Outpost: Atari. (column) Arthur Leyenberger.
I am honored to be sitting in the same editorial seat that has been occupied by the likes of David and Sandy Small and John Anderson. Over the last two years this column has brought you (and me) an abundance of information. The charter was to be an oasis of Atari-related information, which at times, seemed to wander away from the easily obtained "tips and techniques" type of material into the more philosophical and esoteric. However, I believe these journeys have been worthwhile and in keeping with the concept and spirit of an outpost.
I plan to continue in the same tradition. My goal is to present at least one hardware and one software review each month, and to use this column as a clearinghouse for ideas, news and trends relating to the Atari computer. I hope that those of you who are old-timers will benefit from my experiences and continue to think of this column as yours. To the newcomers to the world of Atari computing, welcome aboard and be assured that I will not leave you behind.
Many people have asked me which computer to buy. The next few questions follow quite logically: how much memory do I need, what are the best programs, and the inevitable: should I wait until the prices come down some more.
When asked why they want to buy a computer, some respond with specific applications or a plan of action (like involving the whole family in computing, or automating their coin collection information). A majority of people either don't know what they would do with a computer or have general ideas of "learning about computers."
The point is, if you want to get involved with computing, the time to buy a computer is now. If you wait six months, you may still not buy a computer. If you do, you will be six months behind in the learning process, when you could have been a veteran by now. Atari computers are excellent entry level machines that you will not outgrow as you progress from being a neophyte to an advanced user. The learning process continues. Atari computing remains challenging and fun.
Recently, I looked back at a 1976 issue of Creative Computing. On the back cover was an advertisement for the Altair 680 computer from MITS. For only $420 you could have a 1K (RAM) machine with RS-232 interface and provision for 1K ROM. There were no word processors available, no Basic language and definitely no Pac-Man. The darn thing was programmed in assembler from toggle switches on the front panel. I'll bet people were asking each other back then, "should I buy one now, or wait until the price drops a little?"
Computers are funny things. They have a strange habit of being used for all kinds of applications once they find a home. Typically, the owner has no idea about real uses prior to getting a computer. I strongly believe that it is fine to want to "get into computing." Continue to read Creative. Read some books and talk to people. Then go out and buy a computer and start to use it. Attention Teachers
More and more, computers are becoming a regular part of the educational scene. Computers are showing up in the classroom faster than New Jersey mosquitos at a Creative Computing staff picnic. One of the problems that teachers face is the continuing struggle to choose good educational software from the vast assortment of generally mediocre courseware. Rather than have educators re-invent the wheel by evaluating the same Atari software in every school in the land, a new group called the Atari Teachers' Network is forming. It will provide a medium of communication between Atari users and the educational community. The network is headed by Nancy Austin Schuller and Curt Springstead.
The low entry price and superior sound and graphics of the Atari make it promising for use in educational settings. It is in this spirit that the group has formed and committed to sharing Atari-related information--and acting as an educational resource. The group publishes a quarterly newsletter containing reports, questions and answers, an exchange of software written by teachers, and discussions about computers in the classroom, and Atari in particular.
The newsletter also contains information from insiders at Atari on the company's current projects. For more information on the network and the newsletter, contact the Atari Teachers' Network, P.O. Box 1176, Orange, NJ 07051. A one year membership is $4. Add Music to Your Basic Programs
How many times have you wished that you could add a little music to your Basic programs? Maybe a little Bach while the title screen to your latest adventure game is being displayed. Or perhaps the theme from Star Trek melodically enveloping you as the Enterprise warps out of orbit. Well, now there is a utility, programmed by Jerry White, that allows you to do all of this and much more. The Music Box from Program Design Inc. (PDI) allows you to play Atari Music Composer files (after conversion) during the vertical blank interrupt routine from Basic.
The music runs independently of Basic. You can display graphics on the screen or do calculations while the tune continues. You can even stop the program, list it and do some editing with the music going. However, once any I/O operation is performed, the music is interrupted.
There are actually five separate Basic programs and a menu driver that make up The Music Box utility. The CONVERT program converts Atari Music Composer (AMC) data files into Music Box (MB) files that can be used with the COLORGAN and PLAYTEST programs. This program runs slowly but is not objectionable. After an AMC file has been converted to MB format, the PLAYTEST program is used to play it using a machine language routine.
Normally the program prompts for the program to be played, loads it from disk and begins playing it immediately. However, by deleting a section of code (lines 350 to 500) your own Basic program can be entered between lines 350 and 7998. Even after the removal of these lines, there is still some prompting for a file name from the program. Table 1 contains a list of the overhead code that should be removed for incorporating the PLAYTEST program with your own program.
Another program, COLORGAN, contains a machine language routine that interprets the frequency and volume of MB data files and displays a psychedelic, graphics mode 19 image on the screen. These colorful, pulsating images will bring back memories for all who survived the late sixties.
The MUSICBOX program is designed to help you understand how to enter sheet music into Music Composer. It uses player/missile graphics to display notes, sharps, flats, and the treble and bass clefs. The joystick is used to manipulate the notes on the screen, and as the display changes, the appropriate sound is heard. The pitch number and Music Composer interpretation of each note is displayed at the bottom of the screen.
The final program, TRANSLAT, is used to dump AMC data files to either the screen or a printer. This is handy for debugging your song files and making a permanent record of them.
As an example of combining sound and graphics, I used the flag program from the Atari Basic Reference Manual (Appendix H-9) and inserted it within my stripped down MUSICBOX program. I then included a converted Music Composer file of the Stars and Stripes Forever on the same disk. When the program is run, the Stars and Stripes plays as the American Flag is drawn on the screen. Let it never be said that the Atari computer is not patriotic.
