COMPLETE PERSONAL ACCOUNTANT
310 W. Franklin St.
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
$79.95, 48K - diskette
Reviewed by Tay Vaughan
The Complete Personal Accountant consists of ten programs for managing financial records, appointment scheduals, and mailing lists. These ten programs are supplied on three disks; additional disks are required for the storage of data. A sizable booklet of instructions and examples provides detailed guidance for use and application of the CPA programs at home and in a small business.
Programs available are: chart of accounts, checkbook maintenance, checkbook search, summary budget analysis, detail budget analysis, net worth/income expense, payments calendar, appointments calendar, mailing list, and color graph.
Anyone who has started a small business or has had bookkeeping experience will recognize in these programs the essential ingredients of a common accounting system.
The Chart of Accounts is a list of the various categories in which money is spent or earned (categories include "salary," "rent," "medical bills," and even "penalties and fines"). A standard chart provided by CPA is divided into asset, liability, equity, income, and expense accounts. This chart can customized by the user. Because all CPA's financial processing programs refer this list, the Chart of Accounts must be created and stored the first time the CPA program is used. Values are then posted to their proper category in the Chart of Accounts; 99 accounts can be listed, and each can include up to nine subaccounts.
Most people have had simple bookkeeping experience with their own checking accounts. CPA provides a computerized checkbook registar and maintenance program to help you balance a checkbook and keep permanent records of tax deductions, service charges, and deposits. Checks are automatically credited or debited to their appropriate accounts, and running totals are kept for all categories. A search option allows users to recall checks by number, date, amount, or payee, and to print or display them.
Budgets are also important for successful money management. CPA uses the Chart of Accounts to maintain a list of budgeted categories for the user, and also provides a general summary of budget status (with totals of budgeted amounts and amounts actually spent). A detailed analysis displays or prints budget items, and lists actual checks and cash expenditures by category.
If users faithfully update their data files, they can compute their net worth and generate a balance sheet at any time. Savings, stocks, bonds, investments, and other financial data that do not appear in checking accounts, are entered through a Net Worth/Income Expense program.
Two calender programs allow users to keep track of dates when monthly bills are due, and to schedule appointments. The Mailing List program provided by CPA is useful for such things as Christmas lists or client directories, but is not as flexibie as some other database-management programs. It is limited to names and addresses, although a 20-character field is provided for telephone numbers or other reference data. The Mail List prints only one name wide, so it can use friction-fed rolls of labels on the Atari 825, Centronics 737, or Epson MX-80 printers.
With the Color Graph program, users can produce a graph of any file that contains CPA financial data. Relationships between various accounts can also be shown graphically.
CPA is designed for a single-drive system, it has no option for multiple drive users. A great deal of disk swapping is therefore required. Error trapping is generally good, but all decision branches in the menu-driven system allow for a return to the menu if the user changes his or her mind. Also, it is sometimes difficult to get an overview of a financial sistuation (such as the checkbook register) without using the printer. Displays of checks and names appear only one at a time on the display screen. For a $20 fee, users can subscribe to a technical-support service from the publishers by telephone.
These are well-integrated programs that provide the backbone of a financial management system. Indeed, simply by following the step-by-step procedures outlined in the manual and faithfully entering the necessary data, many users will discover that their financial records are more organized and make more sense than ever before.
Practical Programs, Inc.
Milwaukee, WI 53203
$24.95, 16K - cassette
$24.95, 24K - disk
Add $2.00 for postage and handling
Reviewed by David Duberman
Do your knees start to quiver every year around tax time! Do April showers bring nightmares full of numbers and swirling sheets of paper! If you have an Atari computer, Tax Command may be able to help you cure your IRS headaches.
Tax Command is a two-part program written in BASIC. It's a very simple, but effective, computerized tax form that takes you through Form1040 and Schedule A (Itemized Deductions) line-by-line and allows you to enter amounts where necessary. You can usually see the calcuated results of your entries immediately.
The program is menu-oriented. You may select menu items by pressing a key that corresponds to a highlighted character in the desired menu item. You need not press [RETURN] after selecting a menu item, and this is a real time-saver.
The main menu gives you a choice of the principal sections of Form 1040 - Total Income, Adjustments to Income, Deductions (Schedule A), and Tax Computation. The line number on Form 1040 is shown for every entry and calculated-result field.
Choose "Total Income," and you can enter figures for each line of Form 1040 that account for income. This category contains two pages of sub-menus, and you can return to the main menu at any time. "Adjustments to Income" works in a similar fashion.
If you choose "Deductions," you go to the deductions menu. Each item here corresponds to a category on Schedule A. Among these are Medical Expenses, Taxes, Interest Expense, Contributions, Casualty, and Other. There is a submenu for each of these, so every line of Schedule A is accounted for. Your total amount for deductions is constantly updated and displayed.
As you enter figures into Tax Command, you should also enter them by hand onto your tax forms. Tax Command has no provision for printing out a report, nor can you save the data. It's a program for one-time use - the tables and 1040 line numbers will probably be different next year, and this will necessitate a major revision of the program.
Once you've entered all your data, you activate Part Two. First, you're prompted towrite down two numbers (your filing status and taxable income). Then you press a key to load the program. The loading process takes five minutes for cassette, but only a few seconds for disk.
