Toolboxby Jerry White
Utility programs are the programmer's toolbox. Any job becomes easier when you have the right tools. If you will be writing programs using Atari BASIC or Assembly Language, you may benefit from some of my favorites.
I will briefly describe the various software utility products I have found most useful. But before we talk about software, let's define what I consider to be the minimum hardware configuration required for serious software development on ATARI 400 and 800 computers. Yes, you can write programs on an 8K computer, but many of the most useful utility packages require a minimum of 32K RAM and one disk drive. I use an 800 with 48K, two 810 Disk Drives, an 850 Interface, an EPSON MX-80 printer, an AXLON RAMDISK, and a few other goodies. Although all of these peripherals are not necessary, I really can't see how you can work efficiently without 48K of RAM and at least one disk drive.
The list of languages available for ATARI computers is growing rapidly. While consideration might be given to the use of "C", Forth, Pascal, and PILOT, at least 90% of the software currently available for ATARI computers is written in BASIC, Assembly, or both.
I have found The Basic Commander from MMG Software to be a real time saver. This utility package locates itself in less than SK of RAM, and places a wide range of useful functions at your fingertips. Without using Page Six, it provides many DOS functions, program renumbering, automatic line numbering, block delete of a range of lines, user-definable softkeys, and predefined softkeys.
APX provides a number of useful utility products including MASHER (a BASIC program compressor). MASHER assigns numeric variables to the most frequently used numeric constants in your program, deletes REM statements and concatenates lines of code whenever possible. Although MASHER is probably the slowest utility program I've ever seen, it can cut program size down by as much as one-third.. XREF, from APX, is a cross reference utility program that rivals
MASHER for speed. It comes in handy as a debugging tool for finding each reference to all of the variables used in your BASIC programs. It also lists the number of times each numeric constant is used.
Usually, the most time consuming part of writing a program is in creating sound effects, music, and graphics. While there is no single utility package that can do it all, a combination of various products can certainly be a great help.
APX provides a decent sound effects generator called INSOMNIA. This program is somewhat limited, but I have yet to find anything better.
Another approach to sound effects and music is provided by Educational Software's Tricky Tutorials, #6 and #10. Tricky Tutorials teach by example and provide useful routines that you can use in your own programs. As of this writing, there are about a dozen of these excellent teaching programs.
As for music, the only music composing packages currently available to my knowledge, are The Advanced Music System from APX and ATARI's Music Composer. Unfortunately, neither provides an easy way to get the music files they generate into your own programs.
You can easily convert your Music Composer files into a new format with P.D.I.'s Music Box. Using the routines provided, you may then play your music during vertical blank interrupts, while BASIC is at your disposal.
There are a number of good utilities available for creating colorful, high resolution graphics. Of the many character graphics products, my favorites are the character editor in Educational Software's Tricky Tutorial #8, and Sheldon Leemon's INSTEDIT (available through APX.)
For Player/Missile Graphics, Swifware's PM-800 is a standout. It goes far beyond providing an excellent editor by also supplying a host of Assembly subroutines that you can use in your own BASIC programs. These subroutines provide everything for VBLANK joystick reading and Player/ Missile movement to collision detection.
Two of the best playfield graphics utility packages are DRAWPIC from Artworx, and Datasoft's MicroPainter. Another alternative is the Versa Writer Graphics Tablet, from Versa Computing, which combines hardware and software.
For writing Assembly subroutines and programs, I recommend the SYNASSEMBLER from Synapse Software. For very large Assembly programs, Atari's MACRO ASSEMBLER along with DDT (Dunion's Debugging Tool from APX), are real power tools.
That sums up my toolbox, although there are no doubt many fine and useful utility products not listed here. I've listed only those that I use myself, and those I can recommend from experience. If you're thinking about buying a package that I did not mention, look for magazine reviews of that product, or ask your local dealer to recommend the right tool for your job. You may contact the vendors of the products I mentioned at the addresses listed below.
APX (Atari Program Exchange)
P.O. Box 427, 155 Moffett Park Dr.
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
ARTWORX SOFTWARE CO.
150 North Main Street
Fairport, NY 14450
19519 Business Center Drive
Northridge, CA 91324
4565 Cherryvale Avenue
Soquel, CA 95073
M. M. G. SOFTWARE
P. O. Box 131
Marlboro, NJ 07746
64 Broad Hollow Road
Melville, NY 11747
5327 Jacuzzi Street, Suite I
Richmond, CA 94804
3541 Old Conejo Road, Suite 104
Newbury Park, CA 91320