Classic Computer Magazine Archive ANTIC VOL. 5, NO. 6 / OCTOBER 1986

Product Reviews

ICD Inc.
1220 Rock Street
Suite 310
Rockford, IL 61101
(815) 229-2999
$69.95, 48K disk


Reviewed by Kurt Oestreich

Atari 8-bit computers don't have standard parallel and serial ports built in. Until now, if you wanted to use Ataris with non-Atari modems and printers you pretty much needed to connect them via the Atari 850 Interface Module. The 850, which was introduced in 1980, has not been manufactured for several years and is often difficult to find today.

Now along comes the P:R: Connection, a better mousetrap at last. The P:R: provides two RS-232 serial ports and one Centronics parallel port. This allows connection of one parallel printer, one serial modem and one other serial device such as an EPROM programmer. For most users, this should be more than enough interface capability.

The P:R: Connection is 850-compatible. Connections, software and applications remain the same. The unit's small gray case measures about four inches wide by six inches long. Perhaps the nicest new feature of the P:R: Connection is that it gets its power from the host computer, eliminating the need for an additional power supply and cord.

The exceptional software that comes with the P:R: Connection includes 850 Express (the 850-compatible version of the popular 1030 Express), AMODEM 7.2 and RSCOPE. The 850 Express is best of the three, allowing error-free uploading and downloading of files, auto-dialing with support for MCI and Sprint, capturing text, directories and much more.

The file PRC.SYS is included for programs such as HomeTerm that have problems with the P:R: Connection. Aye, lads, the P:R: Connection is not totally compatible with the Atari 850. For people into machine language, it's completely compatible on the CIO level, but a few problems arise on the SIO level. PRC.SYS acts as a translator for those programs that interface on the SIO level.

I couldn't get Atari's Plato cartridge to work with the P:R: Connection either. However, Atari is apparently considering a new Plato release that would support the P:R:. I should also mention that the Atari 1200XL computer requires a small hardware modification to work with the P:R: Connection. Complete instructions are given in the documentation and the entire operation should take less than five minutes.

The P:R: Connection documentation is spectacular. It contains the complete R: driver source listing and extensive information on pinouts of industry standard peripherals and the P:R: ports. Also included is a detailed account of the workings of the RS232 ports.

All in all, ICD's P:R: Connection is a fine package, both for novice computer users and advanced programmers.

MTS Software
P.O. Box 623
Williamsville, NY 14221
(716) 634-0578
59.95, 48K disk


Reviewed by Andy Eddy

Write 80 is a word processor with built-in 80-column display but the amount of memory used for the 80-column feature interferes with the computer's handling of other tasks and limits the program's usefulness.

Unlike the ACE8O cartridge reviewed in the July, 1986 Antic, Write 80's expanded 80-column display is not compatible with other word processors or text editors. It provides 80 columns only in the text entry and edit modes. When it reaches a menu or prompt, the program reverts to 40 columns.

Write 80 is very slow to accept text from the keyboard. Anyone who types faster than 15 words per minute will lose characters because of the lack of a buffer. The developers of the program said they couldn't provide a buffer because of the 8-bit Atari's memory constraints, but they feel that Write 80 still makes a good beginner's word processor.

Write 80 displays a 19-line chunk of the page you're writing. When you reach the bottom of the screen, it clears, redisplays the last two lines at the top and leaves a new 19-line area to work with. This sluggish redrawing of the screen is necessary because of the redefined character editor for 80 columns. But the delay also gets annoying when any changes are made in the text, such as with a global replace.

Write 80 saves text page by page. You can't save a whole document. When you reach the end of one page, you must save it before continuing with the next. This makes editing a real chore. If there is no room to add to a page, you must reformat each following page.

If you can work around these problems, the program is functional, with control codes to accomplish the more difficult word processing tasks. There are even some fancy features available, such as the print preview, which shows a scaled-down diagram of your entire page on the screen-the text layout is represented by hash marks. Margins and other page definitions are easy to change to your liking. Write 80's manual is very helpful too.

