1985 Winter Consumer Electronic Show. David H. Ahl.
What was new at Winter CES? Everything under the sun from computers to robots to vapor-ware. We'll be reviewing many of the best products in coming months; meanwhile, here is a small smattering of hardware, software, news, views, and parties.
Commodore introduced the C128 computer with 128K of RAM, 80-column display, and CP/M-80 compatibility. Their double-page ads screamed "Bad news for IBM and Apple." We don't think so. Although the C128 is fully compatible with the C64 (means big software base), CP/M-80 is out of date, and you need a monitor to use the 80-column capability. We hear that Commodore wanted to price the machine at $399, took a look at the new Atari entries, and went back into a huddle. Best bet is a retail price around $250.
On the other hand, the LCD portable form Commodore looks like a potential winner. It has a 16-line by 80-character display, 32K RAM, 96K ROM, built-in modem, 72 keys, and built-in software including word processing, spreadsheet, file manager, Basic, and several other programs. Price: "well under $1000."
The most effective product demonstrators at CES? No contest. The kids, ages 8 to 14, who were demonstrating the line of games from Epyx. President Mike Katz, one of the best promoters in the business, happily stood back and let these youngsters steal the show. Ten new entries from Epyx include two dynamite games from Lucasfilms; a sci fi game (Moreta: Dragonlady of Pern); and high-tech versions of Barbie, Hot Wheels, and G.I. Joe. These last three games provide non-structured creative play for children four to ten years old.
Woeful is the troll who doesn't act quickly in Trolls and Tribulations, a new strategy/action game from Creative Software. In the game, the player must lead trolls through treacherous underground caverns to recover treasures.
In Break Street, players guide game characters through such breakdancing movements as the tut, scorpion, windmill, and moonwalk. The DeRoxy Crew, a Seattle breakdancing group, consulted on the development of the game.
The first third-party Apple software company, Muse, was started by Ed Zaron eight years ago. Many ups and downs later, Ed is still going strong and has released his latest package (a C64 program!) Smart Start. Ed was impressed with the power of the C64 but felt that users needed a better way to get at its capabilities. Smart Start was the result, and it meets its objectives admirably.
Other Muse favarites include Castle Wolfenstein, Beyond C.W., Three Mile Island (unbelievably realistic simulation), Robotwar, Super Text, and many others.
Wico introduced the SmartBoard, an intelligent keyboard/trackball peripheral for IBM PC and Apple II computers. Each of ten function keys can be programmed to contain as much as 126 characters of data, while the trackball can be used for cursor movement or mouse emulation.
Telelearning, a San Francisco based telecommunications firm, has announced several new college courses available to Apple, IBM, and C64 owners. Telelearning is a two-year old company that allows personal computer users to earn college credits at home by providing course material on disk and access to a college instructor by modem. To get final course credit, a student must take a proctored exam at a test center and apply for credit at one of the 2000 participating universities. Courses cost $35 to $200.
At the Prentice-Hall booth, Skiwriter II was being demonstrated by author Ken Skier, a former creative writing teacher at MIT who helped develop the highly-regarded Wang word processor. SkiWriter II, a friendly fast package has built-in telecommunications so that information can be downloaded from an on-line database and entered directly into wp documents. For the C64, PC, PCjr, and Apple; $69.95.
Most intriguing CES party: The Infocom participatory murder mystery staged by the New York based Murder-To-Go troupe. Guests were witness to various incriminating scenes and could examine the place where the body was found as well as police reports. Nine people solved the mystery, and the top winner won a trip to Bermuda.
Going for the big names is the strategy of Simon & Schuster's Electronic Publishing Group. Initial entries include computerized versions (for the IBM PC) of J.K. Lasser's Your Income Tax and Your Money Manager, Webster's New World Spelling Checker, The Great International Paper Airplane Construction Kit (for the Mac), and a non-celebrity clip art program for the Mac, The Mac Art Dept.
