by Arthur Leyenberger
With the holidays approaching, Atarians, like everyone else, are starting to think about what gizmo or gadget they must have to make their Atari system complete. Maybe it's that new joystick that will make high game scores the rule rather than the exception ... or perhaps it's an application program that has finally become available for Atari-the one that will do everything: slicing, dicing and babysitting the kids.
Regardless of how many hours you've logged at the keyboard, chances are there's something that will help you get more out of using your Atari. The problem is that you may not be aware that the product even exists. Worse yet, a gift-giving friend or relative may also be unaware of that special product.
To save you the hassle of visiting every computer store in town, then having to tell someone what you'd like (how tacky!), here is a compilation of goodies for the Atari user. Some of the products I will mention by name, having actually used/tested/played each one. Other items will be mentioned in general, with a couple of suggested brand names. A list of the manufacturers and their addresses can be found at the end of this article.
You will see a lot of so-called Brand Xs here. Why? Because many times they offer the most value for your dollar. Also, when I run across an excellent product made by a small company, I like to give them a plug. This whole, wacky world of personal computers was started by just this type of folks. Sadly, these entrepreneurs are giving way to the IBMs and AT&Ts.
I can't mention every Atari-related product ever made. I can't even list all of the good Atari products I use or know about. My apologies in advance if I leave out your favorite one. As far as my objectivity goes, that's a tough one. I don't think I can be truly objective, because, at the very least, I have standards -which are a form of prejudice. But I need these standards to form judgments, because the best I can offer you is informed judgment with a deliberate attempt at fairness.
What can you buy for $10 today? Actually, quite a number of useful and interesting items come in at or under this price. Here are a few for your consideration.
Do you ever get confused about which key goes with which graphic symbol? Or are you tired of looking up those symbols in your dog-eared, tattered copy of Your Atari Computer? The only solution I know of is to spend $4.95 for a set of Graph-Fix keyboard labels. Available from Dovestar Creative Concepts, these selfadhesive labels stick onto the keys on your Atari keyboard. You'll never get those graphics characters confused again. One size fits all Ataris.
Here is another neat gadget: the Lineminder from HL Enterprises. It's a $4.95 plastic rule that is useful as a reading aid. Like a miniature T-Square, it can slide down the edge of a book or magazine to help you keep your place. It's really handy for those arduous typing sessions, when you're entering a program.
Does your trigger finger ever get tired of constantly pressing the fire button on your joystick? If so, you need a Pointmaster Fire Control Adapter from Discwasher. It lists for $6.95, but I've seen it at Toys "R" Us for about three bucks. When this gizmo is inserted between your joystick and computer, holding down the fire button causes a constant stream of pulses to be sent to the computer. It's as if you were pressing the button fifty times a second. Using this device isn't really cheating, but it sure helps with games like Robotron, Gyruss and Centipede.
Lillian Vernon is a mail-order company whose catalog lists the kind of bric-a-brac that eventually ends up at garage sales. However, there is one item that, although not Atari-related per se, would be fun to find in a stocking. It's called the computer clock and sells for $9.95. It looks like a miniature computer with an LCD clock in the screen.
I don't know about you, by my computer is located in a very dusty environment. I have covers on just about all of my equipment. Omnicron Industries sells a whole range of covers for Atari computers and peripherals under the Classic Covers name. The covers retail for $6.95 and will keep dust, moisture and even a spilled drink from damaging your equipment.
AtariWriter is one of the easiest to use word processors around, but, like anything else, it still requires a certain amount of time to learn. At-A-Glance has a useful product that will minimize the time required to get up to speed with AtariWriter. It's called the At-AGlance AtariWriter Template. This $14.95 plastic template fits over the keyboard of an Atari 800 or XL series computer, allowing access to all of the keys. Printed on the template are the various commands, control codes and other information for using AtariWriter. It's like having training wheels while you learn to use the program. At-A-Glance also sells templates for SynCalc and SynFile (Synapse), and Utter Perfect and Data Perfect (LJK).
I've been using both sides of my single-sided, singledensity disks for over two years without any problems. A useful tool for punching a second writeprotect notch in the disk jacket is the Nibble-Notch. It's a square hole-punch with a guide for the corner of the disk. The Nibble-Notch makes perfect notches every time and sells for $14.95.
At-A-Glance AtariWriter Template.
If someone wants to get started in telecommunications at a reasonable cost, they could do worse than buy an Atari 1030 modem. They go for less than $75 now. To make it upload, download and work like a modem should, you need a more sophisticated terminal program than the one built into the 1030. E.T. Modem (Sector One International) sells for $19.95 and will make using an Atari 1030 or 835 modem like driving one of the big rigs. It's easy to use and has just about all the features a novice or an experienced user could want.
