Talking Toddle Type
Software that speaks--no extra equipment required!
By MATTHEW RATCLIFF
(We have a true 8-bit technical breakthrough for this month's Super Disk Bonus--Antic's first talking program that you can use without any extra hardware or software. And now that Contributing Editor Matthew Ratcliff has worked out the tricky techniques for programming stand-alone talking disk files with the $39.95 Covox Voice Master Junior, you can expect to see a talking Disk Bonus or a tutorial about speech programming in many future issues.--ANTIC ED)
I have dozons of video games for my Atari 8-bit computer system. However, my four-year-old son Nathan's favorite game is to type on Daddy's computer. He will turn on the computer in Atari BASIC and begin tapping away at the keys. So I finally decided to create a special typing program just for little kids who like nothing better than typing on the computer.
When you turn the program on, the title screen is immediately displayed. If nothing is typed within 30 seconds, a random letter of the alphabet "plays" for you. When your toddler taps a letter key, that letter is displayed on an animated screen. The letters might scroll left and right, sparkle, or flash a rainbow--you'll see lots of different effects throughout the alphabet.
After the letter is animated in both upper and lower case, several words beginning with this letter are presented. If junior gets tired and just sits back and relaxes, the program will continue to select letters randomly and animate them once every 30 seconds or so (as long as no keys are pressed).
The bright, flashy colors, huge letters and constant animation will help keep your children fascinated for hours on end. My son, after playing with Todddle Type for only a few days, now recognizes every letter of the alphabet and can find and type any one of them upon request. My two-year-old son Charles is now starting to learn his letters with it as well.
Even before I added some 30 speech files, Toddle Type turned out to be an assebly language program nearly 10K long. A type-in listing of the BASIC translation of Toddle Type would run about a dozen pages with nothing but data statement numbers.
For assembly language programmers, by the time you read this, the full assembler source code for Talking Toddle Type should be available for downloading from the ANTIC ONLINE Software Shelf. At about 128K, the speech code is so big that it won't even fit on one single-density disk.
TALKING TODDLE TYPE
To use Talking Toddle Type, copy TODDLE.EXE to another disk (with DOS command C). Make sure this new disk has a DOS.SYS file on it. Next, rename TODDLE.EXE to AUTORUN.SYS (with DOS command E). Now copy all the .SPK files to this disk. Finally, turn off your Atari and remove any cartridges. (XL/XE owners should press the [OPTION] key to turn off BASIC.) Now turn on your computer and Toddle Type will LOAD and RUN automatically.
With a lot of patient assistance from Kevin Gevatosky of Covox, I gave Toddle Type its own stand-alone speech created with the Covox Voice Master Junior. It was not easy to get everything working at first, so in an upcoming Antic article I will explain the programming techniques I learned.
You don't need a Covox Voice Master (reviewed in the June 1988 Antic) to play Talking Toddle Type. The complete set of working speech files are on this month's Antic Disk.
After you LOAD Talking Toddle Type, you will be prompted to press [SELECT] to indicate the number of the disk drive that your speech files are on. If you have a RAMdisk, you can copy all the .SPK extender files to it before running Talking Toddle Type. However, each .SPK file is only about 3K, so it doesn't take much time to load from a floppy disk while the game is being played.
If you do have your own Covox Voice Master Junior (or the older Voice Master model), you can easily replace the A.SPK through Z.SPK files with your any sounds you choose. You must use the Atari 800 version of Covox software, because the XL and XE versions use memory banks that Talking Toddle Type can't access.
Set up your Voice Master according to the instructions that come with the product (you'll need to have BASIC turned on). From the main menu of the Covox software, choose the selection for exiting to BASIC. Now LOAD and RUN the program ABCMAKE.BAS from this month's Antic Disk. When you're prompted for a letter to learn, just type that letter and press [RETURN]. The inverse plus sign at the top left of the screen indicates that the Voice Master is ready to learn a "word."
Talking Toddle Type can handle a stand-alone speech file as long as 3K--enough for a phrase or sentence about six to eight words long. If a file is much larger, the end of your message will be cut off in playback. But each speech file is considered by the Voice Master to be one word, even if you actually record a short phrase. So you must say each phrase in one quick breath. Don't pause between words--or Voice Master will think you're finished!
After each speech fragment is learned and saved, it is automatically played back for you. If you don't like the result, just do it again. To end the program, press [RETURN]. Another short program on this Month's Antic Disk, ABCPLAY.BAS, will read all the speech files and play them back. After you are satisfied with pour results, LOAD and RUN Talking Toddle Type (NOTE TO PARENTS: While testing this program Antic soon discovered that if you tap a key while speech is being played back, it produces comical sound effects such as "Max Headroom" sputterings. For sanity insurance you might want to buy yourself earplugs--just in case your child stumbles onto this potential of the software.--ANTIC ED)
Your October 1988 Antic Disk---featuring the Talking Toddle Type disk bonus as well as every type-in program from this issue--will be shipped to you within 24 hours after receiving your order. Just phone Toll-Free to the Antic Disk Desk at (800) 234- 7001. The monthly disk is only $5.95 (plus $2 for shipping and handling) on your Visa or MasterCard. Or mail a $5.95 check (plus $2 shipping and handling) to Antic Disk Desk, 544 Second Street, San Francisco, 94107.
Covox Speech Thing Write-In
As you'll see on this month's Super Disk Bonus Page, Contributing Editor Matthew Ratcliff has developed software tools that easily make Antic disk files talk. The speech is created with the Covox Voice Master Junior ($39.95), but it is accessed from the monthly Antic Disk without any special add-on equipment. This stand-alone talking software is a real breakthrough in 8-bit Atari programming.
Although Voice Master Junior produces perfectly understandable speech, it has the unmistakably flat, mechanical sound of traditonal talking computers. But the new Covox Speech Thing, only $69.95 for the IBM PC version, is an 8-bit digital-to-analog sound converter that plays true high-fidelity speech and music through its own small amplifier-speaker. Samples of the PC Speech Thing we heard sound like a real human voice recorded on tape.
Covox already has made prototype Speech Thing playback hardware for the 8-bit Atari. This product would be a small amplifier-speaker with a cable connecting it to both joystick ports. But Covox hesitates to continue developing an Atari Speech Thing all the way to market unless it sees convincing evidence that enough 8-bit users out there will want to buy it. (Covox hasn't developed any ST products yet and believes that a Speech Thing ST conversion would be beyond their resources at this time.)
Please note that because of the standard 8-bit Atari's memory limits, Speech Thing hardware would essentially be a super-quality playback system for our computers. However, the product would also come with a disk library of basic sounds and words that Atari users could edit into full speech files. Also, the editing software for the PC Speech Thing (it's 80K big) compresses data so that only 2,000 bytes per second are needed for natural-sounding sounds--and PC-created files could be ported directy to the 8-bit Atari.
Here's where you come in. In an Antic issue packed with multiple firsts for the Atari 8-bit--this is another one. For the first time, an independent company has asked Antic to start a write-in campaign about a potential Atari conversion of one of its products!
If you think that the Speech Thing, even with its current limitations as described above, is something that you would probably want to buy direct from the manufacturer for around $69.95, write a letter expressing your interest (and including your return address) to: John L. Stenrart, President, Covox Inc., 675-D Conger Street, Eugene, OR 97402.
Covox even offers to send a Speech Thing demonstration cassette Free to the first 100 Antic readers who write! Remember, sending this letter does NOT obligate you to buy a Speech Thing for your 8-bit Atari. You are just expressing your strong interest in checking out the final product when it becomes available. After all, natural-quality Atari 8-bit speech playback for only $69.95 is not too shabby!