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

product reviews

Walt Disney Productions
500 S. Buena Vista St.
Burbank, CA 91521
(213) 840-1000
(800) 423-2555
(except CA and Hawaii)
(213) 840-1726
(call collect from CA and Hawaii)
$44.95, 32K -- diskette

Reviewed by Rhonda Holmes

Mickey in the Great Outdoors consists of four engaging learning games that incorporate the fun of Mickey Mouse into an outstanding educational program. Seven young "consultants," aged six through eleven, helped me come to this conclusion. The program is officially targeted at children from seven to ten years old.

"Mickey Goes Hiking" includes two games that teach language skills. The object of the first game is to help Mickey successfully complete a journey. To do this he must, first of all, climb a series of stepping stones by completing several five-word sentences. The correct missing word for each sentence is hidden in one of the clouds floating along the top of the screen. By making Mickey shoot an arrow into the right cloud, you enable him to finish his trek, which leads him across a stream. All the children enjoyed this game and played it well.

The second game, in which four letters are rearranged to spell a word, was not as easy. The six and seven year olds had an especially tough time with it. However, it is a game that encourages a player to continue, and a player's skills can grow with practice.

The goal of the first game in "Mickey Goes Exploring" is to complete a mathematical equation. You must help Mickey catch the butterfly that carries the correct number of mathematical operation. The six, seven, and eight year olds I tested did better with addition and subtraction than with multiplication. With practice, however, they can learn their multiplication and division; the computer provides the correct answer after two mistakes have been made. It also gives you an easier problem to try following an error. By the way, the game's graphics are enchanting.

The final game covers more complex logic problems. You are asked to complete a pattern of numbers (e.g., 12, 24, 36, 48, etc.) Delightful graphics again appear as you try to help Mickey choose the correct answers. This activity stumped the older Children; they needed adult help to solve the higher numbered patterns.

Each of these games has several levels of difficulty; either the characters movements speed up or the length of the time limits decrease. The first three games, especially offer a choice of hundreds or even thousands of words or operations that provide neat challenges each time you play.

"Mickey in the Great Outdoors" can offer hours of play and, at the same time, help a child to develop a number of essential learning skills.

Microbits Peripheral Products
225 W. Third St.
Albany, OR 97321
(503) 967-9075

Reviewed by John Weber

The Microbits 1000C is a modem that can be used without an 850 interface. The 1000C comes complete with a cable designed to plug into joystick port 2 of your Atari. It weighs less than eight ounces. Although it was built to operate at 300 baud, you can set rates as low as 100 or as high as 450 to accommodate computers that use a nonstandard rate.

The 1000C modem comes with a terminal program, Smart Terminal, in ROM cartridge form. Some of the program's features include upload/download capabilities, a choice between full or half-duplex, and auto-dial /auto-answer.

Its auto-dial/auto-answer feature sets the 1000C apart from other low-priced modems. You can store up to nine phone numbers on cassette or disk and let the computer dial them for you. You can also set the program to auto-answer, a capability you'll especially appreciate if you want to set up an electronic mail-box or bulletin board.

In addition, the 1000C lets you download directly to a disk or printer, thus bypassing your Atari's RAM buffer. This is an effective way to retrieve large files. You can also store data in as many as nine RAM buffers; this feature allows you to store multiple files in memory simultaneously. Data can be transferred from these RAM buffers to cassette, disk or printer.

Smart Terminal incorporates Ward Christensen's XMODEM protocol. As a result, it lets you send or receive files in any format -- including tokenized BASIC and binary -- without appending extraneous control codes. These control codes necessary with less sophisticated software often cause obscure load problems.

MPP's 1000C modem comes with clearly written 20-page manual, as well as a one-year warrenty and a free one-hour subscription to the Source. If you've been waiting for a direct-connect modem at a good price with software included, then this may be the modem for you.

Macrotronics, Inc.
1125 N. Golden State Rivd., Suite G
Turlock, CA 95380
(209) 667-2888

Reviewed by Dick Slavens

Amateur, or "ham,'' radio operatos who own Atari personal computers can now see RTTY (radioteletype) and Morse Code messages translated right on their monitor screens. The reason: the RM1000 Radio Modem, a hardwar/software package designed for both novice and advanced users.

