Key to ST graphics powerReviewed by Jack Powell, Antic Associate Editor
I've been meaning to sit down and write this review for weeks now. But everytime I boot the ST, I end up playing with DEGAS. And there goes the time.
At press time, a number of graphics programs for the ST were floating around in various stages of completion, but only one programmer had managed to pull together a full-featured paint program that takes complete advantage the ST's fabulous graphics: Tom Hudson. The program is called DEGAS and Batteries Included has it. Congratulations to Tom Hudson and BI!
DEGAS stands for Design and Entertainment Graphics Arts System. It is no hastily-assembled Macintosh program, ported to the ST and rushed to market. It was written for the ST, designed on the ST, and uses the ST like no program I've seen. And the programming is tight! Most of my time with DEGAS was spent on a late beta version, and I ran into no bugs or glitches. Pretty impressive.
DEGAS is almost completely mouse-controlled. If you're used to a joystick paint program, such as Micro-Painter, you'll be amazed at the speed and convenience of DEGAS. All options are contained on a full-screen menu which you can alternate with the drawing screen by a quick click of the right mouse button. Thus your drawing screen remains completely uncluttered.
The top of the menu contains a line of colored boxes representing your color palette. Since DEGAS works in all three of the ST's resolutions, the palette may contain anywhere from two to 16 colors to choose from. To grab a color, just point your mouse cursor on it and click.
Directly beneath the color boxes is a row of sixteen possible brush shapes which may be selected in the same way as the color bars. Fifteen of the brush shapes are preset but the 16th may be defined by the user and saved to disk.
Most of the menu screen consists of three rows of 13 options, totaling 36 possibilities grouped according to logical categories each of which is separated by thickened bars. For example, the first six options are drawing styles: Eraser, Draw, Point, Line, K-line, and Rays.
When the screen first appears, Draw is highlighted. Choose your color, click the right mouse button to get to the drawing screen, then hold down the left button and move the mouse to draw a continuous line in whatever brush style you've chosen.
A particularly nice feature is the [Undo] key. If you don't like what you just drew, press [Undo] and the mistake vanishes.
Point lets you draw a point everytime you click the button. Line is a "rubber-band" mode. Click on your first point, move the cursor to your next, click again, and a line is drawn between the two points. K-line is similar to Line, except it holds the last point clicked. Rays holds onto the first point clicked and generates each new line from that point.
Further options are Circle, Disk, Frame, and Box. Circle creates an empty circle (or ellipsoid) and Disk creates a filled one. Frame and Box work the same way with rectangles.
There are 38 available fill patterns. The currently selected fill appears in a box on the right side of the menu. To change the current fill, move the cursor to the fill box and click on it. With each click, the next fill pattern will appear until you have cycled through all the patterns.
One of the fill patterns may be user designed. Click on the Make Fill option and a window appears with what looks very much like a character editor grid. From the Make Fill window, you can toggle on or off any of the 16x16 pixels to create your fill pattern. As you draw your pattern, the actual-size fill appears in another window within the Make Fill window.
When completed, you may save this fill to disk for use at any later date. Since loading a new fill pattern will not alter the pattern previously used in your drawing, you can save and load any number of custom patterns and just keep adding them to your picture as you need them. You can also define, save, and load custom brushes. The Make Brush option works very much like Make Fill, except the brush grid is 8x8.
A Slow Draw option alters the ratio of mouse movement to cursor movement and is particularly useful for detailed control or for creating smooth lines.
You can Move blocks of your drawing from one part of the screen to another by grabbing that portion with a "rubberbox". Copy portions of your pictures in the same fashion. And there is a particularly useful X-ray Copy which turns the background color transparent. This allows overlay of complex patterns on various parts of the screen.
DEGAS also has Airbrush, Shadow and Mirror modes. All three of these modes may be adjusted. Mirror may be horizontal, vertical, diagonal, or all three. Your Airbrush may be adusted to one of three sizes and intensities. Choose Set Shadow and a window pops up allowing a choice of shadow color, direction of shadow and how many pixels the shadow will be offset!
Shadow works especially well with Text. And here DEGAS really shines. Choose Text, put your cursor anywhere on the screen, and whatever you type appears, starting at the cursor. Now, move the cursor, and the line of text is dragged with it. Click the mouse button when you have it where you want it. In much the same way as Copy, you may choose Block Text or X-ray text.
And DEGAS has fonts! Included with the package is a font editor plus sample fonts which can be loaded from disk. Once loaded, your font appears in a text window on the menu screen. Click on this window to cycle through several sizes of text. Of course, your font does not need to be text. It can consist of custom character shapes. Nicely, none of the text used in the menu is affected by the redesigned font.
We don't have room to describe all the DEGAS options. You can, of course, save and load your pictures to and from disk. In each case, a friendly warning appears to prevent you from annihilating your favorite effort. You may also print a hard copy of your picture, if you have a graphic printer.
One option is not on the menu, though I've probably used it more often than any other. From the drawing menu, press [F1] and a small window will appear. Move the window to any part of your picture and then press the mouse button. The entire screen will become a greatly magnified "fat bit" view of that window. Every pixel is clearly defined and the complete color palette bar is available along the top. From here you can really fine-tune the details.
But the more gizmos I got, the more I want. So, here are a few features I'd like to see in DEGAS. Some of these are already in the works and will appear in future updates of the package. (Be sure you have an "authentic" version of DEGAS to take advantage of these upgrades.)
I'd like to be able to grab a portion of the picture and then flip, rotate, reverse and inverse that section. I know Tom Hudson plans on including size-change scaling in later versions and I look forward to that.
It would be nice to have a cut-and-paste work screen to transfer parts of two pictures. Currently DEGAS takes advantage of most available RAM in the 520ST. The menu takes up one 32K block, the drawing screen uses another, and the [Undo] key requires an entire screen-sized buffer. Perhaps when GEM is installed in ROM? Or it might be possible to save window-sized portions to disk for later retrieval.
As long as I'm dreaming, how about more than one user-defined Fill or Brush pattern available from the menu. And I might as well add the only real gripe I have about DEGAS: I can't stand having to cycle through all 38 available Fill patterns to get to the one I want. Inevitably, I click right past it and have to click through another 37 to reach it again. Could we have a slide bar?
But, all right, enough Andy Rooneying. The simple fact is: if you want the best graphics package available for the Atari 520ST, get DEGAS. Anyone who owns an ST and has any interest whatsoever in graphics will want this program immediately.
DEGAS Batteries Included 30 Mural Street Richmond Hill, Ontario L4B 1B5, Canada (416) 881-9941 $39.95