Popular Computing Weekly 27 Sept - 3 Oct 1984

MSX Launch

THE MSX computer system was officially launched last week by the seven Japanese members of the UK MSX Working Group — Canon, Hitachi, NC, Mitsubishi, Sanyo, Sony and Toshiba.

All of the machines are based on the MSX design standard incorporating the Z80 processor and use a version of Basic developed by Microsoft.

The models and prices are as follows: Canon V-20, 64K, £280.00, available end October; Hitachi HB-H80, 64K, price as yet unannounced, available around April 1985; NC HC-7, 64K, £279.00, available end October (printer and disc drive early 1985); Mitsubishi (two models) ML-F48, 32K, £249.00 and ML-F80, 64K, £299.00, both available in November (discs available in 1985); Sanyo
MCP 100, 64K £299.95, available mid-October; Sony HB-75B (Hit-Bit), 64K plus additional 16K Rom for simple data handling (the UK version, unlike its Japanese counterpart, has a ‘professional’ quality keyboard), £299, available October (also available in October the Sony HBD-50 360K capacity 31/2inch disc drive); Toshiba, HX-10, 64K, £279.95, available end September (also a printer/ plotter, £249.95, and a dot- matrix printer, £349.95, both available in October).

Commenting on the MSX system, Chris McLaughlin for the MSX companies commented, “We may either love MSX or hate it as a standard but it’s a final solution to the problem of compatibility — achieved by consensus within the majority.

“Nobody is standing up and saying that the Z80 is knife edge state of the art stuff. It’s not necessarily the best — but it’s workable — and we can build applications such as home banking and home shopping around it.

“The pricing side was never discussed by the MSX companies together but originally they were hoping to produce them at around £250 — but the way the yen has been going against the pound has meant the cost has had to go up.”

Over fifty UK software houses are now committed to supporting MSX. They include Alligata, Andromeda, Artic, Bug-Byte, DK’Tronics, Hewson, Hi-soft, Llamasoft, Mastertronic, Micromega, Ocean, PSS, Quicksilva, Terminal and Virgin.

None of the MSX companies exhibited at last week’s Personal Computer World Show. An MSX spokesman explained that MSX is intended as the world’s first family computer standard and the seven electronics giants wished to remain apart from the ‘hobbyist’ end of the industry.

• Casio, Brother and Sharp all now have gained MSX licences and Casio has relesed an MSX computer in Japan.

Sinclair profits let-down

SINCLAIR Research’s profits rose only by a disappointing £253,000 to £14.28m in the year ending March 1984.

Turn-over rose over the same period from £54.5m to £77.7m, according to Sinclair’s Financial Statement for 1984, published last week.

In the report, Sir Clive Sinclair accounts for the relatively small increase in profit against turnover rise by saying that “the pocket television and the QL computer both added to costs in the year but little to sales”.

The 42% increase in turnover is attributed to continuing demand both in the UK and overseas for the ZX Spectrum, its peripherals and software.

After Timex pulled out of the US market, due to the price war in the States, Sinclair, whose technology was used by Timex also lost a possible £9m plus in turn-over, judging from 1983 figures.

However, the QL is due to be launched in the US before the end of 1984 on mail order, and Sinclair expects it to sell strongly.

Sinclair is apparently relying on high QL sales to increase profits prior to the company’s planned flotation next year. Expenditure on raw materials and consumables rose sharply from £33.7m to £54.9m, implying a much heavier research commitment, and stocks of hardware now stand at £7.2m as against £3.8m. The company’s net profit fell from 25% of turn-over in 1983 to 16% in 1984.

Bandersnatch, one of the two unfinished Imagine ‘megagames’ may eventually appear under the Sinclair label.

It is thought that Sinclair is in negotiations to buy Bandersnatch from Imagine’s receivers, although neither Chris Chambers, the receiver, nor Sinclair were prepared to comment on the possibility.

