Where I Read – Analog Computing #1


Cover for the first issue of Analog ComputingHaving run out of issues of EGM for now, it’s time for something completely different. Specifically, we’re shifting focus from gaming consoles to computer gaming, with Analog Computing Magazine. For those unfamiliar with this magazine, it focused on computing on the Atari 400 and 800. Why am I picking this magazine? Well, because the first computer I ever used was an Atari 800, so Atari computers hold a special place in my heart over the Commodore 64. Fear not though, once I’ve gone through this magazine, I’ll see if I can find an old Commodore magazine and give that a run through – particularly since Commodore’s history is interesting in its own right.

We’re starting off with issue #1, for January and February of 1981. For those keeping track, this is just two years before the Video Game Crash – a bullet that hurt Atari and the 2600 badly. However, this magazine is focusing on the 400 and 800, so we’ll see how badly those lines are hurt. Our first ad in the magazine is for… well, another computing magazine – Compute! Magazine. Our editors are Lee Pappas (who is now involved in mobile game development), and Michael J. Deschenes, who I can’t find anything about. Michael – if you’re reading this, and there are any projects you’re working on that you want to plug, please feel free to plug them in the comments.

Editorial

We have a rather nice editorial column to start the issue, as a letter of intent. Pappas basically explains why he wanted to start the magazine – to serve as a method of collecting useful information that was previously spread among disparate local user groups and Atari itself into one place that was easily accessible.

To put it another way for those young kids who have only known the internet – before the Internet as we know it today, when you wanted to get a lot of information out to a lot of people united by a common interest, you’d start a Zine. You and a bunch of friends, possibly members of a common user group, would write articles and format them like a magazine. However, because they weren’t a lot of you, and you might not necessarily have contacts in any major publishers or hardware people yet, you wouldn’t have a lot of content at first, maybe only ’45 pages. Still, you’d write enough to fill a short issue, publish it, and then sell it through mail order. You might advertise through BBS services. You might send some free copies to software publishers as well to try to get them to send you stuff in return for coverage. Sometimes you couldn’t cover your costs and closed your doors. Maybe you lost interest, or life got in the way. But sometimes you went big. We’ll see how Analog Computing turned out.

Anyway, the magazine isn’t totally game focused, as they want to give coverage to other applications as well. Depending on the apps, I may give them a try – however, don’t expect me to spend time trying out VisiCalc or a word processing app.

Upcoming Software

On the games front we have home computer ports of Missile Command and Asteroids. I haven’t played the home port of Missile Command, though I’m not sure how well the a joystick works in place of a track-ball for controlling that game. I have played the Asteroids port though, and it was okay, except it was easy to accidentally start your ship moving, as you were using one button to fire, and starting the ship’s thrusters by pressing the joystick up or down. Our third game is Scram, a nuclear reactor simulator designed in the wake of the Three-Mile Island event.

On the more general software front, Atari is working on a new programming language called PILOT, designed for beginning programmers, similar to Logo. There also working on a series of programs-on-cassette to help users learn foreign languages. They’re starting out with the Romance Languages – Spanish, English, Italian. There’s also a press release about the new version of Atari’s VCS system, otherwise known as the 2600.

There’s a review of the Atari version of Space Invaders which is extremely favorable, but not particularly useful. The review is about three paragraphs long, and really doesn’t go into a lot of details about the game itself. For example, it says something strange happens when you get 1000 points, but doesn’t explain what it is, and I’m not able to hit 1000 points in the Atari 800 version of the game, so I can’t find out there either. If anyone has this information, please feel free to post about it in the comments.

Anyway, Atari is also working on bringing gaming into the wonderful world of 3D with their COSMOS gaming system. However, the system wasn’t really 3D, instead using overlays. It also was never released.

Feature – Programming Languages

This article here is, basically, a little run-down of several of the other programming languages being used around the time this issue was published aside from just Basic. In particular, FORTRAN, COBOL. They also make it clear that in no way could those programs run on rival computers (like the TRS-80) to the 800. However, they also make it clear that those languages are meant for corporate and business environments, and have a price to reflect that, so they’re too expensive to feasibly to run in the home, or even in your small business. As it is, those languages couldn’t be run on the Atari 800 either, which they admit, which makes their cheap shots at the competition hilarious.

So the next language we move to is BASIC, which is less efficient, but generally more practical for use in the home, and more affordable, which is why most magazines like this one featured program listings in BASIC as opposed to other languages. However, if you want something more efficient than BASIC, but will still run on your Atari, you can try Mnemonics, a sort of Assembly Language interpreter. Assembly language is the programming language that the processor itself understands. However, you still need an assembler to translate Mnemonics into Assembly. We also get a little information about Pilot.

On a side-bar, we get an ad for an Atari version of Colossal Cave, titled simply “Adventure” for the Atari 800.

Listen – Atari Music Composer

This is an ongoing column with information on how to get the most of Composer, a synthesizer application that lets you write music on your Atari 800. This installment of the column relates to sheet music, how to read it, and how to interpret it into Composer. Now while you can’t get a lot of length out of your compositions, this could be a useful app for those wanting to make your chiptunes with something other than the SNES or the Game Boy.

