Commodore's port. (evaluation) John J. Anderson.
Ahoy. Hope your Commodore computers are ship-shape and seaworthy, as we shall embark on a sizable voyage this month. News pertaining to the C-64 has been coming in at a rapid pace--it is pretty tough to keep up. We try to keep on top of it all.
Foremost, we have been hearing all sorts of rumors about new machines from Commodore. One concerns an RGB portable, and we have had second- source confirmation on that one. Another is about a hard disk portable. Could it be the same machine? Who knows.
Yet another rumor we just heard yesterday told of a supercheap single board machine without sprites to retail for under $80.
Which should you bank on? Only Commodore knows for sure. Then again, perhaps not even Commodore itself is quite positive as yet which machines will actually see the light of day.
We are happy to report, however, that the Executive 64 is shipping now. Hurray for Commodore. The Executive 64 is one of the nicest portables we have ever seen, and it really does retail for under $1000. No bundled software--yet. But the idea of a C-64 for the executive, or salesperson, or businessperson, has now arrived.
One thing is rock sure about Commodore. Like Paul Masson, the company will sell no product before its time. As a direct result, the Commodore line is not about to be shake out. Of all the low-end micro manufacturers, Commodore has managed to remain the most consistently successful. That lead is not about to be squandered, either--at least not anytime soon.
Whatever does turn out to be next from the company in West Chester, PA, you can bet it will be a hot seller. Commodore does not experiment with the marketplace. It makes sure that there is a market for everything it intends to sell.
Magic Desk Delay
We had intended this month to review Magic Desk, a software package that supposedly makes you C-64 behave something like a baby Apple Lisa. After seeing a demo at Chicago CES, we were very excited about getting the package up and running. After a long wait, we finally received a release package.
Magic Desk is a word processing and file program which uses icon-based commands and a joystick to act as a mouse peripheral. Its features offer the ease and quick training of much more expensive pointer-based software.
The review was to appear in this issue. Unfortunately, it was not to be: The Magic Desk catridge we received was sealed in a protective plastic sleeve, but alas, would not work properly. Quelle disappointment.
Neil Harries of Commodore assured me that it was an exceptional problem and that a new package would be arriving at the lab soon. If an when it does, a full-blown review will appear.
C-64 Bank Street Writer
One package we received for the C-64 works and works extremely well: Bank Street Writer for the Commodore 64. This program from Broderbund was originally released for the Apple and Atari and is now available to Commodore owners.
Originally developed by Bank Street College, Franklin Smith, and Intentional Educations Inc., Bank Street Writer was designed to be accessible by youngsters as well as adults. The idea was to design a word processor at once simple enough to learn and sophisticated enough to support business needs. The result is a product the whole family can use.
A full review of Bank Street Writer appeared in the June 1983 issue of Creative Computing. Some of its features include universal search and replace, block move and "unmove,' automatic centering and indent, inverse highlighting of text, word wrap, disk storage and retrieve functions with password protection, easily redefinable default values, and a potent print format routine that includes document chaining, page headers and page numbering (top or bottom), partial printing, and inspection of page breaks prior to printing.
In addition, Bank Street Writer includes a special on-line tutorial that teaches word processing basics in very helpful "hands-on' manner.
For $70, the package represents an extraordinary value for C-64 owners with disk drives.
Easy Script 64 From Commodore
Commodore has begun shipping the cartridge-based word processor Easy Script 64 for C-64 owners with or without disk drives. It has many of the features of the best low-end word processors and retails for under $50.
It includes a special "form letter' command to allow you to create personalized salutations and body copy from separate files simply by storing the information--usually names and addresses --as a form letter merge file. A simple command tells Easy Script 64 to insert the information into the body of the form letter.
In addition, the package includes the following features: change display colors, global/local search and replace, goto line number, optional sound effect prompts, print up to 240 characters per line, special function key editing, superscripts and subscripts, transfer words and phrases, vertical as well as horizontal tabs, view or scroll 764 lines by 130 column.