The 1984 Microcomputer Chess Championships have been won by a new program developed by Psion for the QL.

Psion Chess will be available next month, priced at £19.95.

New year machines

ATARI US has announced that it will release new 16 and 32-bit machines early next year.

The 16-bit machine, Atari Corporation president Sam Tramiel said in an interview in Taiwan, will be launched in January 1985, and be non-IBM compatible. He claimed the machine had already been designed by Atari engineers.

The 32-bit micro will be a development from that computer, and be introduced next April.
Sam Tramiel — son of Atari chairman Jack Tramiel — said it would cost less than $1,000 (around £800-£850). If true, the machine could start another computer price-cutting war in the US. IBM’s and Apple’s nearest competitors both cost over $2,000.

Atari has set a production target for 1985 for these machines of between three and five million at sites in Ireland and the Far East.

Disc unit for the CPC 64

AMSTRAD has announced its DDI-1 disc unit and interface for the CPC464 micro.

The drive is based on the 3inch Hitachi standard and is a 169K 40-track double-sided double-density disc system.

The disc operating system is either AMSDOS — an extension to locomotive Basic with simple filing commands, or the Digital Research standard CP/ M. The system is also file compatible with the single sided format used by CP/M on the IBM PC.

The CP/M disc is bundled free with the Amstrad disc system. As well as the CP/M disc each drive is bundled with Dr Logo on disc, the Digital Research version of Logo.

The drive, plus interface, CP/M and Dr Logo is priced at £199.95. The system can also support a second disc drive for which an additional interface is not required. The additional disc unit is priced at £159.95

Ghosting for Activision

GHOSTBUSTERS, the hit US movie, will be available in the UK as a computer game before the film is released here.

Activision has acquired rights from Columbia Pictures to develop software based on the film, the theme music of which is currently riding high in the British top ten.

“Our game version will be on sale by mid-November while the movie goes on release in December,” said Activision’s UK managing director, Geoff Heath. “It features both characters and music from the film, and will be a mix of arcade and strategy action”

Ghostbusters (the game) has been designed by David Crane, who also designed Pitfall, Pitfall II and Decathlon. It will be simultaneously released for the Atari VCS, Commodore 64 (£10.99), Spectrum (£9.99) and MSX (£11.99) machines.

Top team for Beyond

BEYOND Software has signed up a top programming team to develop a graphic adventure for Beyond.
The team of six programmers—calling itself Denton Designs—includes Ian Weatherburn and John Gibson, both of whom were previously with Imagine Software working on its Bandersnatch ‘mega- game’.

“The graphic adventure has a working title of Shadow Squad, and will be ready in the New Year,” said Terry Pratt of Beyond. “The player controls six screen characters, each with individual weaknesses and strengths, sent to a ‘Deathstar’ type place on a diplomatic mission.”

The adventure uses English text commands, with different graphics for each screen. The player must co-ordinate all six characters to complete the mission.

The game will be released for both the Spectrum and Commodore, priced between £8 and £10.00.


ORIC has now said that there is no possibility of its new machine, a successor to the Atmos, based around the 6502 processor being launched this year.

An Oric spokesman said, “It was originally our plan to launch the micro in France before the end of 1984, but there is now no question of it appearing this year. Oric are, however, currently working on a number of new products.”

The machine had a working title of ‘Stratos’, this will now not be used as another computer company also has a product with that name.

Sabre Wulf follow up

TWO follow-ups to Ultimate’s highly successful Sabre Wulf are to be released shortly.
Underwurlde and Knight Lore both continue the adventures of the Sabreman.

Underwurlde is an arcade style game in which the Sabreman must do battle against the inhabitants of the Underwurlde in over one hundred screens. Knight Lore is, according to Ultimate, “the first step in a new generation of computer adventure simulation developments”.

Underwurlde and Knight Lore, both for the 48K Spectrum, will cost £9.95 each.

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