Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 4 / AUGUST 1986

Product Reviews

401 North Washington Street
Rockville, MD 20850
(800) 638-9636
$5 per hour-Evening/Weekend/Holiday (300/1200 BAUD)
$10 per hour for 2400 BAUD

Reviewed by William Colburn

GEnie, the General Electric Information Service, is the newest commercial online service and also the cheapest at $5 an hour, even for 1200 baud modems.

The overall feeling of GEnie is very friendly with frequent prompts and helpful instructions. From the moment new users log on they're guided through the steps of setting up terminal defaults and presented with the main menu

GEnie provides the usual online services like electronic mail, news and commentary, articles, electronic magazines, a CB simulator and national real-time conferences. There is also a Shop and Swap, where you can buy from or sell to other GEnie users on a national BBS, and the Game Room, where you can play Stellar Warrior, a multi-player game by Kesmai that sounds similar to CompuServe's Megawars, and many other single or multi-player games.

GENIEInstead of SIGS, (special interest groups) GENIE has RoundTables where owners of various brands of computers or special hobbies can gather. At the Atari RoundTable you can select from the bulletin board, a place to post messages to all Round-Table members; a real-time conference with several "conference rooms" including the general room where there is a scheduled group conference every Wednesday night at 10 pm, Eastern time; and a public domain software library.

The Atari software library is of fair size, presently containing about 200 public domain programs. It is growing fast, however, because GEnie provides free upload time. This policy was scheduled to expire on May 31, but has been so successful that GEnie may extend it. The Atari RoundTable software library has 11 categories, including one specifically for the ST. Downloading and uploading is where GEnie really shines with the fastest XMODEM protocol transfers I have ever seen.

Bob Retelle, the system operator (sysop) of the Atari RoundTable, got his first sysop experience on local bulletin boards in Michigan, where he lives, and then became a co-sysop on the Delphi Atari SIG. Bob had become acting chief sysop on the Delphi SIG by late last year, when he was approached about GEnie's Atari RoundThble. You'll find Bob very helpful and he adds to the Atari RoundTable's warm atmosphere.

I have only a few nits to pick about GEnie. In conference mode, there is no command comparable to CompuServe's [CONTROL] [V] which redisplays the line you have been typing if you get run over by somebody else's message. It is a good idea to use a software package with an edit window while in conference mode on this service. I was able to participate without either of these tools, but they would have been helpful. GEnie also defaults to half duplex, which I don't care for. You can get full duplex, however, if you type a [CONTROL] [R] after the U# = prompt before you enter your user number.

Overall, I liked GEnie a lot and expect to spend a lot of time using this service.

Atari Corp.
1196 Borregas Avenue
Sunnyvale, CA 94086
(408) 745-2000
Requires 1050 disk drive
$24.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Stephen Roquemore

Silent Butler is a two-disk personal finance package that can track three checkbooks, three savings accounts, and includes a reminder file that holds birthdays, anniversaries and other dates. If you order the optional plastic checkholder, Silent Butler will even print on your own checks.

Silent Butler is easy to understand and use. It does what it claims to do. The program guides you to organizing your bills into fixed or variable expenses and automatically collects them into a current bills file for processing.

If you put the program disk into a 130XE, it automatically loads more of the program into memory in order to work faster than it does on the 800XL.

As the program loads, it displays a picture of a distinguished pipe-smoking gentleman-your "Silent Butler" The program is organized into two sections (mysteriously called "Bookmarks"), one with everyday procedures and the other with less often used activities.

The program leads you through each function in order, asking if there is anything you want to do here. When you become more experienced with the software, there is also a Jump feature that lets you skip around between functions. The program also saves automatically fairly often, so inexperienced users do not run the risk of losing much of their data.

At the end of each Bookmark, you are given a chance to review what you have done and make corrections. At the end of Bookmark 2, the Butler asks to "retire for the evening." You dismiss him by removing your disk and switching off. The cutesy formal language soon wears thin, and slows down the actual work.

The records disk is supposed to hold a year of data and can be backed up, but the program disk is copy-protected. As noted in the heading, you need an Atari 1050 disk drive, because Silent Butler is in an enhanced density format which runs only on the 1050. The program allows use of only one drive, even if you have more. Some of its functions require interminable disk-swapping because of this.

Silent Butler is simple to use and is functionally adequate for home needs. But I could recommend it for more users if Atari produced a single density version that would work on other drives besides the 1050.

Elfin Magic Company
23 Brook Place
East Islip, NY 11730
(516) 581-7657
$39.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Len Dorfman

Super 3-D Plotter II is a 3-D design, animation program for 8-bit Ataris. Use your joystick to draw straight-line images from point to point. Super 3-D Plotter remembers the points of your line drawing, adjusts, redraws and page-flips the completed new image. The result is an animation display that's smooth and impressive to see.