Flyers' favorites: the new subLogic Flight Simulator II and MicroProse F-15 Strike Eagle games. The F-15 is fabulous with its radar and infra-red guided missiles, bombs, cannons, ECM, flares, and full aeorbatic capabilities. Cut in the afterburners and watch this baby move out! We hear that some fanatics have hooked two computers together and staged interactive dogfights. We didn't see any, but we did see a similar setup with the Nexa MSX flight simulator program. Very intense!
Electronic Arts displayed several new items including a Mac version of its Financial Cookbook, a Racing Destruction Set which allows players to design their own tracks and race cars, the Adventure Construction Set, and Mail Order Monster (a robot kit in which creatures can be designed and pitted against each other in three levels of combat).
PlayNet, a new company, offers a network for C64 owners. The net can be used for electronic mail, CB, transferring programs, and, most important, playing scores of on-line games. Current games include backgammon, checkers, chess, bridge, go, and eight more. The initial fee is $40, and there is a $6 monthly service charge.
Gamestar showed a line of highly realistic sports simulations including football, baseball, tennis, and a new one, auto racing. Unlike other racing games, On-Track provides head-to-head competition on any of ten famous raceways. Although you view the course from overhead, you still get non-stop racing action from start to finish.
Q*Best is back in a sequel, Q*Bert's Qubes. In this game from Parker Bros, Q*Best must hop from qube to qube and rotate them with his feet, while dodging Meltniks, Soobops, and the infamous Rat-A-Tat-Tat. 'Tain't easy!
Another sequel--to Montezuma's Revenge--is Barbados Booty, an undersea diving adventure. All 128 chambers in a maze of coral and sunken ships are infested with dangerous denizens of the deep--although there are many gems and valuable treasures scattered about as well.
Activision, once king of the Atari 2600 VCS game would but now a much slimmed-down company, was not showing a single 2600 game. An open letter from president Jim Levy says "We believe that 1985 is the beginning of a new era for home computers and home computer software . . ." (Well, whadaya know!) On the bright side, Activision was showing some of the most playable computer games on the show floor.
Stickybear, the hero and guide for the Weekly Reader Software leaerning programs came alive at the Winter CES. The funny, furry bear, created by the renowned illustrator, Richard Hefter, stamped his feet (danced?) to the music of the booth across the aisle and posed for photographs.
Niftiest product that will never reach the market: Toki's biometal robot. This miniature robot is controlled by a titanium-nickel alloy which "remembers" a shape or position. Heating the joints by a pulse current extends them, but when the cool, they return to their original shape and position. Toki was also showing an innovative light-driven interface that can control the robot or other motors and household appliances. We're rooting for you Toki, but . . . .
According to Cathy Carlston of broderbund, sales of The Print Shop exceeded the wildest expectations of the company. And now, The Graphics Library, the add-on package of enhancements and fonts, seems to be pushing The Print Shop to new sales highs. We're happy to hear it--we loved The Print Shop when we reviewed it, and there are no nicer people in the industry than the Carlstons.
Third party software is quietly making the scene for the Sharp PC-5000. Sorcim released portable versions of SuperWriter, SuperCalc2 (not 3), SuperPlanner and SuperComm; from I.U.S. come EasyWriter II, EasyPlanner, and EasyComm; MicroPro released WordStar; and Software Publishing released PFS:File and PFS: Report. In addition, one of the biggies in the Model 100 business, Traveling Software released their five major applications packs for the PC-5000.
MSX continues to be an enigma. Microsoft showed one each of all the currently available MSX machines from Japan and Korea, but no one was taking orders. The official line was "waitn until Summer CES." The machines creating the most excitement were those with interactive video capabilities (Pioneer, Sony, and JVC).
Heard from the top ad rep of a leading computer magazine at CES: "Five of the biggest companies here are living in glass houses. When the after-Christmas returns start coming back, they'll be down the tubes--or looking for a bailout."