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Mark Wright

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About Mark Wright

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  1. Thanks, Jon. What an absolute pleasure to hear from you! As a youngster, my first experience of Atari was courtesy of a school friend whose father was a notorious pirate and my friend received all of his "hand me downs". He had disk upon disk filled with Multiboot-driven commercial game compilations. I was young and naive but knew something was fishy! A few months later I got my own 800XL with 1010 cassette recorder on the promise that he'd copy me these disk games to tape thanks to Multiboot. It never came to pass, but I'll always remember the name. Edit: I should add that, bereft of anything hooky, I eventually owned Jet Boot Jack several times over thanks to buying the first few Atari Smash Hits tapes :-) As said earlier, I was convinced that JBJ was American in origin due to its gloss - the loader, the title screen and music, "Let it Rock!", etc. Did you consciously make it in the style of a US game? I know you said you felt isolated at the time, but did you feel you were competing against other UK coders such as Steven Riding/Tim Huntingdon? Did you have to travel to Manchester often to show off updates or was it all done by post/modem? Anyway, thanks for being part of my childhood. I'll end by linking to this rare archive piece of you playing a classical number on the ill-fated Atari EGS (Electronic Guitar System):
  2. Aw, c'mon :-) This is all ancient history, isn't it? I know that a multitude of illicit things made their way out of a certain Railway Terrace in Slough circa mid-80s, just as it's surely common knowledge that so many who had a vested interest in commercial success were nevertheless involved in nefarious pursuits at the time. I trust we're not at cross-purposes here! I can remember Rob.C getting a mention in Atari User as a potential hardware pirate (Ultimon?) and Les Ellingham banning adverts for certain soft/hardware products in Page 6 (only to backtrack when the revenue started to dry up.) What I didn't realise at the time is for all the Jon.C, Rob.C, Ian.K and Multiboot disks, the aforementioned were merely responsible for the menu system used by the wider community. I always assumed that a Rob.C menu (for example) meant he was responsible for the dodgy gear on show. Not so. Same with Multiboot which I think carried an unfortunate credit for its author. I could easily have circulated a disk full of binaries I'd compiled using any one of these menus credited to the menu author... I don't think these chaps were anywhere near as prolific as history would suggest. At least in the ST era, the Was Not Was menus (Rob.C again?) made it plain who was responsible :-) Sorry for the outpouring; the subject fascinates me. I respect the fact you know way more than you're prepared to divulge - here's a man who can certainly keep a secret - but it's all so, so, so long ago...
  3. Haha Paul, hence my hesitant "adoption" remark.. for every Jon.C, Ian.K and their like, there were ten Multiboots :-)
  4. Jet Boot Jack was one of the first games I played on an Atari and despite the English Software branding I always assumed it was American in origin due to a) its dazzling mastery of the hardware and b) the name "Jon Williams" had US connotations :-) Ironically, I'm pretty sure the copy of Jet Boot Jack I played came straight from a multiboot menu. So here's another request for elaboration on the creation of Multiboot from Jon himself, and his thoughts on how it was ultimately, erm... "adopted" by fellow Atarians. One of the best ANTIC podcasts I've heard (along with Adam Billyard)
  5. I don't have much to offer here, except to confirm that I bought several of the "Dixons Pack" cassettes individually from an independent store (Intoto in Nottingham) for £1.50 each in mid 1985 and at various market stalls (again, circa mid 1985). I had no knowledge that they were from a pack not to be sold separately at the time. I remember the "computer font" printed tape labels and shoddy (and strange smelling) lightweight inlays that made me suspect they were pirated versions! In all, I *think* I had Tutti Frutti, Bug Off, Artist, Electric Starfish and 10 Little Indians, all bought separately. I also had those Microdeal games, but they were the real deal. Edit to add: from memory, as well as smelling of very cheap plastic, those "computer font" labelled cassettes had a very strange whistle sound while they were loading which often caused them to fail! I only became an Atari owner in mid 1985 (bought from a catalogue) and it was the 800XL/1010/Pole Position/Basic Demos pack, for £150. A few weeks later, I remember looking around Dixons and finding this: https://i.pinimg.com/originals/54/98/33/5498339a1d78069e71e3746b8f988e86.jpg Aaargh! It was half what I paid, with Tramiel now dumping old stock bundled with the first of those Atari UK-produced red inlay cassette packs. There were further bundles including the 1050 dumping (with Waxworks/The Payoff etc.) and further red inlay cassette packs when the 130XE was in decline. But anyway. Those amateur "Dixons Pack" editions must pre-date all of this, so I'm guessing some time in 1984. I'm searching old newspaper archives for advertisements. I can't recall when the two high-street electronics giants of their day Dixons and Currys merged, but it's well known that Centresoft/US Gold and Calisto Computers (both based in the West Midlands) cut their teeth by approaching individual retailers directly to supply them with stock. I suspect that the "Dixons Pack" was comprised of titles Geoff Brown was able to license (and manufacture) very cheaply. In the meantime, try searching Google Images for "Dixons advertisement 1984 Atari". You've probably already found 'em all :-) Further edit: This guy would know, if he's still with us: http://www.page6.org/about/bug.htm
