1983 Winter Consumer Electronics Show; creative computing presents the Short Circuit Awards. David H. Ahl; Betsy Staples.
1983 Winter Consumer Electronics Show
Creative Computing presents the Short Circuit Awards
The Short Circuit Awards. Huh?
Well, New Jersey Monthly has the Rotten Tomato Awards every year. (We hope you all know that the best and biggest tomatoes come from New Jersey, consequently, the largest rotten ones for throwing at dismal performers are found here too.) Omni isn't too imaginative, calling their awards, "19xx's Worst Scientific Achievements.' Someone else has the "Dubious Distinction Awards,' the radio/TV industry has bloopers, and so on.
Since the consumer electronics industry is built around silicon electronic chips, we decided that a more dubious kind of chip was appropriate for our awards of distinction. What kind? Potato chips? Well, maybe, but it doesn't really suggest "not very good.' Wood chips? Nah, no class. Buffalo chips? Yes, yes, we thought. But on the cover of a classy magazine like Creative Computing? No, it just wouldn't do.
So we brainstormed scores of possible terms on the flight between Las Vegas and Chicago. It took us a few hundred nanoseconds--our brainstorming, not the flight. We finally decided that Short Circuit Awards was right. It describes an idea that when awry and, as all electrical engineers know, it can't be spelled correctly. For four years at Cornell, one of us spelled circuit, "circut,' just like every other EE student. Three years out, he learned better.
But we digress.
At the 1983 Consumer Electronics Show, we saw a great number of marvelous innovations. We also saw some incredible abuses and misuses of electronic technology. So in this roundup of new products, redesigned products, and regurgitated products, we have presented a number of awards--some for innovation and some for other things. Incidentally, we hate the use of the term, "a number of.' It is horribly imprecise. Why not use "couple' for two, "several' for three or four, "scores' for 40 to 99, "more than 100' for more than 100, and so on? But notice, what does one use for a number between 5 and 39? "Tens of?' Well, maybe. "A number of?' No! That could be anything between two and infinity minus one. Good grief!
To avoid "a number of,' we read ahead and counted the Short Circuit Awards and "real' awards. There are 33 of them. Read on--we're sure you'll find some of them of interest. But be warned, you will have to determine which awards are for true achievements and which are for dubious ones.
Enough, enough. Onward!
Last Things First
Toward the end of the show (Winter Consumer Electronics Show, Las Vegas, January 6-9, 1983), someone asked us, "How cum Personal and Popular and Byte and all them folks aren't here?'
We said something about knowing which way is up and so on. We also observed that we (Creative Computing, SYNC, etc.) have been going to CES for the past four or five years, ever since a personal computer appeared on the show floor. On the other hand, many of our would-be competitors tend to put more emphasis on advertising sales and circulation promotion at the shows and less on editorial coverage than we do.
But we digress. This is the last time--promise!
Adagio for Audio
Three years ago, the audio and video folks owned the convention center. On the "overlook' level, all you could hear was one hi-fi manufacturer trying to outblast another--literally. The listening rooms were even worse--120 db if you were lucky. If you wanted to go home with your hearing intact, it was advisable to put cigarette filters in your ears before you entered the listening rooms of Audio Tecnica, Fosgate, Ohm and others.
Today? "Slow? You don't know slow. I saw my last customer hours ago,' said one hi-fi manufacturer sitting forlornly in his deserted listening room. The exotics were doing okay (no recession among the well-to-do), but the mid-range folks it was disasterville.
So, audio is in the doldrums, or perhaps on a long plateau. Video, ditto. Auto sound, ditto. Calculators and watches, don't ask.
Yet the attendance at CES was way up, hitting nearly 80,000. Why? Because of surging growth in four product categories: telephones (the AT&T monopoly is over), satellites (spreading like overgrown mushrooms) and, you guessed it, video games and computers. There were over 100 new video games introduced and no fewer than ten new computers under $300.
This isn't a trade publication, so we won't belabor the prognostications of industry leaders except to say that we agree. Computers are Number 1. But there were some other neat products too.
They Said It Couldn't Be Done
Androbot, a new company, introduced B.O.B. and TOPO, a pair of nifty robots with unique functions and behavior. Conceived by their creators as socially interactive devices, the Androbots offer a multitude of attributes designed to provide entertainment and education.
The Androbot concept came from Nolan Bushnell. Bushnell, founder of Atari and the Pizza Time Theater restaurant chain has set up a corporate umbrella called Catalyst Technologies in Sunnyvale to provide capital and structure to innovative companies.
Androbot president Thomas Frisina told us that B.O.B., an acronym for "Brains on Board,' features true "artificial intelligence,' talked of for years, but never before offered in a tangible consumer product. B.O.B. was clearly the hit of the show and for him, we present to Androbot the
Nifty New Product Award
B.O.B. has three 16-bit 8088 mpu's, three megabytes of memory, and five ultrasonic sensors which locate and measure each object in its immediate environment. Thus, B.O.B. can navigate with human-like accuracy. His wheel and drive assembly permits forward motion and turning with no danger of tipping over. B.O.B. also has two infra-red sensors so he can differentiate between humans and other objects based on temperature. Creative Computing will have a comprehensive article on B.O.B. ($2500) and his companion TOPO, which is really a mobile extension of a home computer, in an upcoming issue.
Since B.O.B. is, in our opinion the niftiest new product at CES, we thought you might want to hear about the other end of the spectrum. We had a tough time deciding who should get the
Tacky New Product Award
With no fanfare at all, this goes to the New Korea Industrial Company for their Baby Bell. This is a small solid state "electronic urination sensor.' According to the manufacturer, "the Baby Bell which rings out that sweet melody as the baby wets his nappy is a joy and delight to any mother.' Pavlov would love it.
Runners up included a flat speaker which fits in musical panties for both sexes; the slogan was "feel the beat in your seat.' Another was an X rated video game with such poor resolution that we mistook a naked woman for a pink tank.
Video Games for the Atari VCS
The stock market and many industry analysts have not been kind to Atari of late. However, as Mark Twain once said, "reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.' With over 100 new cartridges for the VCS and a dynamite new line of educational cartridges from Atari, we think the VCS will be with us for some time to come. To get started in the category, we must first present the
Best New Products from the Most Boring Press Conference Award
This goes to Atari in cooperation with the Children's Computer Workshop for their release of five CCW games for three to seven year olds. Paul Firstenberg, president of CCW was an absolute disaster at the press conference, but, fortunately, the games are wonderful. They include Oscar's Trash Race to reinforce counting and number skills, Cookie Monster Munch, Big Birds's Egg Catch (a simplified Kaboom type of game), Grover's Music Maker, and Alpha Beam in which the player must manipulate a small spaceship to retrieve letters and place them where they belong.
This line of games will be augmented with other Atari games for pre-teens using Peanuts and Disney characters to be released later this year. Three Disney games were also announced by Walt Disney Telecommunications: Mickey and the Beanstalk, Mickey and the Great Outdoors, and Dumbo Flies Home.
In addition to the children's line, Atari announced a whole host of VCS games based on popular arcade games including Ms. Pac-Man, Centipede, Dig Dug, Kangaroo, Jungle Hunt, Phoenix, Vanguard, and Galaxian, as well as "Real Sports' Football, Tennis, and Soccer.
