the tablet to the other, and the software/hardware combination always keeps up. At this time Atari does not have any additional software for their touch tablet. However, there are plans to release some additional programs later this year. Compatibility
Although all three touch tablets use virtually the same software, the tablets are not interchangeable. This means, for example, that I cannot use the Koala tablet with the AtariArtist cartridge. Not only are the programs not interchangeable, the disk picture files created by the programs are not compatible. And to make matters worse, the files are not compatible with other programs like Color Print and Micropainter. So there is no way to get a screen dump of your beautiful pictures.
But, leave it to an Atari User Group member to figure out that this sorry state of affairs needs attention. Bruce Frumker of the Atari Computer Enthusiasts of Cleveland has sent me some routines to convert KoalaPad files to and from Micropainter and Color Print. Listing 1 labeled KOALA2MP converts files from Koala to Micropainter format. Listing 2 labeled MP2KOALA converts files from Micropainter to Koala format. Listing 3, written by Keith Tscherne also of the Cleveland group, converts from Micropainter to Fun With Art (Epyx) format.
Thanks for the programs Bruce and Keith. Let us hear from the rest of you User Group members.
Also of interest is information provided by Russ Wetmore via Michael Reichmann on loading and saving compatible files from the KoalaPad. To save “standard” pictures use the following procedure: While your picture (not menu) is displayed using the KoalaPad, press the INSERT key on the Atari, and the picture will be saved on the disk under the name Picture. It will be 62 sectors long so be sure there is enough room on your disk.
To load a “standard” picture go to the drawing screen (it does not matter if it is bland or not) and press the CLEAR key on the keyboard. If there is a file called Picture on your disk in drive 1, it will be loaded. The load and save picture techniques just mentioned do not use the color registers. Therefore, your pictures will have to be adjusted to their original color. The programs to convert to and from the Koala format do use these registers so your colors remain intact. The Creativity Connection
It can be argued that these graphics tablets are nothing more than “electronic coloring books.” The proponents of this argument further suggest that a piece of paper and some crayons are equally good. Assuming that a child can be equally creative with either medium, the question must be asked, “is there an advantage to touch tablets?”
My response would be that the very nature of the electronic medium which allows you to draw quickly and see the results of experimenting with colors and shapes, is the advantage. Also, an electronic creation can be manipulated (and even erased) more easily than its paper and crayon counterpart.
With some adult guidance, these graphics tablets and their various programs can be wonderful. Their use is limited only by the user’s imagination. I think that they are the best thing to hit the home computer scene in a long time.
CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 7 / JULY 1984 / PAGE 206
In this month’s Outpost, an old friend, David Small, shares the honors with columnist Art Leyenberger. David brings us news gleaned from a recent visit to Atari, and Art talks about new books of interest to Atari users.
In March, I visited Atari to try to make some sense of what I had been hearing about the company and its products. Among the people with whom I spoke there was Sherwin Gooch, a manager and the driving force behind the 1450 XLD.
“What?” you ask. “The 1450 has been cancelled.” Ah, read on. And remember you heard it here first.
Sherwin is the head of a small, very talented group of people working on the 1450. When I visited, they were putting the final touches on the design. In spite of parts availability problems, politics, layoffs, and resignations, Sherwin hung on, dedicated not only to doing a fine machine design, but, in his words, to “getting the 1450 out the door. It’s just like The Soul of a New Machine (Tracy Kidder’s fine book about the development of a new Data General machine). What doesn’t matter is the politics, the problems, or the hassles. What counts is getting the machine out the door. That is what computer companies are judged by, not the rumors of grandiose machines ‘under development,’ but what goes out the door. And if it kills me, the 1450 XLD is going to get out the door.” When? He could not say, officially; I will say June. This year.
And my, what Sherwin has wrought. This machine can sing! That’s right. And talk—better than any speech synthesizer you have heard. It can also answer your phone with its speech synthesizer. Or dial the phone itself and use a built-in modem.
The internal processor is still the 6502, not a 16-bit variation (as rumor had it), the onboard memory is 64K (not 128K), and on-board Basic is supplied.
Disk drives? I bet every Atari owner wants speed and more storage on the disk. The 1450 has true parallel double sided, double density disk drives, with 256-byte sectors. This gives around 360K of data per disk, and access to it is very, very fast; it takes just 36 seconds to transfer the data from the entire disk into memory. A disk copy takes twice that, or 72 seconds.
The operating system is very sophisticated, yet manages to stay compatible with software for the 400/800 series machines. This is an extremely significant and intelligent move; it means that the 1450 will be able to run all sorts of software at the time it hits the market.
When I was at Atari, I saw Sherwin working through an idea to make the output from POKEY (the sound chip) be the input to the speech synthesizer, so you could get a really neat “talking sound” effect. I don’t know if this will be included or not; the machine was near “close date,” the time when things are not supposed to be changed. If it is there, you will surely see some really neat software using this effect—just as soon as software houses figure out how it works.
