BY ARTHUR LEYENBERGER
I just received the latest edition of MichTron's Griffin Gazette. This newsletter is published quarterly and is packed with information on new products, hints and tips for MichTron's products and special deals for owners of their software. If you haven't seen it, you ought to take a look.
Granted, the Gazette is a vehicle for advertising MichTron's own products, but it goes beyond that. The particular issue I have in front of me is an excellent example of the type of quality support that ST software publishers should provide. This is a class act!
For example, owners of Microdeal's Airball will find some hints on how to find the Spell Book, the goal of the game. In addition, an enclosed coupon entitles you to purchase Fleet Street Publisher for $50 just by sending MichTron the copyright page of the manual from the DTP program you're currently using. If you are not yet using a DTP program, you can buy Fleet Street for 25% off the retail price.
As you may know, MichTron is now distributing HiSoft BASIC instead of GFA BASIC. If you already own GFA BASIC, you can purchase HiSoft BASIC or HiSoft BASIC Professional for half price, again by sending the copyright page of the GFA manual. The Gazette also includes information on other new MichTron products such as ProText, a fully integrated word processor; Michtron BBS Version 3.0; Fleet Street Publisher 2.0; Hypetfont, a GEM-based font editor; HiSoft BASIC; and Grail, a new adventure game.
If you are a registered user of any MichTron or Microdeal product, you should already be getting the Gazette free of charge. If not, give MichTron a call at (313) 334-5700. Some of the deals mentioned above may no longer exist by the time you read this. In any case, I commend MichTron for this effort and encourage other software publishers to follow their example.
Although it has been available for awhile, Art & Film Director from Epyx has been sitting in my pile of software to be looked at real soon now. I have finally had a chance to open the package and play with it for a considerable time. I am definitely impressed with this product!
Art & Film Director was originally created a couple of years ago and was to be sold by Broderbund Software. Broderbund never released the product and in the meantime, Epyx has picked up the rights and released it. Art & Film Director is really two products in one that allows you to create graphic screens which can then be animated.
Art Director is a full-featured paint program that provides you with the tools to produce 16-color works of art. Color cycling can be used to display up to 128 colors at once. Like other ST paint programs, on-screen menus and icons make it easy to select from a variety of geometric shapes or draw freehand. Free-hand painting can be done using "spray cans" or one of 40 pencil nibs in different sizes and shapes.
You can manipulate parts of your picture in a number of different ways. The Bulge feature lets you create either a concave or convex effect and wrap an image around a sphere. Spin will rotate a square or rectangle around either a vertical or horizontal axis. The Sprite feature lets you define a circle and bounce it around the screen.
Other features include shadowing for three-dimensional effects, using a portion of the picture as a paint brush or fill pattern and perspective. The program also makes creating or changing details easy with multiple levels of zoom and a "window" feature that allows a specific work area to be blocked and changed without affecting surrounding areas. Two separate screens can be worked on at once or combined in several ways.
Film Director lets you add the animation to bring your creations to life. Easy-to-use menu-based commands let you place characters, props, etc., on a frame and then link the frames together to make a film. In addition, built-in music and sound effects are available to add the finishing touch to your "film."
The program uses cel animation to let you modify a portion of a frame without tediously redrawing the entire frame. Notable is the "tweening" feature that automates the process of animation right before your eyes. It's as simple as defining the starting and ending points—the program then automatically generates every image in between.
Art & Film Director comes with four disks (two for each of the two programs) and an excellent manual. The documentation includes a tutorial and a quick reference section for both of the programs. A nice touch is the information describing how to record your animation sequences on video.
Included in the package is a program to convert DEGAS and Neochrome files into Art Director's .ART file format. Sample files are also provided that contain ready made art and animation sequences. These are especially helpful for learning how to harness the power of the program.
The powerful Art & Film Director package sells for $80 and is available from Epyx, 600 Galveston Drive, Redwood City, California 94063. They can be reached at (415) 368-3200. Art & Film Director is topnotch product that really shows off what the ST can accomplish. If you yearn to be creative with your ST, I highly recommend this program.
Over the years there have been a number of games that I have found particularly addicting. Titles such as Missile Command, Space Invaders, Pac-man, Boulder Dash, Seven Cities of Gold, Time Bandits, Mean 18, Arkanoid and Tower Toppler come to mind. To one degree or another, I have played all of these games for hours on end. They are challenging, fun and, yes, addicting.
A new game has recently captured my interest. So far, I estimate that I have logged over 100 hours playing it. It is Tetris, from Spectrum Holobyte, and is one of the most enjoyable games I have ever played on any computer.
Like many of the games mentioned above, Tetris is simple in concept. Basically, it's a game of eye-hand coordination. The goal is to rotate and position various-shaped blocks that fall from the top of the screen into a solid row at the bottom.
When a solid row is formed you are awarded points and it disappears. Gaps often are left in a row, especially at the higher game levels, which causes rows to build up line by line. The game ends when there is no more room for blocks to fall. Since the specific shapes appear in random sequence, strategic thinking is required and frequently the fate of a game rests on how you decide to play a particular block.
When the shapes appear at the top of the screen, you rotate and maneuver them with either the arrow keys or the J, K and L keys on the keyboard. The spacebar is used to drop the piece to the bottom of the screen once you have the piece in the right orientation and position. The faster you drop the pieces the more points you get.
After a set number of rows have been completed, the game moves to the next level (Tetris offers nine levels of play) where the pieces fall at a faster rate. You can begin the game at a higher level, either at the start or any time during the game. For additional challenge, you can start the game with up to seven randomly created rows already on the screen. More starting rows means a potentially higher score.
Each new screen has a different background graphic, including Mayday celebration at Red Square, Matinee at Bolshoi Theater, view of Earth from Solyut Space Station and game day at Lenin Stadium. Although the backgrounds are incidental to the actual game play, they are well-designed and detailed.
Sound effects can be turned on or off, statistics can be displayed on screen showing the number of each shape positioned and a help menu is available. Another feature allows you to display the next piece that will fall. Using this feature is mandatory if you want to get high scores. A high-score screen is also available which shows the top-ten comrades and scores.
Tetris was invented by a 30-year-old Soviet researcher named Alexi Paszitnov who currently works at the Computer Centre (Academy Soft) of the USSR Academy of Scientists in Moscow. The original programmer was 18-year-old Vagim Gerasimov, a student studying Computer Informatics at Moscow University. Tetris has been called the software equivalent of the Rubik's Cube. Even closet gamers will enjoy it, given the quality of the game and its simple, yet addicting, nature.
The ST version of Tetris sells for $40 and is available from Spectrum Holobyte, 2061 Challenger Drive, Alameda, California 94501. Call (415) 522-3584 for more information.
As much as I enjoy Tetris, it is a two-dimensional game. Blocks can be moved left and right, rotated and dropped. I would love to see (and play) a three-dimensional version. In addition to moving blocks left and right, a 3-D game would allow them to be moved forward and backward. Further, they could be rotated front-to-back as well as counter-clockwise.
Think of it: You would have to form not only a solid row but a complete set of rows on the bottom level before it would disappear and get points. Perhaps as each row is formed, you could position it anywhere in the front-to-back space. A 3-D Tetris would be really challenging. Are there any software authors out there willing to take on this challenge?
Arthur Leyenberger is a computer analyst and freelance writer living in beautiful New Jersey. He can be reached on CompuServe at 71266,46 or on DELPHI as ARTL.