Popular Computing Weekly 5-11 July 1984

Bitter split breaks Imagine

IMAGINE. the flamboyant Liverpool software company. whose financial problems have been deepening since February, is now insolvent.

Magazine publishers VNU petitioned for a winding up order to be brought against the company on Monday. July 2.

The crisis means that the future of Imagine’s two Mega-games is now uncertain.

The situation has been exacerbated by a bitter internal split between general manager Bruce Everiss and his co-directors.lan Hetherington and Dave Lawson. The position of Imagine’s other director, Mark Butler is still not clear. Bruce Everiss resigned as director and general manager at midday on Friday, June 29.

Central to the disagreement is a new company called Finehspeed set up by Hetherington and Lawson to raise funds. Hetherington, Lawson and Mark Butler each have a one-third share in the new company.

“They have set up Finchspeed in order to own Imagine’s Megagames and assets for themselves,” claimed Everiss. “They have a staff list of 20 people to join Finchspeed which means that the remaining 60 Imagine employees will simply be discarded.

“Ian Hetherington and Dave Lawson are in the States to raise funds for Finchspeed. Imagine will not see this money.”

Speaking from the US on June 29, Ian Hetherington refuted this. “Dave Lawson and myself have been in Silicon Valley trying to raise money for Imagine for the last two weeks. We set up Finchspeed as an off-the-shelf company to get money into Imagine. “There is no point in discussing Finchspeed, since it is dead and buried. It’s forgotten.”

However, at an extraodinary general Meeting of Imagine’s shareholders on July 1, a contract between Imagine and Finchspeed was approved by a majority of those present.

This contract gives Finchspeed the copyright of the Megagames and the use of !Inagine’s premises, and Imagine’s assets. Finchspeed will pay Imagine £40,000 for equipment needed to develop the Mega-games and then 50 per cent of the net profit from the games up to a maximum of £625,000.

The question is whether the deal will save Imagine: “At present, Imagine owe about £400,000,” said Bruce Everiss. “That includes £100,000 to the bank and £250,000 to Marshall Cavendish.”

Ian Hetherington would not comment on the figures, other than to say that the figure for the overall amount owed is incorrect. He added, “We are hoping to raise £1.5m in the States, and this will cover all the debts and pay for the Megagames. We have been very close to clinching deals. It is important that the Mega-games go out with Imagine’s name on them, and I will do anything to ensure that they do.”

As for the 60 staff left without a job according to Everiss, Hetherington commented, “Staff will have to be sacked who are now loyal to Bruce Everiss.” He added that the personality clashes within the company had been brewing for about three months.

Imagine’s two Megagames were originally planned to be launched with an extensive and distinctive promotional campaign. Marble slabs were to be laid in Hyde Park with the names of the games etched into them and the BBC were filming a documentary on their making.

Tramiel ready to buy Atari

JACK Tramiel. Commodore’s founder who resigned suddenly in January, now looks set to buy Atari.

No details of the proposed deal are yet available but Warner Communications. of which Atari is a subsidiary, is negotiating to sell the Atari Home Video and Home Computer Divisions to a new company set up by Tramiel, retaining only Atari’s Coin-operated Game Division.

Warner Communications has been seeking a buyer for its loss-making subsidiary for almost a year. It originally bought Atari from its founder Nolan Bushnell in 1976 for $28m and in 1982 the subsidiary turned in an operating profit of $358m. However, the slump in US video game and home computer sales lead the company to produce an operating loss the following year of $538.6m.

The heavy trading losses have reduced Atari’s worth and the company is now valued between $40 and $120m.

Galactic join Mastertronic

MASTERTRONIC, the software company whose £1.99 games have proved extremely successful, have set up a joint venture company with Galactic Software.

“The new company is called Artificial Intelligence Products, or Alp.” said Martin Alper, managing director of Mastertronic. “It will function as a programming house for new MastertrOnic games.”

