Outpost Atari. (tips on the Atari computers) (column) John J. Anderson.
Hey there folks, and welcome to the Outpost. The talk here concerns Atari, and we're pretty serious about the hobby. We have no qualms with the statement that the Atari microcomputer is absolutely the best machine in its class. So rather than spend a lot of time welcoming you here or beating around the bush, let's get right down to business.
First off, you'll notice that the machine at the top of our masthead has been changed. It is no longer our trusty Atari 800, but the flagship of the brand new Atari line, the 1450 XLD. Author Author
You know it has never escaped us that many of the real contributions to the Outpost, and to all Atari-specific publications everywhere, come from you, the "everyday" Atari user. Your interest, individually and through user's groups, sustains columns like this one. A good example will follow shortly.
In that spirit it is our pleasure to reissue a call for manuscripts. We have begun work on The Creative Atari II, and are actively soliciting new material to appear within its pages. If you have an application for your Atari that other Atari owners should know about, for goodness sake, send it in. Make sure it is typed and double-spaced. If you are including a program listing, send a cassette or disk (disks preferred) along too.
Just imagine: to be immortalized within the pages of The Creative Atari II. What glory! What privilege! And we'll pay you, too.
And if your application is truly outstanding, you might see it right here in the Outpost as well.
So get to work. Our address is 39 East Hanover Ave., Morris Plains, NJ 07950. Send your material to The Creative Atari, and if you wish it returned, enclose a correctly sized, self-addressed, stamped envelope. Book Beat
The Creative Atari Vol. I, by the way, has been on the stands for a few months now. Along with all the Atari material that has appeared in Creative Computing up through March 1983, it includes new material, never seen before. It is definitely worth checking out.
For more Atari reference sources, see the May 1983 and December 1982 Outpost columns.
While we are on the topic of books, allow me to redress a faux pas (the first of two to be set right this month). In the August column, I cited the Alfred book Understanding Atari Graphics without crediting its author, Michael Boom. Whoops--sorry, Michael. Merely an oversight on my part. It is a fine effort.
Before we switch topics--a periodical index for the Atari computer has been published. Called Soft finder 1.1, it comprises a two-year composite index of Atari-related articles in Creative Computing, Analog, Antic, Compute, and the Eugene ORACE Newsletter. Plans are to release new issues quarterly. Cost is $6 an issue. For more information, contact Valley Soft, 2660 S.W. DeArmond, Corvallis, OR 97333.
Also, note that the correct address for ordering back issues of Creative is the New Jersey address listed above, not Boulder, CO, as stated in Soft Finder. principles, and Boolean algebra are Show and Ataritel
We shall very shortly see the first products resulting from the formation of Ataritel. If you have not heard that name before, suffice it to say that it shall constitute Atari's foray into the telecommunications market. Atari hopes to ease the way for the consumer by marketing inexpensive and easy-to-use telecommunications products.
For a quite a while now Atari has refused to disclose a thing about any Ataritel products on the drawing board. One can only hope that the products will be something more than an autodial phone or modem unit in the shape of E.T.
What kinds of products might they truly offer?
Well. Imagine for a moment a machine along the following line. When the phone rings, it automatically picks up (it has a telephone built-in). It determines whether the incoming call is from a human or another computer, by listening for a carrier tone. If the call is from a human, the Votrax chip within the unit asks the caller to hold on, while it summons you. If you are not available, it says so, and offers to store a message. If the call is from another computer (requires a telecommunications connection), the unit automatically provides its own carrier, and hooks to its terminal program (it has a computer built-in, too).
This same computer can place telecommunications calls for you at pre-selected times you specify. Hooked to your home television, it provides interactive videotex. Through this system you can access an almost unlimited quantity of information. It can, of course, dial into Compuserve, The Source, campus mainframes, or individual bulleting board services. It will autodial all of your normal voice connection calls as well.
It may also be tied into your home security system, monitoring the place, and automatically dialing the police if it finds anything too strange going on.
Is something like this superphone one of the products upcoming from Ataritel? Only time will tell. Farewell 400
Right now the Atari 400 is just about the best buy in microcomputers: I saw a price of $70 (after rebate) the other day. Of course the reason prices are this low now is to make room for the new models.
The Atari 400 and 800 are now a part of history. But they are a memorable part. So long fellas; we'll remember you. I'm sure that tens of thousands of you will still be computing ten years from now. If you still don't have an Atari, and you have $70, and you can find one, my advice is to shell out for an Atari 400 without delay. How can you resist? And you may get the very last one! Third-Party Thingies
Have you heard about XBasic, from Superware? It is a 2K machine language program that adds several interesting features to Atari Basic. Among them is the capability to construct string arrays, just as in Microsoft Basic. Using a USR call you may define up to eight simulatenous string arrays. Other commands simplify sound and graphics commands, along with a few other neat capabilities.
As opposed to some other enhancements to Atari Basic, Superware allows XBasic to be freely included in user-developed software for sale, as long as the XBasic program source code is inserted along with a credit screen. For more information contact Superware, 2028 Kingshouse Rd., Silver spring, MD 20904.
