BUY A SCHOOL FOR YOUR HOME
(A Prentice-Hall Company)
11480 Sunset Hills Rd.
Reston, VA 22090
Reviewed by Jim Wiese
This book is designed "to help Parents enhance the education of their
children at home" with, Atari computers. It also includes reference
lists of software manufacturers, Atari user groups and computer camps.
Most useful is a review of over 100 software products for Atari computers. The programs are rated for instructional value, enjoyability and technical quality by both kids and adults-with results that often vary widely between the generations.
Equipment requirements for each program are listed in the reviews (disk, cassette, joysticks, amount of memory). The reviews are arranged alphabetically,, which would slow things down if you're looking for software about specific subjects.
At least every review indicated if the software was educational or recreational, and if it was for pre-schoolers or children in the elementary grades.
The best part is a capsule commentary at the end of each review describing the good points and bad points of the software. A rating system labels the best programs "Hall of Fame" and shows a picture of a sleeping computer user with the worst programs.
The opening third of the book is a grab-bag of 10 articles written by a variety of authors and educators. The topics include educational theory for teaching elementary-grade and preschool children, and the educational benefits of adventure games.
There are descriptions of promising educational experiments like the ComputerKid Project. As a science educator, I was pleased to see information for helping parents choose appropriate educational software to meet their children's specific needs, as well as a reminder that the computer is simply a high-tech educational tool, not a cure-all.
A chapter on arcade games has a frank appraisal of the positive and negative effects of videogames. Is their violence harmful for the child? Do they foster negative social behavior? Are they addictive? The book tackles a controversial issue and gives pause for thought. Buy A School For Your Home is recommended for parents and teachers who are just beginning with Atari computers.
8295 S. La Cienega Blvd.
Inglewood, CA 90301
Reviewed by Bill Lukeroth
Chatterbee is a spelling game with a twist: it literally talks to you. Thanks to a customized version of the S.A.M. all-software speech synthesizer, Chatterbee is able to test your spelling ability the same way a real teacher does. A typical exchange sounds like this:
Chatterbee says, "Spell nest. The bird built a nest.
The user types: N E S T
Chatterbee says, "You are right!"
Note that Chatterbee gives you the word and an example of its use, and
congratulates you for spelling it correctly. If you misspell it Chatterbee
repeats the word and the context, and gives you another chance. You
get three chances, after that Chatterbee gives up and shows you how to
spell the word. You can also get it to spell the word by pressing
[ESC] and you can hear the word and context again by pressing [OPTION].
Chatterbee has 25 levels, the first 16 of which correspond to first grade through the fourth year of college. A "game" consists of ten rounds of five (or optionally ten) words each. If you're a fast typist and don't make any mistakes, a game takes about 15 minutes to play.
Chatterbee's S.A.M. voice is-well, unique. Most of the time it sounds something like a robot trying to imitate Bela Lugosi with a bad cold. At times it also sounds like a robot Inspector Clouseau or some sort of alien being. For example, "snow" sounds like "skgo", "sand" sounds like "sad", and "The cashier took the money" sounds like "The casher took the mommy." At first, about 15 per-
cent of what Chatterbee said was totally unintelligible to me, but after an hour's practice I was able to understand almost everything.
Unfortunately, the ability to understand Chatterbee seems to be directly related to how much exposure you've had to accents. After an hour's practice my children still thought it was talking gibberish about 10 percent of the time. To be fair about it, the fact that S.A.M. is able to produce speech that's intelligible even 90 percent of the time is one of the great programming feats of the decade, especially since the voice is generated entirely by software (no additional hardware is required).
The most serious problem with Chatterbee (other than the fact that a few of the words are misspelled) is that it really isn't a game at all, but simply a thinly disguised drill. As drills go it's an excellent one, but it's not the kind of game that most kids are going to rush home to play. After spending five minutes with the program my six-year-old announced that he was "very bored" and promptly fled the scene. His twelve-year-old sister lasted only ten minutes longer. I really don't blame them. You can't expect kids that have grown up on Star Raiders and Pac-Man to be held spell-bound by a game that has no story-line, no antagonist, little action and no real object.
In short, Chatterbee is an excellent learning tool for self-motivated adolescents and adults. If you're buying it for children it's still a good investment, but be prepared to spend some time helping and encouraging them.
