PCW 85

reported by Les Ellingham


Issue 18

Nov/Dec 85

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'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!