Programs for the home, a new adventure, and unsung heroes. (outpost: Atari) David Small.
It is almost summer. As you know, during the summer you can be outdoors doing all sorts of healthy, active things, or you can be inside using the computer. This month I have made it my mission to persuade you to stay inside and avoid the aging effects of the sun rays.
To this end, let's look at a few products that might keep you chained to your Atari.
So you think you've seen everything there is to see in Adventure games? You've saved the Princess, cleansed the realm of ultimate evil, prevented a meteor from colliding with the Earth, and just generally saved the universe from the alien challenge?
Congratulations, you are an adventure burnout. Welcome to the club.
When Wombats I arrived, I yawned. I wondered what task (which I had undoubtedly already completed in another game) would await me. Slay a troll? Big Buzz. Find gold? No sweat. So I booted the game up:
"Episode I: Gazumba the Great and the Wombats of Borazoa. You are standing on a large compass. The compass has been made out of hundreds of tiles; the placement of the tiles is extremely exact, and must have caused the being who did the work to go prematurely blind." Without really seeing what was on the screen, I wandered on.
"This is the computer system room, where there are visible remains of several mainframe computers. A host of smaller computers are huddled around them for warmth."
In another room, a mysterious inscription on the wall:
"I sit on my legs, and quietly think about what it all means about why there is no mayonnaise jam or how Brooke gets into her jeans." Double take. I was confused. What on earth? Several scenes later it all became clear: Wombats I is a parody of adventure games.
I picked up the cover and read: "Venture with me into a mind-boggling world of strange creatures, killer vegetables, dim-witted robots, and weird happenings. Equipped with an extensive vocabulary and written entirely in Demento-O-Matic machine language for fast, fast, FAST execution, Wombats I sports many sophisticated commands heretofore only available elsewhere. The fruit of our labors can now be yours, if you promise not to pirate it all over creation. Boola, boola."
Well, I haven't completed the game yet; it has some pretty hard puzzles. Besides, I'm still enjoying the prose that has been so carefully crafted. No hurry.
I recommend this one to experienced Atari adventures who think they have seen it all. If you are not an experienced adventurer, start with Zork I or the Scott Adams series; a lot of the humor in this game is directed att he competition, and if you haven't played the other games, it will fall flat.
A few caveats: The actual game is quite difficult to solve. To me, that is unfortunate. I think the object of a parody adventure should be to expose the player to the maximum number of parodied rooms and such, and if he can't get far into the game, he will not derive maximum enjoyment from the game. The game play is quite uneven in spots; more play-testing might help a lot.
Finally, it is truly copy protected. I mention this because it won't boot on an ATR-8000, and that means other non-Atari drives could have trouble; it seems to depend on the data separation scheme being used. Atari 810s and 1050s work fine; if you use anything else, test it out first and reserve the right to return the game if it fizzles.
All in all, my rating is Good Enough.
Russ Wetmore has done it again. Longtime Atarians remember Russ as the fellow who wrote Preppie, one of the classic Atari arcade games. With Homepak, Russ has proven that his skill as a programmer extends beyond games.
Homepak, from Batteries Included, is three programs in one: a word processor, a database, and a telecommunications program. What is amazing is that all three programs are pretty good, and the price for all three is $49.95.
Homepak is written in Action, a language that is emerging as the preferred language in which to develop Atari software; it is fairly high level, but compiles into extremely efficient code. Action is what I had hope Forth would turn out to be--easy to use and powerful enough to drive the Atari to its limits.
The idea of Homepak is to combine the functions that a home user might need at a reasonable price.
Hometext, the word processor, is good enough for most home use; it isn't exactly industrial strength, nor can it handle 100K manuscripts (more like 8K). On the other hand, most home users don't write long documents; they write letters and other documents for which Hometext is adequate. It has the usual word processing capabilities; margins, block move/delete, and search/replace. There is also a page setup menu which has many capabilities from justification to footers and line spacing.
Homefind, the database, tries to fulfill the needs of the home user, and to my mind, does this difficult task effectively. With the database, you enter facts you want to be able to recall later, in the following format: "Robert's birthday March 23, 1953"; "Mike's phone's 929-9099"; "Susan's favorite color's yellow"; and save them. Then, you can recall them with "natural language" commands like "What is Mike's phone?"
This is an interesting idea. It lets you store information that is normally difficult to get into a database, because of the wildly differing fieldnames and lengths. It is not a powerful database in the mold of Filemanager; rather, it is a convenient fact file for information. It is also considerably easier to use than Filemanager for the sort of information an average home user wants to save.