In the Display mode, you can rotate the wire image drawing on a variety of axes and control the user distance from the shape. The user has control of a hidden line algorithm in the shape display.

Super 3-D Plotter lets you save your image to a file that contains all the points, or save the entire screen in a standard 62-sector Graphics 8 or Micro-Painter 7+ file format. The screen dump Load and Save functions are available from the Display mode, although the program does not allow naming the screen file. The default screen name is "Picture." Take care not to overwrite this file if you want to save views from more than one perspective.

There are two screen dump printing functions: one slow and high-density, and the other quick and low-density. The dump defaults to the Epson graphic standard, but the manual provides information on reprogramming the dump for other printers. Unfortunately, you'll be responsible for knowing your printer's graphic-enable byte stream and pin head fire format. This can be a tad tricky.

The Graphics Editor creates your 3-D images. It seems complex at first, but the manual explains it thoroughly and a little patience will get you started. The traditional "plot a point and connect a line" method is used. After a short time, I had simple drawings rotating on the screen.

All things considered, I like Super 3-D Plotter. The program was designed with "open architecture" so that you can port data from other programs, or save the screens to use with other graphics and printing software. Super 3-D Plotter II is useful to people like me who find fascination in seeing wire-framed images rotate, or who want printouts of a line drawing from different perspectives.

Softview Concepts
P0 Box 1325
Lisle, IL 60532
(312) 968-0605
48K disk, requires joystick

Reviewed by Charles Jackson

BASIC View is an imaginative programming utility that will greatly aid you during debugging sessions. Written in machine language, Basic View adds several debugging commands to Atari BASIC, including a BASIC tracer.

BASIC View screenAs each line of your code is executed, the BASIC tracer highlights it in a screen window. So if there's a bug in your program, BASIC View quickly helps you locate the offending line. You can adjust the speed of the tracer to skim over trouble-free code while zeroing in on potential trouble zones.

BASIC View can be used effectively with nearly any program you develop. It resides just below Atari BASIC (28672-40959) and just above screen memory. Therefore it should not interfere with your own machine language routines which reside elsewhere.

BASIC View divides your screen into three horizontal windows. At the top is a scrolling window displaying 11 lines of your program. As each line is executed, it is highlighted in inverse video. A glance at this window lets you know what your Atari is up to throughout the execution of your program.

The middle window contains BASIC View's menu of commands and options. The bottom window displays the values of selected variables or memory locations used in your program.

As with any BASIC tracer/debugger, there are a few tricks you must learn for harnessing the full power of BASIC View. For example, since some BASIC View commands are issued through a joystick connected to port one, you must remember to reconfigure BASIC View when editing a program which also uses this port. BASIC View can quickly be reconfigured to accept joystick commands through any other joystick port.

Secondly, there are several key memory locations which BASIC View refuses to share with your program. Such locations include the starting address of the display list, the address of any routines to be run during the vertical blank, and the VSCROL register which controls fine vertical scrolling. For such cases, BASIC View provides alternate memory registers which must be used instead of the standard ones.

Without BASIC View, the VSCROL register resides at memory location 54277 ($D405). Since BASIC View uses this register, it creates an artificial VSCROL register at location 29762 ($7442). If you want to use BASIC View to debug a program that uses the VSCROL register, you must change your program so that it uses the artificial VSCROL register. After you are through debugging with BASIC View, you must then re-edit your program so it uses the actual registers again. Only a handful of these artificial registers must be used, and all are fully documented in the BASIC View manual.

After a telephone consultation with the Antic technical staff, BASIC View designer Jeffrey Fischman added an artificial register for the character base register (CHBAS, location 756, $02F4) and created version 1.2 of the program. So if you purchased BASIC View version 1.1 or 1.0, write to Softview Concepts for a free copy of version 1.2. The earlier versions will not support BASIC programs that use redefined character sets.

The artificial memory registers should pose little problem to programmers who adhere to a modular programming style. By checking one small subroutine module at a time, the number of artificial registers needed is drastically reduced. Once a subroutine is "clean," it may be added to the rest of your program with confidence.

Programmers may wish to include a DEBUG mode in their code. The following simple routine will enable the artificial VSCROL register when DEBUG 1, and use the real one when DEBUG=0.
10 DEBUG =0
20 VSCROL=54277

If your program uses several artificial registers, this technique can be a valuable timesaver. Just edit line 10 to 10 DEBUG=1 and your program will use the artificial registers instead of the real ones.

TK Computer Products
P0. Box 9617
Downer's Grove, IL 60515
(800) 422-4912
$39.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Walter Wenclewicz

Batter up! Monday Morning Manager brings power-hitting software to the field for baseball enthusiasts. It's a home run hit for statistics nuts like me. With both realistic ballplaying action and accurate record-keeping, this disk won't be collecting dust with your trophies.

