'We came down here to spend some
money' complained a couple of lads from far away Durham. True there
was not much you could actually BUY for your ATARI at the PCW show
but there was quite a lot to see and the promises of much more support
for our machines in the future. The ATARI stand hit you in the face
as you turned right from the front door but many of the other goodies
took a bit of finding. One thing became obvious from the start -
playing the roving reporter AND trying to run your own stand was
as hard as trying to complete MINER 2049er with only a limited time
allowed for play!
Initially I suppose interest centred
around ATARIís three large stands, one of which was set up for public
relations purposes with tables and chairs for 'important' visitors
and private rooms for interviews, whilst the other two housed dozens
of small units occupied by software houses and others who had some
product or other for ATARI machines. The set up certainly created
the right impression judging by some of the press reports following
the show with comments such as 'Atari managed to put at least 50
STs on their stand' and 'Atari live up to their promise'. What it
was basically was a brilliant piece of promotion using the resources
of about 30 other companies to promote the ATARI line. Nobody has
ever criticised Jack Tramiel for his marketing ability!
Let's start with ATARI themselves.
For most media men the focus of attention was not the hardware but
Jack Tramiel himself who seemed to be constantly surrounded by TV
cameras and press men. Most of what he said merely reinforced, for
the sceptics, what he had said before and there were certainly no
major new announcements. 520STs were around in force with just the
odd colour monitor but the promised CD ROM unit did not turn up
and the solitary 260ST and HARD DISK DRIVE were locked away in a
huge glass case on centre stage. What you could see was very impressive
but the presentation led to suspicion and rumours. Let us hope that
the 260ST is close to production and that it will be available soon
in the UK for the future of many of the software houses producing
entertainment packages could depend heavily on existing ATARI owners
having available a new generation machine they can afford.
To many of those existing owners
though the ATARI stand may have been a disappointment for the support
of the 130XE or XL machines was minimal with almost all the emphasis
on the 520ST. Among those companies showing software for the 8-bit
machines were English Software with their martial arts program
CHOP SUEY and Bignose Software who now have the rights to
produce THE PAYOFF for the Atari and other machines. Future releases
include another two adventures OPERA HOUSE and THE MASK plus a multitasking
FORTH system for the 800/XL entitled pFORTH. A new comer to the
ATARI was Blue Ribbon Software who had two titles, DIAMOND
MINE and SCREWBALL translated from the BBC and to be available at
the remarkable price of just £2.50 each. Three further titles are
planned and all five will be available on one disk for just £9.95.
Mirrorsoft now have BOULDERDASH from First Star and FIRST
STEPS WITH THE MR MEN for young children at £9.95 and £8.95 respectively.
Miracle Technology had their MULTI-VIEWTERM communications
software and DATARI interface hooked up and exploring Telecom Gold.
There was more 8- bit software elsewhere in the show but not much
more on the ATARI stand.
So on to the star of the show -
the 520ST which had a very impressive range of software - admittedly
much of it only in the demo stage - ranging from low price entertainment
packages right up to the very top end business applications where
you pay so much for the program that they give you the machine free!
Included were many languages and development packages which are
likely to be among the first releases but overall the breadth of
software that is being developed for this machine is quite amazing.
Starting close to ATARI themselves
we had companies such as Digital Research showing GEMDraw
and various GEM packages many of which are supposed to be included
with the machine itself but which had not been completed and BOS
Software with the BOS Operating System and associated packages
of interest only to serious business users. Up in this category
were WASP Software with dedicated packages for the Printing,
Accountancy, Insurance and Legal professions. Metacomco who
developed the BASIC for the ST had a Macro Assembler for just £49.95,
PASCAL at £89.95 and an IBM CROSS DEVELOPMENT SYSTEM which would
set you back a cool £1,000! You wouldn't buy that of course but
think of the promise that it holds for future software availability
on the ST. GST Systems had an EDITOR/ASSEMBLER and a CP/M
EMULATOR allowing CP/M programs such as Wordstar and dBase II to
run on the ST.