The 80-column
display slows up
the word

All in all, the developers of Write 80 should be proud to have squeezed as much as they did out of the Atari 8-bit computers. To their credit, they came up with a decent word processor, even though memory limitations slow it down.

Electronic Arts
1820 Gateway Drive
San Mateo, CA 94404
(415) 572-ARTS
$29.95, 48K disk


Reviewed by David Plotkin

Racing Destruction Set (RDS) is a construction set program for enthusiasts of road racing games. It offers many options for customizing the cars and race tracks. The graphics are somewhat limited, but the fast action and multitude of options should keep you busy for quite a while.

Racing Destruction SetIf you don't feel like designing your own course, RDS comes with 50 race tracks, many of which resemble world-famous courses such as the Indianapolis 500 and Laguna Seca. The. race tracks are loaded from disk via an easy-to-use menu system. However, some tracks take over a minute to load.

RDS is first and foremost a racing game. You can race against either a human opponent or the computer. The screen is split, and each of the players can see their car plus a very short section of the track. If the two cars are near each other on the track, both cars appear in both windows.

Even if you're "just" racing, there are many options to spice up the game. You can vary the number of laps which constitute a race, change the backround graphics and change the difficulty level-which changes the top speed available and your ability to survive wrecks. But these are only the basic options.

Increasing the gravity makes the car roll over more during jumps. You can also choose the destruction derby, in which part of the object is to disable the opponent's car. You can bump him off the road, or use weapons such as mines, oil slicks or the "crusher."

The ability to customize is the heart of construction sets, and RDS is no exception. First, you can customize your car, choosing the size of the engine, tires and even the vehicle type itself. Ten different kinds of vehicles are available, including Can Am racers, dune buggies and a dirt bike, each with its own set of engine and tire possibilities.

To customize, simply move a cursor on the screen with the joystick, pressing the button to make your choices, which affect important racing variables such as weight and traction-although curiously not gas mileage. Relative values of these variables appear on the screen to help you choose: for example, you might want different tires for a dirt surface than for concrete.

You can also choose armor and weapons, although these will increase your weight and reduce your acceleration. Once you have selected a car you like, you can save it to disk for future racing sessions or further modifications.

Customizing the race track is trickier. You may choose a variety of pieces such as curves and jumps, again using a joystick-controlled cursor. Some of the pieces may be altered, varied in width and contoured with changing elevations. A variety of surfaces, such as concrete or dirt, are also available. An enlarged view of the piece you have selected appears on the bottom of the screen to help make modifications.

When you are through, you can save the track to disk and race it. However, if the program finds that two adjoining pieces don't match, it will refuse to exit, indicating which pieces are in error. Then you must figure out why they don't match, and fix it. Of course, fixing one piece may cause a problem with others, but this is the price you must pay for having so much power.

The control scheme for RDS is pretty standard for racing games, with joystick movement sending the car in a direction based on the driver's frame of reference-that is, if the car is moving down on the screen, pushing the joystick right will move the car left. This can be confusing. The RDS menu screens are essentially standard Graphics 0, somewhat uninspiring. More importantly, the racing scenes have a jerky motion. The cars are not well detailed, and during a race your car can get so close to the end of the visible section of track that you can't correct for track conditions in time to avoid a wreck. After you learn a track, this is not so much of a problem, but it should have been easy to fix in the programming.

Finally, the cars partially steer themselves. They'll maneuver around the curves like slot cars as long as you don't hit the curves too fast. There doesn't seem to be any way to counteract this, so some of the challenge of the race is lost.

But these shortcomings are minimal compared to the joy of building and racing your own car and tracks. If you are a racing buff, then Racing Destruction Set should provide many hours of creative enjoyment.

Infocom Inc.
125 Cambridge Park Drive
Cambridge, MA 02140
(800) 262-6868
2-4 players, age 14 to adult
$39.95, 48K disk


Reviewed by Michael Lasky

Fooblitzky is a graphics-filled strategy game that I actually found dull. The most surprising thing about this cumbersome computerized boardgame is that it is the first graphics software from the interactive fiction geniuses at Infocom.