  6. Setting all of the "mine's better than yours" squabbles and tedious specs comparisons to one side, it's a fact that the Atari 8-bit machines irrefutably enjoyed two distinct leases of the life in the UK, both significant. It's no surprise really that any contemporary revisionist re-telling of the UK's history of home computing should overlook the Atari, but here's my quick effort to make amends.. FIRST UK ATARI ERA In the early months of the 1980s, the Ingersoll imported Atari 400/800s sold by the likes of Maplin and Silica Shop reigned supreme. They were very much the coveted rich man's plaything. As the press swooned, these hugely expensive machines quickly earned the reputation as the "must-have" home computers in the UK and attracted the sort of consumer who wanted and could afford the best car, best suit (etc.) The small community that sprung up to support the machines was the first of its type in the UK, but was severely limited by the elitist price-tag of all things Atari. Later, the homegrown ZX81 and domestically-priced Vic 20 attracted mass mainstream sales, much to the disgust of hardened UK Atarians who viewed these inferior machines as retrograde and unworthy. Nevertheless, the British voted with their pockets and, by 1983, much preferred to spend £6 on a Spectrum or C64 cassette (or copy it for free) compared to £25 for an ageing Atari cart. Why is this short but important period overlooked? Well, it's mostly undocumented so today's teenage Wikipedia surfing "historians" know no different. However, those of us who were of excitable school age in the early 1980s might remember our first encounter with a home computer being a posh friend showing off Star Raiders or Miner 2049'er. Once machines finally appeared that were affordable to most impoverished UK households of the era, we didn't beg for them due to relentless TV advertising (it didn't exist) it was because we hoped for an approximation of something we'd seen on a rich mate's Atari. By 1984 this had all changed, with the rapid rise of and later dominance of the Spectrum and C64, the Atari was suddenly yesterday's machine - an expensive relic. This era was generally hooked on Star Raiders and last played Drop Zone before losing interest. SECOND UK ATARI ERA By 1986 the first wave of UK Atari owners, making their final down payment on their £1000 investment, found themselves rubbing shoulders with a new breed of upstart Atarians. Jack Tramiel's offloading of fire sale priced 600/800XLs into UK retail channels (Dixons and Currys on the high street and catalogues like Great Universal and Kays) resulted in thrifty and naive, but well-meaning parents snapping up bargain close-out Ataris for their "computer obsessed" kids. In a matter of months, hundreds of thousands of discount packages were sold, to an army of youngsters craving the modern games enjoyed by their luckier friends - Uridium on the C64, Underwurlde on the Spectrum. A culture clash soon ensued between the elders with their lofty programmimg and hobbyist ideals and the instant gratification expected by the new recruits, plain for anyone to see in the magazines of the time (Page 6 especially!) This one-time Rolls-Royce running on $50 cart fuel had become a Ford Fiesta, content to survive on £1.99 fodder like Vegas Jackpot and Action Biker. Why is this important renaissance period overlooked? At the time, the UK press was fixated with the unravelling of Sinclair. The fact that throughout 1985 and 1986 hundreds of thousands of 600/800XLs made their way into UK homes, thanks to Tramiel's Dixons dumping, went largely unreported - though it didn't go entirely un-noticed. Database Publications launched Atari User off the back of it. US Gold financed its expansion plans when Atari titles that were gathering dust suddenly started to shift. The original stalwart Atarians used to paying $50 for an import cart (or long since engrossed in the Multiboot/Menu disk piracy scene) were soon outnumbered by the less discerning newcomers, and the likes of Mastertronic, Americana, Players, Zeppelin, Red Rat, English Software, Tynesoft, Microdeal, Code Masters (even Ocean, Elite, Gremlin and Bubble Bus taking a chance) churned out a ready supply - of mostly sub-standard, disappointing fare. But at least it meant the tiny Atari corner in the local software store wasn't entirely empty. This era was generally wowed by International Karate and thought Gauntlet was a load of expensive brown shit. And - as a rough estimate - I'd suggest less than 5% of the former have ever posted here, and maybe 2% of the latter (me included!)
