Thursday, May 18, 2017

The Greatest Icons of the 1980s!

Art Of ATARI Poster Collection Book Ad
Swordquest #0
Back Cover
May 2017

This Art Of ATARI Poster Collection book ad appeared on the back cover of publisher Dynamite's Swordquest #0 comic book, which was published in May 2017 and sold for the outstanding Bait 'Em, Hook 'Em and Reel 'Em In price of just 25 cents. This comic is the first in a series of comics based on ATARI's unfinished Swordquest series of video games for the ATARI 2600 home video game console. The front cover of Dynamite's Swordquest #0 comic appears below:

Dynamite's Swordquest #0
Front Cover
May 2017

The Art Of ATARI Poster Collection book is an upcoming 40 page book by graphic designer and author Tim Lapetino. The book is made up of 40 ready-to-hang posters based on ATARI art and illustrations. It is the follow-up/companion book to Lapetino's best selling Art Of ATARI book that was released last year. I covered the Art Of ATARI book in a previous blog post. The Art Of ATARI Poster Collection book will be released on June 20, 2017.

While this ad doesn't cover the ATARI 8-bit computers home computers specifically, it does cover ATARI art and illustrations for iconic ATARI games such as Asteroids and Centipede which were ported to the ATARI 8-bits.

There is also an ad for Lapetino's book Art Of ATARI inside the SwordQuest #0 comic, sandwiched in between ads for Dynamite's upcoming, ATARI licensed Swordquest #1 and Centipede #1 comics.

Inside Dynamite Swordquest #0
May 2017

Swordquest was a series of video games for the ATARI 2600. The series included Swordquest: Earthworld, Swordquest: Fireworld and Swordquest: Waterworld. A fourth and final Swordquest game, Swordquest: Airwold, was planned, but never completed or released due to the collapse of the video game market and of ATARI itself in the early to mid 1980s. Ferg at The ATARI 2600 Game By Game Podcast covered Swordquest: Earthworld in September 2014, Swordquest: Fireworld in October 2014 and Swordquest: Waterworld and Swordquest: Airworld in August 2015.

I loved the crazy comic book ads when I was a kid, flipping through pages of Richie Rich and other favorite comics of the day. Who didn't want to order a family of friendly, human-like Sea-Monkeys or Charles Atlas's famous booklets? And now, who wouldn't want a copy of the Art Of ATARI or the Art Of ATARI Poster Collection books?

Ubiquitous Comic Book Ads From Bygone Days

You can use Comixology to create a pull list and have your favorite comic books ready and waiting for you in your local comic shop. In New Jersey, I frequent Comic Fortress in Somerville and Steve's Comic Relief in Toms River. When I am in South Florida, my favorite comic shop is Tate's in Lauderhill. Support your local comic shop today!

Let me know what you think of Tim's books and Dynamite's Swordquest and Centipede comic books series.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Vintage Computer Festival East XII (2017)

This ad is the cover to the Vintage Computer Festival East XII (2017) event brochure. VCF East XII, presented by the Vintage Computer Federation, took place Friday March 31, 2017 through Sunday April 2, 2017 at the InfoAge Science Center, 2201 Marconi Road, Wall NJ, the former site of Camp Evans, a United States military installation during parts of the 20th century.

The theme of this year's Vintage Computer Festival was The 40th Anniversary Of The Appliance Computer, celebrating the 1977 releases of the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the Tandy/RadioShack TRS-80.

Friday started out as a normal cold, wet, early spring day at the Jersey Shore. It wasn't raining hard, but it was chilly and raining hard enough. I arrived a little later than I had planned for the first day of activities.

Ian Primus's
CRT Repair & Maintenance Talk
Friday, March 31, 2017
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

In the morning, I caught the last half of Ian Primus's talk on CRT Repair & Maintenance. I than sat through Dean Notarnicola's talk on the TRS-80 Model I. To round out the morning sessions, I attended Corey Cohen's talk on Apple II Repair & Maintenance. I loved that Corey did his Apple II presentation while wearing an ATARI t-shirt.

Corey Cohen's
Apple II Repair & Maintenance Talk
Friday, March 31, 2017
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

Though I don't currently own any of the vintage computing hardware discussed in the morning sessions, the information presented could be applied to any vintage hardware repair and restoration activities. It was also nice to attend sessions that went along with the theme of the weekend.

All three morning sessions I attended were in Room #2. In fact, all of the talks I attended on Friday were either in Room #1 or Room #2. I never made it to any of the talks in Room #3. Although all of the rooms are in the same building, you can't actually walk through the building from Room #2 to Room #3, as there is an off-limits area in between. You would have had to go outside and reenter the building from the other end. Since it was raining out, I didn't want to go back outside, so I just attend the talks in Room #1 and Room #2. Still, it was a better layout than in the past years were the talks were held in revival tents setup out in the courtyard between the buildings. Those tents got pretty cold!

Event Map
Lecture Rooms & Exhibit Rooms
Marked With Blue Boxes

After my third morning session, a lunch of pizza and soft drinks was available for a few bucks. Shortly after eating lunch, I met up with Master Atari Archivist Allan Bushman, who had driven down from Connecticut for the event. We chatted ATARI for a while and then headed into the next session.

The afternoon started with the Friday Keynote session, Inside The Enigma: The History, Technology & The Real Story Behind Imitation Game presented, by Tom Perera, which was held in the Room #1. For me, Tom Perera's talk was the highlight of Friday. He is an engaging speaker who is full of passion and information on the German Enigma machines. Tom also runs the online-only Enigma Museum.

