Looking at Books
Games for the Atariby Elcomp
53 Redrock Lane
Pomona, CA 91766
Price: $7.95 (add $1.50 for handling if ordered from Elcomp)
Reviewed by Guy Hurt
The title "Games for the ATARI" is a little misleading. About 60% of the book consists of ready-to-type listings. The rest is concerned with programming techniques you can use in your own games.
The book assumes you know the rudiments of your computer and BASIC, and that you are ready for more challenging tasks. If you hope to write a game of the kind featured in ANTIC, this book will help.
Several important and perplexing areas are covered, including:
-Player / Missile Graphics
-Programming the Joystick
-Display List Interrupts
-The Character Set
-CTIA vs. GTIA programming
These are the kinds of niceties that make computer games fun to play and commercially valuable. This Elcomp book explains them reasonably well, and gives many demonstrative examples. The explanations tend to be short rather than long-winded, but the attentive reader will benefit.
As far as the games themselves are concerned, many are for two-players. Among the titles are Backgammon, Knight Battle, Gunfight, and Ball. Knight Battle is definitely for the advanced programmer, as it is written entirely in Assembly language. There are nine games in all, and any of them can be saved to cassette or disk after entering. This represents a good value, it seems to me.
Those of you limited to 16K memory may have trouble loading some of the games that require transfer of the character set. However, the book includes routines that are supposed to get around this problem.
So, even though "Games for the ATARI" isn't just a book of games, I think it will be helpful for any ATARI owner who is ready to grow.
Home and Office Companionby Castlewitz, Chisauski and Kronberg
OSBORNE / McGraw-Hill Books
Reviewed by Paul Hoffman
One of the few "big name" programs available for the ATARI is VisiCalc. Some of us ran out and bought it, based on the articles in the computer magazines (home finance! business planning! not just a game!) and were sorely disappointed when we realized that the spreadsheets we wanted to make did not just fly from our fingertips, and that we had a $150 dinosaur on our hands.
The VisiCalc Home and Office Companion (emphasis on office) does an excellent job of correcting the major drawback of VisiCalc, namely that you have to program it for it to do you any good. The book as 50 preprogrammed, real world examples of what VisiCalc is good for. Each model (which is the equivalent of a program) has a brief explanation, an example of how to put in your own data, and a listing that shows how to type it in.
Looking over the 50 programs in the table of contents, it is easy to see that the authors covered the vast majority of topics with which VisiCalc can be used. These include investments, inventory, sales, personnel, home finance, etc. Nevertheless, even with a book full of examples, it seems to me the program still won't do all that much, and that five $30 games would have gotten much more use from me than VisiCalc ever will. It is interesting to note that the ATARI is not even listed in the book among the computers that support VisiCalc.
Without the book, it might have taken between 30 minutes and two hours to design and enter a simple program. With the book, you only need a half hour to enter the model. Of course, the ideal situation would be for OSBORNE/McGraw-Hill to sell a disk with all 50 programs on it, since they already have them on file somewhere. With all the design of the models paid for, anything over the cost of the disk and advertising would be profit, and they would probably sell thousands of disks, even at $20.
Fortunately, the explanation of each model in the book is good enough for you to decide whether to bother typing it in or not. The authors also did a reasonable job in coming up with examples so that you could decide whether the results were meaningful to you. This is the main advantage of having someone else do the work for you.
The weakest part of the book is the fact that they just listed the model as it came out of VisiCalc without pointing out to you the typing shortcuts that would save about a third of your time. Those of you familiar enough with VisiCalc to know how to use the /R (Replicate) function will see how to use it as you are typing in the models in the book, but novices will waste alot of time unnecessarily typing repetitious lines.
The business models are fairly relevant for small businesses that really should be using accounting programs, but are using the ATARI instead. One thing that is interesting is that very few of the book's EXAMPLES go into the highlytouted "what-if'' modeling, since these are of minor usefulness to a business that is in its infancy. The authors do not overstate the usefulness of any of the models, and they should be commended for that.
In all, the VisiCalc Home and Office Companion has at least the beginnings of most of the VisiCalc models that you would want. Those of you who have not yet bought VisiCalc for your ATARI should browse through the book before doing so; if you don't find much that interests you, you probably will be disappointed with VisiCalc as well. For those of you with VisiCalc who really want to use it, this book is guaranteed to save you a lot of time setting up your models.
COMPUTE!'s Second Book of ATARIby COMPUTE! Books
P.O. Box 5406
Greensboro N.C. 27403
Reviewed by Dave Duberman
COMPUTE!'s Second Book of ATARI has arrived, and at $12.95 is easily one of the best software packages available for ATARI owners. The book contains twenty-nine articles on BASIC programming, all previously unpublished anywhere. Most include BASIC listings of programs that can be typed in and experimented with by the reader.
Like its predecessor, the Second Book is arranged into sections including Utilities, Programming Techniques, Advanced Graphics, Game Utilities, Applications, and "Beyond BASIC." It is spiral-bound, so it stays open easily when your hands are otherwise busy. Material ranges in difficulty from beginner to advanced.
Among the utilities are several which help to make up for deficiencies in ATARI BASIC, such as "Poke TAB in BASIC", and "ATARI BASIC String Manipulation Tricks."
Game programmers will appreciate aid given by E.H. Forester's program "Player / Missile Drawing Editor," which allows you to design players and missiles on-screen with a joystick.
The star of the Graphics section is a 75-page, three-part article by Phil Dunn entitled "Extending Atari High Resolution Graphics." Along with extensive documentation, Phil provides eight separate listings of programs that will let you draw polygons of any shape and fill them with the XIO fill command, create "textured" graphics, and use multi-colored graphics in Mode 8.
David Plotkin's article, "TEXTPLOT Makes a Game," uses the machine language subroutine TEXTPLOT to create a BASIC multicolor action game called "Paratroop Attack," requiring 24K and a paddle controller.
Included in the Applications section are articles such as "A Simple Text Editor," "ATARI Screen As Strip Chart Recorder," and "Perfect Pitch," which allows you to produce high-accuracy sound from your ATARI. Now you can use your computer to tune your piano!
The final section, Beyond BASIC, contains such potentially useful material as "Put Your USR Code Into A BASIC Program Automatically," and "Back Up Your Machine Language Programs With BASIC," which is aimed mainly at cassette users, but contains worthwhile information for most others. "The Resident Disk Handler" is an intriguing introduction to the intricate relation between the operating system and DOS, containing ideas on accessing data stored on disks without using DOS.
All in all, this book is an excellent compilation, extremely informative reading for any computer owner, and a must for owners of the ATARI.