Mega STE Love



Getting closer to High Fidelity
The turning point in my tracker usage came when I discovered The Jukebox, a desk accessory for playing tracker modules in the background. In summary, it offered STE and TT DMA replay at any available hardware frequency (6.25, 12.5, 25 and 50 KHz) and optional processor-shattering interpolation. This sounded very good, banishing a lot of aliasing noise and coupled with the generally higher sample rates further reduced noise, but even on a Mega STE it would only work reliably at 12.5 KHz. I settled on straight 25 KHz as a compromise, to get some good treble response (50 KHz worked occasionally on simple modules). All those tracker modules I had suddenly sounded remarkably better, more like High Fidelity Dreams and much better than BackTrack. I realized I could create my ideas in Noisetracker then savour them at higher quality later, no more thinking that Noisetracker's built-in replay was as good as it got.

[Screen-shot: The Jukebox]

26 September: Le'ST Get Serious
London's Alexandra Palace was once again to host an Atari show. In the mid-1980s, Database Publications' Atari User shows were held here, I only got to read about them, regretfully. This time it was on a smaller scale and strictly TOS generation machines only. Around 800 visitors reportedly flocked to the venue on Sunday between 10:00 and 18:00.

Show sponsor Atari ST User magazine was to the left of the entrance of the small hall, with its graphics card enhanced Mega STE as shown in a mouth-watering review a year earlier. Digital Arts distributor CGS was to the right, with some serious TT graphics systems and lovely colour prints from the vector illustration package, DA's Vector. At the back of the hall was Compo UK, featuring one of the programmers of its Write On word processor, Jīrg Zabell. We talked about DMA data transfer while he tinkered on his TT030 before I blagged half a box of Falcon brochures from him.

[Image: Falcon030 brochures]

English language Falcon030 brochures, one for hardware and one for software. See the original software brochure from the German CeBIT fair at

[Image: MyAtari advertisement from st-computer]

MyAtari's first anniversary promotion advertisement, designed for st-computer magazine.

[Photo: 16/32 disk Business 008]To the right of Compo was 16/32 Systems, purveyor of PD, games and Lexicor graphics products. I was half-way through A-Level Mathematics at this stage. Everyone had to take the Pure Mathematics papers 1 and 2, while we had the choice to continue Mechanics 1 with the (obviously) more difficult Mechanics 2, or the entry-level Statistics 1. Why make life painful? Of course I chose Statistics 1, and at this show bought a copy of the statistical analysis and processing package, B/STAT from 16/32. On reflection this was all a big mistake. At least Mechanics was about something more "real", Statistics seemed like the biggest load of contrived nonsense ever... Only weeks before writing this article I finally threw out the entire manual of B/STAT, printed in earnest on my new printer but never read past the first page as we all did in those days, to make space for something more useful to me.

16/32 also had a guest, Yat Siu of Lexicor Software, demonstrating his professional graphics rendering and animation products, I chatted with him and he showed me the incredible speed of the Nova graphics cards for the Mega STE and TT. In the background there were 3D animations running from video cassette, accompanied by very nice synthesizer music. I wanted to be able to do exactly that on my Mega STE.

Adjoining the main hall of the Atari show was a roped-off "Atari continuation" section of a much larger hall, this was where I first saw the Falcon in the flesh. System Solutions had one spinning and zooming a colourful picture while playing music reminiscent of High Fidelity Dreams, and JCA Europe (formerly known as Riverdene PDL) had its new baby Calamus SL running in colour on a Falcon.

What is Stereo Master?
"Stereo Master is a low cost, high quality sound sampler for the Atari range of computers. The sampler cartridge enclosed in the package plugs into the ROM port at the side of the computer and allows you to analyse the sounds, coming in, change the way they sound using the realtime special effects or record them from devices such as personal cassette players, Compact disc players etc. Once in the computer STEREO MASTERs unique editor will enable you to edit the sound in practically any way you can imagine. Once you have the sound sample how you want it, you may incorporate it into other programs such as Quartet or play it using routines supplied for many of the commonly available BASIC's."

Stereo Master was always the one for me, I remember explaining its effects processing capability to Steve during a GCSE English lesson in 1992, on the back of a chocolate wrapper (we weren't allowed to talk in class), and in October 1993 I bought one second-hand for £10. My mate Mark ordered it as part of a Microdeal music bundle, didn't really know what he was getting and found he didn't need it. In those days even a cheap, single-effect guitar pedal cost around the price of a new Stereo Master so you can see the attraction of the computer software solution with ten built-in effects. Yes, the real thing would have been better quality but school bands weren't made up of audiophiles.