Inside The Enigma: The History, Technology
& The Real Story Behind Imitation Game
Presented By Tom Perera

After the keynote session, and just to round out the appliance-computer-themed sessions, I attended Todd George's session on the Commodore PET.

By 5 p.m., I was burned out and ready to head out for the day. Allan and I headed back to my house, about an hour or so away. After showing him my 8-bit collection, we went out for a late dinner with my wife Lucy at a nearby restaurant, than called it a night.

On Saturday morning, Allan was a great help in loading up our SUV with ATARI hardware and then unloading and setting up our exhibit at the event when we arrived. Unfortunately, we arrived a little later than I planned (again) and with the time it took to set up and test out the exhibit, I missed Bjarne Stroustrup's Saturday keynote on The Origins And Further Evolution Of C++.

Our exhibit was title ATARI Says Its First Words showing off ATARI 8-bit Voice Synthesizers utilizing the research and details from my previous blog posts Atari Says Its Word based on an Alien Group Voice Box hardware ad and Talk Is Cheap based on a Don't Ask Software ad for S.A.M., the Software Automatic Mouth. Both my wife Lucy and I manned the exhibit on Saturday and Sunday. Allan also helped out at our exhibit on Saturday when he wasn't exploring the rest of the festival.

ATARI Says Its First Words
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

We had a lot of people stop by our exhibit on Saturday. My brother Jim and my sister Barbara made the ride up from Toms River, NJ, about thirty minutes to the south of Wall, NJ. Mike Montana and his father, Richard "Mr. Glib" Montana also stopped by. Saturday is always the busier of the two exhibit days.

After the event closed for the day on Saturday, some of the staff, exhibitors and guests attended a buffet dinner at a restaurant called Clancy's Tavern in nearby Neptune City, NJ. Allan, Lucy and I spent most of the dinner talking with Vintage Computer Federation director Evan Koblentz.  

After dinner, we made the hour+ ride home to rest up for the Sunday session. Allan Bushman departed early on Sunday morning to head home to Connecticut while Lucy and I returned to the InfoAge Science Center for the third and final day of the festival.

On Sunday, Jamie Lendino came by and graciously autographed my copy of his new book Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation. I reviewed his book in a recent blog post. We also had a visit from Mr. Liber809 himself, Bosey Pitre.

Jamie Lendino, author of
Breakout: How Atari 8-Bit Computers Defined a Generation

During the weekend, there was one other ATARI 8-bit exhibit by Ralph Dodd, showing off his highly modified ATARI 8-bits. One of the Atari 8-bits had its internal BASIC chip replaced with a chip that can hold 256 different programs and the boot up software can be selected by toggling 8 switches on the top of the case, choosing the binary number for the desired program. Ralph also had an ATARI 8-bit with a internal SD card, an Ultimate Cart and other hardware.

Ralph Dodd's
Atari Secure Digital Trifecta Exhibit
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

Mr. Peter Flechter was also exhibiting, but instead of showing off his ATARI collection as he has done in the past, this year he had an assemblage of 1980s computers, including an ATARI ST, playing Battle Chess against each other via serial link in a weekend long competition. He didn't have any ATARI 8-bit hardware in his exhibit this year as, sadly, Battle Chess was never port to the platform.

As mentioned previously, the theme of the festival was the 40th Anniversary of the Appliance Computer with the launch of the Apple II, the Commodore PET and the TRS-80 in 1977. These three computer exhibits took up most of the floor space in Exhibit Hall #1. It was a sight to see. The Commodore exhibit was enormous.

At the Apple II exhibit, I got a chance to play an early, in-development copy of Michael Packard's upcoming release Alien Downpour. It is a pretty cool retro space shooter themed game that will be released on 5 1/4 floppy diskette and cassette on the Apple II's 40 Anniversary Release date. There was also an Apple II running the original Castle Wolfenstein written by Silas Warner and published by MUSE Software.

Apple II Exhibit
Running Castle Wolfenstein
Vintage Computer Festival East 2017

Some final notes:

  • It was hard to have an audio-based exhibit, especially during the busy Saturday session, as it was so crowded and noisy in the exhibit hall at times, it was hard to hear.
  • If you are ever in the area on a weekend, go check out the InfoAge Science Museum. There are a dozen or so completely separate museum exhibits including a Model Railroad exhibit, a Shipwreck Museum, a World War II Miniatures Museum, multiple radio and electronic exhibits as well as the Vintage Computer Federation Museum (and warehouse). There is even a Fallout Shelter exhibit, in a real fallout shelter. In October, they also put on a Halloween Event as well. There is actually a lot to see and explore.

I'm already looking forward to next year's event and I have a couple of exhibit ideas that I am thinking about!

-- @BillLange1968

Wednesday, April 5, 2017

The Light Pen Is Here! And now it's gone.

This The Light Pen Is Here ad is from a New Products announcement on page 6 of the premier issue of The Atari Connection magazine, Vol. 1, No. 1., in the spring of 1981.

The New Product announcement states:
The Light Pen is here! The CX70 Light Pen is now available and can be used in programs you write for menu selection, games, computer art ... whatever you can dream up! Your Light Pen comes with complete instructions and a cassette containing demonstration programs to stimulate your imagination. Plugging into the controller jack on your ATARI Personal Computer, the CX70 Light Pen is easy to use. It can be used with your programs in all graphics modes in BASIC, PILOT, assembly language and other ATARI computer programming languages.Visit your local dealer now for a demonstration. [Quick, before they are removed from the shelves permanently!] 
In the picture, little Lucy is using her sharp, pointy ATARI CX70 Light Pen to draw directly on the delicate, glass-front, high-voltage containing, Cathode Ray Tube of her television, while teetering on a leaning tower of pillows. The light pen is connected to her ATARI 400 home computer's joystick port via a too-short cable. On the table, along with the television and the ATARI 400, is an older style (relative to my 14 year-old self in 1982, which is the crazy way I still think about this stuff, you know, like the ATARI 130XE just came out yesterday compared to the ATARI 400/800) ATARI 410 Program Recorder. 

