Allan J Palmer




Allan J Palmer








Randomly Accessed Memories of Page 6 and things Atari

I 'graduated' from an Atari VCS 2600 games console to an Atari 800 Home Computer System (16K RAM + 410 cassette recorder) early in 1981. I had seen reviews of the machine in the American 'Creative Computing' magazine and wanted to play Star Raiders! I also wanted to play Adventure games.

Page 6 was a splendid 'accessory' when it first appeared – I had spotted the small advertisement on the pages of 'Computer & Video Games' magazine, and promptly sent off my subscription starting with issue 1. The range of information provided every two months by Les Ellingham kept my interest in the Atari on the boil. That is of course when I wasn’t playing Star Raiders or puzzling my way through the Scott Adams’ series of adventure games. However, I soon decided that I had to tackle the Infocom adventures as well, but this would mean the purchase of a 810 disk drive in which to insert those 5.25” floppy disks (yes, those were the days when floppies were floppy!). I recall visiting the nearest Atari stockist and pondering whether to invest in a 16K RAM upgrade or a disk drive. Obviously keen to make a sale, the manager offered to throw in a RAM module if I purchased a disk drive. I couldn’t resist that – and having opted for the drive, well I had to purchase disk-based software to use on it!

The first disk program I purchased was Infocom’s Deadline, and I can still recall the delight I had in solving the mystery. Meanwhile, as well as continuing through the Scott Adams' series, I became aware of Level 9, a British company producing adventure games for a range of home computer systems, including the Atari. Their initial offering was Colossal Adventure – a clone of the infamous mainframe adventure game from which evolved Infocom’s Zork series. I had thought that my first contribution to Page 6 was a review of Colossal Adventure that appeared in issue 10, but using the search facility on this web site revealed that I did in fact have a letter printed on the Readers’ Letters page of issue 9 (little did I know what that would eventually lead to!)

The review of Colossal Adventure seemed to be well received. Level 9 liked it enough to use a quote from it in their advertising (see page 32 of issue 12 for instance – although the quote is attributed to Atari User rather than Page 6). It would be remiss of me not to mention other sources of Atari knowledge that I devoured during the 1980s. ANALOG and Antic were two Atari-dedicated periodicals which had sporadic distribution on this side of the Atlantic, but were worth their weight in nuggets of information. I did generally prefer ANALOG – you seemed to get more value from that publication. As well as those two American imports, I invested in a subscription to COMPUTE! Magazine. This American home computer monthly covered a range of systems, Commodore PET/Vic, Apple, TRS/Tandy as well as the Atari machines. The bonus with COMPUTE! was that the 'Insight: Atari' column was written by Bill Wilkinson, founder of OSS - the company that produced Atari BASIC and Atari DOS. COMPUTE! also began publishing a series of books, initially with some reprints from early issues, latterly with all new material, for the Atari computers. I wrote a review of COMPUTE!’s Atari Collection Volume 1 which Les used in issue 16 of Page 6.

Page 6 got me interested in Flight Simulator II (thanks to all those articles by John S Davison), in more creative use of word processing (through a review by Les of PaperClip, which became by first choice tool), and in communication through BBS systems in those 'pre-internet' days.

I found time to contribute some articles that Les published. There was a review of Database Publications’ Mini Office II – a rare thing, a UK-developed non-game program for the Atari 8-bit range. My rambling thoughts of adventure games surfaced in a 'Confessions of an Adventure Addict' piece. However, I was most pleased with an item I called 'The Question Mark Affair' which answered a question posed in the letter column, explaining an undocumented feature of Atari BASIC’s input statement.

In issue 58 Les requested assistance in handling the letter column of the magazine. He felt that the work required to compile the rest of each issue meant that he was left with little time to do justice to the letters received. For some reason, I decided that I could help out so booted up the word processor and offered my services. The next issue had a small announcement from Les informing readers that I would be acting as Mailbag Editor – and then the avalanche began.

I compiled the letter column for Page 6/Atari User for the next 14 issues (I guess that covered a period of 2˝ years). I always tried to include at least a reference to each letter that was sent on from Stafford by Les and Sandy. My philosophy was that if someone took the time to write, they deserved some form of acknowledgement that would keep their interest up. As a result, some issues featured 4 pages of letters! I think the readers liked this approach – I did get one or two complimentary letters (which I felt I didn’t need to include), and Les didn’t find the need to trim the column extensively.

Les compiled the letter column for issue 74 as by the time enough letters arrived in Stafford, it would have been too late for them to be sent to me for editing and then back to Les to meet the printer’s deadline. I pulled the letters together for issue 75, but after that it was back to Les as the correspondence dried up and the magazine schedule became less regular. My last listing as a 'regular contributor' was in issue 79.

In my professional career I have been involved in software development for mainframe and distributed computing applications, working as programming team manager, project manager and senior software test manager. I have now taken early retirement to enjoy a better quality of life.

Allan J Palmer, November 2004