Atari also announced a similar line of games for the new 5200 game system which also includes Pole Position, Space Dungeon, and Countermeasure.
Activision appears to have added several more winners to their stable of games. In River Raid, by Carol Shaw whom we interviewed on these pages last year, the player must pilot an assault jet over a constantly-changing course and blast away enemy choppers, jets, ships, bridges and oil depots. A highly addictive game!
Other new games from Activision include Seaquest, a submarine rescue game; Spider Fighter, a bug blaster game; Oink!, a game loosely based on the story of the three little pigs; Dolphin, an undersea chase game; and Keystone Kapers, a madcap chase between a lovable Irish cop and a roguish robber through a 1920's department store. It has overtones of the blockbuster, Pitfall, and seems destined for success.
Jim Levy, president of Activision and an old friend from the MBA program at Carnegie-Mellon, told me that Activision is trying to hire 20 to 30 new game designers. We think Jim's policy of putting the game designers in the limelight is a good one and creates a better company personality than keeping the identity of the designers secret lest some competitor hire them away. Jim also mentioned that Activision will be bringing out software for the Atari home computer later this year. We can't wait!
Is it time for another award? Sure.
Most Hoopla Behind a Game Award
This award goes to Fox Video Games for their introduction of M*A*S*H. The press conference introducing the game was held in an Army mess tent set up in the parking lot of the convention center. It was regulation issue throughout from the balky jeep to the huge juice vats to the 4077th caps given to all the attendees.
We were surprised, however, that when Jamie Farr (Sgt. Maxwell Klinger) showed up, he was in civies and not in uniform. After a few jokes, we learned that the M*A*S*H game will be available not only for the VCS, but the Atari computers, Vic 20, TI 99/4A, Intellivision and Coleco Vision.
Inside the convention center, the Fox "booth' was a replica of "The Swamp.' In addition to the M*A*S*H game, they showd nine other new games including The Revenge of the Beefsteak Tomatoes, 9 to 5 (a secretary-boss shoot-out), Meltdown, Flash Gordon and The Crypts of Chaos, a fantasy role-playing game.
Comma-Vid announced three new VCS games. Cakewalk is a cute game in which you have to unload cakes coming out of a kitchen on six conveyer belts. Watch out for the gingerbread man! Rush Hour is a driver's nightmare come true, while Stronghold requires you to blast through whirling force fields to destroy lethal alien planet crawlers.
CBS Video Games introduced six new ones. Two, Wings and Tunnel Runner, use a proprietary RAM+Plus chip that triples the memory capacity of the VCS thereby permitting a significant increase in the complexity and graphic detail of the TV image. Wings is a realistic jet fighter game while Tunnel Runner is a three-dimensional prespective maze game.
The four other games introduced by CBS are all versions of Bally/Midway coin-op games including Wizard of Wor, Gorf, Blueprint, and Solar Fox. The literature says of Gorf, "the player who is unable to adapt his strategy is doomed.' That's for sure; we never did get past the third board, but we sure had fun trying.
CBS also recently purchased K-Byte, a producer of Atari 400/800 games. Games in this line include the K-Razy series (Antiks, Kritters, Shoot-Out, and Star Patrol) with three more on the way, Boulders and Bombs, Mountain King, and an educational game, Time Trials. Watch these pages for reviews of these.
Mattel expanded their line of M Network cartridges for the Atari VCS with nine new games. In the Adventures of Tron you must avoid the pursuing paralyzing recognizers, cannon-firing tanks, and persistent grid bugs. Air Raiders is a jet fighter game, and Star Strike is a simulated 3-D flight through space. Mattel has produced home versions of two Data East coin-op games, Loco-Motion and the runaway success, Burgertime.
Other new Mattel M Network games include Computer Revenge in which you must defend the human race against hostile computers (it's true!), In Search of the Golden Skull and Advanced Dungeons & Dragons.
Mattel also announced several children's games (ages 4 to 9) for the VCS. These include Scooby Doo, Masters of the Universe, Rocky and Bullwinkle, and Kool-Aid.
And now it is time for another award.
Games in Most Formats Award
No question about this one; it goes to Imagic. Demon Attack, that fantastic Imagic game for the VCS, is now available for Intellivision, Odyssey, Atari computers and the Vic 20. Their popular Atlantis game will also be available in four formats. Bill Grubb, Imagic's genial president, told us that Imagic would also be producing games for ColecoVision and the TI 99/4A, thus bringing to seven the number of game systems and computers supported by Imagic.
Imagic unveiled no fewer than 17 new game cartridges at CES. We didn't have a chance to play them all; some of the intriguing ones we did play include Safecracker with sensational 3-D graphic effects; Dragonfire in which you must recover treasure from a castle taken over by dragons; Ice Trek, a Nordic adventure game; and Escape From Argos in which you are carried around by Pegasus to do battle with one infuriated Fury after another.
Imagic also introduced a child-oriented (ages 5 to 9) game, Shootin' Gallery, a colorful, cute shoot-'em-up. P.S., adults will like it too.
U.S. Games introduced an incredible array of 12 new VCS games. In Squeeze Box, you try to shoot your way out of a diabolical ever-shrinking jail cell. Three "funny' games include Picnic in which you must swat flies away from your hamburgers, Gopher in which you defend your farm from marauding gophers, and Piece 'O Cake in which you must decorate cakes as they emerge from the oven on a conveyer belt, very much like Pie-Man from Penguin Software for the Apple.
M.A.D. stands for missile attack and defense and is a tough game, as is commando Raid in which you must battle android paratroopers. Other games include Eggomania (along the lines of Kaboom but with a humorous twist), Raft Rider, Entombed, and Towering Inferno.
Spectra Video announced several new Spectravision VCS cartridges including Master Builder, a two-player game that pits you against the elements in the completion of a building; Galactic Tactic, a shoot-'em-up; and Mangia, a humorous game in which you must dispose of Mom's good pasta by eating it, feeding it to the dog, or throwing it out the window.
Spectra Video also showed a "true' 3-D game, Vortex, for the VCS, Atari computers, Vic 20 and TI 99/4A. To play, you must don special glasses with a red and blue lens (remember the 3-D movies of old?) and navigate your ship through a meteor shower while defending yourself from alien attack ships. A neat concept.
The envelope please.
Best Licensed Character Without a Product Award
This award goes to Data Age for licensing Mr. Bill. At the press conference, Mr. Bill spoke and, in an unplanned drop off the podium, broke his arm off. Shades of Sluggo. Well, Mr. Bill, Sluggo, Sally, and Mr. Hands are all supposed to be in this new game from Data Age. The only catch--it doesn't yet exist. But we have confidence that it soon will.
More tangible new games from Data Age include Journey Escape in which you must safely guide the five members of America's hottest rock 'n roll band through the continuous onslaught of groupies, promoters, photographers, and more. In Bermuda Triangle you must navigate around the Bermuda Triangle in your mini-sub collecting artifacts and blasting hazards. Frankenstein's Monster is a tough game in which you must get stones from the basement of the castle and bring them to the top to build a barricade around the monster.