  7. Hi, I just wanted to share my work in progress remix of a classic Atari song, made in the quintessentially cheesy 80s style.. Perhaps a little over-ambitious of me to attempt covering such a standard on my first go (dodges rotten tomatoes) but at least, when finished, it will be some sort of contribution. I wonder though, is there any interest in hearing such things? Once upon a time, there was a thriving C64 and Amiga remix "scene" as evidenced on YouTube. I've found the odd Atari remix of 8-bit exclusive game soundtracks, but they're few and far between. In fact, what prompted me into the five hour frenzy that resulted in this remix was searching YouTube convinced there'd be a contemporary update of this tune, but to no avail. Anyway, if anyone's feeling creative and fancies having a go, or if you just enjoy listening to remixes (no matter how bad!) let me know :-)
  8. A quick (but obscure) question for anyone who's familiar with what I thought was a popular music demo, widely distributed back in the day: http://gury.atari8.info/demos/877.php https://demozoo.org/productions/111645/ I can remember being amazed by this at the time, wondering who these geniuses were and how they'd managed to "break-in" to all of the games and steal the music. I don't remember where my copy came from, but I always presumed that if I had it, then the rest of the Atari community must have it too and hold it in similar esteem. Seemingly not. It's not on YouTube and a quick Google has thrown up few references. Anyway, finally to my point. I'd like to upload a play-through of the tunes to YouTube, but the only copies of this demo I can find appear to be hacks, with "YAPMAN SOFTWARE" credited in place of Jolly Roger, Inc. My memory may be playing tricks, but this looks like the work of someone armed with a sector editor - however, it's the only version I can find! I'd like to upload the original (which I think is credited to JOLLY ROGER INC. at the bottom, not sure about the other Yapman text above) so, does anyone have an original copy of Music Master III without the Yapman graffitti that they can share? I said it was obscure :-) Thanks for any help...
  9. * WAFFLE ALERT * Before I share an over-long, boring story documenting my own personal contribution to software preservation, some words of comfort for my friend Mclaneinc (who is clearly, like me, a nostalgic old fool with a "collector" mentality) on why he shouldn't be so irate (pun intended) with this doddery duffer friend-of-a-friend: he's simply not worth it, literally. If I might borrow an out-dated expression from our American friends (hello, American friends!): "c'mon man, take a reality check, dude!" Now, I realise there are still huge numbers of presumed "lost forever" items that this community still, one day, hopes to unearth. I also realise that such things continue to crop up, unexpectedly, on an annual basis. But it's 2016. The vast, vast, vast majority of what was ever there to be found has been, well, found. Incidentally, I speak as someone who created various music disks, demos and intros for well-known Amiga scene names as Silents UK, Pussy and Magnetic Fields, who knows he'll never see some of his juvenilia ever again, as it wasn't spread far and wide enough. I can categorically say it's gone forever. How can I know this? Well, I trawled the world for it, as you'll find out if you read on. But anyway. Even if this miserable old geezer allowed you to search his Multiboot haystack of Preppie!, Pogo Joe, Thorn/EMI Darts, Chop Suey and Drelbs for your elusive needles, what good would it do if you found them? What joy would it bring? "Yes!", you might cry, "I *KNEW* there was a version with a slghtly different title screen!" Would you sleep sounder at night? If I might borrow an out-dated expression from our Australian friends (g'day Australian friends!): "Jeeez! What a drongo!" Also, there's the fact that those who boast of having "old computer stuff" up in the attic, without any working knowledge of just how exhaustive the efforts of the online/emulator scene has been over the past 20+ years, might consider their collection of 200 (count 'em! 200!) disks to be "massive". I don't need to tell you that, in 1986, the awe reserved for anyone who had 200 double-sided Rob.C/Ian.K menu disks stuffed with 300+ games was akin to the respect commanded by a Mafia don. In my experience nowadays, it's depressingly common for those who stored their collections away