215 First St.
Cambridge, MA 02142
Reviewed by John & Mary Harrison
Delta Drawing is a turtle graphics language simple enough for
our children to enjoy and rich enough for us to find challenging.
Unlike other turtle graphics implementations, the Delta turtle responds
to single letter commands: D for Draw, E for Erase, R for Right, L for
Left, etc. And there is no penalty for pressing a nonfunctioning
Merely by pushing a few keys, our three-year-old can actually make the computer do something. He likes that. Our seven-year-old has learned to plan her pictures and is becoming aware of how small ideas can lead to big results. These works of art (stick men can be beautiful) can then be saved on disk and called up for later display.
It would be misleading to think of Delta Drawing as just a fancy doodling program in color. It is an excellent introduction to the whole concept of programming. Simpler than Logo, it appeals to children too young to spell as well as older children and adults. A maximum of four turtles can be displayed and moved simultaneously. This teaches symmetry while producing striking and sometimes unexpected results. Other features include the ability to enlarge, shrink, or reverse pictures using simple commands. Up to nine pictures can be developed and saved in a process that is transparent to the user. These procedures are named X1 to X9 automatically by Delta Drawing as they are saved. The user references one of
these procedures by calling its name as another Delta command. The Editor provides a text mode for the creation and editing of Delta programs without redrawing the entire picture.
The packaging and documentation are excellent. All of Spinnaker's products are packaged in firm reusable plastic boxes which encourage proper care. The documentation consists of a small spiral-bound book and a quick reference card. Each of the commands is illustrated in step-by-step examples that fully describe the capabilities of Delta Drawing. Thus it is possible to be creating exciting visual displays while still learning how to use the program.
Delta Drawing is a powerful education tool. It is not intended to replace BASIC or Logo, but can be used effectively to lay a firm foundation for the future study of these and other languages. Drawing pictures is fun. By the use of simple commands, Delta Drawing encourages organizational skills and procedural thinking even in the very young. It is well worth the purchase price.
LITTLE RED RIDING HOOD
310 W Franklin
Chapel Hill, NC 27514
Reviewed by Bill Lukeroth
Little Red Riding Hood falls short of its claims to be an "interactive
and educational" bedtime story that uses the S.A.M. software voice synthesizer
for narration and the Edumate light pen for input.
Actually Red Riding Hood does little to involve children in what is a simple narrative story "Interaction" occurs only occasionally as the story pauses and requires you to touch the screen with the light pen or to push the joystick button to continue.
There are no decisions, no questions and no alternatives to involve you while running this product with its crude graphics and the thick accent of S.A.M. It is difficult to see how this software is an improvement over traditional non-computerized storybooks.
Following the "story telling" are three allegedly educational games-simple "find the letter" games that are no improvement over similar public domain games widely published in computer magazines. Two games don't even bother to keep score.
I doubt that Red Riding Hood would interest any child old enough to master the light pen. I think the money might be better spent on a good storybook and a subscription to Antic.
READING COMPREHENSION SKILLS & LEARN ABOUT WORDS
American Educational Computers
2450 Embarcadero Way
Palo Alto, CA 94303
Reviewed by James Trunzo
American Educational Computers has a series of new programs in the language
arts area, an area surprisingly neglected in teaching software.
Two of the programs released in the Easy Reader Series are Reading Comprehension Skills and Learn About Words. Each package offers a wide variety of programs on a double sided disk, with every program addresssing a particular topic.
Reading Comprehension (grades 1 to 3) consists of eight individual programs such as Main Ideas, Sequence of Events, and Cause and Effect . Learn About Words (grades 2 to 4) is a nine Program package covering such diverse topics as prefixes, suffixes, root words, syllabication and more.
One strength lies in the number of different ways an area is approached. For example, when working in the Main Ideas segment of Reading Comprehension, one might be asked to (a) select a title for a short paragraph, (b) find the main idea among three related sentences, (c) answer questions on a short paragraph, or (d) answer questions on a long paragraph.
In addition, the two programs offer both audio and visual reinforcement for correctly achieving a goal (giving
a certain number of correct answers consecutively) while foregoing any embarrassing computer generated "raspberries" when questions are answered incorrectly. Also, they track student progress, allowing them to pick up with the last lesson successfully completed. This allows the user to continue work using a succession of programs without having to reboot the system each time he wishes to change lessons.
However, as with most educational software packages currently on the market, the programs from American Educational Computers have their weaknesses.