Tiger announced four new VCS titles including the clever and popular Atari computer game, Miner 2049er. Also from Tiger are River Patrol in which you must save drowning people while avoiding hazards in the river; Polaris, a game with multiple screens for missile launching and navigation; and Springer, a strategy game in which you must guide a jumping rabbit from cloud to cloud collecting treasures and avoiding hazards.
Sega, a major force in coin-op games (Turbo, Frogger, Zaxxon, Carnival) has teamed up with Paramount (Star Trek, Airplane, Marathon Man, etc.) to form what is potentially one of the most potent forces in video games. Sega has already licensed some games such as Frogger, Zaxxon, and Carnival to other game producers, but is now entering the market with a line of their own. Initial releases include Subterfuge, and Buck Rogers' Marathon of Zenda, The Caverns of Zagreb, and The Secrets of Zadar. Muffett is a cute cartoon game and Airplane is also based on a humorous theme.
Other games based on movies include Marathon Man, War of the Worlds, Friday the 13th, The Wrath of Khan, and In Search of Spock.
Konami is a major Japanese developer of coin-op games, most of which are licensed to other manufacturers to produce. Now, Gakken, another Japanese company, has licensed three Konami games for VCS cartridges, PooYan, Jungler, and Strategy X. Of the three, PooYan is the cutest; you move a mother pig up and down on a lift at the side of the screen and she shoots arrows into the balloons of ascending wolves. We found it quite addictive.
Starpath showed three new games, two of which use the proprietary Multi Load system. Starpath games require a device called a Supercharger which plugs into the game cartridge slot on the VCS and hooks to a standard cassette tape recorder. In addition to loading games, the Supercharger has 6K of memory, a dramatic increase over the 128 bytes built into the VCS. This allows impressive high resolution graphics and more complex games.
Now Starpath has gone one step further and put a series of games on a single cassette, each one of which adds new characters, scoring, objectives and levels of difficulty. Dragonstomper is a Multi Load game in which the player must first travel through a medieval land gathering gold, strength, and wares. He then goes on to a desert (second load), and to the dragon's cavern (third load). The other Multi Load games is Escape from the Mindmaster which is a 3-D maze game similar to Way Out from Sirius for the Apple. Let's take a breather for another award.
Best T-Shirt Award
Actually, it is the only T-shirt award and it goes to Starpath for their Killer Satellites T-shirt. It is really gruesome with an grayish olive satellite shaped like a skull on a black shirt. The game is a complex one in which you are defending Mother Earth (of course) from nasty killer satellites. You must evade meteors, blast the satellites, preserve your fuel, and keep your engines from overheating. Whew!
Not to be outdone by Atari, Mattel introduced an enormous number of new games, add-ons, and other enhancements for Intellivision. In the way of hardware, Mattel introduced new packaging, calling it Intellivision II. Distinguishing it from the original unit are longer controller cables, easier cable stowage, an off/on indicator lamp, and some engineering modifications.
Perhaps more exciting was the sneak preview of Intellivision III, a privilege granted to selected members of the press. We're committed to secrecy, but at least one gentlemen was heard to mutter, "it'll blow Atari and Coleco right out of the water.' Out opinion is that other manufacturers probably aren't going to wait around to be blown out of the water.
More tangible are several add-ons announced for the existing Intellivision. First is an adapter to allow Intellivision to play Atari VCS cartridges. Second is a computer adapter. This has an additional 2K of RAM and 12K of ROM which includes Basic. It also has an interface to accept other peripherals, the most improtant of which is a 49-key full stroke keyboard. A program expansion module contains 8K extended Basic and 16K of user RAM.
Another kind of keyboard similar to a piano has 49 keys, and controls a six-note polyphonic music synthesizer.
In support of these add-ons, Mattel also announced a wide range of software in four categories: education, Basic programming, music, and super games. We didn't think much of the 12 linex X 20 character resolution for text, but some of the other software borders on the fantastic, particularly that for music.
In the past, we've had a tough time getting products for evaluation from Mattel. That's why you have never seen an evaluation of Intellivision on these pages. But we'll try again and keep you posted. In return, we present Mattel with our
Are You Afraid of an Evaluation? Award
Mattel also introduced 12 new Intellivision games including Buzz Bombers, BurgerTime, Loco-Motion, Mission X, Advanced Dungeons & Dragons and seven more. Several use the Intellivoice module and are almost scary in the way they converse with you.
N.A.P. Consumer Electronics (formerly (Magnavox) introduced the Odyssey Command Center which replaces the membrane keyboard on the Odyssey2 with typewriter-like keys. This seems to be in anticipation of a computer programming module to be released in the future, but it is also handy to use with the new telecommunications module (modem).
The modem allows the Odyssey Command Center to access information networks such as The Source and Micronet as well as communicate (in a rudimentary way) with other computers.
N.A.P. also introduced several new games for both old and new Odyssey systems, one of which garnered our
Most Annoying Tune Award
This award goes to Turtles, a delightful game in which you rescue baby turtles and use bug bombs to stop the predator beetles. The original Konami coin-op game plays a nice little tune as you make your rounds. Even the Entex handheld version plays the same cute tune, albeit several octaves higher. But on Odyssey, the tune is "sung' by the Odyssey Voice unit in a nasal deep bass voice. It's enough to make you cringe.
Other new Odyssey games include Pick Axe Pete, Freedom Fighters, Attack of the Timelord (Dave's favorite), Killer Bees, Baseball and Smithereens (phenomenal graphics).
Perhaps the game companies figure that you are nothing if you don't have a simulated voice unit. Hopping on the voice bandwagon is Vectrex, but the approach is entirely different from the others. In particular, the Spike game cartridge contains the software to let the Vectrex unit itself "speak.' Spike talks to you as you try to rescue his girlfriend Molly from arch fiend Spud. It's quite a departure from the current Vectrex games.
Other new ones for this amazing self-contained vector graphics system include Web Warp, Bedlam, Fortress of Narzoid, Flip Out Pinball, and Heads-Up Soccer.
Coleco had virtually their entire booth devoted to ColecoVision, and with good reason. With the VCS adapter, this system has got to be the most versatile one around. New games included Donkey Kong Jr., and Rocky Battles for ColecoVision and several for Intellivision. Not that all is roses, however, since the Coleco controller is the pits. We usually plug in a decent Ataritype controller (D-Zyne SuprStick or the Newport joystick) and double the scores we can get on Lady Bug with the Coleco toy control. Nevertheless, ColecoVision is great. It is then, with mixed feelings that we present to Coleco the
Worst Controller for a Great System Award
Another new game system called CreatiVision was announced by Hong Kong based Video Technology. The specifications are excellent as is the price. However, we have found from bitter experience that these systems sometimes just don't get into the retail market. Let's hope that this one does since, in addition to being an excellent game unit, it can expand into a fullfledged computer system. We'll report further when we get a production model.
Emerson was also showing some new games for their Arcadia 2001 unit, but, like Mattel, Emerson has been unwilling or too disorganized to lend us a unit for evaluation. We asked again at the show for a loaner; we'll see.