[Photo: Stereo Master box front and rear artwork]

[Image: Stereo Master explanation]

Sampling drums (mainly from insane speed-metal albums), looping them and making more backing tapes for Paragon Bollocks was the first use for my new sampler. A more scientific application presented itself when I needed to do some A-Level Physics homework. The task was to work out what would happen to a square wave when passed through a given circuit containing a capacitor. It was fairly obvious but I decided to go one better and prove my answer. I figured I could use Stereo Master's oscilloscopes to measure the output of my 800XL computer acting as a signal generator, and I'd actually build the circuit in the diagram to sit in the signal path. I then wrote a few lines of Atari 8-bit BASIC to generate a square wave, using an Atari paddle controller to adjust the pulse width in real-time because it was easier than messing around changing Stereo Master's sampling rate, which I left at the maximum setting for the best quality measurement. To capture the result I just pressed [Alternate]+[Help] to print the screen and I handed in the blocky print-out as my homework.

[Image: Schematic for experiment]

[Photo: Circuit board for Physics experiment]

[Image: Stereo Master oscilloscope results]

Soon to be 18
One year of ST ownership came very quickly and soon after that my birthday, again. As an early present from my parents I got a proper colour monitor, the television set was not cutting it for medium resolution even with exceedingly high brightness and contrast settings. Atari's SC1224, the later models of which had a reputation for poor brightness, had been replaced with the improved SC1435 (see Appendix B), the most beautiful-looking monitor for the most beautiful-looking computer. Based on the hugely popular Philips CM8833-II chassis dressed in dapper Atari styling with just an RGB video and stereo audio inputs, this was the perfect item to make my machine look the business. At £179 including VAT and tilt-and-swivel stand, it was better value than the Philips as far as ST users were concerned.

[Image: Philips Lotus Challenge 2 instruction manual]Nothing is ever easy. When I could finally get a monitor, Atari had stopped making the one I wanted. Therefore I settled for the Philips at £199 from John Lewis in Kingston. For the extra money it had more video signal inputs (today, it serves my Mega STE and doubles as a video monitor with a cable carrying a composite signal from my PC's graphics card) but no tilt-and-swivel stand like Atari's SC1435. Unlike Atari's model, the Philips was designed with a very steeply sloping underside so if put on a flat surface the screen would face an upward angle, not what I wanted so I used the built-in basic stand to prop it up some way straight again. Under the new monitor was a copy of Computer Shopper, protecting my lovely computer. Soon I had to slip a sheet of kitchen foil into the sandwich to stop the CRT electronics interfering with the internal floppy drive. Philips was keen to capitalize on its position as prime choice for gamers and bundled this monitor with a copy of Gremlin's Lotus Turbo Challenge 2, for Amiga.

[Image: ST software swap from Philips]

Did anyone else waste their time with this offer? I sent off the Amiga software as instructed and never received anything back, not surprised at all. One would think for the cost of sticking a Jiffy bag in every box and providing a Freepost address, they may as well have put some extra floppies in each box with the ST version instead. Oh well, I thought Lotus was overrated anyway, Lankhor's Vroom was much louder and racier with howling sampled sound throughout.

From Hong Kong I had also brought back a Sega Game Gear with a gaggle of games, including a vertical scrolling shooter that I'd completed while still over there and one of those dodgy cartridges with a load of different games packed into one ROM selected by a button on the cartridge. It was a gift from a relative (more like, "We don't play this any more, you keep it"). Being a Lynx man at heart, I sold this for £90 and bought a 520STFM from another mate at school, saving it from certain demise. It was filthy, the first thing I did was strip it apart and wash the plastic parts in detergent and warm water, every single key-top rinsed by hand. Added a pair of MIDI cables and then I could play networked MIDIMAZE 2, now I had a television set and a separate RGB monitor!

My birthday would fall on a Saturday this year so I went shopping for my treat a day early, during school time on Friday. I knew what I wanted: Magic Boy, an unexpected gem of a platform caper with an insidious hook I discovered in demo form on one of ST Format 52's cover disks weeks earlier. Tremendously colourful graphics, slick animation, brimming with detail, excellent game design and control (pull down while on a platform and the screen scrolls up to reveal some of what lies below - touches like this are simply not found in your average kid rip-off game), no need to think twice. I went to GAME in Kingston's Bentall Centre (see our cover feature in MyAtari 16), knowing there were still ST games to be found.

