Great Graphics simplified: Graphics Processing System and Graphics Magician. (evaluation) Brian Murphy.
Great Graphics Simplified
The best software programs are those which help you to explore the capabilities of your hardware, which open up new possibilities, and which stimulate your creativity. Stoneware's Graphics Processing System (professional version) for the Apple II is this kind of software.
Let's face it. The most attractive feature of the Apple II is its ability to put great high-resolution color graphics on the video screen. Who isn't impressed, walking into a computer store and watching an Apple II go through its paces for the first time, with the graphics which flash on the video screen. When Apple added the graphics capability to the Apple II, they built in a most effective sales device.
Once you have your Apple safely deposited in your home or office, the next impulse is to do something with it--to add some of those great graphics that you saw in the computer store. That's where the GPS comes in.
GPS saves you the trouble of learning the programming tricks (worthwhile as they are to know) in your Applesoft Tutorial and Applesoft Manual. Instead, you are called upon to master a step-by-step tutorial which GPS has written for the individual who shies away from programming. It is a short course you can master in three or four hours of work, and at the end graphics will flow from the tip of your light pen.
Actually, a light pen (Symtec's is specified) is only one way of operating the program. You have the options of using a joystick, game paddles, a HIplot or graphics tablet. For the purposes of this profile, we tried it with the joystick, light pen and Apple Graphics tablet. The tablet proved to be the quickest and easiest instrument to work with.
The best feature of the GPS package is its speed. It loads fast and brings up the options from its many and varied menus quickly, expediting your work. To make a menu selection, requires only that you guide the cursor, using your drawing instrument, over the option you desire. It lights up, and then, to choose it, all you do is press the pen down (or push the paddle button or touch the light pen ring).
The entire program, as you may have gathered, is menu driven. You access the branch menus from a main selection offering the options of Draw, Erase, Modify, Duplicate, Display, Group, Information, and Cancel. Draw is the default selection (the one you get if you don't guide your cursor to another selection before pressing the button).
The Draw Menu
In the Draw menu you do the actual creative work. Your options are freehand or line drawing, change of line color (more on color in a moment), erase, cancel and end. Freehand, of course, is the option that lets you draw whatever shapes you prefer. The only limit is the amount of memory you fill up as you draw. Freehand is the easiest option to choose when you have an Apple Tablet.
Making a freehand drawing using the game controllers or a joystick is awkward and the results are frequently unsatisfying, unless you were a champion Etch-A-Sketch user as a kid. Good results are obtained with the Symtec light pen.
The line option is more suited to the paddles. In this mode, the cursor leaves a dot on the screen where you press the button. You move to the next point and press the button and a line appears connecting the two points. Moving on from the second point a line will connect it to the third point when you press the button, etc. The only limit is the amount of memory you fill up. In the line mode you can create geometric figures or, if you gain skill in using the GPS, detailed line drawings to illustrate reports, etc.
A word about color. In the default mode, the line color in freehand or line drawing is white on a black screen. This translates to black on a white background if you decide to print hard copy of your graphics. Thus, if you are generating computer graphics to illustrate a report, you don't have to tinker with the color option.
If you use the color option, you have two whites, two blacks, a green, an orangy scarlet, and a light and a dark shade of blue with which to work. Some of the colors can be blended with others, if you select two at a time, but this process is better suited to the filling procedure, which we'll get to later. It is enough to say that you can put down scarlet, light blue, dark blue, white, and green lines. You can also place black lines on the screen, but you'll have one heck of a time seeing them.
After you have created one or two figures, you may decide that you don't like any of them. If so, you can choose the cancel option and the figures will disappear, the memory will be freed up and you can start over.
There is, however, the possibility that you are dissatisfied with only one line on one of your geometric figures. Using the erase option, you can erase your line drawings, one line at a time. In the same mode, you can rub out portions of your freehand figures.
Modifying The Picture
With a finished figure, you now have the task of choosing the end option. This makes the picture you have drawn an "object,' which is an important distinction in several ways. For example, in the Modify option of the main menu, you can take the ojbect you have created and fill it in with solid color. You can combine blue with scarlet, any of the colors with white or black, or scarlet with green. In the blended colors, the hues are not solid; the effect is achieved by alternating horizontal lines of the colors you are mixing.
If you prefer, you can change the background color in the Modify/Color mode. If you opt for a white background, you can return to the Draw menu and, by selecting the color option from that menu, and new objects drawn in black. (You'll remember that a black line was invisible against a black background.) If you print hard copy of the result, you'll get what appears to be a negative image--white lines against a black background.
If you are drawing maps or charts, you can use the Modify/Color mode to give you an all-green or all-blue background, thus eliminating some of the labor of filling in color for large areas denoting sea or land and also saving percious memory.