My mom, or more likely my dad, always told me not to sit that close to the TV, that it was bad for my eyes. Of course, I did it anyway, and thanks to LASIK surgery, I still have 20/20 vision! Heck, I'm sitting that close to the monitor right now! Sorry mom!

There are also a few boxes of ATARI software shown in the picture, including the ubiquitous CXL4007 Music Composer and some ATARI educational programs. Strewn about are some pillows and dolls, including the highly popular 1970's Holly Hobbie rag doll. ATARI marketing was always great at showing women and girls, and families for that matter, involved in STEM activities, in a non-exploitative way, in their early home computer ads. Of course, on the other hand, ATARI engineers are also rumored to have code named the ATARI 400 Candy and the ATARI 800 Colleen after attractive administrative assistants. One step up, two steps back.

ATARI CX70 Light Pen

The ATARI CX70 Light Pen was a large pen styled in the ATARI 400/800 beige (ATARI Sunset) color scheme. Features and specifications of the light pen can be found in a 1980 ATARI Controllers brochure.

At some point before becoming available in any quantity, a decision was made to remove the Atari CX70 Light Pen from the market. The reasons for this remain somewhat murky (to me anyway) to this day. Here's the story... 

The ATARI CX70 Light Pen was announced by ATARI with a Fall 1980 availability date. It appeared for sale in various ads from many companies in many magazines. 

Light Pen Availability
as Fall 1980

In the Atari News section, on page 9 of the May/June 1981, issue #3 of ANALOG Computing magazine, it states that:
Light Pens: Forget about them for a while. First last year they were supposed to be released, but a minor software problem held them back (they didn't work on 400's). Now, after a few hundred were shipped they discovered quality control problems. I'm told to hope for next year as Atari as higher priorities.
I wonder if they had to make a hardware change to the ATARI 400 at this point to get the CX70 (and the future CX75) Light Pen to work correctly.

In the next issue of ANALOG Computing magazine, issue #4 in September 1981, the Atari News section follows up on page 9 with:
ATARI LIGHT PEN: I finally found one of the few light pens shipped ... the original release was cancelled because the software included wouldn't work on the [ATARI] 400's ... [on a follow-up release] ... only 200 went out before ATARI realized that quality control on the internal switch was poor with about half not working ... accuracy is not perfect ... sometimes the switch on my pen doesn't work is hard for it to read certain colors like light red ... certain parts of the screen can't be read ...  
That is a lot of issues going on for a product with so few parts: a pen-like shell, a photo-diode, a switch, some wire and an ATARI joystick controller port connector, and about 100 lines of ATARI BASIC code. 

In the book The Creative Atari published by Creative Computing Press in 1983, John Anderson's article title Build Your Own Light Pen (which itself is a reprint of the Outpost: Atari article on page 276 of the March 1983 issue of Creative Computing) states on page 89 that: 
... Atari itself slated a light pen for production. It was to cost less than $100. In the second quarter of 1981, a products brochure that showed the device in use was released. It was a stubby, fat hunk of plastic with a tip switch on it. And what pretty multicolor pictures it supposedly drew ... though the decision to kill it was made over a year ago, the product was listed in a few retail rosters until only a few months ago ... a decision was made to pull the pen. The reasons for this remain somewhat vague. Some have suggested that the tip switch was flaky, making the device unreliable ... Another explanation I have heard from more than one reliable source goes like this: The Atari is designed as the machine for everybody, including novices and kids. Marketing was skitterish about the idea of a tiny kid fooling around a TV tube with a big pointy stick. One false move and gazonga: Mommy finds Billy on the living room floor, a victim of implosion! ... Pull the pen ... This may or may not have been the last straw concerning the Atari light pen. Whether it was or not, the pen was pulled from production very swiftly, and it is unlikely the decision will ever be reversed. A few did manage to get off the assembly line...

The ATARI CX70 Light Pen is mentioned in an article title Light Pen Technology Looks To The Micro by Scott Mace beginning on page 61 in the December 26, 1983 issue of Infoworld:
Gibson [Steve Gibson of Gibson Laboratories, designer of the later ATARI CX75 Light Pen] believes light pens for personal computers have not sold well in part because of a bad reputation garnered by early versions (which he claims were inferior). A notable failure was an earlier Atari light pen, which came with virtually no software. The product was only offered by Atari for a few months in 1981. 
Steve Gibson has more to say on light pens in general in an article titled A Tale Of Light And Magic: The Making Of The Atari Light Pen by Lewis MacAdams beginning on page 33 of the Summer 1984 issue, Vol. 4, No. 2, of The Atari Connection magazine.

Whatever the ultimate reason, the Atari CX70 Light Pen was short-lived in the market and very few of them, 200 by some reports, actually made it out of the assembly line, through the channel and shipped to customers. It is now considered a rare collector's item.   

Light Pen CX70 Demonstration - 8K Version
Side 1

Back in July, 2015, I reached out to Brad Koda of Best Electronics to see if he had any "Atari CX70 (not CX75) light pens, the CX70 demonstration cassette CX4124 or the printed manual" available. I was pretty sure that this product was history. Mr. Koda generously had the entire Best Electronics staff scour their immense warehouse and while no CX70 Light Pens came to light, one CX4124 Light Pen Demonstration Program cassette, probably the last NEW cassette available, was found. The Best Electronics shipping department carefully packaged up my order, in the new, improved, recyclable packaging peanuts and shipped it out to NJ.

