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 a look!

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 Paint.

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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