[Photo: Magic Boy box front and rear artwork]

Someone must have known it was my birthday! One copy of Magic Boy was on the shelf (with a bonus game inside, Cool Croc Twins, an uninspiring effort written in STOS) and there was also the late Atari version of Zool for just £9.99 which I splashed out on, too, having read it was STE-enhanced. I couldn't wait to get home and play these.

Oh dear, not again... First of all it took some force to insert the Magic Boy disk in my Mega STE's disk drive, I wasn't surprised it refused to run, thinking the disk was causing alignment problems. Measuring it against some other disks I could see it was too wide so took some sandpaper to rub down one side. Now it slid into the drive effortlessly but still would not run! The demo version ran perfectly so it couldn't have been a compatibility problem with the Mega STE itself, already I had visions of GAME telling me that was the last copy left in the country and having to forfeit the game. As a last resort I tried it on my 520STFM. Bingo! It loaded successfully and worked! I immediately made a side-by-side comparison with the demo version on my Mega STE. Sure, the STFM was not quite as smooth in colour range or movement, and its sampled background music replay was more heavily aliased than on the STE, but the fact all this was running on a stock 520STFM (right down to the gradient-fill sky background, that very hackneyed sign of a game being Amiga-enhanced from the ST version) was a marvel in its own right and all was forgiven.

Zool didn't impress me half as much. After the novelty of the super-fast hardware-assisted scrolling (which still suffered slow-down at peak sprite levels) had worn off, one couldn't help being irritated by the lousy YM chip music and effects that sounded like they were made with XBIOS calls. My 800XL regularly produced infinitely better sounds with less waveform types at its disposal.

Much of the computer work I did in the upper-sixth revolved around my A-Level Art personal study. In his happy-go-lucky wisdom, my lower-sixth Art teacher jovially suggested I research computer graphics, which I did for lack of alternative ideas on my part. I did no work on it during the lower-sixth so went through a mad rush come the upper-sixth. Technically, I had to solve the problem of how to transfer the graphics from computer to paper. There were no decent and affordable colour printers then. My solution was to use the SLR camera salvaged from my father's junk yard of impulse purchases with a borrowed tripod. Having a TTL viewfinder was a godsend in helping maximize frame area usage. Photography was a costly method, especially during the trial and error phase where I worked out the correct focus, geometry and lighting parameters and found the cheap photo-labs were cheap for a reason (terrible contrast, damaged negatives, parts of two frames on the same print...). Thanks in part to having a proper RGB monitor, I could take very good quality screen-shots with a camera, just like magazines did in the old days.

The most difficult part was yet to come: the creative process. I wrote a lot about the differences and parallels in tools between traditional and digital media, filling many pages with work from other artists. Very little original work made it into the study, merely some bitmap drawings employing traditional freehand techniques and very limited 3D by ray-tracing. QRT and POV were not good for beginners due to the script-based approach to modelling, GFA Raytrace could only produce 512-colour results and I still hadn't grasped the basics of graphical 3D modelling, producing nothing more than very passé shiny balls on chequered or texture-mapped floors! Apparently the examiners liked it very much which to me showed their limited understanding about this subject and failure to notice the paucity of original work. Once I got my grades I destroyed the entire book. I also erased the VHS recording of my Mega STE's RF output while I worked with some paint programs, made purely to show I was actually doing some work!

Falcon graphics breakthrough
Too late to have any bearing on my art studies at school but no less desirable, the Falcon graphics "killer-app" was within sight. All the premature talk of DSP-driven graphics was to be realized in a cutting-edge new program from Douglas Little, provisionally titled, Chroma Studio 24 (later to become the ubiquitous Apex Media). Its morphing engine would be one of the primary uses of the DSP. Explaining this to Steve, he asked if he could use it transform an ugly witch into a fine wench. "Yes, but only on the screen."

An ST version based on PhotoChrome display technology was mooted...

31 July: 1994 Bristol and London Atari shows
A-Levels now out of the way, time for some chilling out before starting university. The Bristol and London Atari shows were on, organized by independent dealers such as Compo UK and offering visitors the chance to win a new Jaguar console! I went to the London show held at the Novotel Hotel in Hammersmith. I'd not been there since the first show I ever attended, the superb Atari 90's Show hosted by Atari itself almost exactly four years earlier. Below is the floor-plan of that show, quite impressive, spanning two whole floors.