The hardware consists of a box with cables that interface with your Atari via joystick ports 1 and 2, and with a short-wave radio (carrying the audio signal from your radio to the modem). The front panel of the box holds the power switch, a LED tuning indicator, and four status indicators. The back panel has connectors for I/O and power, and has been silkscreened so that its pins can be easily identified.

You must order the RM400 accessory package to obtain the correct software and interface cable for the Atari 400/800 computer. The price of this software/cable package is $59 for the disk or cassette version, or $99 for the ROM cartridge version.

Since the Atari XL-model computers require that you load the Translator disk before using this software, XL owners should purchase the disk version of the RM400 accessory package. The cartridge version can be used on a 16K RAM machine, and, except for a limited "auto-answer" capability includes the same features as the cassette and disk versions.

When you load the RM400 software, you first see a three-window display. The top window, a six-line multipurpose area, includes a type-ahead buffer display, a preprogrammed message display, and a break-mode buffer. The next three lines constitute a status display; they display the time, status, transmit and receive words-per-minute (wpm), and the amount of unused buffer space. The remaining 15 lines are used to view the transmission. If you hear a Morse Code station on your ham radio, select the Morse Code mode and tune in the station; the decoded text will appear in the "online" window. The RM400 software uses an auto-speed and character/Morse- Code-receive algorithm with a variable noise threshold. It also uses high-quality filters. As a result, even poor receivers yield good results. And using RTTY is just as easy; in fact, in RTTY mode the RM1000 modem was able to translate signals that I was not able to hear.

The RM1000 Radio Modem comes with excellent documentation, which includes a 77-page manual and a quick reference card. One chapter in the manual is devoted to "Detailed Interfacing" for ham transmitter operationl. For hardware buffs, the manual's "Theory of Operation" section features both block diagrams and a large foldout schematice.

Anchor Automation
6913 Valjean Ave.
Van Nuys, CA 91406
(213) 897-6493

Reviewed by Matthew Ratcliff

The Volksmodem is a basic 300-baud, direct-connect modem. It features a talk/ data switch, which also acts as a power switch, as well as a switch for full/half duplex. It automatically selects whether it's in answer or originate mode. This modem does not offer auto-dial or auto-answer capabilities, therefore it cannot be used as a Bulletin Board Service.

The Volksmodem connects directly to the phone jack, and the phone connects to the modem. As a result, you can use it with any kind of telephone, including the new, one-piece models without detachable handsets.

The Volksmodem gets power from the telephone line. If the line voltage should drop unexpectedly, it uses a nine-volt battery for backup power, a nice design touch. The basic Volksmodem does not include a cable, so Atari owners must purchase either a 'C' or an 'F' cable available from Anchor. If you have an 850 Interface or its equivalent, you can use the less expensive 'C' cable ($12.95). If you don't have an 850, you must use the 'F' cable ($39.95). The 'F' cable connects the Volksmodem directly to joystick port 2 of your Atari computer. The Volksmodem with the F cable cable can used with all Atari computers. Cassette based terminal software comes with the 'F' cable.

My Volksmodem worked perfectly the first time I used it, and I've found it to be quite reliable. It comes with a lifetime warranty, which makes it more attractive than many, more expensive modems that offer only 90-day warranties. With Volksmodem, Anchor has produced an affordable modem that should provide years of dependable service.

19808 Nordhoff Plack
Chatsworth, CA 91311
(213) 701-5161
$99.95, 48K -- disk

Reviewed by James Dearner

In the 1950's, computer scientists at M.I.T. created LISP (short for LISt Processing) to use in their artificial intelligence (AI) research. In LISP, the programmer works with symbolic expressions that are composed of atoms (word-like strings) and lists (groups of atoms). LISP's functions allow you to manipulate these symbolic expressions, and even to define new functions for the language.

Datasoft's version of LISP, INTER-LISP/65, is a subset of LISP (described by Winston and Horn in LISP, 1981). The INTER-LISP/65 package contains this book, an excellent introduction to the language, an 86-page manual, and a disk that includes LISP as well as several demonstration and utility programs.