BASIC Sounds

So, you don’t have Atari Music Composer and you want to make music – or if you’re designing a game and want to add sound effects. Well, tear your hear out no more, as here are the commands you can use in BASIC to get the sounds you want.

Blocked – Listing

As is customary for magazines of the time, we have a program listing for a game. In this case, it’s a clone of snake. This is a nice little starting game for programmers as it teaches control inputs and collision detection.

Program Reviews

There’s also a review of Kurita’s new graphics tablet for the Atari 800. They like it except for the price, and have a small quibble over an issue that I would consider really major – if you take to long to complete your drawing it goes into screen-saver mode (though they call it “attract mode”) and you can only clear it by using the keyboard – and if you use the keyboard you lose your work. That’s a problem. We also have a review of “Mountain Shoot” – an artillery game, but without the option to get weapon upgrades.

We also have the first application on here which really gives me pause. It’s an application that lets you change the font on your Atari computer. However, it does this by completely over-writing the system font, which means that the font you use will appear in all applications on your computer – including games.

Our breakdown of five Star Trek titles that was our cover story – gets one page and doesn’t even get its own header. I’m actually not going to get too far into this as ultimately, most of these Star Trek games are, in essence, Star Raiders clones. There’s also a combined review of Atari’s new disk drive and as the new version of Atari-DOS, which uses less memory now.

Star Raiders Guide

This is a sort of semi-guide for Star Raiders. You don’t really need it – I did just fine without it when I was a kid, but nonetheless, I’ll give it a run down.

  • There’s a glitch with the Photon Torpedo that lets it hit enemies who you don’t have in your cross-hairs.
  • Always know your bases are, so you can quickly warp out of the system if you run into trouble.
  • If the enemy is going to blow up one of your bases, blow it up first, because if they blow it up, they’ll get two more ships and you’ll lose more points than if you blow it up.
  • You can fire torpedoes more quickly if one of your launchers is disabled, so if one gets destroyed, consider it a net gain.
  • Jumping over 5 sectors at once uses over 500 points of energy, as opposed for 250 for just 5 sectors.

Hopefully this should set you up for some high-level Star Raiders play – or something.

Upcoming 2600 Titles

We get a rundown of 4 upcoming titles for the 2600, including some drawings of what it will look like (since it’s rather difficult to take screen shots at this point in computer history). Specifically, we get Othello, Asteroids, Video Pinball, and Warlords. Of those games, Video Pinball and Asteroids are available on Microsoft Game Room, and you can find the relevant gameplay videos at GiantBomb.com.

Maze Rider – Listing

This is a maze navigation game, one which doesn’t show the entire maze at once. Instead you have to navigate the maze while only being able to see the map three times. Unfortunately, the game’s perspective isn’t clear – whether you can still see a small slice of the maze, or whether it’s in the first person perspective.

Graphically Speaking

Earlier this issue, we got information about how make sounds in basic. This article provides information about how to draw pictures in basic, and even make them in color. We also get a few simple grids to give you some an idea on how you can plot out your graphics in advance. I can’t help but feel like this article would work better if there were screen shots to help put the code samples in context.

More Software Reviews

There’s a review of Atari’s new stock and bond analysis application. Now, these applications do not use a dial-up modem to retrieve stock listing information. Instead you have to enter that information manually, and use that to compare information. One application that definitely hasn’t aged well. In a similar vein, Atari has their Mailing List application, which helps you keep track of your Rolodex, and has been replaced by most mail applications address books.

Bugs and Bytes

Well, this is a column that wears its fanboyism on its sleeve – the writer outright says that because this magazine only covers Atari computers, and because Atari computers are the best computers on the planet, bar none and are perfect, this column will be short-lived. That said, they do give us one problem fix here. If your computer is slow booting up and presenting a ready screen, there might be oxidation forming around the connectors for the memory, in which case you – or at technician – will need to take out the memory, clean the connectors, and then re-seat it. Apparently newer systems will have gold connectors, which won’t have that problem.

Also, they recommend listing or running your program regularly when working on it, so you don’t lose your work and the system doesn’t lock up. We also get a short program to tell if your system has a bad bit, by making the computer draw a solid color circle – if there’s a bad bit in your memory, you’ll have a dead pixel.

Sub – Listing

I’m not precisely sure how this game works. You control a sub and you’re trying to clear mines, but there’s also a gunboat that’s controlled by the computer. Anyway, it’s a pretty short program.

Still More Reviews

We have a review of Lunar Lander. They like the game, though they don’t like the lack of a title screen, or any sort of difficulty options – once you start the game you’re playing. Additionally, the game doesn’t automatically shift to a closer-to-the-ground perspective like with the arcade game.

So, that concludes this issue of Analog Computing. It’s a nice start. I do hope that as the magazine goes on the fanboyism gets toned down a little bit, and eventually they figure out a good way to take screen shots.

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