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

product reviews

Synthetic Software
189 Duncan Street
San Francisco, CA 94110
(Requires Hybrid Arts
MIDIMATE Interface)
$69.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Gary Yost

First there was Advanced Music System (AMS) by Lee Actor, an old APX favorite. AMS II was an upgraded version released in 1983. Now, everybody wants MIDI software. Yet for hobbyists who cannot perform well enough to use sequencers and MIDI recorders, or for professionals interested in arranging and composition-how do we control our synthesizers? The answer is the MIDI Music System (MMS) written by Lee Actor of Synthetic Software.

The sophistication of MMS goes far beyond Actor's earlier programs. The MIDI Music System is an interactive music editor (or "step-editor" in MIDI parlance) with a word processor style of editing-scroll through data, insert, delete, cut and paste. I found it very easy to use. All selections of MMS are accessed from the Main Menu. These 12 selections include playing and editing music, MIDI channel assignment and mode commands, tempo, disk I/O and a directory. One other useful item is online Help, which describes in detail each of the other selections. I found this a valuable aid in learning the Music Editor commands.

For those of you familiar with AMS, the musical notation is similar. It has also been compared with "Page R" of the Fairlight Computer Musical Instrument (CMI). A note is specified by a letter name, an octave number, and a duration. For example, C4Q is a C, fourth octave, quarter note. This notation is easy to learn-once I got the hang of it, I could really fly.

This software has so many powerful features, that I can only begin to list some of them:

Pitch values can be entered directly from your MIDI synthesizer. I found this especially useful when entering sheet music.

Tempo control is remarkable. One method of control allows tempo continuously changing at a fixed rate!

Velocity, Pitch Wheel, and MIDI Clock are all well supported. Pitch Wheel commands take up only three bytes!

Jump commands allow easy and efficient use of frequently used phrases. This really helped me when entering a repetitive note or first and second endings.

Repeat loops simplify the entering of repetitive lines. Boy, is this a timesaver.

MMS contains 99 Voices (or monophonic tracks), of which 20 "Channel Voices" can be assigned to any of 16 MIDI channels. The remaining voices are "Phrase Voices" referenced in Jump commands. I could write a 20-voice composition while using the other voices for phrases, recurring themes, or the same part used by more than one voice. This feature in conjunction with Repeat loops makes note capacity seem infinite.

The Music Editor displays three voices simultaneously. Moving through your music is extremely fast and easy Scroll through a single voice by single note, by measure, or specify the measure desired. Scroll across voices or select the voice desired. The ease with which I could move through the music adds to the professionalism of this program.

The manual is well written and although it lacks an index, the table of contents is detailed. AMS users will probably get started immediately with only the aid of online Help.

My only criticism is the absence of a "sync in" capability This is mostly an issue for professional musicians who would like to make multi-track recordings. Also there is no Play Through feature.

We contacted Synthetic Software on this matter. If there is interest, they will add these capabilities in a future update.

One final note: MMS comes with an AMS to MMS conversion program. It converts AMS I to AMS II files and both AMS I and AMS II to MMS files. For AMS users gone MIDI, this product is a "must have!" In summary, MMS is easy to use, very powerful and appears to be bug-free. I highly recommend it for anybody interested in controlling MIDI synthesizers with their Atari 8-bit computer.

Strategic Simulations Inc.
883 Stierlin Road, Bldg. A-200
Mountain View, CA 21030
(415) 964-1983
$39.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Rich Moore

No matter what people at home called it, the Vietnam "conflict" was a real war to the men who fought there. The enemy was trained, well-armed and highly skilled in using his home terrain to either seize the initiative or check U.S/Allied momentum. SSL's excellent new tactical simulation, NAM, pits one player against a computer as wily as the Viet Cong and North Vietnam army units it simulates. All the action takes place at the squad level with a terrain resolution of 50 meters. Vigilance and survival are paramount.