As you use your Atari, you accumulate things. Cartridges, disks and whatnot appear everywhere. Unless you organize all of it, you'll soon be unable to find your computer beneath the mess. Innovative Concepts has a wide variety of disk and cartridge holders that sell for $5.95 to $29.95. Two products I use are the 50-disk Flip 'N File flip-up tray and the 10-cartridge Flip 'N File flip-up holder. Each lists for $29.95 and will be quite useful in keeping your work area tidy. Other companies also make the same type of product. just be sure the one you buy won't spill disks when it's full and makes grabbing any particular disk easy.
Flip 'N File
Speaking of keeping your disks organized, another way to store disks is with a library case. These cases hold 10 disks and store on a shelf like a book. When opened, the inside swings out, and the disks stand upright. You can then flip through the disks to find the one you're looking for.
SRW Computer Components has taken this idea one step further by coloring the entire library case. Sold under the Color Coder name, a set of five disk library cases in assorted colors will come to $24.95. And, they're rather attractive.
I'm not a computer hardware hobbyist, but for the many of you who are, Gemini Enterprises sells a cartridge prototyping kit called the Halcon A101. It can be used for ROMs or EPROMs and sells for $17.95. The kit includes cartridge prototyping board, cartridge cover and instructions.
If you've ever wanted to be able to list your BASIC programs to the printer and actually see those graphics and inverse characters, then you'll want to find Megafont 11 under the tree. From XLent Software, this $24.95 program is a combination program lister and graphics dumper. It works with Epson, Prowriter, Gemini and Riteman printers. It also lets you use your own character sets for use in listing files.
There are several other, more generic gifts that fall into this price range. One of the best gifts you could give (or receive) is a membership to an Atari user group. There are many fine groups around the country, whose memberships typically cost about $20. They have monthly meetings, publish newsletters and often have libraries of public domain software.
Books and magazine subscriptions also fall into the under-$30 category. You guessed it-ANALOG Computing is a very good gift for a new user or anyone who doesn't already receive it. If you're reading this, you know how valuable ANALOG Computing is. I can't think of a better gift than finding the latest issue (or a subscription) in your stocking.
A book that has become the bible of Atari computer users is Your Atari Computer by Poole, McNiff and Cook. It's published by Osborne/McGraw-Hill and will set you back about $16. Another book with equal status is The Atari User's Encyclopedia by Gary Phillips and Jerry White. It costs $20 and is published by The Book Company (Arrays). These two belong on every Atarian's bookshelf.
One of the best books for learning BASIC on an Atari 800 or XL is published by Hayden. Called Basic Atari BASIC, it sells for $14.95 and was written by Jim Coan and Richard Kushner. This book was specifically rewritten to include information on such subjects as XL graphics modes, sound and player/missile graphics.
If you'd like to learn more about how computer games are designed, Chris Crawford's book, The Art of Computer Games Design, is for you. Published by Osborne/McGraw Hill, it sells for $14.95. Crawford is an interesting person who expresses his views very well here. The book will be useful for people who are actually designing games or for those who like to play them.
The Art of Computer Games Design.
There are a handful of other items that would be welcomed by any Atari user. Disks, printer paper, ribbons, or even a printer or monitor stand would all be useful. Or how about an outlet strip with a builtin surge protector?
There are thousands of products made for the Atari computers. But there are some that will be used over and over. They have value and staying power.
Programming languages make a versatile gift with nearly guaranteed long use. Action! by OSS is in cartridge format and will run in any system with a 16K minimum. Action! is dozens of times faster than BASIC, so it's a popular language in user circles. Also by OSS is MAC/65, ANALOG Computing's favorite machine language software. Each language retails for $99. And, ANALOG Computing recommends the newlyreleased book Assembly Language Programming for the Atari Computers by Mark Chasin, McGrawHill, $15.95.
SynFile + and Data Perfect.
Aside from being the best game-playing computer on the market, the Atari is well suited for more serious endeavors. Word processing on the Atari can be as full featured and easy to perform as on any other computer. Of the dozen or so word processors for the Atari, three stand out-each for different reasons.
AtariWriter is the choice for people who'll be doing occasional writing. It has all the features of a powerful program, but is still simple to use. Not that it can't handle more complex writing needs, but its strength lies in its excellent design and implementation. List price has come down to about $50.
Since Atari's APX has gone out of business, the AtariWriter printer drivers are no longer available. To get full use out of AtariWriter, you need a driver program for your particular printer. At-A-Glance sells driver programs for just about every brand of printer. They cost $14.95 each (specify printer) and are available for Epson, Okidata, Prowriter, BMC and Panasonic printers.
