ST Product News
PIRATES OF THE BARBARY COAST
TDC Distributors, Inc.
3331 Bartlett Blvd.
Orlando, FL 32811
Reviewed by Sol Guber
Every so often there comes a "little" game that's difficult to describe in a short software review. It might not have stunning graphics, or an arcade theme. It also might not be a clone of something successful (remember "Ghosthunter" and "Jawbreaker" back on the old Atari 800s?). Pirates of the Barbary Coast is such a program. While it is not something so great that you would rave about it to your friends, you won't take the disk and use it for a Frisbee, either. It's an educational-style game that teaches history from an interesting perspective.
Pirates of the Barbary Coast is a one-person game, set in the 18th century, that allows you to be the captain of a sailing frigate. The object of the game is to earn enough money to ransom off your daughter, who's been kidnapped by the fearsome pirate Bloodthroat. You can also become skilled enough to fight Bloodthroat hand-to-hand and rescue your daughter from his evil clutches.
There are many factors involved in both earning money and learning how to fight. You are shown a map of the Mediterranean with eight destinations. You start out with various supplies and trading materials on your ship and you must sail to a port so you can sell your goods for the highest price. The object (not surprisingly) is to buy low and sell high. You can also purchase information from friendly and unfriendly shopkeepers that will aid in your quest.
As you sail along you can attack pirate ships, and if you sink them they will yield both treasure and information. In this game, however, information can be more valuable than gold doubloons. Your ship has a number of cannons which must be loaded in the old-fashioned manner—get some gunpowder, pour it in the cannon, tamp it down with a push rod, and load a cannon ball. Finally, you have to set your cannon elevation and light the fuse. If you're lucky, the enemy ship will still be in range by the time you finish your operations. A few well-placed shots, and you can send the Queen Anne's Revenge (actually, that was the name of Blackbeard's last ship) down into the briny depths.
You can use money to buy supplies—food for your crew and shot for your cannons—and to repair whatever ship damage you've suffered if your sea battles have left you the worse for wear. You can also use it to procure more goodies for trading purposes.
Overall, this is an enjoyable way to transport yourself back to the days of yore. The graphics are good, but there are only about 16 pictures that show the various places that you can travel to. There are several songs that are played during the game. Most of the data entry is done using the mouse and this is very effective. There is a small amount of animation involved. Each game is different and will take about 30 minutes to an hour to play. The difficulty level of the game is medium and is suitable for ages 10 through adult. It is enjoyable to play and you do learn much about the captaining of a ship.
Avast there! Is that a mast on the horizon?
E. Arthur Brown Company
3404 Pawnee Drive
Alexandria, MN 56308
Reviewed by Frank Hayes
The Mouse Ball is a trackball that plugs into the mouse port of your ST It works just like the ST mouse, but once you've used it you'll never think about a mouse in quite the same way again.
You've probably seen trackballs before, either on a computer or an arcade video game. It works something like a mouse that's been flipped on its back. The mouse has a ball on its underside that rolls along your desk or mousepad; when you move the mouse, the ball turns and tells the ST where the on-screen pointer should be. A trackball doesn't slide across the desk; instead, you turn the ball with your fingers.
There's one obvious advantage to the trackball: You don't need lots of open space on your desk to push a mouse. The Mouse Ball takes up just a 5-by-6-inch spot, and with a cluttered desk, that's a nice feature. There's also a clear disadvantage to a trackball: It's not quite as easy to position the mouse pointer accurately on screen. Even after you've got the feel of it, it's easy to overshoot or undershoot the button or box you want to click on.
But that's not what you really notice with the Mouse Ball. A trackball is fun. It's like putting roller skates on your ST. With a mouse, you have to move your hand across your desk to click on "OK." With the Mouse Ball, a flick of your thumb sends the pointer zipping across the screen—then skidding to a stop at "OK," just in time for you to punch the oversized button. No, it's not as easy to be precise as with a mouse—but it sure livens up a spreadsheet.
The Mouse Ball is a specially modified trackball originally made by Wico. Wico makes the Cadillac of tr4ckballs: The ball is heavy, with a good solid feel, and it turns easily in any direction, so it's extremely responsive.