The six basic scenarios each have both historical and optional starting positions to give 12 unique situations representing the major types of ground engagements in Southeast Asia. Three levels of difficulty allow players from beginner to expert to enjoy satisfying games. Play proceeds in turns which incorporate battlefield observation, artillery fire/air strikes, enemy fire and movement, friendly fire and movement, overall tactical assessment and an opportunity to save the game.

The first of the six well-designed situations is appropriately the ambush of a truck convoy You earn extra points for getting the trucks out of "harm's way", apparently impossible (10 out of 10 tries, anyway) in the historical setup, since the VC/NVA units always shoot first and always go for the trucks in their opening volleys of fire. The other scenarios all seem manageable with either set of starting positions-depending upon how you use your forces, of course!

Besides the truck ambush, NAM provides a firebase skirmish, a large-scale helicopter assault, a clearing operation in an area honeycombed with caves, the single U.S./NVA armor engagement and the urban battle to retake the city of Hue.

Familiarity with Southeast Asia operations is an asset, but not a requirement. The well-written manual clearly states how to load the game and execute all 11 phases of play. The scenarios are described in concise terms along with any special rules that apply Key points regarding terrain, the types of forces and their deployment are emphasized and deserve extra attention to be successful. Some lessons, such as routinely digging in, force mobility helicopter firepower and the judicious use of artillery are driven home in the game much more effectively than in the manual.

The multi-colored graphics are excellent. Icons representing the combat units are easily interpreted. The terrain features are the best I've seen in a war game-dense jungle, rough and open ground, hills, roads, caves, buildings, rivers, bridges and walls are all colorful and well-defined. The player's view scrolls smoothly over a playfield almost twice the dimensions of the screen. Virtually all input to the simulation is via a joystick and cursor with the commands a natural part of each phase in a turn.

NAM is fun and a challenging simulation of combat with enough variety to make it enjoyable for a long time. Moderately addictive, it tempts you to play "just one more turn" before dinner/bed/dawn/finishing this review. Speaking of which, I've got to go back and finish clearing out those caves.

Soundsoft, Inc.
P.O. Box 740, 10 Maple Avenue
Andover, NJ 07821
(201) 786-6060
$39.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Charles Cherry

Now here is a fun item. The SoundMouse is not really a mouse, although it looks like one. It's a sound-activated controller. The little box plugs into the joystick port and listens, particularly for low pitched sounds. It continuously translates the sound volume into a value for the paddle register. Simple and effective.

Once the result is in the computer, software can do anything with it. Since the sound can come from anywhere, the possibilities are limitless: games that work with a shout, a clap or a footstomp; an unusual random number generator; an applause meter; an event counter; a burgler alarm; or, of course, a music-driven light show.

Although the SoundMouse works through the paddle register, an assembly language programmer could write a little routine to feed the data into the joystick register. Such a routine could allow you to use the SoundMouse as the joystick trigger with some commercial games. You could steer with the joystick and shoot by yelling FIRE!.

A sensitivity control (the only moving part) lets the SoundMouse respond to a wide range of noises. This makes it suitable for an equally wide range of applications. Although the manual says the SoundMouse responds to the volume of the sound, experimentation showed that it really responds to the change in volume.

For example, a constant sound returns a level of about 105, no matter how loud it is. If the volume drops, the number decreases. But if the volume drops and stays constant at a lower level, the value will drop and then rise back to 105. This makes it relatively immune to constant background noises.

Normally a hardware device like this is for people who can utilize it in their programming. But the Sound-Mouse comes with some demo programs which are spectacular. The light shows alone are worth the price of admission. There are also some examples of games and other uses for the SoundMouse, including an animated three-piece band which will play along with your stereo.

The SoundMouse is well designed and well constructed. It is a unique product with many potential uses, at a reasonable cost. And it is a lot of fun.

C. Robert Blum
1722 Golden Court
Crofton, MD 2114
$29.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Stephen Roquemore

Gradescan is a teachers' application program for tracking students, classes, and grades. It is menu-driven and easy to use. The term "user-friendly" has been beaten to death, but it really applies to this software.

The program uses only one disk drive, even if you have more. The manual is clear and easy to understand, although it is not at all fancy. It is simply a stapled-together printout of a text file, with a title page apparently done by Broderbund's Print Shop.