Finally, there is Hometerm, a terminal program. This program lets you use the Atari as a terminal with most modems available today, including those that direct connect (1030), those that work with the 850 Interface, and the MPP series which plugs into the joystick ports. Hometerm lets you select baud rate, autodial, upload and download Atari DOS files with XMODEM protocol, and even edit and compose text lines in the program before sending them through the modem.
I like Hometerm and think it is easier to use than either Telelink or Amodem/Tscope.
Homepak gives you basic functions at a reasonable price. It is a real rarity on the market today, an excellent program at a bargain price.
(If you need a really powerful word processing/database/telecommunications program and can bear the tariffs let me suggest the following: pick up an ATR-8000 with as much disk storage as you need and get the CP/M-80 versions of WordStar, dBase II, and Modem 7. You'll find that CP/M has the necessary disk I/O speed and power to handle most problems. On the other hand, you're going to put a real drain on your checking account balanced by the time you're done, so consider carefully "how fast you want to go".)
Many Atari users now dial into CompuServe and visit the Atari SIG (Special Interest Group) there. If you have never tried out a bulletin board system, think of a shopping center "bulletin board" that thousands of users can post bulletins on and respond to daily, and you'll get the idea. It is the place to pick up rumors, ask questions, and get some good answers. The operators of the Atari SIG are among the most knowledgeable of Atari programmers (Russ Wetmore, mentioned above; Steve Ahlstrom and Dan Moore, who did SynCalc from Synapse; Ron Luks; and others).
Also on CompuServe, in Creative Computing Online, you will find Creative's own John Anderson and Owen Linzmayer. If you want immediate response to comments about articles, suggestions, and the like, this is the place. I check into CompuServe once every few days, so if you leave a message for me in the Creative Computing Outpost: Atari area, I'll be able to respond immediately.
Dave's Recognition Corner
Finally, this month we have a place where some of the "movers and shakers" in the Atari world can be recognized for their contributions. Each month I'll try to mention a few people who deserve kudos from Atarians.
Joe Miller (formely of Atari, Inc.): Wrote the operating system, far ahead of its time, for the 400/800 computers. Try to do some of the things Atari programmers can do so easily (such as reading a file a byte at a time) on other machines. You'll really appreciate Joe's work the first time you use another machine's Basic.
Bill Wilkinson (OSS, Inc.): Wrote Atari DOS; then marketed Steven Lawrow's MAC/65, the finest 6502 assembler available for the Atari, and Action. Truly a person whose tools and company played a critical role in software development for this machine.
Ihor Wolosenko (Synapse, Inc.): The person who started and built up Synapse Software, starting with FileMAnager 800 and moving to some of the really classic games, including Shamus, Blue Max, Dimension X, and Protector. A person who gave many programmers their first chance to write and market an Atari game.
Earl Rice and Mark Cator (formerly of Atari Inc. User Support Group): Two people who put a lot of work into helping user groups, distributing educational tapes, disseminating information, straightening out problems, and helping users. Special thanks for the many trips they made to user group meetings around the country; Earl and Mark were the only employees of Atari many people ever met.
Delaine Goode, Jill Palmquist, Joe Wagner (Corvus Inc.): Still the only manufacturer of a hard disk for the Atari. Possibly a tool ahead of its time, yet an increasingly popular tool for software developers; much faster than Atari drives (4-8X speedup) and lots of storage (5-20Mb). Delaine, Jill, and Joe have bent over backwards to support Atari users when many perceived the Atari computer as "just a game machine."
Chris Crawford (formerly of Atari, Inc.): One of the people most responsible for the success of the home computer. Helped write an excellent text (De Re Atari) on how to use the machine which got many programmers started. He made many personal appearances at user's groups and seminars explaining how the machine works. Chris is also responsible for popularizing the "smooth scrolling" and terrain map techniques which appear in hundreds of Atari programs; they were first see in his brilliant Eastern Front.
He is also one of the most pleasant people I have dealt with at Atari. Chris is now writing programs for the Macintosh.
And finally, George Blank, former Creative Computing editor, who originated the Outpost: Atari column and gave two novice writers (David and Sandy Small) a place for their Atari tutorial series nearly four years back. Many thanks.
See you next month, when I anticipate having some hard information on the ST line (68000 machines) as well as the more secret NSC 32032 32-bit line, as well as our Fourth Anniversary Special.