many years ago to consider their two disk boxes full of mouldy old Maxells and Memorexes to be "massive" and probably valuable by now. How would they know you can download 50,000 Atari disks in under an hour and own the majority of everything ever circulated? Even the genuinely disk-porn listings you occasionally see on eBay: [email protected]@K! - 20 Posso boxes of 5,000 "presumed blank" disks, with tantalising labels... what price the needle you might find within yet another giant haystack of Alleykat, Ballblaster, Jet Boot Jack, Music Master II and Blue Max? At last, my point - that over-long, boring story I promised you... When I started the Lazarus Amiga emulation site back in 1997, the goal was to source, archive and make available the top 500 (or so) most important/historic Amiga software titles of all time - but - crucially, in an emulator-friendly form, specifically aimed at the growing userbase of Amiga emulators. This was nearly twenty years ago. We doubted we'd ever reach our aim, presuming - with the Amiga now a distant memory for most - there'd be very little left, with what remained now held in the hands of a disinterested few. Weeks later, to say we were overwhelmed by the response is as massive an understatement that can ever be made: we'd unwittingly mobilised a global army of ex-Amigans, each of them raiding their many disk boxes; ruining their fragile floppy drives; bankrupting themselves in the name of bandwith... their frenzy for feeding the website with long-forgotten artefacts was matched only by the leecher hysteria their files created. This was long before it was possible to archive original copy-protected disks (so we relied on cracks). And this was still in an era when many viewed Lazarus as a "warez site", despite modelling ourselves on the likes of World of Spectrum (i.e. all software is long-dead and we're actively gaining permissions for the good of all...) Very quickly, we'd amassed tens of thousands of files, all (in the dial-up era) uploaded at the expense of others. We were eternally grateful to the hundreds (later thousands) of users who had worked tirelessly to share the fruits of their labours. The harvest of presumed-extinct Amiga goodies we'd reaped was beyond our wildest dreams. But, as we sifted through the deluge of disk images, preparing to make them public, it quickly became obvious that the contents of everyone's disk boxes were very similar. With duplicates removed, our collection shrank from tens of thousands to hundreds of files - luckily for us, and probably obviously, we were left with the most popular items we set out to seek in the first place. That goal reached, and as our traffic increased due to word of mouth, we requested anything that wasn't already available on the site. Uploads continued apace, but for the next six months or so, we were constantly sifting through the files looking for the 5% (or so) of unique material among the same old things, e.g. sadly turning away well-meaning users who'd imaged and uploaded their copy of Xenon II, in favour of someone *finally* uploading Maupiti Island. Here's a bold statement: I'd estimate that, by the end of 1998, Lazarus had sourced and circulated somewhere in the region of 90% of the files that make up the current Amiga TOSEC collection, some eighteen years on. And my old music disks and demos still aren't in it! If Mclaneinc's still reading, the moral of my story is... if you thought you'd get a fuzzy warm feeling inside from reading some old scrolltext from an obscure forgotten intro you never thought you'd see again, or from confirming that there *WAS* a pre-release version called "Dimension Y" that had different music... forget forking out a couple of hundred quid to spend time with some old miser, I spent thousands and a couple of man-years in order to do it... and yes, you will get a nostalgic hit of adrenaline as your brain scrambles to reconcile what you're seeing if you're successful, but trust me, it's a disappointingly short-lived experience and will leave you ultimately underwhelmed and depressed. A bit like the few hours I spent several years ago, which I'll never get back, searching for the version of Boulderdash cracked by "PAUL I RATE WITH THE MOLE" just to confirm to myself I hadn't mis-remembered or imagined it. "Oh well, that's that then..." If I might borrow an out-dated expression from our Latin friends (salve Latin friends!): "Tempora mutantur, nos et mutamur in illis." Fin.
