Bismarck, Judge, Jumpstart, SPI
BISMARCKBismarck: The North Sea Chase is Datasoft's entry into the realm of war simulations, a battlefield dominated by SSI. And while SSI's game design is not bettered on every front, Bismarck does have a couple of advantages.
This program recreates the historic 1941 sea battle between the British ship Hood and Germany's Bismarck. History tells us that the Bismarck sank the Hood with all hands. This game lets you change history as well as experience the battle from either side. And if you get tired of sea battles, launch a Swordfish torpedo plane from a carrier and try your luck at an airstrike.
Newcomers will appreciate the arcade-like simplicity of play. The graphics-oriented control interface lets you initiate commands as easily as on the Macintosh or ST just point and select with the joystick. Though this isn't as fast as a mouse, it's still quick and easy to learn and use.
The manual, critical in a simulation, is rather slight. While it does index and cover every aspect of the game, the exact operation of some commands are not spelled out precisely and completely. This could discourage those beginners to whom the game caters. The graphics are standard fare, and while the screen updates quickly, the program execution is chained to the chugging disk drive, which must be accessed to load new code whenever you enter a different command mode.
Overall though, Bismarck is worthy of consideration. It's a good introduction to simulations, teaching the basic concepts of a complex game genre in an arcade framework. STEVE PANAK
$29.95, 64K disk. Datasoft, 19808 Nordhoff Place, Chatsworth, CA 91311. (818)886-5922
THE JUDGECan your computer make your decisions for you? The somewhat scary answer is, yes. And it can do a better job than you can.
As far as I know, The Judge is the only decision-making commercial software available for the 8-bit Atari, although there are many similar programs on other computers. The Judge is amazingly flexible and can handle extremely complex problems. It can also be used for scoring contests. Its power really begins to show when you have several contestants being judged on several factors, by several judges.
Like most computer applications, The Judge is more work than it's worth for simple problems. But for difficult dilemmas, or repetitive problems, it's worth its weight in silicon chips.
First, you must define the question for The Judge. You lay out all the options, all the factors to take into account, and the relative importance of the factors. Then you evaluate each of the factors for each of the options. The Judge evaluates your input and rates the options and gives you the scores. It sounds simple, but it's actually pretty subtle. The results will surprise you. The Judge will often rate things differently than your intuitive feelings did.
The Judge is not easy to use. It has an interface only a programmer could love, full of cryptic abbreviations. But once you learn it, you can move around pretty fast in the program. Also, since it's written in BASIC, you can go in and redesign it to your own preferences.
Should you follow The Judge's advice? Well, my daddy always said when you need to decide, promise to abide by the results of a coin toss. When the coin hits the ground, you'll know what you really want to do. Do that. CHARLES CHERRY
$39.95, 48K disk. Mead Micro Ware, 10 Bonito Place, Los Alamos, NM 87544.(505) 662-9475.
JUMPSTART MODULE, ENHANCEMENT DISKWhen you "warmstart" your Atari by pressing the [RESET] key, the computer goes through a number of processes. When you "coldstart" your Atari by turning the computer off and back on again, it does all the warmstart processes plus a few more including erasing the main memory and rebooting the disk drive. (During a warmstart, the program in memory can reboot the drive.) A coldstart switch like the Jumpstart Module ($18.95) lets your Atari XL/XE perform all its coldstart routines witbout being turned off.
Even though your Atari has a perfectly good on/off switch, there are several reasons to install a coldstart switch. You'll reduce electrical stress on the computer by eliminating some power cycling (turning the computer off and back on). You'll extend the life of the on/off switch. The switch is in a more convenient location. And on expanded memory XLs, you eliminate the 15 second wait while the memory drains out.
But all these reasons are minor. The real reason for a coldstart switch is to preserve the contents of your RAM-disk during reboots. The operating system erases only the main memory during a coldstart not the extended memory. That gets erased only when the power is turned off. If you coldstart without turning off the power, the extended memory is protected.
