Book Reviews

by Les Ellingham



Issue 14

Mar/Apr 85

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by David Fox & Mitchell Waite.
Published by McGraw Hill

About 18 months ago BYTE magazine published a demo for the Atari called Waterfall and I was so impressed I searched immediately for the book from which it was taken. The book had not yet been published so I waited and waited. Now at last Computer Animation Primer by David Fox and Mitchell Waite has been published and it was well worth the wait.

Computer Animation Primer is a general look at the use of computers for animation but has the added bonus that the machine chosen to implement Computer Animation for the home user is the Atari. A glance at the facilities offered by the dedicated mainframes and other home computers shows why. The Atari is the only home computer that comes anywhere near to emulating the big ones. The author David Fox has an impressive background in animation and is a member of the Computer Games Project at Lucasfilm Ltd and was project leader for one of their first games for the Atari - Rescue on Fractalus.

The book is expensive at 19.95 but then so are a great deal of non-computer books nowadays but it is 500 pages long and contains plenty of hard information and routines that could advance your programming further than any other book you can find. The first part of the book, up to page 151, contains an overview of computer animation in general from the first steps up to the making of TRON and STAR WARS with good insights into how various effects are achieved. All different types of hardware and software are fully discussed before moving on to the possibility of animation on Personal Computers. Here the reason for the choice of the Atari as the subject of the second half of the book becomes apparent. Hardware features of Personal Computers are discussed. Hardware scrolling is said to be a rare feature found only on the more sophisticated computers. Colour registers are only just beginning to appear. Vertical Blank Interrupts are another rare feature as are Display List Interrupts. All of these have been a feature of the Atari from the very beginning. No wonder David Fox chooses it as the model for Home Computer animation!

From pages 153 onwards the book is devoted to Atari with each of the special features fully explored. Beginning with character sets it adds fascinating information to programming examples which guide you through each of the Atari's special features. Throughout the book are `black box' routines which are machine language routines that you can use in your own programs without understanding the programming behind them. Just a few POKEs to certain locations will give you control over Player Missiles, fine scrolling, animation and more. In depth information, not previously easily available, is included such as the programming and data for the classic Atari demo of a running horse. If you have not seen this then type it in straight away, it really is impressive.

Animation through colour registers comes next, and this is where the Waterfall demo comes in, before going on to Player Missile Graphics with 'black-box' routines for full Player control and animation. Each feature is illustrated at the end of a chapter with examples of commercial programs which use the particular feature discussed so that you have a good idea of what can be achieved.

Fine scrolling comes next before the book builds up into `The Great Movie Cartoon' which is quite simply the most stunning demo available from a listing that I have seen anywhere. It combines all of the features that have been been discussed into one incredible demonstration. An urban landscape scrolls by in the background. Trees in the middle distance scroll by at a different rate whilst in the foreground trucks and cars zoom by from left or right. Suddenly a human figure appears and walks across in the foreground of the scene! All of this can be controlled from the keyboard and can easily be adapted for a joystick. More importantly all of the information needed to construct this scene, and similar programs of your own, is there in the listing and in the `black box' routines which you put to your own use.

The book is illustrated throughout with black and white photographs which are reproduced as a set of sixteen full colour pages towards the end of the book. There is a fair amount of white space as the text is set across only two thirds of the page but the book is larger than the normal paperback being 9" by 7". It is well produced and, as a welcome change for an American book, is extremely well written in an adult fashion.

Eighteen months is a long time to wait for a book. 19.95 is a lot of money to pay. Is it worth it? Unreservedly, yes on both counts. It is a superb book which many Atari owners will overlook for Atari is not mentioned in the title and it may well be hard to find. If you can find it, do so.



by Richard Mansfield

One of the easiest to understand books for beginners to machine language is COMPUTE!'s Machine Language For Beginners which provides an excellent starting point for those who are proficient in BASIC. A problem when learning any new language is how to take the fundementals you have learned and put them into applications. This is precisely what COMPUTE's Second Book of Machine Language attempts to teach.

The book sets about explaining step by step how to create a long and complex program in machine language. Rather than choose a game or a business program which many users will not be interested in, the author has hit upon the master stroke of showing how to write a full Assembler which can then be used to write other programs. So, even when the book is finished, you will have a program which you can continue to use with all the concepts and practices you have learned.

The program is built up through the book stage by stage with full explanations of each stage. Every line in the program is explained, all the subroutines are picked apart and explained and all major routines are covered in depth. Starting with Equates and Definitions, it goes on to explain Data Base Management, I/O Management and Number Conversions, Input and Formatted Output, Data, Messages, Variables and more. The full source code of the Assembler is included and you will end up with probably the most comprehensively annotated machine code program available. More than that you will end up with a useful tool equivalent to a commercial assembler which may cost you over twice the price of the book

The full 6502 Instruction Set is included as are notes on modifying the Assembler. Appendices explain how to use the program to assemble other programs, again on a step by step basis, and include the complete object code and a library of useful subroutines.

COMPUTE's Second Book of Machine Language is unique in its approach and should allow the novice machine code programmer to break away from the theory and begin writing substantial programs of his own. The book covers a number of 6502 based machines but all the routines are translated for the Atari. An additional advantage is that the reader should get a good insight into how to translate programs from other machines.




by Peter Goode. Phoenix Publishing Associates.

Including 600XL in the title is an unfortunate choice, for the 600XL has almost disappeared without trace. Still the 800XL uses the same Operating System and Basic so is this book a good one for a new XL owner?


Well, if you just want to get started it will probably do but if, having started, you want to go further you may well regret its purchase. It starts with very simple use of BASIC such as printing to the screen and using variables before going into Graphics and Sound. Graphics are covered in half a dozen or so pages of simple PLOT and DRAWTO before the heading 'ADVANCED GRAPHICS' suddenly appears. Advanced Graphics are said to require the use of machine code which is simply not true. The chapter says 'These advanced graphics facilities, often called Player Missile graphics are used extensively with machine code in THE 600XL PROGRAM BOOK. From which the following is an example'. There then follows a program which contains no machine code whatsoever and no Player Missile graphics!


Oh, dear! To be fair, other simpler Basic programming is covered later in the book but there is a tendency to introduce program listings for explanation which contain many concepts which a beginner might find hard to grasp.


The book will no doubt get you started but in which direction it will lead you I am not sure. 5.95 is not a bad price at today's costs but be warned that you will certainly need to buy other books once you have 'got started'.




Other books received for review...


by Peter Gerrard. 

Duckworth Publishing. 246pp. 6.95

Although adapted from books for other micros, this would seem to be an ideal introduction to Adventuring on the Atari. Two complete adventure listings are included as well as lots of help for you to write your own.


by Christopher Bidmead and Benjamin Woolley. 

Century Communications Ltd. 183 pp. 8.95

A large format book on micro-computing in general with specific sections inserted in the text for the Atari. An ideal introduction for someone new to computing giving a far wider general understanding than a book dedicated to a particular machine.


by Lupton & Robinson. 

Century Communications Ltd. 245 pp. 5.95

A book to take you through the XL from setting up to writing reasonably complex programs. Several appendices.


More detailed reviews of some of these books will appear in future issues.