Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 4, NO. 11 / MARCH 1986

product reviews

Epson America Inc
2780 Lomita Boulevard
Torrance, CA 90505
(213) 539-9140

Reviewed by Eric Clausen

Epson represents to the dot-matrix printer market what BMW and Mercedes represent to the automobile market-quality, dependability, performance and, of course, price! The FX-85, successor to the widely used FX-80, is no exception.
   The impressive new FX-85 offers virtually every feature conceivable in a 9-wire dot-matrix printer. If you can think of a printer feature, it's available for the FX-85, either built-in or as an option. If you want substantially better performance from a dot-matrix printer, you'll have to move up to one of the new 24-wire models-at perhaps twice the cost. (See review of the Star SB-10 in Antic, February 1986.)
FX-85 print quality

   The FX-85's near letter quality mode is the finest I've ever seen on a 9 x 9 dot-matrix printer. (See the accompanying print sample.) Proportional printing is supported, along with all standard fonts and their variations-pica, elite, italics, expanded, emphasized, compressed, super/subscript, etc. Custom fonts can be downloaded to the printer in draft mode only.
FX-85   One of the most useful features on the FX-85 is "SelecType," which enables the user to switch back and forth between different fonts by simply pressing buttons on the front panel. No more fiddling with inaccessible DIP switches for this simple task! As far as DIP swtches are concerned, the FX-85 makes these easily accessible beneath a panel on top of the printer. Naturally, all printer defaults can easily be altered with these switches, including selection of international character sets and a standard IBM character set. Software compatibility is almost a non-issue with any Epson printer. If a commercial program works with a printer, it works with an Epson.
   The FX-85 is quite fast, considering the high quality of its printed output. Antic tested the speed of this printer at 105 characters per second in draft mode and 20 cps in near letter quality mode. The FX-85 also seems much quieter than many of its competitors.
   The FX-85 operates bidirectionally in text mode and unidirectionally in graphics mode. It has a standard-width carriage with pins for continuous-feed paper, as well as friction feed for single sheets. However, if you want to print labels, you'll need a $35 adjustable-width tractor. An automatic single-sheet feeder costs $289.
   The documentation supplied with the FX-85 is easily the finest I've seen with any printer. Every aspect of the FX-85 is covered thoroughly. Printer manufacturers should emulate Epson documentation, as well as Epson printer control codes. If you do have a technical question concerning the FX-85, I've found Epson telephone reps to be very polite, knowledgeable and willing to help.
   The FX-85 has an 8K memory buffer which can be upgraded to 32K for $180. The printer requires a Centronics parallel interface to work with 8-bit Ataris. An IBM-to-Centronics cable is all that's needed for connection to the 520ST.
   If I could justify the purchase of a third dot-matrix printer, I would buy the FX-85 (with tractor) without hesitation. If you need a top quality 9-wire dot-matrix that can do everything short of the dinner dishes, and you can afford a premium price, give the Epson FX-85 very serious consideration.

MicroProse Software
120 Lakefront Drive
Hunt Valley, MD 21030
(307) 667-1151
$34.95, 48K DISK

Reviewed by Rich Moore

Silent ServiceSid Meier and his team of simulation experts at MicroProse have outdone themselves with Silent Service, a recreation of submarine operations in the Pacific during World War II. As a U.S. fleet submarine skipper, you can almost smell diesel oil and feel the deck rolling beneath your feet while searching the western Pacific for Japanese shipping.
   Beginners can immediately take up target practice, while veterans can proceed to complex, historically accurate and challenging war patrol scenarios. In between are a variety of convoy actions, good for practicing tactics. You can gradually make things more realistic by limiting detection capability, allowing convoys to zigzag, contending with dud torpedoes, performing repairs only in port and taking on tougher Japanese escorts. When you get an experienced "seaman's eye," you can elect to manually provide "angle on the bow" for torpedo shots.
   Some things are not optional, like fuel and battery consumption or number of torpedoes remaining, as well as which tubes (bow or stern) they're in! Exceeding the crush depth is not recommended. And your sub can run aground in shallow water or be rammed by a ship if you're not deep enough! Depth charges and destroyer gunfire can ruin your whole day, but a thermal gradient in the water may save your ship. You have 80 shells for the deck gun, which may require some range adjustment for target motion...
   The graphics are superb. Master control is from the viewpoint of the conning tower screen, which can then take you to the bridge for a wide-angle view of the area. Maps and charts provide a bird's-eye tactical plot and the instruments tell you what the sub is doing. Damage reports give you a full-length view of your "boat" and the status of its major components. The view of cargo ships and tankers through the attack periscope is terrific, especially when it also shows the wakes of a spread of torpedoes speeding off toward their targets. The sight of angry escorts turning toward you will generate more than a little anxiety, particularly where the water is shallow...
   The manual is extremely well done. A "quick start" section lets you jump right in for target practice or convoy hunting. But most people will need to "refresh" their submarine tactics before going on to the more advanced scenarios. The manual provides everything you need to know in several very interesting sections.
   Keep in mind that submarine warfare is slow. You must evade the convoy escorts to do any damage. To make the simulation run faster, game rate can be accelerated to 32 times real time. Patrol mission transit time is effectively "stepped" by driving the sub across the patrol screen with the joystick. A submariner once told me, "You guys are in too much of a hurry. The destroyers want to strike at 0420, the aviators go when it's dark outside and both Mickey's hands are on the '4,' and the submarines just attack on Tuesday." Be patient, use stealth, and good hunting!