Part Two asks you to enter the two numbers you previously stored in paper-and-pencil RAM, and then calculates your tax (or refund!) for you. Other menu items in Part Two allow you to change your filing status or add additional tax. I didn't have access to the 1983 tax tables at the time this review was written, so I was unable to determine the accuracy of the program's calculations.
If you press [G], you can enter your income for the previous four years. The program will then determine whether you can lessen your tax burden by income averaging (spreading out a sudden rise in income over several years).
Part Two's "Net Refund" menu applies if you've overpaid your taxes. Items include Tax, Other Taxes, Payments, Credits, and updated displays of 1040 lines 49, 56, and 68 (Balance, Total Tax, and Due IRS).
Tax Command is a straightforward and eminently practical program. You don't even need instructions - all prompts are clear and self-explanatory. If you dread the calculations that are needed to fill out your tax forms, it can save you a lot of trouble. It's not a fancy program, but it is reasonably priced. However, you still have to enter all data and make a few simple calculations by hand.
Inhome Software, Inc.
2485 Dunwin Dr., Unit 8
Mississauga, ONT, Canada
$99.50, 48K -- diskette
Reviewed by Jerry O'Neill
B/GRAPH is an important addition to the array of serious software available for Atari computers. It's a powerful program that allows you to enter data, perform many kinds of statistical manipulations, and make several types of informative charts and graphs automatically.
The graphs are displayed in a full-screen, high-resolution, four-color mode, and additional patterns can be used to distinguish different parts of the graph. B/GRAPH can save data as data files, and can save the graphs themselves as binary picture files. A "slide show" routine lets you display graphs in sequence. B/GRAPH also supports screen dumps to many popular printers.
B/GRAPH is a menu-driven program that "walks you through" the creation of graphs. It can create many different charts and graphs, point or line graphs, filled-in-area graphs, vertical bar graphs, pie charts and others. You select the graph you want, choose labels, and enter data in response to machine prompts. Once you've finished entering data, B/GRAPH draws your graph and labels it. If you use VisiCalc and have already stored data in DIF files, you can save siginificant time by entering these files directly. Utility programs load B/GRAPG charts into your own BASIC programs.
If you want to see the game data presented in different kinds of graphs, this is easy to do. For instance, you switch directly from a bar chart with three-segment bars to a line graph. (Obviously, you can switch only between styles that use equivalent data.
I used B/GRAPH to create graphics from finished data. However, the program has a library of powerful statistical functions that can manipulate your data in ways that reveal important trends and correlations. A 33-page section of the manual covers these functions in detail. The manual, written by Ian Chadwick author of Mapping the Atari, is complete and is designed for easy use, as is the program itself.
The statistical functions available include moving averages, geometric moving averages, exponential data smoothing, a t-distribution test, normal distribution probability, Poisson test, binomial distribution probability, standard deviation and many others, Suffice it to say that B/GRAPH knows far more about statistics than I do, and that it gives the user a comprehensive choice of functions.
Is B/GRAPH perfect, then? There were a few minor bugs in Version 1.0, but these have been cleared up in the current version 1.1. Unfortunately, 1.1 still contains some minor annoyances. When I was plotting a bar chart with only a few bars, for instance, I couldn't find any way to make the bars wider; as a result, I ended up with an empty-looking chart. I also managed to get "trapped" in the data-entry part of the program, and couldn't escape to the menu until I'd entered a few phony data values. (The program "knew" I hadn't entered enough points for a reasonable graph and wouldn't let go of me till I did.)
Finally, in the full-screen mode there are no command prompts on the screen when a graph is displayed; you'll want to create a reference sheet to help you remember key commands.
But these are all minor flaws. B/GRAPH's creators have given us a valuable program, and they have promised to provide as much continuing support as possible. (Incidentally, enhancement disks with extended features, such as support for additional printers and plotters, are in the offing.) All in all, B/GRAPH is a practical and extremely useful program. It's well worth the price, and both the program and the attitude behind it indicate that there are people out there who believe that the Atari is more than just a game machine.
THE HOME ACCOUNTANT
11223 South Hindry Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90045
$74.95, 48K -- diskette
Reviewed by David Duberman
If your home finances are fairly complex, you should look into The Home Accountant for your Atari. But try to get a demo first -- it's a powerful system, and is difficult to use at least to begin with.
Fortunately, the 43-page manual leads you through the program in a step-by-step, logical manner. Unfortunately, the manual isn't quite thorough enough. I was left wondering about some of Home Accountant's features.
The manual doesn't mention it, but the autoboot, two-sided disk requires BASIC. Initializing a data disk takes three minutes. After this, you're prompted to insert side #1 of the program disk. The Main menu boots, and off you go.
Not quite yet, though. The only menu item you can choose at this point lets you configure the program for your hardware setup. Certain reports require 132 columns, and certain 80-column dot-matrix printers can print132 columns in condensed mode. Home Accountant is quite flexible in this matter; the manual provides setup codes for a number of printers.
Next, you set up budgets. Up to 50 budget categories can be stored on one disk. First you establish one to five checkbook budgets. For each of these, you must enter the starting figure and the estimated or budgeted balance for each month of the year. After setting up each checkbook account, you must set up an associated cash account budget according to similar guidelines. This makes sense, since people often withdraw spending money from a checking account.