Before we move away from the game manufacturers, we should present an award which must be shared by two companies. It is the
Back From Bankruptcy Award
This is shared by Astrocade and Apollo, both of whom had some financial problems but at the show looked as robust and energetic as ever. Perhaps "lean but mean' would be a better description. Our best wishes to both companies.
Game Controls, Trak Balls and Other Accessories
So you've got all these games and the cartridge slot on your VCS is showing signs of wear--some of the games are too. For around $60 you can get a Videoplexer from Compro Electronics. It plugs into the VCS--there is an Intellivision version too--and eight games plug into it. Each game can be selected from the membrane keyboard on the front. Now you can leave in a few favorites and plug the less frequently used games in the back slots. Neat, eh?
Love that trak-ball controller on Centipede? So do we. Several years ago, we were in the Atari R & D center and saw some prototype trak-ball controllers. Some were the size of grapefruit, others were smaller than golf balls. At the time, we kind of understood the concept when they explained it, but couldn't really see the advantage. So we won't even try to explain a trak-ball in words. If you don't know what one is, take a handful of quarters and play Centipede or Kickman, then come back to this. Now you see why everyone is rushing to get trak-balls into production for home use.
At CES, four manufacturers were showing trak-ball controls. Actually, only Atari can use the trademarked trak-ball name; the others must call them track balls. Atari was showing a trak-ball for both the 5200 (in an all-in-one game control center) and the 2600 VCS. We can see why the release date isn't until mid-year; while they both had great feel, they also occasionally hung up the game that was being played. We were going for an all-time high score (for us) in Centipede when the game hung up and had to be restarted.
Atari also introduced a kid's controller to go with a the CCW educational game series. Basically the controller is a 12-key 5 X 7-inch keyboard. Each game comes with a special pictorial overlay.
Atari also promises us an improved Proline Joystick to replace the existing stick--but not until June or later. Can't wait? That's okay; there are plenty of other excellent sticks on the market. Many were discussed in our roundup in the September issue and some new ones are mentioned below. Or, if you have a sick Atari joystick, Atari just announced a joystick repair kit. Also, most Atari dealers will have a test console to diagnose VCS problems--kind of like the tube checkers in many electronics retailers years ago. Meanwhile, back to trakballs.
TG introduced the TB-600 Track Ball which, according to their literature, "is modeled after the $1200 Track Balls used to train U.S. astronauts.' Well, maybe, but we suspect that the coin-op arcade games may have had a small influence too. The action is much stiffer than that of the Atari unit, but once you get used to it, you find that you can adjust. The TG unit electrically simulates a joystick, hence it can be used in place of a joystick (potentiometer type) on Apple and IBM computer games. We are promised a version shortly for Atari and Vic 20 computers, the Atari VCS and NEC PC-6000. At a retail price of only $64.95, we can't wait.
TG also introduced an improved model of their first joystick. This one has a pair of pushbuttons on the top panel that can be used to defeat or turn on the auto self-centering. Very nice.
Is it time for another award? Sure is. This one is the
Best Track Ball Without Software Award
It goes to Wico Corporation for their Command Control Trackball. It is a marvelous unit with an optical scanner, microprocessor and solid steel bearings. Wico, as a major manufacturer of coinop game controls, has made their home track ball unit along similar lines. Only one problem. Nobody is writing software for such a unit. Wico hopes they will someday, but today there is not a great deal of use for this unit.
Not so for the Wico line of joysticks. Wico makes a broad line of top quality joysticks for the Apple, Atari, Vic 20, TRS-80 Color Computer, IBM PC, and Atari 5200. They boast top firing buttons, controured handgrips, interchangeable grips and the like--most impressive. Watch for our playtesting of the Wico controls in an upcoming issue.
Another Track Ball was introduced by HAL Laboratory. It gets our
Worst Translation Award
The GTX Track-Ball is available for the Apple and Vic. HAL, a Japanese company, also makes "softwares for game' and a programmable character generator for CBM and Pet computers. Here is the description of this product direct from their flyer. "Generally, the personal computer has been equipped inside (character generator) as ROM, and it generates some fixed characters like A, B, C, . . . and etc. whenever to be supplied the power, so that if to be put RAM in place of ROM, it will be sure to make the ability of the personal computer more flexible, and also it enable the personal computer to display freely various character patterns such as Alphabet, Japan-ese, Video game use character and so on.' It does on, but we won't. Hope their track ball works.
In addition to Wico, several other manufacturers of coin-op game controls are moving into the home market. Coin Controls, Inc. introduced the Competition-Pro Joystick while Newport showed improved versions of the controls we liked so much in our test last September. Questar Controls also introduced a line of controls and repair parts, one of which takes an award.
Joystick Bigger Than the Computer Award
Three joystick console controls from Questar measure a gargantuan 12-1/2 X 8 X 3 inches. This isn't as bad as it sounds. If you play like we do, your left hand gets a real workout from holding the joystick still while the right hand does the maneuvering (or vice versa). This control stays put; we like that. Also, the Questar units have big 1 diameter firing buttons; we like that too. Joe Vermeren gave us one to try out; watch for a review in an upcoming issue.
Another nifty device announced by Questar is an automatic rapid fire module. This plugs in between the joystick and game and can be set for any rate of continuous rapid fire. This is very useful for annihilating aliens with a continuous beam of devastation.
Another continuous fire control, but with a non-adjustable rate of fire was announced by Discwasher. Discwasher? Aren't they the record care folks? Yes, but they have seen the light and have brought to market the PointMaster Pro tournament joystick with thumb trigger firing button and contoured handgrip along with the PointMaster Fire Control. David Howe gave us one of each; watch these pages for an in-depth evaluation.
Zircon has improved the design of their Video Command handheld joystick with the addition of a continuous fire button built right in to the control handle. Tom Larsen, Zircon's friendly VP of sales gave us a sample so we'll have a real test coming up soon.
Electra Concepts also showed a new joystick with an index finger trigger and contoured grip. We hope to try it soon also.
Our friends at Kraft have gone a different route with a fast action, short throw Atari-type joystick with a small fingertip control similar to that on the Kraft Apple joystick. You'll recall from the September issue that we liked the Kraft joystick with its adjustable x and y axis trim controls and switches to select either self-centering or free-floating operation.
Human Engineered Software, a maker of Vic 20 software, introduced the Hestick I for Atari, Vic and other similar units. It has sleek styling and the price is right ($7.95). When we get one, we'll let you know how it performs in tough game play.
Kraft also introduced an Apple software disk that permits a joystick to control the movement of the cursor in VisiCalc calculations. This is a real joy as it eliminates the need to press the spacebar constantly to change the direction of cursor movement. The program adds some other enhancements as well; watch for a complete review.
Earl Laskey Video introduced a ColecoVision replacement joystick which, as we said above, is really needed. It is not a total unit; rather it simply replaces the joystick portion of the Coleco unit just like Laskey's conversion for Intellivision, the Injoy-A-Stick. When we get one, we'll let you know how it is.
Turn Your VCS Into a Computer
The vogue among many manufacturers today seems to be to offer a dual purpose system (video game player and a computer)--witness Intellivision II, the Odyssey Command Center, CreatiVision, and others. Frankly, we don't think this makes much sense. Given the low price of game systems and computers (more of which later), we think most people can afford, and would be better off getting, both a game system and one or more computers.