The Mouse Ball works like a mouse in every way. The buttons are on the upper left-hand corner of the track-ball case—the "left" button is much larger than the "right" button, so you can't mistake them. The way the buttons are placed makes it significantly harder to drag the cursor than with a mouse; I sometimes find myself reaching across to use two hands with the trackball for operations that require working the ball and the buttons at the same time. That's the Mouse Ball's biggest drawback, and makes it unsuitable for use with drawing programs. But with almost anything else, the Mouse Ball is just as easy to use as a mouse—and it opens up a whole new side to mouse-based ST games.
I originally got interested in the Mouse Ball when my mouse disappeared—and at $29.95, the Mouse Ball is the least expensive mouse replacement you can buy. But once you've tried it, you may find that you don't want to go back to an ordinary mouse when you can skate around the screen with a trackball.
ATARI ST TRICKS AND TIPS
P.O. Box 7219
Grand Rapids, MI 49510
($14.95 optional disk)
Reviewed by David Plotkin
Atari ST Tricks and Tips imparts enough useful information to be worth the price, although the sample programs and the proofreading leave something to be desired.
The first section of Tricks is about ST BASIC. It primarily gives details of "special" ST BASIC commands and how to use ST BASIC with VDI and AES. It has very good explanations of the WAVE command and some problems of ST BASIC, such as the defective INKEY function. A number of utility programs are also presented, including a clock, and there is a short section about using machine language with BASIC.
The second and third sections present more utilities, including a current time display, a print spooler, a RAM-disk and two color hardcopy programs. These sections consist primarily of assembly source code listings and brief discussions of some underlying principles for each program. You can enter these utilities even if you don't have an assembler, because BASIC loader programs are provided—if you're brave enough to type pages of hexadecimal code.
The fourth section is about GEM programming. The difference between NDC and Raster coordinates is explained. The explanations accompanying the C listings give good insight into using events and messages, although a lot of detail and explanation are left out. The GEM techniques are not explained, so you will need to get this information from another source.
The explanation of building a resource file using the Resource Construction Set is very good. The book walks you through a complete example. Once again, certain fundamental principles are not explained, such as what the different files created by the Resource Construction Set are used for. There is also an example of how to create a desk accessory and the differences between a desk accessory and a regular application are highlighted.
I have mixed feelings about Tricks. There is quite a bit of useful information in this book. Also, some of the included utilities will enhance your ST, especially the RAMdisk and print spooler.
However, this book has problems. The first section on ST BASIC does not explain the "special" commands better than the ST BASIC sourcebook—with the notable exception of the WAVE command. Some of the utilities (such as the clock) and many of BASIC examples don't work on my color system, they seem to be only for a monochrome monitor. No warning is given, so you might expend considerable effort entering these programs for naught.
On top of all that, T&T suffers from excruciatingly bad proofreading. The errors start out right at the front of the book with missing H's in hexadecimal data. It continues with misnamed arrays (intin instead of intout) and includes such things as incomplete translation of C source code from German. The official list of typos and inaccurate information runs three double-spaced pages. There are so many mistakes that it is hard to figure out what they are trying to tell you at times.
On the balance, I would recommend this book strictly for the section on GEM and the utilities which work. You will get your money's worth—and even learn how to spell "mouse" in German.
38 Ullet Road, Sefton Park
Liverpool L17 3BP England
Reviewed by Sol Guber
Americans aren't the only ones writing good software for the ST From Software Punch in England comes Boffin, a unique entry in the word processor market. It combines MacWrite features and some Wordstar commands with the ST's inherent hardware capabilities.
Boffin is a word processor of the "What you see is what you get" type. (WYSIWYG—pronounced "whiziwig"—one of the newest computer buzzwords.) GEM menu bars at the top of the page allow you to choose among its many options. You can choose between the mouse or the cursor to move easily around your document. Another function making this program unique is its ability to insert pictures into documents, as well as giving you the capability to draw them yourself from within the program.
Boffin has all the standard word processor options. You can load and save files, using the dialog boxes found in GEM. Among the other typical word processing functions are block manipulations, which include moving, copying, pasting and cutting. You can justify lines as well as center specified lines. You can move to a specified line or page of your document. You have the typical search and replace functions. You can also change from an INSERT mode of typing to a REPLACE mode (type over previous characters.)
