Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 10 / MAY 1989

The European Report

Atari U.K. Software On The Move
--And The Latest Transputer News


transputer.jpg A prototype Atari
Transputer Worksta-
tion (ATW), shown
at the Fall COMDEX
in Las Vegas. Don't
expect to see this
product in the
United States much
before Christmas.

Here in the U.K., Atari has always tended to maintain a fairly low profile, preferring simply to let their hardware sell itself. More recently they have been paying more and more attention to consumer computer shows and exhibitions, much the same as Atari U.S. has always done.

Back in the good old 8-bit days they also marketed a small range of software under the AtariSoft label, mostly in the form of game cartridges--but this has dwindled since the ST was released, and no new titles have been released for some time.

All that is now set to change as Atari finally makes a concerted effort to enter the software market with the announcement of five new ST labels. I spoke to Atari's software development manager, Robert Katz, who told me how he sees the market:

"There are two principle sources of software within the Atari Corporation: The U.S. is trying to support software, but because of the size of the market, they are tending to major on the 8-bit formats - they're doing a lot of work on XE, 7800 and 2600 software and they're anxious to get hold of whatever they can. The U.K. is trying to do the reverse--we're majoring on ST software, while still doing a lot of other 8-bit stuff as well. We are aiming to publish across five labels, the main one being Atari itself, which is really the one that has always been around as AtariSoft, but now we're just calling it Atari Action Games."

Katz went to say that the new label will cover arcade and fast action shoot-em-up type products mostly, and any new submissions to the company will tend to be considered mainly for this range. Although ST versions will be the first to be released in all cases, most other major formats except Z80-based machines will be supported. These include the Atari XL/XE, 7800 and 2600 consoles, the Commodore Amiga, PC-compatibles and, possibly, also the Commodore 64.

The first games include the re-release of the classic Star Raiders, followed by such titles as Grand Prix, Mario Brothers, Heartache, Tiger Attack, Speed Hawk, Super Soccer, Megapede and Star Flight--all priced at around $19.99 ($35.40 at current exchange rates).

Frames, Battlescapes and Mindgames

The second label, which is described by Katz as being "possibly the most innovative and exciting," is to be known as Frames. It has been set up by Steve Cain and Graham "Kenny" Everett--the team responsible for a whole multitude of excellent ST games including Star Trek, Black Lamp, Miami Vice and Platoon. They are under contract to Atari to produce six titles across six formats over the coming year. The first three, now about halfway to completion, are called Prince, Star Breaker and Hell Raider. All Frames titles will have their own logo and separate identity, but the Atari name will remain on the box. It is hoped that Frames will soon become a top arcade label in its own right.

The next range is Battlescapes--a new wave in war games. Battles are displayed in 3D-view and they're very accurate geographically. Historically, they have very strong Artificial Intelligence influences. These titles will be published across the ST, PC and Amiga formats. The first, Borodino, is out now and Armada (which recreates the invasion of the Spanish Armada) is now complete. The next, to be released in April, will be Arbela, which delves further back into warfaring history.

Still another label is to be called Mindgames, and will feature computer versions of classic board games--largely developed by David Levy of Bray Research. The first one, Go-Moku/Renju (the Japanese board game) is already out, to be followed by Backgammon, Bridge Master, then Go proper and Bridge Tutor. A very advanced version of Chess featuring 2D or 3D graphics and an interactive tutorial mode is also planned for April/May release.

Each title will be GEM-based and fully monochrome compatible--rather like many Macintosh titles--and available presently only on the ST. In many cases, the playing code has migrated down from some of the big, semi-dedicated games-playing systems, so they're going to be very powerful indeed.

The Hyper ST

Finally there is the productivity--or Hyper--series. Katz outlined the first three titles, HyperDraw, HyperPaint and HyperChart: "Paint is out now, and Chart and Draw are complete and we're just working on the documentation. Paint is an advanced pixel-based art package, whilst Draw is a sort of consumer oriented Easy-Draw, using object graphics. HyperChart is very different. It uses the Macintosh's Hypercard concept of having a hierarchical filing system, but instead of using text it's all based upon objects, which could be text, database data, spreadsheet data, object-oriented pictures or bit-image pictures--and anything else you can think of!

"Other titles in the productivity series include LDW Power, written by Logical Design Works in Poland. The thing that hits you straight away is that it seldom fails, unlike certain other products. Our database is called Adimens, from ADI GMBH in Germany. In terms of power, Adimens is very much like Superbase Professional, but is perhaps slightly less user-friendly, since its heritage comes more from professional databases. There's no forms editor as such, but it can import external files and it's very relational, indeed. Its programming language can link into others, such as C and Pascal. We'll also be releasing MicroSoft Write from the States. "

Calamus, the high-end desktop publishing program from Germany is another Atari productivity title from the Hyper range. (Editor's Note: Calamus is marketed in the United States by ISD Marketing, Inc. in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.) It should be available in the U.K. in early March.

Of obvious interest to all you stateside readers will be the likely availability of these products in the United States, so I asked Katz to outline the overseas marketing concept: "All of them will be primarily available through Atari subsidiaries. For example, Scandinavia, Australia and Canada all have taken quantities of these titles. In all cases, our approach is to offer them first to Atari subsidiaries and if for any reason they don't want to sell them, then we'll approach another main line distributor in that country."

Although the final arrangements have yet to be completed, it looks likely that most of these products will be released in the United States through Atari itself, so keep an eye out for them.

More on the ATW

Development of the new transputer system has been moving apace since I last mentioned it. Formerly known as the Abaq, but now re-named the Atari Transputer Workstation (or ATW), the final production design is now complete. Shipment of the first nondevelopment machines will be timed to coincide with this year's Hanover Fair in March, the largest and most prestigious European consumer electronics show.

Atari has opted for a tower-style casing which sits on the floor next to your desk, thus freeing up a good deal more surface space (Editor's note: See the photo of this configuration of the ATW in the March 1989 News, Notes & Quotes column.) The standard configuration provides four megabytes of main RAM, plus a further one megabyte of video-specific RAM. Additionally, the user interface I/O port (better known to us mere mortals as a complete Mega ST) has its own 512K of RAM and can even be upgraded, should you wish to run any of the more memory-intensive ST software. Helios, the new transputer-oriented operating system from Perihelion, will be bundled with the machine.

One interesting point to note is that the system can support two monitors running completely independently. For example, a monitor connected to the transputer video card might be displaying a super-high resolution CAD image, while a standard ST monitor provides the menu and control facilities. This obviously opens up a whole host of commercial applications, not least of which is the broadcast video market.

Development systems have been available for some time now, and most of the major languages have been completed already. Currently under final testing are a number of graphic editors and Phoenix CAD, ported from the Fortran-based UNIX product. Software should be relatively simple to transfer from such systems due to the XWindows environment and Helios' similarity to the UNIX operating system.

Atari currently sees the ATW primarily as a European project, since there is much greater awareness of the transputer environment over here than there is in the States. The U.S. release should be sometime between six and nine months after the European launch, so don't expect to see any product much before Christmas. That will probably give you time to consider saving up the $4,000 ($7,080) price tag which is currently being quoted!

Andre Willey is the Technical Editor or Atari User, the United Kingdom's leading publication devoted to Atari computers.