However, it seems that some manufacturers feel otherwise. And naturally the main target for third party conversions is the Atari VCS. No fewer than four units were announced to convert the VCS into a real computer.
Entex announced the 2000 Piggyback. It has a big 70-key full stroke keyboard, 3K of RAM (expandable to 19K), and built-in Basic. Ten educationally-oriented software packages were also announced including Speed Reading, Beginning Algebra, Number Games and Spelling I. Expected retail price is around $130.
Unitronics showed a two-step expansion system. The Expander has 16K of RAM and a tape cassette mechanism to permit loading cassette games into the VCS much like the Starpath Supercharger (but, of course, the games aren't compatible). The second unit is a 55-key keyboard. A few games for the system were shown, but unfortunately, very little hard information was available about the system.
Spectra Video announced the CompuMate which sits on top of a VCS and converts it into a computer. CompuMate has a 42-key touch sensitive keyboard, 2K of RAM, cassette interface, built-in Magic Easel program for drawing pictures, and built-in music composer program with two octave/two channel capability. Projected retail is $100.
Emerson was showing a prototype all-in-one unit with 16K of RAM, 57-key full-stroke keyboard plus a 2-key numeric/control keypad, sound/voice synthesizer, built-in Basic, cassette, disk and printer interfaces, and, best of all, the ability to run Atari 400/800 software. Memory is expandable to 48K. Projected price is under $150.
On Feb. 9, Atari announced their own VCS computer add-on; see page 276.
So You Want To Write Your Own VCS Games
If you want to write games for the VCS, you can go the low road or the high road. The low road is a PGP-1 from Answer Software Corporation. Like the four VCS-computer converters described above, the PGP-1 plugs into the Atari VCS. You then plug and VCS game into the PGP-1 and you can modify it in practically any way you want. No, it's not Basic since games are programmed in 6502 machine code, but by following the relatively straightforward directions on the screen and in the manual, you can change the patterns of alien movement, alter mazes, and add elements of your own. The game cartridge, of course, is not changed and, at the moment, there is no way of storing your finished game.
Answer Software also announced a new game, Malagai, a Pac-maze type of game with several interesting twists.
Frobco announced the Frob-26 game development system. It consists of a card to plug into an Apple computer, an incircuit emulation cable that plugs into the VCS, two prototype VCS cartridges, a disk, and a reference manual. The software has three main components: a real-time debugger, the "Explorer' which lets you control all the VCS hardware registers in real-time, and a set of utility subroutines. Price for the Frob-26 system is $495.
A game development system for the Atari 5200, expanded memory systems, EPROM burners, and other related components are also available from Frobco.
Mabel, You Won't Believe These Computer Prices
The first day and a half at CES, we hardly got out of our own booth. Every so often, someone would come by and say, "Didja see the new (fill in the blank) computer? It's just $150.' (Or $100, or $199, etc.) Our mouths were watering by the time we finally got out on the show floor. And with good reason.
When the dust finally settled, we counted four new computers under $100, three more under $200, two under $300, one at $349, and several more under $1000. Add this to the existing units under $1000 and you are faced with a bewildering array of choices. Our opinion is that it won't be long before people recognize the advantage of having several computers, one for each family member or one for each application.
For example, we do word processing and spreadsheet calculations on one computer, use a battery-powered unit when we travel, have two computers for games, and still another for the kids. With the prices continuing to plummet, it won't be long before people in all walks of life (and not just those in the industry) can afford multiple computers and game systems.
With the more-or-less permanent $15 rebate, the Timex Sinclair 1000 is still the low priced leader (suggested list $100 less $15 rebate equals $85). Common street price in the New York area is closer to $70 after the rebate.
A Sinclair look-alike called the Futura 8300 was announced by Unisonic. It gets two(!) awards.
License? What License? Award
Since this is an exact clone of the Timex Sinclair 1000, we asked the Chinese manufacturer if they were licensed by Sinclair to offer the same Basic. "No, why should we be?' The main improvement on the Futura compared to the 1000 is that it has real keys instead of a membrane keyboard. That's nice. So is the price--expected to be around $90.
Support is another story. We asked a gentleman from Unisonic whom we should contact for more information. His annoyed reply was, "We don't have anyone to deal with the press.'
"How can we get a unit for evaluation?' We asked, reminding him that we publish SYNC magazine. "Buy one,' he said as he walked away. Thus, we give Unisonic our
Support? What Support? Award
However, if Unisonic is doing things wrong, Texas Instruments is doing them right. The newly introduced TI 99/2 computer is nicely styled, has a TI-9995 16-bit mpu, 4.2K of RAM, a whopping 24K of ROM with TI Basic, and 16 built-in graphics characters. Support is unbelievable for a new product and thus TI gets our
Best Support For a New Product Award
No fewer than 19 software packages were announced for the 99/2 in three areas: entertainment, education, and information management. We are very impressed with the 99/2 in all respects except one. And for that one, we give TI our
Rubber Keybounce Award
It was probably because the units at the show were prototypes, but it was quite impossible to type with any speed due to the keybounce. One would think that TI would have learned their lesson about yucky keyboards after the debacle with the original 99/4 keyboard, but we'll give them the benefit of the doubt on this one and trust that production units will be better than the prototypes. Price of the 99/2 is a delightful $100.
TI introduced a second new computer, the Compact Computer 40 (CC-40), a unit aimed at the professional user. Like the Epson HX-20, the CC-40 has an integrated LCD display (only 31 characters) and runs on batteries (200 hours on four alkaline AA cells). The CC-40 has 34K of ROM with extended Basic, 6K of RAM (expandable to 128K thanks to the 16-bit processor), a 65-key keyboard (no keybounce on this one), and a full range of peripherals (usable on both the CC-40 and 99/2). Price of the CC-40 is $249.95.
The peripherals require the addition of a Hex-bus peripheral interface. The peripherals being shown included an RS-232 interface ($100), printer/plotter with four-color capability on 2-1/2 paper ($200), and Wafertape digital tape drive similar to the Exatron Stringy Floppy ($139).
Again, software support is excellent with 22 packages being announced at the show. Eight were solid state plug-in cartridges and 14 were on Wafertape. Prices range from $19.95 to $124.95. Another 75 packages are promised by the third quarter of 1983.
While we're talking about TI, we should mention the voice recognition peripheral for the TI 99/4A computer just announced by Milton Bradley. Jim O'Connell, M-B's vice president of R&D, pulled us into a soundproof booth, donned a headset and microphone (which come with the unit) and proceeded to train the computer how to play baseball. Initially, we were ready to give this our
Can't Tell First Base From Third Base Award
but Jim got it going so that he could direct a player to catch a ball and throw it to the right base. The unit comes with a 64-position key pad with overlays for each certridge, a triple-axis joystick and a headset/microphone. No price as yet.
Mattel announced the Aquarius computer which, with 4K of RAM, is expected to sell for $200. The array of peripherals for Aquarius is impressive. Immediately available are a thermal printer, cassette data recorder, memory expanders, and an interface unit with a pair of game controllers. Eight more peripherals were announced for shipment in late 1983.
