BOOKS ON THE SHELF
by Gabe Torok
by Gabe Torok
Some time ago I was thrilled when I discovered a set of fifteen disks that teach programming on the ATARI. I bought them, and tried to learn programming. The crash course that I set for myself left a lot to be desired, and I learned next to nothing.
Then I got my hands on a terrific book by IJG, called Atari BASIC Faster and Better, but this book assumed I knew more about BASIC than I was willing to admit. The book gave me a lot of extremely useful information and utilities that I could incorporate into my programs, but I still knew nothing of actual programming.
In a way, I'm no different from most people. I bought this wonderful computer, and almost before it was unpacked, I had it fired up and loaded with a newly acquired program. Then, when something didn't work quite right, I broke down and opened the manual. I read only the portion of the manual which, in the table of contents, referred to that which resembled what `wasn't working right'. I read it, corrected the problem, and proceeded with my wonderful new arcade game.
My DOS manual collected dust for a long time and I would only read those pages for which I had immediate need. To go through fifteen tutorial programs to learn programming seemed ludicrous. Before I could do it properly, I would have to know a lot more and read more than I was willing to, at that time.
Those days are in the not too distant past, but they haunt me to this day. Had I followed all the prescribed steps, I would have saved many hours of flipping through books and manuals for some obscure step that I cannot remember for all the tea in China.
The importance of setting the stage for any program finally hit home. But before you set the stage, you have to have the script.
Consider yourself a novelist. Write a short ouline of your novel, including plot, counterplot, a few twists in the story action, and provide the basic background as to where the story will take place. From this point on, the novelist can expand upon his main theme without losing track of the original intent, main plot, and the main substance of his story. The meat added to this skeleton of an outline is nothing more than windowdressing. This can be altered at will without destroying the story. Who cares what color Lady Godiva's horse was? The story says white, but to the people watching, it could've been pink with purple polka dots. All the focus and attention was on her long golden hair and what this hair hid from view. It was unnecessary to describe what was being hidden.
Do NOT state the obvious. When writing computer programs, use the same format as writing a book, and leave enough room for each players' imagination to complete the picture.
Once you have the outline, the next step will cost you about $24.00. I know that I am the type of person who reads manuals and any other form of instructions only under duress, and that I am writing this for those of you who happen to have this idiosyncrasy in common with me. But, I found a book/disk combination at the recent West Coast Computer Faire that may change all this. The book is as easy to read, as a tenfoot STOP sign. It holds the readers' interest thoroughly, but then, what book wouldn't with a title like, `Dr. C. Wacko's Miracle Guide to Designing and Programming Your Own Atari Computer Arcade Games'. Published by Addison-Wesley Publishing Co. Inc., written by David L. Heller, the book contains step by easy step instruction on building your programming knowledge from virtually nothing.
Each chapter forces you to enter a set of short programs as examples, then prompts you to play with the program by changing it, adding to it, etc., and thus, learning from visual results. It's very effective. The need to have a basic knowledge of BASIC has been virtually removed.
The disk contains forty nine different programs, utilities, and games, all aimed at getting you started on the programming adventure of your life! The only additional reading required is noted on the first few pages of the book, referring you to page 35 of your DOS manual.
Finally, the real good news! The instructions in this book can be used on any Atari Home Computer. Try it on your new 800XL, and let me see your first arcade game in a month!(In ROM)