First Star Software
22 East 41st St.
New York, NY 10017
$29.95, 32K -- cassette & disk
Reviewed by George Adamson
If you've got a burning desire to paint your walls, but don't want to clean up messy rollers or spilled paint, Bristles might be the game for you.
In Bristles, you control a painter whose task is to paint eight different houses in each of six skill levels -- a total of 48 structures. You start with 10 brushes, and must race a clock to finish painting each house. To move between the different levels, you can either climb a ladder or ride an elevator. But be careful not to get caught in an open elevator shaft, or you'll be sent to the bottom of the shaft to start over. If you successfully finish a painting job, you receive two extra brushes.
Don't stand back to admire your work, or you'll be knocked down by "flying half pints" and "dumb buckets," among other dangerous objects that hinder your task and steal your brushes. You also have to contend with "Brenda the Brat," who delights in planting handprints all over your freshly-painted walls. Fortunately, she can be pacified with a candy cane and distracted just long enough for you to repair the damage. But your arch enemy is the Bucket Chucker. He never stops chasing you, but you can trap him temporarily in - believe it or not -- a paint mixer.
After each house is painted, a word or two appear. Complete an entire level, and the words form a message. The messages from all six levels combine to form a challenge that can only be met by the most persistent of gamers.
This game's action is fast and furious. It doesn't get faster in higher levels, though. Instead, Bristles offers more novel challenges, such as painting with varnish (it's invisible!), painting in the dark with only sound to guide you, and having to refill brushes when they run dry. Musical selections from Tchaikovsky's Nutcracker create an appropriate, if somewhat frantic atmosphere for this unique game.
Strategic Simulations, Inc.
883 Stierlin Road, Building A-200
Mountain View, CA 94043-1983
$34.95, 40K -- disk
Reviewed by Edward Bever
You press the joystick button, and a castle appears in the cursor's square. Flags register your redoubt's control of the horizontally and vertically adjacent areas. Your opponent responds by placing a fortification diagonally adjacent. Two enemy flags appear on its far side; your two flags that are now next to both castles disappear. Whether you contest his effrontery by building your next castle nearby or concentrate instead on staking claim to as wide an area as possible, what follows will be a challenging battle of wits in which you alternate with your opponent building and reinforcing your castles. The object of the struggle is to establish control over a majority of the squares in a six by six grid.
Whenever two or more hostile castles occupy horizontally or vertically adjacent squares, the weaker one is eliminated. Because the attacker must have one strength point more than the defender, castles are easier to build than destroy. As the game progresses, the players solidify their control over most of the board while trying to bring superior power to bear on disputed squares. A game of Fortress lasts twenty-one turns, and whoever controls the most real estate at the end wins. A typical game takes only ten or fifteen minutes; tournaments of fifteen-game sets can continue for hours.
Fortress is good entertainment at parties, yet it rewards serious study as well. Two people can play against each other, or you can take on the computer. While two-person games are fun and can be quite challenging, the solitaire version is clearly the program's centerpiece. You can choose between five opponents of differing skill levels and styles of play. These artificial intelligences actually learn from playing against you, and can be saved on disk to fight again. Hence, solitaire games usually are close matches. Novices and young children can enjoy playing against an opponent whose skill and intelligence begin as a blank slate, while strategy game fanatics will be hard put to best an opponent that has honed its skills over the course of almost nine hundred games.
Simple, fast, and well balanced, Fortress should appeal to anyone who enjoys a game that makes you think.
MACHINE LANGUAGE FOR BEGINNERS
P.O. Box 5406
Greensboro, NC 27403
(800) 334-0868 (except NC)
Reviewed by Matthew Ratcliff
If you've considered taking the plunge into machine-language programming, consider Machine Language for Beginners. Author Richard Mansfield assumes that readers are familiar with BASIC, but have no prior knowledge of machine language. Throughout the book, comparisons in BASIC reinforce the machine-language examples. For those accustomed to thinking in BASIC, this approach makes it rather easy to pick up machine-language concepts. The book covers the most popular 6502 microprocessor-based home computers, including the Atari.
