Mega STE Love
a new joystick
On the Jaguar scene, the
developers of Battleshpere (whose music was
composed on a Falcon running ProTracker, by
the way) were involved in a war of words on
Usenet with the editor of a German Jaguar magazine,
revolving around Battleshpere vs Iron Soldier
2. As we know, both games were eventually released
to high acclaim from Jaguar players.
(Tyrem of old ST demo group The Respectables)
was writing for the German Jaguar magazine and
I got in touch with some questions. We talked
about the great Thalion games and I mentioned
that I was a Wings of Death fanatic, I'd seen
a review of Lethal Xcess, its sequel, as far
back as spring 1993 in Atari ST User (in one
of its infamous incidents of verbatim review
sharing with sister magazine Amiga Computing,
with a fleeting reference to the ST tacked on
the beginning to make it look like the
reviewer was actually reviewing that version)
but couldn't find the game anywhere locally.
Stefan replied, "I've got a copy right
beside me!" and very generously posted
it to me.
great title picture painted
by Turkish artist Celal
Kandemiroglu. Tanis (Niclas
Malmqvist) of The Carebears turned
it into pixels using Neochrome
on Stefan's kitchen floor!
A new, reliable joystick
was required to play this game. Ideally I wanted
a Dynamics Competition Pro 5000, but had difficulty locating
one, I went to Silica Systems in Debenhams again
and got a Zip Stik. These were very popular
in the ST's heyday, looking like Competition
Pros with yellow square buttons (smaller and
as good as the Competition Pro's round ones
in my opinion) and auto-fire. Durability and
responsiveness were of great importance, the
feature list on the box assured me of microswitches,
those loud clickety-click ones favoured by
serious gamers and a Zip Stik hallmark. How disappointed I was when
I got back to my flat and found the Zip Stik
to be a shadow of its former self: no longer
did it have microswitches, I could tell from
just moving the stick and pressing the buttons.
It had all the tactile feedback of a domestic
video recorder's controls and none of the clickety-click.
I went straight back to Silica Systems and complained,
the sales assistant didn't ask questions - sell
a customer the wrong type of switch and you'd
better be prepared to give an immediate refund.
similar was available at Silica so I trawled
around Manchester's famously grim (from the
outside, anyway) Arndale Shopping Centre. Tucked
away on one of the upper floors I found a dingy
little computer game shop, where I got a
Logic 3 badged Competition Pro, for
a few quid less than the Zip Stik! Sure, it
lacked auto-fire but so what...
3's "Quatro" JT 154
eschewed the Competition Pro's
classic red trim for blue, nicely
keeping with the theme of the Mega
STE's blue key-top markings.
Industry-favourite V3 microswitches.
was without doubt more technically advanced than Wings
of Death, featuring a huge, overscanned
display and even more(!) objects on-screen to
accommodate simultaneous two-player destruction.
My flatmate Mike, a former STE owner, took a
look at the box and said it was a cool game
and that he'd completed it. I was too embarrassed
to say anything, for to this day I still haven't
managed to complete it even with two players
dishing out the punishment. The energy bars
seem much more sensitive and deplete faster,
not just because there is more happening on
the screen than in Wings of Death! An alternative
explanation could be that I'm simply getting
For the summer
of 1996 I enrolled at a local temping agency,
I didn't want anything mentally taxing during
my holiday and was started off packing sunglasses,
then moved on to a regional distribution warehouse
for a major electrical retail chain. Here I
was able to work very long extra hours and accumulate
vast quantities of money, nice for the agency
because it took a percentage cut.
At the end of July
I loaded up with cash for another trip to East
Dulwich. I needed a good document processor
for my final year dissertation. Write On from
ST Format 33 had served me quite well but when
I started looking for options with more control
and features, more WYSIWYG, the other magazine
cover-disk freebies like Calligrapher Professional
and Wordflair seemed irksome in some way or
other. After installing a high resolution monochrome monitor emulator
and trying the ST Review demo of Papyrus, I
made up my mind without hesitation. So elegant and
simple to use, it walked all over the others.
To think it started life as a label printing
utility. I bought Papyrus Gold 3, NVDI 3 Font Pack 1 (100
modern style fonts) a monochrome monitor and
monitor switch box. This, with Kandinsky
2.5, proved a formidable combination, always
allowing my ideas to come first above operating
the programs. Both took advantage of the high
quality vector font scaling system offered by
NVDI 3, Kandinksy was used for drawing complex
diagrams which were imported to Papyrus.