The language itself consists of over 40 LISP functions, including CAR, CDR, ATOM, LAMBDA and LENGTH. Also included are functions that let you access Atari's sound and graphics capabilities, and give you direct access to memory. There are also functions for I/O (input/output), including random access with disk drives.

An impressive LISP editor is also included. LISP uses mamy parentheses within parentheses, and these can quickly befuddle almost any programmer. The editor, once you understand its workings, makes changing LISP expressions much simpler. This is one of the finest editors I've seen for any language.

If you're experienced with LISP, you can use the manual to find any differences between this version and the one you're familiar with. However, there is no tutorial material. If you're just learning the language, you'll find yourself frequently referring to both the manual and Winston and Horn.

Overall, this is an excellent implementation of LISP, but it isn't fully compatible with implementations for other systems. The MACLISP simulator that comes with INTER-LISP/65 simulates some of the missing functions. However, as these are only simulations (and one doesn't work), it still won't be fully compatible.

If you're new to computers, you will need patience and perserverance to master this language. If you're familiar with BASIC or FORTRAN, you'll need to break some old habits and learn to love (( )). I, for one, am sold on LISP and on this implementation. Even though it's not perfect -- it's quite slow -- INTER-LISP/65 is a good introduction to artificial intelligence and to programming that interacts naturally with people. It provides a programming environment rich in power and elegance.

Broderbund Software, Inc.
17 Paul Dr.
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 479-1170
$34.95, 48K -- diskettte

Reviewed by Bryan Welch

A number of computer games use the jump and climb theme: you know, you've got to maneuver your man through a screen filled with girders, ropes, ladders, and just about anything else the game's designer could dream up. Lode Runner follows this trend, but also includes many original elements that make it worth looking at more closely.

The object of the game is to collect all the treasures on each level of a mine and escape without being caught by the guards. You do this by weaving your man in and out of the girders, bars, and ladders that fill the screen. The relentless guards would easily catch you if you didn't have one means of defense: a laser drill pistol. With it you can dig holes and passageways in the brick girders. If a guard falls into a hole, he's trapped -- leaving you a split second in which to escape!

The gameplay of Lode Runner is fairly simple, but if you want to see the upper levels you'll have to use your wits. Each screen is totally unique, and requires a different strategy. However if you play the levels in order (there is a way to cheat and start on the upper levels, but your name won't be put on the high scorce list if you do), you'll find you can develop better stratcgies to overcome each set of obstacles. This is one of the reasons that just about anyone can play Lode Runner. It may also explain why it's so addicting.

As if the 150 levels included with the game weren't enough to keep you occupied, Lode Runner also includes a "game generator" that allows you to create your own screens. Once you know how to use this feature, only your imagination limits what you can accomplish. And this is where Lode Runner's great documentation really helps. It is clear and complete, and does an excellent job of teaching you how to take advantage of the many features of both the game and the game generator.

Lode Runner successfully combines strategy and arcade action. Your score depends on technique rather than solely on the speed of your trigger finger. This makes it fun for everyone, not just for expert game players. So if you like strategic action games with lots of extra features (and who doesn't) you'll Lode Runner.

Box 3558
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
(919) 493-8596
$69.95, 48K -- disk

Reviewed by Harvey Bernstien

Barred from every casino in Ias Vegas, Ken Uston is known and feared in casinos throughout the world. Prior to becoming a writer in the microcomputer field, he was renowned as a professional blackjack player and card counter. He now brings his considerable expertise to the realm of the Atari computer with his new game, Ken Uston's Professional Blackjack.

This menu-driven program offers you a number of options. For example, you can play according to the house rules of any casino in the world, or you can set up your own rules; you can also practice on either of two drill modules -- one on card counting and another on betting strategy.

In addition to the basic documentation, Ken Uston's Professional Blackjack includes a lengthy booklet that explains blackjack's rules and strategy, and why it's easier to win at blackjack than at other card games. It also offers four progressively complex betting and cardcounting systems, from Basic Strategy (if you just want to break even) to Advanced (for the aspiring blackjack professional).

