by Marshal M. Rosenthal
by Marshal M. Rosenthal
Europe is known for culture, and since we all love culture, what could be better than going to England to explore many centuries' worth of history and art? I can think of only one thing: an Atari ST show just outside of London, in the Alexandria Palace Conventional Hall.
The first thing I noticed was the crowd waiting to get in, something we're not used to seeing in the States (the ST is doing well overseas). Inside the show there were many young people-some as young as ten years old-dragging their "mums" from booth to booth. Many adults were in attendance too. And, of course, vendors everywhere were selling software and hardware.
Atari Innovation AwardImmediately apparent was a complex just inside the entrance where a number of exhibitors were showing their entries in the Atari Innovation Award Contest. The purpose of the contest was to show how an ST can be used in new and innovative ways. One exhibitor in particular caught my eye: David Jones and his Comfortable Wheel design. This award-winning invention (it took second place) is a resilient wheel with a built-in suspension system. The wheel is ideal for wheelchairs, as it "pushes" up and over obstructions. Jones bypassed the necessity of producing handmade models of the wheel by using his ST. Because the design program is written using FastBasic, changes in the design can be easily implemented, with the computer drawing and animating the result.
HardwareAnother product that attracted my attention was the Hawk Colibri hand-held scanner, which will read graphics as large as half a standard page and convert them into 32 gray levels. The unit plugs into the ST's cartridge port and can adjust the level of scanning to 100, 200, 300 and 400 dots per inch (dpi). The scanner includes sophisticated software with zooming capabilities, and a Tools and Options menu. Images are saved in DEGAS, .IMG and .GEM formats, with many laser and dot-matrix printers supported. Optical Character Recognition (OCR) can be purchased in ROM, allowing the unit to translate text into ASCII characters at a speed of about 50 characters a second.
When it comes to a monitor, big is always better. Signa's Matscreen M110 is a fat, 19-inch paper-white monitor with a bright, non-interlaced screen that has a 1,280 x 960 resolution. The controller board fits into the processor bus of a Mega unit and will work unmodified, provided the application being used was written according to GEM rules (some examples of programs that work with the monitor are Fleet Street Publisher, Timeworks Desktop Publisher, 1st Word Plus v1.12 and Gem Draw). This monitor is expensive, however (£1,750, nearly $3,000.00), but seeing is believing.
How often have you heard the old saw, "Everybody talks about the weather, but nobody ever does anything about it"? Well, here's your chance to get a jump on the weather. Meteosat (Signa Publishing) turns your ST into a weather receiving station that picks up images from the Meteosat and GOES satellites. The images are initially processed in West Germany, where landmass outlines are added, along with the Whole Earth image being split into 11 distinct sub images. These are then retransmitted to satellite and can then be picked up by your ST, which can save and animate 11 images at a time.
Not exactly your typical weekend project, the entire system can be up and running in a few hours. Hardware consists of a satellite dish, pre-amp, receiver and demodulator. The software enables infrared, visible Light and cloud-vapor images of Europe and the U S. Any ST will do the trick, provided there's a double-sided drive and color monitor.
Part of the fun of these shows is trying find the hot products "buried" amidst the more ordinary displays. I was attracted to one of these "gems" by a small television superimposing titles over scenes from Miami Vice. I could see a small black box, slightly larger than a hard cover book, attached to an ST and a VCR under the table. I managed to get director Jeremy Rihll of Digital to pull it out for a closer look.
"Our Multigen genlock is designed to work with either PAL or NTSC [U.S. standard] systems automatically." he says. "You can also see that it's been designed to run off a nine-volt battery rather than AC." Using custom chips designed in the States, the genlock attaches to the ST's RGB port, with a pass-through for the monitor. Multigen uses standard BNC plugs and outputs to RGB or RF. Digita expects to retail it in the £500-£600 range (around 1,000 U.S. dollars) and is discussing a more professional unit that will take advantage of the 400 lines of resolution possible with the Super VHS system.
In another corner could be found more monitors, this time displaying images of the crowd. These images were manipulated by VIDI ST, a real-time digitizer that can grab an image from a moving video in 1/50th of a second in a full 16 shades.
VIDI ST's software includes many powerful tools, such as full palette control over each frame and eight levels of controllable brightness. Frame registration is accessible through an interrupt feature (interrupt live frames with existing frame), and the interface uses drop-down menus and single-key shortcuts. Cut and Paste is fully supported as well. The device plugs into the expansion port and works with both PAL and NTSC images. Frame sequences can be stored into memory faster than 12 per second, and animation can be displayed at up to 25 frames per second.
Now we come to one of those products that sound too good to be true. The Parsec graphic intertace is a hardware device that plugs into the Atari ST without modification and turns it into a super graphics machine: Resolution with a non-interlaced monitor reaches up to 1,024 x 768 (low being 640 x 480). You want colors? Try handling 16 per line, 4,096 per screen, using four-color planes. Utilizing a 32-bit 50-MHz processor with memory capabilities up to 5.5 megabytes, Parsec is about the size of a 1040ST and has video, RS232 and SCSI (for connecting CD ROMs, video and hard-disk drives) connectors.