Some other changes at Atari include the dropping of APEX, the Atari Program Exchange. This was a low cost distribution center for user written Atari software. Unfortunately, it was too “low cost”; Atari did not make much money from it. And that is why APEX was dropped.
The top 20 or so APEX titles will still be sold, but the rest of the products will be shelved. Since the original authors retain rights, they can be distributed elsewhere.
Kudos to Fred Thorlin, the manager of APEX for all this time; he helped many people publish their first programs and got a wide variety of software “out the door.” Fred is no longer with Atari, but his contribution should not be forgotten.
Another interesting Atari product you may be hearing about is the Star network. The Star allows up to 64 Atari computers to be tied to a few common disk drives and printers. This makes it absolutely ideal for classroom situations, for it means a group of students can share a resource.
The Star was originally developed by MECC (Minnesota Educational Computing Consortium) and Atari bought the rights. The project then languished because of internal disruption at Atari. But if you are an educator looking for an inexpensive ($50 or so per Atari to connect it to the network), well engineered method of setting up a classroom full of Ataris, it would behoove you to write Atari and ask them to make this product widely available. (It is already installed in a few Bay Area schools.)
Art picks it up from here:
Hundreds of books on computing have come out so far this year. Just as sales of Atari computers represent a small fraction of the computer market, the number of books pertaining to the Atari is equally small. Still the titles number in the dozens, so some recommendations in this column are long overdue.
There are two books that every Atari computer user must have. The first one has been around for almost two years. Still, its content and organization represent the best single reference for Atari information. Your Atari Computer by Lon Poole, Martin McNiff, and Steven Cook is published by Osborne/McGraw-Hill and affectionately called “The Purple Book.” This $16 book covers the Atari computer system and Atari 8K Basic. The section on introductory and advanced graphics is one of the best I have seen anywhere.
Although the Purple Book does not discuss the XL computers, the information is still relevant. The appendices alone are probably worth the price of the book. They include material on memory usage, error messages, functions, peek and poke locations, and conversion tables. Also, there are numerous programs and examples that reinforce the written information.
The other Atari related book that is a must have is a new one published by The Book Company. Written by Gary Phillips and Jerry White, the book is titled The Atari User’s Encyclopedia. It is an up-to-date compilation of useful information for the Atari 400, 800 or XL computer owner. Everything from Basic to Action is discussed.
The format of the book is alphabetical entries by subject. Entries include descriptions of programming languages, one-paragraph summaries of software, and listings of publications and user groups. There is also a Basic tutorial at the beginning of the book complete with program listings and explanations. This 267-page, $20 book is a valuable resource.
Hayden has several titles on programming your Atari computer in Basic. Aimed at children 3 to 7 years old. The Atari Playground by Fred D’Ignazio contains 23 programs covering a broad range of subjects. Each of the programs has a story associated with it to reinforce the learning of word and number skills. The book explains how to participate in a spelling bee, draw with a computer crayon, watch ghosts appear and disappear, and play games against the Atari.
Fred has written another similar book called Atari in Wonderland. This book is meant for children ages 6 to 10. Here they learn how to write a book report, create songs, test reflexes, and count in French and Spanish among other things. Both of Fred’s books cost $9.95 and include, in addition to the program listings, instructions for using the Atari graphic keys. Suggestions for program modifications are also given. There will soon be a cassette tape of the programs in both of these books.
Another new book from Hayden is Basic Atari Basic by Jim Coan and Richard Kushner. This $14.95 book is not simply another variation of Coan’s Basic programming text which has been adapted to several computers. Rather, it has been extensively re-written to include Atari-specific information on such subjects as XL graphics modes 12 through 15, sound, and player-missile graphics.
An interesting new book is Jack Hardy’s Adventures with the Atari published by Reston. No, this is not a book about getting software to run on the XL machines. Instead, it is a book about writing adventure games in three different programming languages: Pilot, Microsoft Basic, and Atari 8K Basic. Hardy gets you started designing and writing your own adventure games by including numerous examples of techniques and several complete games.
A systematic approach to adventure game writing is stressed, and the following subjects are covered: the game scenario, the objects, the map, the flowchart, keying the program, and play testing the game. Although this book is not for beginners, if you have an interest in adventure games you might want to check it out. $14.95 in paperback.
Atari Programming with 55 Programs by Linda Schreiber is another Basic programming book that has the advantage of giving you dozens of programs in addition to teaching you Basic. Although some of the programs are trivial and meant only for illustrating certain aspects of Basic programming on the Atari computer, there are many useful programs. Some are most useful as subroutines in your own programs. This is especially true for routines such as using the console keys, using the joysticks and paddles for input, and generating random numbers.
A description of each of the programs is given, including what specific Basic statements are used in the routines and how they accomplish the objective of the program. Atari Programming is published by Tab Books and sells for $14.50.
The last “learn how to program” book I will mention is called Atari Player-Missile Graphics in Basic by Philip Seyer. This $14.95 book is also published by Reston and is a good introduction to this sometimes difficult to understand topic. A step by step approach is used, and plenty of examples illustrate the various aspects of PMG.
