Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 3, NO. 2 / JUNE 1984

Product Reviews

Atari, Inc.
PO. Box 427
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 745-2000
$200.00, 48K - disk
Reviewed by Joseph Kattan

With the proliferation of new spreadsheet programs for the Atari computers, it's useful to go back and review the original - VisiCalc. It remains a marvelous workhorse even after three years on the market, despite the fact that the Atari implementation lacks some of the features offered by the Apple version. For almost any kind of home financial application, VisiCalc offers a programming environment that's unbeatable.

What exactly is a spreadsheet? It's a matrix made up of rows and columns. Each intersection of a row and a column is called a cell, and can contain text, a number, or a mathematical formula. Its ability to use formulas is what makes the electronic spreadsheet so powerful. For example, you can enter your budget expenditures in one column and use the cells in the adjacent column to calculate the percentage of your income devoted to each budget category. If you change any number in the budget column, the spreadsheet instantly displays new percentages for all categories based on the new number.

In addition to the standard arithmetic functions, VisiCalc finds the highest and lowest numbers in a list, calculates the average of numbers in a list, and looks up numbers in a table. You can use these features to perform sophisticated financial calculations at machine-language speed. Atari VisiCalc lacks the Boolean operators (AND, OR) and conditional statements (IF/THEN) found in other implementations, but for home use, it's more than enough.

VisiCalc isn't as easy to use as prepackaged home accounting programs, because you're required to design both the layout and the formulas used by the program. Because it is not pre-packaged, however, it's infinitely more powerful and flexible than such programs. You can use VisiCalc to balance your checkbook, keep track of credit card purchases, calculate your net worth, do your taxes - the possibilities arc practically limitless. Using VisiCalc does require a minimum amount of programming skill, but it's far easier to prepare a VisiCalc model than to write an equivalent BASIC program.

Who should buy this program? At $200, it is almost as expensive as an Atari 80OXL. Anyone who has need for more than one accounting package, however, would do well to consider buying VisiCalc instead. With a minimum of effort, you can have VisiCalc performing most functions offered by the home accounting packages, and then some. VisiCalc's documentation is superb, and is sufficient to guide even a novice to make the best use of the program.

Synapse Software
5221 Central Ave., #200
Richmond, CA 94804
(415) 527-7751
$34.95, 32K - disk & cassette
Reviewed by James Trunzo

You've stumbled upon an ancient but technically sophisticated training enclave that has stood dormant for centuries. Once used to hone the battle skills of great space warriors, it has, upon your arrival, been reactivated. You must prove your mettle by completing the deadly training course - if you fail, you won't get another chance (unless you restart the game)!

Driving a tank-like vehicle, you maneuver about a pillar-strewn battlefield. Your adversaries in Encounter are of two types. Flying saucers move at random over the field, firing at you from any range. Drones, low-flying missiles that can home in on your position, are the second type of enemy you encounter. While you can, in theory, evade a saucer almost indefinitely (although this is not advisable!), you must destroy a drone immediately to avoid being destroyed yourself.

Once you've rid a level of enemies, a dimensional gate appears as a square black hole on the battlefield. Enter, and you'll find yourself rushing headlonginto a breathtaking, multicolored meteor shower. If you pass through this stage without striking a meteor, you emerge into the next level. There are eight levels in all. Each new level introduces a different landscape, and adds to your enemies' repertoire of nasty tricks.

Encounter's use of graphics and sound is superlative. Your point of view is that from your tank's front windshield, and the illusion of a three-dimensional landscape is made most convincing by the use of the pillars. The color combinations used in the different levels are pleasing to the eye.

To be perfectly honest, I was not impressed with Encounter at first blush. However, the game has grown on me since then, and I can recommend it quite highly. Encounter is one of the most challenging and exciting computer arcade games yet to have appeared in 1984.

by Gary Phillips and Jerry White
The Book Company
11223 S. Hindry Ave.
Los Angeles, CA 90045
(213) 410-9466
Reviewed by Fred Pinho

This Atari encyclopedia, the first of its kind, is a mixed bag. The first 44 pages are devoted to a tutorial for beginners. The encyclopedia section contains definitions of computer terms (both general and Atari-specific) and capsule descriptions of existing commercial software for Atari computers.

The beginner's tutorial contains a number of amply-documented program listings. By typing these in and running them, and by experimenting and observing, the beginner can learn a great deal about how computers work.

The programs cover graphics, the keyboard, use of strings, and other topics. The tutorial combined with the reference material is good enough to constitute a stand-alone text on Atari BASIC. However, you may need to look elsewhere for advanced material on graphics.

