ATARI AROUND THE WORLDAs part of our effort to solicit information from Atari users abroad, ANTIC sent queries to the Atari Users' Groups we could identify outside the U.S. The responses printed here have been edited for language and clarity. In some cases it was difficult to read the name of the correspondent. We apologize for errors and thank you all for your replies. --ANTIC ED
The Fuji Atari Users' Group, which serves the cities of Tokyo and Yokahama, has twenty-some members. Most of them are gamers, even though there are no commercial sources of Atari gameware nearby. And our few business users must endure long mail order delays unless they are able to travel stateside. As you can imagine, the failure of copy- protected software from companies that do not provide backups is more than a mere inconvenience here in Japan. We have no hope of attaining commercial, Japanese-language software or documentation, but we do have Nagata-san.
Nagata Makoto-san is the practicing genius of the Fuji Atari Users' Group. We have other hardware wizards, programming aces, and guiding lights, but Nagata-san always gets the tough questions and is almost always able to answer them. He provides us with the confidence and motivation we need to undertake any project (".. well, I'll try this for now - I can always ask Nagata-san...").
When any cockeyed new concept is introduced, Nagata-san will make it work, whether with a BASIC one-liner or a safety pin. One example is his home-brew Epson printer interface. (Epson printers are cheap and easily available in Japan -- just the opposite of Atari printers. ) Nagata-san learned of someone halfway across the island of Honshu who was interfacing through joystick ports. He then mastered the crucial concepts, helped our hardware specialist make the cables, and assembled the printer-handler himself.
His software includes a bootstrap program that can load a set ofJapanese kana to replace the English characters, and he has adapted several utilities to manipulate this Japanese character set. This has benefitted our club in several ways. For one thing, Atari's Tokyo branch has asked our members to help adapt the Atari to the Japanese market. Atari-Tokyo graciously provides space and refreshments for our meetings as well.
Nagata-san is not above small tasks. In fact, I have yet to hear of a better master of BASIC one-liners. He once gave me a disk of his short utilities that uses three screens for the directory, but still has 500 free sectors. One-liners seem to be second nature to him. Club members often show commercial, published or hand-embroidered software at our meetings, and it's usually a good bet that our practicing genius will recreate their effects, however dazzling, with a single line of BASIC code.
An important aspect of any practicing genius is diversity. Nagata-san knows the Atari's hardware, Operating System (OS) and BASIC cartridge as well as if he had written the documentation for them last week. He also has a good eye for quality software. He recently typed in a music system from a magazine that several other club members saw but ignored. They were anxious to get a copy after he demonstrated the program.
Nagata-san even shows a touch of genius with gameware. For example, we had a copy of Sands of Egypt, an excellent graphics adventure from DataSoft for a limited time. Although a couple of us worked on it for days, we could not escape the desert and find our way to the more interesting images that we knew awaited us. Nagata-san offered to help, even though English is not his native tongue. Not only did he crack the puzzle, he was disappointed that he had not beaten the author's best score.
Perhaps Nagata-san's single greatest characteristic is his "can-do' spirit. His accomplishments embolden all of us to attempt and complete formidable projects. Even in areas where he has no particular expertise, his special point of view often provokes a fresh look at the problem.
Thank you for giving us the opportunity to share some of our Atari experiences with other Atarians around the world. I don't know if all of you will be able to find your own practicing genius, but I do know that ours has been a real blessing.
Fuji Atari Users' Group
We would have been extremely upset if we had not been invited to contribute to the International Issue of ANTIC. Using an Atari computer in Australia is an expensive and often frustrating experience. The differences between the PAL and NTSC computers alone deserve an article, but I don't have the time to write it.
Our users' group in Sydney currently has monthly meetings, a bimonthly publication, a reference library, and special interest groups for adventure gaming and Forth programming, and we're also setting up a bulletin board service.
Atari service here is dismal. The only service center in Sydney employs just one computer technician (and he is often unable to help). Many repair jobs must go to Melbourne, and that means months of waiting.
Some Atari-brand software and accessories are available, but they are substantially overpriced. A limited amount of third-party material is available at one shop in Sydney, but prices are inflated by the 35% import duty and 20% sales tax.
Local goods are few. I know of one game, Shaft Raiders (a Scramble knock- off), and I've heard rumors about "backyard" keyboards and memory boards for the 400.