While you are still in the Modify menu, you can choose to move an object using the Position option; to squeeze it, using the Proportion option; or to enlarge or reduce it, using the size option. In fact, using the Size option you could, for example, make detailed drawings of many different objects, reduce them, and put them all in the same picture (switching back and forth between the Draw and Modify menus). Or, if you like, you can take one object from your picture and focus on it, omitting undersired objects from your finished product without having to erase.
If the positioning is okay, but the object appears to be out of kilter horizontally or vertically, you can rotate it, using the Rotation choice in the Modify menu. This leads to the interesting possibility of creating a series of pictures of the same object, by spinning the same picture around a single point of reference. A series like this looks nice in hard copy.
Finally, the Modify/Order option allows you to take the objects you draw and stack them on top of one another. For example, if you were to draw a picture of an apple tree, then of Adam and Eve, you could have them hiding coyly behind the tree.
We have arrived now at the only serious limitation of the program: the amount of memory it occupies. Chances are, if you are doing a complex freehand drawing, at some point the Apple II will beep and the text window will come up with the single, ominous prompt, "Memory Full.' If you have a 16K RAM card (that is, if you have at least a 64K system) you press the button once to return to the main menu and select Cancel. Then you move the cursor off the screen entirely and hit any key. The screen will go blank. Then press the B key.
The screen will immediately light up again with the picture you have been working on. The difference is that it is now in the background; the program has put all the information in the 16K card, freeing up memory for more drawing. There are restrictions on what you do now. If you add an object to the picture and then try to use the Modify/Size option, the object will grow, but not the background, which includes all the objects you drew right up to the Memory Full statement.
The Display/Zoom Option
There are other manipulative tricks available. Using the Display/Zoom option, for instance, you can zoom an object by several orders of magnification and then return to the Draw menu to add detail. When you have finished, you can return to the Display/Zoom mode, elect not to zoom, and the picture, with your additions, will zoom back down to scale.
GPS comes with an extra diskette, containing the "Special Features,' one of which is the text font. This font proved to be hard to manipulate; I found it very difficult to get the letters in a word to sit evenly and in line. Anyone who has struggled with transfer lettering know what I am driving at.
The problem is that, hard enough though it would be to keep all the letters level if you could see them, they remain unseen until you have guided them into place with your cursor. As I said, I found it very difficult, but I suspect that with more practice it can be mastered.
Also, on the Special Features disk is a Grid Maker, which does just that; it puts a grid of lines on the screen for use in preparing graphs. Once you store the grid on disk, it is treated by the GPS format as an object, to be enlarged, reduced or otherwise at will. This could be a valuable feature in preparing quick graphics to go with a work-processed report.
At last, skipping over other features and functions too numerous to detail here, we arrive at the important part, the storage to disk. Once your work is complete, you need only choose the Duplicate menu and select the Apple option. This will give you the opportunity to select a name and store the picture data on disk, ready for use in any Applesoft program. If it is hard copy you need, the selection of the Duplicate/Printer option will instantly set your printer to work duplicating your graphics onto paper.
This is one big software package for $99. The Graphics Processing System gives you a great deal of flexibility to draw what you want, in the detail and colors you like, and to get those graphics into your program the way you would want. To do the same job that the GPS program does in only a few minutes would take a great many program lines, much dot plotting and a great deal of time, armed only with the Applesoft Tutorial, fine as it is.
Stoneware sums it up claiming that what a word processing system is to text, or an advanced spreadsheet program is to numbers, GPS is to graphics. It's the simple truth. This program does not do tricks with shape tables, animation, animation paths and so forth, but for a business user who wants to add graphics to his word processor-generated reports quickly, to the teacher who wants to add graphics to his software and to the home user, who just wants to explore his hardware and his creativity, this program will be flexible and useful.
Have you ever wondered how adventure games like Mummy's Curse and Cranston Manor get all those pictures onto one disk? If you have taken the time to learn the graphics portion of the Applesoft Tutorial, you might have noticed that the pictures you make tend to use up a great many disk sectors. A picture weighing in at 33 disk sectors may not seem very large, but your Disk II diskettes can story only 496 sectors of information. That works out to about 15 pictures 33 disk sectors long.
Second: Have you ever wondered how long it must take to create one of those drawings? The hi-res art in, for example, Cranston Manor does not challenge the artistic avant garde, but those pictures are hard to recreate, piece by piece, using the methods outlined in your Applesoft programming books. You could spend hours and days working on just one of them.
There is something that explains all these mysteries, the Penguin Graphics Magician, by Chris Jochumson, David Lubar and Mark Pelczarski. This software package is the answer to the prayers of serious programmers who need good, hi-res graphics, in quantity, in a reasonable length of time. Not only that, the Graphics Magician lets you do the kinds of tricks with animated shapes that you see in the best games. The message I am trying to get across (the heck with being subtle about it) is that the Graphics Magician is miraculous and marvelous.
