Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 2 / JUNE 1986


ST reviews

Mirage Concepts
4055 W. Show, #108
Fresno, CA 93711
(209) 227-8369

Reviewed by Michael Fleischmann

Holmes & Duckworth, those pseudo-Victorian "micronomists" from Mirage Concepts, have introduced a complete Forth package for only $49.95. Yes, I said complete.

H&D Forth is based on the Forth-83 standards and allows access to all of the ST's memory and GEM commands, as well as supporting the ST graphics, MIDI, and printer commands. For those of you who are forever losing your manuals or writing all over the pages, this documentation comes on disk so you can print it out at your leisure. Wait-there's more. H&D Forth also supports both floating point and integer math, all code is fully relocatable and there is a run-time turnkey system for developers at no extra charge.

If you are unfamiliar with Forth, it is a language that has the high-level convenience of BASIC but runs at assembly speeds. In Forth you define words to have specific meanings. Once these words are defined they become part of the language and are useable from that point on. In a very short time you can have a language customized to your own personal preferences.

One drawback to Forth is that it is an RPN or "postfix" language, which means the values occur first and the operators follow. For example (1+3)*4 in BASIC looks like 1 3 + 4 * in Forth-which does take some getting use to. The authors of H&D Forth, however, do give several excellent suggestions for what Forth books to get to learn the language.

Holmes & Duckworth originally used this Forth for their own software development. In fact, their new H&D Base is written with it. This new package is quite programmer oriented. The screen editor is easy to use-though somewhat crude. The source code for the Forth is on the disk and a simple kernel is provided for those of you wanting to do applications software.

H&D Forth deviates from the Forth-83 standard in a few ways: The first is that H&D Forth's stack is 32 bits wide, so there are no double words (32 bits) because they are that way by default. However, this is a valid consideration since it gives the programmer access to all of the ST 's memory. Another deviation is that multiple dictionaries are not allowed. This decision stems from the fact that Holmes & Duckworth have used Forth for several years and never had need of them. Other than these two deviations, this Forth is a complete standard with enhancements to take care of unique ST items.

H&D Forth supports all the standard file commands (open, close, seek, read, and write) and includes simple mouse and graphics drivers. The most impressive aspect of this Forth is the "turnkey" system. This means after you are confident you are ready to release your software to the public, you run a little program which turns your code and the supporting code into a hidden format that cannot be read as source. The memory image is then saved to disk.

The concise H&D Forth on-disk manual is intended to instruct you how to use this version of Forth, not to teach you the language from scratch. I was quite impressed with its straightforwardness. It gave me the information I needed to know without wasting my time trying to tell me how to turn -my computer on.

The three most important things you need to know are on the first two pages: 1. Back up the disk and run on a copy. 2. Where to go for technical help. 3. There are no royalties to be paid if you use this Forth. The manual then tells you how to boot the Forth and how to get the Forth source listings, ending with the dictionary of the Forth language. Although brief, the manual is thorough, and with the source listings it makes an informative package.

In summary, I give this implementation of Forth quite high ratings. It does everything a Forth processor is supposed to do, it is affordable, it is well supported, and it is easy to use. If you are considering Forth for the ST this is your best. It's one of the best buys that I have seen.

Psygnosis Limited
US Distributor: Mindscape, Inc.
3444 Dundee Road
Northbrook, IL 60062
(312) 480-7667

Reviewed by Michael Fleischmann

Brataccas by England's Psygnosis Limited is an animated adventure game with ambitious graphics. Your character is Kyne, a hero with a price on his head. You move through many rooms, gather proof of a government plot and try to stay alive. Meanwhile, the 60-odd inhabitants of this world are moving as well-and time rolls on.

Kyne is a genetic engineer who developed a way to make a super-being in the hopes of improving the quality of life for his fellow man. But the government has decided that a race of super killing machines is a better use for Kyne's discoveries. Kyne, on learning this, refuses to continue his work or reveal what he had already learned. Thus, he must go into hiding.

The government issues a warrant for Kyne's arrest, frames him for a crime he did not commit, and puts out a contract for him with the underworld. A bit of overkill here. Everyone is out to get this guy.