  10. I have nothing useful to add here, but wanted to send kudos to MrMartian for hooking up personally with a fellow Atarian in order to help them out! Whattaguy :-) I've never heard of an 800XL suddenly developing such a fault, but if it's newly-acquired then here's my dumb diagnosis! Maybe the previous owner had the Return key hard-wired to work within a custom application/bit of hardware that's no longer there? Like one of those Atari-driven broadcast character generators that depended on bits of bespoke hardware hanging off the SIO? A hacked OS coupled with some crude soldering could ensure pressing Return jumps to a specific memory address (but now borked as its not being used as intended with BASIC commands in the buffer) or to poll missing hardware..? Probably pure fantasy! In any case, hope you get it sorted :-)
  11. I've spent the last few days (such is the free time I have at the moment) leafing through early issues of Your Computer, an influential multi-format magazine that began in 1981. You can retrace my steps for yourself at Archive.org's computer magazine section: https://archive.org/details/your-computer-magazine I'm up to April 1983 and as the months go by with each issue, regarding the story of the Atari 400/800 in the UK, it's been a heart-breaking journey. Reading what was once "Britain's best-selling computer magazine" exposes all the reasons why the pre-XL Atari 8-bits failed to capture mainstream UK imagination. I don't mean specifically - don't interpret that as there being explicit examples, you'll be disappointed if you do! It's more about what's missing - the almost enitre absence of anything Atari-related, in a magazine read by tens of thousands of prospective purchasers of these new-fangled computer thingies. I realise we've gone over this sort of ground before on here - hey, I don't even know if there are enough UK old-timers left to start an interesting discussion - but I feel compelled to share my findings anyway! Before I making a boring list of my thoughts, having read as far as I have, I just want to reiterate: in early 80s Britain, at the very dawn of computer lteracy among "the general public", there were few outlets to turn to for informed advice about this new technology. In 1981, there were a handful of multi-format newsstand magazines: Personal Computer World, Computer & Video Games and Your Computer. Occasional TV news items would focus on "the silicone age" but often these would be negative, spreading fear about computers taking away jobs. I'd wager that word of mouth was probably the most prevalent catalyst for sparking an interest, with the chap next door, at work, or down the pub, waxing lyrical about his new ZX80 or Acorn Atom or whatever. Popular interest in "home computers" was eventually piqued in early 1982 with a much publicised TV series "The Computer Programme". * Until the airing of that BBC series, complete with its own commissioned micro, the UK home computer userbase was comprised of academic, beardy-weirdy, geeky, inquisitive engineer types who'd built kit computers such as the MK-14, Nascom and ZX80. Such kits were designed by enthusiasts and sold, mail-order, to similar enthusiasts who, otherwise, would be fiddling with HAM radios or other electronics. * When Issue 1 of Your Computer appeared, the Atari 400/800 and its various peripherals had only just been officially imported into the UK by Ingersoll and were already available (if lucky) through a select few outlets. * Early issues of Your Computer are awash with crude adverts for obscure hardware formats, all jostling for position. All of them over-priced. All of them moribund. Dominating the editorial is Sinclair's ZX80, later ZX81, and the imminent arrival of Commodore's VIC-20. The Atari 400/800 was never reviewed by Your Computer. Presumably it was already old news, or review machines weren't supplied. * In the 30 issues of Your Computer up to April 1983, there have been three Atari-related items in the magazine's "news" section and two letters from Atari owners. * So far, no Atari hardware has featured on any cover of the magazine, and unlike other hardware clearly photographed "in situ" by the magazine for features, only PR shots have been used to illustrate the few Atari features * Ads from retailers selling Atari hardware start to appear from late 1981 - the likes of Maplin, then Computers For All and Silica Shop, rising from a couple of pages up to five or six by 1983. Atari software ads from