Pandora Software
177 Carlton Lane
North Andover, MA 01845
$34.95, 16K cartridge

Reviewed by Harvey Bernstein

Pandora Software, a new company in Massachusetts, has come up with a unique idea-Powerstar, a graphic adventure on a cartridge. There's no wait while your disk loads, no lengthy disk access between screens. You can play Powerstar even if you have no disk drive and a 16K Atari.
   The game has several unique features. For one thing, movement is not accomplished with the standard "Go North" type-in command. Instead, you use the arrow keys or joystick. A prompt on the command line tells you which direction you are facing. You then move forward (providing there is an exit).
   As a result of this unusual approach, you are told almost nothing about a new room. You must make a 360-degree search of the area in order to discover any useful objects and exits. This, coupled with the instantaneous screen updating made possible by the cartridge, adds quite a bit to the "live" feel of the game.
   The story in Powerstar is not unfamiliar. As a technician in the ground station, you become aware that something is dangerously amiss aboard Powerstar-the man-made satellite that is the source of all the Earth's power. It is up to you to make your way to the station and right everything again, while facing the usual dangers and puzzles.
   Powerstar also attempts something new in the way of graphics. Most previous graphic adventures, having been originally written for the Apple, use Graphics + for their pictures. Powerstar is the first adventure I know about that makes use of the unique Atari GTIA chip. The screens are all Graphics 10, which is a mixed blessing. The colors are vivid and some images are nice, but others are blocky and look low-res.
   I applaud the folks at Pandora for providing a fine first effort with Powerstar, despite a couple of complaints. First of all, some of the puzzles have illogical solutions. It was only due to the hint sheet we received that I discovered something described as a "cryogenic storage tank" actually was a fuel tank. Cryogenics has nothing to do with fuel.
   Also, there are two mazes that do not seem to be mappable, even using the tried and true "Hansel and Gretel" technique of dropping things. Only with luck will you find your way through, and you must make it through both to finish the game. Worst of all, the game does not understand the command "examine --". To a veteran adventurer, this is the ultimate frustration.
   As stated at the beginning of the review, Powerstar can be played without a disk drive. But you still need a disk to save games in progress. Otherwise, be prepared to start from scratch several times. It would have been simple to include a routine for saving to cassette. Still, Powerstar is an impressive debut overall and raises hopes for even better things in the future from Pandora.

Broderbund Software
17 Paul Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 479-1170
$29.95, 48K disk