[Image: Novotel lower floor]


[Image: Novotel upper floor]

This 1994 show gave a stark indication of how dramatically the market had changed, partitioned into a space that was mainly the Atari education area on the upper floor (marked in yellow on the plan). Once over that shock, things didn't seem too bad at all, there were many visitors and exhibitors, and lots of noise! Right by the entrance, we could get our first taste of the new wave of real STE games proclaimed by ST Format 60. Obsession pinball, X-ile Zone table! Wow! The screen-shots in ST Format were nothing like this, the extra colours on screen had been implemented, the table background design looking a million times better and that haunting music and super-smooth scrolling... Players battled it out on Obsession to win that Jaguar, cries of, "If that was a real pinball machine I'd still be playing..." and similar excuses abound. Obsession would be a flagship STE ambassador and really show up that over-hyped Chaos Engine.

Meanwhile, Chris Dillon of Caspian Software handed out posh leaflets about the forthcoming galactic shooter, Zero-5. Asking Chris about the very stylish grey Atari Powerpad controller with blue buttons he was seen holding in a magazine photograph, it transpired these were (of course) originally made for the STE, the more familiar black and red ones only arriving with the Jaguar. Ralph Lovesy of Impact Software demonstrated a preview of the STE/Falcon-only footie game, Team, with musician younger brother Greg and artist Jocelyne Daue-Vienne. Ralph instantly recognized me from the high quality PhotoChrome-encoded picture I'd sent him on a disk together with my registration for his nice STE-enhanced Pac-Man game, Snacman (in those days it was fashionable for ST fanatics to write letters not on paper but in text files on disk, so we could include other fancy stuff to feed each other's machines). I had a nice chat with Ralph and asked him what tracker his brother used for all those catchy tunes, to which Ralph enthused about ProTracker. Remember that name if you don't already know it... I'd seen it listed in PD catalogues but with so many things called "Pro" this and "Super" that, it would take experts and real results to convince me rather than marketing. I kept the name in the back of my head.

Show sponsors Atari ST User and Atari ST Review (in its middle phase between Emap Images and IDG Media) were represented centre stage under the Europress banner. The September issue of ST User was already available.

In the corner between stands 53 and 55 on the above plan, a team of engineers from Compo UK fitted upgrades and performed minor repairs on the spot, while its sales team was in the area of stand 56, where I bought Jeff Minter's wacky Trip-A-Tron for just £2 (couldn't quite stretch to the refurbished Atari SC1435 monitor that was in very good condition). Goodman International PD library was offering Atari's Neochrome paint program for £2.95. I already had a copied version, from a friend's Discovery Xtra bundle (quite frankly, it was a real cheek of Atari to sell a machine as expensive as the Mega STE with absolutely no software bundle), but this was the pukka boxed article and I had to buy something at this show, seeing that Obsession was not yet ready!

No, I didn't win the Jaguar but at the end of the day it was a very enjoyable show and there was plenty to look forward to.

[Photo: Neochrome box front and rear artwork]

The famous Neochrome rose, on one of those regulation flimsy Atari boxes with a clever bit of origami inside to hold the media, in perfect condition!

University years
Given the city of Manchester's reputation for rainy days, I entered my first semester of higher education in October armed with not only my Mega STE, but also my 520STFM and entire ST magazine collection (it was heavy, I can tell you - never again, the latter two).

The first message I sent after figuring out the departmental e-mail system was, predictably, a broadcast looking for fellow Atari users. Among the snide remarks and flames I got a few sensible replies, from which I got to know Paul Hudson, a Falcon and STE owner. We talked about software and swapped disks, I lent him Wings of Death (which he deemed, "Too addictive!") and I got my first experience of Thalion's incredible Enchanted Land, and ProTracker ST 2.0S (shareware restricted release).