For example, as a coldstart switch user you could draw a picture with a paint program, save it instantly to the RAMdisk, reboot with your graphics printing program, load your picture instantly from the RAMdisk and print it. Very convenient.
The Jumpstart Module is a cartridge with a small push button on the top. Although it plugs into the cartridge slot, it uses no memory. The module works as advertised. You simply hold down that button and press [RESET]. It's more convenient on the 800XL than the XE because of the location of the cartridge slots. Unfortunately, you can't use the Jumpstart Module with other cartridges.
The Jumpstart Module works by telling the OS that a cartridge has been inserted. That forces a coldstart, but it can also confuse the computer about the cartridge status. Sometimes this causes a problem and you must press [RESET] again. To prevent confusion, I find that an always reliable method is to press [RESET] a second time (without the Jumpstart switch) as soon as the disk starts to spin.
The Jumpstart Module is not exactly the same as a hardware generated coldstart. The Jumpstart Module uses the OS to reset the computer. In a very severe program crash, the OS might not be able to regain control. A true hardware reset, like turning the computer off, then on again, will always reset the computer.
The Enhancement Disk ($7.95), another Logic One product, supplies useful patches to DOS 2.5 and SpartaDOS so they won't reinitialize (and erase) the RAMdisk while booting. The patches don't change the LOMEM pointer and should not cause compatibility problems with other programs. Another program on the disk displays the contents of individual sectors of DOS 2.5 or SpartaDOS RAMdisks.
If you use a RAMdisk, you need a coldstart switch. If you have expanded your memory, you really need one. The Jumpstart Module is a practical, inexpensive solution. CHARLES CHERRY
$24.95 for Jumpstart Module plus Enhancement Disk, XL/XE. Logic One, P0. Box 18123, Cleveland, OH 44118.
SPI GAMING LANGUAGEDesigning a programming language is the toughest thing you can do on a computer. It is maddeningly difficult to balance features with performance. No matter what you do, some will hate it, others will be indifferent, and only a few will be enthusiastic. But every language enriches the programming environment and all programmers are forever looking for a language which will fit them better. I think Steven Bennett's SPI may be a little lean on features, but I'm sure it is just what some programmers are looking for.
SPI is designed for three things speed, speed, and more speed. To achieve speed, it is stripped to the bare bones. It supports only integer numbers. Graphics 0 and 12 (ANTIC 4) are the only modes supported, but you can mix them in the display list. Screen writing is done directly to screen memory. Most special operations like reading joysticks or moving players are done by directly manipulating memory.
Whoa! Did I say Graphics 0 and 12? Those are both text modes. How can you write a game with them? Actually, almost all games, from Pac Man to Pharoh's Curse, are done in text modes with redesigned character sets. Text modes are the fastest and use the least memory. I only wish more text modes were supported.
Program control includes equivalents to GOTO and GOSUB as well as IF..THEN..ENDIF and WHILE....ENDWHILE. The IF statement supports only one conditional, but you can have multiple lines of instructions between THEN and ENDIF. SPI uses ;IF for ENDIF.
I/O supports input from the keyboard as well as block reads and writes to a disk file. There is no READ. . .DATA structure. Strings and Arrays are supported as simple blocks of memory. You must calculate the offsets. Arithmetic is limited to the four basic functions (+-*/) and there are no Boolean operators.
My biggest disappointment with SPI is that variable names are limited to single letters (and therefore 26 variables) and line labels are limited to numbers between 1 and 32. That, combined with all the memory addresses, produces code which is very hard to understand. It is definitely not self-documenting.
The two most unusual things about SPI are that it requires Atari BASIC and comes on a DOS 3 disk. I assume that SPI is stealing some of the high-speed code in Atari BASIC, but I can't think of a single reason for DOS 3. CHARLES CHERRY
$29.95, 48K disk. SPI, 9512 Wessex Place, Louisville, KY 40222.