Light Pen CX70 Demonstration - 16K Version
Side 2

Once this rare, unopened little gem landed in my mailbox, I captured the CX4124 Light Pen Demonstration cassette, both sides, using my ancient Sony Walkman and Audacity. I then converted the resulting files with the FLAC utility to get the audio in the desired format. I also used a utility I wrote to dump the BASIC program's LISTed ATASCII text to a .PNG image. I zipped up the audio files, the .PNG program file listing as well as photos of the cassette tape to Roland Wassenberg of ATARIWIKI for archiving and inclusion in the ATARI CX70 Light Pen article. I also uploaded the content to

Thanks to Brad Koda of Best Electronics for finding the CX4124 Demonstration cassette!

-- @BillLange1968

Friday, March 24, 2017

Breakout - How Atari 8-bit Computers Defined A Generation: A Review

I just finished reading Jamie Lendino's excellent new book, Breakout - How Atari 8-bit Computers Defined A Generation. Right off, I can say that this book is written with a lot of love, respect and passion for the Atari 8-bit line of home computers. At just under 300 pages, it is an easy read that can be finished in a day or so. It is well researched and extensively footnoted. Whomever edited this book also did an amazing job.

The book is basically broken down into three sections, with one or more chapters in each section:
  • Section One: The Past 1979-1992 (more or less)
  • Section Two: The Games (from the author's perspective)
  • Section Three: The Now (Emulation, Collecting, Mods, Community) 

Section One

This section covers the pre-1992 years. There isn't much new content here. As you are reading this particular blog, you are likely to know many of the details in this section: the timeline, the players, the products, the problems, etc. What this book does brilliantly, is it walks through Michael Current's Atari 8-bit FAQ and pulls in additional details from various sources, including books, magazines, interview and online such as atarimania, atariage and, among others. The author also adds in some personal anecdotes and a bit of humor and creates a very readable history. Works by Chris Crawford are heavily referenced and footnoted.

One factoid on page 61, "...The Home Manager: Included the Personal Financial Management System (PFMS) and The Home Filing Manager... may need to be double checked. From my recent research, it seems that while the early marketing for the Home Manager Kit stated that the PFMS would be included, it actually shipped with Family Finances after PFMS was cancelled.

Section Two

This section covers a selection of games that Lendino found notable. This section is probably longer than it needed to be. If you are the type of person who might read this book, you probably don't need much detail on the game play of any of the Atari 8-bit ports that are in the list of the top 100 video games from the Golden Age of Arcades.

Lendino also give some short, insightful, personal anecdotes as he discusses his various game choices. I particularly liked his Activision/David Crane/Pitfall story on pages 193 and 194. He also injects some additional humor such as on page 131, his "... in what is clearly a nod to political correctness ..." comment to a statement that clearly is not.

It was nice to see Tom Hudson of A.N.A.L.O.G. Computing fame get a shout-out for Livewire, a magazine type-in game, that was included along with the other commercially released software titles.

The author also laments about some of the iconic games that have never been available on the Atari 8-bit platform, such as Wizardry, The Bard's Tale and Ultima V. Man after my own heart, as these are some of my personal favorites, which I ended up playing on the Apple II.

Section Three

In this section, the author covers the current state of Ataridom including emulation, collecting, mods, the Atari 8-bit community, resources and more. This is the section that might have been longer, but he does cover a lot of the hardware and mods that are available today.

Lendino discusses one particular piece of discontinued hardware, Joe Grand's Stelladapter from Atariage/Pixels Past, which allows you to plug an Atari controller into a USB port to be used with emulation. There is a similar, but unmentioned product available called the 2600-daptor.  

In this section, Lendino almost seems to be passing the torch from the first generation of Atarians, such as Joe Decuir, Chris Crawford, Glenn The 5200 Man, etc., to a new generation of Atarians, those collectors, historians and archivists that keep the history alive, such as Michael Currant, Kevin Savetz, Curt Vendel, Allan Bushman and others. He also gives credit to the Eastern European designers, programmers and hackers that continue to breathe new life into forty year old technology.

Final Thoughts

Any book that mentions Atari 8-bit computers, the Ultima series of computer role playing games and BBSing before even getting to the first chapter is going to keep me reading. This book has something for everyone in the Atari 8-bit community: history, games (all the games you know and love and maybe a few you never heard of), emulation, mods and more. I may have learned a few things (Atari/IBM, page 23), or to be more precise, relearned some things that I forgot I knew.

While this book is not an autobiography or memoir like Kevin Savetz's Terrible Nerd or Rob O'Hara's slightly more nefarious Commodork: Sordid Tales From A BBS Junkie, Lendino does include some of his childhood experiences. This book is about the Atari 8-bit technology and the games that run on it. And for those of us who have never really left our Atari 8-bit days behind, it helps reaffirm our admiration for a platform that was both underappreciated and ahead of its time.

At $17.99 on Amazon, this well written, well edited, enjoyable book is well worth the asking price.

-- @BillLange1968

Monday, March 20, 2017


Dinkety-Dink-Dink Ad
Music Construction Set
Compute! Magazine #50
July 1984

This Dinkety-Dink-Dink ad for Will Harvey's Music Construction Set software package appeared on page 23 in the July 1984 issue of Compute! magazine. Will Harvey's Music Construction Set was designed and programming by, da-dada-DAAA, Will Harvey, of course, and published by Electronic Arts in 1984. It was originally written on an Apple II, then ported to or rewritten for the various popular home computers of the day including the ATARI 8-bit machines. An earlier version of this ad appeared on page 158 in the December 1983 issue of Creative Computing.