The deal constitutes a virtual takeover for Mastertronic, since Galactic now no longer exist as a marketing entity. “Galactic did a lot of programming work for us in our early days,” continued Martin. “Alp will give us a much wider range of software”.

The first two games from the Alp team will be launched in two to three weeks — Chiller (which is loosely based on Michael Jackson’s Thriller video for Commodore 64, and Psycho Shopper for the expanded Vic 20.

New Apricot under £1000

ACT has announced a new range of computers, with the lowest-priced model costing under £1000.

At £915, the Apricot FIE uses the 8086 processor and offers 128K Ram, a single 3 1/2inch disc drive and bundled software including CP/M-86, Basic and Logo.

Bargain Beeb

ACORN is running a promotional offer on BBC B machines for the month of July.

For £399, the normal cost of the micro, buyers will also recieve a BBC data recorder and five free Acornsoft programs.

This is the first time Acorn has been involved in any special offers regarding its machines.

“July is a particularly slack time of year,” commented an Acorn spokesman. “It is hoped that we can generate extra sales from the promotion.”

The computer in your pocket

PSION - having written the four programs to accompany the QL — has now launched its own computer.

The Psion Organiser is smaller than a paperback book, costs under £100, runs off an ordinary PP3 battery, and is claimed to be “the world’s first practical pocket computer”.

It uses a Hitachi 6301-X processor which is a complete micro-on-a-chip device incorporating its own operating system in a 4K Rom. It has 14K Ram on-board, but the device includes two built-in “solid state drives.” These are twin CMOS Eprom cartridge slots for plugging in additional software. They have storage capacity of either 8K (£12.50) or 16K (£19.95).

Where the Organiser is unique, however, is that it can write to these Eproms. Incorporated in the unit is the ability to ‘blow’ software into any blank cartridge plugged into the device.

Information on existing cartridges can also be erased in the same way. Re-recording onto a used cartridge is not possible though, and to do so the cartridge must be reformatted either by a shop (£3.50) or by the individual using a special formatting device (£45).

Either of the cartridges can be removed and a special interface can be connected giving the Organiser a standard RS232C interface. This can be used to printout information to a printer or to dump data to another computer possibly even via a modem and telephone link.

The basic machine at £99.95 provides five commands. Save, Find, Erase and Enter which allows data to be stored and retrieved from any cartridge. The fifth, Calc gives a calculater facility.

Psion is also offering, initially, a choice of three prerecorded software packs each priced at £29.95. These are Maths, Financial and Science packs. All three incorporate a new programming language written specially by Psion for the Organiser called Popl. Popl provides an additional 14 commands including If, Goto, Print, Copy, Free and Label. Popl is a procedure-based language rather like Logo.

The Psion Organiser will be sold initially by mail-order beginning in July. The company is at present manufacturing between three and four thousand machines a month and does not anticipate selling it through stores until 1985.

The machine will also go on sale in the US in Spring 1985 and Psion has established Psion Inc a US subsidiary based in Fairfield County, Connecticut headed up by a former Timex employee, Bill Skyreme.

Psion has also announced that enhanced versions of its QL packages will be launched in August for the IBM PC and XT, the Apricot machines, and the Sirius and Victor. Versions for the Apple Macintosh and Dec Rainbow will follow in the Autumn. All the so-called Xchange packages will sell for over £500.

Psion plans a share flotation onto the USM in Spring 1985.

Lord of the Rings to follow Hobbit

NEARLY two years after the release of The Hobbit adventure game, Melbourne House is able to begin work on a version of The Lord of the Rings.

Until recently, the video rights to Tolkien’s triology, the sequel to The Hobbit, belonged to the US company Fantasy Films, who produced an animated film of part of The Lord of the Rings.

Now, however, the rights have been acquired by Allen and Unwin, publishers of both of the Tolkien books, which has given Melbourne House an option for a computer game version of The Lord of the

As with The Hobbit, Allen and Unwin and Melbourne House will work in close collaboration.