The technical entries in the encyclopedia section range in depth from a few cryptic words to a detailed description of a concept, complete with an illustrative program fragment. Thus, the level of computer expertise required to understand an entry varies widely. A reasonably complete memory map is included, along with a list of the changes that are implemented in the 12OOXL. The software descriptions are quite brief, but to the point.

To give you an idea of the book's content, here's a list of a few of the entries: Accessories, ACTION!, Bus, CRC, DOS options, Floating-Point Representation, Hardware vs. Software, PRINT, Relative Addressing, and many, many more.

There are two useful appendices. The first lists software and hardware vendors of products for the Atari, and the second is a comprehensive list of Atari users' groups worldwide.

I'm somewhat ambivalent about this book. Having been a programmer for some time, I would have preferred a more sharply-focused work, with greater emphasis on technical and programming information. For the beginning-to-intermediate computerist, however, this volume fills a real need for an overview of the world of Atari computing. To those individuals, I recommend this book.


MicroProse Software
10616 Beaver Dam Rd.
Hunt Valley, MD 21030
(301) 667-1151
$34.95, 48K - disk or cassette
Reviewed by Gordon Miles

The time has come for you to satisfy your yearnings for high-quality flight simulation. Solo Flight lets you pilot a 1930's-vintage monoplane for the sheer joy of flying, or make airmail deliveries in three states.

Your instrument panel fills the lower half of the screen. It comes complete with altimeter, speedometer, artificial horizon, throttle, flaps, pitch and climb rates, landing-gear controls, fuel gauge, air brakes, engine-temperature meter, compass and two navigational indicators. Wind and weather conditions are also shown. Use your joystick and several keys as controls.

The upper half of the screen reveals the view outside your monoplane's window. Solo Flight is not entirely a first-person simulation, however; from your cockpit you can view your monoplane from behind. When you bank or turn, the monoplane, not the horizon, changes position. This lessens the illusion of reality, but gives you a sense of immediate control over your plane's movements.

In Solo Flight, you soar over Kansas flatlands, travel through the skies above Washington's coastal mountains and cruise above Colorado's snowy eyries. Outlines mark airports, major mountains and towns, and extensive perspective- and color-gradation cues lend a sense of depth to the graphics. A shadow cast by the monoplane adds height cues. The illusion of looking out upon a large world is realized.

You'll enjoy the sensation of flying in this world. The scenery moves by rapidly, and the flight time is not overly long. If you like to tour, you can gaze out the side and rear windows. Although you can't roll or invert your plane, you can dive from 9000 feet and pull out at the last moment, buzz small towns or fly into clouds over mountainous terrain. You can also practice landings, create instrument malfunctions, fly through turbulence or depend solely on your instruments.

Flying in this world is also a good test of your navigational skills. If you don't know your left from your right, or if you can't read maps, Solo Flight can help you. It will also teach you the relationships between aeronautical factors such as pitch, flap lift and throttle power.

Soon, however, you'll tire of flying aimlessly about, and will move on to Solo Flight's airmail delivery game. To play, you must deliver mail to five different airports during deteriorating weather conditions. Meanwhile, you're also hampered by occasional instrument malfunctions. This game is very challenging, particularly when your navigational aids go out, your engine overheats and clouds obstruct your view of the landmarks below. Fortunately, after every landing (or crash) your course is plotted on a map, so you can see where you went astray.

My review copy did not include night-flight or multiple-player options, but it was worth its price even without them. Solo Flight is the first high-quality flight simulation offered for Atari computers.


Penguin Software
P.O. Box 311
Geneva, IL 60134
(312) 232-1984
$19.95, 32K - disk
Reviewed by Mark Cotone

First came The Spy's Demise, a deceptively simple-looking game in which your task was to make several uninterrupted trips to the top of a 12-story building. So far, only four people have solved the puzzle at the heart of the game.

Now the sequel, The Spy Strikes Back, has been introduced. It's another game of espionage hide-and-seek, with another impossible code to crack.

The action takes place in the converted castle of Dr. Xavier Tortion, an international terrorist who intends to nuke a major population center. Your mission is to move through the castle, avoid guards, pick up and decipher pieces of coded information, and use this knowledge to find the bomb's hiding place. Pretty simple, eh?

Each of the castle's five floors is divided into 24 guarded sections. Each section fills one screen, and contains 16 rooms. You move your spy from screen to screen, trying to locate Allied spies who will provide you with necessary instructions.