However, after starting up the software you really don't need a manual. The menu choices are successfully designed to make using the program intuitive. The Main Menu presents you with 11 choices, arranged in the order of most to least usage. They are: Retrieve Data from Disk, Create New Class, Enter Grades, Examine Averages, Examine Grades, Examine Class Averages, Correct or Revise Records, Add/Delete Student Names, Store Data on Disk, Print Reports and End Program.

When starting fresh, you need a blank, formatted disk for your class data. Atari BASIC is required. You start with Selection 2. After creating your class files, you use Selection 8 to add the students to the class. As the term progresses you use Selection 3 to enter the grades.

The program comes with a "demo" disk to help you get used to the program before you enter your own data. It Is really helpful in learning the program! The author stresses strongly that you should not store data on the program disk, nor should you write DOS files to the data disk. The program is copyable, it comes with DOS 2.5 in single density and you do NOT need an Atari 1050 disk drive to run it.

If you are a busy teacher looking for an easy-to-use program to help you with your classroom record-keeping, then Gradescan is the one for you. I highly recommend it to all teachers.

125 CambrIdge Park Drive
Cambridge, MA 02140
(617) 492-6000
48K disk (also available for ST)

Reviewed by Harvey Bernstein

Calling all Infocom freaks ... Did you zip through Zork? Were you able to hurry through the Hitchhikers' Guide? Was Planetfall a mere problem-solving pitstop? Have I got a challenge for you! Spellbreaker, the third game in the Enchanter/ Sorcerer Trilogy has been released. And I found it to be the toughest, most frustrating Infocom game yet. Three weeks of (practically) sleepless nights and I'm still little more than one-third of the way through. The problem is, not only is the game damn hard, it is also as well-written and as much fun as any previous Infocom text adventure.

Starting where Sorcerer left off, you are once again a full-fledged member of the Circle of Enchanters. But there is a crisis in the land! Everything is going to pieces (literally and figuratively) and now magic itself is starting to fail. During an emergency meeting of the Circle, you notice your comrades starting to turn a little green about the gills. In fact, a couple even croak (sorry). Anyway, only you are left to follow a mysterious stranger who promptly vanishes, leaving a strange white cube behind. Learning what to do with the cube is essential, as it is the key to the heart of Spellbreaker. In fact, along the way you will find a number of like cubes, each of which takes you to a "mini-adventure" that must be solved-much the same as the Infnite Improbability Drive In Hitchhiker.

In fact, untangling the gordian knot of cubes-within-cubes-within-cubes is what makes Spellbreaker such a challenge. All the cubes contain very difficult problems, most of which require objects found in other cubes! The game was written by Dave Lebling, co-creator of the original Zork, and in many ways is reminiscent of the original Infocom style. The problems are of the old-fashioned locked-door variety, which are solved by object manipulation or (as in the other games in this series) the use of magic. Character interaction is minimal. I've lately come to think of Spellbreaker as Zork IV. The only thing I miss is Infocom's sometimes wry sense of humor.

The one aspect of the game I disliked had to do with the sub-plot of failing magic. Often, when casting a spell, it doesn't work. That doesn't mean that it was the wrong spell. Instead, you have to try again. And again. Since failure seemed to be a random event, there were times that I had to learn and cast the same spell as many as seven times in a row. That can get a little tedious. Owners of early versions should be aware of a bug in the program. At one point you will be in a room, the only exit being a hole plugged with a piece of alabaster. Don't rezrov the hole (even though you can). You still won't be able to use the exit. You must rezrov the plug in order to leave. Supposedly, later versions have corrected this.

Spellbreaker is rated Expert, and that is one of the greatest understatements of the year. It is an excellent game, with plot and developments that rank with Infocom's best. It will no doubt be much too difficult for most adventurers, and It may be worth your while to send for the hint-book as soon as you buy this game.

Strategic Simulations Inc
883 Stlerlin Road, Bldg. A-200
Mountain View, CA 94043
(415) 964-1200
$39.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Dr. John Stanoch

Armored fighting tactics have changed greatly since the end of the World War II. With SSI's Battalion Commander, a player can explore the tactics and strategies of the '80s battlefield.

