THE ART OF THE MACHINE
Dated has-been or all-time classic?
BO JANGEBORG developed The Artist II while working on the sequel to Fairlight, an impressive and Smashed isometric arcade adventure. Its principal advance over its revolutionary predecessor was an ST/Amiga-style icon-driven control system currently supported by Datel, who offer the program, a mouse and interface for £49.95.
The first thing to say about the new program is that it isn't really all that new. The basic program is unchanged from the earlier version, except that it supports the +3 disk drive and printer interface. Nevertheless, TheArtist II is a very powerful graphics program, offering many functions useful in creating screen displays.
One of the most interesting features of Artist II is that it comes complete with a 'Page Maker' program too. This allows screens created with Artist II to be combined with text written using Softechnics' word-processing program - The Writer (48K version £14.99, 128K version £17.99). Reviewed in CRASH 31 this was judged very impressive, and the two together give a form of Desk Top Publishing on the Spectrum +3 (both mouse compatible). You can even create your own fonts and fill patterns.
On loading (which takes about 40 seconds), The Artist II prompts for the AMX mouse - you can use either an AMX or a Kempston mouse (I was unable to test this option, however). Unfortunately it is quite easy to crash The Artist II back into Basic (doing a SAVE to a write-protected disk, for example. If the LOADER option was used, this will result in the loss of your masterpiece - so use LOAD 'DISK' from +3 Basic).
As well as driving Artist II by mouse, the keyboard can be used for all cursor movements - Q/S up/down and I/O left/right. ' M' is used to select options or set pixels, and 'N' to cancel options or clear pixels. You can also use a Kempston joystick (which I did for this review) but Artist II does not support the built-in +3 'intelligent' joystick. I occasionally found that control reverted to keyboard only, entailing use of the EXTRAS pull-down menu to re-select Kempston control.
All Artist II controls are handled using pull-down menus or by selecting one of the icons at the base of the screen. These include those for drawing empty or filled shapes - including circles, ellipses and rectangles. There is also a brush icon, calling up a display of assorted brush shapes of various sizes, for use when free-hand drawing on the screen. A scissors icon allows irregular shapes to be cut out of the screen display and pasted back elsewhere (quite complex to use, but very powerful). The magnifying glass icon allows sections of the screen to be enlarged for detailed work, and an A icon allows text entry and a dotted rectangle icon is used to set up (rectangular) windows.
At the bottom-right of the screen is the current colour and fill pattern - selecting either of these brings up a menu of colours. The pull-down menus, across the top of the screen, give access to additional functions - the STORAGE menu allows LOADs/ SAVEs/CATs and screen dumps to be carried out. The TYPEFACE menu allows various fonts to be selected. And the MODES menu allows the way that other operations will function to be set (eg text can be laid down transparently, or in colour).
The SCREEN menu allows the full screen picture to be viewed, and either the top or bottom section to be displayed for working on (the menus& icons mean that three lines of the full screen are lost). There is also an OK option, which stores the current screen - if a mistake is subsequently made, the undo option will restore the OKed screen. A pattern option puts a chequerboard pattern over the picture, allowing attribute alignments to be made more easily.
The last menu option is the WINDOWS one - this allows a predefined window to be cleared, inverted, scrolled, moved or copied to a new position on the screen. There are also options to 'thicken' or outline the picture, and to re-scale the picture into a new size and position. If no window has been defined (or the window has been closed) then any of these options will operate on the whole screen picture!
LOADing and SAVEing screen files is achieved by choosing the STORAGE menu, and selecting the appropriate option. A CATalogue is then displayed, and the SCREENS filename should be typed in - there is no chance to 'back out' here, and specifying a filename which is not a SCREENS can cause havoc! There is also an option to ERASE a file from the disk. One annoying problem here is that the disk motor continues to run after the disk option has completed and the Artist II display is restored - to stop this, do a disk CAT, and wait for the motor to stop before pressing the space bar.
Alternatively, edit the Basic program, and insert RANDOMIZE USR 14495 into line 2. This may also help other +3 programs which leave the disk running. The STORAGE menu also offers options to SAVE/LOAD fill patterns (which can be altered, along with the character fonts, by choosing options on the EXTRAS menu). There is also an OTHER option, which seems to do nothing - left in from the 128K version, and should switch storage to TAPE, but doesn't; and a VERIFY option, which simply gives a 'Nonsense in Basic' error message.
There are also four print options: large or small colour or grey scale. The Artist II uses the +3 printer port, but does not use the +3 dump routines - my printer, an ancient Epson MX80, could not print the Artist II dumps, even though normal +3 dumps are perfect.
Finally, the Page Maker option calls up a new list of options, selected (confusingly) by pressing a number 1 to 8. From here an A4 sized sheet of paper can be created bit by bit, using Artist II screen pictures, and The Writer text (up to 7000 characters). There are functions to cut out bits of the Artist II screen, and to 'flow' text around the pictures as they are fitted onto the page.
But you always have to be careful of LOADing a new screen picture when the EXTRAS up option is selected (which allows the bottom of the picture to be altered). Apparently this confuses the program - the new picture is loaded in the down-position, but the up option is still set. This can be sorted, by using the WINDOW SCROLL function on the whole screen.
Overall, The Artist II is a very powerful graphics package for the Spectrum +3, but it's a pity that after all this time the product wasn't more polished, with bugs eliminated and proper instructions for the +3. The Artist II can be purchased on +3 disk for £19.99 from Softechnics, 36-38 Southampton St, Covent Garden, London WC2E 7HE. Alternatively the Datel pack is available from Datel Electronics Ltd, Fenton Industrial Estate, Govan Road, Stoke-On-Trent.
The Artist II: Menus and icons
The Artist II: Predefined fill patterns