The important question is: Does it work? In a recent try-out in Las Vegas, I used Uston's second most advanced betting/counting strategy. After four hours of play, I Ieft Las Vegas $170 richer.

Of course, the program can't guarantee that you'll win -- gambling is, after all, a gamble. It does, however, give you a slight edge over the house, provided that you're a pretty good player to begin with.

At $70 Ken Uston's Professional Blackjack is too expensive for someone who's simply looking for a computerized card game. But if blackjack is your game and Vegas your town, I recommend this package.

Spinnaker Software Corp.
215 First St.
Cambridge, MA 02142
(617) 868-4700
$39.95, 48K -- disk

Reviewed by George J. Adamson

Trains is a computerized simulation that transports kids of all ages back to the golden age of the Iron Horse in the Old West. It allows the fantasy railroad tycoon to expand his or her empire without taking over the living room. This game may appeal more to adults who grew up in the era of the Lionel electric train than to youngsters who are more familiar with Ms. Pac Man. After all, shunting a train back and forth electronicly -- with a joystick as throttle -- to align a particular car with a particular section of track can be frustrating as operating the most idiosyncratic electric train. Railroad buffs should find it well worth the trouble, though.

Unlike a model railroad set, Trains teaches you about economics of railroad operations as well as the mechanics. As the owner/engineer of a CivilWar-era steam locomotive, you're faced with tough decisions worthy of such legendary railroad moguls as Jay Gould and Commodore Vanderbilt.

To keep the railroad operating and expanding, you must be served and goods shipped, from oil well to refinery, from logging camp to sawmill, from farm to market, from mine to factory. The locomotive's tender must be kept full of coal and train crews must be paid regulary. And, just to keep things interesting, unpredictable work stoppages and strikes are thrown in to add a touch of realism.

The game opens with an attractive animation sequence that shows a hi-res train meandering across a Western desert and through a tunnel. Eight settings are included: two each in the desert, the mountains, the plains, and the city. Famous western towns such as Durango, Leadville, Silverton and Colorado Springs are represented, and you're given an aerial view of the track at each level. If you switch the train to a spur line, the disk drive is activated and a new scene appears.

If you're interested in the legacy of the Old West and its railroads, and want to learn more about them, you'll enjoy Trains. It's one of my personal favorites, and occupies a valued niche in my library of games.

Sierra On-Line
Sierra On-Line Building
Coarsegold, CA 93614
(209) 683-6858
$34.95, 48K - disk

Reviewed by Bryan Welch

You are a dwarf wizard who must rid the world of evil by destroying the wicked Mondain. Before this, however, you must travel far and wide to gain wisdom and experience. During your journeys over land and water, as well as through space and time, you'll visit cities, castles and dungeons; meet monsters, clobber skeletons and wipe out bats, and earn both gold and experience.

But, beware! Thieves, necromancers and jesters will complicate your mission. Be prepared to spend days, weeks, or even months on your quest. The only way to destroy Mondain is to steal a valuable gem that's in his possession; getting if from him is the games's real challenge.

But you don't have to be a wizard to enjoy Ultima I. You can choose to be a human adventurer, an elf fighter, or a hobbit thief instead. The program lets you create your own "hero."

The game begins in medieval times. You're armed at first with primitive daggers, swords and magic spells, but as the game proarcsses and you gain experience, updated modes of travel and warfare, including laser weapons, are made available to you. You move on a scrolling map that contains symbolic figures. These figures leave a lot -- maybe too much -- to your imagination. This may be a disappointment to those of you who are accustomed to arcade-style graphics. Also, all of Ultima's cities and castles have identical layouts, some differentiation here would have made the game more interesting. But its playability more than makes up for these graphic weaknesses.

Ultima takes a long time to play so its save feature comes in handy. However, multiple disk exchanges are required to save and load the game, which makes these procedures somewhat cumbersome. In spite of these minor drawbacks, I became addicted to this game because of the many variables and new discoveries it contains. I heartily recommend that adventure gamers include Ultima 1 in their permanent library.