Aquarius uses a subset of Microsoft Basic and can also run several special Logo cartridges. Twelve game programs, four Logo programs and three household management programs were being demonstrated. Many more programs are in the planning stage, one of which should probably be dropped. We give it our
Typing Teachers Will Hate This Award
A typing tutor was announced for Aquarius. The only problem is that the computer uses those little rubber keys and does not have a space bar. Instead, there is a space key located on the bottom row next to the Z where you would expect to find a Shift key. The Shift key is located next to the A, and, in place of the right hand Shift, we find the Return key. It is not a fun keyboard for touch typists.
Sanyo was showing two prototype units, the PHC 20 for $99 and the PHC 25 for $199. Both use Microsoft Basic, although the PHC 20 uses a small subset while on the 25, it is much more complete. The other major difference between the two units is that the 25 has a high resolution display with eight colors and three sound channels while the 20 is a silent, low resolution, b&w unit. Unfortunately, we couldn't get as much information on the Sanyo computers as we would have liked since the designer was the only knowledgeable person in the booth, and he barely spoke English. Thus, we give Sanyo our
Not Quite Finished Award
Video Technology had a mini-booth, but a maxi-product, the VZ200. The unit has Microsoft Basic in a 12K ROM, 4K of RAM expandable to 64K, eight colors, and one sound channel. Although the screen is medium resolution (128 X 64 pixels), the 64 built-in graphics characters permit excellent graphics to be displayed. A built-in cassette interface and optional Centronics parallel interface help make VZ200 the sleeper of the show at just $99!
If you've been reading Creative Computing faithfully, you saw our indepth review of the Sinclair Spectrum introduced in England about a year ago. Now, Timex has brought it to the U.S. as the Timex 2000. It carries a list price of $149 for the 16K model and $199 for the 48K one.
The 2000 is an outstanding computer with 40 real keys, eight-color high resolution display (256 X 192 pixels), ten-octave sound channel (one of us can't hear that much!), upper and lower case, and 16 graphics characters. Our only disappointment is that it does not have a space bar and thus, like the Aquarius, cannot be used for touch typing.
Timex also announced the 2040 printer, a 32-column thermal unit that uses white paper (not the silver stuff of the previous Sinclair printer). It works on both the 1000 and 2000 and costs $99.
At this point it is probably appropriate to announce the
We're Number 1 Award
Three manufacturers tried to lay claim to this award before we even announced it. Commodore, having just produced their 1,000,000th Vic 20 claimed to be Number 1. TI pooh-poohed that and claimed that the 99/4A had made them Number 1. Clive Sinclair was having none of it and claimed that he had been Number 1 for ages. Who is really Number 1?
In terms of sheer number of units, Sinclair is if you add together those sold under both the Sinclair and Timex names (which we think is reasonable to do). If you insist on just one brand, then the Commodore Vic 20 is the leader. By next year, who can say? Maybe TI will claim the Number 1 spot.
IBM, of course, was keeping a low profile. However, we're sure they would insist that dollar volume is a better measure, in which case they are clearly it. Despite having a fair size booth, IBM was not the hit of CES. Quite the contrary, particularly since several trade magazines had predicted that IBM was about to release a consumer computer at CES (they didn't). One even went so far as to put it on the front page of their daily publication on the last day of CES. For this, they and IBM must share the
Computer? What Computer? Award
Back to Sinclair printers and peripherals. Mindware introduced one of the strangest devices at the show, the Sidewinder, a sideways printer for Sinclair computers. It is also available for the Vic 20, TI 99/4A, Atari and any computer with an RS-232 serial interface.
Sidewinder uses 1-3/4 adding machine paper with a dot matrix print mechanism that allows reproducing material wider than the computer display by generating a 12-line printout that runs lengthwise on the paper. Price of the MW-100 is just $139.95.
Data-assette showed several new addons and software packages for Timex/Sinclair computers (read all about them in the big SYNC directory issue). Also at their booth was the Jupiter Ace computer. While outwardly it resembles a Sinclair with real keys, inside it speaks Forth rather than Basic. Forth aficionados will tell you, usually with no prompting, that Forth is 10 times as fast as Basic, much more compact, and much more powerful. So it makes sense in a small computer like this one (3K).
Commodore was showing several new peripherals, most notably the Vic-1520 four-color printer/plotter with 20, 40, or 80 (tiny) characters per line. It prints sideways or lengthwise on 4-1/2 wide paper. Price $199. A speech synthesizer spoke to us as we walked by and several new software packages tried to attract our attention as we headed toward the crowd in the back of the booth.
There we found a Commodore 64 redesigned to fit in a portable case about half the size of an Osborne. It had a color display, was battery powered, and looked very inviting. It was just a prototype, but judging from the enthusiasm at the show, it should find its way into production in short order.
Commodore also announced a dealer price reduction on the Vic 20 which should have the effect of lowering the street price to $150, possibly less.
While we're talking about the Vic, we should mention that Cardco was showing two expansion boards (one with three slots and one with six), a cassette interface, a light pen, a printer interface, and, hold on to your hats, an adapter to allow the Vic to play Atari VCS cartridges. This latter device was shown with much secrecy in an out-of-the-way hotel room with a rent-a-guard at the door. It gets our
Best Protected Orange Cardboard Box Award
Housed, temporarily we were told, in an orange cardboard and Scotch tape box, the device plugs into the expansion connector on the back of the Vic and has a slot into which VCS cartridges are plugged. It also brings the Vic connector out the back for added memory, etc. The Vic function keys take the place of the VCS switches and the whole thing works like a charm. Price is $89.95.
Spectra Video introduced a new computer, the SV-318, with 32K, Microsoft Basic, CP/M compatibility, 71-key full stroke keyboard, high resolution (256 X 192 pixels) 16-color graphics, and three-channel music synthesizer--all for $299. For this feat, we award them our
Most Bang For the Buck Award
Not only is the basic computer quite astonishing, but Spectra Video's energetic president, Harry Fox, showed us 14 hardware peripherals and a mind-boggling array of software all supposedly ready for immediate delivery.
The modestly-priced hardware peripherals include an expansion interface, dual-channel cassette recorder, floppy disk drive, memory expanders, interfaces, dot matrix printer, modem, and a nifty touch sensitive graphics tablet. Also available is an adapter to allow playing Coleco Vision games on the computer ($70).
Another step up in price is the Panasonic JR-200, a computer we previously saw as a prototype but that is now ready for delivery. (In fact, we have one and will be reporting on it fully in the near future.) The JR-200 has 32K of RAM, 16K of ROM with extended Basic, and built-in cassette, Centronics parallel printer, and Atari-type joystick interfaces. It produces both a composite video signal for a TV or monitor and an RGB color signal. The cassette interface runs at 2400 baud--the fastest we've seen on a small computer.
Surprisingly, the graphics resolution is relatively low (64 X 48 pixels) but with the built-in 64-character graphics set, the effects are excellent. The JR-200 can generate sounds over a five-octave range on three channels.
