Commodore's port. (Commodore 264) John J. Anderson.
No need to ponder the question of who had the most impressive microcomputer booth at Winter CES 1984. Far and away, the winner was Commodore. Coleco and Atari were trying and trying hard, but they could'nt catch the leader in consumer micros. "We're Number 1," runs Commodore's latest slogan. And they intend to stay there, too. The CES Report
The most significant announcement from Commodore at the show was its introduction of the model 264 (for a technical overview of the machine, see the sidebar in the CES coverage earlier on in the magazine). This controversial 64K micro was designed not to supplant the Commodore 64, but to provide a new kind of machine with an emphasis on "productivity" software for the home.
The 264 offers the potential for built-in software and screen windowing capability. It sports a very powerful version of Basic with over 75 commands, and yet 60K of free memory remains for use in Basic programming. There are eight programmable function keys and a HELP key. The cursor movement keys are the best I have ever seen on a low-end micro: they are themselves arro-shaped and laid out directionally (see photo). No need to shift to obtain any directions of movement.
In addition, the 264 retains compatibility with most Commodore 64 and Vic 20 peripherals. It is capable of producing 16 colors at eight luminances for a total of 128 colors. It can handle high-resolution graphics plotting and split-screentext with hi-res graphics. It has a built-in machine language monitor with 12 commands.
In contrast to the Commodore 64, the 264 cannot produce sprite graphics and has only two-voice sound without sophisticated envelope-shapin. If you are looking for a sound-and-graphics machine, the C-64 is still for you, and Commodore insists it will continue to manufacture and support that machine.
But the thrust for the 264 is "productivity" as opposed to recreation, and that translates into the following specific software directions: household management, word processing, calculation, business accounting, and education. Commodore says it will market high quality software for the 264 in each of these areas. A selection of this software will be available built-into ROM inside the 264. By choosing a 264 with a particular software package built-in, you can tailor the computer to meet your needs. Of course, you can use cartridge, tape, and disk-based software as well.
Commodore 264 software will also be made available on cartridge for the C-64.
At CES, Commodore also became the first company to offer fully-integrated software for low-end computers. The package 3-Plus-1 includes a word processor, electronic spreadsheet, file manager, and graphics package.
All four programs are interated in the same software proudct and work together sharing of swapping information. For example, a financial analysis created on the spreadsheet can be transferre to the word processor and incorported in a written report.
Commodore 3-Plus-1 will be offered as a ROM cart for the Commodore 64 and built-in or as a cart for the 264. The prouct also has windowing capabilities which allow the word processor and spreadsheet to be viewed simultaneously.
Other software introduced by Commodore at the show includes the following:
* Magic Desk II, a joystick pointer program with integrated text-editor, spreadsheet, file manager, and calculator, for beginning computer users. Special help screens are built-in, and instead of using keyboard commands, users need only "point" to a picture of the function they want using the joystick.
* Superscript 264, a multi-function professional word processor designed for both beginner and expert users. It includes text-editing, numerical calculations, mailing list functions, and a cut-and-paste feature that adds easy onscreen editing capability.
* EasyCalc 64 and EasyCalc 264, fully-featured spreadsheet programs with color selection and graphics. Both will be available on cartridge, providing more workspace in the computer than comparable disk-based spreadsheet programs.
* Commodore B/Graph, an easy-to-use business graphics and statistics package for business people and students. B/Graph computes and converts financial and statistics results into colorful three-dimensional charts, graphs, pie charts, histograms, and other graphics.
* Financial Advisor, a sophisticated financial package which computes loan, mortgage, and investment formulas.
* Teligraphics, videotext and graphics software for use with Commodore modems. It allows transmission of pictures, text, and business graphics over the telephone and between computers. Teliegraphics also allows users to upload and download data via Compu-Serve and other telecomputing services. Compatible with Canadian Telidon videotext standard.