The December 26, 1983 issue of Infoworld states on page 55 that "Best music generator: Music Construction Set from Electronics Arts. You have to see it (and hear it) to believe it. This program sets a new standard for entertainment software. It was inspired by Pinball Construction Set's use of icons and a video 'hand' to move objects on the screen..."

Associate Editor Fred D'gnazio mentions Music Construction Set in an article titled Computer Popcorn starting on page 106 in the January 1984 issue of Compute! magazine. In the article, when asked why he created the program, Harvey states that "It was something that needed to be done. I wanted someone who didn't know anything about music to be able to learn it simply and have a lot of fun doing it..."

Electronic Arts
October 1984

There is an additional ad featuring Music Construction Set and other Electronic Arts software on page 7 of the October 1984 issue of Compute! magazine, offering a Buy 2 software titles, Get 1 Free deal. Electronic Arts advertised heavily in Compute!, a magazine that covered all the major small computing platforms at the time. They didn't advertise as much in ATARI specific magazines such as Antic or ANALOG Computing.

Music Construction Set
Title Screen

There is a review of Music Construction Set by Braden Griffin, M.D., beginning on page 18 of the December 1984 issue of ANALOG Computing magazine. The review starts out asking the question "...What would MTV be without music...", ah, worthless shows like Jersey Shore Braden, that's what. Anywho, the review goes on to state:
The excellent manual --- which progresses through the basics necessary for music composition in an entertaining and straightforward manner --- is complemented by a handy reference card, containing all of the control features. Anyone the least bit interested in talking full advantage of the ATARI's music capabilities should look seriously at this program. It is great... This superb program, from its unique design to its masterful approach to imparting musical knowledge ...   
There is also a review by Jerry White starting on page 80 in the December 1984 issue of Antic as well. Mr. White starts the review by stating "If you want to create music on your ATARI computer, Music Construction Set is probably the best tool available today".  That is some praise!

In a more recent interview titled A Conversation with Will Harvey with Will Harvey in the February 2004, Vol. 1, No. 10 isssue ACM Queue magazine, a publication of the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM). In the interview, Harvey is discussing a game he wrote and states ...
... It was a space invaders type game called Lancaster, and it was for the Apple II. Meanwhile, I needed to have music in the game. I didn't know too much about it, so I wrote a music editor, kind of like a word processor, that would allow you to copy sheet music onto the screen, then convert it to MIDI [musical instrument digital interface], which was just beginning at the time, and play it back for you. It would also save it as a MIDI file so I could then have the game play it in the background. As it turned out, the music editor, called Music Construction Set, became an enormous hit. Electronic Arts picked it up in about 1983 or '84. It was educational, it was creative, it was fun. It was a new category of software that was perfect for the time. I was able to take the proceeds from it and build a little video-game company. I've been doing it ever since ...

Will Harvey was age 15 when he wrote Lancaster and started working on Music Construction Set. He has stated that he taught himself Apple 6502 assembly language by reading Roger Wagner's Assembly Lines column in Softalk magazine. You can find the complete run of Softalk magazine including the outstanding Assembly Lines series of articles by Roger Wagner on In addition, all thirty-three Assembly Lines articles are available in book form from Amazon or Lulu.

by Will Harvey

According the aforementioned review, Will Harvey was also an Eagle Scout, 4.0 student, president of the student body and high school football player ... and Batman apparently. Good for you Mr. Harvey, good for you!

Music Construction Set was originally published in 1984 and, two years later, was still a best selling Educational software title in 1986 as shown in the following Software Best Sellers list compiled by the Billboard Research Department of Billboard Publications, Inc., and published on page 18 in the September 1986 issue of Compute! magazine:

Software Best Sellers
Compute! Magazine
September 1986

There is an Apple ad featuring Music Construction Set running on an Apple IIc inside the front cover of the October 1985 issue of Compute! magazine. I enjoyed this ad as well, as around September 1985, after three and a half years, I had switched from using my beloved ATARI as my main computer to using an Apple IIc. I purchase the Apple at the beginning of my senior year in high school, as that was the platform that we were using in my Computer Science II/Pascal class.

Music Construction Set / Apple IIc
October 1985

One final note, Music Construction Set followed in the line of Electronic Arts' other Construction Set software including Pinball Construction Set, Adventure Construction Set and Racing Destruction Set. These programs attempted to use similar interfaces and icons.


While you can find an archive of Music Construction Set on atarimania.  The archive there currently doesn't have any documentation and only one disk of music. I'm sure that will be updated soon. I've put an additional archive up on with the documentation and an additional disk image of music.

The following music is contained in the archive:

Disk 1 Music (MCS Boot Disk)
  • NEW

Disk 2 Music
  • SPAC2001
  • NTR

If you have any additional music for the ATARI 8-bit version of Will Harvey's Music Construction Set, please send it along and I'll see that it gets archived for the community to enjoy.

Thanks to Allan Bushman for help with this blog post!

-- @BillLange1968

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A Welcome Addition

A Welcome Addition
US News And World Report

This A Welcome Addition ad appeared in the pages of U.S. News & World Report magazine in 1982.

The ad shows a young, expecting couple, thoughtfully analyzing their household budget, which was prepared with their ATARI 800 home computer. The concerned look on their faces show that their actual budget may not have matched their anticipated budget.