The first few chapters introduce the reader to machine-language fundamentals and also explain the monitor from the Assembler Editor cartridge for the Atari. "Appendix C" provides a Simple Assembler BASIC program listing to help you get started. This program allows you to type in, assemble, and run short machine-language examples presented in the text, and is much easier to use than the full-blown Assembler Editor, which beginning machine-language programmers often find confusing. Once you become familiar with machine language on the Simple Assembler, moving up to the Assembler Editor will be much easier.
One of the most difficult machine-language concepts to learn is "addressing," the way in which your computer accesses, transfers and operates on its many bytes of RAM (random-access memory). The text explains machine language's addressing modes with the help of an imaginary post office that routes all packages (bytes) to their proper locations (RAM addresses). This approach is effective and avoids the use of complicated diagrams and flow charts.
Chapters Five and Six explain the 6502's instructions, and present short examples to run on the Simple Assembler. "Borrowing From BASIC" shows you how to use common BASIC commands from machine language. Here, unfortunately, the author does not distinguish between BASIC ROM and Operating System (OS) ROM. The machine-language subroutine addresses in the Atari examples are in OS ROM, not in BASIC-cartridge ROM. They can be used with the Assembler Editor, or any other ROM-RAM configuration, since the OS ROM is never re- moved from the computer. The author overlooks this distinction, but he should have pointed it out because the Atari has removable BASIC ROM, while other machines do not.
"Building a Program" presents complete machine-language listings and explains how they work. It includes a string-search utility for the Atari. Close study of the machine-language program and the USR call format will show you how machine language hooks into BASIC through the USR command.
The last chapter, "Machine-Language Equivalents of BASIC Commands," explains how to execute some of the more common BASIC commands from machine language without the aid of BASIC ROM routines. This will help you tackle your first complete machine-language program.
The book also contains some very helpful appendices. They provide a set of instructions, a quick reference guide and a partial memory map. The Simple Assembler BASIC listing mentioned earlier is followed by a disassembler that allows you to convert the bytes in your computer's ROM back into machine-language commands so that you can see how it works.
The book is definitely for beginners. It doesn't cover arithmetic very well, and it would have been nice to see an advanced programmer's appendix with appropriate routines. Once you become familiar with 6502 machine language, you will not progress much further without the aid of a more advanced manual. I suggest 6502 ML Programming by Lance Leventhal. Because Mansfield's book covers five different computers, it becomes confusing at times and does not delve deeply enough into some subjects. However, Machine Language for Beginners presents the machine-language novice with a very good tutorial in simple, understandable terms.
Hayden Software Co.
600 Suffolk St.
Lowell, MA 01853
$34.95, 16K -- cassette
$34.95, 32K - disk
Reviewed by Fred Pinho
Go is one of the most ancient of board games. In Asia, and particularly in Japan, its popularity surpasses that of chess. While a game of chess involves a single tactical conflict, a game of Go consists of many interrelated battles. The game is played on a 13 by 19 grid, using black and white "stones" as playing pieces. There are many more possible moves in Go than In chess. It's also difficult to quantify the value of each move. As a result, the "brutell force" approach used by programmers to create chess-playing programs doesn't work for this game. There are no expert computer versions of Go.
Unfortunately, this program does nothing to remedy the situation. Many basic Go concepts, such as the forming of two "eyes," or open areas, aren't even in the program's. repertoire. As a result, I cannot recommend GO to any Go player who is beyond the beginner level.
As a general board-game program, I'd rate GO as fair, due mainly to a lack of documentation. What the Atari owner gets is the Apple documentation along with addenda and errata sheets for Atari play. The actual game demonstration consists of five short paragraphs. For a game as rich and complex as Go, this is clearly inadequate. Again, the game's graphics are only fair, although its title screen is attractive. The game board itself is a simple grid. A series of menus allows you to choose various game options. The computer moves quickly, so game play is rapid.