domestic houses like Llamasoft emerge in mid 1982, albeit crude monochrome half-pages. There are no adverts from Atari itself (or via Ingersoll) among the many for Commodore and Texas Instruments, etc. * When the Atari is mentioned, it's in disparaging terms - a luke-warm review of its "expensive" games. It's left out of round-ups of disk-based systems, educational options, etc. * In the absence of Atari coverage, the magazine favourably reviews each new micro release: Dragon 32, Oric 1, Camputers Lynx, Sord M5, Video Genie, ZX Spectrum, Commodore 64, Jupiter Ace, BBC Micro, etc. So why am I bothering to type all of this? (And thank you anyway for reading this far!) Well, it just makes me sad. Not in a "I won't sleep tonight" kinda way, but it's so obvious to me why readers of "Britain's best-selling computer magazine" were oblivious to Atari - just when it mattered most. We all know the hardware was mind-blowingly expensive, as were the carts that slowly trickled onto these shores (£1700 for an 800 in today's money and £75 for Star Raiders!) but those who could afford it and *really* wanted it clearly existed. If only more knew about it... If only there was a way to create awareness... what a PR disaster! What a rudimentary 101 fail from Atari. * Your Computer CLEARLY had no Atari hardware in its office to test out anything they were sent. As stated, neither the machines nor its hard drives, program recorders, carts (etc.) appeared on any of the magazine's covers * Magazines exist on income from ad revenue - if you don't place advertising, where's the impetus for the mag to review your products (let alone favourably) while your (much-covered) competitors are spending thousands? * No Atari press releases means no Atari in the "news" section of the magazine - how much effort is involved in *bombarding* Britain's BEST-SELLING computer magazine with exciting PR puff each week? * Whoever determined UK price policy was living on another planet. Even in 1981/82 foreign market research was straightforward (a few phone calls with partners and retailers) to inform strategy Gagh. I'm wondering whether to click "post" on this as I know it's a massive ramble, but having written it now... what the hey! I just find it so depressing that the Atari 400/800 was all but invisible in the UK for so long, unless you were among the elite few who knew about it and could afford it. When my dream finally came true of owning an Atari, I joined that elite by purchasing an original RRP Warner 800XL. Shortly afterwards, Tramiel came along and emptied his UK reserve stocks of 800XLs via chain stores at rock-bottom bargain-basement prices. The good news: Atari's UK profile was boosted overnight, with masses of new owners all hungry for software. The bad news: Atari had created a new "junk" market for its once-prestige, now sub-£80 machine. It was bought by those whose budget couldn't stretch further. It was fuelled by diabolical software costing less than £2. Take a look for yourself at a few of those early Your Computer magazines, where the Atari should have been centre stage. You'll see for yourself why I feel the way I do :-)
  12. Ahh, the dongle that nearly got me a beating from a schoolfriend's older brother! I'd managed to lose this tiny device while borrowing the US Gold UK cassette version of Leaderboard from a mate. Obviously the game was useless without the dongle, so when the time came to return the loaned tape... well... Perhaps it was naive of the teenaged me to expect a simple, "sorry, I don't know what happened to it" to suffice. Within hours, a surly thug came knocking, asking for me, threatening violence if the tiny bit of plastic wasn't replaced - and fast. It cost me several weeks pocket money/allowance, but after pleading with my parents I was hurriedly taken into town to buy a replacement copy complete with dongle. As far as I remember, the original lost device never turned up. Worst of all, I had no interest in golf and had only played the game once, but starved of Atari software I readily accepted his offer to loan me the tape. Needless to say, my friendship with one of only a thimbleful of local Atari owners was immediately and irretrievably "consciously uncoupled". So thanks for that Bill Carver, or whoever was responsible. Had it been the chunky matchbox-sized type of screw-in dongle that was becoming common with pro applications, no problem, but something the same size and colour of a liquorice allsort? Not kid friendly!