Easy Script 64 users can also add a spelling dictionary called Easy Spell 64 containing up to 30,000 words. This companion software product points out possible misspellings by highlighting questionable words. In addition to the built-in 20,000 word vocabulary Easy Spell 64 lets you add up to 10,000 additional words, such as technical jargon or a personalized list of commonly misspelled words.
We are taking some flak for a statement we made last time around concerning games for the C-64. We said that by and large Apple and Atari translations made up the best games currently available for the Commodore 64. Well to reiterate, in no way did we mean to slight original efforts for the C-64, as we said at the time.
As you will learn up ahead, original games for the machine are growing in quantity and quality. We still stick by the assertion, however, that the best games we have seen to date for the C-64 come by way of the Apple or Atari. And we have further evidence to back up the case.
You should remember, by the way, that in the final analysis it does not matter whether a program was developed on the Commodore 64 or was translated to run on it. What really matters is how the final implementation performs. The bottom line is that many first-rate software packages are now available, proving that the C-64 is, in fact, a first-rate machine.
Sublogic Flight Simulator
Sublogic is offering a fine Commodore 64 translation of Flight Simulator II, which puts you at the controls of a Piper 181 Cherokee Archer with full flight instrumentation (avionics included) and a colorfully realistic panoramic view.
The program lets you practice take- offs, landings, and even complicated aerobatics. It features more than 80 airports in four scenery areas: New York, Chicago, Seattle, and Los Angeles. Complete navigation facilities are included. And, additional scenery areas are available.
High speed color-filled 3-D graphics provide a spectacular view out the cockpit window in either day, dusk, or night flying modes. Weather conditions are user-adjustable, from clear blue skies to greay cloudy conditions. The complete documentation, including flight handbook, will get you airborne quickly even if you have never been in a plane before. And when you think you are ready, you can test your flying skills with the World War I aerial battle game that is included.
We guarantee that this game will take up much of you C-64 flight time, well into the future.
Tronix Strikes Again
Tronix was one of the first top-notch game companies to discover and run with Commodore machines. Leave it to them to have finally introduced original C-64 games that rival and even outdo game translations from other machines.
Two adventure/strategy games, Waterline and Suicide Strike, and two twitchers, Motocross and Slalom, are now hitting the stores. In Waterline, the player must choose between being a hero by saving passengers of a sinking ship, and being greedy by grabbing gold from the hull of the ship. Motocross and Slalom, meanwhile, are realistic enough to appeal to advocates of the actual sports.
The game designers at Tronix worked closely with graphics experts and professionals in both sports during the design
o the action games. They consulted professional athletes, understanding that the key to success
is to evoke the actual feeling of the sport. They had found that many action games on the market were not at all like the actual sports they purported to simulate.
World-class skier Molly Colt worked with Salalom creator Steve Sidley in developing graphics that truly capture the excitement of ski racing. As a result, Slalom really looks like a competitive course. The player starts to think like a ski racer, anticipating gates still out of view.
Designed by Jim Rupt, Motocross projects the perils and excitement of that sport as well. Motocross realistically presents the obstacles a rider has to dodge. The player gets the feeling of racing against time.
While the adventure strategy games are as much fun to play, they also require more than good hand-eye coordination. In Suicide Strike, for example, the player must manuever his aircraft through waves of enemy planes and fire to reach his military target. Meanwhile, he must juggle considerations of time vs. fuel. The unique rear view mirror feature shows action behind as well as in front of the player.
These new Tronix games join C-64 translations of Juice and Kid Grid, which have already been praised in the pages of this magazine. Kid Grid has been enhanced for its-Commodore 64 incarnation, taking advantage of the extra memory available. It features improved animation, backgrounds which change, and new music at each level of play.
