Classic Computer Magazine Archive CREATIVE COMPUTING VOL. 9, NO. 7 / JULY 1983 / PAGE 260

Outpost: atari. (column) John J. Anderson.

One of the cardinal rules I set for myself when I started writing the Outpost was never ever to report unconfirmed rumors. I am now going to enthusiastically break that rule, for the following reasons. First of all, the news is from an extremely reliable source: probably the best source I have. Unimpeachable, you might say. Second, the news is good. The news is really very good. It has got to be the best bit of Atari news I've heard in--jeepers--quite a while. Scuttlebytes

If you have been following this column for the last three months or so, you know of my deep disappointment with the new 1200 machine. I, and many other Atari computer loyalists along with me, have felt that the 1200 XL was not only lackluster, but actually served to point the Atari Home Computer Division in a weak and uncompetitive direction. During my somewhat petulant visit to Sunnyvale some months ago, Atari voiced a commitment to at least listen to user suggestions concerning a redesign. I then made an effort to get everyone in the world who cares to help set Atari straight.

Well Atari has not only listened, but actually seems to have come around. It seems that the model 1200 redesign will be as extensive as we all hoped. Among other reforms, there will be a return to the compatible operating system of the 400 and 800; also, and brace yourself, an expansion chassis feature will be available. Seems almost too good to be true.

All I can say is yippee, yahoo, and thank the Lord above. I hope to export some very good news in next month's Outpost, detailing the enlightened features to be included in the redesign of the Atari 1200. I hope also to report on a batch of new, compatible Atari computers. If you are mong the concerned Atarians that have made your feelings known to Atari, there is real cause to rejoice--you got through. My great thanks to all of you.

The last two columns of the Outpost have generated lots of mail, so I shall try to steer clear of further controversy this time around. We'll meet a real up-and-comer in the Atari software market, and also examine the full listing of a remarkable self-modifying title card generator, sent to us as an entry in our program contest.

A couple of quick comments about the mail before we get started. I cannot possibly answer all your letters individually. If you must have a personal response, please enclose a self-addressed, stamped envelope with your letter. That is about the only way you will hear from me. I still encourage you to keep the cards and letters coming in, especially those concerned with the future of Atari microcomputers.

I do hope you are letting Atari know your feelings too, though, and not just me. Let then know you are out there, and that you care enough to have gotten in touch. Dewey Unto Others

I have visited quite a few fledgling software concerns in my time and met some interesting people. Many of them talk a literally "good game"; fewer can then back up their talk with original, high quality software. And in the area of educational packages, well, I don't have to remind you how many just plain lousy programs there are to be found hiding under a hat of high mindedness. Some established and well-advertised third-party education stuff for the Atari ranks among the most amateurish will on the market today.

Coming to microcomputing from the field of education, as I do, that fact is especially lamentable to me. It makes it much harder to convince people of the power of computer graphics and sound as educational entertainment tools. As a result, the division between educational and entertainment software is strengthened in many minds. That's too bad, since to my mind there should be no such division.

When the rare somebody comes around who is really on the beam, therefore, it is especially exciting to me.

Trip Hawkins of Electronic Arts in San Mateo, CA, is one of these rare souls. He expounds the virtues of microcomputer games in education in much the way that I do, even to the point of invoking the name of John Dewey in the process. And any friend of John Dewey is a friend of mine.

If you ever get the chance to discover the writings of John Dewey, I wholeheartedly encourage you to do so. His thinking has done much for the philosophy of education in this country. Within his many sensible and sensitive writings, he repeatedly expressed the belief that the best kind of learning involves the learner as active participant--that it is much more potent to experience as opposed to merely hear about a subject. If Dewey had lived into the microcomputer age, I am sure he would have advocated the use of the personal computer as a perfect tool to advance this kind of learning.

The vital difference between Trip Hawkins and many others who share Dewey's viewpoint is that Mr. Hawkins is actively pursuing the goal and amassing products consistent with it to inaugurate his software label. Make note of that name, Electronic Arts. It may well set the standard for sophisticated entertainment software in the 80's.