  13. I can remember reading several well-meaning letters published in Atari User and Page 6 (in the mid-80s) recommending Star Raiders (of 1979 vintage) as an alternative to (or superior to) Elite. A perfect example of why UK Atari owners were so often wryly referred to by UK video game journalists as "loyal". Secretly we all knew that we'd backed the wrong horse, betting the farm (+VAT; +import tax) in the process, now resigned to watching it fall at the first hurdle. But being British - by thunder - we stiffened our lips, secured our blinkers, and resolved to go forth and grumble quietly. As General Melchett said to Lieutenant George in Blackadder, "If nothing else works, a total pig-headed unwillingness to look facts in the face will see us through." Impressive though it was in 1979, suggesting Star Raiders to someone seeking Elite, in 1986, is surely equivalent to offering a game of Snap to someone who wants to play Chess. But anyway. Think back. If Firebird *had* sought to release Elite for the Atari, it would have been farmed out to Mr Micro/Marjacq and done in a massive hurry to meet deadlines/expectations on likely return. It would've been yet another reason for detractors to laugh at our beloved machine. It would've been *shit*. To get someone competent on the case (Braben/Bell themselves?) would've cost too much in both time and finances... It was never planned. It was never worked on. It never existed. But hey - it's worth remembering that in the year that Elite emerged for platforms other than the BBC Micro, Atari owners were already enjoying the delights of "Chop Suey", "Astro Droid" and "Electric Starfish" - so yah booh sucks! A slight return: I can remember letters published in UK magazines aside from Atari User and Page 6, such as C+VG and Computer Gamer, from indignant Atari owners asking when Paperboy, Ghosts 'n' Goblins, Commando, 1942, Bubble Bobble (etc.) were going to be converted for their machine. The answer was inevitably never, and in hindsight, thank goodness they weren't. Think back. Imagine the disappointment you would've felt at being confronted - yet again - by a game where you were in control of a "sprite" that felt massively disconnected from, and weirdly superimposed against the rest of the action.. Your Paperboy, for example, would've eerily floated around the screen while everything else jerkilly juddered by, due to both programmer incompetence and arcane hardware limitations... It doesn't bear thinking about! My old Atari 800XL will forever be my first computer love, but its restrictions are manifold: the unmistakable Pokey FX in *any* shoot-em-up - "piaaawwwwwscchhhhhhhh"; oh it's THAT scrolling colour DLI yet again; aarrgh, the characters are drifting un-naturally around the screen, disjointed from everything else - arrrrrgh; wow - I've been given Gauntlet for Xmas - 25 minute tape load, brown and brown... more brown.. slow brown... slow down.. brown sound; in amongst the racks of the high street store stocking Uridium, Underwurlde, Last Ninja, Out Run, Monty on the Run and Skool Daze is... "Frenesis" by Tony Takoushi, for any Atari 8-bit... Well, setcolor me happy! No Elite? No shameful legacy.
  14. I am currently selling a spare copy on eBay UK - I won't post a link as this isn't the Marketplace, but if you search "The Atari Book Retro Gamer" I think it's the only copy currently out there (priced to sell at original RRP)! Mixed feelings about The Atari Book, really. On the one hand, it's great that such a thing exists. Certainly a novelty here in the UK to be able to find magazines on the high street in 2015, proudly displaying words like "Atari" and "Amiga" in bold font, standing out among the X-Box/Mac/Android titles. On the other hand, it's well-known that Retro Gamer's Atari 8-bit-centric features are often found wanting, due to the lack of working knowledge of their go-to guy for such articles. So while it's nice that RG have belatedly taken the 8-bit Atari to its busom, sadly (and sometimes infuriatingly) its representation within the pages of RG (upon which The Atari Book is based) can fluctuate between off-kilter, wildly inacurrate, and downright unrecognisable. That said, it's nice and glossy - it will look good on your coffee table - and is worthy of your support and congratulations for existing at all. Did I mention I'm selling my spare copy? Bottom line: seasoned AA'ers should probably observe "caveat emptor". Do you have what it takes to resist a primal urge to tear it to shreds, or set it on fire, when your heart sinks at every missed question in an interview with a key Atari 8-bit person? What about when you read lazy repeated received wisdom that we all know has long since been debunked? How are you with basic inaccuracies? Can you hold your nerve when faced with jarring narratives and clumsy timelines? If any of this is likely to keep you awake at night, my advice is to steer well clear. However, if you're the type more likely to chortle out loud at such clangers and howlers, while enjoying the pretty pictures, a quick reminder that I'm selling my spare copy. Overall: 4/10. BYE.