A general book that I think is one of the best introductions to what computers are all about is called Through the Micro Maze written by Wayne Creekmore and published by Ashton-Tate. At first glance, $9.95 for a thin, 64-page, “glossy look” intro to computing may seem rather steep. But from the moment you begin to read page 1, you start to learn.
The text is brief but well written; the visuals are numerous and extremely easy to read; and each page is chock full of information. The material is far from being Atari-specific, but the basics of computing are well covered. The best way I can describe this book is to quote the author’s brief dedication: “This book is dedicated to those of you who are curious about computers, want to buy one, are scared to death of them, don’t understand the one you own, and don’t like to read for hours.” Excellent job, Wayne.
The last several books will not necessarily teach you how to program. They will not tell you secrets about making your programs run 30 percent faster. Nor will they give you a list of poke locations in the appendix. What they will do is expand your mind if you read slowly and carefully digest the information you are reading.
One such book is Genesis II by Dale Peterson. The appropriate subtitle of the book is “Creation and Recreation with Computers.” This thought-provoking book covers the gamut of computer-related topics from painting, music, and literature to games and the power of computers. The relationship between technology and the arts is explained by using many examples of how computers have added a new dimension to the visual arts.
Other highlights of the book include a layperson’s guide to computer graphics, a short history of computer games and their impact on society, and interviews with leading computer artists. Genesis II is well worth reading. Reston Publishing, $19.95.
Another thoughtful book that will have you reaching for your thinking cap is The Art of Computer Games Design by the one and only Chris Crawford, the premier game designer for Atari and until March of this year Atari’s manager of research.
In this book, Crawford emphasizes the artistic dimension of computer games. In this way he reveals computer games design as a creative process rather than merely a technical one. He states that the central theme of the book is “that computer games constitute a new and poorly developed art form that holds great promise for both the game designer and the game player.”
This book is must reading for anyone interested in game design or even those who just like to play computer games. Written well, it reads more like a novel than non-fiction. Osborne/McGraw-Hill, $14.95.
If you are really interested in why people play computer games, you may want to look at Geoffrey and Elizabeth Loftus’s Mind at Play: The Psychology of Video Games. Both authors are cognitive psychologists, which occasionally makes the book a little bit technical. But the material is provocative nonetheless. Here is a sample, quoting the well-known psychologist Philip Zimbardo: “The video games that are proving so addictive to young people may not only be socially isolating but actually encourage violence between people.” The authors discuss this point and mention games such as Frogger and Donkey Kong as evidence that the current crop of video games is turning away from violence as the central theme. You may not agree with everything in the book, but you are sure to read logical arguments for what is being proposed. Basic-Books, $14.95.
Firms Mentioned in this Column
10150 West Jefferson Blvd.
Culver City, CA 90230
10 E. 53rd St.
New York, NY 10022
10 Mulholland Dr.
Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604
Osborne/McGraw-Hill Book Company
2600 Tenth St.
Berkeley, CA 94710
11480 Sunset Hills Rd.
Reston, VA 22090
Howard W. Sams
4300 W. 62nd St.
Indianapolis, IN 46268
P.O. Box 40, Monterey Ln.
Blue Ridge Summit, PA 17214
CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 9 / SEPTEMBER 1984 / PAGE 210
Welcome to the Outpost. This month and next our columns are aimed especially at those who want to explore the capabilities of the Atari and learn a little about the machine. There isn’t any difficult machine language to work with, no long programs to type in, or anything else complex — just a lot of fun creating effects on the machine.
For you budding programmers, all this has a point, too. After we are done playing with the machine, we will explain why some of these effects occur and next month we will begin to delve into the mysterious, confusing world of assembly language.
An assembly language tutorial has been on our minds for some time. However, we must credit the Randolph Area (Randolph Air Force Base, San Antonio, TX) User’s Group with motivating us into finally doing this tutorial. We visited there in April, and asked what they would like to see in a column; the item most wanted was an assembly language tutorial.
Okay, fold the page of Creative back so you have its undivided attention, and position the lights so they don’t glare on the page. Plug in your Basic cartridge, and turn on your Atari; the disk doesn’t really matter. As soon as you see the READY prompt at the top of the screen, type:
POKE 755,4 (and press return)
How about that. Every character on the screen, including the READY and the line you typed, has flipped upside down. (This is a great trick to play at a computer store; go in, type in the poke, and clear the screen. The next person to play with the Atari is in for a big surprise.)
Okay, let’s flip them back:
Or how about flipping them back and forth with a program?
10 FOR A=1 TO 10000 20 POKE 755,2 30 POKE 755,4 40 NEXT A
This effect is particularly hard on the eyes; half the time, the characters are rightside up, and the rest of the time, they are upside down. If you want to slow this down, add:
25 FOR DELAY=1 TO 500:NEXT DELAY 35 FOR DELAY=1 TO 500:NEXT DELAY
This causes a delay between flips.