You can easily learn the skills involved in moving your spy and eluding the guards. But the decoding sequence will severely tax the amateur cryptographer. So, while arcade demons with well-honed reflexes may be able to traverse the castle's many sections unscathed, they may not have the patience required to unravel the secret code. On the other hand, puzzle-minded players may become bored, or frustrated, by the repetitive chore of travelling through the castle to pick up clues. The game's virtues tend to appeal to rather specialized audiences.

As a sales incentive, Penguin Software has announced The Spy Strikes Back Contest. "The first person in each state, Canadian province, or country to solve the coded puzzle will win $100 worth of software." I wonder if anyone will win.

20660 Nordhoff St.
Chatsworth, CA 91311-2750
(213) 709-1202
$34.95, 32K - disk
Reviewed by Steve McLeod

Pinball Construction Set, move over! Here's another game that lets you build new computer game screens without ever touching the keyboard.

Mr. Robot is the hero of this action arcade game. His job is to roam the different levels of each screen (there are 22 on the disk), and collect the power pills buried in the floors. Each screen is harder than the one before.

Your joystick is also a hero, because you can use it to design new levels as many as you like. Among the types of building blocks available are ladders, escalators, fire poles, transporters, trampolines and treadmills.

You can also build floors out of time bombs. As Mr. Robot passes over them, the fuses light and they explode in less than a second. If Mr. Robot is positioned over one when it explodes, he's not only blown to Kingdom Come, but he also loses a life.

In short, Mr. Robot and His Robot Factory has more action in it than three or four of the leading maze games combined.

When you enter the Robot Factory, you're presented with a blank screen; your building blocks are arrayed at the bottom of the screen. You can pick up an element and place it anywhere on the screen by using your joystick. And, if you like, you can easily "paint" an element over a large area. You also can play-test your screens, save them to disk, and string them together to create your own, personalized Mr. Robot saga.

The Robot Factory is easy to use, but the games aren't easy to win, particularly if you use time bombs and the alien fire monsters that follow Mr. Robot and try to gobble him up. He has a limited amount of time to complete each screen. Well-designed screens combine action and strategy to create a really frantic pace.

I played Mr. Robot for hours without tiring of the game. If a screen became a bit too familiar, I played another or designed my own. You may find that the best game screens are the ones you create.

Microbits Peripheral Products
225 West 3rd St.
Albany, OR 97321
(503) 967-9075
$49.95, 16K - cartridge
Reviewed by George j. Adamson

As the ranks of computer owners grow, more and more people are discovering the wonders and intricacies of electronic filing, or data base management. Unfortunately, new users tend to be intimidated by the complexity of data base programs, and those who lack a disk drive have been cut off from the phenomenon completely,

Microbits Peripheral Products has remedied this situation somewhat with its new cartridge-based data base program, MicroFiler. The program works well with cassette-based systems, and eliminates the need for disk swapping on a one-drive system.

What makes MicroFiler so useful is its simplicity and versatility. You can use it to create mailing lists, inventories, club rosters, checkbook balances, and index-card files, and to print labels and lists. The manual makes it easy for you to create a customized data base. just type in labels wherever you want them on the screen, followed by data fields whose length you choose. By the way, a field can be defined as numeric, for use in computation.

The number of records that you can fit in one data base depends on the size of the fields in each record. In a 48K machine, I found that the use of a one-line, 36-character field in the record allows 1037 records, a two-line field allows 518 records, and a three-line field allows 352 records. When I created a three-line check-balancing data base that showed the date, a 28-chamcter field for the payee, and the amount, I had room for 776 records.

The process of entering data is simplicity itself. The "Retrieve" command displays a set of prompts - Forward, Backward, Rest, and Search. (You can search any field by entering a character string to be located.) Retrieve also lets you use the commands Change, Print, Delete, Sum (to add or subtract numeric fields), and Average (to find the average of each numeric field).

A unique feature of this program is that a file's size is limited to the computer's memory capacity. This allows the rapid retrieval and storage of data, but limits you to one file per disk. You can easily transfer your data-entry screen to a new disk, though. And cassette owners can store several files on a single cassette.