While fleeing, Kyne discovers that Brataccas-a small mining asteroid- might hold the answers he needs, so he ends up there. As Kyne, you must find this proof and get it to the proper authorities.

Brataccas, the first colonized asteroid, has become a favorite haunt for miners. With miners comes money and with money comes corruption. The main things the residents of Brataccas understand are bribery, corruption and opportunism. They also enjoy killing each other-which does make staying alive a problem. In other words, Brataccas is a very rough neighborhood to go snooping around in.

This game comes on an auto-boot disk. While loading, some nice music plays to give you something to listen to. Then the screen prompts you to press any key to start. As the music fades, your screen changes to show Kyne appearing in the arrivals bay.

At this point you can start playing or press the [HELP] key to display the options menu. This menu is very important as it pauses the action, allows you to set up how you will control Kyne, and gives you the ability to save and restore a game. It also has a movie mode which puts Kyne on auto-pilot and he plays the game himself.

I found the animation to be quite good and smooth. The scenery is well thought out and detailed. You can even see another planet (moon? asteroid?) setting through a window. The city is fairly vast with lots of rooms to explore and quite a few to figure out how to to get into without dying.

Now the bad news. It seems obvious to me that the main programming effort for Brataccas was put into the animation and not into the player interface. If you buy the game, don't even bother trying to play it with a joystick or mouse. Controlling Kyne reliably with either of these in a critical situation is nearly impossible. And even with the keyboard it takes a lot of practice.

The animation slows down to a crawl if more than two characters are on screen at the same time. Another bothersome trait is that if you fall down from a raised area all the items you are carrying will drop to the floor and the other characters try to pick them up. (Some might consider this a feature, but I found it very annoying.)

If you want to pick up anything off the floor, you had better have patience. One time, it took me twenty tries to get an object off the floor. Objects are another irritation. Even though you are carrying the objects you cannot examine them, read them, or do anything else with them but drop them.

The authors say their interface "implies action," which means that the game tries to sense what you want to do and will proceed to do it for you. Most of the time for me, it meant running into walls at full speed.

Talking to other characters is another matter. You cannot speak to any other character unless they address you first. When you do get a chance to talk, don't be too near the other character as your ballon (just like in the comics) goes over the top of theirs so you end up guessing what the other was saying.

To sum it all up, for all its impressive graphics and hi-tech, Blade Runner plotline, I really can't say Brataccas is one of my favorites. It's too slow for arcade action and too limited for an adventure. It was fun, but less so than I would expect. On a scale of 1 to 10 I would have to give it a 5.

Activision, Inc.
P.O. Box 7287
Mountain View, CA 94039
(415) 960-0410

Reviewed by Sol Guber

It's 1934. You are Sam Harlow, private eye. Nice guy, usually, but someone wants you dead. Guess who? Think fast. You're living on Borrowed Time.

Borrowed Time is an illustrated text adventure game that has several very nice gimmicks which set it above the average. The illustrations enhance both the story and the puzzle. Two essentials for solving the mystery are a map of the town and a dossier of the approximately 30 characters in this morality play.

Borrowed Time is very well written and much thought and effort went into making the game very playable. This version used all the Atari 520ST's strengths admirably.

There are over 100 pictures in this game and the graphics are excellent, subtly utilizing all 16 available colors to good advantage. Scenes are loaded from the disk when any room or area is observed. However, after a room is vacated the picture is still stored in RAM. So upon returning to a room, the picture appears instantly.

Due to the difficulty of the various puzzles, the picture appearing most often is the killer, a truly frightening thug. The second most common picture-of which there are five versions-are the tops of your scuffed, size-12 brogues. Harlow seems to like putting his foot into places where it does not belong-including his mouth.

There is a slight amount of animation in many of the pictures, as well as a sense of humor. For example, there is a blind newsstand vendor wearing dark glasses. Of course, his dog has dark glasses and wags his tail in the picture. Boss Farnham waves his finger at you, water glugs in the glass bottle, and the woman knitting in the doctor's office moves her knitting needles.

Activision has designed a nice mouse interface for their adventure games. The pictures use about two-thirds of the top half of the screen. There is a list on the right side of the screen of frequently used action and object words. Click on any of the words, and they appear within the typing area. The mouse can also be used to pick up and discard objects. Your inventory of objects is always displayed in a bar in the center of the screen.

