S.A.M.Don't Ask Computer Software
2265 Westwood Blvd., #B-150
Los Angeles, CA 90064
$59.95 diskette; 32K
Reuiewed by Jerry White
Computer speech synthesis has just been revolutionized by a product called SAM, the Software Automatic Mouth. Unlike all the other systems, SAM requires no special hardware. That's right, SAM provides the highest-quality computerized speech currently available for ATARI computers, and does it with software only. All you need is an ATARI 400 or 800 with at least 32K RAM and one disk drive.
Also unlike all the others, SAM is inexpensive. The SAM software on diskette including demonstration programs and a well-written 38 page manual, costs only $59.95. That's a small fraction of the cost of most hardware speech systems currently available.
SAM, when combined with the companion program RECITER, will pronounce nearly 90% of the English language properly. Using RECITER, speech from BASIC is as easy as placing your text into a string called SAM$, and issuing the command A = USR (8199).
If you don't use the RECITER program, you save 6K of RAM, and you can still make SAM pronounce all words properly by using the phonetics system. You can tell SAM to use any of eight different stress factors on each syllable, no more monotone monotony. You are also in control of the pitch of SAM's voice, as well as the rate of speed at which he speaks.
Of course it takes a bit more work to master the phonetic systems, but the manual provides about 1500 example words in normal and phonetic spellings. If you're having any problems, DON'T ASK support is only a telephone call away.
The only drawhack other than the RAM requirements is that SAM will blank the screen when he speaks. You can use SAM with the screen left 011, but this will cause distortion in SAM's voice. Since computer speech is generally used for short phrases, the blank screen is a small price to pay in most cases.
Advenalre type games and educational software are obvious applications for computer speech. I put SAM to work answering my telephone when I'm not available. In order to provide the highest quality speech for my 2() second recording, I used phonetics. The nutubers you see itl the phonetically spelled words in my sample program, indicate the stress factor. The number I would indicate a very emotional stress On the preceeding syllable, while 8 would indicate an extreme pitch-dropping stress. Most punctuation is used to insert a pause. The period will also cause the pitch to fall while the question mark will cause the pitch to rise.
VOICE BOXThe Alien Group
27 West 23rd Street
New York, N.Y. 10010
$169.00 includes diskette
Reviewed by Benton J. Elkins
"ATARI says its the first word," the ad from the Alien Group began. That hooked me enough to read that the VOI('E BOX is a speech synthesizer that plugs into the serial port of the ATARI and routes all speech sounds to the television speaker. Synthesis is accomplished with phoneme analysis. l called for information, but Bob Ezzard, an Alien, convinced me to accept COD shipment on 10 day approval.
In a few wecks the VOICE BOX arrived. The disk loaded without problem, and the program instructed me to connect the unit. Immediately a voice came out of the TV, "Please teach me to speak." A backup message of the words was printed on the screen. I was amazed that it worked the first time I tried it!
I entered some words on the keyboard, pressed return, and was amused at the literalness of the pronunciation. I tried some phonetic variations, by changing the spelling of the words. The screen displays the controls used for examining the vowels, consonants and defined words in the program's dictionary files. Everything I tried worked. All that was missing was syllable emphasis.
The VOICE BOX disk contains three dictionaries, 16K and 32K versions of the programs in BASIC, a stripped down list version of the program to be used in adding vocal capability to other programs, and an object code of the phoneme pronouncer.
The BASIC program incorporates a random sentence recitation program using a standard sentence vocabulary, or it invites on input another learned vocabulary which may be saved later. New words or portions may be learned by typing the spelling variation and the phonetic spelling, then connecting the two with an = sign.
The 32K version has a "talking head" whose lips are synchronized to the pronounced syllables. The drawing is sketchy but the effect is impressive. There may be some potential for developing lip reading skills, if the graphics are improved.
There are two pronunciation and one spelling dictionaries. The first dictionary is to be used with the 16K version and the others with the larger version. The spelling dictionary spells out the input strings. Dictionaries contain strings of symbols that translate hexadecimal phoneme equivalent codes to the VOICE BOX itself. The source for the assembly level code is not included on the disk.
The verbal quality and understandability of the VOICE BOX is not the greatest thing about it, it definitely will not be mistaken for a human voice. "Intelligible" is the operative word to use when describing the characteristics of the VOICE BOX.
The box itself is a 3"x4"x 11/2" box with a large knob on the side and a cable and serial port connector attached. It must attach last in the daisy chain, where the cassette recorder is usually connected. Because of this, all programs from a cassette must be read in before the VOICE BOX is hooked up. The knob control changes both the frequency and speed of utterances. No additional external power is needed.