Boffin supports various printers, but you can also design your own printer drivers easily for use with the text portion of Boffin. The graphics printers supported by this program are only Epson- or Atari-compatible ones. Unless you have a printer the ST supports, you cannot use this program to its fullest advantage.
Among the more unusual abilities of Boffin are those to change to different type styles such as italics, bold and large. You can generate headers and footers as well as set tabs and margins for different portions of the document. Its most unusual (claimed) ability is that of being able to network with other STs. Supposedly, you can link your ST to another ST, and send and receive documents. However, exact details on how to set up the two systems are lacking in the documentation.
The functions which make Boffin truly unusual are in its graphics capability. You can include full-size pictures in your text, or you can go into a graphics window, giving you the ability to draw pictures and graphs from within the program. The graphics are visible on screen along with the text. You can port pictures into your text by using either Doodle or DEGAS/DEGAS Elite in monochrome mode.
When you select the graphics mode on the menu page, a new menu is put on the top of the page. A graphics window opens on the bottom of the screen in which you may perform many more actions, such as writing text in a number of sizes, textual types and directions. You can also draw using the mouse. You can move or copy segments of pictures, draw lines, make circles, boxes and use fills. The program has built-in procedures to produce bar graphs and pie charts. Any of the pictures produced in this graphics mode can be saved and included in your documents.
Boffin is a word processor with a difference. Its ability to include pictures in your text and let you see both the graphics and the text at the same time on your screen could possibly qualify it as an "entry-level" desktop publishing system. The disk is not copy-protected.
576 S. Telegraph
Pontiac, Michigan 48053
Reviewed by Sol Guber
At last there is an ST arcade game you do not need to hide in your closet when relatives come to visit. It takes a quick trigger finger a steady eye, and a great deal of knowledge. It is MichTron's Trivia Challenge, a quiz game to test your knowledge on a variety of subjects.
The object of Trivia Challenge is very simple: to win lots of money. You start out with $10 in quarters, and, Vegas-style, you put part of your funds into a slot machine. Then all you have to do is answer its questions correctly and you win. If you miss two answers, your turn is over. Sound simple? Well...it almost is.
Trivia Challenge comes with 4000 different questions divided into five categories: General Knowledge, Sports, Art, Pop Music, and Science. You can pick any of these subjects for your questions. Click the play button with your mouse, and a question appears on the screen. After about five seconds three answers appear on the bottom of the screen. You're expected to click the mouse on the correct answer. Your score depends on the amount of time it takes you to answer the questions—the faster you answer the higher your score. If it took you one second to answer, you receive 120 points. Twelve seconds will hump you down to only 10 points. Then a new question appears. When you have answered two questions incorrectly, the turn is over and you receive your money. For over 1000 points, you get a dollar, for 150() points you get $1.50 and so forth.
In addition to the 4000 questions, there is a program on the disk which allows you make up your own questions. All it takes is a simple text editor, such as 1ST Word, to generate the question, the correct answer, and two dummy answers. When you've completed the list, the program will generate the proper file and this new category can be one to choose in future games. This strongly increases the value of the program since it can he used to teach a subject rather than to rely on obscure facts which many might not know, or care about. This ability will allow people to generate their own "expert" file and even trade them. I would like to start the trading, with my file containing information about the operas of Cimerosa. I would like a file containing questions about Madonna's greatest hits. Do I have any takers?
Although Trivia Challenge sounds very simple, it's actually quite addicting. It seems to have spurts where there are lots of easy questions, then when it appears you're getting the upper hand, it will throw difficult questions at von, all in a row. It is a very difficult game to put down (power down?), since you feel the next series will be the one in which von will be a big winner. This is an easy game to recommend since there is nothing similar to it currently available on the ST.
The program comes with a five-page manual which explains very little about the program. The only real use for it is to help you generate your own data files—the play of the game itself is quite obvious. The disk is copy-protected, but personal backups of the files are allowable. This can be used to restore had files but not to make runnable duplicates.