Comodore announced an improved speech module for the C-64, whic plugs directly into the user port of the machine. This leaves the ROM slot open for insertion of "talking" or "nontalking" ROM software.
The Commodore Speech Module contains a built-in vocabulary of 235 words in a pleasant, true-to-life female voice. Speed of articulation can be slow, normal, or fast, and words can be programmed from Basic as well as assembler. The user can program music, graphics, and speech to take place simultaneously. In addition, the Speech Module supports a separate audio output so that speech output can be connected directly to a hi-fi system, television, or sound monitor.
Future educational applications on disk and/or cartridge include the alphabet, counting, spelling, and animals. Higher level applications will includeinteractive foreign language modules, higher mathematics, and science.
Commodore also announced an agreemnt with CompuServe to market Vidtex, a telecommunications package that allows users to transfer programs from CompuServe's large libray to their own systems for immediate use or disk storage. With Vidtex, users gain acces to services including technical information, free software, an "electronic magazine," and "conversation" with other users.
The Vidtex system uses CompuServe's exclusive "B" Protocol, which allows 100% error detection. Other features include the following:
* A 32K RAM buffer which can capture data from a host system for immediate use or for disk storage.
* Printer suppot-using the RAM buffer, data can be captured at 120 charactes per second for printout later on a slower printer.
* Ten programmable functions keys which can be loaded with such strings as user ID for the service or any series of commands. By saving macros to disk, sets of function key configurations can be used over and over again.
* Color graphics and cursor positioning. Third Party Scene
Commodore itself was anot the only source of Commodore news at Winter CES. Many third party companies showed new software and new hardware for the Commodore 64. Here is a sampling. Human Engineered Software (HES)
Human Engineered Software, usually known as HesWare, announced a marketing agreement with Microsoft, through which HES will market Microsoft's Multiplan for the C-64.
Multiplan is a second-generation spreadsheet program originally developed for the IBM PC. Microsoft recreated Multiplan for the 64, and in doing so, was able to offer Commodore users many of the same capabilities of the original IBM PC version.
Among the featuers of C-64 Multiplan are automatic math functions, screen widows, variable column-widths, alphabetic and numeric sorting, the ability to link worksheets, and flexible formatting for screen displays and reports.
The package will retail for $99.95.
Inkwell Systems introduced Flexidraw, a very impressive graphics software package coupled with a high-performance light pen for the Commodore 64. Flexidraw allows C-64 users to perform pencil and paper routines, utilizing the speed and full hi-res graphics capabilities of their machines.
The Flexidraw software menu features selections including the following: instant line (point-to-point), rubber band, box, circle, zoom for detailed work, two separate screen display areas, put-get commands for manipulating image on the screen or transferring them between screens, shading and pattern fills.
All graphics generated with Flexidraw can be stored on disk for later use or printed as hardcopy. The package can easily be interfaced with Commodore's 1525 printer, the Epson MX-70, Gemini series, C. Itoh Prowriter, and Okidata 84.
The resolution of the Flexidraw system is remarkable, and for the great capability, is priced very reasonably. Look for a full-blown review of the product in the next issue of Creative Computing. Gladstone Electronics
Gladstone Electronics announced the Basicare Modular Expansion system for the C-64. This consists of a base plug-in ROM device called Persona and a series of user-selectable modules.
The Persona device plugs into the C-64 expansion port and offers four soft-switched ROM cartridge slots. IT also provides 8K of additional software in RO, with several C-64 enhancements. These include extensions to Basic, i.e. APPEND and OLD, a complete machine code assembler, a simple but comprehensive sound chip controller, and easier use of hi-res graphics.
As a stand-alone devices, the C-64 Persona has value and will appeal to serious-minded Commodore hobbyists. In addition, it can become the heart of an expansion system with dramatic potential.
