The Nostalgia Column Part 1 - By Dean Garraghty
(c)1995 Dean Garraghty
Now that the 8-bit Atari is in its twilight years there are often few
new things of any importance to write about. However, the Atari has
been around for some 16 years now, so there are stacks of things from
the past that can be looked at. I think its good to remember the
Atari's past. It was full of excitement and certainly left its mark on
a lot of people. Each issue I will find something from Atari's history
and write about it. This issue I'm going to look at Atari UK's
Input/Output (I/O) magazine.
I/O was a magazine produced by The Atari Home Computer Club (which was
run by Atari UK) in the very early 80's. I have issues 1 to 5, and I
believe that was all they actually produced. These were strange
magazines in that they were produced by Atari, and therefore were only
slightly biased!! Almost all their content related to Atari products,
which of course were always described in a very positive way!
Issue 1 (dated Winter 82/83), which I believe is quite rare, wasn't a
magazine at all, despite it saying "magazine" on it! It was, in fact, a
large fold-up card. About a quarter of this issue was taken up by an
article on how an Atari 800 was used to create sound effects for the
film Tron. This, of course, sang the Atari's praises and made out that
the Atari would revolutionize the sound effects industry! I'm not sure
that actually happened! The then new release Centipede was reviewed in
this issue without a bad thing to say about it! There was a competition
to win tickets to see the then brand new film E.T. There was also a
brief summary of events at the 5th PCW show, which Atari attended. The
rest of the issue was taken over by short type-in graphics listings.
Nothing major, but in 1982 you'd have brought your mates round to have
By issue 2 (Spring 1983) I/O had become a proper A4 sized magazine with
24 pages. This issue started out by making some corrections to issue 1.
How on Earth can you make mistakes on a 2 page bit of card?! Well,
Atari did! There was quite a bit of news to report in this issue. Atari
sponsored a six-a-side football match in Birmingham. There were some
400s and 800s available for you to have a go on, so it was really just
a big Atari advertising event! Atari had done 3 shows since issue 1,
and they took the opportunity to tell you how brilliantly they had
done, but would we expect them to say anything but?! Atari had also
linked up with a radio station in Bournemouth where people could go
down and compete at games like Space Invaders, Asteroids, PacMan, and
Missile Command. The 1200XL was also detailed, which was a waste of
time because it was never released! An article headed "Meeting the
Press" told of how Atari were trying to get coverage in national papers
and magazines by inviting the press to come along and try using an
Atari for themselves. Defender, Galaxian, My First Alphabet, and The
Home Filing Manager were new products that were previewed. There was an
article on some software written for the ATP (Association of Tennis
Professionals), which kept track of tennis results and various other
things. There was a brief article on APX software, inviting you to
write some software of your own.
There was a very long article headed "Hello Mr. Chip!" which was about
the Atari in education, which doesn't make sense to me because the
Atari was never adopted in the UK as a machine for use in education.
The BBC Micro was, of course, adopted. The type-in listings were for
Atari's PILOT programming language. There was one BASIC listing for
producing that now familiar mode 9 tap! There was a useful article in
this issue on how to photograph your graphics. This is still useful
even today. There was an appeal for people to send in photographs of
their Atari systems, and they did too as I'll mention in my
descriptions of the next issues. There was also a nice article on using
sound on the Atari, with a few type-in sound effects listings. The last
article in issue 2 was a good review of Graham Daubney's visit to the
Birmingham User Group (BUG). It was actually very funny, especially his
jokes about needing a translator! He also commented: "The town-planners
... have carefully arranged the city so that, no matter where you want
to go, you can always see it, but never quite get there". He was
talking about Birmingham, and he's spot on! He also commented that at
the meeting they appealed for articles for a new magazine they were to
produce called PAGE 6. Yes, for those of you who don't know Page 6
started life as BUG's group newsletter.
Issue 3 (Summer 1983) featured Paul Daniels on the cover, with a very
badly fitting wig! The main news this issue was Atari's successful time
at the Ideal Home Exhibition (of course it was a success, Atari wrote
the review!). Apparently famous stars and Royalty visited the stand!
