Player/Missile graphics is one of the ATARI's most powerful yet mysterious features. Programmer Roger Bush and the innovative folks at Don't Ask have performed a real service for the Atari community in bringing us PM Animator. Using the tools and techniques made available by this package, you can create animated figures and easily incorporate them in your own programs.
Beginners please take note: although PM Animator contains an extensive tutorial on the subject, you should probably have some understanding of programming in BASIC in order to be able to fully grasp the material.
This most complete package offers two editors, eight BASIC demo programs, an exhaustive tutorial, and a LISTed BASIC routine-TOTAL.LST -that you can ENTER into your own programs.
If you don't know a Player/Missile from a character set, the documentation includes the most complete tutorial ever printed on the subject in one place. The first five chapters are expressly designed to teach the basics of this admittedly complex subject to someone with absolutely no knowledge of the principles of computer graphics. The central portion of this 80-page manual describes in great detail the various features of PM Animator. The final section covers various advanced animation techniques. Appendices list special registers for P/M graphics and PM Animator as well as references to existing material on the subject.
At the heart of PM Animator are two Editors: Grafix Editor and File Editor. With Grafix Editor, you create a file of up to sixteen images, each eight bits wide by sixteen bits high. Each of these images can serve as a "frame" of an animation sequence. While editing, you can specify and view animation sequences, and overlay two differently colored designs to create multicolor players. Most DOS commands are available, and many others that make this feature of the package alone a joy to use.
Once you've created a file or two of "frames", you can customize their sequencing and size with the File Editor. This "spreadsheet" program gives you a five-by-ten array of empty boxes into which to load your files, thus allowing you to view fifty of your creations simultaneously. You can then move or copy frames from one part of the grid to another, and then save any sequence as a custom file. This editor also allows you to view and edit multicolor player sequences.
Once you have designed your animation sequence, PM Animator provides you with a relatively painless way of incorporating it into your BASIC program. TOTAL.LST is a BASIC program fragment containing machine language subroutines that gives you absolute control over your creations. You can move players horizontally and vertically with simple POKEs, and animate them with a USR call. There is also a high-speed memory clearing routine, a fast file loader, and a Supermove routine for smooth multi-player movement. You can merge TOTAL.LST with your programs by ENTERing it from the PM Animator disk.
A minor criticism: the program concentrates on the design and movement of players to the exclusion of missiles. It fails to take advantage of the fact that four missiles can be combined to make a fifth player. Most of the time, however, four players is more than enough.
The advanced features of the ATARI computers can be, for all their power, frustratingly difficult to comprehend and use for those of us (most of us!) who are relatively new to computing. Armed with tools like this, however, ATARI owners will disprove cynics who call the home computer boom a fad, and produce software that will allow the machine to truly deserve its nickname: Imagination Machine.
Reviewed by David Duberman