Memory expansion modules in increments of 16 or 64K will be available and can be stacked to a theoretical limit of 1 Mb. Bank selection can be done via the Minimap module which addresses memory in 8K chunks. Pericon modules (peripheral controllers) provide "real world" interfacing. The newest Pericon module incorporates relays that can be used to control motors. At the show, a Lego "robot" was controlled by a C-64.
Soon to be released is a Z80 module complete with 64K RAM on board and a CP/M disk controller. Tymac Inc.
Tymac Inc., demonstrated its Universal Tape Interface and Duplicator which allows users of Commodore computers to use almost any audio tape recorder with their computer in place of the Datasette by Commodore.
With the product, owners of C-64s, Vic 20s, CBMs, and Pets can save and load cassette programs without investing in a dedicated cassette unit. The UTID device includes three LED indicators to show operation status. It also contains sophisticated circuitry which restores information from distorted audio waveforms, so transfer takes place with high reliability.
In addition, the UTID features duplication capability, allowing it to be used in conjunction with a second recorder to make backup copies without having to load to and save from computer memory.
Suggested retail price is $50. Data 20 Corporation
The Data 20 Corporation introduced some very nice packages for the C-64. The Z80 Video Pak features a Z80 microprocessor that offers C-64 owners the ability to use CP/M software. In addition, the package includes an 80-column adaptor and bundled word processor and spreadsheet programs.
The Z80 processor runs the SB-80 operating system, which is also included in the package and is a CP/M work-alike. The 40-column Commodore version of CP/M will also run on the Z80 Video Pak.
The 80-column cartridge creates its own character set for excellent display on a monochrome monitor. It also runs Commodore Basic in the 80-column mode.
The two software programs included in the Video Pak are Data 20's Word Manager and Plan Manager, on disk. Both come with a "feature strip" which can be placed above the top row of keys for easy reference.
Data 20 also introduced a $50 parallel printer interface for Commodore computers. Under normal operation, the interface is used with a parallel ASCII (non-Commodore) printer to emulate a Commodore 1525 printer.
If yu use a dot-matrix printer that can redefine its character set by downloading a new font from the computer, you can print special graphics characters. Alternatively, characters can be translated into English labels. Creative Software
Creative Software has added three new C-64 titles to its line. Crisis Mountain is an action game developed originally for the Apple. You control the intrepid explorer, and keep him from stepping on traps, bombs, and blood-sucking bats. As he winds his way through dark caverns, two buried time bombs tick away in remote caves--and if not deactivated, they will blow up the mountain (and you with it).
In the Chips, a popular Vic 20 program, is now available for the C-64 as well. This educational program pits the player against a rival computer software company. The player must make shrewd pricing, inventory, and budgeting decisions to "out-profit" the competition. A balance sheet displayed on the screen shows how well each company is doing.
I Am the C-64 is a video tutorial that takes the new computer user step-by-step through the capabilities and functions of teh Commodore 64. It is a colorful program that enables the user to learn quickly.
I Am the 64 is available in two parts: The "Introductory Series," and the "Advanced Series." All three programs are $4.95 each. Softsync
Softsync has released Mothership which unites three different video game concepts i a single story line.
The first screen is in first-person perspective, and you find yourself beneath the mothership fighting off drone ships. In the next screen, you are in the bowels of the mothership, climbing up to get control. The third screen presents you with the challenge of taking over an alien planet.
To complete the mission, you must fly the mothership back to its home planet and shoot out the negative energy zones. The game lists for $29.95 on disk, $24.95 on cassette. Broderbund Software
Broderbund has now translated many of its most popular titles from the Apple and Atari computers to the C-64. Serpentine takes you back to an age when mighty serpents ruled the decaying pathways of a vanishing civilization. Your serpent is fast--but the enemy snakes are big, cunning, and hungry.
Serpentine serves up 20 different maze configurations and offers many levels of game play.
Seafox puts you at the controls of a specially designed submarine. Your mission is to wipe out a convoy of enemy chips and their escorts. Your maneuvering ability and fortitude will be put to the test as you dodge exploding depth charges and try to escape from enemy torpedoes. Both games list for $34.95.