In summar, this game is acceptable only for true lovers of board games and players who are new to Go. This is unfortunate, particularly since Atari's name is taken directly from Go (it's a term of polite warning)
GATEWAY TO APSHAI
1043 Kiel Court
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
$39.95, 16K -- cartridge
Reviewed by David Plotkin
Fantasy role-playing games have long been popular with computer gamers. In this type of game, you use the computer keyboard to guide your onscreen counterpart through various dungeons, caves, and so on, picking up treasure and weapons, and fighting all manner of monsters along the way. Many have shied away from such games in the past because they rely on a complicated method of keyboard entry of commands. But Gateway to Apshai makes this fantasy realm accessible to a whole new audience. It comes in a cartridge form, and doesn't require keyboard input. Instead, you use the joystick to move your player and the fire button to take actions like fighting, unlocking a door, or checking your status. The console keys - [START], [SELECT], and [OPTION]-- call up various status screens and allow you to select items from your supplies.
There are eight levels of play in Gateway, and you can choose from among 16 dungeons each time you enter a new level. You automatically enter a new level after 20 minutes of play, unless you choose to do so sooner. Your score increases as you pick up treasure. You start with five lives, and lose one each time your number of "health" points drops to zero.
The game's graphics and sound are very nicely done. Your warrior and his enemies are well animated, and you can actually hear your sword "swoosh'' through the air. The screen scrolls smoothly as you move to keep our player centered.
Gateway to Apshai is exciting to play, with doors to unlock, and treasures, magic spells, and weapons to pick up. The weapons are most important since you start with only a dagger. Eventually, you'll find swords, shields, and even bows and arrows in the dungeons. Unlike most other games of this sort, the action can become fast and furious. You may be forced to battle as many as three monsters at once in the upper levels.
This combination of role playing and arcade action makes Gateway an exceptional value. Whether you're a dyed-in-the-wool arcade player looking for something different, or a master of role-playing games, I recommend Gateway to Apshai highly.
11480 Sunset Hills Rd.
Reston, VA 22090
$60.00, 48K - disk
Reviewed by Peter Wickman
"Tha . . . Tha . . . Tha . . . That's All Folks!" Porky Pig's familiar postscript still stirs the imagination, conjuring up images of wacky characters who are caught up in an endless round ofsight gags. These rib-tickling routines last only a few minutes, but they are the result of weeks or months of careful planning and execution. Often, tens of thousands of illustrations are needed to tell a story. Each is then photographed separately in sequence with a movie camera and played back at normal speed. The result is an animated movie.
For most of animation's history, this work was done by hand. More recently, gigantic,complex and very expensive computer-animation systems were developed for scientific, and later commercial art purposes. Now, for the first time, an inexpensive, easy-to-use system for developing true animation is available for Atari home computers. Even a young child can use Movie Maker to draw figures, set up individual animation sequences and combine the sequences into a short cartoon. You can even add music and title screens to your creations! If a utility program can be described as being absorbing, this one truly qualifies. You and your children will spend hours experimenting with the many effects made possible by this outstanding package.
This is not a Player/Missile development system. Rather, Movie Maker provides you with the tools needed to draw actors and backgrounds, create titles, and edit and produce sound effects for animated movies.
Movie Maker is a menu-driven program that consists of four utility sub-menus: Compose, Record, Smooth, and Play. In "Compose," you create the shapes (actors) that you wish to animate. Several "paint" functions simplify the process of duplicating and modifying shapes in ways that suggest motion. And a "help bar" across the bottom of the screen provides you with information on the status of various functions. Once you've filled the page with the shapes needed for your animation, you're ready to produce an animation sequence. You're allowed a total of 16 frames per sequence and nine sequences per animation routine in Compose. In the next section, "Record," you can expand these numbers considerably.
The Record section is where everything comes together. Here you control the action of up to six actors by using any combination of prerecorded sequences and moving actors across the background with a joystick. Add sound and titles, and you may have the makings of an Oscar winner. However, since this will probably be your first attempt at animation, your movie may fall short of your expectations. Fortunately, Movie Maker provides you with a selection of powerful editing commands that let you stop action, move forward and backward frame-by-frame, delete material, change the tempo of the action, zoom and change color. All of these commands can be executed "on the fly" (while the action is in progress). Once you're satisfied with the results, the "Smooth" section removes the "flicker" from the finished product. You then use "Play" to display your animated masterpiece.