The Music Box is a very useful music utility if you wish to play Atari Music Composer files from a Basic program. The manual is well written and the disk contains eleven converted Music Composer files. It requires 32K RAM and costs $29.95. Good, Clean Fun
Detractors of video games say that among other things, these electronic menaces are responsible for the break up of the American family. I would have to agree to some extent with this comment. Consider the facts. Most video games are of the shoot-'em-up variety and are generally played by one person. I mean, how much fun can people over 30 really have with twitch games, anyway?
When I was growing up, I used to enjoy family time when we would all play such games as Monopoly, Scrabble, and Tripoli. In fact, I still enjoy an occasional game of Scrabble as long as professional Scrabble players like my wife's mother, Phyllis, are not around. In any case, there are very few games for the Atari computer that the whole family can enjoy. Matchboxes from Broderbund is different. Programmed by Al Cheser, it is not only fun for the whole family but is also wholesome and well done.
Matchboxes is really several variations of the old standby game Concentration. In this game, a 6 x 6 matrix is displayed on the screen and the object is to pick two squares that match. Hiding behind each square is an animated monster, shape, or object that has its own unique tune. The tunes are all familiar--Clementine, Pop Goes the Weasel, I've Been Working on the Railroad--and are usually associated with the particular graphic.
In the simplest game, you play against an opponent or the computer and the player with the most matches at the end of the game is the winner. There are some tricky matches where the object may be the same but in two different colors. Occasionally, wild cards turn up which will match anything.
There are three other variations of the game that can be played either alone or with someone else. One game permits each opponent to select a word which is hidden behind the puzzle. As pictures are matched, parts of the word are exposed, and the first one to guess the word is the winner. Another version of the game has the hidden words spelled backwards. I played this version several times and kept losing until I realized that the words were backwards (next time I will read the instructions first). The final variation has the hidden words scrambled. I am terrible at this particular variation.
Matchboxes is available on disk or cassette, requires 32K, and costs $29.95. This really is a fun game and one that the whole family can enjoy together. There ought to be more such games. Atari User Groups
Some of you might know me as the editor of the Jersey Atari Computer Group (JACG) Newsletter. I have spoken to others of you and have accessed your bulletin boards. Having been associated with the JACG and its 500 members for over a year, I now realize many things about the world of Atari and specifically the Atari computer user. I can easily say, without fear of being struck by lightning, that Atari users are generally the most energetic, interested, loyal, and diverse group of people I have ever met. If you don't belong to a user group, call Atari's toll-free number to find the one nearest you. Then join and participate in computing.
In the past, Atari has been unwilling to realize (or take advantage of) the fact that their users are their best salespeople. The future may bring some changes, but we'll have to wait and see. My crystal ball is a little cloudy right now. There are over 50,000 members of Atari user groups in the United States alone, and that number is increasing steadily.
I mention this as a prelude to a request that all Atari user groups send me their newsletters. I want to stay in touch with what is really happening in Ataridom and I feel that this is the best way to do it. I also welcome suggestions and comments from users on what type of material you would like to see covered in this column. I cannot answer every letter, but I assure you I will read every one. If you would like a reply, please enclose a self-addressed stamped envelope. Send input to me, in care of Creative Computing, 39 East Hanover Ave., Morris Plains, NJ 07950. General Purpose Screen Save/Load Utility
Often, when creating graphic screens in Basic it is useful to save the screen for future use. Similarly, when writing a program that requires multiple screens throughout its operation, it would be handy to be able to load graphic screens from disk. Well, Tom Pazel of Dover, NJ has written a couple of very useful utilities to do just that. What's more, graphics mode 8 (and higher) screens are fully compatible with Datasoft's Graphic Master program. Let's take a closer look at Tom's programs.
Listing 1 is the Load routine. It is really quite simple to use. The following two lines of code must be typed in: 10 DIM FILE$(20):FILE$= "D:Anyname.ext" 20 Graphics n
"Anyname.ext" is the name of the disk file that contains the screen image. On line 20, n refers to the graphics mode of the screen image. Next, the Load routine, which has previously been listed to the disk, is merged with the above two lines using the ENTER command. Type RUN, and the screen file is loaded and displayed.
The Save routine (Listing 2) works in a similar way. Your Basic program should not have any line numbers higher than 31999. Also, a line similar to line 10 above should be included somewhere near the top of the program. Then ENTER the Save routine (which has been written previously to the disk in LIST format). "Anyname.ext" is the filespec of what you want to call the save screen.
Now, merely run your program. Your program will draw its pretty picture and, after a slight pause, the disk drive will become active, the screen being saved as a disk file under the name you specified. Be sure that when run, your program currently in RAM will execute the Save routine as the last thing it does. In other words, don't use line numbers higher than 31999 and avoid lines such as: 300 GOTO 300
Listing 3 is a sample graphics program that can be used to test the Load and Save routines. Notice that line 80 is a no-no when using the Save utility. It must be deleted before running the program.
These utilities work with all 12 Basic graphics modes. What can you do with these utilities? Well I can think of a few uses. Graphics modes 1 and 2 title screens can be saved for future use and loaded as needed. As mentioned before, screens using graphics modes 8 and above can be created, saved, and then brought into a program like Graphics Master to put on the finishing touches. Then, after the screen is once more saved to disk, it is ready for use any Basic program. Thanks Tom, for a fine job on these useful routines.
I hear the music playing in the background, meaning it is time to fold up our tents for this edition of the Outpost. Christmas is not too far away, so next month I will have my Christmas list of Atari products. Both existing products and dream products from my wish list will be mentioned.