Review by David Plotkin

KaratekaKarateka is an action/adventure game with a karate theme. Excellent graphics and character animation make it very enjoyable to play, despite some problems with the joystick control.
   The storyline is about the only thing that an experienced gamer will find familiar. Your fiancee has been stolen away by the evil warlord. It is up to you to battle with increasingly competent minions of the warlord, so that you can gain entry to the castle and win her back.
   You have no weapons and must depend entirely on your skill in the ancient art of karate. As the game begins, you have just climbed up onto the rock bluff where the evil warlord's castle roosts. You immediately face your first opponent.
   Various karate moves are accomplished with the joystick and button. If you defeat the first foe (which is fairly easy), you then begin moving closer to the castle, stopping periodically to do battle. Each new enemy is fitted with different headgear to make him recognizable. This is important, since each opponent has his own fighting style and weaknesses-which you must learn in order to stay alive.
   This becomes the most challenging aspect of the game-expect to play Karateka many times before mastering the skills you need to even enter the castle! The bottom of the screen shows both your remaining endurance and that of your opponent. Each blow you land will reduce your opponent's strength. Likewise, your strength will be reduced when you are hit. If your strength drops to zero, the game is over. No multiple lives here!
   Graphics and animation are where Karateka really shines. The details are cartoon-quality and the karate moves are amazingly realistic, right down to the swishing of the robes as you throw a kick or a punch. You may even bow to your opponent. (Be sure to assume the fighting position before he moves to attack or it will be a very fast game.)
   The highly detailed backround scrolls smoothly and realistically. Graphic intermissions showing various scenes in the warlord's chambers while you approach the castle are true works of art. Karateka does have some problems, notably in the joystick-based control system.
   The Atari joystick has only one button, and you must control both kicking and punching with it. As in Choplifter, you press the button slowly to kick, and quickly to punch. But in the heat of battle you will often find yourself executing the wrong move, sometimes with fatal results.
   This problem is compounded by the fact that response to your joystick commands is often slow, and sometimes your input is ignored altogether. This can be extremely frustrating until you practice enough to become accustomed to the control system. There is also not tremendous variety in Karateka. Beyond the differences in fighting styles, you are basically just fighting one opponent after another, until you either die (very likely) or win.
   All in all, Karateka is fun and extremely addicting. Loss of a game is almost always attributable to a poor choice of strategy. So it is very tempting to play "one more time" (sometimes until 2 a.m.) in order to correct your error.

P.O. Box 7287
Mountain View, CA 94039
(415) 940-6044
$24.95, 16K cartridge

Reviewed by Dave Plotkin

PastfinderIn Pastfinder, you are a stellar explorer navigating your surface vehicle across a scrolling landscape littered with all manner of obstacles.
   The object is to pick up historical artifacts (which look something like dinner plates) and deliver them to bases scattered across the planet. Two major barriers oppose the completion of your mission. The first is the land itself, large portions of which are intensely radioactive. Fortunately, you have a radiation gauge and alarm, as well as anti-radiation devices.
   Also formidable is the planet's automated defense system, with a multitude of hovering barriers, opening and closing doors, rising and falling columns, fixed obstacles, and a rather nasty drone ship which zeroes in on you unerringly. Some of the defenses can be destroyed by your shots, others simply avoided or leapt over. Oh yes, pushing the joystick forward causes you to hop into the air, which is awfully handy.
   As you start the game, you are presented with a screen showing a very small portion of the overall planet map. As you explore, more of the map can be seen. You will return to the map screen after every sector. You choose a direction by using your joystick to move an indicator line across the map. The degree of radioactivity is indicated by the map colors-watch out for red!
   After choosing a direction, you move to the weapons screen and choose your equipment. Some, like the beam shield and heavy metal, remain active until you lose a ship. But the deradiator can only be used once. To replenish your supplies, you can pick up spares which are scattered about the landscape.
   Now you are ready to fight your way to the end of a sector. The speed and direction of your vehicle is controlled by your joystick. Some experimentation will quickly show you what you can and can't get away with. Particularly tough are the lines of moving columns, which march across the landscape in your path. Try to shoot the floating crystals, as this removes radiation.
   For both playability and graphics, Pastfinder is excellent. The smooth, colorful animation of the screen obstacles is very well done. The scrolling effect is superb and the perspective is extremely realistic. The obstacles even cast shadows on the landscape. I just wish that the instructions provided diagrams to illustrate the items you are searching for, such as bases. Furthermore, I have some doubts about the arrows which are supposed to indicate the direction to a spare ship. I have found extra ships pretty much by luck. Still, this is all minor and I must say that I immensely enjoy playing Pastfinder.

Activision, Inc.
P.O. Box 7287
Mountain View, CA. 94039
(415) 960-0410
$24.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Brad Kershaw

