Your Spectrum
Issue 1, January 1984 - Battle of the Tapes
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Noticed anything different at the local newsagent lately? No, not the cleaned-up covers on the adult 'nasties' - the mini-revolution we're looking at here is the fairly recent birth of the machine-dependent computer software magazine. Two publications are vying for position in the prestigious computer publications market. Both are priced at £2.99 and designed to run on the 16/48K Spectrum models.
First on the market was Spectrum Computing, edited by Iolo Davidson and one of the newer titles to emerge from the Argus Specialist Publications stable. But coinciding with the third issue came a rival in the shape of a package called 16/48 from Magnetic Magazines and edited anonymously.
With the simple instruction to LOAD "", both 'magazines' load a portion of their contents and when you've had enough of that bit you simply press whatever keys are necessary, turn the tape back to play and the next section of code then begins loading.
Spectrum Computing, being three issues young, has the advantage aver 16/48 in that its audience (readers?) are already used to the format and are beginning to respond to the editor. This is made obvious by the wittily written and informative editorial and the inclusion of three letters which constitute the equivalent of a 'letters page'.
16/48, by comparison, has rather overdone the 'technology' bit with phrases like "Home computing has come of age" and the ambiguous "Machine readability is all". The last statement is especially confusing when you notice that the text comprises a new graphics set made up of robotic-type characters -
not the most legible for sifting through pages of on-screen text.
Both cassettes contain a couple of games programs, which while not arcade standard will certainly provide a degree of enjoyment. More interesting, though, are the routines. These are either accessed by breaking into the tape and LISTing or are included as features of the contents. Whichever way presented, they should be useful to the average programmer.
Reviews have been included on both tapes, software in the case of Spectrum Computing and hardware in 16/48. Iolo has employed a nice technique to format his reviews. Each critique lasts for three pages (preventing too much eyestrain) and at any time you can press a key to see a 'frozen' image of the game in question.
16/48, on the other hand, has plumped for reviews of the dK'troniks light pen and RD Laboratories digital tracer. These are simply text, followed by a high resolution illustration showing what the devices are capable of. Both cassettes are obviously heavily influenced by the traditional magazine format, and as such have managed the transition to magnetic tape with surprising ease. Contents pages, 'next month' pages and mini-adverts are to be found, as well a rather interesting competition in the case of 16/48. Contestants are asked to write "the most amazing animation ever seen in a magazine". Sounds easy enough! What, one might ask, will the winners receive for this major programming feat? - answer; a digital tracer or light pen {better quickly check the review on side one).
However exciting the editors would have us believe their products are, with so much professional Spectrum software now starting to achieve such high standards, any tape magazine that falls far short will do so at its own peril. And reading between the lines of the editorial in Spectrum Computing, it would seem as if many of the readers are baffled as to haw to access the many and wondrous routines available.
And talking of problems, although our copy of Spectrum Computing loaded, the second side of 16/48 did not. Should you have the same problem, you might try loading the first program on side one, typing NEW to clear all but the UDGs above RAMTOP, and then trying side two again. Overall, although these packages seemed relatively easy to load, the fact is that computer cassettes do not have the same kind of reliable reputation granted to audio cassettes.
This is a new field of publishing, and a brave attempt to cash in on the information technology era. But the question is whether the idea of a magazine which demands you sit in front of the TV (especially with the advent of possible program broadcasting via cable) is one which will catch on.
However the publishers may describe their respective packages, it's obvious that products such as these are not really magazines in the generally accepted sense. One wonders why they slavishly set out to emulate their paper peers, when it seems more sense to create some new approach - one that better suits the electronic resources available. Answers on a postcard please.
Roger Munford
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