You then add budget categories of five types -- assets, credit cards, liabilities, income, and expenses. Different but related budget categories can be started for complex expenditures such as mortgages -- for instance, you can set up a liability budget for the mortgage principal, and an expense budget for the interest. If you establish a projected budget for each category, the program will calculate the difference between budgeted amounts and the actual figures.
Budget categories of the income or expense type are handled differently. Instead of entering a beginning balance and estimating a monthly increase or decrease, you simply enter a monthly amount, which can vary depending on the category. The program then calculates a yearly total from the monthly figures.
You can change a category's name type (unless it's a checking or credit card account) and amount entries, thus erasing the old category and creating a new one. If you have a mortgage and a checking account with the same bank you may have arranged for an automatic monthly transfer of funds with the bank. Similarly, many accounts have automatic monthly deposits made to them. Home Accountant lets you use five automatic transactions per month per checkbook account.
After entering any automatic transactions, you enter all checkbook transactions. For each check or deposit, you enter the date, check number, payee, amount, a memo, and the appropriate category. You can also note (flag) whether an expense is tax-deductible, or whether a check has cleared the bank. The entry of credit card transactions is handled in a similar manner.
Next, you enter transactions for each cash account. You can number or classify each transaction with a six-character code. Tax-deductible cash payments may be tagged as such.
A search/edit mode is associated with each type of transaction - checkbook, credit card, and cash. Other features allow you to reconcile your checkbook and bank statements, and to split transactions between budget categories, as in the mortgage principal and interest example mentioned above.
The Home Accountant can generate a variety of graphs and reports, including bar graphs that compare budgeted and actual amounts or trend-analysis graphs that feature linear-regression analysis. Graphs are plotted to the monitor screen, with an optional grid.
Three report categories are available: budget/actual, personal balance sheet, and income & expense summary. The first is important, but doesn't work well unless you have a printer with 132-column output. It provides a monthly summary of budgets and a list of transactions by category, as well as your projected and current net worth and total income. Other reports summarize actual monthly balances for different categories, note differences between budgeted and actual monthly expenditures, compare totals by month, and print income and expense summaries. Reports can be generated on your printer, and you can print out checks on special forms that are available by mail-order.
The Home Accountant is a bit bewildering at first, but with time and experience most of its functions will become understandable. If you have the need, the patience and the proper hardware (two drives are a considerable advantage with this system), this program can pay for itself within months. By eliminating the need for a complex bookkeeping system and by automating data entry, it should save a typical middle-class householder many hours of tedium each month.
14 E. 34th St.
New York, NY 10016
$34.95, 48K -- disk
Reviewed by David Duberman
Softsync's Personal Accountant home finance program is touted as an easier-to-use alternative to Continental's Home Accountant. It is easier to use -- albeit a good deal simpler in content.
Instead of budget categories, in Personal Accountant you set up accounts. It comes with 12 accounts, including checking, charges, rent, leisure and food. You can delete or rename any of these, or add your own. There are four basic types of accounts: deposit, asset, liability, and expense.
You can store as many as 144 categories on a disk, because each entry doesn't contain much data. In fact, all you enter for each transaction is the date, a code (of up to eight characters) and the amount involved.
Personal Accountant helps ensure that your books are balanced by employing a system called double-entry. For each entry, you must specify two accounts. For instance, if you start with a paycheck for $1000, you enter income as the first account and checking as the second account. If you enter an expense, the amount is posted to the proper expense account as a positive number, and to the paying account as a negative number. One type of report, the trial-balance sheet, lets you keep track of whether amounts are being properly entered by comparing balances.
Other functions of the menu-driven program allow you to read a file or part of a file, and to change or delete an entry. If you can't remember which entry you want to change, you can review a list. You can also list all files on the disk, although this process can be somewhat slow. Another problem, at least for beginners, is that you have to RUN the program from BASIC, and the instructions don't explain the procedure very well. In addition, the [BREAK] key is not disabled - another difficulty for beginners. Also, the rather sketchy documentation fails to mention that a press of [RETURN] in response to many prompts configures output for a minimum system (i.e, no printer). This can save the user considerable time. The program's error trapping is good, but not great. If an amount contains only one decimal place, that's how it is printed - a marked deficiency, especially with tabular output.
Although a disk can contain thousands of entries, the program only accounts for the eventuality of a full disk by allowing you to forward account balances to a new disk. Individual entries cannot be forwarded.
One nice feature of this program, which is not mentioned in the documentation, is that all its reports are no wider than 40 columns. As a result, it can be used with any printer. In addition to the trial-balance report mentioned earlier, you can generate an expense-accounts report that lists all expenses by account and provides a total. You can also print a listing of assets and liabilities (with a balance of Assets over Liabilities) and income-and-expense recap Income over Expenses balance).
Two other programs, which also must be RUN from BASIC, are present on the program disk. Program A calculates loan payments, amortization tables, future values, and future values with annual interest. All data entry is from the keyboard, and output is to the screen only.
The final program, called N, is a simple name, address, and phone number data base. You can search for entries by stipulating the first characters of any of the five lines in the entry, and can print name-and-address labels. Despite advertised claims, this program isn't really integrated with the rest of Personal Accountant.