Master of the Lamps is an offbeat game program with a number of unique elements.
   The storyline is as follows: when the King died, his four genies escaped from their lamps and took over the kingdom. You must aid the young prince by helping him fly his magic carpet through the tunnels into the genies' dens. There you must answer their riddles. If you are successful, they will return to their lamps.
   When you start the game you are confronted with three joystick options-Seven Trials (easiest), Throne Quest (more difficult) and Magic Carpet (practice flying through all 21 tunnels).
   When playing at the Seven Trials level, you must walk the little prince over to the magic carpet in order to begin flying through space. You see little diamond-shaped figures in the far distance, which begin to grow larger as you fly towards them. These diamonds are the tunnels. They will bob and weave in all directions. You must align your flying carpet with the tunnel centers to make it through to the genie's den.
   In the genie's den you will be standing with a mallet, in front of eight different colored gongs. The prince must call the genie by hitting any one of the gongs three times. The genie will appear in the upper left corner of the screen and begin blowing smoke rings. Each ring will become a different colored note, with accompanying sound. You must hit the colored gong that matches the note blown by the genie in the sequence given.
   If you are successful, the genie will give you one of the seven pieces of the the magic lamp. You must then fly again through the tunnels to the next den. Each time a genie appears, he will offer one more smoke ring than the previous den. When you possess all seven pieces, the genie is imprisioned.
   At the higher level, Throne Quest, there are three genies with seven dens each. The tunnels also move more quickly and are harder to navigate. The first genie will blow smoke rings as before. But the color of the note fades quickly, so you must remember the colors. After this genie is imprisoned, you go after the second genie, whose smoke rings give only color, without sound. The last genie is the hardest because you must respond to smoke rings which are sound only, minus color clues.
   I enjoyed playing Master of the Lamps although it does become a little monotonous after awhile, flying to the den and hitting the gongs, flying to the next den, etc. . .. However, it is a nice change to see a non-violent game these days.

Strategic Simulations, Inc
883 Stierlin Road, Bldg. A-200
Mountain View, CA 94043
(415) 964-1353
$49.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Rich Moore

Operation Market Garden is a fairly complex war game for one or two players-who should already be familiar with World War II army operations in Europe. It has both intermediate and advanced game options as well as four levels of handicaps for Allied forces. The player can choose to see all enemy forces, or only those units which become adjacent to his own.
   "What if" gainers can change the historical Allied starting positions and pick either historical or random weather-with the subsequent effect on airpower. It's a little expensive at $49.95, but devout wargamers may enjoy trying their hands at making Field Marshall Montgomery's overly bold plan succeed.
   Gameplay itself is not particularly hard. Some of the "advanced" features actually make it easier. On the other hand, some requirements of the advanced game will require constant attention to detail. The most difficult aspect of the game is its assumption that the player is very familiar with the forces and terminology of the period-which will certainly limit the number of people who can play. Just a little more effort in the manual would open it up to a much wider audience of wargamers.
   Players actually have several roles. Decisions must be made by the overall commander as well as at divisional, regimental and battalion levels. Since play proceeds by turns, there is plenty of "real time" to analyze situations and carefully take action-hasty keystrokes can be extremely costly Liberal use of the SAVE GAME feature permits recovery from accidents of all sorts. The keyboard-only input is fine except for cursor movement, which is somewhat awkward and a common cause of accidents in the advanced game.
   The game includes two large plastic-coated cards with maps and parameter lists. These are invaluable for getting the big picture and planning overall movements. The redefined character set in the scrolling Graphics 2 screen takes some getting used to. But it is good for locating units and setting up lower echelon actions.
   A word of caution for gainers whose Ataris have hardware modifications. The program will not work properly on machines which "see" more then 48K of RAM. When SSI specifies 48K systems, they really mean it. The problem can be fixed with an extra four bytes of code, but you need to know exactly what you're doing to the protected disk.
   Operation Market Garden is not for everyone, but it should appeal to wargamers whose special interest is World War II. Persistence, imagination and prudent use of forces can pay off-with you actually taking that "one bridge too far!"

Broderbund/Synapse Software
17 Paul Drive
San Rafael, CA 94903
(415) 479-1170
$29.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Scott Lewis

Blue MaxLike the original Blue Max, Blue Max 2001 is a 3D shoot-em-up arcade game featuring fairly good graphics and some interesting touches. Your basic mission is a combination of downing enemy aircraft and bombing ground targets. Landing fields appear at regular intervals. By successfully landing you can replenish your supplies and have your aircraft repaired.
   The main difference between the old and the new games lies in the type of aircraft used. Instead of a World War I biplane, the player pilots a hovercraft in Blue Max 2001. Airspeed is unimportant and landing much easier. Crashing into other aircraft is not usually fatal-in fact, it is the preferred method of elimination, as the hovercraft's guns fire in a completely erratic pattern, making aiming a matter of pure chance. It is even possible to use the Buck Rogers method- flying wildly about, shooting at random and trusting in the gods of Irrational Numbers-and still rack up a passable score.
   Various player options and levels of difficulty can be selected. The documentation, unfortunately, appears to have been written in some other language and translated three or four times by volunteers. This means that the first half hour of play can be quite frustrating as you try to figure out exactly what is going on. In the end, though, it is well worth the effort.