A blog about tabletop hobby and or strategy games, with a side order of electronic turn based goodness here and there. Now with tons of retro gaming content both electronic and tabletop. Also with 20% more self loathing douchebaggery!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

[Review Corner] Retro Computing Why Bother/Atari 8 Bit Computer Thing: User's Guide to Atari

Yep.  I gots me a big old cheapo lot of Atari 8 bit books to improve and enhance my Atari computing experience, and maybe even teach myself some programming finally!

Well one of the books from 1983 both comfortably fits in most of my work pants pockets and was short enough (240 pages) to be read in a couple hours without doing the tutorials.

The book?

 I have never heard of this magazine before but let's just presume it somehow covered computers and such without it being a focus kind of like Consumer Reports.  Given the massive title we will just call it The User's Guide to save my sanity.  Running 3.95 in December 1983 US Dollars this book is basically a newbie's guide to both setting up the computer and basic core operations.

 Our chapters!  Chapter 1 and 2 are like bog simple instructions anyone reading this blog or actually having a copy of the manual that came with your computer already would know.  But it has a nice basic overview of the Atari line they cover (The 400, 800, and 1200XL.  The other XLs are not mentioned nor is much made of the 1200's incompatibilities.), and how to hook them up to a normal VHF screw TV set of the era.  Not even Cable Ready Coax is mentioned!  There is info on the disk and tape drive peripherals as well which is nice and handy!

 A major portion of this book is these tutorial exercises with photographs of the screen output and diagrams of what keys to press on the keyboard, usually showing the mighty 800 unit but not always.  Some of these are stupidly simple but given the time and how few people actually knew anything about operating any electronic devices it does kind of make a lot of sense.

The book uses a large and easy to read font, and gives excellent tutorials on getting used to computer keys and how said keys operate on these here Atari computers.

The book is an excellent way to get used to your Atari 8 bit computer and how they operate, albeit from a pre popular XL/XE mindset.  A number of peripherals are covered with advice and info about what to buy, plus a very simple introduction to the simplest of BASIC programming commands.  For historian types there is mentions of pricing on various items such as TV Set/Color Monitor combo units being available for 500 to 800 dollars in 1983 money, or monochrome monitors capable of 80 column use for 100-250 bucks.  (And the need of a Bit3 Board.  Nothing we really need today unless you insist on coding directly on your old computer.)  

The memory section has me salivating at the thought of Mosaic Memory Boards for the 800 which came in 32K and 64K versions. Could the 800's three memory slots work with them?  Could one get their original 800 up to 196K of RAM?  Would there be any incompatibilities?  These are questions I am now asking myself.  Because I want them.  It might make it so I wouldn't really ever need the 130XE again outside of being a backup machine.  (Or because I prefer its generally better video output.  Which could be even better if I want to spend around 120 dollars to solder a Lotharek board into it.)

Modems are pretty much useless nowadays, but the printer coverage really shows me I might want a Plotter type printer just because it is COOL.  (And depending on getting pens that work with it.  And software that can use it.)

The Software section covers how to make backup copies when possible on either tape or disk and lists some programs to buy and what machines said programs will work on and what format they come in.  They cover a handful of games and various educational and applications programs and also cover some programming languages since really until the 90s most people were generally expected to at least do some programming.

(Even if we all just mostly played games on the things!)

The book then covers User Groups which of course have none listed in Connecticut, Rhode Island, or Massachusetts. They even go into Compuserve and BBS stuff ending with a nearly two page listing of then active Atari BBS numbers and basic info about them.  No Connecticut or Rhode Island numbers yet again. 

Connecticut just doesn't have that nerdy Soul it really ought to have.  A boring state most people try to run the hell away from outside of rich SOBs living on the western side who go to work in New York City.  A shameful state.   

So overall this book is not really a must have for any retro Atari computer person but it is a NICE and HELPFUL book to have if you can score a copy cheap.

My review score?  Good.  If you can get it for under 10 dollars shipped and are a novice to the Ataris it is a really useful book.  Veterans probably can skip it though historians might enjoy some of the background information of the time.


Jerri Kohl said...

Read and enjoyed your posts on Atari Age and this post. Just wanted to mention that Atari 800 extended memory (beyond 48k) is not compatible with XL/XE built-in and expanded extended memory (beyond 48k). In light of that, I wouldn't recommend expanding your 800's RAM, unless you get an Incognito from Candle (which is awesome, and, amongst other amazing things, expands your memory to 1MB as either 800-style Axlon-compatible, or 130XE-compatible). Without an Incognito, you will still have need for your 130XE.

Captain Rufus said...

Thanks for the heads' up! I figured it would probably be something like this given the chipset changes and all. But like most computer lines it almost seems better to stick with the earlier ones because even if the newer machines have more features their build quality and level of support of those features tend to be.. lacking.

Jerri Kohl said...

I agree! The 800 is my favorite model. Especially due to the 4 controller ports for MULE and others! I also have an 800XL for those games that made for XL/XE. I plan on getting a PAL 800XL and putting in an Ultimate 1MB, VBXE, Rapidus 65816, and hopefully an EVIE FPGA sound board, otherwise a stereo POKEY board (hopefully Candle's SimpleStereo with Covox support -- assuming his FPGA SoundBoard is dead).


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