This program may be useful to those who are just starting out in home finances and who may need Home Accountant's exhaustive thoroughness. The documentation is adequate, but prompts are sometimes less than helpful. If you can see a demonstration before you buy, by all means do so. If financial problems are starting to pile up, Personal Accountant may be the answer for you.
A FINANCIAL WIZARD 1.5S
A Financial Wizard is one of the oldest and best-known home finance packages for the Atari computers. ANTIC published a review of A Financial Wizard in Volume 2, Number 1 (April 1983). We summarize that review here for the benefit of our newer readers.
A Financial Wizard makes good use of the Atari's sound and graphics capabilities in a complete package for managing your home finances. You can enter budget data, categorize checks, produce graphics on-screen, print checks, and use many other functions. The new version, 1.SD, adds two new report-generating programs. A Financial Wizard is available on disk for $59.95 plus $3 postage and handling from:
On Line Cgmputer Centers of OKC
10944 North May
Oklahoma City, OK 73120
A FINANCIAL ASSET MANAGEMENT SYSTEM
Atari Program Exchange (APX)
P.O. Box 3705
Santa Clara, CA 95055
(800) 772-1850 (CA);
(800) 538-1862 (outside CA)
$29.95, 40K -- diskette
Reviewed by Karl Wiegers
Financial Asset Management System is a comprehensive program designed to monitor and evaluate your portfolio of financial assets and investments. It features easy file and record-handling capbiiities and can print several different kinds of financial reports. A clearly written 12-page manual (with appendices that illustrate sample reports) is included with the program.
The user of Financial Asset Management System first creates a file to contain asset data. This file can hold as many as 99 individual assets, with a total value of up to $10 million. Additional files can be created as they are needed.
You assign each of your assets a type number from 1 to 99, depending on whether its quantity is measured in shares (1-70) or dollars (71-99). This gives you the degree of flexibility needed to handle such diverse assets as stocks, bonds and mutual funds (measured in shares), or bank accounts, property and collectibles (measured in dollars). To create an asset record, you enter the asset's name, a six-character code, its type number, and data that include its quantity (in shares or dollars), initial cost, current price, and expected annual payout per share. A menu of maintenance operations makes it easy to add, delete or update assets in this file. Functions such as updating prices, quantities, costs and payout rates, or entering dividends (paid or reinvested), can also be performed. A handy "zero all dividends year-to-date" feature is helpful for income tax purposes.
Financial Asset Management System can print four kinds of reports on Atari 825 or Epson printers. The most useful of these lists assets alphabetically within type, providing the initial data you entered along with current total value, percent of total assets, profit in dollars, percent profit, annual payout and yield. Subtotals by type and a grand total are also printed.
I update my asset data and print this repart on a weekly basis to track my investments and see what changes I should take into consideration as economic conditions vary. Other reports include: lists of assets sorted by magnitude of total value, profit and other parameters; a listing of year-to-date dividends paid; and a listing of the entire contents of the file (without the calculated data that appear in the first kind of report). A convenient customized-data input form can also be printed to facilitate the updating of your own data file.
This program uses virtually no sound, graphics or color, but it completely lives up to the implicit promise made by its title. It is easy to use, appears to be bug-free, and produces attractive, effective printed reports. The only difficulty I've encountered with the program involves the tracking of municipal bonds, whose prices change as interest rates fluctuate. To handle them, I've had to recalculate current bond prices and then enter the new values into the computer. Otherwise, however, I've found Financial Asset Management System to be enormously helpful in financial and tax planning. You still have to do your own investment analysis, but this program greatly facilitates the tedious task of tracking your assets.
THE MONEY PROCESSOR
1160 Niblick Rd.
Paso Robles, CA 91446
$59.00, 48K -- disk
Reviewed by Dave Mentley
The Money Processor is one of those rare programs that will actually justify the expense of your computer hobby. A combination spreadsheet and database program, the Money Processor is an efficient and easy-to-use personal financial-record keeper. Ease of use is guaranteed by its screen editor, one of the most well-engineered user-interface devices I have seen in any software package. And machine-language code is written so tightly that you won't even know the program is running. In addition, an Introduction, Operation Guide, Owner's Manual and a unique keyboard overlay are included to help you make full use of the package.
Essentially, the Money Processor is a filing system and worksheet for all transactions that involve spending or earning money. On one statement, you can consolidate data about all of your check deposits, checks drawn, credit-card charges and payments,savings-account transactions, cash spent, and employee-expenses. You can also build a list of tax return and household budget items. The program uses the actual names of your accounts, rather than their numbers - the tedious method used by most other personal-finance packages.
To begin, you must enter the name of your accounts; you can enter or delete an account at any time. The program allows for up to 150 accounts in 7 categories: Credit Cards, Checking Accounts, Savings Accounts, Cash, Employee Expense, Tax Return Items and Budget Items. Once you have entered your account names, you need to enter data on all relevant transactions from your records on an account worksheet. Any entries you make are stored on your data disk; if you move from one screen or a worksheet to another, your data is saved automatically.
All of the program's worksheets are customized. "Credit Cards," for example, is set up to handle charges, payments, miscellaneous charges (fees) and miscellaneous credits (returns or refunds). When you've entered all appropriate transactions for your statement period, you can generate a statement. This makes each transaction as "verified" and includes it in a dated statement that can be printed and filed. These statements are also maintained on disk.