Hawkins, who applied his estimable intellect for two years to the development of the Lisa machine at Apple, clearly and unequivocally sees the microcomputer as a new artistic medium. The computer offers the potential for incredibly complex forms of entertainment that are at the same time extremely simple to play. "Hidden scaffolding" is the term Hawkins uses to describe the means by which a computer program can encompass more depth and realism than anything yet seen in the genre.

He sees it as the job of a software house such as his own to find, manage, and support software artists, in much the same way that a good film studio or record label would handle its performers. In fact, he intends to use some of the artists who do record album covers to aid in the packaging of Electronic Arts software.

Trip sees the contemporary microcomputer software business in a situation similar to the situation the film industry experienced back in the 1900's--at the very outset of its development. A great deal of software has derived appeal from sheer novelty, rather than content, and hundreds of folks from every walk of life are feverishly churning the stuff out; most of it is mediocre. But this is changing fast. The sophistication of the software buyer grows daily.

Carrying forth that analogy, Hawkins sees as his task the creation of an environment wherein a "software Charlie Chaplin" can arise. This means support in terms of development, marketing, and public relations. Hawkins believes that software artists well deserve celebrity, and will soon be as famous as artists in any other medium. Sounds good to me, and certainly on the right track.

Terrific talk, granged. But what about the products? Well here are some of the top-quality Atari titles to look for from Electronic Arts:

Archon, a fantasy "board" game combines strategic elements of chess with adventure fantasy. Quality microcomputer games offering competition between two human players are few and far between. Archon involves competition for power points on a board where the color of the squares can change, depending on strategic factors. Conflict zooms to a close-up on the confrontation square, where players pit various joystick-controlled creatures against each other. This is the kind of game I have been waiting to see for the Atari, and even if you haven't, you are bound to fall for it. Imagine a chess game in which you can cast spells...

M.U.L.E. stands for "multiple-use labor element," and it is the basic play component in the game of the same name, which is somewhat like the board games Diplomacy or Monopoly. In it, up to four players find themselves competing for financial advantage on a

foreign planet.   While shrewd bargaining and dexterous joystick competition are called for,

players must also cooperate to survive various crises. The graphics, sound, and humor in this game are superlative, and though the kids won't suspect it in the lest, they'll be learning laws of economics as they play. It is a multiplayer game that even adults will want to come back to--and handicaps are available to even out the abilities of adults and children. After a few dozen games even adults will turn to the manual accompanying M.U.L.E. to get some background on the laws of supply and demand. And the animated characters in the game are thorougly adorable.

Worms? is one of those games like Conway's game of Life, that in execution of colorful animated graphics, gives the player an intuitive feeling for hitherto unseen mathematical relationships. One round of the game, which embodies some of the best graphics and sound to be seen on Atari, will have you thinking of the mother shop in Close Encouters.

Players "train" streaks of light to move in patterns from one dot to another in a black background matrix. Every player has his own color, and every direction has its own musical tone. To score points, complete all the possible junctions on a node. Soon the screen is alight with tuneful worms marching by "decision points" to the beat of their respective drummers. The game holds a lasting and nearly hypnotic fascination. Winning worm patterns can be made to compete against new computer- or human-generated opponents. There is a deep satisfaction to be gleaned from Worms?, in seeing and hearing the harmonies of pattern. Dewey would have loved playing this one.

Pinball Construction Set is a tour de force by Bill Budge, who is quite arguably the Charlie Chaplin of microcomputing. Originally designed and marketed for the Apple computer, the Atari version includes several improvements not present in the original game. In the latest issue of Video and Arcade Games, I reviewed the Apple version, stating that the only thing conceivably more enjoyable than playing Budge's micro-pinball is creating your own micro-pinball machines. Pinball Construction Set makes doing so a joy, and to that end uses an icon-based menu system quite similar to the Apple Lisa's "mouse". Want to add a bumper or flipper? Use the joystick-controlled pointer to "pick it up" from the icon chart, and place it anywhere you please in your creation to disk as a fully functional, stand-alone microcomputer pinball game. If you don't quite buy the versatility of mouse-based systems, this program is required booting for you. Bill Budge is an example of the caliber of software artist Electronic Arts seeks to solicit.