In this solitaire-only game, players can essentially design their own battle. Choose a battalion, company or platoon to command. Select from five tactical scenarios-novice game, pursuit and exploitation, meeting engagement, attack, or defense. In every scenario except the novice, the player can choose from American, Russian and Chinese nationalities and determine the strength of both opposing forces.

Select a battlefield from a list of 40 different terrain maps. The screen cursor responds well to the joystick and smoothly scrolls across multiple horizontal and vertical screens. The coordinates of each screen are displayed at the top and the left. When the screen is scrolled horizontally the top values change, When the screen is scrolled up or down, the left values change. With this system, the player can immediately see the exact locations of both his own units and any visible enemies.

Combat units are shown as silhouettes depicting a tank for armored units, a truck for truck mounted units, an infantryman for dismounted troops, or two offset rectangles for platoons mounted in personnel carriers. Each figure represents one platoon. Other silhouettes show burning vehicles, objective locations, artillery batteries and supply depots.

A combination of joystick and keyboard commands control the gamut of important battlefield orders. Units can be ordered to a specific location by accessing the platoon or company followed by placing the cursor at the location and pressing the letter "G" for "Go to." Fire commands include orders for normal, suppressive and priority fire. Special commands are also included for smoke, digging in and removal or establishing bridges. In combat, the computer chooses the best targets of opportunity

The well-written rules booklet contains helpful information and a welcome section on basic tactical doctrine. Although this game simulates a slightly higher level of command, it is hard not to compare it to its SSI forerunner, Combat Leader. Both games use a very similar system of play But I preferred Battalion Commander because of its better map-board, improved unit graphics and greater selection of commands.

First Star Software
22 E. 41 Street
New York, NY 10017
(212) 532-4666
$29.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Brad Kershaw

Spy vs. Spy II, The Island Caper brings back the rival Black Spy and White Spy from MAD Magazine in their second computer game.

This time, the object is to parachute onto a tropical island and find three missile parts that have been buried in different locations. You must assemble the parts and find your offshore submarine before time runs out.
Spy Vs. Spy II screen

Each spy is equipped with several traps that are capable of ending the other's search quickly and permanently There are also natural hazards, such as an active volcano waiting to erupt if you run out of time. All gadgets are accessed through the Super-Duper All-In-One Handy Deluxe Island Trapulator. This little goody has everything from a spy map window to some really nasty weapons. However, you must keep in mind that traps you set will work just as well on yourself as on your opponent.

The game screen itself looks a little like the first Spy vs. Spy Both players have their own independent half-screen showing exactly what mischief they are up to. This also allows both players to be on separate parts of the island and see what the other is planning.

The sandy island is dotted with bumps indicating where things are buried. There may be parts of the missile buried under the sand, or a trap waiting to get you, or more ammunition to use against your opponent. You won't know what is lying in wait until you dig.

You can choose one or two players, level of difficulty and the IQ of the computer opponent. On each spy's screen is a Strength Meter that shows which parts of the missile have been accumulated, along with a digital timer and the various traps your spy has set. Naturally the strength meter also shows how much strength you have left. Every time you fall prey to a trap or battle against your rival you lose some strength and can ultimately perish. It's true that you can regain strength by doing nothing. But that's no help when you are racing against the clock.

Once you have avoided the traps and found the three pieces of the missile, you still have not won. You must swim out and find your submarine. This would be fairly simple if not for the sharks. If you do find your sub and manage to swim out to it, you are rewarded. The hatch opens and a beautiful woman pops out to kiss you. You promptly enter the sub and sail away with her.

I thought this game was considerably better than the first Spy vs. Spy The traps were easier to set, the hand-to-hand combat seemed easier to control. The volcano scene, the parachute scene and opening screens include some of the best animation I have seen since Ballblazer. Unlike certain movie sequels around today this game is not a rehash. In fact, you will probably see me standing in line for Spy vs. Spy III.