Bytes, camera, action. (evaluation) John J. Anderson.
Let's consider the generation of colorful, animated microcomputer graphics. Sure, you can talk about Basic, and Forth, and Pascal, and (gasp) machine language. You may even raise the issues of bit-mapping and shape tables. But let's face it. There resides in an area frequently and euphemistically referred to as the "real world," a group of artistically inclined people, interested in the prospects of expressing themselves through colorful, who are not crack computer programmers, nor will they ever be. To reach that goal, they need better, friendlier tools.
Better, friendlier tools are beginning to appear, and TGS is one of them.
I did not want to rush into a review of The Graphic Solution, or TGS as its makers call it. I wanted to take the time to familiarize myself with the prduct, learn its various techniques and features, and report my findings only when I had acquired a bit of dexterity with the tools it provided.
After having logged at least six hours or so of "flight time" with TGS, the time has come to report my findings. Although there are many maneuvers I have not yet mastered, I can do quite a bit more with an Apple using TGS now, than was previously possible for me from Basic, machine language, or any other graphics package. Besides, if I waited until I could do everything I wanted with it before I reviewed TGS, the review would never have happened.
To call TGS a graphics package is not incorrect, nor is it the whole truth. It is in fact a graphics animation package, with sophisticated capabilities to create and animate multiple, color shape tables on the screen. By developing sequences of "frames," the user is able to create his own animated "movie" programs on the Apple. The program and documentation use those very words to describe the animation process.
A preliminary caveat: while the program and documentation are well-designed and executed, TGS is the kind of package that demands a real commitment from the user in order to obtain real results. You must take the time, as I, did, both to learn the tricks of the system, and then to manipulate those features effectively to create animated sequences. Unless you have the time and inclination to do so, TGS may disappoint you.
If on the other hand you do have both the time nd the inclination, you will be well-rewarded. TGS is among the most powerful animation tools currently available for the Apple computer. After you have learned to use it, creating smooth, colorful animated graphics is, if not exactly easy, at least possible for those of us who have yet to master machine language.
In that respect, it is probably one of the programs you may have been waiting for: a system that will allow you to develop and store multiple shapes, then move them around the video screen according to your whim. The method it uses is straightforward yet ingenious. The main shape editing is done in lo-res; then transferred as a block to the point you choose on a hi-res screen. By fitting shapes together like a mosaic, you can create backgrounds, or animated images larger than the small hi-res window. Drawing In Lo-Res
Drawing in the lo-res mode is extremely simple. The A key moves the cursor left, W moves it up, D moves it right, and X moves it down. The REPT key can be activated for quick-cursor movement. Depending on the mode of the cursor, which is controlled by the space bar, you can draw, erase, or move the cursor around a picture without changing it in any way. Other commands allow for erasing an entire block and cursor centering.
Type H, and you move from the lo-res to the hi-res mode. Instead of moving the cursor now, the movement keys move the entire hi-res window around the screen. A quick movement option can be invoked to get the hi-res window where you want it, then an incremental mode used to fine-tune movement. The text window at the bottom of the screen can be togged off with the F key, freeing the entire screen area for graphics.
Here is where things start to happen. After positioning the hi-res window, typing P will copy the image in the lo-res screen to the hi-res window. You can choose whether to drop the contents of the window while retaining or erasing whatever is under the window position at the time. Thus, the user can create patterns of image from the window anywhere he wishes on the hi-res screen. This, combined with the capability of TGS to "snap frames" of screens and show them in quick succession, forms the essence of its bit-mapped animation.
After moving the window in various ways about the screen for a while, the user will without doubt come to appreciate will without doubt come to appreciate the potential to create macros within screen development. This means that repeated commands can be invoked by a single keystroke. Let's say you are moving a square from the lower left of the screen to the upper right. This calls for moving the window right, then up, then dropping the lo-res screen to hires, then repeating the process. Press CONTROL-R to signify the construction of a macro. Then move the window right, and up, and copy the window image. Press CONTROL-R again to end the macro. Now press R to execute the macro repeatedly, automatically moving and copying the picture. Although TGS allows definition of only one macro, that macrocan contain up to 255 keystrokes, which is more than you will ever need. Thoughtful use of macros can save an immense amount of time and bother, and is heartily recommended.
