Commodore's port. (Executive 64 computer and accessories, new video games, new hardware etc.) (column) John J. Anderson.
How's it going, Commodorians? And where are all those wonderful manuscripts we've been asking for? Aren't you folks dying for fame and fortume? Don't you want to share your programming insights with Creative Computing and the rest of the avid Commodore community, whose breath is bated waiting for your application? Maybe it is a single neat POKE you have discovered, or a hi-res graphics game you have written. Get it down on paper, swabbie. Put it in an envelope and send it on through. It just may be a buried treasure. Commodore Takes The Lead
Thought you might like to know this: Commodore microcomputers are now the number-one selling low-end machines around--by a substantial margin. With the C-64 nearing $150 and disk drives at $250 apiece, they offer the best buy around, and consumers know it. Watch out, Coleco. Remember that Adam was eventually driven from the Garden of Eden.
Commodore quality continues to improve, while its prices continue to drop. From our observation, the company no longer even sets list prices for its hardware and software. At the same time, the quality of Commodore hardware and especially of Commodore software seems to have made a quantum leap. My original reservations about the machine are gone. And just wait until you hear the latest. Gadzooks, A Portable 64
Deep Boat, our main man from Commodore, stopped by the other day, and boy, did he had a show-and-tell for us: of both hardware and software. A crowd of jaded doubters grew around his demonstration, but the tune soon changed. "Oohs" and "ahs" built to a crescendo, and then came the "wows."
At the 1983 winter and summer CES, we twice had the opportunity to view from afar a machine dubbed the Executive 64. We have enthusiastically reported on it more than once, but never truly believed in its existence; in the past Commodore has had an unfortunate habit of previewing hardware that somehow never made its way into the marketplace.
Well this one does exist. Deep Boat showed us a real, working Executive 64, and it swiftly too our breath, bated or not, totally away.
In a case substantially smaller than most other supposed "portables," the Executive 64 provides a full-blown C-64, with detachable keyboard, half-height 5-1/4" disk drive, and 6" color and sound monitor. Expected price? "Somewhere around $1000," says Deep Boat.
Physically, the unit is a beauty. Folded up and ready to go, it is no bigger than a portable VCR, and is much better-looking. The monitor, though small, provides a perfectly legible character set with a sharpness that is startling. To the right of the CRT and above the disk drive is a magnetically-isolated shelf on which disks can be stored.
But the real show-stopper on this machine is its keyboard. It is snow-white, with sharply-sculptured keytops as on the new IBM Selectric machines. The tactile response is quick and snappy. Our advice to Commodore: move this keyboard onto new regulation model C-64s as soon as possible.
The Executive 64 has all the features of its older brother, the C-64. It has a doored ROM cartridge slot in the top, and on the rear of the unit appear the standard daisy-chain printer/disk drive jack, external monitor jack, serial edgecard connector, and dual joystick ports.
Commodore may make available a second half-height drive to fit the Executive 64 internally, in place of the storage shelf. Alternatively, access to a second drive may require external hook-up. Certainly the possibility of a second internal drive would propel the Executive 64 into the realm of the serious business portables in terms of capability. Professional word processing, spreadsheet, and database applications point to the need for a second 180K drive.
So if you are listening out there Commodore, be smart this time around. Get this machine out as soon as you possibly can. Don't dally about. Queasy about its marketability? For heaven's sake, why? A substantial market for this machine will materialize as soon as the unit makes a real appearance. Especially if you were to bundle it with the types of software mentioned above. Throw in a built-in modem, your excellent Magic Desk software, and a mouse controller, and do to the low-end business market what you have already done to the home market. Namely, blow it wide open. Best Soccer In The Cosmos
That wasn't all Deep Boat had to show us. International Soccer is a game cartridge that should be making its way into stores by the time you read this. It is, in short, the best sports game simulation we have ever seen for a computer.
Play takes place on a smooth-scrolling playfield, with 12 superlatively-animated players. When the ball is kicked into the air, its shadow moves and shrinks on the playing field below. The ball can be kicked, passed, or headered, and the first time you see the goalie drive for a save, you'll shout out loud.
International Soccer is another top-quality piece of Commodore software from England, as is Simon's Basic. The program was written by Andrew Spencer, who is now hard at work adapting the player routines to Basketball and eventually other sports games. We can hardly wait.