Activision has also made the game even easier to play by using the function keys for shortcuts to perform many frequent actions. Function keys handle such things as: SAVE GAME, LOAD GAME, TELL ME ABOUT __, DROP __, QUICKSAVE, QUICKLOAD, etc. While this does not make the puzzle any easier, it does make for more convenient playing. QUICKSAVE, for example, should definitely be used if you hear someone breathing down your neck-or a gun being cocked-and you want to get away in a hurry. Remember, you are living on Borrowed Time.

Two disks come with this game. I wish to commend Activision for putting the saves on the second disk. It becomes cumbersome to have a two-disk game plus a third disk for saving the game.

Borrowed Time is a good adventure. It is of moderate difficulty. The pictures are excellent. The story is good. It will take a great deal of effort to solve the puzzle and see all the illustrations. The use of the mouse is very effective. The use of the list of words on the screen is distracting after a bit, but does save some typing. Activision has done an excellent job with Borrowed Time. You will spend many enjoyable hours in 1934.

New Products

Hippopotamus Software stopped by the ST Resource offices to demonstrate one of the hottest products we've seen for the ST yet, HippoVision (tentatively $139.95). Yes, it's a video digitizer that can digitize images from any standard video signal-TV, videocamera, VCR, etc. The beta test version that we saw worked in low or high resolution. The screen refresh rate was fast enough to actually watch moving digitized pictures on the ST. Any captured picture is saved in DEGAS or NEOchrome format for later fun. Also, HippoVision is the first product to use the ST cartridge port.

Hippopotamus Software, Inc., 985 University Avenue, Suite #12, Los Gatos, CA 95030. (408) 395-3190. BETA.

Major databases are beginning to appear for the ST. H & D Base ($99.95) from Mirage Concepts, is a relational database program compatible with dBase II. The fascinating twist to this product is that, because it is written in Forth, you can "turn on" the Forth language and program in Forth as well as dBase. You can also access GEM commands in this manner.

Mirage Concepts, 4055 W. Shaw, #108, Fresno, CA93711. (800) 641-1441. In California (800) 641-1442. FINAL.

The Manager is a powerhouse relational database system from the Canadian firm of BMB Compuscience. Priced tentatively at $169.95 (with a $149.95 introductory tag), The Manager is described by its creators as a "paperless office" which will offer mainframe capability with virtually unlimited storage. This is no small software package. The Manager comes with six disks. And yet it can still be used on a 520ST with TOS in RAM.

BMB Compuscience Canada, Ltd., 500 Steeles Avenue, Milton, Ontario L9T 3P7, Canada. (416) 876-4741. PRESS.

ST books are beginning to appear in the bookstores. Compute! Publications has added to their list with The Elementary Atari ST ($16.95). This spiral-bound volume introduces new owners to their machines, then proceeds-mostly through BASIC examples-to explain graphics, disk I/O, printer use, and so on.

Compute! Publications, Inc., PO. Box 5406, Greensboro, NC 27403. (919) 275-9809. FINAL.

For those interested in Modula-2, Hayden Books will be happy to get you started with their Modula-2 Programming ($21.95). This 223-page book is aimed at the "novice and experienced programmer alike." Though the book is not aimed at ST owners, there are enough generic programming examples to keep the Atari reader busy.

Hayden Book Company, 10 Mulholland Drive, Hasbrouck Heights, NJ 07604. (201) 393-6306. FINAL.

And Osborne/McGraw-Hill is jumping on the ST bandwagon with their introductory Atari ST User's Guide ($15.95). This book explains how to unpack your computer, how to move the mouse, and how to get about on the desktop. It goes on to demonstrate various uses of LOGO with several programming examples. At a slightly higher level, from the same company, is The C Primer ($17.95). This is a revised and updated 303-page version of the original volume by Les Hancock and Morris Krieger.

Osborne/McGraw-Hill, 2600 10th Street, Berkeley, CA 94710. (415) 548-2805. FINAL.

