FROM OVER THE BIG WATER
By Marshal M. Rosenthal
Computers don't live or die because of how they are made Even if they have mice, run clock cycles around the competition and cost less, they can still disappear. What determines the longevity of a silicon machine is software availability.
In the beginning, the Atari ST enjoyed a lead over the "other" 68000 machine (not the Mac) for this very reason. It's a strong selling point to be able to say, "Hey, look at all the stuff you can get," and one that makes sense But software houses are fickle; they look at cold, hard numbers and translate that into cold, hard cash. So it's no wonder that software here in the States became more of a trickle than a flood when ST sales slackened.
Enter Europe. Exit the philosophies of the U.S. market, such as "games are no good" and "they make a computer look silly!" Like it or not, it's the games that sell—everybody likes to play something at some time on a computer. So while American companies pulled back on the software market, the European companies damned the torpedoes and steamed full ahead.
To understand the European software market is to understand some simple points:
- The Europeans produce a lot of games—many more games than productivity software.
- Europe includes many countries, all interacting. People are more aware of what's going on in their neighboring countries and thus are well informed.
- Because the European countries are so closely tied, European software publishers target their products at both the local population and the populations of their neighboring countries.
- Because of the competition formed by the "international" marketing, the price of software must be kept down.
The above points have insured a steady flood of software for the ST in Europe And now more and more of the European software packages are becoming available in the US., with many U.S. software houses importing and selling them (often with small cosmetic changes for cultural differences—and too often with a higher price).
So let's start our exploration of the European software market with a look at some of the many ST games that are appearing from our cousins across the sea.
The fun stuff
Domark has already put out two games based on James Bond films. It's no surprise, then, to find them releasing Live and Let Die, an action game where you take your Q-equipped speedboat across waterways in search for the mysterious Dr. Big. Varied landscapes pass by as you progress, with the CIA dropping supplies to you by helicopter. Lots of mines, baddies and obstacles get in the way—so blast 'em all to bits. After all, you're the hero, right?
Digital Magic's Trained Assassin pits you against hordes of ghastly creatures as you blast your way through five deadly zones. Slick animation at 50 frames a second combine with scrolling action.
R-TYPE • Activision U.K
LIVE AND LET DIE • DOMARK
Or journey through magical lands in Scorpion, where the battle is on to rescue the princess. Kill alien creatures, recover magical weapons and gain numerous abilities in this action adventure Lots of big animated enemies too.
JOAN OF ARC • SOFTGOLD
SPACE BALL • RAINBOW ARTS SOFTWARE
Slip Stream from Microdeal features fast-scrolling fun, as you try to destroy alien ships in order to reach a power crystal lying in wait at the end of each stream. Three-dimensional shapes block the way, and you'll have to blast through them. Stereo sound, multiple options (like weather conditions) and random mission orders keep the game fresh and exciting.
In Purple Saturn Day from Infogrames, you train or go for full competition against 16 opponents in four games: Ring Pursuit has you flying around Saturn's rings, while Tronic Slider requires grabbing up energy globes. Brain Bowler and Time Jump will also tax your nerves and skill. Great animation and sound makes this a sure winner.
Those with less stamina might prefer Action Service. All you have to do here is complete boot-camp-like training. There are obstacle courses with barbed wire, as well as snipers to avoid and combat foes to take on with rubber bullets. Three routes keep you from memorizing what is coming next, and changes can be made as far as what shows up and when. Finally, sit back when it's all done and watch how well you did with the VCR feature
Psyclapse (a division of Psygnosis) gives your reflexes a go with Baal. Fight against the demon and his evil underworld empire Baal has ugly plans for the planet—so strap on the rocket pack, grab a laser gun and start searching for ways to mash him and his nasties into clam chowder. Easier said than done, of course, but a lot of fun is in store as you search for the dastardly machine that could spell doom to Earth. It may be a bit tough to find though; there are over 250 screens!
