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Atari Notes


Martin Russ rounds up the latest from the Atari scene and speculates on whether 'demos' are the training-ground for multimedia musicians...

It has been a busy month. The Atari world is buzzing with talk of IBM, Time Warner, rising Atari share prices, Commodore's problems and the forthcoming Jaguar video games console. It all goes to show you how rapidly the fortunes of a company can change these days. IBM may be suffering from huge losses of money (and staff), but they have apparently been signed up by Atari to make the new Jaguar console. The Time Warner connection is a circular one: Warner Brothers used to own Atari, and one of their divisions is now offering their library of video clips to Atari for use with the Jaguar.

The Jaguar? It is Atari's serious re-entry into the video games market — a sort of Sega/Nintendo beater with a formidable specification: 64-bit technology and 24-bit true colour graphics with CD-ROM compatibility. Considering that Atari virtually invented the video game in the first place, the often overlooked Lynx colour handheld console is finally about to be joined by a much bigger and brighter stable-mate, which should shake things up in techno-toyshops over the next year or two. Figures like $200 have been mentioned which, even allowing for hype, should make for an interesting release.

I never could understand why the Atari Lynx was virtually ignored in favour of its Japanese competitors when it had the advantages of lower price, ergonomic design and a decent colour display, and so it is good to be able to see Atari apparently in the lead for once. Hopefully some Sega/Nintendo-style blanket media advertising will bring Atari back into the limelight — and don't despise the games market, because if it makes Atari profitable, then the Falcon's musician owners will also benefit in the long run.

DEMOS



Robin Grant of Lytham in Lancashire has reminded me of one aspect of sound and vision applications that I didn't cover in very much detail in the August '93 Atari Notes. Demos. Not the usual, crippled versions of commercial applications, but the PD disks with fancy graphics and accompanying audio tracks that at first sight serve no useful purpose. Actually, the demo phenomenon is quite an interesting offshoot of the mainstream of ST activity. Demos tend to be programmed by small teams of talented ST programmers, who run a sort of ongoing competition between themselves. The object is to produce the most impressive, neatest, longest demo possible. Sometimes this is done as a live speed trial, but more often in an ongoing disk swapping 'impress the competitors' form.

The technology used is quite impressive. To make room for a decent amount of audio, you need to squash your graphics into as small a space as possible (or vice-versa for heavy graphics), and so machine code and compression routines are de rigeur. There are several approaches:

Digitised video slideshows with looped music. The 'Snowman' demo is probably the best known example. Jerky video sequences pre dominate in this 'make your own movie' field, although Falcons and Optical Disk drives might just mean that the next budding Steven Spielbergs could cut their teeth without ever splicing a frame of real film.

Trackers — lots of audio with simple (or no) graphics. Based on the idea that audio gives a much better ratio of byte-size to impressability than pictures, the graphics tend to be simple, whilst the sound is often astonishing — more than half an hour of continuous music on some demos. The graphics have some common features: moving blocks, balls or bars in bold colours on the screen, with some sort of title drawing routine on top. Trackers often provide visual interest by displaying text: Information about who did it, when and where, greetings to friends, rivals, program hints and tips, stories, chat and more. With lots of music to get through, you need lots of text to keep the screen looking busy.

Graphics with minimalist audio. Impressive graphics with bleep and booster sound effects (if you are lucky). Quite a lot of the graphics are translated from state-of-the-art mainframe computer graphics sequences, so the ray-tracing and surface rendering reflect (not a pun!) computers with lots of number-crunching power and lots of time. On an ST or Falcon, producing these sort of effects is going to be a labour of love, but my own Ripples program shows just how addictive it can be!



"Falcons and Optical Disk drives might just mean that the next budding Steven Spielbergs could cut their teeth without ever splicing a frame of real film."