Abacus Software has announced several new books for the ST, including Atari ST for Beginners, Atari ST Peeks and Pokes, Atari ST BASIC Training Guide, and Atari ST from BASIC to C. All are $16.95, with the exception of the latter book, which is $19.95. Abacus is also releasing a revised version of their first volume, Presenting the Atari ST ($16.95).

Abacus Software, 2201 Kalamazoo S.E., Grand Rapids, MI 49510. (616) 241-5510. PRESS.

Mindshadow ($49.95), the Activision graphics adventure, is now available on the ST. This latest port from the 8-bit world starts on a mysterious-and hazardous-island and travels through swamps, jungles and caves. Danger galore!

Activision, Inc., RO. Box 7286, Mountain View, CA 94039. (415) 960-0410. FINAL.

You say your mouse ball is getting dirty from rolling around on that gritty computer tabletop? Try the Mouse Pad ($9.50, plus $1.50 postage). According to its makers, this 8 x 9 1/2-inch foam pad enhances cursor control and reduces fatigue.

West Ridge Designs, 305 N.W. 12th Avenue, Portland, OR 97209. (503) 248-0053. FINAL.

David Beckemeyer Development Tools, makers of the UNIX-like Micro-C Shell, announces MICRO RTX ($69.95), a fully multi-tasking extension to GEMDOS. According to Beckemeyer, multiple TOS applications can be used concurrently with many background applications running while the foreground application is active.

David Beckemeyer Development Tools, 592 Jean Street #304, Oakland, CA 94610. (415) 658-5318. PRESS.

There's excitement in the graphics community! Migraph has completed Easy Draw ($149.95). This is an object-oriented graphics package which utilizes GEM perhaps more completely than any product available. Similar to GEMDraw, Easy Draw is a two-disk package that uses GDOS and Digital Research's virtual output system for the first time (more on this in later issues). Features include rubber banding, sizing and stretching boxes, multiple windows, multiple zoom, and more.

Migraph, 720 South 333rd Street, Suite 201, Federal Way, WA 98003. (206) 838-4677. FINAL.

And still more graphics. Bitmap, Inc. has compiled a disk collection of several NEOchrome pictures (many of which were digitized on a Macintosh and ported to the ST). Load them into your favorite paint package and color-fill them to your heart's content. The Bitmap Coloring Book is $18.95. Just be sure and stay within the lines.

Bitmap, Inc., Box 237, Westwego, LA 70094. (504) 891-4862. FINAL.

Supra Corporation has completed their series of hard drives for the ST. First available is be the 10MB drive-which was just sent to ST Resource for testing. This will soon be followed be 20, 30, and 60 megabyte drives. Prices are $799 for 10MB, $1095 for 20MB, $1495 for 30MB, and $1995 for 60MB.

Supra Corporation, 1133 Commercial Way, Albany, OR 97321. (503) 967-9081. FINAL.

Philon Fast/BASIC-M ($129) is now available, for those of you who find ST BASIC just a tad clumsy. This is a full compiler BASIC aimed, really, at the developer market. Six disks are included in the package and Philon recommends using a hard disk drive when using the product.

Philon, Inc., 641 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10011. (212) 807-0303. FINAL.

The Mark Williams Company has a number of products coming out. First is a word processor, Let's Write ($79.95 until May 31 then $99.95). This is a "Micro Emacs" style text editor. Included in the package is a spelling checker and the Kermit telecommunications program. Also from Mark Williams is a new C compiler called Let's C ($75) and csd ($75), a C source debugger.

Mark Williams Company, 1430 W. Wrightwood, Chicago, IL 60614. (312)472-6659. FINAL/PRESS/PRESS.

Lamar Micro has developed a 65C02 Cross Assembler ($89.95) which will let you develop software for 8-bit, 6502 machines on your speedy 16-bit ST.

Lamar Micro, 2107 Artesia Boulevard, Redondo Beach, CA 90278. (213) 374-1673. PRESS.

New ST product notices are compiled from information provided by the products' manufacturers. Antic assumes no responsibility for the accuracy of these notices or the performance of the product. Each mention is followed by a code word indicating that, at press time, Antic had seen a FINAL marketable version, near-final BETA, earlier ALPHA, incomplete DEMO, or PRESS release.