ProTracker ST
Everything fell in place. ProTracker ST 2.x was Karl Anders Ųygard's conclusion of Esion XLI, a fairly ordinary tracker he released with, "The Ultimate Musical Experience" (or, "Songs of the Unexpected") music disk, one that joined the ranks of High Fidelity Dreams in my disk box when I got it in late 1993 or possibly even early 1994 (though it actually pre-dated High Fidelity Dreams by about a year according to the date in the documentation). It retained the look and feel of Esion but added 50 KHz stereo replay and more features than I could hope to cover here, all very responsive and easy to use. This was the STE tracker I'd longed for, it blew away Synchron Assembly's commercial Audio Sculpture (which could do 50 KHz at the expense of velocity control, and before anyone cries about ProTracker "cheating" with its multiplex technique, I know all about that and as far as I'm concerned nothing at the time could touch it for balance of quality, speed and features), I was hooked. Perhaps the only annoying thing was that in Esion, the bottom overscan worked perfectly, whereas in ProTracker, it only worked properly on my Mega STE at 8 MHz, at 16 MHz it would flicker no matter how much I tweaked the NOP setting (NOP = No OPeration, a "blank" processor instruction used for timing delays).

Soon to be 19
That time of year again. As usual I would treat myself to something ST-related. On the third floor of Manchester's Debenhams department store was a Silica Systems outlet, where one could see how a 1 MB Falcon looked when switched off (You thought it was bad in the days of Dixons where the Amiga was always running a flashy demo while the ST next to it just showed its green desktop...) because the display model had been sold and with that amount of RAM couldn't run anything anyway, and sitting alone on a shelf one of those elusive Philips CM8833-II tilt-and-swivel stands. Seems like I'm always in the right place at the right time. I'll take one of those for £11.95, my good man.

[Photo: Philips tilt-and-swivel stand for CM8833-II]

In the run-up to Christmas I browsed a lot of FTP sites and came across a nifty Mega STE program called Booter. Its source code was provided, here are the first two lines:

; Booter v 1.2 26.10.1993 by Holger Janz
; to boot game disks at 16MHz from desktop

Make sense? The author wrote this program (from a need to improve Microprose Formula One Grand Prix) to execute floppy disk boot sectors from the desktop, giving the Mega STE a chance to be switched up to 16 MHz first! It worked perfectly with Robocop 3 (a game that really needed some more speedy processing, though I still hated it) and many others.

Obsession was slated for a December 1994 release. Things not ever being quite so simple, it missed the schedule and I had to make do with the single full table demo (Aquatic Adventure) from an ST Review cover-disk. In January, the Real McCoy arrived in the post and I immediately fired it up. The box surpassed all expectations thanks to the developers' modesty in the ST Format interview, a great colourful design, spoilt only by a printing error and a combination of the British postal service and inadequate packaging!

When the game loaded I first tried the Aquatic Adventure table to compare it with the demo. The ball had been re-drawn and really looked like shiny chrome instead of a dull matt grey like in the demo, and its movement was much faster and more sensitive! At first, I thought it had been sped up too far and despaired that after waiting all this time it was unplayable because the ball physics had gone hyper and I kept losing balls. However, I persevered and within a couple of hours realized this was in fact much more playable and realistic than the demo version. I lost all track of time for several weeks.

[Photo: Obsession box front and rear artwork first version]

Obsession box version 1: True Atari style construction, squashed and creased in the post, and a glaring error on the front due to a Corel Draw version compatibility issue adding insult to injury. Amazingly, the printers didn't spot it.

Came home by train for a holiday, then went back up to university with my mate Martin. We chilled out, ate unhealthy take-away food, played Obsession and wandered the streets of Manchester into the early hours, where we saw people, "In no fit state to do anything!" as he put it. Obsession was given the thumbs-up.

Atari World magazine had been launched while I was at home for Easter, filling the void left by ST Format's merger with ST Review, itself having absorbed its sister magazine, the older Atari ST User three issues earlier (ST Format declared it was joining forces with ST Review to bring the best of both worlds when it was quite obvious what had really happened, none of the ST Review crew joined ST Format and many of them instead went on to Atari World). Atari World's Scandinavian distributor-to-be, Sven Bornemark, was hanging around a lot, and as he was also a reseller for Obsession, I asked if he could supply the developers' e-mail contact details, because I had a lot of questions and suggestions.

Sven was a professional Falcon music user as well as all-round enthusiast, his Sven Bornemark Musik shareware catalogue, produced using Calamus, was full of interesting software. We got chatting about the scene in general and I once remarked that I could do with some extra money, so he suggested I write for Atari World. Why didn't I think of that? To be honest I wouldn't ever write about my hobby for the money, the bottom line is you can blame Sven that you are reading this now.