Operation Whirlwind is a unique war game in which your mind becomes your most powerful weapon. Strategy, not force, is the key to victory as you move your battalion through a series of testing skirmishes and battle actions.
The game requires the concetration of chess--a typical game may take from one to three hours--and the ability to master the many tactics of front line combat. The game lists for $39.95.
Matchboxes is a game that will bring the whole family together for hours of fun. As a matching game reminiscent of TV's "Concentration," Matchboxes puts your powers of recall to the test. The game fills your screen with a grid of 36 numbered boxes. Hidden behind these is a delightful collection of colorful characters, creatures, and objects, each with its own catchy tune. Your goal is to match identical squares.
To make the game challenging for all ages, there are additional modes that require players to solve difficult word puzzles. Game variations include puzzles that are frontward, backward, or scrambled. Players can also create their own unique word puzzles. Matchboxes lists for $29.95.
Drol began as a unique and delightful Apple game, and now is available for the C-64 as well. The multi-levels of game play in Drol are as challenging as they are unusual. Never has there been such an amusing or unlikely collection of foes in one game. Players must cope with airborne turkeys (that cook up into Thanksgiving roasts when you zap them), overweight hopping monsters, lightning bolts, scorpions, lizards, a magnet-tossing witch doctor, and more.
Players of Drol take on the task of pursuing a little girl and her propeller-beanied brother, who have wandered away from their mother. Mesmerized by the spell of a witch doctor, the children drift aimlessly through the scrolling underground corridors of an ancient civilization. A rocket backpack, protective laser gun, and wide-screen radar scope prove indispensable as you try to come to the rescue. The game lists for $34.95.
Broderbund also announced that it has reached an agreement with Ultrasoft to write, produce, and market a Commodore 64 verson of The Mask of the Sun, a best-selling graphic adventure game for the Apple. It will be Broderbund's first adventure game.
In The Mask of the Sun, you take on the role of an archaeologist, adventurer, and treasure hunter in search of an ancient artifact. Faced by a debilitating condition brought on by an overzealous examination of your last acquisition, the Mask offers the only hope for your recovery.
The game features superb animation, detailed graphics, sound effects and an interpreter that allows you to converse in everyday language. The Mask of the Sun will retail for $39.95. Datasoft
Datasoft had two interesting offerings on the CES floor. Dallas Quest brings J.R. Ewing and family from the TV screen to the computer screen. This game of strategy and chance features multiple hi-res screens, drawing the player into the sumptuous Texas mansion of Southfork. The trail soon leads into the steamy jungles of South America to rub elbows with (and try to outsmart) crafty J.R.
The player is one of the world's great detectives, hired to find a missing map which reveals the location of a multimillion dollar South American oil field. With wit and luck, the player must solve the challenge of each scenario--in order to move to the next scene and a step closer to the map. The product will list for $34.95.
Also to the C-64 from Datasoft comes another TV personality: that beloved animated eraser, your friend and mine, Gumby. Datasoft has obtained a licensing agreement with Art Clokey Productions, stipulating that Gumby shall appear solely in educational packages--software designed to help children learn. A series of Gumby packages is planned, but not much more information was available at press time. Interactive Picture Systems (IPS)
Interactive Picture Systems announced a version of Movie Maker for C-64 computers. Movie Maker is a superb animation package originally designed for the Atari computer (a full review of the product appears elsewhere in the magazine). The C-64 version will include an enhanced sound module, and sport many of the same features as the original. Databar Corporation
Databar Corporation announced it was shipping the Commodore 64 version of Oscar, an optical bar-code scanning reader which lists for $79.95.
Oscar allows users to scan printed pages of bar code to enter programs into a computer. Programs are entered quickly, error-free, and without time-consuming keyboard entry.
Databar plans to retail bar-coded software and publish a magazine, Databar, which will include multiple bar-coded programs.