FooblitzkyFooblitzky City is inhabited by dogs. The object of the game is to move around and collect four objects secretly pre-selected by the other players. Then you race back to a checkpoint. If you have the correct objects, you win.

Obstacles to prevent you from quickly succeeding include being hit by a car, opponents bumping into you and taking your possessions, and the Chance Man, a con artist/mugger who prowls the streets. A spinning wheel determines how many spaces you move in each turn.

You buy things like bananas, teddy bears and light bulbs, using "foobles" for money and noting the objects and their prices on a memo board. If a store is out of stock, you must go to another quadrant of the city to buy, but you can call ahead from a telephone booth to avoid a wild goose chase. And there is a subway to get you across town quickly.

Anything you do in Fooblitzky seems to cost money. If you go broke, you can earn more by working in the restaurant or selling possessions in the pawnshop. You start each game with exactly twice the amount needed to buy one set of correct items.

As with other Infocom games, the disk drive responds to virtually every command you make. The program, however, doesn't always react to the joystick the first time you push it. I preferred using the keyboard instead The flipping graphics and page scrolling are well-defined "pixel-ated" drawings-somewhat primitive in design but still whimsical. The only sound effects are a few low-volume tones that can be toggled off.

Fooblitzky requires musical chairs logistics where each player takes a turn at the keyboard. There are so many rules and procedures to remember that the package contains four memo boards with colored oil pens for player notes and three-count em-different sets of instructions. The screen can accommodate only 25% of the playing field. Pushing the joystick button at the right time produces a miniature map of the entire board, but it's hard to read. A status line quadrant locator is of little help.

Variations to the default "house rules" can be made when booting the disk. You can change the Chance Man's mood, make crossing the streets safe, even start players with more foobles. About the only thing you can't do is make Fooblitzky more exciting.

MTS Software
P.O. Box 623
Williamsville, NY 14221
(716) 634-0578
48K disk


Reviewed by Andy Eddy

For closet artists everywhere, MTS Software's Artist Unleashed ($49.95) helps bring creativity to the surface. Using a joystick, KoalaPad or Rat to control the onscreen painting dot, you can create high-resolution Graphics 8 pictures on your 8-bit Atari for saving to disk, inserting in your BASIC programs or printing on an Epson-compatible.

In the right
hands, very fancy
art can be

These pictures can be enhanced or altered by stretching, inverting, displaying in inverse video, changing colors and rotating in 90-degree increments. You can also place text anywhere on the screen. You can touch up the picture many times before printing or saving-in much the same way a word processor manipulates text. Completed pictures can be moved and combined to form collages.
Artist Unleashed
Refine, the program's picture editor, breaks down your picture into grids for detail work. The section to be edited appears enlarged on the right side of the screen while the main picture remains on the left. Changes on the enlarged portion also show up on the main picture so you can check your progress immediately Upon completion, you can use the Show function to access and display a version from disk.

A disk of sample pictures created with Artist Unleashed is included to demonstrate that in the right hands very fancy works of art can be created with this software.

Unfortunately, Artist Unleashed is not all that easy to learn. The manual describes commands only briefly. References to the Show and Refine functions send you to a page where neither topic is mentioned. Thus, like Columbus, you are frequently forced to search for discoveries in this package.

With Layout ($39.95), another well-constructed MTS package, you can compose newsletters, posters and advertising materials. It can be used by itself or with Artist Unleashed. Layout is not a powerful drawing utility like Artist Unleashed, but its picture editor is fine if you just need basic graphics to be combined into neat pages with text and headlines.

The accompanying data disk contains pre-programmed symbols, borders and character sets to save you the toil of making them from scratch. I felt that the border set, used with the manual's examples, was the most attractive feature of this package-it embellishes your creations with professional-looking results. User group newsletters can particularly benefit from using Layout.

Layout suffers from some of the same documentation problems as Artist Unleashed, but it doesn't hurt this program as much, because Layout is much simpler. And using Layout together with Artist Unleashed makes a graphic one-two punch that's hard to beat.