“Melbourne House will have editorial control over the game, within the rough guidelines, but obviously we will be closely involved on questions of concept and design,” said David Fielder, editorial director of Allen and Unwin.

Allen and Unwin is not discounting the possibility of supplying books to accompany the game.

“Providing the three books with one game would be unfeasible — in fact, I suspect a computer game on The Lord of the Rings in its entirety would also be impossible. It is more likely that more than one game will be produced. together with more than one book,” continued David.

Melbourne House’s publicity manager, Paula Byrne, confirmed that Melbourne House would be taking up its option on The Lord of the Rings.

“It will be a long time before any game based on the work appears,” she said. “Because the option has only just been agreed, we have not yet begun to consider how we will approach it.”

• Melbourne House has also confirmed September 11 as the date set for the launch of the long-awaited Sherlock Holmes for the Spectrum and Commodore 64

Baxter leaves Commodore

COMMODORE UK will be facing a major reshuffle in August. The company is moving premises from its present offices in Slough to the new plant in Corby.

There will be several changes of staff, the most notable of which will be marketing director John Baxter’s departure to Andromeda Software.

“John will be taking up a position as a director of Andromeda to the end of August,” said a Commodore spokesman.

Red Shift slugs it out

RED Shift, the war games specialist company has suffered a split. The five-strong programming team — Julian Fuller, Julian Gollop, Clive Norman, Helmut Watson and Joe Capricorn — has set up a freelance group, to be called Slug.

“We will now-be selling our games to other companies. While we will continue with war games we hope to branch out into strategy games in general.” said Julian Fuller.

Negotiations with The Games Workshop and K-Tel are currently in progress, and Slug will be writing two games — Battlecars and Talisman on the Spectrum for The Games Workshop. The games are due for release in Spring 1985.

Amstrad gets JSW

SOFTWARE Projects will be converting its top-selling games Manic Miner and Jet Set Willy for the Amstrad CPC 464.

QL upgrade date set

SINCE Sinclair began deliveries of the QL at the beginning of May, three different versions of Superbasic have been sent out with machines.

“The first version issued to customers was FB, which was a penultimate version of the firmware,” said a Sinclair spokesman.

“The other versions, PM and AH, are almost identical, but AH is the final version, and an improvement on the others.”

To find Out which variant is on a given machine, users should type in Print Ver$. The name of the variant should appear on the display.

Sinclair began delivery two weeks ago of QLs with the Eprom inside the machines rather than inserted in the Rom cartridge slot.

Machines delivered from the end of July should have the Superbasic in Rom rather than Eprom.

The conversion of QLs with ‘dongle’ Eproms is also scheduled to begin at the end of July.

“Our intention is to stagger the recall of machines,” the spokesman continued, “and, as yet, we do not know how long customers will be without their QLs when recalled. The service will be absolutely free to customers.”

Palace play dead

PALACE Software has launched The Evil Dead, an arcade strategy game based on the notorious film of the same name.

The game follows the plot of the film fairly closely. The user controls one of the group of five friends staying in a lonely ‘Tennessee shack’ only to find themselves turned into zombies and ghouls by the curse of the Evil Dead, who inhabit the house.

You must use objects you find scattered in the house to attack and thwart the evil spirits to save your companions.

The Evil Dead should be available by the end of July on the Commodore 64 at £6.99. Versions for BBC B and Spectrum will follow.

Star turn for Mirrorsoft

MIRRORSOFT is the latest company to produce an astronomy program Starseeker for the BBC — which has been given a seal of approval by the London Planetarium.

The program will give astronomical data on any chosen star, as well as the usual night sky screen.

It will also output data on the planets and trace the path of Halley’s comet, in time for the comet’s next appearance in 1985.

“The program was written by Paul Phillips, a Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society.” said Mirrorsoft general manager Jim Mackonochie. “We were so impressed with it that we took it to the Planetarium to hear their views.”

Apart from giving advice and comment a member of the Planetarium will also be writing the foreword to the manual accompanying Starseeker.

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