Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 3 / MARCH 1983 / PAGE 144

Electronic canvas. (evaluation) John Anderson.

Electronic Canvas

The Possibilities

You may be getting tired of hearing me rave about the graphics potential of the Atari. Well I'm not going to rave anymore--I am just going to show you some pictures.

They will save me thousands of words.

Paint is the most ambitious joystickbased drawing system available for the Atari computer. It has capabilities that outstrip systems that cost five times as much. It allows even the absolute beginner to experiment with most of the graphics potential the Atari brings to microcomputing. And it is so simple, even a child can use it. In fact, it was designed with children in mind. I cannot think of a better inducement to kids than a program such as this.

There are actually two drawing programs included with Paint, SimplePaint and Superpaint. SimplePaint is an unimposing, scaled-down version of the main program, Superpaint, devoid of powerful features and therefore also of all complexity. SimplePaint stands more as a tutorial starting point than a valuable program in its own right. It is doubtful whether the user, child or adult, will spend much time with it. Not after he discovers the majesty of Superpaint.

The Features

The joystick is manipulated to move a blinking cross hair around the screen. Press the trigger, and the cursor draws. You may choose from nine different "brushes,' in nine different widths, for a total of 81 styles of brushstroke. You may choose a brush that paints a wide swath in one direction, and a narrow one in another. You can choose a fine lin (resolution to graphics 7), or paint huge areas at a time.

At the bottom of the screen ten "paint pots' are displayed. Move the cursor into one of the pots, and press the trigger. Your brush will pick up the new color. Four of these are solid colors, six are patterns--plaids, if you like. Each of these colors as well as their luminosities can be changed. Each of the plaids can be altered as well. They default to a very pleasing set, but it is tough to avoid playing with them.

Next to the paint pots are two other symbols. One is an H, and when the cursor is moved onto it and the trigger pressed, the help menu appears. Everything about Paint can be accessed from its superbly designed system of nested menus. As the user gains proficiency, commands can also be input to the keyboard directly. Thus the system is able to cater to the beginner and the expert alike, without inconvenience to either.

The symbol to the far right, looking like squares within squares, is the zoom symbol. Move the cursor onto it and press, and the picture enlarges to graphics 5. Press it again to move to graphics 3. Move the cursor from within these modes, and smooth scrolling takes place. You can travel smoothly throughout the painting in these magnified modes, doing detailed work with great accuracy.

Other commands place real graphics power in your hands. Aside from the direct drawing mode, you can choose the automatic generation of straight lines, rectangles, and circles. They will place themselves exactly where you indicate, in the size and brushstroke you have chosen. This capability is indispensable in building designs. Once closed shapes have been formed, either freehand or automatically, they can be filled with any color or plaid. The fill coloring is quick, perfect, and fun to watch.

Colors and luminosities can be changed as you look at a painting, or as you look at an electronic palette, which indicates the choice on a rainbow-hued color menu. Plaids can be changed only while you are looking at the color menu. The cursor then becomes a roving square. You choose the pattern you want by placing the cursor on displayed pattern bars and pressing the trigger.

Other features round out the strengths of the program. The responsiveness of the nondrawing cursor can be damped, as can the responsiveness of the cursor when it is drawing. This may seem a trivial feature, but is very handy when doing detail work. I tended toward using a quick cursor when moving without drawing, and a slower cursor when drawing, for added control.

Okay, so you have created a masterpiece. What to do with it? Save it to disk, of course. Multiple pictures can be saved to a single disk. The Art Show feature allows all pictures on a disk to be displayed. You can use multiple drives, and retrieval time is very quick. You may even number the order in which you want paintings to be displayed. You could conceivable create sequences approaching animation using this technique. Press the space bar to pause on a single picture. Press it again to continue. Another command allows pictures to be deleted.

The Concept

Paint is an effort of SuperBoots, a talented and promising software team working for the Capitol Children's Museum in Washington, D.C. The programmers are Eric Podietz, Jimmy Snyder, and Mark Scott.

Obviously intended to be an educational package, Paint manages to convey fully the flavorful, imagination-spurring mood fostered at the Children's Museum. As a program designed to involve children, it is a masterpiece.

The Shortcomings

Accompanying the remarkable software is an equally ambitious softcover book, which in addition to documenting the package, attempts to present an overview of art history from the dawn of man to the dawn of microcomputers.

On this account it does not do any-where near as well. The scope of the task, in contrast to the space alloted, nearly dooms it to failure on the launch pad. The fact that the text suffers from a terminal case of the "cutsies' strikes the fatal blow.

Certain passages of the book strike, like a blow to the vitals. "Nothing, with the possible exception of fire, acne, the wheel and sex, will have a greater impact on your life than the computer,' reads the introduction to chapter two. A paragraph in chapter three reads "Yes, no, yes, yes, maybe, hmmm, I don't know, could be, yes, no, no, yes, yes, kind of, oh, who knows?' This kind of drivel typifies what some adults think kids eat up. Sorry; only dumb adults, if anyone, see value in patronizing kids.

In fairness, the book is well-intentioned, and includes some handsome color plates, ranging from Matisse to computer-generated graphics by Mark Lindquist. The book unfortunately ignores the work of Tom deFanti, Abel Associates, and MAGI. In its ineffective but passionate argument for the legitimacy of computer-generated art, it nearly makes the case of opponents like Robert E. Mueller (see "When is Computer Art Art,' in the January issue). Proponents of computer art will cringe at the uneven and pronouncement-packed propaganda presented in the text of Paint.

But wait a minute. The package was designed to stimulate the imagination, and that it does. And despite the fact that the accompanying text is putrid, the package remains superb.

Of course it could have been better. Unfortunately, no provision is made for recalling paintings from any other programs, Basic or otherwise, aside from Paint itself.

This is a shortcoming that could have been easily set right. Further, the paint pot portion of the screen, which comprises what would otherwise be the text window, cannot be removed, and the images are, therefore, always cropped on the bottom. It was wasteful not to have allowed for paintings to take up all the available screen area, with an option to toggle the paint pots on and off the screen. Perhaps these improvements will appear in a future version of the program.

In the title card of the program, fill routines are used to "animate' the image. It would be wonderful if this power were made available to the user. Reston Software has announced another package, Quick Flix, for release shortly. It is an animation development package, which may offer this kind of capability.

Despite my occasionally strong reservations about the text, I unreservedly recommend Paint as a must for the Atari graphics enthusiast, and the enthusiast's kids as well. At $39.95, it is a worth-while bargain.

Products: Reston Software Paint (computer program)