The New Language For ATARI!
Reviewed By PETER ELLISON
The New Language For ATARI!
Reviewed By PETER ELLISON
When it came to programming the Atari for speed there were a few choices that a programmer could choose. First there was assembly language(hard to debug), then Forth(who wants to do everything backwards), and now ACTION!(the new super language from OSS). This language which comes in an attractive orange cartridge similar to ATARI basic, is in my own opinion, one of the greatest things to happen to the ATARI.
The language is called ACTION!, because that is what it is, FAST!. Though it is a little harder to learn then Basic, Action! offers the speed of machine language with the ease of use. Before I had ever seen Action! I had programmed in Assembly language, Basic, Forth, Pascal, and Fortran but now ACTION! has arrived, it has given me a whole new view of programming. Action!, which is similar to Pascal, is easy to pickup if you have ever done any work in a structured language. It has PROCEDUREs(PROC), FUNCTIONs(FUNC), and the declaration of Data types.
The ACTION! system is made up of five different parts. They are: The ACTION! Monitor, the ACTION! Editor, the ACTION! Language, the ACTION! compiler, and the ACTION! library. The monitor is the main part of the language, in that it allows one to access either the Editor, or Compiler, or to get access to some other system options, such as DOS. The Editor is simply a text editor with which you do all of your programming before you are ready to compile it. I especially like the editor because of its' great speed. The cursor for editing goes seemingly five times faster than any text editor that I have worked with. I know when programming in Basic how slowly the cursor moves and therefore how frustrated I become when it doesn't move any faster.
I feel that the text editor in itself is worth the price of the cartridge. For doing word processing it works like a dream. The editor allows you to put up to 240 characters long on one single line, although the screen shows only 38 characters at a time. It does this by scrolling to the left and right to show the rest of the line. To scroll left, right, up, or down, all that is needed is the ctrl arrows. You can also set the length of each line for say; your printer,etc., and when you come to the end of that line the editor will buzz. The editor makes it easy to move whole chunks of text from one location to another, giving the user the ease of changing an entire program around. One last thing about the editor, it allows you to split your screen into two windows giving you the ability to edit two different programs or parts of a program at the same time.
The ACTION! Language is what you use to communicate with the ATARI machine and tell it to do things. You write a program in the ACTION! Language, and then tell the ACTION! compiler to translate it into machine code. This is what gives the language such great speed. Finally the ACTION! Library is a group of prewritten routines which you can use in your programs. This group allows you to use commands found in Basic, like PLOT, DRAWTO, PRINT, etc. and a lot more without having to write your own subroutines. Plans have also been made to have a disk containing player/missile subroutines that will be available from OSS.
The instruction manual is a small yellow binder containing 208 pages of information. Although I found the book very useful and easy to understand, many probably wouldn't. The reason for this is that I'm already profecient in programming Pascal which is very similar to ACTION!. Someone who has just learned Basic might have a little trouble understanding the manual. The book is good except that it doesn't go into enough detail explaining certain things that I'd take for granted. I know that it must be hard to write an instruction manual, but I must say it's a lot better then the Basic manual you get with your ATARI.
ACTION! is a good alternative to BASIC, which is very slow and inhibited, and furthermore Assembly language is difficult to learn. Now to say a bit about the speed of ACTION!. Tests have been carried out to compare the speed of execution between BASIC and ACTION! with some rather surprising results. ACTION! was shown to generate code 200 times faster than BASIC. This great speed gives the user the ability to create fast-action arcade type games with the similar surroundings of Basic. Although converting a Basic program line by line to ACTION! would execute much faster, there is a much better way of doing this. Instead of converting each individual line, it is better that the programmer become familiar with how ACTION! is structured before trying to convert a Basic program. This will give the user a lot more speed and flexability with the final program.
We at ROM have enjoyed ACTION! so much that we are going to have a special column in each issue devoted specifically to programming in ACTION!. In it different programming techniques will be discussed and maybe even a few games. If you have any suggestions regarding what you would like to see in this column, send them to us, we'd be happy to listen. Now get out and buy one of the best programming language for the ATARI, ACTION!.