Displayed on the shelf above and behind the couple are the ATARI software packages for Mortgage & Loan Analysis, Graph It, Conversational Spanish and Caverns Of Mars. Yes, this is another ad where I needed to get out the magnifying glass.

The ad copy mentions both ATARI's Personal Financial Management System and ATARI's Home Filing Manager. The small print at the bottom of the ad states that the "estimated product availability of Personal Financial Management System, My First Alphabet and Home Filing Manager" to be "mid-1982".  

Personal Financial Management System

At the bottom of the ad is a stock ATARI HOME COMPUTERS photograph showing a television, the ATARI 400, the ATARI 800 and the following software packages: Graph It, Missile Command, Mortgage & Loan Analysis, Energy Czar, Stock Charting, Conversational Spanish, ATARI Word Processor, Mailing List, Star Raiders, Statistics I and Music Composer. The television displays what appears to be My First Alphabet. This photograph has been used in multiple ads, with only the image that is displayed on the television changing from ad to ad. You can find the same photograph in other ads with the television shown to display Star Raiders, States & Capitals or other ATARI software.

If you are interested, you can find more detailed information about Mortgage & Loan Analysis, Graph It, Home Filing Manager, Stock Charting, ATARI Word Processor, Mailing List, Statistics I and States & Capitals on Wade Ripkowski's InverseATASCII Atari 8 Bit Productivity Podcast.

So whatever happened to ATARI's Personal Financial Management System software? I'm so glad you asked. Read on ...

Personal Financial Management System
1981 Software Catalog Announcement

ATARI's Personal Financial Management System was announced in an ATARI 1981 SOFTWARE CATALOG with an estimated availability date of Second Quarter 1981.

It was mentioned as a new product in the ATARI News section on page 9 of issue #3 of ANALOG Computing, stating that "A Personal Financial Management System designed to help an individual plan and figure their personal budget ... the program requires 32K, an 810 Disk Drive, and will retail for $74.95. Release date to be announced." It was also announced as "... a database-oriented system designed to help the user plan and analyze a home budget ..." in the pages of Compute! magazine on page 158 of the June 1981 issue. An ad for it appears on page 6 of the September 1981 issue of SoftSide magazine.

Also in September 1981, the Fall 1981 issue of Atari Connection magazine,Vol. 1, No. 3, highlighted Personal Financial Management System in the New Product section beginning on page 4. The article stated "Two program diskettes and one diskette for your data. Requires an ATARI 800 Computer with a minimum of 32K RAM and an ATARI 810 Disk Drive.  Suggested Retail Price: $74.95. Estimated date of availability: November 1, 1981."

Personal Financial Management System was eventually released by ATARI in the first half of 1982.

There is a detailed review of the product by Ed and Sharon Middlebrook beginning on page 23 in the February 1982 issue of the M.A.C.E. Newsletter, a monthly publication by and for the members of the Michigan Atari Computer Enthusiasts Users Group.

Ed and Sharon Middlebrook state that "It was with great delight that we agreed to test the Atari Personal Financial Management System." They cover the features and documentation of the product. They also mention a few "irritations" and a "major fault" in that "IT DOESN'T WORK PROPERLY". They go on to state "At this point, we simply cannot recommend the ATARI Personal Financial Management System under any circumstances. If and when ATARI fixes the programs, it will be a worthwhile addition to almost anyone's library. As it stands, it rates a straight 'F' for failure..." Wow, that is a no holds barred review!

Personal Financial Management System
Instruction Manual Cover

Months later, in the August 1982 issue of the M.A.C.E. Newsletter, there is a product recall announcement on page 3 stating:
ATARI Personal Finance Recall - The Personal Financial Management System has been dropped by ATARI. You may remember that MACE member[s] Ed [and Sharon] Middlebrook was [were] the first to report the serious bugs in the system earlier this year. A new release was quietly shipped and pulled again when the new version was found to be not much better than the old. Anyone who purchased the package and doesn't have an overwhelming personal attachment to it may receive a full refund of the purchase price by returning it to ATARI along with the original sales slip. They'll also throw in a certificate worth $10 toward the purchases of the APX's (Atari Program Exchange) home budget system.
ATARI's Personal Financial Management System is offhandedly mentioned AGAIN as a new product in an editorial by Lee Pappas on page 4 of issue #7 of ANALOG Computing (September 1982).

Family Budget Is Right!

In the following issue of ANALOG Computing, issue #8 in November 1982, ATARI's Personal Financial Management System is reviewed beginning on page 28 in an article titled Budget Programs Review. This review starts off well enough, "... people might be tempted to buy because of the superb packaging job. This program consists of 3 diskettes and a 3-ring binder instruction manual written with ATARI's typical step-by-step thoroughness ...", but that, unfortunately, is the high point. The review ends with an endnote that states "NOTE: Some little bugs have been discovered in the ATARI Personal Financial Management System, and we have learned that this program will be taken off the market temporarily for corrections."

ATARI's Personal Financial Management System was again mentioned in an article titled Whither Atari? beginning on page 4 of issue #9 of ANALOG Computing:
ATARI released their Personal Financial Management package and then recalled it after about six months. It contained undocumented bugs and was very slow in operation. However, it did allow the user to maintain up over 100 budget categories, which made the program very flexible. I have been told by ATARI representatives that there are no plans to revise the program, however, the latest ATARI product catalog gives the first quarter of 1983 as the new release date. ATARI currently recommends that the APX home finance programs be used. This is less than ideal solution due to the limited scope of the user written APX programs.
In an article title ATARI In 1983 starting on page 117 of the same issue of ANALOG Computing mentioned above, Lee Pappas states that "FAMILY FINANCES replaces the Financial Management System which was pulled from the market in mid-1982 ..." 