A word processor that I highly recommend for anyone doing a lot of writing is The Writer's Tool from OSS. The Writer's Tool is fairly new, but it has so many features designed to make writing easy that it ranks in the top three. It is very powerful, costs $130, and uses OSS's exclusive bank-selecting Super Cartridge.
The third word processor on my recommended gift list is Letter Perfect by LJK ($99.95). I've been writing about computers for roughly two years now, and Letter Perfect has been with me all the way. It and OSS's Writer's Tool are equally powerful, but Letter Perfect has the advantage of working with either a bit-3 80-column board or (if you already have one) an 80column card. Letter Perfect also comes with a spelling checker program and dictionary disk. Any of these three word processors will make a fine gift.
There are three database programs for Atari that are worth recommending. The least expensive one is MegaFiler from XLent Software. At only $29.95, it features an easy to use menu-driven format. Although a little slow compared to the more expensive programs, its claim to fame is the large amount of records that it can handle. It also includes report and label generation functions.
SynFile+ from Synapse is another good database program. It's extremely easy to use and relatively fast. List price is about $50, and it can interface with other Syn programs (spread sheet and graphics) and AtariWriter. Definitely a best buy.
The most sophisticated database program for Atari is Data Perfect from LJK. It sells for $99.95 and will interface with Letter Perfect. It can be used with the bit-3 80-column board and has an extensive report generator built in. Learning the ins and outs of it, however, requires some time and patience.
One of the best programs I've seen for the Atari (or any other computer) is Synapse's SynCalc spreadsheet program. It is very powerful, yet still easy to use. It has both a menu-driven and a command mode of operationand literally blows VisiCalc right out of the water. List price is about $50. The program is so good that I'm giving it to someone this Christmas (don't read this, Sally). SynCalc is the kind of program that will find many uses, from preparing income tax forms to budgeting to record keeping.
Another useful program is Electronic Art's Financial Cookbook (see the review on page 91). For a $50 price tag, this program includes dozens of financial " recipes" to calculate everything from mortgages to IRAs. Highly recommended.
The best graphics and statistical analysis package available for the Atari is B/Graph. With it, you can make bar charts, histograms, scatter plots and pie charts. Descriptive statistics and multiple regressions can also be performed on the data. It's very easy to use and has excellent documentation, including tutorials. Originally sold under the In-Home Software label for $99.95, its rights have gone to Batteries Included. If Batteries follows their usual sane pricing policy, the new B/Graph will probably be closer to $50.
To get you started using the vast resources of CompuServe Information Service, the CompuServe Starter Kit is a good value. For $39.95, you receive five free hours of connect time and a thorough manual. Of course, you'll need a modem, and there are several good ones to choose from. Atari's 1030 modem is a good value, as is Microbits Peripheral Products' MPP-1100C. The cream of the crop is the Hayes Smartmodem, but that will set you back about $300 for 300 baud and $500 for 300/1200 baud.
I have several gift suggestions for the creative individual on your gift list. Movie Maker by Reston Software ($49.95) lets you to create animated graphics sequences right on your screen. These can be edited, saved and combined to create all kinds of interesting and fun "movies." It's good for hours of fun and learning, and is something the whole family will enjoy.
A touch tablet for drawing and electronic doodling would be a nice gift for someone of any age. Atari's Touch Tablet is now selling for about $50-an excellent value. The price includes the easy-to-use Micro. Illustrator graphics program in cartridge form. The KoalaPad is more expensive (at $99.95 list) but has more software available for it. Either of these graphics tablets would be an excellent gift for a child.
No list of gift suggestions for the Atari user would be complete without a sampling of computer games. There are hundreds of games now available, but about a dozen stand out as being the best examples of game play or game/educational software. The best games fall into a handful of categories.
My favorite text-adventure game is Planetfall from Infocom. It combines adventure, science fiction and humor to yield a very engrossing example of what's known as interactive fiction. For a child or someone new to the text game genre, I would recommend Seastalker, also from Infocom. It's not as difficult or complex as Planetfall, but offers a good challenge and, like all Infocom games, has excellent documentation. Every Atarian should own at least one Infocorn textadventure game. Prices range from $40 to $60 list.
For definitive board games, turn to Odesta. Their Chess, Checkers and Odin (Othello) are excellent translations to the video screen and come with very complete documentation. They can be played at fifteen different levels, either with another person or against the computer.