Here is a nice little surprise. POKE 709,0 and all the characters on the screen turned black, didn’t they? If you POKE 709,15, they will turn whiter-than-white — much brighter than you are used to. What about getting rid of the standard blue color you edit with? POKE 710,0, and the background color will go black. You now have a very intense black and white screen. Should you find this to be too much for your eyes, you might like to try the green and white screen I use: POKE 709,12 and POKE 710, (12*16)+4.
In fact, you can poke any number from 0 to 255 into 709, and it will vary the intensity of the characters on the screen. As you poke any value from 0 to 255 into 710 the color of the background varies.
Let’s try two more loops, which rapidly stuff different values into 709 and 710, with corresponding wild effects on color:
10 FOR A=0 TO 15 20 POKE 709, A 30 NEXT A 40 GOTO 10
10 FOR A=0 TO 255 20 POKE 7 10, A 30 NEXT A 40 GOTO 10
(When you get tired of this display, just press system reset or break to stop it.)
Then, of course, we can vary them both:
10 FOR A=0 TO 255 20 POKE 710,A 30 POKE 709,225-A 40 NEXT A 50 GOTO 10
If the displayed characters don’t take up a full TV screen in size, there is- a border around them. The color for this border can also be set:
10 FOR A=1 TO 255 20 POKE 712,A 30 NEXT A 40 GOTO 10
Feel free, of course, to experiment with these effects. After you have typed in these short programs, try modifying them and playing with them. Perhaps you could use an input statement to input a value to poke into 709, or you could put random numbers into 709 (something like POKE 709,INT(RND(0)*255)). There are all sorts of possibilities, and remember the law of Atari:
“If you are just playing around and create a wild display on the Atari, you are probably the first person ever to see that display.” That is an exciting thought for me.
Let’s consider what we have done. With some poke statements, we have flipped characters upside down, modified colors, and even flashed them wildly.
What exactly is this poke statement, anyway? It seems to have some pretty powerful capabilities.
POKE takes a number and stores it at a specific location inside the Atari. How does this work? Well, there are 64,000-odd locations inside the Atari; that is why it is called a 64K machine. The Commodore 64 is also a 64K machine; that is how it got the name. Each of these 64,000 separate locations is identified by a number: location 710, for instance, or location 21250. Each of these locations can hold any number from 0 to 255, inclusive. (No fractions allowed, by the way). See Figure I.
We can read the number from 0 to 255 from any of those locations or write a number with the same restrictions. For instance, let’s look at location 1536. Type PRINT PEEK(1536) and you will get back a number, probably a zero. That is what is in location 1536 at this instant.
Let’s go ahead and change it. Type POKE 1536,200, then PRINT PEEK(1536). When you read that location again, you will find the 200 you POKEd in there. See Figure 2.
Bear in mind that you cannot poke a number greater than 255 into a location. Go ahead and try it if you like: POKE 1536,1000, and you will get an error message.
Why? There is a good reason having to do with bits and bytes and the nature of computers, but an analogy is the best example. Think of a football scoreboard with two digits. It can display a score from 00 to 99, right? If a team scores more than a hundred points, the scoreboard just cannot keep up. Computer memory does not store individual digits, like a 0 or a 7; it stores numbers in a different way. However, there are restrictions on this new way, also, and the restrictions happen to limit us to three digits and to 255 as the highest possible number.
If you can think of memory as 64,000 mailboxes, each numbered, then what we just did was to change the that was in mailbox #1536 to a 200. You can change the contents of any mailbox to any value from 0 to 255; for instance, all we did with our wild color loops was to modify locations 709 and 710.
Now the contents of certain memory locations are used by the Atari to determine color and intensity of the screen, whether or not characters show right side up or upside down, and so on. You have to know the memory location and you have to know the right number to poke in there, and if you do, you can control these functions.
You may have used the SETCOLOR command, which changes the color on the screen in much the same way we have just changed it. Well, all that SETCOLOR is is a fancy poke to locations 709-712; you can duplicate SETCOLOR with a poke. All that the SOUND commands do is poke into memory locations that control sound, and so forth.
In fact, everything on the Atari is controlled via memory locations. Just read or write to them, and you have awesome power over the machine. All of the great games you have seen work by POKEing into special memory locations. And the games get data from the user by PEEKing memory locations. For instance, want to see how the joysticks work? Okay;
10 PRINT PEEK(54016) 20 GOTO 10
You will get a rapidly printing list of numbers, all the same. Now plug a joystick into port 1 and press it in different directions; the numbers change consistently. A particular joystick press always results in the same number.
In other words, the way a game reads the joystick to find out how you have pressed it is just by examining (PEEKing) location 54016. That’s right: Star Raiders works by looking at 54016 to see what course you choose to follow through the stars, and Pac-Man looks to the same place to determine your path around the maze. Pretty amazing memory location, isn’t it?
The joystick button shows up at location 53264. Try:
10 PRINT PEEK(53264) 20 GOTO 10
and you will see what I mean. You will read a 1 until you press the joystick button; at which time, the value will change to a 0.