Balances from each statement (Date) are fed into a balance for each account (Visa, MC), which in turn is fed into a balance for each type of account (Credit Card); this lets you check your financial condition at any time. The closing balance from the last statement is transferred as the "Last Statement Balance" to your next statement to give you current balance.
The Money Processor offers a number of features that make it easy to use and virtually foolproof. The editor with which you enter data from the keyboard, in particular, is exceptional. It locks you out of any area in which you're not allowed to type, and permits you to enter only numbers (no letters) into the Data and Amount columns. The screen is 54 columns wide, and scrolls as you move the cursor. This gives you room for extensive comments on each transaction. The controls also allow you to move across the worksheet very quickly.
Perhaps the most fascinating feature of this program is that its total balance is updated each time you enter a digit in the Amount column. In addition, a window at the bottom of the screen always tells you how much space is left in memory and disk. Since you start with more than 350 lines for accounts and worksheets, you have more than enough space, even if you are a tremendously prolific spender. In fact, the program's data-compression techniques allow you to pack more than a year's worth of transactions onto a single disk.
To eliminate the need to memorize the program's entry and edit functions, Luck has designed a keyboard overlay that fits your 400, 800 or 1200 console and reminds you of the key functions. This overlay, in combination with the Introduction, Operation Guide and Owner's manual, provide thorough documentation for the program.
The Money Processor will save you countless hours of tedious work at tax time: You can boot it up and do two months' worth of record keeping in half an hour. It also helps you track your expenditures and check your bank's arithmetic. It sets a standard of excellence for other manufacturers of commercial software to emulate, and I highly recommend it.
Master Control Software, Inc.
P.O. Box 26714
Salt Lake City, UT 84126
$34.95, 16K -- cassette
$34.95, 48K -- disk
Reviewed by Lawrence Dziegielewski
The setting is ancient Egypt, the civilization that blossomed on the banks of the River Nile. The days are hot, the nights are cool, and the Great Pharaoh Rameses has summoned you to build a pyramid for his eternal resting place. "Do this," he says, "and the riches of Egypt are yours! But beware the demons who will pursue your every step. They will not cease until they have stopped you. Good luck, Little Achmed!"
In Pharaoh's Pyramid, you are Little Achmed, the builder of pyramids. Six difficulty levels move you through the ranks of Egyptian society, from slave to Pharaoh. If you complete the tasks of level 6, and finish the pyramid, Rameses can be laid to rest, and you can claim your reward.
To complete each level, you must maneuver down a series of steps to the Nile, gather up the bricks that lie there, and return them to the top. In the process, you must avoid many enemies, including Moses's Snake, four seperate plagues, and the cunning Osiris, who appears suddenly during each round. Touch any of the demons, and you lose a life.
Pharaoh's Pyramid is very challenging, even at the easiest level. The demons pursue you with dogged determination, and only speed and agility allow you to avoid them. This game definitely puts your reflexes to the test!
You can start the game at any of its six levels. A two-player option can be selected by pressing [T].
I found the game's graphics to be excellent, and its screen is both colorful and detailed. Superb use of sound and music also enhance its appeal. In addition, Pharaoh's Pyramid has staying power, that rare ability to challenge you each time you play.
I was hard pressed to find a flaw in this game, but I did note one small quirk. Moving Achmed around on the steps requires diagonal joystick input. As a result, if you use a worn out set of joysticks, you must make very precise movements. I found this to be frustrating at times. However, a good quality joystick greatly enhances the playability of this game. When I borrowed a friend's WICO joystick, my scores increased noticeably.
Pharaoh's Pyramid is a very entertaining and worthwhile game. If you're a serious gamer, and aren't afraid of a good challenge. this game should be part of your library.
9421 Winnetka Ave.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
$29.95, 32K -- disk & cassette
Reviewed by Mark Cotone
As one of the higher members of the food chain, I've never really appreciated the constant battle for survival going on around me. But I got an education in survival from Pooyan, a Konami game recently released by Datasoft.
You probably remember Konami for past arcade hits like Frogger, Scramble and Time Pilot. Pooyan, a relative unknown, is a revised version of the "Three Little Pigs" story. You play the role of a courageous parent pig who fights to protect home and family from the clutches of the big, bad wolves. Now, who's afraid?
The game begins at the pigs' home, a sturdy dwelling built into a rugged mountainside. You patrol the face of your cliffside abode in a joystick-controlled, armored basket. Suddenly, from out of the nearby treetops, a pack of hungry wolves mounts an attack. Clinging to helium balloons, the carnivores attempt to float down onto your front porch. They have dinner planned, and your babies are the main course! Taking careful aim, you fire arrows at the wolves' balloons. If you succeed in popping the balloons, you send the wolves, tumbling end over end, to a ghastly death. But these wolves aren't sitting ducks; they're armed with deadly acorns. One touch from these nuts and your basket will topple, sending you on your own deadly freefall. Your secret weapon, a slab of beefsteak, should be saved and hurled into the pack of floating attackers when the moment seems right. Each wolf will then let go of its balloon to grab at the meat.
When you master this level of play, the skill level changes automatically. Several new twists and bonus scenes are added to spice up the action.
What separates Pooyan from all the other arcade shoot-outs! The main distinction is that, although many games can match Pooyan's fine, detailed, graphics, few are as well animated. The wolves don't simply move across the screen - they strut with menacing smiles.