Also announced were a cassette recorder, 80-column dot matrix printer, RGB monitor, RS-232 interface, and acoustic modem (hey, haven't you guys heard about direct connect modems?).
As expected, Atari introduced the 1200XL home computer at the decidedly uncompetitive price of $899. Compatible with the 400 and 800, the 1200XL has 64K of RAM, 12 user-programmable function keys, a self-diagnose function, 256 colors(!), and a four-voice music synthesizer with a range of 3-1/2 octaves.
Atari also announced several new peripherals including a two-channel cassette recorder, an 80-column printer, and a 40-column four-color printer/plotter ($299).
A wide range of new software packages was announced; reviews will appear in upcoming issues.
Ultravision, a new company, introduced an all-in-one video game, color television, and personal computer system. It is a one-piece console with a 10 color TV, video game system for Atari VCS games, and a personal computer. The Z80-based computer has 64K of RAM and is said to be software compatible with the Apple at both the Basic and machine language levels. We don't see how, since the Apple uses a 6502 chip. Accordingly, we give Ultravision our
We'll Believe It When We See It Award
Nevertheless, even if the system does only one half of what is claimed for it, it will be quite impressive. It uses special 16-position joysticks for playing both VCS and Ultravision games. It has built-in sound effects and simulated stereo. And in the computer area, it has 64K RAM, 12K ROM, 16 colors, and every kind of interface in the book. Projected price is $995.
Epson, on the other hand, is likely to deliver what they announce. They were showing the HX-20 (complete review in the March issue) and the new QX-10. The big difference between the QX-10 and other computers is that it immediately comes up in Valdocs (short for Valuable Documents), an easy-to-use software package that includes word processing, information storage, calculator, message center, and graph drawing routine. The system can also call up any CP/M program from disk.
The QX-10 has a world of interesting features such as a key that gives the user the option of printing in three different sizes and typefaces. In fact, we think it deserves the
Most User-Friendly Computer Award
We used the computer for an hour or so and found it to be one of the most user-friendly (an overused term) units available. Price is "under $3000.' We'll have a complete review just as soon as we get one.
Another business-oriented unit being shown was the $2000 Sayno MBC 1000. It has loads of features (CP/M, built-in business graphics, an excellent data storage and retrieval system, every imaginable interface, and so on). We'll be reviewing it in an upcoming issue.
Once again Toshiba showed their T100 machine. Like the Sanyo, it uses CP/M, has 64K of RAM, and all kinds of goodies. We've been singularly unsuccessful in getting one of these for review in the past, but we'll try again.
Another business-oriented computer being shown was the Pied Piper by STM Electronics. This is a beautifully styled portable unit selling for a bargain $1299. Like most other business units, it has 64K, runs CP/M and includes a wide range of software.
Yet another business unit (what are all these people doing at CES?) being shown was the M20 from Olivetti. They were inviting comparison between their $3000 unit and the Apple III, IBM PC, and Xerox 820. With 128K of RAM, 320K on a 5 disk and a 16-bit mpu, the M20 looks good.
Printers and Peripherals
While CES is hardly the place to look for new computer printers and peripherals, at least one printer looked very interesting. That was the HR-15 daisywheel printer from Brother. Speed is an agonizingly slow 13 cps, but the printer is able to do subscripts and superscripts, do underlines and strikeouts, print in red and black, and operate with the Diablo 630 Protocol. All this at a bargain-basement price of $595 for an RO (receive only) version and about $750 for one with a keyboard.
TeleData announced three modems, one to simply receive messages and print them out (no computer needed), a basic modem, and a "smart' modem with auto answer, auto dial, and all the other expected features. The best thing was the price--about $60 for the first unit and $150 or so for the smart one.
We mentioned earlier that the sales of audio and video products were on the decline. This is bad news for the audio/video furniture and accessory manufacturers too, so most of them have turned to the computer industry in some way. Some have leaped in with both feet; others are testing the water with an item or two. We saw several head cleaning kits from people previously in the record care business, and so on.
American Innovations, a new manufacturer, showed a basic line of furniture including a computer stand, monitor stand, and two printer stands. The price is right--$79.95 for the computer stand and $49.95 for the printer stand. But better than the price was the thoughtful detailing such as an inset continuous molding strip around the top (no sharp corners, no pealing molding). Also, a system of grooves makes assembly a snap--literally--no screws are used at all. As a result, we give American Innovations the
Simple Assembly Award
This was quite an unbelievable CES, but the products mentioned here are probably just a hint of the products about to hit the store shelves this year. You'll notice that we did not get into computer software at all. That is not because none was introduced--an enormous amount was. However, we prefer to review computer software rather than just report on new releases and, furthermore, we just don't have the room in this issue. Maybe next month.
We would, however, like to make two awards to computer software manufacturers. The first is the
Grossest Game Name Award
This goes to Synapse for Slime, a new Atari game. Actually, Synapse has some of the best Atari computer games ground, including Shamus, Chicken, Nautilus, and Claim Jumper. Slime is probably a great game too, but the name . . ..
The other award is the
Most Licensed Characters Without A Product Award
This goes to Datasoft for licensing the characters from the Dallas TV series; Banjo, the woodpile cat; Heathcliff, "America's top cat' (wonder what Garfield thinks of that!); and no fewer than 200 Terrytoons characters including Heckle and Jeckle, Deputy Dog, and Pearl Pureheart. We like the Datasoft Atari computer games (Canyon Climber, Tumble Bugs, Clowns & Balloons, etc.) but we think they'll be hard pressed to come up with wonderful new games for all these characters.
Another award we had was the
Most Unplayable Game Award
Since there were so many companies vying for this one with one or more games, we decided that someone was sure to get all bent out of shape if we awarded it to a competitor. So we decided to let this one go until the next CES. Another award that we should have presented months ago is the
Next Time, Stay Home Award
This goes to the gang from Craig Corporation, a manufacturer of auto sound equipment, who boisterously took their drunken carryings on the Garcia's Mexican restaurant two nights in a row, thus making it extremely unpleasant for other paying patrons. So, if you're looking for autosound equipment, and want intelligent, well mannered employees to help you with the decision, try Kraco or Sparkomatic or Panasonic or anyone but Craig.
Our last award is the
Magazine in Most Demand But Shortest Supply Award
This clearly goes to Video & Arcade Games, our newest publication. We had only 100 copies at the show and could have sold 2000, even though everyone else was giving their magazines away free. If you've seen a copy, you know why--it's the first literate magazine in an admittedly crowded field of arcade, video and electronic games magazines. If you haven't seen a copy, pick one up at your local newsstand--if there are any left.
We hope you have enjoyed our coverage of CES. We've covered this show several different ways in the past; what do you think of this approach? Let us hear from you
The Perfect Press Conference
The life of a journalist is glamourous and exciting. We find out about and get to use wonderful new products months before they are available to the public.
The medium through which most of these products--from game cartridges to minicomputers--are introduced is the press conference and its close cousin, the press reception.
Now press conferences and receptions come in a myriad of forms--long, short, entertaining, boring, luncheons, dinners, cocktail parties, wine and cheese--but they all have a common objective: to obtain media coverage for a product, person, or organization.