Learn About Words and Reading Comprehension Skills both suffer from the same problems, albeit small ones. In many cases, there is no way to correct an error prior to inputting your selection. This seems a little unforgiving considering the age level with which the products deal.
There are only a limited number of exercises, repeated over and over again within individual program segments. Although the packages offer variety and depth overall, the separate lessons do not.
The documentation could be more helpful. Even though the program itself uses screen prompts, confusion does occur here and there. It should also be noted that with the exception of the unit on Similar and Different, the programs are not graphic-oriented. However, this isn't necessarily a weakness considering the subject matter and recognizing that these programs are tutorials, not education games.
Overall, both Learn About Words and Reading Comprehension Skills are good, if slightly limited, pieces of software; both are educationally sound. They cover the areas for which they are intended and appear to be worth the $39.95 asking price.
536 Weddell Drive
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
SpeedRead+, $64.95, 16K-disk
MemorEase+, $79.95, 16K-disk
Reviewed by Michael Ciraolo
Would you like to dramatically boost your reading speed? Do you
want to have a more powerful memory? Now you can do it at home on
your Atari without going to expensive classes.
SpeedRead + comes with a well-written instruction manual and a program disk. The disk contains text selections presented in several formats. These formats teach different aspects of speed reading: single-phrase teaches rapid character and word recognition, double phrase helps develop eye movement and timing, random phrase expands peripheral vision, and column format offers practice in reading full-page text. Of course, the computer tells you how fast you are reading.
Selections from common literature are flashed on the screen in the format you select. You also select the flash rate and can control several variables with a joystick. Having the computer flash short stories is an excellent way to unlearn some of the bad habits many of us have developed that
slow our reading speeds.
SpeedRead + is a well-crafted tool: based on my own experience, it works. Only 15-20 minutes a day are needed and when you run out of the text provided with the software, you can insert more of your own.
MemorEase + is as well designed as the reading software but rests on a shakier principle. MemorEase + presents text in various formats on the screen, then when you press a key, part of the text disappears. You read the selection over and over again, pushing the key when you are ready to lose a random part of the material. You can always back up and see what has already faded.
Like SpeedRead +, MemorEase comes with a well-written, useful instruction booklet.
THE ART OF COMPUTER GAME DESIGN:
REFLECTIONS OF A MASTER GAME DESIGNER
by Christopher Crawford
2600 Tenth St.
Berkeley, CA 94710
$14.95, 112 pp., preface, index
Reviewed by Christopher F Chabris
Chris Crawford, former head of Atari's Games Research Group, is best
known as the avant-garde programmer who created Eastern Front 1941
and Excalibur-inventing the whole scrolling map strategy format.
Such efforts qualify him as a "master game designer," and this book establishes
him as an author and programming philosopher The Preface states that the
book's purpose is to contribute "principles of aesthetics, a framework
for criticism, and a model for development" for computer games. Crawford
achieves these goals without lapsing into overly technical discussion of
some of his more intricate algorithms; he demonstrates admirable restraint
in sticking to his topic.
The book's organization is straightforward: Crawford begins by defining the word game and proceeds to specific principles of game design and a prediction of the future of computer games. He also includes a discussion of the development of Excalibur, a chapter similar to Crawford's magazine articles (See Antic, December/ January 1983) on his earlier games. It is an interesting case study of Crawford's ideal game design sequence.
The chapter entitled "A Taxonomy of Computer Games" is out of place despite the nice color photographs of game screens. Although it fits Crawford's overall goals for the, book, much of this chapter's contents are self-evident ("combat games present a direct, violent confrontation"). I was also disappointed to find a few minor inaccuracies. For example, Crawford states that Dungeons & Dragons can become tedious because of "lengthy computations . . ." In my experience with the game, adding up a few one-digit numbers is about as involved as the computations become. The 21 pages of this chapter could have been put to better use.
Crawford's programming genius and writing style enliven chapters on game design precepts, ideals, and methods. He uses well-chosen references to specific Atari games to
explain such concepts as "Maintaining Unity of Design Effort" in ways that are familiar and universally applicable.
Chris Crawford should be congratulated for "revealing his secrets" and bringing serious insight to an area widely perceived as frivolous. It is evident that Crawford spends as much time thinking about the implications and future of the computer game art as he does about the code itself. Although it is not perfect, I recommend The Art of Computer Game Design to anyone interested in this "silly fad."