When a wolf leaps from a treetop, he appears to be frightened at his vulnerability, and frantically eyes the onrushing earth. The quality of animation is superb. Good graphics, sophisticated player movement, and challenging gameplay -- all the ingredients of a winner -- are evident here. Pick up Pooyan for yourself, and fight for your life. You'll be glad you did.
Optimized Systems Software, Inc.
10379 Lansdale Avenue
Cupertino, CA 95014
Reviewed by Jerry White
ACTION! is a complete software development system, written by Clinton Parker of ACTION! Computer Services and distributed by OSS. ACTION! is a structured language on a bank-select16K cartridge. The cartridge also contains the monitor, compiler, library routines, and the most sophisticated editor I've seen to date. The bank-select feature built into the cartridge ensures that ACTION! will use only 8K of your precious RAM.
For those who have found BASIC to be too slow or assembler too difficult, ACTION! is the logical alternative. ACTION! programs can increase speed to from 50 to 200 times that of BASIC. You will find that ACTION! performs nearly as well as assembler in terms of speed and compactness of object code.
BASIC programmers will be glad to know that most Atari BASIC commands are included in ACTION!'s procedure libraries. ACTION!'s vocabulary also includes AND, ARRAY, BYTE, OARD, CHAR, DEFINE, DO, ELSE, ELSEIF, EXIT, FI, FOR, FUNC, GET, IF, INCLUDE, INT, LSH, MOD, MODULE, OD, OR, POINTER, PROC, RETURN, RSH, SET, STEP, THEN, TO, TYPE, UNTIL, WHILE, XOR, and more.
The Library is a collection of subroutines that can be used in a program, but do not have to be defined within that program. These subroutines are not actually part of the ACTION! language. They are provided for your convenience.
When you turn on your computer with the ACTION! cartridge installed, you start in the Editor. The Editor treats your text as though it were on a long sheet of paper. The display is treated as a window through which you can see only part of the text (one screen). The Editor has commands that allow you to move this window anywhere on the paper." Inside the window you can make changes to the text.
You can search for a piece of text, and you may optionally substitute another piece of text for the one you find. It is possible to leave an invisible marker (tag) at the current cursor position, and then go back to that tag in the future without having to search for it.
Last but not least, you can have two of these windows (look at different "sheets of paper") on the screen at once. This feature makes it possible to move pieces of text from one "sheet of paper" to another. You can also enter and save your text using any supported I/O device.
Numeric variable support includes BYTE (0-255), CARD (0-65535), and INTEGER (-32768 to 32767). Floating point is not directly supported. ACTION! even supports immediate mode commands, user-generated procedure libraries, and the ability to intermix 6502 machine language instructions.
I wrote a couple of short programs to see how fast each could simply count to 10,000. BASIC completed the task in 11644 jiffies while ACTION! required just over 11 jiffies (sixtieths of a second). While other benchmark tests showed slightly less than this ratio, some others have shown ACTION! to generate code over 200 times faster than BASIC.
FUN WITH ART
Epyx (Automated Simulations, Inc.)
1043 Kiel Court
Sunnnyvale, CA 94086
$39.95,16K -- cartridge
Reviewed by David Plotkin
One problem I've always had with graphics drawing programs is that I never remember the multitude of command keystrokes needed to achieve the results I want. Enter Fun With Art (FWA) from Epyx. Not only is this the first cartridge-based graphics program (most require a disk drive), but its commands can be accessed by pointing to icons (symbols) ; on a command screen. Add some powerful features not found elsewhere, and you have an excellent package for the advanced and the novice artist alike.
FWA allows you to create pictures in ANTIC Mode E, the high-resolution, four-color graphics mode that is some times referred to as Graphics 7 1/2. All drawing is done with your joystick. Many common commands are supported, including LINE, POINT, COPY BLOCK, and MOVE BLOCK. There are two ways to change drawing commands - either enter the appropriate letter from the keyboard, or, if you're like me and can't remember the proper letter, press [START] to view the command screen. Then use the joystick and fire button to select the icon that represents the desired command. The name of the command under the cursor appears in the text window, along with the command currently in effect and various instructions.
This program offers a number of unique capabilities, in addition to the icon menu. For example, you can assign a priority number (from one to four) to each of the four colors, including background, so you won't accidentally draw over a color in a tight spot. The background color must be given highest priority if you want to erase a line or a small portion of your drawing.
FWA also allows you to load and save partial screens (color forms), but these operations require the use of a disk drive. One of the features I miss, though, is "pattern fill," the ability to fill an odd shape with color. FWA's fill functions work in any of four directions but cannot easily fill an odd-shaped area. Another minor complaint: FWA's error messages are very cryptic, and appear in hexadecimal form!
The program's most impressive feature is that it allows you to change the four basic colors at every other scan line on the screen by using Atari's Display List Interrupt function. This makes for a lot of colors! The display list is saved with the picture to disk, so its array of colors becomes an integral part of the picture.
Finally, Epyx provides good documentation for FWA, including an explanation of how to load and display your pictures with a BASIC program. Full instructions on memory management and a set of relocatable machine-language routines are also included. All in all, FWA is a lot of fun to use. It is an excellent stand-alone package.