Languages and general business
applications were the dominant type of software and among them we
had Talent Computer Systems with a file management system
called FLEXFILE allowing many different types of single file applications
to be handled. TDI Software had TDI MODULA-2/ST billed as
the best language for modular programming as well as UCSD PASCAL
an industry standard operating system. Kuma Computers who
have made a name among QL users have a whole range of applications
planned at a standard price of £49.95. Among these are K-SPREAD,
a spreadsheet that uses the Mouse and Windows, K-SEKA a very fast
Editor/Assembler, K-DATA which is a database allowing transfer to
and from other K-series applications, K-WORD a word processor and
K-COMM a communications and Viewdata terminal program. To top all
this off they have a book coming out - The Atari ST Explored.
Softechnics have a couple
of programs transported from the Macintosh. TIMELINK allows you
to plan any time or date related activity and RHYTHM, 'part spreadsheet,
part calculator'. Back on the language development side, Hisoft
promise a full range after Christmas - they say they will not rush
things - which will include DevpacST a sophisticated editor/assembler/debugger.
So far you might be forgiven in
thinking that the ST is just a business machine, and without the
260ST that is just what it might turn out to be, but a number of
companies have committed themselves to providing entertainment software
for the ST. Graphics and sound on a new machine take a lot of exploring
and you cannot expect the best for some time so most of the announced
packages were of the style of text adventures or the like with one
notable exception, BRATACCAS from Psygnosis. I must admit
that I didn't get a chance to see it but others raved over it and
some called it the game of the show! One to look out for when it
is released, which will presumably not be until colour monitors
are readily available! One adventure that you could actually buy
at the time of the show was LANDS OF HAVOC from Microdeal,
a 2000 screen arcade adventure for just £19.95. Another adventure,
or rather two adventures comes from Talent Computer Systems
who bring you WEST and THE LOST KINGDOM OF ZKUL both of which have
been successful on the QL. These two come on one 3Ĺ" disk for
the inclusive price of £24.95.
One of the first American companies
to announce the translation of their existing software to the ST
are the acknowledged masters of Adventure, Infocom who are
translating their complete range. ZORK 1 and HITCHHIKERS GUIDE TO
THE GALAXY were actually available for purchase at the show. Of
the graphics based programs the most impressive was CHESS from Intelligent
Chess Software with a true 3-D board on screen. And there was
more which I didn't get a chance to see including an interpreter
from BTM allowing BBC programs to be run, a promised 'ELITE'
type package from Firebird, and CASH TRADER from Quest
International. In all, the software under development and likely
to be available towards the end of this year and early next year
is truly astonishing in its variety and holds great promise for
establishing the ST as THE machine of 1986.
So far we have covered only the
ATARI stand, but what of the rest of the show?
As far as ATARI was concerned the
rest of the show was dominated by two companies, Activision and
Ariolasoft. Four games were on active display at the Activision
stand, RESCUE ON FRACTALUS and BALLBLAZER and somewhat unexpectedly
as they are only just available in the States, KORONIS RIFT and
THE EIDOLON which again feature fractal graphics and look to be
a couple of stunners. Lack of time prevented a proper look but what
I did see was very impressive and hopefully we can bring you a full
review shortly. After a lengthy period in which they appeared to
desert the ATARI Activision are bringing out some really top class
software over the coming months. Some programs will be available
by the time you read this but those to look out for include HACKER
one of the most innovative programs of recent times in which you
explore a host computer you have accidentally accessed. There are
no instructions, no rules, no help. The screen just say 'Log on
please'! For adventurers comes MINDSHADOW a fully illustrated graphic
adventure with animation. THE DESIGNER'S PENCIL is a creative program
combining both art and music and GAMEMAKER allows you to create
your own arcade style games with options for novice and advanced
programmers. The 'ultimate' flight simulator is said to be SPACE
SHUTTLE designed in consultation with NASA where you control none
other than the Shuttle itself. Finally from Activision comes THE
GREAT AMERICAN CROSS COUNTRY ROAD RACE a driving simulation in which
you race through 25 cities across the States.