So, there you have it. ATARI's Personal Financial Management System was announced with a late 1981 release date, then re-announced in the A Welcome Addition ad with a mid-1982 release date, released, updated and re-announced with a First Quarter 1983 release on page 17 in ATARI's 1982 Discover the World of ATARI HOME COMPUTERS catalog, then quickly discontinued, never to be seen again. Users were then pointed to the Family Budget software package by Jerry Falkenhan published by APX. Yes, that's right, an expensive, professionally written, well documented and exhaustively marketed software package, years in the making (and marketing), was replaced by what was basically a homebrew. Good for you, Mr. Jerry Falkenhan! You can read about Family Budget on page 10 of the Summer 1982 APX catalog.

Family Budget
By Jerry Falkenhan
Atari Program Exchange

Note that ATARI's Personal Financial Management System was also announced as part of ATARI's The Home Manager Kit (CX418), one of many quick start kits that ATARI marketed, with an estimated availability date of First Quarter 1983, on page 5 of the 1982 Discover the World of ATARI HOME COMPUTERS catalog. As released, this kit contained The Home Filing Manager and Family Finances, but not the Personal Financial Management System. The Family Finances software was originally two separate APX programs, Family Cash Flow and the aforementioned Family Budget. There is a review of Family Cash Flow on page 45 of issue #13 of A.N.A.L.O.G. Computing magazine. These two programs were repackaged and added to ATARI's mainline catalog.
ATARI's Unreleased
The Home Manager Kit
Personal Financial Management System

The AtariWiki has more detailed information on ATARI's Personal Financial Management System, including disk images, screenshots, photographs, documentation and other ephemera.

If you have some spare time and are interested in fixing the bugs in the Personal Financial Management System software, it consists of multiple ATARI BASIC-based programs and the source code is available on the AtariWiki.

-- @BillLange1968

Thursday, February 9, 2017

Omnitrend's Universe

This Omnitrend's Universe ad appeared on page 92 of issue 13 of ANALOG Computing magazine in November 1983. 

Universe, designed and programmed by Thomas R. Carbone and William G.M. Leslie III with ATARI 3D Graphics routines by William Volk, is an immersive and complex spaceship simulator and science fiction role playing game. The original version was created on an ATARI 800 in valForth. In addition to the ATARI 8-bit release, there were also versions for the Apple II and the IBM PC. It was Omnitrend's first published game.  

While ads for Universe began appearing in the fall of 1983, reviews didn't start to emerge until the summer of 1984. There are two reviews of Universe starting on page 14 of the June 1984 issue of Computer Gaming World magazine. ANALOG Computing magazine had a review beginning on page 33 of Issue 20 in July 1984. Antic magazine had a review beginning on page 81, in Vol. 3, No. 5 in September 1984, though they did announce it as a new product on page 114 in the April 1984 issue. Even BYTE magazine had a review in Vol. 10, No. 5 on page 311 in May, 1985.   

For more details on the ATARI version, Chris Edgar maintains a Universe FAQ which contains a wealth of information on the game including versions, bug reports and possible workarounds.

Isaac Asimov

What is Universe? Great question. Have you ever read the phenomenal Foundation series of books starting with 1951's Foundation by Russian-American author Isaac Asimov? Did you ever play (and hack) Mike Mayfield's text-based BASIC computer game Star Trek or Dave Kaufman's text-based BASIC computer game Star Trader. Have you ever played the 1977 Traveller table-top role playing game by Game Developer's Workshop? Did you ever wonder what Han Solo was doing BEFORE he met Luke? Have you ever watched the amazing, but short lived (with possible reboot in the works) TV series Firefly? Imagine combining all of these and you begin to get the idea. Universe is a highly detailed spaceship simulator were you get to design your ship and then take it out for adventure and profit (legal or otherwise).

Role Playing Game
by Game Developer's Workshop

Universe is a very involving game. It requires the player to calculate hyper jump coordinates for intermediate jumps between known stellar systems for the navigation computer, calculate minimum orbits for planets in order to launch shuttles and analyze nearby contacts to determine if it is time for flight or fight! It is so immersive and complex, with a detailed manual approaching 100 pages, you could spend an inordinate amount of time outside of the game just planning the design and layout of the equipment aboard your spaceship for optimal energy usage and defense or planning your next Axia to Zeath trade run for maximum profit.

Omnitrend's Universe
High Definition Scan Of Near By Contact
"Too Close For Missiles, Switching To Laser Projectors"

At $89.95, Universe was by far the most that I ever paid for a computer game, then or since. I also purchased the optional Complete Product Guide for another $15 or so. Add in a box of 5 1/4 floppy disks for the player disk and player disk backups, a package of loose leaf paper for notes and some loose leaf hole reinforcements for the well-used manual pages, and I was in for well over $100.00 on one game. This may have been the most expensive (and most complex) game released for the ATARI 8-bit line. It was for me anyway.

If you know of a more expensive or more complex game for the ATARI 8-bit, please leave a comment below and let me know.

Calculating Planetary Orbits!

The Complete Product Guide was helpful when playing Universe as a trader. It helped to avoid bringing contraband items to planets where they were banned, saving you violations, fines or worse! To be honest, for the price of this game, these few extra pages should have been included as part of the manual.

Omnitrend's Universe
Successfully Clearing Customs

Universe was one of my top three favorite games/series for the ATARI 8-bit computers. The others are Richard Garriott's Ultima series (Ultima IUltima IIUltima III and Ultima IV) and the Infocom's Enchanter interactive fiction series (EnchanterSorcerer and Spellbreaker).