Atari Program Exchange (APX)
P.O. Box 3705
Santa Clara, CA 95055
(800) 538-1862 (national toll-free)
(800) 672-1850 (CA)
$29.95, 48K -- disk
Reviewed by David Duberman
"Oh no" I thought when I received my review copy of Excalibur. And there was good reason for my panicky response. The disk was accompanied by more documentation than I had ever seen with a game program -- some 80 pages, including a 69-page novel about King Arthur!
But Excalibur easily ranks as the finest programming achievement to date by Chris Crawford (the designer of such state-of-the-art war games as Eastern Front 1941 and Legionnaire). In this fantasy simulation, set in Medieval England, you assume the role of Arthur, King of Camelot and rightful heir to the throne of all Britain. You've recently pulled Excalibur, the magic sword, from the stone. To win, you must conquer or otherwise win the loyalties of the other15 kings in Britain.
As with Crawford's other recent efforts, real-time battle is a strong factor in Excalibur. In this game, though, it's only one of many factors. Your world also includes economics, diplomancy, friendship, loyalty and a little magic. When the need arises, Merlin, you trusted counselor, can visit plague or pestilence upon an enemy, or turn the heart of an unfriendly king in your favor. His best trick is See, which lets you surreptitiously visit any king to discover his vital defense secrets.
Execution makes this program special. An exceedingly complex game (perhaps the most complex yet written for an eight-bit computer!), Excalibur's performance often approaches the level of Artificial Intelligence (AI). Despite its complexity, however, practically all of its functions are controlled with one joystick.
After the game boots (with some graphically stunning titles), you find yourself, as Arthur (represented on the screen by an icon of a gold crown), in a vertical corridor in your castle, you must visit different rooms that pertain to various functions of your role.
In the Room of the Round Table, you monitor the behavior of your knights, reward them or honor them as you deem fit, and banish them if necessary. Here, also, you select the knights who will accompany you in battle.
In the Throne Room, which is furnished with a Magic Map of Britain, you follow news of the kingdom, chart the rise and fall of your own prestige, and have the opportunity to either declare war on or pay tribute to opposing kings.
Finally, in Merlin's Room, you exercise the magic powers mentioned above. The Treasury Room offers you a vision of Camelot's wealth and of the tithes that you receive from your vassals. Here you preside over the taxation of your subjects and determine the size of your army.
You exit the castle from the lower edge of the Thrown Room. The disk spins, and you find yourself on a scrolling map of Britain. Press a button, and Merlin appears in the form of a raven. Guide the raven to any castle, and you will learn its name and the number of its men-at-arms. If you're attacking, you can piliage your enemy's crops. You can also enter a vassal's fortress and help him to battle an intruder.
If you attack or are attacked, the two opposing armies are placed on a battlefield. Those of you who are familiar with Crawford's war games won't need any further instruction here - control of your men is straightforward and is well suited to the realistic action. You may attack or retreat at any time during a battle. When the fight is finished, wins and losses are tallied. One final note: A game can be stored at any point and resumed at a later time.
This project was conceived and initiated by Crawford, but he gives co-author credit to Larry Summers and Valerie Atkinson, who started out as his assistants. Their contributions have unmistakably broadened the game's scope; all three are to be heartily congratulated for an awesome achievement.
Oh yes, I almost forgot the novel! It follows Arthur from his humble beginnings through an entire game, and includes many concrete strategems that you may want to use in a game of your own. I won't reveal the ending, but it is a happy one. You are, however, at liberty to create a new scenario in every game.
Chris Crawford describes this game as "not candy" -- an accurate assessment. It's impossible to play Excalibur with the mindset you might use for a game of Pacman, for example. You have to read the novel ( and re-reading it several times wouldn't hurt ), you have to keep notes, and you have to think (a lot). It takes time to learn to play Excalibur well. But it's an investment that can pay off in one of the richest gaming experiences ever.
MAGIC STORYBOOK: THE THREE LITTLE PIGS
P.O. Box 25612
Garfield Heights, OH 44125
$19.95, 16K -- cassette
Reviewed by John and Mary Harrison
"I'll huff, and I'll puff and I'll blow your house down" shout Keith and Wasco. Keith is our three-year-old son; Wasco is the wolf in Magic Storybook: The Three Little Pigs. At last, there is some entertaining software available for the young child! This program takes the form of an animated-video story book with a cassette-based sound track.
There is much to like about Magic Storybook. It is beautifully drawn and animated. The pigs' ears wiggle, stars twinkle, men race across the screen, and the houses shake as Masco blows them down. The music is excellent. It helps pass the time during the four-minute load and announces the arrival of Wasco in each scene. The narrator's voice is clear, soothing and pleasant. The voices of the three pigs and Wasco are distinct, and each fits its character.
In addition, for parents who are concerned about the violence that is inherent in all fairy tales, the script minimizes the wickedness of the wolf. At the end, when Wasco lands in the boiling pot, he is not "killed." He is merely "gone." Most importantly, we found that when the program was viewed by neighborhood children aged two to four, it was a resounding success. They played it over and over.
Unfortunately, Amulet chose to market this product as "entertaining educational software for children of all ages." We object to Amulet's use of the word "educational."
There are many opinions about what constitutes educational software. Yet, at a minimum, a piece of software cannot be considered educational unless it (1) has a target audience in mind, (2) clearly states one or more educational objectives, and (3) includes a guide that explains how the program can be used to attain these objectives.