Some companies achieve this objective better than others, and having just returned from a non-stop round of press conferences and receptions at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, we thought we would take a little space to put forth our observations and opinions on what makes a good press conference.
Our observations are, of course, aimed primarily at the public relations agencies and departments of the companies in the consumer electronics industry, but we hope that the rest of you will find them informative and entertaining as well.
Rule Number One: Choose a Convenient Location.
Obviously, the best coverage of a new product will come from the people who attend the introduction--those who have had an opportunity to play the game, type on the word processor, talk to the designer. So, the first step in planning a press conference is to figure out how to get the people you want to attend.
Perhaps the most important factor in determining whether a person shows up at your affair is location. The closer it is to wherever the attendees will be coming from, the better. For this reason, it is probably worth paying the exhorbitant rental and catering charges of the head-quarters hotel to ensure that people will be able to find your reception.
A case in point: we received an invitation to a breakfast at which an apparently exciting product was to be introduced at CES. The motel in which it was to be held was one of which we had never heard. It was not on the maps distributed by the show management, and the invitation said only that it was "near the Convention Center.'
We didn't know where the motel was, and an hour before the opening of the show didn't have time to hunt for it, so we didn't go. We finally did get to see the product one evening after the show, but although the motel was only a few blocks from the Convention Center, we drove around Las Vegas for half an hour before we found it.
Rule Number Two: Choose a Convenient Time.
After you have chosen a good, accessible location for the event, you must choose a time. At a show, dozens of manufacturers compete for the writer's time in the evening, so forget that. Mid-morning and mid-afternoon hours should also be shunned because people tend to get involved on the show floor and either forget or don't want to take the time to go to a press conference. Most people, however, eat breakfast, and almost everyone breaks for lunch.
So, early in the morning, before the show starts, and around noon are good times to schedule a press event. Which brings us to the subject of food and Rule Number Three.
Rule Number Three: Feed Them.
One of the very best ways to get the attention of journalists is to offer them food Freelance writers and staffers from small publications on limited budgets sometimes depend on the fare at press functions for their sustenance at shows. And although that is, from the manufacturer's point of view, not a reason to serve food at a press conference, it does get people--at least some of them the ones you want--to attend.
What kind of food should you serve? Well, we won't go into menu planning here any more than to say that it need not be elaborate as long as it tastes good and there is plenty of it.
Several years ago, Infoworld gave a party at the West Coast Computer Faire for members of the press and industry friends. Shortly after the announced starting time, an assortment of hot and cold hors d'oeuvres was placed on a long table in the middle of the room. Guests descended like locusts on the feast, and in a matter of minutes, the serving trays were bare. Everyone stood around waiting for refills to appear. None ever did. In fact, in what seemed like record time, the table was cleared, folded up, and removed. It was an event that will be long remembered--for the wrong reasons.
Rule Number Four: Choose Your Spokesperson Carefully.
Most press functions include some sort of formal presentation during which writers and editors are asked to suspend their repast long enough to listen to the official introduction of the product.
Frequently, this announcement is made by the president of the company or the designer of the product. Almost as frequently, this is a disaster, because executives and engineers are not necessarily good speakers. They walk to the podium, thank you for coming, and proceed to read a speech prepared for them by a PR agency. Much more often than not, this speech tells the guests nothing they could not read in the press kits sitting in their laps.
The job of the person making the formal presentation should be to communicate enough of his own enthusiasm for the product to make the members of the press examine the press kit for details. Reciting specifications and marketing strategies leads only to frustration and boredom.
It is certainly a good idea to have the president or designer present to answer individual questions for those who have them, but unless he is an accomplished speaker, keep him away from the microphone. And under all circumstances, keep the presentation brief.
Rule Number Five: Have the Product Available.
The person who comes to a press conference to get a story looks for an angle or personal observation that will make his story different from everyone else's. Having the product in the room and running--even if only in prototype form--provides an opportunity to create that difference.
Having the product available also lends credibility to the announcement. It shows that the manufacturer is at least within striking distance of a production model. A press conference announcing a product that will exist someday, somehow lacks substance, and the person who writes optimistically about it is almost as susceptible to ridicule as the manufacturer if the product never materializes.
Rule Number Six: Have People Available to Demonstrate the Product.
If it is important to let your guests experiment with the product, it is equally important to have an informed member of your organization available to answer questions and get people started using the product.
For example, if your product is a game, it is foolish to leave the controls completely unattended so that would-be players who have no idea how to play are wiped out within seconds and soon give up in disgust. Better to have an employee nearby to explain the rules and give a short demonstration. Employees should be cautioned not to monopolize the controls or let other guests monopolize them.
So there you have it--the perfect press conference in a nutshell. Unfortunately, none of the functions we attended a CES met all our requirements, but we'll keep our eyes, ears, and mouths open at NCC and summer CES, and who knows, maybe there will be a Perfect Press Conference Award in our report from those shows.
Table: PERSONAL COMPUTERS FOR THE HOME: PRICE--PERFORMANCE
Photo: Androbot president Tom Frisina and friend, B.O.B.
Photo: Keystone Kapers by Activision for the Atari VCS.
Photo: Jamie Farr with the Fox Video M*A*S*H game.
Photo: Loco-Motion by M Network for the Atari VCS.
Photo: Safecracker by Imagic for Mattel Intellivision.
Photo: Squeeze Box by U.S. Games for the Atari VCS.
Photo: Mr. Bill's Neighborhood will be coming soon from Data Age.
Photo: Astromusic plays on the expanded Intellivision.
Photo: Alphanumeric and music keyboards with Intellivision II.
Photo: Odyssey Command Center has typewriterlike keys.
Photo: Atari Kid's controller for the VCS.
Photo: Trak-ball controller for the Atari 5200.
Photo: TG Track Ball controller for Apple, Atari and IBM computers.
Photo: Wico analog joystick is available for many computers.
Photo: Questar II Joystick console.
Photo: Kraft Atari-type joystick features fingertip control.
Photo: Entex 2000 Piggyback turns a VCS into a computer.
Photo: Unitronics' VCS Expander includes a cassette loader/memory unit and a keyboard.
Photo: Ed Krakauer, president of General Consumer Electronics and Betsy Staples, editor of Creative Computing. We presented an award to GCE for making two games (Vectrex and Game Time Watch) that were used in the Gamester of the Year competition sponsored by Video & Arcade Games magazine.
Photo: The Frob system lets you develop VCS games on an Apple.
Photo: TI 99/2 computer sells for $100.
Photo: TI CC-40 computer is aimed at professionals.
Photo: Milton Bradley voice recognition unit for TI 99/4A computer.
Photo: Mattel Aquarius system includes computer, printer, recorder, expander and game controllers.
Photo: Video Tech VZ200 is a great bargain at $99.
Photo: Timex 2000 computer.
Photo: Commodore 64 in a compact package.
Photo: Spectra Video SV-318 computer.
Photo: Jupiter Ace speaks Forth, not Basic.
Photo: Panasonic JR-200 computer.
Photo: Atari 1200XL computer.
Photo: Ultravision is a combination TV, game system and computer.
Photo: Epson QX-10 is exceptionally user friendly.
Named Works: Creative Computing (Periodical) - Achievements and awards