Atari products are distributed in Australia by Futuretronics Australia Pty. Ltd. Unfortunately, Futuretronics seems to have little concern about the sales, marketing, user support or after-sale service required for computer products. Not only have Atari users in Australia suffered because of this, but thousands of sales have been lost to aggressive companies like Commodore, Texas Instruments, Apple, and Dick Smith electronics (an Australian company).
Due to neglect, many retailers have dropped the Atari, and I know many Atari owners who have tried to sell their machines out of pure frustration. Futuretronics makes no attempt to import third-party software or accessories, a sells the Atari products at super-inflated prices. They also have a high rate of staff turnover, and their only employees who knew anything about the Atari has resigned.
ANTIC is also distributed by Future tronics, and as a result is the most expensive computer magazine around (when you can find it!). One shop sells it (discounted) for $6.00 a copy. Recently a retailer told me that he is expected to sell ANTIC at a lower price than Futuretronics sells it to him.
Some individuals have complained directly to Atari in the U.S., but to avail. Australia is apparently considered to be too small a market to worry about. Believe me, this lament is not puffed or exaggerated in any way. All of my statements can be substantiated with examples that would shatter your lucky U.S. readers. Quite simply, our user group is an oasis in a desert of despair!
Founder and Editor Atari Computer Enthusiasts (N.S.W.)
In defense of Futuretronics, ANTIC notes its aggressive interest to import ANTIC when we were new. The price reflects in part that Futuretronics airships our magazines to Austrialia at its expense. -ANTIC ED.
Home computing is not very well established in Mexico, so those of us who do it in Mexico City are not as exclusive as you seem to be in the U.S. Any computer at all is good enough for our users group, and we're very interested in ways linking together various machines such as the Atari, the Commodore, etc.
We have only one dealer here, and his supply of hardware and software is small. We have also received some help from Atari in the form of information and books.
As far as we know, no special software as yet been developed here in Mexico for the Atari. Our own efforts have been spent trying to bridge the compatibility problems among our various computers. We need all the help we can get, and it would be great if Atari would send someone down here with all of their latest products.
Atari Owners & Users Group
We are very pleased to hear that ANTIC is doing an International Issue. Those of us who receive the magazine are quite pleased with the work you are doing.
The Panama Canal Atari Users' group includes both Atari computer owners in the Republic of Panama and users who are with the U.S. military forces stationed in the Panama Canal. We meet once a month at Panama Canal College, which is located at the Pacific entrance to the canal.
Our club has just welcomed its 100th member! Our goals are to promote friendship and to help owners of Atari computers with their hobby. We also provide an electronic bulletin board service (Balboa 52-2401). We have no affiliation with Atari, and do not receive any support from our local dealer.
The main problems we encounter in this beautiful, tropical land are that disk-drive heads frequently go out of alignment, and RAM and ROM boards often go bad. There is no service facility anywhere on the Isthmus, so most of our gear goes to the U.S. for repair via the mail. Some Atari accessories and software are available locally, but there has been no local development of either software or hardware to date.
We hope that Atari and other American computer companies wake up soon to the fact that there are a number of markets to be developed throughout the world. They should spend some money to see what can be done in other nations. Otherwise Japanese computers will conquer the world while the U.S. sleeps on its laurels.
Dr. Carlos Lam
Panama Canal Atari Users' Group
Our group is made up primarily of people from the Defense Department's school for American dependents here in Wiesbaden. We meet regularly to teach each other about new software, and we also hold demonstrations about computers in action for others in the community.
I know of no local support for Atari computing, but we are entitled to U.S. mail service, so we do most of our computer shopping by mail. Some German shops do carry software, but their prices are very high. Service is also a problem; any information you have about Atari repair service in Germany would be most appreciated.
"The Computer Encounter" organization here developed a fantastic grade book, class schedule and student-attendance program for us. Now we need some double-density disk drives to make use of it.
Wiesbaden, West Germany
There are no serious problems associate with using Atari computers here in Hong Kong. It is relatively easy to understand Atari BASIC, and to operate the system. We also have several stores that sell and service Atari equipment and software and the Atari is very popular here.
In our group, every member is required to write a program each month to share with the other members. We get together once a week to discuss our programs. So far, however, none of our programs are available for sale.
We're glad to hear about ANTIC's interest in Atari use around the world, and are glad to be a part of it.
Hong Kong Atari Club