I didn't waste any brain cells pondering what to write about, ProTracker ST was the automatic candidate, I was so impressed yet none of the mainstream British printed magazines (which were all I'd been reading until then) had covered it. That was for me to change.

Just writing a review wouldn't be enough, I wanted to spread knowledge of the program and be able to obtain the full registered version. I wrote my first draft based on the shareware version I had, then e-mailed it to the address given in The Ultimate Musical Experience, with a note explaining my intentions and inviting corrections. The message bounced back. Undeterred, I resorted to snail-mail.

While working in one of the engineering labs on a particularly stormy afternoon, a message from Norway entitled, "Ping!" (anyone who receives an e-mail from me with this subject title from time to time, now you know...) came up in my mail box. This was it! Karl was in favour of my idea even though he'd more or less stopped working on the project. He sent me the full registered version, I then waved a magic wand and arranged for Merlin PD to be the official (UK, at least) registration agent. From here it was a matter of getting my article noticed at Atari World.

The holiday got off to a good start. Top STE/Falcon demo crew Aggression finished its STE/Falcon conversion of Stardust (ironically, from looking at the stage of visual progress in ST Format 60 Stardust looked to be the one that would come out first, but as I remember there was some problem with the UK distributor, Daze Marketing) and I got my copy in the post direct from Aggression in Finland because I'd sent them a crisp £20 note. Those jolly nice chaps even included a full copy of Utopos! Totally delicious, could my STE gaming get any better?

[Photo: Stardust box front and rear artwork]

Spotlight '95 Show
From 10-11 June, Gasteiner's combined Atari and Amiga Spotlight '95 Show was held at the Novotel Hotel Exhibition Centre in London. I went on the Sunday, having worked until 22:30 the night before checking and refining my ProTracker review.

My accomplices to this show were old school pals, Martin and Steve, they of musical persuasion (and by this time Martin was keen enough to have bought his own STE to run ProTracker, now I was away at university he could no longer come to hog my machine all the time!). The show was spread over most of the lower floor of the plan as shown above. Near the entrance, HiSoft boasted by far the most professionally presented stand of all yet again, housing programming languages, utilities and Microdeal music and video products. Martin wanted a Stereo Master sampling cartridge just like mine but they were out of stock.

Merlin PD was showing off the new Amiga version of Obsession, to a largely disinterested Amiga public. To my surprise, Obsession was now packaged in really lovely new boxes, exactly the way I suggested to developers UDS with an ASCII art illustration by e-mail. Whether that was co-incidence I don't know but I was so pleased I offered to pay for a new box to replace my tatty old one. Merlin kindly gave me one for free, as I had helped with its ProTracker deal. Speaking of which, Merlin had a spare STE and external floppy drive set-up, I told Martin he'd be demonstrating ProTracker with his new tracking skills. He sat down for a while then creased up with laughter and his "I didn't think you were serious!" expression. I then took over and laid down some tracks, to which nobody paid any attention so I also gave up. I must have looked more like a curious and fidgety visitor than a bona fide demonstrator.

Off to visit the other stands we went. Nearby, Chris Holland was doing his Maggie thing. I didn't know him at the time and I thought Maggie had stagnated since The Lost Boys left the scene (I even wondered if the two Maggies were at all related). Around the other side (there was a long partition separating the back-to-back exhibitors in the middle of the hall) ST Format had a stand, as did Gasteiner with an enormous mountain of Atari scrap suggesting it was intending to leave the market in a hurry. I went to the Compo stand and tracked down head honcho Neal O'nions, also responsible for Atari World publisher Specialist Magazines Ltd. I greeted him with a message from Sven then got to the point: the editor of Atari World wasn't taking any notice of my article and here it was on a disk could he please sort something out thank you very much. Neal was happy to help and put the disk in his pocket, never to be seen again as I half-expected! I would still have to jump a few more hurdles.

[Photo: Obsession box front and rear artwork new version]

Obsession box version 2: A plain black box with the artwork on an outer sleeve, shining with a gorgeous deep gloss finish giving higher contrast and more vibrant colours. The rear text is re-written and the front Atari STE label is changed to "made in sweden"  to make the box more generic because now the game is also available for Amiga.