It may sound surprising, but some of the best games are also educational. There are two flight simulators for the Atari that fall into this category. Solo Flight by MMG ($34.95) is fun to play, as well as useful for learning about flying. The most complete flight simulation program for the Atari is Flight Simulator 11 by SubLogic. ($49.95). It's an excellent simulation of flying a single engine plane. The flight manuals that accompany the game are the most extensive I've seen for a home computer. Not only will you learn how to fly with this program, you'll also have a good time doing it.
One of the most creative and innovative games currently available for the Atari is Pinball Construction Set from Electronic Arts ($39.95). Written by Bill Budge, this game lets you create your own pinball games from a video parts box. You can then edit and save those games for future play. When a game is fun to play and challenging, I tend to ignore its other attributes. In the case of Seven Cities of Gold ($39.95), also from Electronic Arts, the hidden feature is selfawareness. You are a 16th century Spanish explorer searching for new worlds, peoples and glory. Your own personality and belief system determine how you play. It's excellent.
Two games that'll keep you hopping are First Star's Flip and Flop ($39.95), with its stunning graphics, and Parker Brothers' cute Q*Bert ($39.95). Most of the hopping games that appeared about a year ago were merely clones with no staying power. I find myself still playing these two.
Two of my all-time favorite games, which would make prized gifts, are First Star's Boulder Dash (at $34.95) and Synapse's Necromancer ($29.95). The first is a climbing/moving game that has a lot of personality. When it first came out, I played it constantly for weeks. Necromancer is similar but adds a bit of shoot-'em-up fun to its eerie, other-world quality.
My other favorites are Frogger (Parker Brothers, $39.95), Lode Runner (Broderbund, $34.95), Atari's Star Raiders (of course), Pole Position and Centipede. The Atari game cartridges originally sold for $44-95 list, but now can be had for as little as $15 in some stores. This is the time to pick them upbefore they become unavailable. And, for a good game of baseball, Gamestar's Star League Baseball ($29.95) can't be beat.
Two more programs from Electronic Arts are Archon and its recent "sequel," Archon 11: Adept. Both combine arcade action with strategy, offering the player a stylish twist on the classic game of chess. Both retail for $39.95 and are available only on 48K disk.
This last category of gifts is comprised of products that are either expensive or somewhat unusual. Either way, they would be fun to give or receive.
The best color monitor available is the Commodore 1702. It lists for about $350 but is heavily discounted. It will accept either composite or separate chroma and luminance video signals from the Atari 800 and 800XL, and displays a beautiful picture. You haven't seen what the Atari can do until you've seen it on the 1702. The quality of the built-in amplifier and speaker is also excellent. There might be better ways to spend $300, but there is no better monitor for the Atari.
An excellent letter-quality printer is the Silver-Reed EXP550. It normally sells for about $450 to $500 under other names like Transtar 130. The Silver-Reed uses changeable daisy wheels, has a wide carriage and
prints at 17 characters per second. It offers three type pitches (10, 12 and 15) and even proportional spacing. Carbon film ribbons can be used for exceptional quality printing. I've been using one of these printers for about two months now and love it.
Another high-ticket, excellent product is the ATR-8000 from SWP Microcomputer Products. With various configurations and prices, it lets you use doublesided, double-density generic disk drives and CP/M with your Atari. A 48K printer buffer is available, as is adding 256K of RAM to run MS-DOS or use as an electronic disk. If you've not bought your first disk drive yet, or are considering adding another, check out the ATR-8000.
If you already have an ATR or are considering getting one, then the DT-80 80-column cartridge from Amiable Computer Enhancements may be of interest. It's a software-generated 80-column screen for use with the ATR-8000. It sells for $39.95 and, while not as good as a hardware 80-column board, is an inexpensive way to have 80 columns when using your ATR.
If you have an Epson printer and want an easier way to change fonts, then the Fingerprint from Dresselhaus Computer Products would be the gift for you.
For $74.95, the Fingerprint consists of a couple of ROM chips that reside on the circuit board of the printer, allowing you to change fonts directly, by pressing the various buttons on top of the printer. Any of the printer's fonts can be selected at any time by simply pressing the buttons,
My final idea is a pair of wireless remote-controlled joysticks made by Atari. These sticks and the console originally sold for about $80, but are now available at places like Kay-Bee Toy Hobby for approximately $24. They are the genuine Atari product that can operate up to 20 feet away from the computer. They ease the tangled mess of wires that usually occurs when two people are competing head-to-head in an intense videogame battle.
That concludes my list of gift ideas for the Atari computer user. As I said at the beginning, this collection of products is a result of my personal experience and opinion gained from several years as an Atari enthusiast. I hope that I've either given you some useful suggestions for holiday gift-giving, orif you leave this article open in a strategic placehelped you get what's on your Christmas list.