Watch your local software store, or contract Electronic Arts, 2755 Campus Dr., San Mateo, CA 94403. And other software houses, make note, take heed, watch out. Title Bout

Ever since the first entries came in, I have been collecting features to include in a deluxe version of the Title Card Generator contest program begun early this year. My original plan was to combine as many features as possible into one big program, to be printed in its entire this month. Then Kelly Phillips came along.

What Kelly did was to submit a program that took my original ideas and moved them in an entirely new direction, adding features that I hadn't believed possible, and saving screens in an entirely new manner. So instead of printing a mishmash of routine from many different programs, it is my pleasure to present in its entirety his superlative version of a self-modifying title generator program.

Mr. Phillips trades off some of the features I considered neat about my approach, such as sound, and the ability to watch each letter plot itself on the screen one at a time. But the rewards he reaps are fantastic. The most impressive is the scaling feature--the point size of the font is made user-programmable. This idea, had in fact, crossed my mind during a stray moment in first developing the super character set, but I had jettisoned it immediately, thinking the allied problems would be insurmountable. For me, I'm sure they would have been.

If you type in the original program, you owe it to youself to make Kelly Phillips's additions. If you never typed the original, an entire listing is presented here, and I guarantee that once you see the kinds of things you can do with it, you will want to use it to generate titles for all your own programs.

And so I shall hand the reins over so Kelly can take you through the program. If you wish to communicate directly with him, he can be reached at 346 West 400 North, Logan, UT 84321.

This version of John Anderson's "Self-Modifying Title Card Generator" is an expanded version of the one that appeared in the February 1983 issue of Creative Computing. It provides all of the features of the original program (except sound), and adds many more advanced and useful functions such as scaling and freehand joystick control. With the additional features of this version of the title card generator, you can easily make your own screeen creations much more colorful and professional looking. In reading the following documentation, I suggest that you refer to Mr. Anderson's original article as well as the headings that follow Cursor Movement Controls and Control Commands that follow. Typing the Program

The title card generator is numbered in increments of ten for ease of entry. It was also designed to be added to the original version with minimal modification. If you already have the original program, load it and make the following changes: delete lines 160-230 and line 859. Change the DATA in line 1000 from END to R. Tupe in the NEW sections of the program (lines 0-150 and lines 2000-3040 of Listing 1){ Do not change the line numbering in any way, and be especially careful when typing lines 3120-3340. This is crucial to the proper operation of the program. At this point, you should save the program on cassette or disk before running it. When the program is run, it will delete major portions of itself, so you will need to have that complete copy saved prior to any program run.

If you do not have a copy of the original program, a full listing of my modifications appears here as Listing 1.

The title card generator is a program that is used to enable the computer to actually "write" another shorter program which will be used for your title card display from that time on. It consists of two major phases: 1) the editing phase, in which you create the screen that you wish to have the computer incorporate into the program it will write, and 2) the program creation phase, in which the computer saves your screen along with some Basic commands for your title program to use later on.

These Basic commands will also be chosen by you--based on your answers to a few simple questions during this phase. At that time, the company will also delete the actual title card creation portion from memory, since it will not be needed in the display program that the computer writes.

The "cursor" in the title card generator is a multi-colored flashing square which appears in the center of the screen. Unlike the original version of the title card generator, the cursor is by no means bound to three rows of seven columns each. You have complete control to put the letters anywhere on the screen, and then mix them up with borders, designs, or anything else you can dream up. In addition, the letters may be of almost any size you choose. For more information on the commands which change the cursor position, see the heading entitled Cursor Movement Controls up ahead. Getting Letters on the Screen

To draw a letter on the screen, simply press the letter you wish to draw. Letters are always drawn with their top left edge at the current cursor position. The cursor will then automatically be moved to the next letter position, just like a super large text typing mode. If there is not sufficient room to draw a letter at the position at which you attempt to do so, you will hear a buzzer and the command will be ignored. You will also hear the buzzer if you issue a command that the title generator does not understand. Faulty commands will also be ignored. Using the Joystick