You will notice that you always read numbers between and 255 from the joystick and button locations. Here is an interesting idea, since we are having fun: let’s let the joystick output value (0-255) set the color on the TV screen:
10 VALUE=PEEK(54016) (get joystick value) 20 POKE 710,VALUE 30 GOTO 10
Now try pressing the joystick in different directions. The effect ought to be a lot of fun. You can embellish this in all sorts of ways.
Now, true. Atari Basic gives you the stick command to check to see how the joystick is pressed. But all the stick does is PEEK(54016) and manipulate the value it receives so it is a little easier for Basic programmers to use. Before leaving you for this month, let me repeat an earlier statement, suitable for framing:
Next month, we continue with screen memory and the promised specifics of assembly language.
CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 10 / OCTOBER 1984 / PAGE 187
It has been nearly a year since I have manned the Outpost, and it feels good to be back. Rest assured that Dave and Sandy Small will return next month, to continue with their Atari machine language tutorial. But I just couldn’t resist stepping back into the Outpost to report on Atari’s condition following Warner’s abrupt sale of the company.
Many of you Atarians who have contacted me through the magazine or visited the Creative Computing SIG on CompuServe (PCS-22) know of my continuing loyalty to the Atari machine—and that changing times have not changed those feelings. But undeniably, times have changed for Atari computers. After suffering losses of over a billion dollars in the past two fiscal years, Warner Communications frantically started hunting for a buyer. Their unlikely find was none other than Mr. Jack Tramiel, who as CEO of Commodore International, personally helped Atari bite the dust in the price wars of 1982. Mr. Tramiel founded Commodore and built it from a storefront operation into a billion dollar company.
He left his brainchild in January, traveled the world for a couple of months, and then negotiated the purchase of Atari Corporation (now under the umbrella of Tramiel Technologies Ltd.) in July. It should be noted that Warner Communications retained the coin-operated arcade game branch of Atari, as well as Ataritel, the experimental telecommunications group. You remember Ataritel, right? Its great claim to fame is that it has survived for nearly three years without ever announcing a product.
So the very man whose name once spelled doom for Atari is now its last chance for salvation. No small irony there, but also cause for hope, I would assert. If there is one thing Mr. Tramiel knows about, it is marketing, and lousy marketing helped kill the old Atari. It may be that Jack’s hubris will get the better of him this time, and that nobody can save Atari. Jack may also be the one person in the world who can turn the company around.
I was impressed with his very first moves as CEO and chairman. He laid off almost all middle and upper level managers and treated Atari’s recovery as if it was the start-up of a wholly new company. This, I believe, was the only successful way to plan a comeback. If too much of the old Atari remained, the deck would be fatally stacked. The company truly needed a totally fresh start, the the first thing Tramiel did was to see that Atari got it.
Nobody is really sure what Jack Tramiel will do to and for the Atari product line. It seems likely that the Atari 800XL will continue to be sold, at least through early 1985. As for everything else, all bets are off. It is now highly unlikely that the 1450 XL, with built-in parallel bus disk drive and modem, will ever see the light of day. Jack is savvy enough to know that the 1450 is last year’s product. He wants to get next year’s out the door as soon as possible. And the 1450XL is not it. Hence we’ll be hunting for another machine to top the Outpost column masthead. We have a hunch, but more on that up ahead.
The only thing we are quite sure of is Tramiel’s confidence. “We’ll be number one within a year,” he told Infoworld.
The Atari was my first computer, and it was probably somewhat due to the Atari that I got a break in the world of microcomputer journalism. Atari was the first computer company I ever wrote about for money. Most of the comment was praise, but I was first critical of Atari in an Infoworld editorial way back in 1981. Atari was at the time taking full page ads in trade papers telling pirates that “the game is over.” Talk about a terminal case of the smuggies and a wrong-headed approach to public relations. Aside from criticizing this, I decried the company’s noncrediting of individual programmers on their software packages and wrote that Atari tended toward “schizophrenia” because of its size and the way it competed against itself. I suggested that a new approach was necessary if the company was to avoid a marketing problem and an image problem.
When I finished my first Outpost: Atari in November of 1982, Atari was finishing up a smash hit year. Video games were the American rage, and Atari was the video game company. It seemed they could do no wrong, and top-level managers began to believe in their own infallibility. It seemed, too, that the decision had been made to allow the superlative 400 and 800 computers to languish, while the company spent millions promoting games.
Right up until the end, that stupendous miscalculation prevailed: witness the unbelievable introduction of the model 7800 videogame unit weeks before the old company’s demise. Meanwhile the computer line had been cheapened and made less compatible with itself. Nobody near the mechanism of decision-making (if there was any such mechanism at Atari) ever had much of an idea of what a product line should really be about. And about the last thing they ever would have done was listen to somebody who did.
After a year manning the Outpost, I had grown depressed. My marketing criticisms had become a monthly soap opera and were more caustic each time around. My feelings about Atari the company became counterproductive to the column. My dealings with Atari corporate were at an all-time low, and it seemed as if there was a new public relations director almost weekly. Atari had begun to lose money, you see, and no amount of Maalox would help. The panic stampede had, by then, warmed up to only a weekend jogger’s pace, but already everybody had his sneakers on.