To learn more about Interactive Fiction, check out Jason Scott's amazing documentary Get Lamp, Nick Montfort's Twisty Little Passages: An Approach to Interactive Fiction and/or Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7 by Aaron Reed. These are three great sources on the subject.

Other than Universe, to date, I have not played any of Omnitrend's other computer games such as Universe II, Universe III, Breach, Breach 2, Breach 3, Paladin, Paladin II, Rules of Engagement or Rules of Engagement 2, none of which were released for the ATARI 8-bit.

Other Contemporary Science Fiction Role Playing Games

It was a great time to be an armchair star ship captain, within a few months of each other, Omnitrend's Universe (September 1983) came out for the ATARI 8-bit computers, SunDog: Frozen Legacy (March 1984) by FTL Games came out for the Apple II series of computers and Elite (September 1984) came out for the BBC Micro and Acorn Electron computers. At the same time, Trade Wars by Chris Sherrick, a cross between the board game Risk created by Albert Lamorisse, Gregory Yob's Hunt the Wumpus and Dave Kaufman's Star Trader, began to appear on computer bulletin board systems (BBS). Trade Wars and its offspring would go on to be one of the premier BBS door games of BBS era, 1978-ish to 1995-ish. What is a BBS? Check out Jason Scott's BBS The Documentary

SunDog: Frozen Legacy

Maury Markowitz had an amazing website that he eventually moved to a Wordpress site were he detailed the history of Mike Mayfield's Star Trek, Omnitrend's Universe and SunDog: Frozen Legacy as well as other space-themed games that shouldn't be forgotten. Additional Elite history and information can be found on co-developer Ian Bell's website and in the The Making of Elite documentary.

Playing Omnitrend's Universe Today

Playing Universe when it was first released on the ATARI 8-bit was very frustrating. The game required five diskettes: Construction, Flight I, Flight II, Starport and the player disk. The original release, version 1.1, only supported one disk drive during game play. This version required so much disk swapping, it would grind your ATARI 810 disk drive into a pile of melted plastic and metal shavings! One minor mistake, like pressing the START key instead of the SELECT key at the wrong time, could cause you a quick death in the dark and lonely void of space and the game would format your player disk just to keep you honest! If you didn't have a good back up with detailed notes on where you were and what you were doing at the time, you would have to start all over again, a very lengthy process.

Also, on native ATARI hardware, the speed of the game tended to creep along in areas were graphics, 3D or otherwise, were drawn or when the game performed highly complex calculations such as orbital mechanics or planet generation.

Playing Universe is even better today. Using an ATARI 8-bit emulator such as Altirra (I've had success with Altirra 2.4, but had issues with newer releases of the emulator when playing this game), you can use one of the versions of Universe that supports multiple drive (versions 1.2 or 1.3). This significantly cuts down on disk swapping. Upgrading to a better in-game computer and mass storage device cuts down on even more disk swapping. You can also use the emulator's warp or turbo mode to speed up the slow parts of the games such a planetary scans, hyperjumps, shuttle launches and the like. Finally, if you have multiple monitors, you can have Google docs open on one screen to keep notes and view trading spreadsheets.

Need a good notebook for your Universe adventures? Check out the Galactic Gaming Journal by Urban Realms. Seems kind of expensive at $19.95 for a 300 page notebook, but it looks like it might fit with the genre.

Galactic Gaming Journal
by Urban Realms

If you are interested in playing Universe, I suggest that you:
  • Read Chris Edgar's Omnitrend's Universe ATARI 8-bit FAQ
  • Download and peruse the Universe manual (or here)
  • Download and skim the optional Complete Product Guide
  • Download Altirra 2.4
  • Download the Universe 1.3 disk images
  • Along with the Getting Started/Sample Game in the manual, David Milsop created a Quick Start Guide
  • Start playing
Keep judicious notes and back up your player disk often. Using an emulator makes it easy to keep a running back up of player diskettes so your can recover from a player mistake or a game bug (read the FAQ).

Start out as a trader and passenger ferryer. Create profitable trade routes and acquire some wealth. Explore the galaxy. Upgrade your ship's equipment. Try your hand at mining. When your ship is fully equipped with the best hardware, you've explored the galaxy from one end to the other and you understand how all the systems on your ship work, try your hand at piracy and ship to ship fighting.

If you really want to go all out, hack your spare ATARI 400 into a Mission Control Desk and Spacecraft! OK, maybe that is a little much.

Want to try a more modern computer-based space simulator?  Check out EVE OnlineElite Dangerous from David Braben co-developer of the original Elite (and co-founder of the Raspberry Pi Foundation) or Star Citizen by Wing Commander developer Chris Roberts. Watch this video to find out more about Star Citizen. Or for the pen and paper crowd, check out the upcoming release of the Starfinder role playing game by Paizo, the publisher of the Pathfinder fantasy role playing game. There is also (possibly) a pen and paper Elite:Dangerous Role Playing Game in the works.

One additional note, Omnitrend is still around today. While they are no longer in the computer game business, they still have a small and dwindling supply of New Old Stock computer games, if you are interested.

Alright, my shuttles are full of Ore IV, exotic trade goods and impatient passengers. Time is money and I got a hyperspace booster to find. 
"Axia Launch Control, this is Seeker Shuttle Two, ready to clear the surface and rendezvous with Spacecraft Seeker in orbit."  
"Seeker Shuttle Two, this is Axia Launch Control, you are clear for takeoff." 
"Roger that Launch Control, commencing boost sequence. Have a nice day. Seeker Shuttle Two out!"
-- @BillLange1968