The program's only real flaw involves its use of sound. You can record only with sounds that are already present on the program disk -- you cannot create new sounds. Other, lesser weaknesses include a few errors in the program's otherwise excellent documentation, and certain limitations on the use of color. Also, an actor can become lost in the background if both actor and background contain the same color.
Movie Maker is a very powerful program, and full master of it requires the concentrated effort of a dedicated animator. However, like all good programs, it allows you to produce pleasing results and to make progress at your own speed.
ANTIC was so impressed with Movie Maker that we asked the Interactive Picture Systems people to design an animated greeting card for us, which they did to the delight of all who have seen it. Since then, IFS has agreed with Koala Technologies Corp. to make version of Movie Maker for use with the Koalapad Touch Tablet. If you own a Koalapad or an Atari Touch Tablet, you may want to wait until that version is marketed, so that you can draw with the tablet rather than with a joystick. --ANTIC ED
RETURN OF HERACLES
21601 Marilla St.
Chatsworth, CA 91311
$32.95, 48K -- disk
Reviewed by Richard Herring
The Return of Heracles is an adventure set in ancient Greece. Accompanied by a 31-page manual of Greek history, it is chock-full of stories about men's attempts to please or circumvent the gods. Oddly, Heracles (more popularly known as Hercules) is not a chacacter. His absence is one of the few mysteries about which the Oracle of Delphi is silent.
Your character can be one of several from Greek mythology, or you can use several heroes at once. Choose the ones you want with your joysticks. Given time (four to eight hours), even a novice player can complete the 12 tasks that are assigned by Zeus. The game challenges you to try to maximize your score by completing tasks in the least number of moves and without losing any of your heroes.
You must guide each of the heroes through dozens of graphics screens. When they are not busy slaying their foes, your heroes will gather treasures to pay for better weapons, armor, and heroic training. A full screen of information on the status of each hero is available. Various other characters also roam through the game. Often, they do not affect the fortunes of your heroes at all, but they sometimes turn the tide of battle.
You will face many dangers from other humans, animals, and the Olympian gods themselves. If you are to finish the game, you'll need a band of heroes who have been carefully selected for the individual strengths they bring to the group. For instance, the Great Ajax has enough brawn to subdue most foes, but Asclepius the physician is most handy to have around after a fight.
Although it's not marketed as an educational game, Return of Heracles contains enough background on Greek mythology to be truly informative. Only a few characters -- the rock man and the bulging blob come to mind - seem to be untrue to the game's roots: the myths of the ancient Greeks. And this program will definitely hook you! My only advice is to avoid the Whirlpool of Charybdis (it not only swept away all of my characters, it also crashed the game!), and to watch for the great graphics screen that is displayed when you finish the game.
THE ARCADE MACHINE
17 Paul Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903
$59.95, 48K -- disk
Reviewed by Richard Herring
The Arcade Machine is a menu-driven program that allows you to create each of the elements of an arcade game and then combine them into a coherent whole. The result will be an auto-boot disk that you are free to share with your friends. Just wait until you see that title page with your name in big, bold letters!
This program gives you an incredible amount of control over the details of your game. Its only major short-coming is that it limits you to one genre -- the Space Invaders, shoot- em-up type. Your man or ship moves around the bottom of the screen and shoots up at an array of aliens or other targets. You can move over the entire screen, but you can only shoot up and down, and you can't restrict your ship's movements to predefined paths. A second player can control a ship at the top of the screen.
Up to five levels are possible in each game, and you can plan entirely new logic at each level. Only four colors are available; they also can be changed at each level. Depending on their size, you can create up to 24 aliens, each consisting of four shapes that are displayed sequentially to create animation. Two different shapes animate your player and the various explosions, and a sophisticated joystick routine enables you to draw game back-grounds on a blank screen. You can also enter text, draw points and automatically create geometric shapes. In addition, you can fill areas with single colors or patterns, and create vertically scrolling star backgrounds by pressing a few keys.