The music in many demos is unrelenting 'techno': a driving beat and 120bpm tempo that suits the computer image, but which begins to pale after a few hours of continuous exposure — perhaps it is the 8-bit quantisation mushing up the audio... Sampled soundtracks of dubious copyright are rather too common. Most demos also overlook the reset-prompting possibilities of a static and silent 'Decompressing...' screen, and rely on the patience of the watcher/waiter. Since the music often comes from within the same programming teams, the fixation with bleeps and gated noise is understandable, but I would be more impressed with something a little more off the beaten track. Even so, demos can give you a fascinating glimpse of people who live in a very different world to the mundane 'real' world, and perhaps even a hint of what the multi-media 'musicians' of the next century will be like.

SOS SOFTWARE



You may have noticed that the yellow pages have not featured the SOS Software recently. This is because we have been busy organising an alternative way of distributing the disks. Sound disks for products reviewed in SOS will continue to be available from SOS, but many of the remainder of the ST disks will be available from Goodman International — one of the UK's leading Public Domain libraries for Atari computer software. A PD library is a 'one-stop' source for non-commercial shareware and public domain software: you pay for the administration, postage, cataloguing, copying and disk media itself. The Goodmans Catalogue is in a comprehensive ring-bound format, and has details of all the programs they supply. Many of these are shareware programs, where you can 'try before you buy' and then pay a small charge to the programmer, but some are freeware — like most of my programs. I have been getting a lot of my shareware and PD software from Goodmans for several years, and now you too can sample their extensive range. Phone (Contact Details) or write to Goodman International, (Contact Details). Please mention SOS when you contact them.

SQYRREL II

Sqyrrel's impressive graphical interface looks more attractive than some commercial programs.


Not content with giving commercial QY10 software Librarian programmers a challenge, Yamaha have just released a new freeware program which covers the recently released QY20. Coming from Y-Not, the same programmers who wrote the 'original' QY10 Sqyrrel program (OK, so the 'play-on-words' name is a little bit silly, but then the PC version is called Sqyd!), it offers a neat and professional-feeling graphical interface to the sort of functions that even the large QY20 display is unsuitable for, and lets you use the ST as an external disk drive for all your QY compositions and supporting material. It works with two banks at once, holding two QY20 memory's worth of patterns and songs: 100 patterns and 20 songs, as well as the setup data. Perhaps the most useful feature is the one which lets you find out whether a pattern is used in a song, which lets you 'prune' without losing an essential pattern.

The 3D look extends to the dialogue boxes.


On-line help and short-cut key presses are readily available. Some of the icons are less than immediately obvious, so a quick flick through the pages of the help window will soon have you up and running.

Having a point and click, drag-to-copy interface is quick and easy to use, especially for setting up voices within a pattern (the pop-up voices list is neat and fast) or mixing a song (you may have seen this bit before on your QY20 — in Voice model). The only weak spot is the editing — you can't edit patterns or songs, although some might argue that the QY20's facilities mean that you won't need to. You can't edit the sounds either, but then the QY20 has fixed presets. All you need now is an ST small enough to fit in your other pocket... Contact Yamaha on (Contact Details) for a free information pack on Yamaha's 'Software Explosion', which covers all their software, both commercial and Public Domain.


CREDITS

After briefly mentioning my brother in a previous Atari Notes, his delighted phone-call (and his purchase of a copy of the magazine from his local newsagent) has finally convinced me of the value of the extended and sometimes gushy credits that you find on the sleeve-notes of recorded music and computer programs. Perhaps this is why film, TV and music awards ceremonies are so full of profuse thanks for friends, relations, sponsors, etc. So I would just like to mention here, in print, that I prefer Cherry Coke and think that Walls' Magnum is a truly wonderful icecream. Hello Mum!


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J.L Cooper DataSync

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Apple Notes


Sound On Sound - Copyright: SOS Publications Ltd.
The contents of this magazine are re-published here with the kind permission of SOS Publications Ltd.

 

Sound On Sound - Oct 1993

Topic:

Computing


Feature by Martin Russ

Previous article in this issue:

> J.L Cooper DataSync

Next article in this issue:

> Apple Notes


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