Using game pladdes only, which I regard as fairly inefficient means of drawing under ordinary circumstances, I was able to create drawings using this software that would not look at all out of place in any of the current best-selling adventure games. Another few minutes of homework with the supplied documentation, and I was able to work the pictures into my own programs--as easy as a HIMEM, a POKE, and a CALL, to paraphrase Penguin's manual.
It is the Picture/Object Editor mode of the Graphics Magician which lets you do this part of the magic. To get there, you select, obviously, the Picture/Object Editor option from the main menu which appears at the beginning of the program when you boot the disk. The options which you are offered when the Picture/ Object mode comes up are to catalog the disk, load an old picture for new work, or start a new picture.
In the new picture mode you see a blank white screen with a flashing cross hair cursor. You are in the line mode, which means that when you press the button in paddle 1, you will establish the starting point of a new line.
With a little practice it all comes together quickly. Using the button on paddle 0, you can draw a line from your starting point to the present location of your cursor. If you want to start a new, unconnected line, you just press button 1 and move the cursor to the desired spot.
This kind of flexibility, so simple and so logical, allows you to put lots of images on the screen, fast. Soon you will be ready for fill-in color. Here's where the real fun begins.
You have a palette of 100 colors from which to choose. In a picture I drew of a castle gate and drawbridge, for example, I used two shades of brown, two of blue, two of green, and four of grey. Hues are mixed by alternating bands of color and darkened by the addition of dots and lines. The result is that you have a very wide range of color selection. The difficulty encountered in drawing curved lines is more than made up for by the colors which can be used.
If you make a mistake, correction is simple. You can either type D to delete the last command given or go into the Edit mode to delete the mistake instruction and, if you like, insert new ones. This makes it easy to get your proportions right and to change colors if necessary.
When you have a finished picture, the program will store it on disk. The programs are easily retrievable, using up about two disk sectors of your 496 to write the appropriate commands in Applesoft or machine language to bring the picture up.
You would normally assume at this point that I have described about all there is to this program, but now we come to a new and even more magical segment of the package, the Animation System. In this mode you create color shapes (available colors are blue, white, orange, violet and green) that you can later animate. The job of animation is done literally bit by bit, using single key commands to maneuver a miniscule cursor and to imprint a color dot at desired. Going slowly and patiently you can create rather realstic airplanes, figuers, flying saucers, etc.
You will find, when you choose this mode, that there are seven sets of cursors. Over each cursor is an orange bar. You can turn off a bar by typing a number (the documentation tells you which bar corresponds to which number) and turn it back on again with the same number. As you maneuver the cursor and imprint the dots, you get identical pictures for each cursor with the bar "on'. Nothing drawn where the bar is "off.'
If you like, using this feature, you could have your figure (of a man, for example) appear to move his arms and legs as he walks by moving the limbs a little in each of the seven shapes you draw. On the other hand, if you wanted to show a car smoothly gliding along, you would leave all the shapes "on' at the same time, repeating the shape seven times.
In animation the "car' would move, but there would be no internal movement. Were you to leave one or two of the pictures off for the entire shape creation process, the animated shape would see to disappear briefly.
Having created a shape and animated it, the program now enables you to create a path for it. Again, by using single key commands, you can send your shape in any of eight directions on the screen. The path is saved separately from the shape.
It is in the Animation Editor that you put the shapes together with the paths to create complete routines which you can add to your game programs or graphic demonstrations. At any time you can go back and edit any part of the routine you have created. You can take the path you have used and ally it with different shapes. You can take a shape from another file and mate it with the path for an entirely new routine. These possibilities give you a good idea of how flexible this software really is.
It should be noted that the documentation, while giving you a basic rundown on the program commands you need to integrate your pictures and animation into your programming, is written with experienced programmers in mind. Beginners will find the documentation to be rough going at first, but with patience they will soon be able to put the Animation System and the Picture/Object Editor go through their paces.
Super Shape Editor
Another aspect of this software package is the Super Shape Editor. This time you work with Applesoft shapes, which are defined either as pictures on screen or in tables. Once you figure out how the system works, the drawing goes quickly.
You can draw in seven colors. Your line may be from one to 255 points in length. It can be lengthened or shortened at any time. Using the paddle button, you determine the tilt of the line and give the command when it is to be drawn. Using lines one or two points long, and after practice at setting the angles, you can make curing lines or sharp, geometric shapes as you prefer.
A nice thought is that the shapes take up about half as much memory space as an Applesoft shape table would need. This means extra space for text and pictures in your programs.
The capabilities in the Penguin Graphics Magician are like those of the Apple II. What they can do is limited only by the creativity of the user. Creative programming pros will find that the Graphics Magician allows them to do more, do it quicker and make the end result more attractive and exciting. That's all anyone could ask of a graphics magician.
Products: Graphics Processing System (computer program)
Graphics Magician (computer program)