By placing the hi-res window anywhere on the screen, the contents of the window can be copied to lo-res. This means that window shapes need not necessarily be formed from the lo-res mode. Conversely, alterations in hi-res screens can be made by dropping portions into lo-res windows, altering, then replacing them. Hi-Res Shapes
And I haven't even begun to get to the good stuff. Multiple hi-res window shapes can be saved to memory, then recalled as desired. Thsi is the preferred means by which to save backgrounds (though whole screens can be saved through an alternative, memory-hungry method), and more importantly, constitutes an important animation tool. With the command +, TGS automatically creates tables for multiple user shapes, which can then be plotted on the screen by positioning the window and pressing the; key (on the Apple a lower-case +). Plotting shapes in this way is much faster than dropping screens from lo-res, as described above. And TGS can store dozens of shapes.
None of this would be worth a heck of a lot without the ability to put "frames" of graphics togethe, and this is where the real power of TGS lies. By typing CONTROL-Z, you "shoot a frame" consisting of the current hi-res screen. The documentation actively uses the analogy of making a film through the process of amassing frames.
For simple animation, you don't need to know much more. Using the commands described above, you can create simple shapes and move them smoothly around the screen. To view them from within the TGS editor, hit the spacebar to enter the "show mode." From there, you can view your "film" as many times as you like by pressing the M key. Pressing any key during a show stops projection, which can then be advanced by the single frame in either direction. In this way you can inspect your work as closely as you wish. You can even tag frames with the command CONTROL-K, for later tune-up or modification, or to project the film from that specific point.
The rate of projection affects the speed with which animated objects appear to move. Using the speed command (S), the timing value for a segment of TGS animation can be easily set. All the user needs to do is reset the timing values wherever necessary, and TGS will remember to project each sequence at its assigned speed.
The only hitch with this feature is that timing values must be entered in hexadecimal increments of eight. This may be a bit bothersome at first, but is not too difficult to master.
Once you have a sequence you want to hold on to, you back-up to the program menu and select option 3 to save. To erase sequences, the three keys SHIFT, CONTROL, and @ must be pressed simultaneously, twice. It is therefore unlikely that you will delete anything accidentally.
The actual pixels used in Apple lo-res and hi-res differ in shape, so images created in lo-res seem compressed horizontally when viewed in hi-res. Elongation and compression commands are included in TGS to overcome this. Using them, lo-res images can be stretched or shortened--altered horizontally or vertically, using the keys B and V. These editing capabilities can do more than more correction of lo-res to hi-res pixel distortion, of course. They can lengthen or shorten character sets and other graphic material.
Likewise, entire shapes can be scrolled horizontally or vertically in the hi-res window. This capability is exploited to create smooth animation of shapes smaller than the hi-res window. In addition, you can create mirror images with the command CONTROL-F. This is handy for creating symmetrical shapes.
Commands are also available to allow drawing directly onto the hi-res screen, and to draw perfect circles without fuss or muss. Text
TGS can put text on the screen in two distinct ways. By using CONTROL-T to enter the text mode, a hybrid (and improved) version of the standard Apple character set is at your disposal. Just position the cursor, then type. Inverse video is also available. To animate text, capture it as shapes in the hi-res window. Then animate as you would any other shapes. This method can also be used to display and animate "super" character sets (see photos). A special character set is included along with demonstration sequences in the TGS package. As stated above, elongation and compression commands can be used to customize character sets.
Okay. Let's say you have created a sequence to use as an audio-visual aid at a business meeting. You need to save your sequences and a customized projector menu to a disk. You have the blessing of Accent Software, makers of TGS, to make as many disks as you like for your own noncommercial purposes. If you wish to sell a disk that uses TGS techniques, however, you must have a special licensing agreement.
The documentation shows you how to create disks that will make TGS sequences autorun, and interface with Basic. Although you must have some knowledge of Basic to create sophisticated interfaces to TGS graphics (such as interactive tutorials and the like) extensive examples are provided in the documentation to lead the novice user through the process. In many simpler cases the programs can be entered with very little modification.
TGS does not have one of the simplest user interfaces you will find in an Apple graphics package. I'm sure that some folks will find it a bit too much for them--to learn cryptic command codes, create and effectively manage elaborate macros, manipulate machine language data files from Applesoft, and the like. The novice should be forewarned that TGS will pose a challenge. At the same time, dramatic results can be achieved with relatively little work, once the basic framework and concepts of the program are understood. The documentation is thorough, light-hearted, and includes reinforcement exercises at the end of each chapter. It makes the process of learning the TGS system much less tedious than it might otherwise be.
Advanced animation, using multiple shapes, colored backgrounds, shapes that cross each other, and complicated moving shapes, are the most challenging aspects of the TGS system. This is the area I am still working with now. I have come to realize that these kinds of advanced results will come only after I have spent more time with TGS. Though it is not the tool to bring animated graphics power to the masses, it is a substantial step in the right direction. As such I heartily recommend it.
Products: Accent Software The Graphic Solution (computer program)