In addition to automatically drawing letters on the screen and using the 12 control commands, you may use the joystick to drawn any free-hand design you wish. To draw with the joystick, hold the red button down while moving the stick in the desired direction. If the joystick is moved without the red button depressed, the cursor will move, but nothing will be drawn. The joystick should be plugged into port number one, and may be used at any time during your screen editing (except when a control command is in progress). Saving Your Screen

Pressing CONTROL-Q allows you to save your screen with a smaller title card display program that the computer will actually write to your specifications, based on your answers to a few questions. This process requires quite abit of time, because the computer goes through many steps to write the display program.

The computer can create this program on cassette or disk, but keep in mind that you must have sufficient room to do so. For a disk, you will beed at least 250 free sectors, and for cassette at least a 60-minute tape. This is your responsibility as the program does not check for sufficient room before starting the saving process. Following is a short explanation of the questions the computer asks before the saving gets under way, and what it expects for an answer.

WOULD YOU LIKE TO SAVE THIS SCREEN? This is to verify that you meant to press CTRL-Q. If you answer Y, the following additional questions will be asked. If you answer N, you will be returned to your screen just where you left off.

SAVE TO (1) CASSETTE OR (2) DISKETTE? This allows you to save the display program to either cassette or disk. Press 1 for cassette or 2 for disk.

TEXT WINDOW SECONDARY MESSAGE? You will be asked this question only if you have enabled the text window display with CTRL-T. If you have, you should now type in up to four lines of text that you want to appear in the text window of y our display program, each line may consist of no more than 38 characters.

SPECIAL EFFECTS? Here your may choose whcih type of special effect you wish to have in your display program. Effect #1 is the rainbow effect, as it was used in Mr. Anderson's original program. This effect causes all portions of your picture which are colored with pen #1 to cycle through the 128 Atari color variations.

Effect #2 is the flast effect which will cause all portions of your picture colored with pen #1 to flash on and off in your display program. Effect #3 is the random effect. This effect will cause all the colors on your picture to change randomly in your display program. To select a special effect, type the number corresponding to it. If you do not wish to have any special effects, simply press RETURN.

WHAT TYPE OF PLOTTING WOULD YOU LIKE? Pressing a 1 here will create your program in such a way that the screen will be invisible until it is drawn. Then the whole screen design will be turned on at once. Pressing a 2 allows the picture to be seen the whole time it is being drawn.

CHAIN TO ANOTHER PROGRAM? If you are saving to cassette, you will not be asked this question. For disk users, this will allow you to have your title card display the title of a program, and then subsequently run that program automatically.

ENTER A FILE NAME FOR THIS PROGRAM? If you are saving to cassette, you will not be asked this question either. This is because the cassette does not recognize file names when saving programs. For disk users, this is where you will type the name you wish to use for your display program. Note that this is different from the previous question in that it names the display program itself, whereas the previous question provided a name that the display program could chain to if desired.

At this point, you insert the desired cassette or disk, and the computer creation process begins. Several functions are performed here. First, the screen data are saved in the form of Basic DATA statements. On disk, the file name is SCREEN.DAT. When complete, the screen data are re-entered into memory and many of the original program lines are deleted. Then portions of the display program are generated, based on your answers to the previous questions. When all these functions are complete, the program saves your new display program, returns to Graphics 0, and ends. You may now run your title display program and see how it looks. (During the saving process, cassette users should pay attention to the screen to see when to rewind the tape and when to press RETURN to save and re-enter portions of the program as needed.) Programming Notes

From time to time, my Atari has had the problem of "keyboard lockup" during the computer creation phase. This is apparently due to the fact that many program lines are deleted, added, and edited. For some reason, the Atari may lock up, with no recourse except to turn off the computer. The title card generator was programmed with this problem in mind. Delays were strategically placed wherever a screen full of line numbers is to be deleted. This is to give the Atari time to re-arrange its memory fully before more deletions come.