Ariolasoft are also supporting
ATARI in a big way by bringing to the UK some of the best in entertainment
and application software from the U.S.A. Their stand was dominated
by a huge projection TV screen showing music videos which was commandeered
midway through the show by Jeff Minter for use in demonstrating
COLOURSPACE. Not many watched the videos but once Colourspace was
up and running crowds lined up along the balcony. Ariolasoft have
already released many of the Electronic Arts programs at super prices
and promise more to come. PINBALL CONSTRUCTION SET, MUSIC CONSTRUCTION
SET and SEVEN CITIES OF GOLD should be widely available by now and
all have a superb reputation from past imports. In the 'mid-price'
range at £9.95 on disk only they have AXIS ASSASSIN a sort of Centipede
and D-BUG in which you investigate the failed Operating System of
a computer. Coming soon is ARCHON II: ADEPT which carries the ARCHON
game to new heights and a new strategy game called THINK! played
on a 6 x 6 grid. Ariolasoft are not just into games though for they
have signed an agreement with Batteries Included to bring out their
range of Personal Productivity programs. All of these have received
superb reviews in the U.S. and we can now look forward to wide availability
here. NEW PAPERCLIP is a professional word processor to retail at
£59.95 and HOMEPAK combines a word processor, database and telecommunications
package in one program for just £39.95. B/GRAPH is the best graph
program available for the ATARI and is worth £49.95 for anybody
who has any business applications they want to run on an 8-bit machine.
Other releases to look out for are GOLF CONSTRUCTION SET and PAINTBOX
both on disk or cassette.
Several companies have tried to
bring U.S. software over here in the past with varying degrees of
success but both Ariolasoft and Activision have the resources to
make it succeed. First class presentation and promotion should ensure
that the best from the U.S. continues to come our way.
U.S. GOLD of course are
well known for their licensing of games from America but from their
stand you could be forgiven for thinking that they had now gone
into the video business. RAMBO and ZORRO blared out from a combined
OCEAN and U.S. GOLD stand and an impressive array of software was
promised including many strategy titles from SSI as well as NEW
YORK CITY, BLUE MAX 2001, SUPER ZAXXON from Synapse, GOONIES and
ZORRO from Datasoft and many, many more. Look out for the usual
U.S. GOLD colour spreads in the coming months.
And among the rest we had Anirog
who have TRIVIA - a version of the popular Trivial Pursuit at £7.95
with FIVE-A-SIDE and JUMP JET to come. Llamasoft showed a
prototype version of COLOURSPACE running on one of the few STs hooked
up to a colour monitor (a Microvitec) and had a great psychedelically
painted 130XE! Novagen Software had their own stand for MERCENARY,
the successor to ENCOUNTER although they were late setting up their
stand so I didn't get a chance to see it although visitors to the
PAGE 6 stand raved about it. Audiogenic Software had XL and
XE versions of the MICRO SWIFT SPREADSHEET and Alligata Software
had SHOOT EM UP (I wonder if this is the old C.S. Software game?).
Beyond Software at last promise an Atari version of one of
First Star's titles, SUPERMAN and Precision Software has
SUPER-SCRIPT. System 3 Software were apparently banned for
promoting TWISTER with scantily clad 'harlots' but still promise
versions of TWISTER, INTERNATIONAL KARATE and THE NITRO GYCLERIC
NINJA for the ATARI.
Tynesoft Computer Software,
who I missed, apparently had a range of software prepared for the
260ST and there were books on the ST and XL/XE, a printer interface
cable from Connexions at £39 95 and probably a lot more that
I failed to see.
So was it all worth it? Well, the
PCW Show of 1985 was certainly the best showing for ATARI in the
last 5 years and holds great promise for the future success of ATARI.
Whether that success will be heavily slanted towards the ST I don't
know but the media, the software houses and the press were certainly
excited more by ATARI than by any other manufacturer. The 130XE
(and other 8-bit machines) look to have some good support from software
companies new to ATARI, let's just hope that they advertise their
wares (in PAGE 6?) and sell in sufficient quantities to continue
that support. If you are happy with you existing machine it is worth
sticking with it but keep an eye on the ST for it is the machine
of the future. Maybe not for a year or two though so you have time.
Meanwhile those of us who have
made the commitment to an ST can look forward to the voyage of discovery
all over again only this time the field is wider, the rewards potentially
greater and the time spent programming a lot longer. Already I know
of over 20 books planned for the ST between now and February and
there will be plenty more. There will be hundreds of items of software
and much of it will come from the UK.
Jim Capparell of ANTIC was impressed
by the amount of software being developed. Leonard Tramiel was astonished
at the amount of software British companies had developed in such
a short time. 'Much more than in the U.S.' Who knows what we may
see at the ATARI USER SHOW next May!
PAGE 6 stand at the Personal
Computer World Show with entire PAGE 6 staff in attendance!