ST Product News
HEX Mark of the Unicorn 222 Third Street Cambridge, MA 02142 (617) 576-2760 $39.95
Reviewed by Suede Barstow
Mark of the Unicorn's Hex is a strategy game designed to take full advantage of the ST's 16-color graphics. The basic rules are simple, but the game is exceedingly complex.
You take the part of a unicorn (aptly enough)on a hexagonal grid consisting of 19 vari-colored hexagonal pillars. As the game begins, the grid is made up of a mixture of red, blue, purple and green hexes. Your job is to turn them all green. The hexes "flip" colors and rotate through a fixed pattern as you jump on them. For example, if there is an isolated cluster of four blue hexes, once they are all jumped on, they will all flip to the next color.
Simple, no? Well, it took me a while on the first level just figuring how to turn all those hexes green. And just as I was congratulating myself on an astounding achievement, the board reappeared with an opponent on the other side of the grid a dodo bird!
As you work your way up the levels of Hex, you meet and compete against several fanciful characters. There are twelve possible opponents in Hex, each with different levels of intelligence. The dodo bird is, naturally, the least challenging opponent.
The game's designer, Steven Linhart, has created an enchanting crew of computer characters. There's a jellyfish named Manowa; Kirion, an old gnome with unruly white hair and pipe; Rubicon the dragon; and Alister, a wizard with a lantern. Sir Jake is an invisible man consisting of nothing but hat, muffler, glowing cigarette, and tennies. When he jumps, his cigarette ashes float in a cloud about his head. Krakawann is a creature that changes after each jump to earth, water, fire or air.
Though there are just 12 opponents, there are 120 rounds, and it's not simply a game of flipping colors. There are spells involved. And this is where Hex gets really complicated.
With each round you win, the computer offers a spell which you may take and store in a menu column at the left of the screen. There is room for five spells at any time. If you have enough energy points, you may choose any of those spells just beforeyour turn. There are multiple jumpspells, random color flip spells, a "trade places" spell, and some really boggling "confuse" spells wherein several random hexes appear to become colors that they're really not! All this wouldn't be too bad if it wasn't for the fact that your opponents also cast spells. Sir Jake has a bad habit of turning most of the hexes invisible.
I've found Hex to be a pretty addictive game. At first glance, it looks like a cross between Q-bert and Archon. But there is no arcade action here. This is strictly a board strategy game like Othello, with fascinating complexities thrown in.
High scores are automatically stored on disk and the game is entirely mouse operated. You may, at any time, restart your game or clear any of the previous scores. Unfortunately, you may not save your position for a later, continued bout. Also, there is no way for two human opponents to play which is too bad since Hex would make an excellent two-person game.
As it stands, Hex is a clean piece of prograniming and one of the best strategy-board games I've seen on a computer. It sets a high standard for future ST entertainments.
CHAT SST Systems RO. Box 2315 Titusville, FL 32781 (305) 269-0063 $19.95
Reviewed by Charles Jackson
Chat is the first telecommunications software for Atari ST computers to reach the market. It's a reliable, easy-handling and spectacularly low-priced 300/1200 baud telecommunications package with clear, concise and complete documentation.
The program supports XMODEM and Capture/Upload protocols, variable delay rates and autodialing. Operations are controlled with a mouse and the 10 function keys. If you own a modem and an ST, Chat is all the software you need to get around online.
Chat's XMODEM protocol assures error-free file transfers and is compatible with CompuServe, Delphi, and many Atari bulletin boards. Antic has successfully transferred files of over 125K with Chat. However, Chat uses standard XMODEM protocol which is incompatible with many nonstandard implementations found on AMODEM-based bulletin boards.
Chat also supports XON/XOFF protocol for transferring ASCII (7-bit) files between systems which lack XMODEM capabilities. This protocol is similar to Hometerm's Capture and Upload functions and does not incorporate any error-checking algorithms.
If you own a Hayes-compatible modem you can use Chat's Phone Directory function as an autodialer. The Chat phone directory can store your 24 most-used online numbers.
Although Chat is designed to work with Hayes-compatibles, you can customize it with the SETUP program included on the disk, to work with almost any RS-232 compatible modem.
Sorry, direct-connect modems such as the Atari 1030 and MPP-1000C will not work with Chat or with any other ST telecommunications package. On the other hand, with all of the ST's built-in ports, you'll never have to go looking for an interface such as the Atari 850.
Here's a sample Chat session to give you a taste of how the program works. From the GEM Desktop, we'll visit CompuServe's SIG * Atari, download a file with XMODEM, and return to the desktop.
From the GEM Desktop, double-click on the CHAT. PRG icon, and wait for the title screen to appear. If you want to change baud rates before logging on, press the [F7] key.
If you have a Hayes-compatible modem, press the [F8] key to get to the phone directory and double-click the phone number. If not, dial the number from the keyboard with standard ATD commands.
Once logged onto CompuServe, type GO SIGATARI from any "!" prompt. Now, enter one of the ST data libraries and find a file you'd like to download.
Chat normally stores downloaded files in a folder. This folder, labeled SUPPORT, contains the default filenames for file transfers. These filenames, XMODEM.SND, XMODEM.RCV and CAPTURED.TXT, can easily be changed with CHANGE FILENAMES function. Press [F6] to use this function.
From CompuServe's (R D T): prompt, select D to tell CompuServe you want to download. Select XMODEM at CompuServe's protocol prompt, and press [F3] to begin the transfer.
During the download, Chat tells you the number of the 128-byte sector it's currently receiving. Although ST disk sectors contain 512 bytes, standard XMODEM protocol demands 128-byte sectors, and this is the form Chat uses.