A year later, I can’t resist getting in a quick “I told them so.” If only they had made the 5200 game machine 400/800 compatible and offered an optional keyboard peripheral. If only they had killed the 1200 on the drawing board. If only they had bought out the 1450 last fall. If only they had acted early to change their image. If only they had protected the morale and egos of their most creative minds. If only they had realized that the videogame and the low-end home computer were no longer separate markets. If only they had cut costs without cutting quality. If only the XL series had been truly compatible with the old Ataris.
If only they had done what I was saying all along, right there in this column, they wouldn’t have fallen down and gone bing bang boom. And you know what they say about “the bigger they are.”
Hey, I know it’s easy to look back and write history and say “they should have listened to me.” The hard part is to see into the future and determine where the avoidable mistakes are. The trick is to continue predicting things right. Atari is in a precarious state now with one foot on Jack Tramiel and the other on a banana peel. If it falls again, this time its frail bones will shatter. It will go to that big Chuck E. Cheese parlor in the sky.
In Ridley Scott’s vision-of-the future movie “Blade Runner,” everywhere you look there are Atari billboards and signs. It must have seemed a safe bet back in 1982 that Atari would be a company to survive well into the 21st century. Videogames made twice as much as movies that year (over $7 billion). Upon viewing the film today, the signs seem dated. Timestamped, you might even say.
What are you going to do, Jack, to revive the battered behemoth? How are you going to get people to stop buying IBMs and Apples and your own darned Commodores and start buying TTL Ataris? Do you know what people want? Do you know some minds who can deliver it? Can you get it down to an attractive cost without sacrificing quality and performance? Can you manufacture it in quantity within a reasonable amount of time?
Certainly not out of the blue, no. You need to find a product worth putting your name on, worth putting the Atari name on. And I’ve got news for you, Jack. I know what that product is.
What do micro buyers want? Easy. They want 1000K RAM, 10Mb of hard disk space; 3-D color animated graphics with a resolution indistinguishable from broadcast TV; a built-in modem, laser-disk interface, and printer; stereo sound on a par with a Moog; and ease of use like the Macintosh. And they want it for $99.95. Deliver this with a free piece of software like a flight simulator that really looks and feels like flying through the sky, and you can have your wish. You can be number one again. And maybe stay there for a while.
But this is a machine for the drawing board. It’s not the one available now to supplant the tired old Atari computer line. What to glue your name on in the meantime, while you await the dream machine? You’ve got to get as close to that set of specifications as you can, at as close to the price. Most important, you must be willing to take a risk. If you introduce just another IBM-compatible, you will surely go down the tubes. Sure, IBM compatibility would be nice, but you had better be able to do a whole lot more. Fact is, the IBM standard is mediocre, and most of the public knows that by now. You need something more, much more, much much more. And now I’ll give you the name, address, and telephone number of the company to get in touch with.
Way back in the April 1984 issue of Creative Computing (p. 150), I reported on a new computer from Amiga, a company known only as a manufacturer of joysticks and a kludgy foot-controlled joystick called the Joyboard. I had been ready for another big presentation resulting in a big letdown, but I was surpsised. The machine, code-named Lorraine, was a total knockout. I’ll stand by the comment I made then: “Suffice to say it is the most amazing graphics and sound machine that will ever have been offered to the consumer market.”
The Lorraine is based on a 68000 microprocessor, running at 8MHz—faster than the Macintosh. The CPU is backed up by three custom VLSI chips to handle graphics, sound, and I/O (sound familiar?), and 128K RAM, expandable to at least 1Mb. A 5.25″ internal floppy capable of storing 320K is standard. An expansion box, which will contain a second floppy drive, card slots, and space for an optional hard disk is already planned.
As for the graphics of the Amiga Lorraine, well, they nearly defy description. Using bit-plane animation, an approach used by machines costing upwards of $50,000, the Lorraine creates fluid movement in multi-color hi-res. In my earlier report I stated that the “Lorraine is capable of providing multi-color, real-time animated images on a par with (and probably superior to) Saturday morning cartoons.” NTSC and RGB video outputs will be provided, as will 80-column text display. Sound capabilities, you ask? Yes, four-channel stereo with speech capability.
The first time we saw the Lorraine at Winter CES it was a landscape of breadboards. By summer CES, the PROMs were in hand, but development systems were needed to drive them (pay no attention to that man behind the curtain). By the time you read this, the first working prototypes will be in operation. The Lorraine is a reality in search of marketing.
And without the marketing, even a machine like the Lorraine won’t get off the ground—even with a custom chip set by Jay Miner (who, incidentally, designed the custom chip set for the Atari 400 and 800 machines). And that is why you are reading about the Lorraine in Outpost: Atari. In April, I called the Lorraine “finally, the next-generation Atari.”
Jack, it is up to you now to be wise enough to see that this is true. Get the cost down to $1000 and perhaps someone like Thomas Dolby to be the spokesman. Then get the machine out the door—with your name on it. And remember, Mr. Tramiel, your name is Atari. Do it proud.
