Classic Computer Magazine Archive START VOL. 3 NO. 9 / APRIL 1989

Mac and PC On The ST

Sargon IV and Printer Interface III

by David Plotkin

This month, we'll get back to the Mac side of the column. David Small's Spectre 128 has taken the Atari world by storm. In fact, it has become so popular that the 128K Macintosh ROMs have become quite scarce (and expensive). I wonder if Apple has figured out what's going on yet. (Editor's Note: Given the attention the Smalls were attracting from Apple personnel at COMDEX last fall, we're sure that they're aware.)

Spectre Version 1.75 has just been sent to registered owners as of press time. It fixes some obscure bugs which most users have never seen, but the quick revision shows that Gadgets by Small really cares.

Sargon IV

Some really good software has been published for the Mac in the time it's been on the market. While there are good chess games for the ST, it is a fact that Sargon IV for the Mac has no match in the ST world.

Sargon IV is a remarkably able chess-playing program with a multitude of options, making it suitable for the novice and the tournament player. Sargon IV supports all chess moves, including en passant, castling, and queen promotion. Two types of boards are available, the standard flat 2D board (viewed from above), and a three-quarter view 3D board. Alternate sets of chess pieces can be used; four sets are included or you can design your own. You can turn the board around to see the board from your opponent's viewpoint anytime it is your turn, and you can even switch sides as the mood strikes you.

sargon.jpg Sargon IV may be
the best chess game
you can run on an
ST--but only if you
use a Mac emulator
like Magic Sac or
Spectre 128. It has
a multitude of op-
tions and features,
including a Piece
Sculpture program
to design your own
chess sets.

In Sargon IV, you play against the computer or another human. If you play a human opponent, Sargon IV can referee to prevent any illegal moves. If you play against the computer, you can set the degree of difficulty by limiting the time Sargon IV has to search for moves. Obviously, the more time you give it, the better its game. You can limit Sargon IV to as little as five seconds per move or let it think until you tell it to make its move. Sargon IV will make the best move it has located when its time runs out. Interestingly, these time limits are not absolute--Sargon IV keeps a time budget, and may use more time than allowed on some moves, less on others. Several clock options are available--you can limit the time for each move and the total time for a game.

Sargon includes an impressive library of opening moves or you can turn them off and make Sargon "think" from the beginning. If you need help, you can ask Sargon IV for recommendations for your move. If you've made a serious blunder, you can even take back one or more moves. Sargon IV will use the time you are thinking about your move to think about its next move, unless you disable this mode. A variety of options lets you see Sargon's "reasoning" for selecting a move (you watch the tree search for the best move), print a move list, save and load games and set up a game position or chess problem. Sargon can solve chess problems, such as to find out if mate is possible in a specified number of moves. You can even have Sargon play itself, while you sit and watch.

For the Novice or Master

How good a game of chess does Sargon play? I am only a casual chess player, so the fact that it beat me consistently at every level above novice is not too surprising. However, reports are that at its upper levels, Sargon IV is a very good chess player indeed. It even beats its primary computer competition seven games out of eight.

For beginners, however, at its easiest play level Sargon IV really gives you a chance. Because it doesn't have time to look ahead many moves, it makes the same mistakes that novices often do, thus providing challenging play without being overwhelming. You will need to move to higher levels, though, if you wish to become more proficient.

In addition to playing a mean game of chess, Sargon is packaged with five opening problems, 10 tactics problems, 10 strategy problems, 15 checkmate problems, five endgame problems and 107 of the world's best games. These can be loaded from disk and played through and you can learn an enormous amount by studying what occurs. Chess Master Boris Baczynskyi comments on each of these problems and games in the manual.

Design Your Own Pieces

The Piece Sculpture program is a separate utility which lets you design your own pieces. A small window appears in which you can draw the piece using one of several simple tools. The actual drawing is done in an enlarged view with a normal size view also shown on the same screen. You can create a mask to keep other pieces from showing through the clear spaces in the piece. A particularly useful option lets you invert all the bits in a piece. Thus you need create a piece in only one color and then use the invert option to create the other!

Printer Output Made Easy

One big problem Magic Sac and Spectre 128 users have is getting their output to a printer. After all, how many Atari owners have Apple ImageWriters, and know how to hook them up? Replacement drivers for printing to an Epson-compatible printer have been available for some time, but what if you want better quality? One alternative might be the Hewlett-Packard DeskJet, which has taken the Atari world by storm. The DeskJet has 300 dots-per-inch resolution, silent operation and low price (street price about $700).

Now DataPak Software Inc. has introduced Printer Interface III. It provides a printer driver for the HP DeskJet and is extremely easy to install: all you have to do is copy it to your boot disk. Then, when you use the CHOOSER accessory under the Apple menu, HP DESKJET will be available as an option. Although the manual speaks in terms of the serial port (and configuring the DeskJet's parameters), ST owners running Magic Sac or Spectre can just skip all this, since in both emulators the printer output has been rerouted to the parallel port (the DeskJet has both).

Does it work? Most certainly. Graphics are handled beautifully (at 72, 150 and 300 dpi), and fonts which are either built into the DeskJet or supplied on HP's font cartridges print out at full 300-dpi resolution. If you try to use a font that is not in the DeskJet, it will still work, provided your system file defines the font at four times the desired size. Thus, you would need a 48-point font definition to use that font at a 12-point size. This is due to the difference in resolution between the Mac's screen (72 dpi) and the DeskJet printer (300 dpi).

As with the LaserWriter, any font which is not installed in the printer (or available at four times the size) still prints, but it prints the screen font which is considerably lower resolution and somewhat blocky. Even so, the results are fast, quiet and very much worth the money.

David Plotkin is an engineer for Chevron US.A. and a START Contributing Editor.


Sargon IV, $49.95. Spinnaker Software, 1 Kendall Square, Cambridge, MA 01239, (617) 494-1220.

Printer Interface III, $125. DataPak Software, Inc., 14011 Ventura Blvd. #507, Sherman Oaks, CA 91423, (818) 905-6419.