Press [RETURN] to signal CompuServe's computers when you're fininished and you're ready to download more files.
Type OFF to log off from CompuServe, then press [F10] to leave Chat and return to the desktop. The [F10] key clears all capture buffers, closes any open files, and takes care of several other important housekeeping functions.
First-timers will have little trouble getting online with Chat, while veteran onliners will find it a simple and invaluable utility. SST Systems has performed a real service for ST owners, with this reasonably priced terminal software.
EXPRESS (Letter Processor) Mirage Concepts 4055 W. Shaw, #8 Fresno, CA 93711 (800) 641-1441 In California, (800) 641-1442 $49.95
Reviewed by Jack Powell
Mirage Concepts began a little over three years ago as a software developer for the Commodore 64, at a time when there was very little software for the machine. They created what they felt was the best database product ever for the Commodore. But because they took an extra three to four months to get things just right, an inferior database beat them to the market and got all the glory and the sales.
Mirage Concepts won't let this happen again.
Express is a small-documents processor that Mirage Concepts originally developed for the IBM PC and Macintosh. They transferred it to the Atari ST and had a complete package, with documentation, headed for the retailer's shelves within three weeks of receiving their development ST.
Express is subtitled the "Letter Processor." It is not a full word processor and was never designed as such. The program is intended to whip out two or three page letters, merge names and addresses, and print out the envelopes. Simplicity is the keyword here.
The people at Mirage Concepts perceived a "hole" in the word processing marketplace. People weren't using all those extra functions and felt stupid when they couldn't master a complex word processor. What they really wanted, Mirage was finding, was a stripped-down word processor with a simple mail-merge capability.
Express is an excellent letter processor but a mediocre word processor. Since it was never designed as a word processor this may seem an unfair comment, but Mirage Concepts is both blessed and cursed here.
On the one hand, they were first in the ST market with a practical application program. They have a captive audience. On the other hand, that captive audience is going to want a full-featured word processor and may judge Express accordingly.
The program itself runs quite smoothly. GEM is not used (three weeks, remember). Several choices are offered from the central menu. You may use the Word Processor, Print the Text in RAM, Enter Data in the Mailing List, use the Typewriter Mode, or choose File Commands.
File Commands are the basic DOS options of rename file, delete file, etc. The Typewriter Mode lets you type directly to your printer. Each line is sent out when the carriage return is pressed. This mode is useful for quick letters and memos.
The Mailing List is a fixed data base including most fields needed for a practical mail merge. Again, simplicity is built in. None of the fields may be altered. They are: Name, Title/lnstitution, Address, City, State, Zip Code/Country; Phone, Salutation, and Alternate Phone.
In most cases the above fields will take care of your mail merge needs. And a field can contain any type of data you wish. Later, it's a very simple matter to merge the fields with your letter. Records can be searched by any field and merged letters can be printed Out in alphabetical order or in zip code order.
Printing is relatively simple since with the exception of bold, underline and printer pause& #150; there are no embedded printer control codes in the text. Express is a "what-you-see-is-what-you-get" word processor. Your margins and tabs are set on-screen. There is no right-justification and no code for line spacing.
There is, however, a method to force printer control by sending the codes to the printer in Typewriter Mode. This is clumsy at best. Particularly if you need to change the codes more than once within the same document.
The Word Processor itself presents a clean, uncluttered work screen with only a margin/tab line at the top. A press of the [HELP] key presents a window of most commands. The commands are entered by pressing [CONTROL] plus a letter. Since there are so few commands, we can include them here for your information:
Erase all text, Load text from disk, Write text to disk, Reform paragraph, Set margin, Release margin, Set/remove tabs, Delete line, Remove paragraph, Insert paragraph, Bold, Underline, Printer pause, Return to main menu.
There is no Center command and no search and replace. You can delete, cut, or paste blocks on paragraph boundaries, but not within portions of the paragraphs.
The ST cursor arrow keys operate the cursor on single character moves, but the old Word Star diamond pattern of [CONTROL] keys must be memorized for extended cursor moves, which are: move to beginning of text, move to end of text, one screen up, one screen down.
While converting Express to the ST, the people at Mirage Concepts found time to monitor SIG * Atari on CompuServe. They discovered many new ST owners were desperate for upload and download capability. So they added a terminal mode.
Maintaining the focus of the program, Terminal Mode contains just six commands, accessed from Typewriter mode. You may turn the terminal mode on or off, turn the printer on or off for automatic hardcopy, send a text file, receive a text file, or turn on "disk transfer" which captures incoming screen information to disk.
Since Express is primarily a letter processor, there is no attempt to provide XMODEM or any other form of binary file capture protocol. Any parameters, such as baud rate and parity, are first set from the GEM Desktop using the Set RS-232 Configuration accessory.
As I mentioned before, I find Express to be an excellent letter processor. Once I got over my search for a full-fledged word processor and concentrated on the program as it was originally intended, I was quite pleased with the results.
The mail merge functions are the easiest I've ever used. To accomplish the same thing on MultiMate or Word Perfect on an IBM PC, you'd be at it all day. Surprising and convenient features occur when using Express. If your letter has an address within the first 30 lines, Express will ask you if you wish to print an envelope after printing your letter.
But many of the early ST programmers will never use this program to print letters. It turns Out Express makes a fine text editor for typing in C and assembly source code. And it's a far cheaper package than any current competitor. However, the ST is a new machine and everything could change by the time you read this.
PRO ST HELPLINE
ST programmers The new Professional GEM Helpline column by former Digital Research programmer Tim Oren is now on ANTIC ONLINE. Log onto CompuServe, type GO ANTIC, and select the ST Section or What's New Online. More details in this issue's ANTIC ONLINE story.