Here are three program ideas for using the VOICE BOX. They are enhancements to already existing programs that will add a new dimension to them.
1. Talking Menu Program
This program will read the disk and announce the programs on it, then accept input to select one for loading, and indicate any loading errors and recycling if this is the case.
2. Error Diagnostic Program
The program will trap to a verbal indication of what the error was and which sentence, rather than stopping with an error number at the encounter point.
3. Program List Speller using Dictionary 2
This program will accept another program as list input and spell it out for aid in checking & debugging input. It can also be used as an aid by handicapped individuals.
There is also a great potential for teaching children to spell and for an added dimension to games. Overall, I believe, the VOICE BOX is well worth the price tag.
5237 Jacuzzi St., Suite I
Richmond, CA 94804
$29.9S diskette and cassette
Reviewed by Gordon Miles
Nautilus is a strategy game with an arcade feel. The Nautilus is a submarine that scores points by destroying underwater cities to steal their energy cores. Meanwhile, it must avoid depth charges and other hazards. The Collosus, a surface ship, is the opponent, directed either by the computer or another player.
The graphics in Nautilus are excellent. The submarine has a little propeller at the stern. The oceanscape, with its underwater cities and subterranean passages, is also well done. The realistic tumbling of the depth charges, the predatory helicopter that patrols the surface, the fish and the tenacious limpet mines all make this a visually rich game.
The most innovative graphics feature is the use of a split-screen to depict the two commanders' views. A scoreboard is positioned just above mid-screen. Above the board is the Collosus commander's view on the ocean's surface; below the board is the sub commander's view. Both views scroll independently of one another. The sub commander can be to the far right of the ocean (and deep down); and the Collosus commander can be on the surface to the far left. When the two ships are in the same part of the ocean, they are both realistically shown in both views. The split-screen's main asset is an illusion of quasihidden movement which is so essential in a sub / destroyer type of game.
Play begins after choosing the number of players, the time limit, and the playing difficulty. Joysticks allow rapid movement and quick responses especially needed at the higher difficulty Ievels where the depth charges atld homing mines move much faster.
Nautilus is more a strategy game than an arcllde game. [)estroying alld rebuiklillg of underwater cities is the sole scoring criterioll in the galne. No sort of hunter/killer scoring is done. This is unfortunate since an arc.lde game could readily develop at thc higher levels where the action is fast. While the sub commallder has pienty to do, the C ollosus commallder just goes from right to left picking Up and delivering city repair crews, every once in a while dodging the helicopter, and occasiomllly, dropping depth charges in its haste from one shore to the other. T his c.ln get tedious in a short time. Most decisions stem from whether to COntinue dealillg (repair/ destroy) with the cities or where and when to delay your opponent- the difficulty is found in striking the right balallce between these options.
Nautilus is an excellent graphics showpiece, well worth the price. Mike Potter, the programmer, conceived it as a strategy game, and as such it is a fair one-however, with a revision in the scoring, it could easily be a very exciting arcade galne.
17.ST Austin Road
Troy, Ml 48009
Reviewed by Jerry White
K-BYTE has released three new games on ROM cartridges for ATARI 400/800 computers called K-STAR PATROI., K-RAZY KRITTERS, and K-RAZY ANTIKS. All three are the high quality arcade-type games you'd expect from K-BYTE. Although they are a bit expensive, it's certainly a pleasure to just pop in a cartridge and not have to wait for a program to load.
Of these three new releases, my favorite is K-RAZY ANTIKS. The object of this one-player game is to guide your white ant through a maze of tunnels
while avoiding hostile enemy ants, an anteater, and torrential rain floods. You have six ma7es from which to choose~~ and each has 99 levels of play. l seriously doubt that anyone will see level 99 in this decade.
Using a joystick, you guide your ant around the maze laying eggs along the way, and picking up enemy eggs. When an enemy ant is hot on your trail, you can drop an egg that explodes the enemy.
While all this is going On, an anteater will occasionally stick it's long tongue into the top of the maze. If you can position your white ant just ahead of the tongue, you can lure enemy ants into the danger area.
When it rains, the bottom of the maze fills with water, drowning all ants in the lower levels. Floods can be used to your advantage if you can lead the enemy ants toward the bottom as the rain begins, then retreat to the safety of higher levels.
I am not what you'd call an "arcader". I did however find this game to be addictive as well as challenging.