But, should your computer lock up, fear not, your screen is still intact and safely saved in the file on disk or cassette. To retrieve it, turn off the computer for a while, then turn it back on and LOAD the title generator. Next, type: ENTER "D:SCREEN.DAT" (or ENTER "C:" for cassette). This will re-enter your screen data. Then type: 2025 GOSUB 100. You may now run the program, and you will be in the editor, ready to attempt the SAVE process again.

You may begin at that point and nothing will be lost. This may be repeated as many times as the problem persists, and no harm will be done to your masterpiece. The program does not delete the screen data from cassette at all and only deletes it from disk when all other functions are complete and successful.

Another problem was the speed at which Atari Basic could analyze and save the exact data currently on the screen. The screen saving routine was placed at the beginning to the program (lines 2-8), which approximately doubls the speed of this lenthy process. Program Remarks

To keep the program as short as possible, the REMARK statements were left out in the final version of the title card generator. Figure 1 is a line by line description which may be used to follow the flow and design of the program. Cursor Movement Controls

Figure 2 lists 11 special cursor movement keys that are available in the title generator. They allow you to move very small distances for greater accuracy or very large distances for greater speed. Control Commands

There are 12 control commands available in the title generator. These commands allow you to manipulate the screen in several ways. The commands are invoked by holding down the CONTROL key while pressing the desired command letter. The only exception is the screen clear command, which is invoked with the SHIFT key instead. Following is a description of the intended use for each of the control commands and program "default" conditions where applicable.

SHIFT-CLEAR: Clears the screen and resets all parameters to their default settings.

CONTROL-B: Draws a border from the current cursor position and centers it on the screen based on the cursor coordinates.

CONTROL-C: Sets the colors for each of the four "pens" available in the title generator. Equivalent to the Atari Basic SETCOLOR statement. Default setting is the same as the standard Atari default colors.

CONTROL-D: Direct cursor positioning. Places the cursor at the exact X and Y coordinates specified by the user. Equivalent to the Atari Basic POSITION statement.

CONTROL-E: Erases a letter-sized block. The cursor is placed at the top left of the letter to be erased, then CONTROL-E is pressed, erasing the letter (and everything else in its path, so be careful).

CONTROL-F: Fill toggle. Toggles the letter fill feature from on to off and vice versa. When the fill command is enabled, letters are filled with the color of pen #1. Default=fill on.

CONTROL-P: Selects the pen to draw with. There are three colored pens (1-3) and one "erase" or background colored pen (pen 0). Equivalent to the Atari Basic COLOR statement. Default pen=2.

CONTROL-Q: Quits and saves the screen. Ends the editing phase and prepares for creating the title display program.

CONTROL-S: Sets the scaling factor with which the letters will be drawn. The factor must be no less than 0.25 and no more than 3.5. Some scaling factors may cause the fill feature to be inaccurate. Default scale=1.

CONTROL-T: Text window toggle (on/off). Enables (Graphics 7) or disables (Graphics 7 and 16) the four-line text window at the bottom of the graphics screen. Default= text window off.

CONTROL-V: View the current X and Y coordinates. The column (X) and row (Y) coordinates are shown in the text window. Pressing any key returns to normal editing.

CONTROL-Z: Ends the program with no save. Ends the program completely, returns to Graphics 0, and does not invoke the screen saving routine.

Also note that control commands C, D, P, Q, S, V, and Z set the colors to the Atari default conditions while in progress. This is to ensure that all of the text prompts used in these commands will be visible in the text window, regardless of the actual colors selected for the screen display. At the conclusion of these commands, the colors will be set back to those specified by the user.

So there you have it. One addition you might want to make to Kelly's program is a fix to clip screen edge parameters. As it now stands, cursor movement off the usable screen will result in an error, blowing up whatever you are working on. I made a quick fix when first alerted to the problem by adding a TRAP and some clippers as shown in Figure 3. Because line 2100 is already at the maximum program line lenght, you'll need to split it, creating line 2105 in the process. As I say, this was a quick fix, I'm sure you can do better.

I know I had promised more for this month, but space considerations preclude anything else this time around. Next month, I promise we will address new software and hardware topics, as well as compacting data into graphics characters. Until then, keep up your computing.