Yes, famous people like Modern Romance! Who?? I have no idea either,
but they were apparently a famous pop group. Atari also reported that
they had given loads of Atari systems to various newspapers, magazines,
and TV programmes to give away as prizes. There was a brief article on
a Computer Camp Atari had given 20 800s to. New products being
previewed this issue were Caverns of Mars, E.T Phone Home, Dig Dug, and
Next up were some photos people had sent in of their systems as
requested in the last issue. I can't honestly see the point of printing
photos of people's living room tables with a 400 sat on top! One Darren
Martin who sent a picture of his system must have been well off. He had
an 800, 810, and a printer!! Imagine how much that would have cost in
mid-1983! Next came quite a technical article on using the Atari's 256
colours. This included DLIs, VBIs, and string manipulation. Quite heavy
subjects. It came with listings in Basic and Machine Code. M/C was not
something typically seen in magazines of this period. Most people were
scared to death of it, and I suppose many people still are now!
The main article this issue was on Paul Daniel's use of his Atari 800.
He apparently went into a computer shop, handed over 1000 quid and got
an Atari 800 with disk drive and tape deck. Not that good a deal! It
also mentions that he wants to write an adventure game. Next came an
article on Player Missile Graphics. This came with a program listing
that had been split line by line to show what each was doing. The next
article was about the development of the home computer from the
original mainframes of the 40's. This rapidly moved on to become just
one big advert for Atari's products! Next came more graphics type-in
listings. The last article showed how Atari got its name, which is now
well-known information, but it was still quite interesting.
Issue 4's (Autumn/Winter 1983) editorial column discussed "the new
generation" of Atari machines. They were, of course, talking about the
XL range. They waffled on about the 1450XLD, which we all know never
made it! The main news of this issue was about Atari's Software
Development Centre. They were set up to help Atari compete in the UK
software market, mainly by assessing user's software contributions, as
well as adapting US software for the UK market. This was to include
introducing APX software to the UK market. The next article was boldly
headed "Atari Unveils the Future". What a statement! This was more on
the new XL range, and again went on about the 1450XLD. It also went on
about the CP/M module which didn't make it either!
There were a couple of updates to stories from the last issue. The main
one was about Atari loaning 20 systems to the Computer Camps. They
actually lent 100, and they were proud of it naturally!! There was also
an article about Atari's involvement with sport. They claim "following
the outstanding success of the Atari Soccer 6....", which is another
bold statement! The Atari Challenge, as it was to be called, would
allow people to play on Atari computers at various sports centres
around the country.
There were some program listings contributed by readers. All the usual
early 80's sort of stuff! Next to this were some more photographs of
people's systems. Mostly all from the same guy! Next to this was an
article on assembly language programming, which is actually quite good.
A special "pull out guide" in this issue detailed the new machines and
peripherals (1010, 1050, 1025, 1020, 1027, touch tablet, super
controller, Trak-Ball). The new software previewed were Juggle's
Rainbow, Juggle's House, Mickey in the Great Outdoors, VisiCalc,
AtariWriter, Family Finances, TimeWise, Eastern Front (1941), and
Donkey Kong. The "coming soon" page listed Pole Position, Pengo, Atari
Logo, Donkey Kong Jr., Tennis, 600XL memory module, CP/M module (which
never made it), Atari Expansion Box (which never made it), Ms. PacMan,
Joust, and a "Stop Press" for the then brand-new The Lone Raider. They
wanted 14.99 for this on tape. Just two years later they were giving it
away with 800XLs!!
There was an article headed "Tech Specs", which detailed the new
arrangements for their helpline number. Yes, it appears Atari did once
actually support their own machines! The article went on to talk about
the monitor port and what each pin does. It finished by telling you why
only Atari datarecorders work, and nobody else's. Next came an article
headed "Scrolling Venetian Blinds". This contained details and program
listings on how to create the now-boring scrolling colours. After this
rather technical article, came "Discovering Atari Basic". This article
was more in tune with the period in which it was written, with, for
example, what a DATA statement is and does. The APX titles T: and
Quarxon were reviewed next. They both were, of course, faultless and
excellent!! Next came "Atari's Outer Limits" which was an article on
the benefits and pitfalls of video and computer games (yes, we used to
call them "video games" back in the old days and not "consoles" as we
now have to). Then came an interesting article called "Les Ellingham's
PAGE 6". In this Les talks about all the joys of reading Page 6, which
was only on issue 4 at the time. Lastly came an article about MACE
(Manchester Atari Computer Enthusiasts). They claimed they would create
a magazine better than I/O (which wouldn't be too difficult!), and PAGE
6!! Oh dear, I don't thank that happened, or we'd be here waiting for
issue 70-odd of MACE Magazine to turn up!!!