Activision U.K. released R-Type on a startled universe. The Bydo empire is out to take over everything, and of course, you don't like the idea. So off you go in your R-9 craft, which can acquire additional weapons by shooting alien ships. Horizontal scrolling keeps the action moving at a furious pace, helped along by teams of uglies. Each level ends (yeah?) when you wipe out a huge and hideous creature drooling at the prospect of having you for lunch.
Chyrsalis is a new software house, and its first presentation is Prison. Imagine being stuck in a dank and dirty penal colony on a forsaken planet. Of course, there's a way out—all you have to do is search through screen after screen until you gather the clues that point to the location of the hidden spaceship. Looks like another blue Monday to me.
No one ever gets tired of the Man of Steel, and the forever 30-year-or-so-old dude has his hands full in Superman—Man of Steel from Tynesoft Computer Software. Terrorists are causing mayhem: earthquakes shake, rattle and roll, and volcanoes are belching. Yep—just another typical day. Lex Luthor and Darkseid are behind it all. Help! As our boy battles above, on and below the earth, it's a good thing he's got heat vision, super strength and lots of smarts. This ain't no picnic.
We all like cute, don't we? If you answered yes, Bombunzal is for you. Yes, it's another Pac-Man spinoff, but there's fun to be had as you direct this chubby little fellow along a platform of tiles to explode all the bombs without blocking off his route. Animation of the character is part of the fun here—watch him react to explosions. Meanwhile, friendly and unfriendly droids keep popping up to complicate the matter.
Rainbow Art's Spaceball is engaging and perhaps a bit reminiscent of that great-granddaddy of all, Pong. You control a bumper jet that has upward and downward movements. Besides fighting to touch the floating Para-Space Floaters, you must also gather the bonus symbols that appear—and don't let your opponent destroy the Astro bar behind your jet, or he'll gain points. It all makes for a simple-to-understand game that has addictive qualities. (Hey, does anyone remember Warlords for the 2600?)
Joan of Arc from Rainbow Arts has a little bit of Defender of the Crown mixed in with some solid strategy game play. The program first takes you through a series of digitized images that explain just how Joan got her start and why the French king decided to let her command his army in an effort to kick the English back to their own borders. Now it's time for Joan to do her thing while you handle the heavy thinking.
You are Charles, Dauphin of France. Joan must stop the English from taking Orleans and remaining in any of the provinces—or you can kiss off the crown. Warfare is only one of the tools to use: There's also diplomacy, espionage and "removal" services (having someone poisoned or kidnapped). Of course there are other alternatives, as well, such as enforcing royal justice or slapping on a tax or two. Each turn allows the dreaded English to become more entrenched, and you can view them coming over the walls of any castle that has fallen. But it's not all strategy. There are also action sequences, such as fighting your way past archers into a town and engaging your troops with the English.
RAINBOW ARTS SOFTWARE • SPACE BALL
IMAGEWORKS • BOMBUNZAL
SUPERMAN • TYNESOFT COMPUTER SOFTWARE
TALESPIN • MICRODEAL
Getting a little mere serious
It's not all games in Europe though. There's also a wide range of utility and productivity programs, even some hardware devices. Here's a few worth mentioning.
Talespin from Microdeal lets you create your own adventure games, and even though the end result is professional and polished, getting there doesn't require a degree in computer science. You will, however, need the ability to draw, so expect to spend some time with DEGAS or Neochrome before you start really using this program. Then import the images (up to 50 screens per game) into Talespin and clean them up with the included graphics options. Next you create a page for the image, then construct your plot for it. In the final game, a mouse click on the image will bring up a word balloon and game choices to follow.
Sound can also be incorporated into your game—even sampled effects. (Microdeal also makes a hardware device called Replay-4). The finished game is then saved as a standalone disk that boots up automatically.
Sprite Master from Soft Bits gives you the power to create your own sprites in low-resolution and even animate them. All controls are mouse-driven, logical and easily learned. The animation mode lets you move your DEGAS, Neochrome or Paintworks screens, with full control over direction and speed. The animation can then be saved for use with BASIC, C or assembly language programs.
