Issue 24

Nov/Dec 86

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The Personal Computer World Show of 1986 turned out to be the showpiece for the ST with around 95% of the Atari area devoted to ST products and with a fair number of exhibitors on the main floor also showing or announcing ST products. Rather than offering a direct commentary on the show itself, I will concentrate on reporting those items of software and hardware that have recently become available or that you should be seeing soon. Bear in mind that this summary excludes the vast majority of American software, as there were few direct American exhibitors, so this really is only the tip of the iceberg!

Let's start with Atari. You have probably read it elsewhere but the main announcements were 2Mb and 4Mb versions of the ST called (unsurprisingly) the 2080ST and 4160ST. Prices with mono monitors are 1149 and 1459 respectively. Perhaps more interesting to existing owners was the 'Blit' chip which increases the speed of graphics processing up to six-fold. Atari states that this will be available from authorised dealers for 60 plus VAT as an upgrade kit for the complete range of ST computers. Software from Atari included dbMAN, a dBASE III clone for just 99 and FASTCOM a GEM terminal program with just about every facility you may need for communications in an easy to use format. Price is 49. Atari also had a catalogue of ST software for sale. It looked interesting but as they wanted me to pay the full retail price of 14.95 for the privilege of reviewing it for you (and thereby gaining more sales for them) I declined the offer. I am not paying 14.95 for a catalogue without knowing if it is worth it, how about you?

Jeff Minter from Llamasoft is working on an enhanced version of Colourspace, now that he has learned more of the capabilities of the machine and this should be out quite soon.

Anco Software appear to have a licensing deal with Artworx from the U.S.A., a company that produced several Atari 8-bit titles in the early days and then seemed to disappear. The one interesting thing that sets Anco apart is price. For the first time you will now be able to get software for as low as 12.95! At this price is Trivia ST for two to four players, Peggamon which is a new approach to backgammon, a graphics adventure called Willy The Kid and Flip Flop, another version of Reversi. At 19.95 comes the old Artworx classic, Strip Poker plus ST Golf, Thai Boxing and an arcade game entitled Space Pilot. It seems that golf and karate are all the rage at the moment.

Timeworks concentrates on the professional side of computing with a word processor, a database and spreadsheet. The word processor, Word Writer ST includes three spell checkers and an integrated outliner and uses full GEM interfacing. The specification looks very interesting for the price. Data Manager ST is a flexible database which again uses GEM and includes charts, reports and sample applications. Finally SwiftCalc ST is a standard spreadsheet with graphics supporting 8192 rows by 256 columns and some interesting graphics and other features. Each program is 74.95 and they can be interfaced with one another.

Rainbird was showing the long awaited Starglider which is a Star Raiders style intergalactic exploration selling for 24.95. Many game lovers raved about this one as the star of the show. Rainbird also have The Pawn and the Level 9 collection of adventures, jewels of Darkness.

Cumana were over in the business hall and may have been missed by many ST owners. Their single and dual 1Mb 3" drives were on display but most interest centred around a combined 5" and 3" drive allowing software developers or owners of IBM PC's to access a wider range of software from one unit. A spokesman for the company also promised something 'very interesting' for the ST shortly, but declined to give any further details!

U.S.Gold should be releasing several titles for the ST soon, including Microprose's established classic flight simulators and others. Silent Service is already available. Two major coin-op games coming are Gauntlet and Xevious which should add a sparkle to any gamesters eye!

Grafox were on the Atari stand with an ST version of Logistix an integrated database, spreadsheet and timesheet which has received very good reviews in the more serious computer press. Some regard this as the best spreadsheet of all so its conversion to the ST is a welcome sign of acceptance of the machine by the major serious software producers.

Picked up somewhere was a leaflet on an arcade adventure from System 3 entitled Dominator of which little was explained and two games, Bangkok Knights and The Last Ninja which they classified as 'addictive computer game' and 'exciting computer game' respectively. Is that enough to make you rush out and buy?

Robtek have recently signed an agreement with Shanner Corporation in the U.S.A. and caused the greatest excitement with the long awaited Mac-Emulator which they call Ultra-68k. This is being cleverly marketed as an upgrade to the Mac with instructions to remove the chips from your own Mac to gain the advantage of the faster processing and greater capacity of the ST. Fair enough if you already have access to a Mac and software which you can port across but how long will it be before all of the existing Mac software has its equivalent on the ST? Robtek also have a number of other ST products including a Real Time Clock, Macro Manager, Colorwriter, a unique word processor using colour to highlight and distinguish text. Also a Professional Midi Sequencer and a Games Compendium. A lot of product worth checking out.

Microdeal continue to push out product unabated and seem to be getting the right balance between quality and quantity. To detail everything fully would take a whole page but look out for Karate Kid II with superb graphics, a shuttle simulation, Trivia Challenge, Electronic Pool, Pinball Factory, a new BBS program, a British Payroll program and a back-up system for Hard Disks. There will undoubtedly be more added to what is already the widest collection of ST software from any manufacturer.