The game is full of little touches that make it a joy to play. You can play against another player or against the computer on any of nine levels of difficulty. At the beginning of the game, you choose the color of jersey for each team. If you are using a black-and-white display, you can adapt the game for maximum contrast, as well. At half-time, the players run off the field into the locker room for a strategy session. The crowd writhes and shouts when a goal is scored. At the end of the game, a special awards ceremony salutes the winners.
The look and play of this game is so slick, it is like taking part in a real-time cartoon. If you are going to buy only one C-64 game in the rest of time, hold out for International Soccer. Up Against The Wall Street Journal
We here at the magazine have watched with a critical eye as the Wall Street Journal has attempted to become computer-literate over the past couple of years. The newspaper has managed to print some of the most entertaining micro misinformation we have ever read. They will never top the time they described the innovative "house" controller for the Apple Macintosh. "Had to be a typo," we told ourselves, until we saw that the term was repeated throughout the article.
Well, guess who got swiped in a recent Section 2 lead story? None other than Commodore. The article, by Dennis Kneale, discussed quality control and shipping problems, which have in fact occurred, as has been reported in previous Commodore's Ports. It further implied that recent dips in Commodore stock were directly due to these problems. Probably true as well.
The article went on, however, to fault Commodore in general for a lack of dealer support, and presented interviews with disgruntled ex-dealers and ex-Commodore employees--each with a rather sharp ax to grind. The concluding paragraph of the piece ran as follows:
"'I don't think they could damage their reputation any more,' says Alan Friedman, who was Commodore's finance vice president until he left last May over a personal dispute. 'It's not a momentary problem. It's closer to a fundamental flaw in the way Commodore does business.'"
Well okay, Commodore got some bad press. The boss man, Mr. Ahl, filed the story in his Journal file, and life went on.
Then a smoking press release surfaced. "Mr. Irving Gould, Chairman of the Board of Commodore International Limited, today issued the following statement in regard to a story relating to Commodore in the Wall Street Journal."
In part, the press release said:
"The management of Commodore feels that it has always been treated fairly by the Wall Street Journal and today's story, written by a reporter, 26-year-old Dennis Kneale, in no way changes Commodore's view of that publication. It does, however, point to the fact that any large business can be influenced by a relatively young and inexperienced employee and we hope that after Commodore's results for the quarter ending December 31, 1983 . . . are reported, that both Mr. Kneale's editors and all Wall Street Journal readers of Mr. Kneale's story remember his name as to the credibility of his leading readers correctly or totally misleading readers as to the prospects for Commodore."
Great sentence, huh? But hang on:
"In regard to the story itself, we believe that numerous assertions attributed to individuals quoted were, in fact, said. Likewise, we know for a fact that much of what was said is not ture. . .
"We told him (Kneale) he was getting his information from several small, somewhat unhappy dealers whose credit ratings in many instances could not allow us to ship them more than one product. He quoted Joel H. Kornreich, president of CSI Distributors and Computer Strategies as saying he 'decided to drop the (Commodore) line.' What Mr. Kneale did not say was that Mr. Kornreich was terminated as a Commodore dealer over two months ago and was sued by Commodore for approximately $1 million that he owes to us. One of his employees is Alan Friedman, a former Commodore employee who, immediately prior to resigning, had been demoted from Financial Vice President to Credit Manager of Commodore's U.S. Subsidiary. Mr. Kneale did not mention any of these three facts when quoting either Mr. Kornreich or Mr. Friedman. All we ask you to judge is whether or not these are credible sources of information upon which a reporter should base part of a story . . ." (We tried to reach Mssrs. Kornreich and Friedman for comment, but they were not available.)
"While the last few days have been a difficult time for Commodore shareholders, we do hope that each and every one of you remembers that just because a 26-year-old reporter says it's so, doesn't make it true."
Holy Cow. You sure told that young whippersnapper good, huh? We think your main points are pretty valid, Mr. Gould, and we agree that the Wall Street Journal has provided generally uneven coverage of the microcomputer industry. But you sure were silly to fault Kneale for his age that way. Even if you were addressing only ancient stockholders.
You would do well to remember that the bulk of your own market, as well as your own most innovative minds, are under 30. The mastermind behind Simon's Basic, which finally gives the C-64 a Basic worthy of its many features, is all of 16 years old. To generallize about age in that manner is no less pinheaded than to point to race, religion, or nationality in personal criticism. Further, it has made you look bad, buddy.
And I'm not saying this just because I am 26, either. I would like to think that even when I grow as old as you, Mr. Gould, I will abstain from such narrow-minded commentary, or at least keep it off my press releases.
