Degas Elite


Issue 26

Mar/Apr 87

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Can it turn Dave Keel from pavement artist to Picasso?

Not long after the ST computer was first launched (was it really almost one and a half years ago?) a marvellous multi-mode drawing program was released by the very well known and highly reputable Batteries Included (distributed by Ariolasoft in the U.K.). This program was Degas. It was certainly better than most other 8 bit drawing programs that anyone had seen, but we all knew that the ST was capable of much, much more. A few other such programs have since seen light of day, that do a little more than Degas did, but none have had all the features that we'd expect from a professional drawing and painting program on a 68000 based micro-computer. It has taken over a year to arrive, but Degas Elite has now become available and it's got almost every feature that you'd imagine and even one or two that you probably wouldn't.

For those readers who haven't seen the original Degas, then I'd suggest that you look at PAGE 6 Issue 20, where a full review was published. Naturally, Degas Elite has every single one of the features that Degas has (except for the high-resolution mode inverting bug, of course!) and many more besides.

The first noticeable difference is that the Degas Elite disk has to be booted. This loads in the GEM GDOS-VDI routine which allows more versatility over type font styles (e.g. outline, italic, half-tone etc. - just like the fonts in First Word and DB Master!) - you can then create an initial load up instruction file which tells the Degas Elite program which fonts you want to load (you can have up to 10 fonts resident at one time!), and from which drive etc. Talking of fonts, the original font editor is still there, and there's also a font converter program that enables you to convert all your existing Degas fonts into the GDOS-VDI format, thereby creating new variants of your old favourites. After you've booted the disk, you still have to select and run the actual program and it's then that you'll immediately notice the most obvious differences - the familiar boxes of the original Degas control screen are still there, but they're laid out a little differently, and in addition you also have a whole host of pull-down menus which enable you to select most of the new goodies that have been added.

Take a deep breath and here goes. You can have up to 8 screens (on a one-meg ST, less on a 520 of course!) active at any time, and you can swap pictures or parts of pictures between any of these screens. You can load low or medium resolution colour pictures into high resolution screens (with very acceptable results) and vice-versa, and you can save your pictures to disk in a compressed format, usually around one-half to one-third of the usual 32K. You can automatically draw outlines around any area in any colour, and add shadows to shapes or text. You can load in Amiga files (whatever turns you on!) or 8-bit Atari Koala pad screens. You can load in images without their colour files or colour files without their images.

Extensive 'fill' design routines are incorporated, enabling you to create your own fills in either colour or monochrome, even allowing you to 'snatch' a suitably sized area of any screen and use that as a repeated fill. Animation has been incorporated (a feature that was sadly lacking in the original Degas), with many animation features enabling you to produce no end of amazing effects (although a bit of imagination and some considerable experimentation after careful study of the manual is essential). Thirteen printer driver routines are included on the master disk, so yours should be in there somewhere, and the very excellent and extensive manual gives you all the information that you'd need to write your own if it isn't included provided that you know a bit of machine code.

Just about all the graphics routines available can be obtained by either clicking on the appropriate selection box or by pressing the relevant keyboard key - another new idea. The very useful zoom mode is still there but now you can very quickly zoom in from 3 to 12 times size, and scroll around whilst in any zoom mode.

The most impressive, versatile and (to my mind) useful feature, however, is the 'block' mode. Remember in Degas how you could select any of the available 'brushes' and use them to draw lines, boxes, circles, ellipses and freehand draw etc.? - well, imagine that you can select any sized area of any picture, define it as a 'block' and then use it just like any other brush. Draw a circle with a carrot (for example!) or a box with the Mona Lisa's nose!. And once you've defined an area of screen as a 'block' then the fun really starts, because you can stretch it, shrink it, rotate it to any angle (in degrees!) that you like, horizontally or vertically 'lean' it, or even distort it to any abstract shape, and the blocks can be anything from 4 to 25 sides! The distort mode not only allows you to produce some weird and wonderful effects, but you can also use the distort to create true perspective - for example, you could produce a 3D cube with your design printed on all three visible sides, 'distorted' to the correct perspective to fit perfectly! For machine code 'hackers', the 'block' can also be saved to disk as an 'icon' file and used in your own programs.

  'every feature you'd imagine'

I'm sure you'll have gathered by now that I'm impressed with Degas Elite. To balance the situation a little I must report that my copy crashed several times after around one and a half hours use - although knowing the idiosyncrasies of the ST, and the non-legitimate mods I've made to mine, it could be the fault of my machine but somehow I don't think so. It may be that some of the pointers get mixed up after prolonged use and a lot of saving to disk. You wouldn't spend a long time on a masterpiece artistic creation and not save it to disk at least every 15 minutes would you?.

Other than that single doubt I can wholeheartedly recommend the program to anyone who takes their drawing seriously enough to spend around 70 on a program. Allowing for the ST's graphical limitations, the program is as near a 'professional' tool as it is possible to produce on an all-round machine. I know everyone is talking about (and probably waiting for) Mirrorsoft's 'Art Director', but remember that as far as I'm aware that only works in low-resolution mode, which makes it pretty unsuitable for any serious graphical work destined for a monochrome printer. That said, if you don't own a high resolution monochrome monitor, and aren't particular about medium resolution, then perhaps it would be an idea to wait for the cheaper 'Art Director' to see if it lives up to expectations and promises. However, if you're looking for a state-of-the-art 16 bit ST drawing program that works equally well in any of the ST's three graphics modes and takes a lot of the hard work out of any of the graphical ideas that you want to try, then you've found it!.

By the way, if you are an existing 'original Degas' owner, and you are wondering if you can 'trade-in' your disk for an upgrade to Degas Elite, don't bother trying, I've called Ariolasoft and it's not their policy. Seems a bit unfair to me, after all, the original Degas disk is totally redundant if you buy Degas Elite.

Next issue we take a look at Art Director. First glance shows it to be every bit as good as Degas Elite, but is it any better? Plus a feature by feature comparison for you to judge for yourself.