Logitech's Flair Paint adds a positive note to ST drawing packages. Features include blitter support, icons that move along with the on-screen image, IMG format support, a selection of brushes, 16 colors and 36 patterns that can also be used as brushes.
Want more? How about Bezier curves that look good, rotation and re-sizing choices and key commands for menu selections. In addition, Flair Paint can be installed as an accessory and pulled down from within other programs.
Science fiction has always preceded reality, with computers being no exception. Before the advent of "talking" computers, the touch screen was frequently referred to, where the computer responded to your hand passing over it. In the real world, touch screens haven't fared quite so well, and the graphical interface and the mouse have taken over. But should you be interested, Eagle Computers lets you experience a real "hands on" approach to the ST.
Eagle's Touch Window consists of two transparent mylar sheets that are attached to the front of the monitor. A touch closes an electrical contact that sends the coordinate information through the serial port at 4800 baud. Response isn't fantastic, though, because the system cannot quite keep up with you. Of course, a special program, called a driver, must first be run to inform the ST of what is going on. Then you can simulate the mouse with your finger, pen or whatever. There are also places marked at the bottom of the Touch Window that simulate mouse buttons.
The system will work with most programs, but the price might be a bit tough to swallow—about $750.
Desktop publishing is gaining popularity by leaps and bounds. One of the problems that faces someone using one of these programs is getting graphics from a page converted into digital form. You can go the digitizing route (if you have a video camera and the hardware), buy premade clip art or consider the Handy Scanner from Cameron.
Models 2 and 3 of the Handy Scanner give you good alternatives for black and white scanners. Both models resemble a slightly larger and elongated mouse, attached by cable to an interface box that plugs into the cartridge port (with an external power supply). Both have resolutions of 200 dots per inch, with Model 3 able to handle color and produce an image with up to 16 shades of gray. You just drag the scanner over the art—after installing the software program, of course—and the unit's sensors do the rest. Swaths about two inches wide mean that you may have to resort to multiple passes combined with cut and paste operations—but it sure beats drawing!
Till next time
That concludes this issue's romp through Europe Keep in mind that many of these products—especially the games—may be available at your local Atari dealer. Give them a call; you may be pleasantly surprised.
Products mentioned in this article:
England L3 3AB
66–73 Shoe Lane
London, England EC4P 4AB
166–170 Wilderspool Causeway
Warrington, England WA4 6QA
Cameron UK Ltd.
108 New Bond Street
London, England W1Y 9AA
Model 2—About $425
Model 3—About $635
•Joan of Arc
Unit 2/3 Holford Way
England B6 7AX
•Live and Let Die
204 Worple Road
London, England SW20 8PN
Abbey Road, Enfield
Middlesex, England EN1 2RQ
•Purple Saturn Day
Abbey Road, Enfield
Middlesex, England EN1 2RQ
103 Mersey Road
West Bank, Widnes
Chesire, England WA8 ODT,
Rainbow Arts Software
GmbH Hansaallee 201
4000 Dusseldorf 11
5 Langley Street
London, England WC2H 9JA
•Superman—Man of Steel
Tynesoft Computer Software
Addison Industrial Estate
Blaydon, Tyne & Wear
England NE21 4TE
St. Austell, Cornwall
England PL25 4YB
•Talespin Microdeal, Ltd.
St. Austell, Cornwall
England PL25 4YB
Glamorgan House, 2nd Floor David Street
Cardiff, England CF1 2EH
103 Mersey Road
West Bank, Widnes
Chesire, England WA8 ODT
Marshal M. Rosenthal is a New York-based writer and photographer whose work takes him throughout the world. His written/photographic projects have appeared in England, Germany Spain, Mexico, France and the US. He is presently assembling a gallery exhibition on "Children of the Philippine Islands," the result of a four-week photo-shoot sponsored by Kodak.