Moral: don't fire off a press release in the heat of the moment. You may put a hole in your own foot. Apple-64?
We don't usually report on a product based purely on press information, but we can't resist with this one. We have heard rumors in the past concerning Apple compatibility--now we have it in print. Have you heard about AP Modular Pak?
Pioneer Software, in Victoria, BC, states that AP Modular Pak is an inexpensive hardware addition to the C-64 that opens the door to all Apple software. It consists of three components:
* The AP Bus, which contains eight standard Apple II peripheral slots and four C-64 expansion slots. It also includes an independent power supply with enough power to run all peripheral devices and the C-64 itself.
* The AP CPU card, heart of the system, which plugs into its own slot on the AP Bus. It handles all conversion from Apple to C-64. "No messy, time-consuming software patches," states the press release. "Just plug it in and turn it on!"
* The AP DOS Card, a peripheral card for the Commodore 1541 disk drive that makes it fully Apple compatible--to be used with your C-64 or Apple II.
According to Pioneer Software, all Apple II software and compatible peripherals will function exactly as they do connected to an Apple II. Price? Well noting is stated outright, but the release says "all this for about the same price as an Apple II disk drive with interface." Translation: about $600.
We'll believe it when we see it, and we have asked to see it. If it is real and it works, AP Modular Pak might have a strong future. For more information, contact Pioneer Software, 620 View St. 217, Victoria, BC, Canada V8W 1J6. (604) 381-3211. Simon Says Soon
We have been waiting quite a while for our release copy of Simon's Basic. Deep Boat says that should be coming very soon indeed.
We resently saw a list of commands that will be supported by Simmon's Basic, and they are so exciting, we just had to pass them on ahead of time. This is only a partial list of commands, mind you.
* Programming/Debugging Aids: KEY, to assign a command to a function key; AUTO, to automatically generate line numbers at a specified interval; RENUMBER; PAUSE; LIM, to determine the number of the screen line on which the cursor is positioned; CGOTO, to compute the line number to which the program should branch; MERGE; DELAY, to vary the rate of scrolling of a program listing; FIND, to search a Basic program for a character string and display the line where it occurs; TRACE; RETRACE, to resume tracing after editing a program; DUMP, to display values of all non-array variables; OLD, to reverse, a NEW command; and DISAPA, to hide program lines within listings.
* String Handling Aids: PLACE, to determine the position of a string within a string; PRINT AT; INKET; DUP, to duplicate a character string n times; CENTRE, to center a character string on a string line; and FETCH, to limit the type and number of characters for user input.
* Screen Graphics Aids: HIRES, to initialie hi-res graphics mode and select plotting and background color; REC, to draw a rectangle; MULTI, to initialize multicolor graphics mode and select three plotting colors; PLOT, to plot a dot; LINE, to plot a line; CIRCLE; ARC; ANGL, to draw the radius of a circle; PAINT, to fill an area with color; BLOCK, to draw a block of color, ROT, to rotate a shape; CSET, to select a character set or recall and display the last hi-res screen; CHAR, to print single characters on a graphics screen; TEXT, to print a string onto a grpahics screen; FLASH, to flash a screen color at variable speeds; FCHR, to fill an area of the screen with a character; FILL, to fill a defined area on the screen with a specific character in a particular color; MOVE, to duplicate a section of screen data on another part of the screen; INV, to invert a specified screen area; LEFT, RIGHT, UP, and DOWN, to scroll a screen window in any direction; and SCRSV, to store data from a lo-res screen on disk or tape.
* Sprite Graphic Aids: DESIGN, to allocate memory space for MOBs (movable object blocks, known here as sprites); MOB SET, to initialize a sprite; MMOB, to display and/or move a sprite; and RLOC MOB, to move a sprite between two screen locations.
* Sound Aids: VOL, to set volume; WAVE, to set voice, sync, and rig; ENVELOPE, to define a sound envelope; MUSIC, to compose music and save notes, and PLAY, to play music.
As you can see, Simon's Basic makes gaining control of the real power of your C-64 much simpler. In addition to the commands summarized above, the language has some other powerful commands. It had structured commands, such as IF THEN ELSE, REPEAT UNTIL, and LOOP EXIT. It allows program procedures to be named and then invoked with the command CALL. It supports global and local variables, and ON ERROR GOTO. Code written in Simon's Basic can be as structured as you care to make it.
Catch you next time. Until then, finish that submission!