Issue 5 (Spring 1984) was, I think, the last issue. This issue kicked
off by challenging somebody to write a cricket game for Atari. A 1000
pound prize was on offer. Peanuts compared to what Atari would have
made out of it, but back in those days nobody knew any better. The main
news this issue was that Paul Daniels had finished his adventure game,
and it was on sale in two parts for 20quid a part! Ouch!! The other
news was that Jeremy Beadle (who was at the time famous for "Game for a
Laugh") had been given a 600XL. He apparently had 5000-odd books he
need to cross-reference. Yes, they gave him a 600XL for that! I
wouldn't like to attempt that on a PC! It's amazing how many stars
Atari tried to get on their side. It was the same in the States, with
Alan Alda appearing in their adverts. Also being reported was the
recent British Golf Classic which Atari had sponsored. Atari had
recently run a Player of the Year competition, with 80000 entries.
Following their donation of machines to the Computer Camps, Atari then
donated some to the Holiday Inns to be used for "computer weekends for
families". Atari had recently exhibited at the Great Home Entertainment
Spectacular and the PCW show. They were giving touch tablet and light
pen demos, as well as running "Atari Theatre" sessions to present
computers to the masses.
Next came a collection of reader's programs. Nothing special, just the
usual type of stuff for this period of time. Then came the second part
of the Assembly Language column. New software being reviewed this issue
were Pole Position, Ms. PacMan, Joust, The Lone Raider, Jungle Hunt,
Donkey Kong Jr., Robotron 2084, Pengo, and the Atari Game Kit. There
were two longer reviews of The Home Filing Manager and Dig Dug by two
people from Silica Shop, so at least these reviews were not so biased!
Next came a sort-of interview with Justin Whittaker who was 17 at the
time, and who had just written The Lone Raider for Atari. It apparently
took 5 months to write. The "Tech Specs" column talked about repairs,
protecting your programs, and loading machine code programs.
The longest article this issue was by Jack Schofield, who at the time
was editor of Practical Computing, and who is now the editor of the
Computer Guardian. The article headed "Practical Peripherals" was a
review of the touch tablet, Trak-Ball, and the 1020 plotter. And it
really was a review, because he didn't really like the Trak-Ball, and
he didn't mind saying so! He seemed to like the touch tablet very much
indeed! The next article was about mixing old and new peripherals. This
still went on about the CP/M module and the Expansion Box, which didn't
actually appear. It amused me that Atari blamed 3rd party software
companies for not following their guidelines which made so many of
their programs incompatible on the new XL range!
Next came a "Profile" of a guy who had used his 400 to generate
graphics for a TV commercial he was working on for Sony. A small
"Factsfile" column described the differences between using a Composite
Video monitor and a TV RF cable. Lastly came an interview with the guy
who ran SMAC (South Middlesex Atari Club). Yes, I've never heard of it
either! They apparently produced a newsletter called SMACLET, and they
planned to build a robot to be controlled by their Atari!
As far as I know, issue 5 was the last issue of I/O magazine produced.
They were all very much biased towards Atari, but then the magazine was
published by Atari so that explains it! However, these mags cost 95p
each, so you effectively had to pay for Atari to blast adverts at you!
I spent a great day going through these issues, and kept thinking "I
know what happens in the future!!", and "I wonder where all these
people are now". It would be interesting to find out. I really did get
nostalgic while reading these mags, more so by the photographs of the
people they interviewed. Did we really go around dressed like that!?
Originally published in The Atari 8-bit News-Paper.
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