The Arcade Machine offers a wide variety of scoring and logic options. You can put a time limit on a game, or slow it down if it's too fast. Bombs can have various shapes and speeds, can bounce off certain objects, and can be smart or random. Each alien shape can have a different point value, and can be made to mutate rather than disintegrate when hit.
This program makes all the creative work easy. Its eleven menues take you quickly to the specific detail you want to modify. Once you work through the menus, you make some decisions by simply changing numbers in a columnar display, so it's easy to keep track of how a change relates to your game's logic. Separate worksheets, on which you can design shapes and paths, are provided, along with an 87-page manual. Best of all, when you finish your new game, you can submit it to Broderbund. In June, the authors of the six best games submitted will win prizes worth from $200 to $1500.
P.O. Box 3435
Longwood, FL 32750
$49.95, 32K -- disk
Reviewed by Fred Pinho
Ultra-Disassembler is the opposite of an assembler. An assembler translates three-letter commands, or mnemonics, into machine language. A disassombler converts machine language into assembly language, to aid in analyzing and modifying programs. Ultra-Disassembler does this well.
This menu-driven utility accepts machine code from three sources: binary DOS (non-boot) files, disk sectors and the computer's memory. Output can be listed to the screen, a printer or a disk file. Ultra-Disassembler provides standard Atari labels for all documented location within the Operating System.
Disassembled output is structured so that reassembly will produce an exact duplicate of the original object code. The generated source code adheres to Atari Macro Assembler syntax. Other popular assemblers use different conventions for pseudo-operations such as .BYTE and .ORG, so a customizer program is included. However, the customizer lacks the ability to change the equate directive.
Prospective buyers should be aware of a limitation that all disassemblers share, including this one: They have no way of distinguishing text and data from true machine instructions. Thus, output may contain some spurious instructions. It will still assemble properly, but it may be difficult for you to follow the program's logic. Disassemblers cannot do all the work for you. You must have a working knowledge of 6502 assembly language and the Atari Operating System to get full use of this software.
The disk and documentation are packaged in a high-quality padded three-ring binder. The documentation is well-thought-out, and instructions are clearly presented. Beginning with an example, they take you step-by-step through the utility. A discussion of the disassembler's limitations, and means of coping with them, is also included. Numerous examples are provided, and you are warned to make backup copies of the unprotected master disk. This is a thoughtful policy.
On the whole, Ultra-Disassenibler works satisfactorily with no apparent bugs, but certain minor annoyances detract somewhat from its overall performance. For example, error messages are cryptic. After an error, you have to press [RESET] and reenter DOS to reload the program. And the computer locked up when I accidentally tried to load a source file. Despite advertised claims, Ultra- Disassembler isn't really suitable for beginners. However for intermediate to advanced users, I recommend Ultra-Disassembler as a useful and instructive tool.
Sirius Software, Inc.
10364 Rockingham Dr.
Sacramento, CA 95827
$34.95, 48K -- disk
Reviewed by David Faughn
When you first boot the game disk, you may notice a number of similarities between Wavy Navy and Galaxian. However, Wavy Navy has its distinguishing features. Its graphics are more polished than Galaxian's, and the fact that you constantly move up and down on the waves as well as from side-to-side adds to the game's complexity.
Wavy Navy's scenario is a simple one: You are on a P.T. boat that is being tossed about on the ocean. Your objective is to shoot down waves of bombers that march across the sky (as in Galaxian and Space Invaders). Other exciting obstacles include missiles that swoop down upon you, helicopters that try to blast you out of the water, and floating mines that hamper your movements.
You earn points by shooting down the attacking bombers; extra points are awarded if you down an enemy plane during an actual attack run. You also get points for each PT boat left in your armada at the end of a round. If you survive a bombing wave, you advance in rank in increments from "galley slave" to President. But you may have to settle for an intermediate level, such as deckhand or gunner, unless you're prepared to practice long enough to hone your reflexes to a razor-sharp edge.
If you already own Galaxian, you may want to spend your money elsewhere (unless you have a particular fondness for this game genre). But otherwise, you should be aware that Wavy Navy can provide you with many hours of challenging fun.