Mathematics at school was a walk in the park. I sat
right at the back of the room not listening
to a word of the lessons, because I
did all of my work and a lot more at home
- a few of us were competing with
each other as a joke and we were always
at least one textbook ahead of the class (this had
a nice side-effect: we scored the only three
"A" grades of our year). Our teacher
knew this and never picked on us to answer questions,
except for demonstrations, so we
sat at the back talking about computers or catching
up with work in other, more arduous subjects.
cool teacher like that deserved an honour, and
for actually being a good teacher as well, so
when I bought a 68882 floating point maths co-processor
upgrade at the Birmingham Motorcycle Museum
Atari show in September
named it the Mr Brennan Chip. Atari Computing
magazine was also launched at this show,
I would later write for it still using First
I got the FPU
version of POV-Ray and re-rendered all the old
sample files to see how much faster it was then
again with anti-aliasing. The results were highly impressive
in quality and in speed, a violent jolt of acceleration
compared to a simple doubling of CPU clock frequency from
8 to 16 MHz.
In November Douglas Little
sent me a working prototype of Chroma Studio
ST, it looked promising, with the few functions
that were implemented (very limited canvas tools
and no PhotoChrome yet), and a 21-line overscan
to fit the colour palette and status information
at the bottom of the screen. Countless other
brilliant Atari projects have started and ended
this way, never to see the light.
size and shape, freehand, lines
and primitives, that's your
lot for drawing in the prototype
Chroma Studio ST.
import options are restricted
to .NEO, .PC1 and .PI1.
thought programs incorporating
PhotoChrome display technology
should display some kind of
logo, I'd drawn these a few
one I made earlier... Not really,
this is the title picture from
2.05 and 1.4
University course-mate Phil had a 4
MB Mega STE just like mine, except with the
older TOS 2.05 and a newer, 1.44 MB high density
floppy drive, from the factory. I was very suspicious
now about the real factory specification of
my own machine. Anyway, one afternoon I popped
over to his flat to borrow his TOS 2.05
chips (and lent him my 2.06 to get by). When
I installed them in my machine, one of the programs
I tried was Magic Boy. Lo and behold it worked,
as would The Chaos Engine if I still had it,
I was sure. My thoughts immediately turned to
the feasibility of hacking a TOS switcher board
(designed for 520/1040-class machines) into
my Mega STE to allow both TOS 2.06 and 1.62,
the latter of which I knew worked with Magic
Boy. That turned out to be unnecessary because
when I returned Phil's TOS 2.05 chips and mentioned
my successful test, he gave me a developer copy
of TOS 1.4 on disk to try, which also worked.
It made my machine appear like an STFM on the
desktop but when Magic Boy loaded I still got
all the STE enhanced features (because games
usually hit the hardware directly), so there
must have been something different in TOS
2.06's disk handling, causing a few games to
not load. Mystery solved. Phil shot himself in the foot by offering
that TOS 1.4 disk, I was quite prepared at the
time to swap TOS chips permanently. Below is
a picture of the time he brought his machine to
my flat for an attempt at serial port networking.
Two Mega STEs in one room!
Tony Manero still isn't
going to strut his stuff on
DVD until October this year.
What has taken so long?
from the side
of my book-shelf: the logo was
traced from the shipping carton,
coloured with Pentel R50 ball
pen. Background gradient fill
using WHSmith 20-pack artists'
blendable colouring pencils.
Did this in my school days where
I had it on the wall in
my corner of the Art room reserved
for A-Level students.
from the detail: now you can
see a pencil-rendered 3D scene
from a QRT example file and
(just about) the Atari logo
on a separate sheet underneath
Observations over the years led
me to suspect that my wobbly graphics problem
was thermally related. I was able to verify
this beyond doubt by leaving my machine running
with its lid open, next to my perpetually open
window letting in the cold Manchester air (I
could leave a beer on the window sill overnight
an ice-cold brew in the morning). Sure enough
any special display modes looked worse than
ever and heating up the room cured it. Running
a hot machine is one way to reduce its life
span, not an option.