One of the most talked about accessories came from Computer Concepts. Back-Pack is a ROM based set of accessories comprising a calculator, clock and alarms, a diary, notepad and typewriter as well as an address book, a printer buffer and ramdisk. Being a cartridge, no extra RAM is used by the accessories which are always available. Disadvantage at the moment is that you can't also plug in a real time clock although others are working on multi socketted plug in boards to solve the problem. Price is 49. Computer Concepts also have Fast Basic on ROM which also received a lot of favourable comment.

Silicon Chip finally launched their long awaited STAccounts which has a very impressive specification and uses GEM. Containing Sales Ledger, Purchase Ledger, Stock Control and Nominal ledger, the package is aimed at the small businesses and, with extensive help facilities, should be easy enough for most businessmen to use. Launch price was 150 plus VAT.

My choice for star of the show was undoubtedly Mirrorsoft and from comments received at the PAGE 6 stand, a lot of people agreed. Mirrorsoft had three incredible packages, two graphics programs and a desktop publishing program that will head the whole desktop publishing market. The graphics packages are Art Director and Film Director and they are quite simply the very best so far for the ST. Over a year in development by Andromeda in Hungary, Art Director is a truly top-class professional graphics program with applications from creative fun to commercial mock-up and visuals. Film Director can take images from Art Director and animate them in almost any way. The results are professional enough for full video use and the ease of use has to be seen to be believed. The prices are 49.95 and 59.95 respectively which is truly a fraction of the real worth of programs of this quality.

To explain Fleet Street Publisher would take pages. Just take my word that it is the most advanced desktop publishing program to yet appear on any standard micro. One or two things still need to be completed but I can't wait to begin to use it and will bring you a full review in due time.

Professional musicians must be delighted with the ST for a couple of companies were demonstrating how the machine can be used in the music studio to achieve results which would normally require equipment costing 10 times the price. Steinberg Research had Pro-24 Midi Sequencer and Hybrid Arts also showed a sequencer as well as a 16-bit sound sampler that sampled at the same speed as a compact disk. Samples were taken which were indistinguishable from the original and which could then be easily edited with the mouse. N-n-n-nineteen probably took a long time to do, but on the ST you could achieve the same result in a few seconds!

A gentleman from Avila Associates had a small table on the Atari stand to show Make It Move, an excellent system for producing slide shows, animated business reports and more from Neochrome or Degas pictures. Anybody could produce a 'script' outlining a presentation or just use it for fun to enhance their own artwork. U.S. price is $49.95 but your retailer will be able to confirm his own price. Continuous updates are promised making it a very powerful program.

Another couple of products which gained a lot of attention were a Video-Digitiser and The Sound Master professional sound-digitiser from Print Technik in Vienna. Quality on both was excellent with a superb sound and graphics demo disk that many (including me) thought was a video cassette. The Video-Digitiser is now being distributed in this country now by Haba.

If you need a cheap clock for your ST, a British company producing one is Tregarthen Systems in Gloucester. Called ST Timepiece it retails at 34.44 including VAT.

Infocom, now part of Activision, continue to produce their acclaimed range of adventures on the ST. By the time you read this two new adventures should be available, Leather Goddesses of Phobos and Moonmist. The first begins a new Infocom Comedy genre with three 'naughtiness' levels to select yourself and Moonmist is an interactive fiction tale of ghosties and ghoulies. Both are 29.99

Miracle Technology now have a comms package available which is GEM based and fully supports Prestel. SuperTerm has all the usual features and costs 52.13 plus VAT. An inclusive package of the WS4000 auto-dial, auto-answer modem and software is available at 199.95 exclusive of VAT.

Eidersoft who had previously produced Mission Mouse, one of the few mono games for the ST came in with an unexpected bang with five games all running in colour and featuring full optional midi sound. ST Karate topped the bill with digitised sound. ST Protector is a platform style game as is Space Station which features 3D action. Other arcade titles include War Zone and Fire Blaster. If the software lives up to the packaging (which is superb) there should be a feast for ST garners.

What about books? There weren't that many but one that arrived mid way through the show looks like being the best yet. From Glentop it is called The Concise Atari ST 68000 Programmer's Reference Guide and gives an excellent guide for the programmer. Glentop have at least eight other titles which we will bring you details of in due course. First Publishing continue to expand their range of ABACUS books and are now supplementing these with software from the same company. Finally one from Sybex to look out for is Understanding the Atari ST a 'combined tutorial and reference guide'.

And there was more .... Mercenary from Novagen, a number of new things from Kuma, upgrades from Haba and a whole host of stuff that I did not get a chance to see or for which literature was not available. A chap from Germany even showed me something called GFA BASIC which, as demonstrated, was a BASIC running as fast as C. Is that enough to keep you interested for now?