Flexidraw Lightpen. (evaluation) John J. Anderson.
One of our most delightful finds at the Winter Consumer Electronics Show was the cozy booth of Inkwell Systems, nestled between impersonal megabooths at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Inkwell was demonstrating Flexidraw, its lighten/software system for the Commodore 64 computer. A caricature artist was using the pen to ply her trade, then printing the results out on an Oki printer and giving them to her subjects (victims?) as souvenirs.
The caricatures did much to show the potential of the Flexidraw system, and we were quite impressed. It was hard for me to believe, at least at first, that the system is built around the Commodore 64. The monochrome graphics capability looked more like it had come from an Apple Lisa or Macintosh than a C-64.
Without a doubt, the potentials of Flexidraw are the most promising of any hardware/software graphics system for the Commodore 64. The light pen itself, which plugs into joystick port 1, is sturdy and of high quality with a metal barrel and spring-sensitive tip switch. Its resolution is excellent, and its sensitivity remarkable. You can smoothly and clearly sign your name on the CRT screen with the pen held about a foot away, if you hold the tip switch down with a finger.
But hardware is only half the story of the Flexidraw system. As a rule, the quality of software makes or breaks good quality hardware. I am most happy to report that the Flexidraw system succeeds on this account as well. The software is bug-free, powerful, and easy to use.
Upon boot-up, you calibrate the light pen using a simple, painless procedure. Then the program proceeds to the drawing work areas.
Total screen areas available consists of 320 pixels horizontally by 200 pixels vertically, or alternately 40 character blocks by 25 text lines. The screen area available for graphics is on the lefthand side, with a dynamic menu selection down the righthand side. Two work area screens are available simultaneously. This allows for more sophisticated graphics manipulation as well as a sort of macro definition, wherein pictures from one screen can be pulled into the other.
Some of the more owerful features of Flexidraw are as follows:
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These commands give Flexidraw some of the power of "windowed' graphics systems, and at first sight evoked recollections of Apple LisaDraw--well, at least as close as a C-64 can come to LisaDraw. The resolution is surprisingly good, and the lightpen affords a control that tablet peripherals like Chalkboard and KoalaPad simply cannot offer. You draw on the screen, just as you would draw on a piece of paper.
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The Flexidraw system also makes use of keyboard commands, including the special function keys. A template that fits over the function keys is supplied with the package to prompt their use.
Of course, work area files can be saved and retrieved from disk. Graphics file reads and writes are acceptably quick.
Inkwell Systems has announced a new software package for release soon. It will allow color and pattern fills to be generated on Flexidraw files. This module will lift the system out of the realm of monochrome and into the realm of living color.
Included in the documentation are tips for accessing the pen from Basic, and included on the program disk are sample Basic programs that use the pen as an input peripheral in menu and music programs. Latching into the pen from Basic is pretty straightforward, and the potential of the peripheral should be of interest to hobbyists.
For $150, the Flexidraw lightpen system for the Commodore 64 is a good value. If you are interested in handcreating art on the C-64, the system merits serious consideration. Look for an evaluation of new Inkwell Penware in upcoming editions of Commodore's Port.
Products: Flexidraw Lightpen (computer apparatus)