A full-featured art package is supplied, which supports pixel processing and conventional drawing/manipulation features as expected. A professional artist package is being designed to include chalk, oil and water emulation, plus support for ray tracing and animation. (Designs are under way to upgrade this package further.) Most conventional programs can be modified using a GEM-to-Parsec converter program so that they can run in conjunction with the ParSec and realize the advantages of superior resolution and color palette, plus high-speed operation. Add-ons will include a genlock/digitizer for external mixing and overlaying of video signals and the input and manipulation of stored images. All of the above can be had for a retail price of approximately $1,550.00.
Frontier Software is known mainly as an importer of Supra products, but they've got a new line of their own hardware as well. Their disk duplicator is just the thing for the small software house, as it enables duplication of up to 32 disks per minute. The interface board plugs into the disk drive of the ST and has ports for drives in both 3½-inch and 5¼- inch formats. Frontier's Forget-MeClock II plugs into the cartridge port and has a pass-through for additional uses.
GamesBefore I had a chance to look at the many game booths, Mungo Leir of Software Horizon grabbed me by the shoulder, pulled me over to a corner (what happened to the restrained British character?) and started pulling out boxes containing Software Horizon's new budget line of software.
"Games have a definite life," Leir says. "They must keep in step with the expectations of the player and give value based on their price. We have new titles that are both original and inexpensive."
First up is Twylyte, a 3-D fighting simulation that owes much to the Star Wars coinop. Triton 3 is a vertically scrolling shoot'em-up with a space theme, while Stomp (great title) turns the ST into a drum machine with 60 editing tracks. Metropolis is an arcade/adventure game using an overhead 2-D view.
Interceptor Ltd. showed their upcoming new title, Outland, to be released on their Pandora Software label. Giving the player near-arcade quality, it features two-plane full-parallax scrolling, a 380K digitized sound track and a 380K animated end sequence. The aliens may have come in peace, but once Earth accepted them... dog meat time! Now it's up to those Earthlings left on Titan to plan their revenge.
Anco's soccer simulation, Kick Off, is one of the fastest-moving games we've ever seen on the ST. It's traditional European soccer, coupled with a U.S. tournament. Even if you don't care one whit for soccer, you'll want to see it just for the speed. An overhead view presents both teams, with a map in the upper-left corner that shows an overview (the screen scrolls vertically). Sound effects are excellent, but it's the animation that really takes the cake here, making for a fast-paced game of highly addictive quality. The goalies are computer-controlled at all times, and they slide and jump all over as the ball approaches them. Control of the team is handled with the joystick and fire button, and takes some getting used to.
Other StuffHat Software addressed the young people's market with First Paint and First Type. Each is easy to use, and Paint contains many of the standard drawing features, such as fill, lines and circles. Type helps children learn to use the keyboard and Jigspell encourages word recognition through text and pictures.
For a wider audience, there's Blow Up, which enlarges images for printing, and Colour Strip, a color-separation and sequence-dump utility. Sprinter is a package that helps in the designing of patterns for silkscreen printing. It also handles color separations and includes drawing tools. That's Fun Face is a hoot. Designed in Holland, Face lets you create your own "people" by using the parts supplied. Parts can be shifted left, right, up, down, inwards and outwards. A paint menu allows for airbrushing, bas-relief and text insertion. Five screens can be held in memory at one time, and images can be saved/loaded in formats that include .IMG, .PIx, .RGH, .CLP and .ICN. Most interesting is that printing can be done with the included Postscript driver, as well as with the expected dot-matrix.
At the End of the DayThe show was winding down for the day when I heard an exhibitor mutter, "Two more days of this'?" As for me, I was off to see the new James Bond film at Leicester Square.
Marshall Rosenthal and Jeff Minter
Marshal M. Rosenthal has been involved as a photographer and writer in the overseas market since the early days of' Atari. His features and pictorials can be firund in major computer- and entertaintnent-related publications throughout England, France, Gerrnanv, Sweden, Mexico and the US.
SPRINTER BLOW UP
21 Wyle Cop
England SYl 1XB
FORGET ME CLOCK II
P.O. Box 113
Harrogate, North Yorkshire
England HG2 OBE
Signa Publishing Systems Ltd.
3rd Floor, Alexander House,
England Gull 1BQ
Units 9-10, Burnham Trading Estate
Lawson Road, Dartford, Kent
Black Horse House
England EX8 UL
6 Witherford Way
Selly Oak, Birmingham
England B29 4AX
5 Oakleigh Mews
London, England N20 9QH
Mercury House, Calleva Park
England RG7 4QW
6 Fairbairn Road, Kirkton Road
Livingston, Scotland EH54 6TS
THAT'S FUN FACE
85 Tottenham Court Road
London, England Wl