MicroFiler's limited file space makes it unsuitable for full-scale business use, but it is well-suited to the typical Atari hobbyist's needs. Because of its versatility, most users will find it unnecessary to buy additional data base programs.

by Gary W. Orwig and William S. Hodges
Little, Brown Microcomputer Bookshelf
200 West St.
Waltham, MA 02154
(617) 890-0250
(800) 343-9204
Reviewed by, David Plotkin

The Computer Tutor: Atari is a collection of programs written both in Atari BASIC and Atari Microsoft BASIC, designed to provide computer-assisted instruction (CAI). While, in general, the programs don't make use of the Atari's special graphics and sound features, they are easy to enter and debug, work well, and offer some insight into BASIC programming techniques.

The Computer Tutor offers a wide range of instructional programs, including math, spelling, nations' capitals, memory tests, a story writer, and a series of simulations including the stock market, acceleration, and ballistics. All programs are presented both in Atari BASIC and Microsoft BASIC. Instructions for each program are printed in large, easy-to-read type, and listings are REMarked well to aid in understanding the program. Also, as a debugging aid, sample runs are included for each program. Suggestions for modifying the programs are also included.

The Computer Tutor presents quite a well-rounded sampling of CAI-type programs. As mentioned, the programs don't use graphics or sound, so you might wish to dress them up somewhat. Fortunately, the authors address this contingency well by including an appendix of graphics and sound routines. It's easy to supplement any of the BASIC programs with one or two of these subroutines. They're still not that fancy, but they are quite short. Anyway, who needs flashy graphics in CAI, especially at the cost of having to enter long, difficult listings. The Computer Tutor presents a well-balanced mix of interesting programs, and is a good buy for households with children and early teenagers.

Carousel Software, Inc.
877 Beacon St.
Boston, MA 02215
(617) 437-9419
S34.95, 24K - disk
$34.95, 16K - cassette
Reviewed by Vincent Puglia

Many of today's educational programs for preschoolers have two major drawbacks. Either they neglect the nonreader, or they fail to allow the child to explore on his or her own. Such is not the case with Telly Turtle, a programming language for drawing. By providing icons (pictographic symbols) and an open environment, the program encourages even the youngest computerist to learn programming, and much more., with minimal direction from an adult.

Telly Turtle is based on Logo's turtle graphics, but all manipulation is done with a joystick. The child selects a drawing function and a color from the row of icons at the bottom of the screen. To draw rectangles, squares and other figures, the child simply alternates between a straight-arrow icon and one of two turn arrows. Among the 11 icons on the first level, four indicate direction, four select colors, one "lifts" the pen from the drawing surface, and one is a Clear and Home symbol.

Telly Turtle's best feature is that it isn't easily outgrown by a child. As the user becomes familiar with the program, he or she graduates from simple commands that are executed immediately to fairly complex procedures that must be fully programmed before execution. There are four levels of complexity, each building on the preceding level. level Two painlessly introduces the concept of looping. level Three introduces programming in the indirect mode. The fourth level is almost a full-blown programming language, complete with nested loops, editing features, and I/O (input/output) commands. As with all programming languages, Telly Turtle has limitations. However, you would be hard-pressed to find a language more suitable than this for teaching good programming techniques to your preschooler. If you buy this program, I strongly recommend that you let your child explore it on his or her own as much as possible. After all, every programmer has the right to learn that a program line that says "10 GOTO 10" won't go far.

Penguin Software
P.O. Box 311
Geneva, IL 60134
(312) 232-1984
$19.95, 32K - disk
$19.95, 16K - cassette
Reviewed b y Richard Herring

I'm sure you've seen the IBM commercial on TV in which a Chaplinesque character runs along a conveyor belt and tries to ice and box cakes before they reach the end of the line. Despite his frantic efforts, all of the cakes crash to the floor. The frustration Charlie feels approximates the feeling you get when you play PIE MAN.

Each time a whistle on the oven blows, a pie emerges onto a conveyor. Your baker must top each pie with whipped cream and a cherry (found in bins across the room), and must then carry it to the pie bin. During this time, of course, the conveyor keeps on rolling, and new pies appear.

While your baker attempts to save the pies, obstacles such as grease spills, flour sacks and a troublesome baker, who periodically runs through the kitchen with a precariously balanced load of pastries, appear. They block your baker's path between the bins and the conveyor.

Throughout the game, which lasts until seven pies have fallen off the conveyor, a series of seven melodies (from "Strawberry Blonde" to "Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight") entertain you. If you toggle the music off, the game's other sound effects remain in effect.

PIE MAN is one of those rare games that does not duplicate another arcade or computer game. Novelty and an amusing musical score are its strong points. Lasting play value, however, is not PIE MAN's forte. Everyone at my house enjoyed PIE MAN, but after several rounds we all decided to move on to a new game or back to an old favorite.