  15. I know that I’ll be shot down in flames for committing heresy here, but I’ve long-since meant to pen that award-winning, glory-grabbing article for Retro Gamer, entertainingly recounting the dismal truth of what it meant to be one of the several hundred thousand UK Atari 8-bit owners of the mid-1980s. Yes: really that many. Recently, RG’s coverage of the presumed-obscure also-ran format I was once (lovingly/furiously) lumbered with has pleasingly increased, but it’s all too celebratory for me. Because – you see – here in the good ol’ U of K, the Atari 8-bit straddled two distinct eras: the first being temporarily good, but if you (like me) were swept up in the machine’s belated second coming? Well, it was a whole different world. Back to the beginning though, and long before the Spectrum, C64 and Amstrad ruled the roost of this green and pleasant land, the first Atari 8-bit era began courtesy of several “firms” who specialised in the practice of importing Atari hardware and software to sell to – for want of a better phrase – rich bastards. And, given the buoyancy and longevity of companies like Maplin and Silica Shop, sell they did. I don’t think it’s any exaggeration to say that, back in 1981, purchasing an Atari 800 with 810 disk drive and Star Raiders cartridge here in the UK would see you parting with roughly the equivalent cost of buying three Scottish castles, two (prize-winning) racing yachts, a Rolls-Royce Corniche, and a very big house in the country. Just ask Archer McLean. But despite the breathtaking outlay, within a few short months, such was the penetration of the Atari in the UK, masses of user groups, magazines and shops sprung up to support the “Ferrari of home computers,” with many of them soldiering on for years. UK Atari owners of this era – let’s call it the golden age of 1981 to 1983 – enjoyed the following games, all of them certified classics, and most of them American. Let’s face it, many UK owners had saved for months and months to finally afford that tantalising import cart or disc that would shame any ZX81 or BBC Atom-owning friend. For completeness, I’ve included a rough estimate, converted into today’s money, of how much those rich bastards paid to secure ownership of said trinket/trophy/ego-boost: Preppie! (Disc; Adventure International; 1982) £4,291,449 Pole Position (ROM; Atarisoft – Disc; Datasoft; 1983) £3.1m/£1.9m Miner 2049’er (ROM; Big Five; 1982) £7,981,190 Oil’s Well (ROM; Ahem; 1983) £3,119,210 Jet Boot Jack (Disc; English Software; 1983) £9.95 Truly, this was the imperial phase of the Atari 8-bit in the UK. Magazines like C&VG and – erm – probably others, would often compare the 400/800 series favourably to its then-only rivals, the ZX81 and Vic-20. And Apple II. And BBC Micro, Sord M5, and others. At least, here in the UK. The NewBrain hadn’t really taken off by then. Or the Atom. It was Atari that ruled the roost. Yes, the ever-canny British shopper had taken one look at the sub-£300 price tag of all the pretenders to Atari’s throne (£4,419,319 in today’s money) snorting in disdain at the inexpensive, tatty games on compact cassette, guffawing at the very sight of so-called software for such mere mortal machines, increasingly laughably encroaching upon the shelf-space once reserved for The King. But then. 1983. The exactly 459 UK Atari 8-bit owners who plunged, head-first, into early-adoption of these new-fangled computer things, spending (on average; in today’s money) £11,191,519 pursuing their hobby are finding themselves marganalised. As the mass populous finally catches on to this whole computer (game) thing, shops that would once sell you Atari BC’s Quest For Tires (Disc; Sierra/Sydney - £1,199,383) are suddenly flooded with strange titles like Hungry Horace (Cassette; Psion; £4.19) and Wizard of Wor (Cassette; Commodore; £3.59) By the end of the year, coverage of the Atari in the UK’s main (and only) multi-format newsstand magazine is relegated to a solitary quarter-page, navy-on-cobalt feature about “computer turtles,” the rest of the magazine concerned with reviewing games for newer computers that each have one seemingly minor hardware advantage over the Atari, which will ultimately render 99.5% of the breathtakingly successful software for them either a) impossible; b) terrible or c) unrecognisable, should anyone bother to convert it to the “Ferrari of home computers.” For everyone to copy. And copy. And copy. * * * Tune in next time! Remember those hundreds of thousands of UK Atari 8-bit owners I mentioned? I’ll list the (very different) top 5 games “enjoyed” by those unfortunate souls who found one of the innumerably remaindered 800XLs in their 1985 Christmas stocking, in place of a shiny Commodore 64. Was dad swayed by the sales patter and low-low price on offer at the UK’s largest high-street technology retailer? Or did mum buy it, at a premium, on the never-never from one of any number of catalogues? By early 1986, with Atari 8-bit machines changing hands in the UK for less than a ton (often much less), the installed user base dramatically increased – but there was something very, very wrong. While publishers were gambling on new dedicated Atari newsstand magazines, and with software companies keen to leap upon the Atari bandwagon, there was an understandable air of ambivalence among those who hadn’t encountered “the golden age” of Atari and were being teased relentlessly by their Sanxion or Underwurlde-playing mates. Will “Frenesis”, “Crystal Raider” or “Milk Race” feature in the Second Coming Top 5? Find out next time…
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