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CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 10, NO. 12 / DECEMBER 1984 / PAGE 209
Last month we delved into mysteries of screen memory on the Atari. This month we continue that discussion and conclude with some specifics of assembly language.
Picking up where we left off, let’s try a few more experiments. Type: SCREEN = PEEK(88) +256*PEEK(89). If you then type PRINT SCREEN, you will get a number from 0 to 64,000 which tells you where “screen memory” begins. (My machine gives the value 40,000; if you have a 64K machine, you will probably get the same thing).
What is screen memory? It is just like regular memory, with an added plus; anything that is written there shows up on the TV screen as well. It is the section of memory that the Atari uses to store what goes to the screen.
On your Atari display, in graphics 0 (the default typing mode for you beginners) there are 24 lines of 40 characters. There are thus 24 × 40 or 960 characters on the screen. The Atari stores a number corresponding to what letter shows up on screen in what position in screen memory, sometimes called display memory. This is because memory can hold only numbers, not letters; the designers get around this by assigning a numeric code for each letter.
For instance, clear the screen (with CTRL-CLEAR keys), and then type POKE SCREEN, 33.
You will notice a difference on your TV screen: there will be a letter A in the upper lefthand corner. What happened? Well, we wrote the code for an A character into the memory location that the Atari uses to store the upper-leftmost character on the screen. The Atari then faithfully displayed the A in the screen position corresponding to our memory location.
If we move up one character in memory, we will move one character to the right; for instance, POKE SCREEN+1,33 and you will get two A’s displayed on screen.
If you PEEK(SCREEN+2), you will find what a “blank” or space looks like to the Atari: a 0. If you change this 0 to anything else, you will get a character on screen.
Everything the Atari outputs to the screen comes by way of this memory. In other words, when the Atari wants to send you the READY prompt when it first starts up, it writes a series of numbers into screen memory. You can duplicate the effect yourself:
POKE SCREEN+2, 50 POKE SCREEN+3, 37 POKE SCREEN+4, 33 POKE SCREEN+5, 36 POKE SCREEN+6, 57
and READY will appear at the top of the screen, because you POKEd the right numbers for those characters. That is the exact same way the Atari gets the READY printed; it just stuffs numbers into memory. See Figures 1 and 2.
If you will imagine a post office for a moment, perhaps we can extend our analogy. There are 64,000 postal boxes there, and you are the postman. Looking at the wall from the inside, you see that some of the boxes are unused. Some just hold mail for a long time, and are rarely looked at. Some are very busy, and have mail going in and out all the time. And finally, there are special postal boxes which have an immediate effect, just as though the person the mail was addressed to was standing right in front of his postal box waiting for his mail. The instant that mail is put in the box, he takes it out and takes action on it.
That’s a pretty good analogy of how the Atari works. You have 64,000 memory locations to POKE into or PEEK from. Some have immediate effects and others are just temporary memory locations.
We can have some fun with this knowledge. Let’s run one memory location through every number it can hold and let the screen display what is in there at high speed:
5 SCREEN=PEEK(88)+256*PEEK(89) 10 FOR A=0 TO 255 20 POKE SCREEN, A 30 NEXT A 40 GOTO 10
What you will see is a rapidly spinning character in the upper leftmost portion of the screen, which corresponds to the contents of memory for that location at any split second. It is whirling fast because the memory locations are changing fast.
What you are seeing is what the Atari does with a screen memory that is changing rapidly. The Atari makes the screen image reflect what is in memory 60 times per second. So 60 times per second it reads the number in the SCREEN location and sends a character that corresponds to that number to the TV.
Now let’s change a whole chunk of memory at once. It will slow things down so you can see what is happening. This program takes a given number and puts it into several different screen locations, changing them all to the same thing. (For instance, if the number is a 65, then A’s will appear all over the screen):
10 FOR A=0 to 255 20 FOR B=SCREEN to SCREEN+100 30 POKE B, A 40 NEXT B 50 NEXT A 60 GOTO 10
You will will see the first 100 locations of your screen (the first two lines of 40 characters each and the third line for 20 characters, totalling 100) all changing to the same letter. And remember, we are doing this by directly altering display memory without a single PRINT, POSITION, or PUT statement. Pretty near, right?
Other mysterious things happen in memory. Try: PRINT PEEK(20). You will get a number (0-255). Type it again. Whoops! The number changed. Indeed, that number is constantly changing; it is counting from 0 to 255 every 1/60th of a second (so it completes one cycle about every four seconds).
Hey, this could be the foundation of a good clock. Just take the value found in location 20 and divide it by 60; that is the number of seconds gone by. And sure enough; there are several clock demonstration programs on the market that use this effect. The Atari keeps very good time.
To get a higher speed look at location 20. Try this:
10 PRINT PEEK(20) 20 GOTO 10 RUN
and stop the program after a few lines have written. You will see the counter counting up to 255, then going back to 0 and starting all over.