Mega STEs don't have heavy and
awkward internal metal shielding
covering the motherboard. Instead,
a radiation blocking material
is sprayed on the inside of
the case, giving it the
my final months of university
I got fed up with the label
peeling off my Stereo Master
sampling cartridge and its unreliable 3.5
mm input socket. I fitted a
pair of sturdy gold-plated RCA sockets and
made a new, Special Edition
label in Papyrus,
laminated and glued on with
some good strong stuff.
back at home
Party's over, straight into
the grind. For a short while I continued my
internet access at work, then in November I
took the plunge and bought a modem of my own,
a Motorola ModemSURFR 56K (faster version of
the 28.8 model I used at work and with less
LEDs) based on K56Flex, a standard soon to
be swept away with US Robotics'
competing and incompatible X2 to make way for
the ITU-ratified V.90. Zetnet Internet Service
was advertising regularly in Atari Computing,
offering an Atari connection pack and support.
Many other Atari users were on Zetnet so it
was the easy choice for me.
In the week of
waiting for the Zetnet Atari pack I experimented
with my modem, successfully making my first
connection to the All at Sea BBS. What a magical
feeling to watch and hear this happen! I got
as far as the welcome screen and failed dismally
at downloading files, being a "Comms"
ignoramus (Chris Holland once wrote a side-splitting disk
magazine article about this mysterious blackart).
Not to worry, at least I knew my modem was working
and soon I'd have the wonders of the WWW at
Setting up the
1996-dated STiK TCP/IP stack was not as painful
as many people had made out, once I sorted out
a modem bug (it needed its region flag set to
USA to work properly in the UK so I had to take
it to work and connect it to the PC to run the
configuration software) it continued to serve
me even after moving together with my on-line
activities to my Falcon some time later.
and Mega STE.
E-mail was my
most urgent priority, to maintain contacts and
continue submitting articles for Atari Computing.
My first test message was to Denesh Bhabuta,
knowing I'd get the fastest reply from
him because he has a permanent internet connection
going to his brain. He telephoned me the same
evening and I already knew why: I'd forgotten
to set my return address and he couldn't reply.
1998: Hello Falcon030
hit me at Easter, I wanted to explore the high-end
of TOS computing, the choice was between a self-build
Hades kit or Falcon. I went with the more affordable
Falcon and spent the change on software and accessories,
like an Afterburner 040 accelerator which I
would never fit and various audio interfaces.
My Mega STE continued to handle internet duties,
especially because the old version
of NEWSie, the e-mail client supplied by Zetnet
(so old that binaries had to be separately encoded
then manually pasted into the message), and
even its immediate successors, had a freaky habit
of causing lost clusters on whatever hard disk
was used for the mail spool. No way was I risking
having that happen on my Falcon.
Come March 1999
I fitted a CT2 accelerator and even then took
some months before trying to get on-line with
my Falcon. For page rendering speed comparison
I began to browse web sites but still swapped
the modem back to my Mega STE for e-mail. This
became unbearably cumbersome and eventually
I just shoved the whole lot over to the Falcon,
by which time NEWSie appeared to be behaving
a lot better anyway.
2000: Goodbye Snap,
Crackle and Pop
naughty chip on the right was mercilessly extracted
from its cosy PLCC socket in February. While
at university I'd gathered from some obscure
Usenet postings that it could be the culprit behind
my wobbly graphics and crackling sound. The
solution was allegedly the older video shifter,
part C300588. I tracked one down, popped it in and
instantly cured the seven-and-a-half year bane
of my STE enjoyment. No more envying 520 and
1040STE owners, I could have my cake and eat
it. Of all the Mega STEs I've ever looked inside
there was the C300588, it was just like me to
get the lemon, no wonder nobody seemed to have
a clue what I was talking about when I described
the problems it caused.
The last modification
I made was cutting short and re-crimping the Atari
SCSI ribbon cable, using a dedicated crimping
tool I bought for working on PCs. It was excessively
long and had to be folded up to fit inside,
putting pressure on the host adapter card and
then still having to be partially tucked in
the space above the drive mechanism, just think
of those machines with full-height mechanisms
installed (such as Atari's OEM Seagate 48 MB
drives) where there is no overhead clearance in the
far I've not had temptation or reason to
DIY-modify (in the sense of hack-sawing and drilling)
my Mega STE, it's a nice machine the way it
is and has a good base specification. There's
still room for non-surgical expansion in the
VME bay. I have my mind set on a Riebl VME Ethernet
card, and maybe something else (involving a
little soldering) that will have to wait until
the next service interval. Watch this space.
Atari UK leaflet and brochures about and featuring
STE, published in early 1992. The brochures
were born of a professional systems initiative,
partnering select dealers to promote
the Mega STE and TT models as business market
Atari SC1435 gallery, courtesy of Alex Pustan.