Adventure International has released a package called Ultra Disassembler, which makes a good go at reconstructing Atari source code from machine language. Not only can you read code from memory, but you can disassemble DOS files, even specific disk sectors, without regard to pointers or file structure. Disassembled code can be reasssembled with any Atari assembler.
For more information contact Adventure International, Box 3435, Longwood, FL 32750.
If you have a CP/M system at home as well as an Atari, you may be interested in the Critical Connection, a hardware/software interface that allows your Atari to use the keyboard, drives, and printer of any CP/M computer with a 19,200 baud serial port. The original interface product has been improved to make installation to popular CP/M machines more simple. For information contact USS Enterprises, 6708 Landerwood Lane, San Jose, CA 95120.
Looking for a 3-D scrolling game with some real staying power? Try Blue Max from Synapse on for size. In it you are a World War I flying ace on a mission deep in enemy territory. The graphics are superlative, and the game is very hard to master.
As you fly northeast, the terrain scrolls by below you. Your job is to knock out selected bridges, ammo dumps, and enemy enclaves. You will be under constant attack, however, by enemy planes and ac-ac guns.
It takes a while to learn to pilot your biplane, and you will get used to crashing really quickly. You only get one plane per game, so stay near the START key.
After a few hours of practice, you may begin to get the hang of steering, bombing, strafing, refueling, and dodging enemy fire. If arcade-style shoot-'em-ups are your thing, Blue Max is a must.
With products like Blue Max, Synapse remains among the pre-eminent action game houses for the Atari. Their latest release, Dimension X, features an absolutely mind-boggling effect called "altered perspective scrolling." As your craft moves low over surface terrain, the ground scrolls by in perspective. It is simply the most impressive three-dimensional graphics effect since Star Raiders.
Because it was demonstrated for some time before release at CES and other shows, some critics have labeled it "an effect in search of a game," and admittedly the action itself is very reminiscent of Raiders. But the effect is smashing. If anybody works up a snippet of code, in assembly or Basic, that approximates the scrolling effect, we will print it here. Dander's Up
There I go about graphics again--I had better watch myself. You can't be a serious educator and be simultaneously serious about quality microcomputer graphics, you know. Or so some people might have you think. Take a quick look at the I/O section of this issue for an example. The charges upset me.
Regular readers of this column will know that I abhore "fluffware" as much as the next person. It's just that I abhore swillware more. That is all I meant to say in the July column (and that is all I did say). I did not indict software minus graphics--some of my favorite programs are all text. I did not try to present Trip Hawkins as a role-model for all educational software makers--just as an original and pace-setting figure in the industry. Faux Pas Numero Deux
Told you I'd be apologizing again. A.J. Sekel of Atari called the other day to set me straight on a claim I had made in the August Outpost and in the latest installment of the Buyer's Guide. My statement was that the new crop of Atari computers had returned to the old operating system of the 400 and 800. What I should have said was that they returned to a compatible operating system with the old machines.
According to Mr. Sekel, the new machines incorporate a redesign of the model 1200 OS, which was originally incompatible with much 400 and 800 software. Such is no longer the case. Certainly I did not mean to imply that the new 64K machines employed a 48K operating system: that would be quite tough. The wording was wrong. My booboo. Sorry, guys. When you're right, you're right, and I'll say so. Stonewall Bartlett
Of course when you're wrong, you're wrong. This one made me chuckle. James Rose, of Long Beach, CA, is one of the faithful Atari fans that took mighty pen in hand in the letter-writing campaign to help kill the 1200. He got a delayed but interesting response, and took the time to share it with me. It is signed by a Mr. William Bartlett, Manager, Product Support. In part it read:
"The article you refer to from Creative Computing was misleading in several ways. The 1200XL will not be redesigned. There will not be a return to the 400/800 operating system. There will not be an expansion chassis feature available. The 1200 will continue to be sold in its original configuration."
Ooh, shame shame, Mr. Bartlett. I may have made a misstatement, but you are the one who was misleading. Don't beleive a work of it, Mr. Rose. Fact is if you and other Atari loyalists had not made the effort, there would have been no return to compatibility or expansion capability in the new machines, and Mr. Bartlett's statement would be true. The Atari 1200 would not have been discontinued. And Atari computers would probably have disappeared entirely by now. Stringing Along
I had a nice talk with Charles Zubieta yesterday, who is a 16-year-old Atari tyro from La Jolla, CA. Using his 16K 400 with cassette drive, he has managed to turn out two really nice scrolling demos. Nice enough to give him the guest tutorial spot this month.
Ever since the days when the legendary George Blank was manning the Outpost, the technique of storing graphics data in strings has been discussed. George showed how players could be saved as strings, and then changed on the fly. The method is simple and fast.
Well young Mr Zubieta has taken things a bit further, and gotten some good results in just a few program lines (and that's the way I like to see, and type, listings).
The best thing I can do at this point is turn over the proceedings and let Charles take it from here. If you have questions, please correspond directly with him. He can be reached at 6477 Caminito Baltusral, La Jolla, CA 92037.
Take it away, Charles.