Juice has a genuinely three-dimensional feeling to it, and reminiscent of the arcade hit Qbert, offers delight to pattern-game devotees.
The games list for $35 in disk version, $40 as ROM cartridges.
Let's Get Sirius
Sirius Software has entered the Commodore market, and is now making its Apple and Atari megahit Wavy Navy available for the Commodore 64. In case you haven't heard about it, Wavy Navy is a raging battle on the high (and they do get high) seas, featuring solid and amusing graphics and new "wave' maritime music. One to four players can work their ways from gally slave to president in ten increasingly complex rounds.
Huge rolling waves force the player to change positions continuously, as he is exposed to mines and enemies in the air. Imagine playing Galaga from a roller coaster, and you might get some feeling for Wavy Navy.
Also new from Sirius is the C-64 version of Critical Mass, an Apple hit. This is an animated adventure game featuring colorful graphics, music, challenging action sequences, and a positively devious plot. The adventure is literally a race against time to save the world from a madman determined to blow it to pieces. A built-in time clock adds problem-solving dimensions to the game, as the player deals with plane schedules, business hours, and international time zones The Apple version was an instant bestseller.
Wavy Navy lists for $35, and Critical Mass for $40.
Commodore Voice Encoder
We have seen a couple of products that give the Commodore 64 the power of speech. But imagine giving it your own voice! Voice Master, from the Covox Company, allows you to do just that.
The Voice Master is a digital speech recorder. It allows you to enter individual words or phrases through a microphone and play them back in any order using simple instructions from Basic. Requiring only about 400 bytes for the average word, the size of the addressable vocabulary is limited only by available memory. Special vocabularies can be stored on disk or tape.
The product is supplied with several Basic programs which show how to manage and edit the vocabulary, create special effects, and construct a talking clock, calculator, and blackjack game.
In addition, Covox has announced word recognition software for release soon. The list price for Voice Master is $120.
Sorry, Vic owners, that we have spent the whole column this time around talking about the Commodore 64; we always try to remember Vic owners too. We recently received a letter that may be of interest to those of you experimenting with alternate Vic character sets.
Peter Conrad, of New Haven, CT, wrote in with the following:
"In the July 1983 issue of Creative Computing and again in November, you spoke of moving the Basic pointer when redefining a character set. In so doing, I know you must have moved the ROM pointer as well. Why not just put the character memory pointer after Basic, so you don't need to move the Basic pointer? This is done by setting memory location 36869 to 255 (which points to location 7168). Listing 1 demonstrates this.
"Now using the Screen Codes chart in the back of the Vic user's manual, you can code any character as shown in Figure 1. Each character is made up of eight of those codes. By establishing the codes for a character of your own design, you can make your Vic display it by POKEing as shown in Listing 2.
"For even more than 64 redefined characters, set location 36869 to 254 (as characters begin at 6144), set locations 52 and 56 to 24, and make the following change to line 20 in Listing 1:
20 FOX X=6144 TO 7679:POKE X, PEEK(X + 26624): NEXT
"In Listing 2, change line 100 to the following:
100 FOR X=6144+(CODE*8) TO 6144 + (CODE*8) + 7
"The program appearing as Listing 3 is Auto Smash, which demonstrates this use of redefined characters. A word of warning before you play: the Vic keyboard buffer holds up to ten characters, so be careful about what you press!'
Thank you, Peter, for an interesting program and some good comments. And until next time, Commodorians, stay off the poop deck whenever possible. Catch you next time.
Table: Listing 1.
Table: Listing 2.
Table: Listing 3.
Photo: Sublogic Flight Simulator II.
Photo: Covox Voice Master.
Photo: Kid Grid.
Photo: Figure 1.
Products: Bank Street Writer (Word processing software)
Easy Script 64 (computer program)
Flight Simulator II (computer program)
Waterline (computer program)
Suicide Strike (computer program)
Slalom (computer program)
Motorcross (computer program)
Wavy Navy (computer program)