It is important to identify a target audience so that parents know they're not buying something either too simple or too complex for their child. Magic Storybook appears to be most appropriate for children aged two to five. Our three-year-old son loves it, but it doesn't provide enough for our six-year-old to do.
In fact, Magic Storybook has little educational value. It merely relates the classic story of The Three Little Pigs, much as you might tell it to your children. It may keep their attention and they may find it enjoyable, but what have they learned? There are no skills taught, no new concepts presented. Even if a child is completely passive, the program automatically moves Wasco to the proper place after a one-minute pause. Perhaps the program promotes listening skills, but then, so does a record book. Finally, there is nothing in the documentation that indicates an intended educational use of the product. The package contains a copy of the script, loading instructions, and a picture to color, but no guidance for the parent is included.
Magic Storybook does not fit into any existing category of home computer software. It competes with the record books that we received as children. The educational value of the product could easily have been increased by including a game based on the story. However, this is one of the few products on the market that is aimed at very young children, and at $19.95 it is competitively priced. While it can be used to introduce very young children to the computer, entertainment, not education, is Magic Story-book's major contribution.
SIGNALMAN MARK XII MODEM
Anchor Automation, Inc.
6913 Valjean Ave.
Van Nuys, CA 91406
Reviewed by David Duberman
Anchor Automation has become a familier name to the microcomputing community in the past year, largely as a result of its highly successful Signalman series of 300-baud modems. Inexpensive and easy to use, Signalman modems have helped introduce thousands to the joys of telecommunicaions.
With the introduction of the Signalman Mark XII, Anchor brings its reasonable prices and telecommunications expertise to the 1200-baud market.
Until now, the only 1200-baud modem commonly available for most microcomputers has been the Hayes Smartmodem 1200. Hayes has, by default, set a standard for modem operations that, fortunately, has been followed very closely by the engineers at Anchor.
Installation of the Mark XII is quite simple. A moduler cord that connects the unit to a wall outlet is supplied, as is a 110-volt AC power adapter; there is no provision for battery power. A 25-pin RS-232C male interface cable is permanently attached to the unit. An optional gender-changer gives you a female connector as well. Unfortunately, neither of these connects directly to the nine-pin RS-232C connector on the Atari 850 interface module, and Anchor doesn't make such a cable.
However, if you have a cable that can connect a Hayes modem and the 850, you're in luck. Such a cable works with the Mark XII without modification. Otherwise, you must make a cable or have one made for you. Nine pins need to be connected for full functioning (including auto-answer), or six for minimum functioning (including auto-answer), or six for minimum functioning. "Appendix A" of the Mark XII manual lists the applicable pins and their functions.
In situ, the Mark XII works much like the Hayes. However, it doesn't feature as many LED's -- just one each for High Speed, Carrier Detect, Send/Receive Data, and Modem Ready. Also, it does not include a speaker for monitoring calls. Instead, the monitoring of current status is performed by the firmware in the modem. If, for example, you attempt a call with no success, a message flashes on thescreen after a -10-second-pause.
The Mark XII operates in either of two states. In normal operation, using a terminal program such as Datasoft's Tele-Talk, you're in the command mode as soon as the program has booted. At this point, you can command the modem to dial a number (ATDTnnnnnnnn), or to answer the phone automatically when it rings. For instance, if you type ATSO = 1, the modem will answer the phone after one ring. Then it will transmit a carrier signal in an attempt to establish communication with the modem at the other end of the line. The Mark XII's command language and syntax are identical to those used by Hayes.
Once contact has been made with another computer, you are placed in the on-line modem and may proceed a usual. To return to the command state press [ + ] three times quickly. "OK" will appear on the screen, and the Mark XII will be ready to accept commands. To return on-line, use the command .
The Mark XII operates in either full-duplex or half-duplex modes. Full duplex provides for the simultaneous transmission of data in either direction (like a voice telephone line), while half duplex requires that one party wait to transmit until the other is finished. Also, the modem operates at 110, 300, or 1200 baud, terms that apply to the rates at which data is transmitted. The manual briefly describes the implications of these different modes of operations.
It also decribes the many different command codes available from programming the Mark XII. Among these are A/ (last command repeat), I1 (ROM test), and H1 (off hook). There seem to be sufficient commands to cover any conceivable situation involving telecommunications. A list of commands, along with brief explanations, appears on a pocket-sized reference card that comes with the modem. The card also lists results codes (modem responses to your commands) and set registers. These let you control certain of the modem's variable parameters, such as the number of rings to auto answer, the escape-code character (used to return to the command state from the on-line state), and which characters indicate a line feed or back space.
At a price that is some $200 less than that of the Hayes, and featuring almost identical functions, the Signalman Mark XII modem seems to be a logical choice for Atari owners who require, or expect to have use for, a 1200-baud device. It should be noted that pin 20, which monitors the status of the Data Terminal Ready (DTR) line, is not used by the Mark XII, although it is used by the Hayes. This is of minor significance, however, and will not affect operations in most cases. Also, the Mark XII manual, while complete, is not as user-friendly as the Hayes manual. If you're a newcomer to telecommunications, you will probably be left with many questions after reading the Mark XII manual. Hopefully, the folks at Anchor will bring out an improved and revised version of the manual sometime soon.