What this all boils down to is that unknown to you, the Atari is altering and using memory locations on its own. That little computer, which you thought was idle when you first started it up, is busily working away at memory and doing things even when you are not touching it. Just turning the Atari on sets in motion a large number of processes, some interlocking, that are quite complex to follow.
We could get a neat bird’s eye view of this whole process by having the Atari use a different location for display memory, namely, the area around location 20. Right now, what you see on the screen reflects the contents of screen memory, up around 40,000. Let’s change that so it reflects what is down at 20:
10 DL=PEEK(560)+256*PEEK(561) 20 POKE DL+4,0:POKE DL+5,0
All we have done is to tell the Atari to start displaying what is in memory starting at location 0. And my, what a strange display we get.
Remember, the Atari thinks it is displaying characters. What it is displaying, however, is the contents of low memory. So it interprets the numbers it finds down there as characters, and some of them are quite weird. What we are going to look for is motion, not a particular character; there are all sorts of strange numbers down in low memory, and they show up as strange characters. But if the characters move or change, we know that memory has changed.
About the middle of the first line will be location 20. It should be a whirling character, showing us that location 20 is indeed changing rapidly. On its left will be a character that changes every four seconds or so; it “ticks” every time location 20 goes over 255 back to 0.
Now, press a key and hold it down. All sorts of furious activity will occur. There will be a counter that starts up, telling the Atari how many 1/60ths of a second you have held the key down. The Atari “stack” will jump back and forth; you’ll see this as a high speed flicker six lines down. And various other things in memory will change. (This is a really neat effect.)
For a really entertaining time, try running a short Basic program with the above lines as the first lines. Rather than seeing the output from Basic, you will see what the Atari is doing in some of its businest memory locations, namely, PageZero. The activity that goes on in even the simplest Basic program will amaze you. An example? Okay, just add 30 PRINT "HELLO": GOTO 30 to the above program. To get back to a normal screen, press SYSTEM RESET.
In summary, consider that everything going on in the Atari happens because you either read or write to a memory location. There are more than 64,000 of these locations, each containing a number from 0 to 255. Altering these contents produces spectacular effects.
Obviously, a map of all these memory locations, especially the ones with spectacular effects, is a pretty handy thing to have. There are several good ones on the market, and nearly every Atari book has such a map in an Appendix. Even the Atari Basic reference manual, written without mentioning many of the neatest features of the Atari, has a good little map in the back.
Next, before we quit for the day, I would like to tell you of a special language developed to help us talk to these 64,000 locations without so much hassle. We frequently see strange numbers to POKE into or PEEK from; wouldn’t it be nice if the numbers made some sort of sense? For instance, if you are driving around town and need to find a house at 236 Dexter, you know to look between streets with addresses 200 and 300 on Dexter; those numbers “make sense.” But the Atari numbers don’t really seem to make any sense: 0 to 255, 64,000 memory locations, PEEKing to 53246.
However, if you can learn to speak a special language—almost a code—they will make more sense, and much of the mystery of this machine will disappear. It is a bit like touring a foreign country whose language you do not speak; much of the culture and history is inaccessible to you. But if you take the time to learn the language, much of what the country is about becomes clear to you; you understand why things are as they are.
Fortunately, in the case of the Atari, we are not talking about something as difficult as a foreign language; we are talking about hexadecimal (hex) notation, a special code for identifying the 64,000 memory locations. In hex, everything comes out evenly. It is convenient to use, and provides a really understanding of the machine. Many of the subtleties of the Atari will become clear just because you are working in hex.
True, it takes a little work to learn hex and to speak it comfortably. But if you do, you will know it for any computer, because everyone else uses hex, too. And you will be on far more intimate terms with more advanced computer articles, and on your way to understanding even some complex hardware principles. Finally, if you learn hex and really understand it, you will find that assembly language—that dreaded mystery for beginners—is positively easy. (The only hard part of assembler is learning memory concepts.)
Why bother with assembler? For speed. Assembler gives you absolute control over the computer and lets you accomplish things as fast as possible. As a sneak preview of what we will be getting into, remember our Basic program of a few paragraphs back, which flipped 100 letters on the screen over and over? Well, try the program in Listing 1, which does the same thing with assembly language, and compare the speed.
See you next time for an introduction to hex. I enjoy playing around with the Atari and hope you do too; it is far and a way the most powerful graphics computer you can buy for anywhere near the price.
Incidentally, for our assembler course, you will need an Assembler cartridge or another assembler (MAC/65 or AMAC are fine) eventually. But there is no rush; we will stick with Basic for a while and use assembler only for a few bits and pieces.
Listing 1. 10 FOR A=0 to 100 20 READ Z 25 IF Z=256 THEN 100 30 POKE 1536+A,Z 40 NEXT A 100 X=USR(1536) 110 DATA 165,88,133,205 120 DATA 165,89,133,206 130 DATA 160,0 140 DATA 145,205,200 150 DATA 192,100,208,249 160 DATA 24,105,1,76,8,6 170 DATA 256