Monday Morning ManagerThe opening theme takes you back to Doubleday Park in Cooperstown, New York. The graphics and action make you feel like you're in the dugout with Connie Mack himself. Hit a home run and enjoy a full-screen, exploding scoreboard. Argue with the umpires that call every play. You'll feel like Miller Huggins managing against Eddie Sawyer and his 1950 "Whiz Kids."

Monday Morning Manager will print out statistics and line scores of each game for both hitters and pitchers. Statistics nuts can throw away the pads, pens and rulers and complete a full season on disk, no fuss or muss. This is truly a satisfying feature for those who like to review a ballgame on paper once the dust has settled.

Every game has a foul ball or two. In this case, it's the instructions. Although they are thorough, they lack the clarity that a well-placed example or two could provide. For instance, when you've selected your 15 non pitchers, the prompt doesn't tell you how to put the pitchers in. This means going back to the main menu for instructions, and even then it can be confusing.

Monday Morning Manager is fun, exciting and educational. Most importantly, it is realistic. Younger players will probably disregard the statistics feature, but managers of Little League teams could find it very helpful for keeping track of their players' accomplishments. I would strongly recommend Monday Morning Manager to anyone looking for some major league stats and baseball action software.

125 Cambridge Park Drive
Cambridge, MA 02140
(617) 492-6000
$39.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Michael Lasky

Everybody enjoys a good mystery, right? And the circus, right? Why not combine them for what should be a surefire hit? That's the premise of Ballyhoo, Infocom's newest all-text adventure game.

BallyhooYou're under the big top of the Traveling Circus That Time Forgot, headed by visionary Tomas Munrab (Barnum spelled backwards). The show is over and you loitered behind to see what goes on. Instead, you overhear a conversation about kid-napping Munrab's daughter, Chelsea. As you type in questions on the screen, you learn slowly but surely that this circus isn't all cotton candy and happy clowns. You investigate further, although danger lurks around every unknown corner. You've never been here before, so you must find your way around by painstaking trial and error. This is the ever-changing challenge of interactive fiction.

Infocom rates Ballyhoo as a "standard level" mystery but it repeatedly baffled me. Characters give coy, cute and evasive answers when questioned. You need to be as tenacious as Sherlock Holmes to discover who kidnapped Chelsea and how to get her back. Remember, you're at the circus which relies on flash and illusion to disguise its sordid underbelly.

Included in Ballyhoo are a ticket, a balloon and a souvenir program. Read them all carefully for important leads. With the ticket, you can have a palm reading or a hypnosis session, and questions will be answered differently depending on your sex. The balloon will get you past Harry the guard. Ask Harry anything you want about the circus and its inhabitants- he enjoys talking.

When you stumble upon costumes and masks, try them on for size and disguise. Remember, you're an outsider, so play it cool. Act like you belong there. Greet everyone you meet. To get far beyond the sideshow, you must do seemingly outrageous things.

Like all Infocom's text adventures, Ballyhoo requires patience and endurance. This might not be the circus you want to run away with, but progmmer Jeff O'Neill supplies enough escapist entertainment to make it seem as if you have.

Atari Corp.
1196 Borregas Avene
Sunnyvale, CA 94088
(408) 745-2000
$19.95, 48K disk

Reviewed by Sol Guber

With Music Painter, you can play three different voices at a time. Choose from a piano, a flute, a violin and a drum. Just place colored lines on a musical staff with your joystick. These colored lines represent musical notes as they would appear on a player piano roll, and they perform your creation while the notes scroll by.

You create music by selecting from the icons lined up along the top of the screen. A paint brush icon is the major controller. Lower a musical note onto the bar with the joystick. If you press the trigger while moving the joystick, the note will sound. Moving the joystick either right or left paints the note on the sheet music. The longer the color line, the longer the note is sounded. You can play the music forward or backward, insert or delete spaces, and copy blocks of music anywhere within the song.

My eight-year-old daughter Rebecca and her friend Lauren used Music Painter for a week. Both said it was easy to write music with the program and transcribe the songs onto disk. Rebecca liked the idea of playing one voice like a violin and another like a piano, but she said there wasn't much difference between their tones. She and Lauren both liked the sound of the drum. Lauren said it would be better to know something about music in the first place, but Music Painter could help you learn.

Rebecca and Lauren thought the colors were sometimes confusing, that the top of the screen was too black and made it difficult to see the options. They also felt that the joystick was not a precise enough tool for operating the whole program. They complained because they couldn't erase a whole song if they didn't like it. They also wished there could be a display of standard musical notes as well as the colored lines

Overall, Music Painter is a solid piece of software and the controls are smooth. The program is generally easy to use, although it may be to complex in parts. However, it is good tool for learning more about music and how to write your own songs.