Got myself an office job to pad out the summer and finance the next step in my Mega STE's evolution: an internal hard disk. The internet as we now know it was just starting to kick off but already there was a huge amount of software to download and we had free access at university, not to mention my work was demanding fast, reliable storage. Carrying a fat stack of banknotes, I re-traced the journey to System Solutions in East Dulwich I'd taken with Martin and his friend (Come to think of it, the guy in the photographs sitting at his STE at my school art exhibition mentioned earlier!) at Easter, when they wanted to see the Falcon running Cubase Audio, a daft route starting at Wimbledon Station then walking along the residential back streets of SE22 ("Are you sure? Who in their right mind would open a shop here?!"). I bought the Atari Mega STE hard disk kit (consisting of an internal SCSI host adapter, replacement drive bay cover and sundries), a pre-partitioned Quantum Maverick 540S, HD Driver 3.51 and NVDI 3 to turbo-boost the GEM display. Other screen accelerators were available but this release of NVDI introduced a sorely-needed vector font GDOS. Everything installed and ran like a dream, I now had one hot-rod of a machine.

[Photo: Mega STE hard disk kit]

[Photo: Mega STE hard disk kit close-up]

Back at university, 486 PC owners' minds boggled at this Atari with more hard disk space than their machines. Let's not forget professional Falcon users of this era were laying down upwards of £2,000 for AV-rated performance SCSI drives measured in Gigabytes!

I was not yet fully satisfied, though. I wanted the hard disk activity LED on the replacement expansion bay cover to work, to flash like mad showing off my new upgrade. The plug on the end of the LED wire was far too large to fit on the minuscule socket on the Quantum drive. I sought to resolve this. Off came the lid, to take the drive out and down to Maplin Electronics, opposite the BBC Manchester studios on Oxford Road. Still no success finding a small plug to match the socket so I took it back to my flat and soldered a pair of wires directly on the drive's interface PCB. Switched on for a few seconds to check the polarity was correct, then proceeded to re-assemble the machine. Due to a small oversight, when I turned the machine over to put in the screws, the hard disk sub-assembly fell out of the machine! My heart stopped but in a split-second it was over, the big 50-way SCSI ribbon cable saved the drive, bungee-style! These days manufacturers quote some very impressive g-force resistance statistics for hard disks but I still wouldn't like to try them out. To experience such a near-accident with my first hard disk is something I don't want to repeat.

At issue 5, Andrew Wright rose from his previous position to take over the helm of Atari World. I'd read his knowledgeable and well-written articles since the good old Atari ST User days and he was definitely the one for the job. He was a hard-as-nails editor (but one of the friendliest people you could hope to meet in person as I later found out) and my article submission was met with no response, until I got the help of other contributors on the magazine who pestered him, to his bemusement, and (from a tip-off) I reduced the article size by 60%. In early December I finished my second draft and within a few weeks finally received a very succinct reply confirming acceptance!

Some time around January I took a stroll from my flat to the local newsagent, good timing, as the new, February 1996 issue of Atari World was out. At the bottom of the front cover was the word I was looking for!

[Image: Atari World cover]

[Image: Atari World 10 cover and ProTracker review]

Sadly, the next issue of Atari World would be the last. Yet another quality magazine left us, it didn't even make one year. That left ST Format as the only printed magazine available in the UK, itself to close in October with a rather unpalatable final cover price of £4.50.

I first met Denesh "CyberSTrider" Bhabuta, one of my Atari World insiders and ProTracker article protagonists, at a post-Atari World sorrow-drowning session. Originally a Mancunian lad himself, he was passing through town and joined a group of us Atari junkies for a drink at a pub in Fallowfield, Manchester. He brought along a load of his old Atari goodies to sell (when is this guy ever not selling something?!), among which, of chief interest to me, was a Vortex ATonce-386SX PC emulator board. These could be bought new from Silica Systems but at a prohibitive price for what would be just a gadget, a "fun" feature. In an e-mail prior to our meeting I'd asked Denesh whether this was the Mega STE version, he wasn't sure and let me borrow it for testing.

[Photo: ATonce-386SX box]

Looking good, more beef for my machine...

[Photo: ATonce-386SX board]

Alas, it was not the Mega STE version inside the box. No Technologie und Zukunft for me.

[Photo: Mega STE at university halls]

The sign below Bruce is Swedish for, "Support Atari - shoot a PC!"

[Photo: Mega STE on table]

The world's greatest looking computer!


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MyAtari magazine - Feature #2, September 2002

Copyright 2002 MyAtari magazine