THE CONSUMER ELECTRONICS SHOW, MAY 30TH/JUNE 2ND 1987, CHICAGO
by Harry van Horen
Both in Vegas as in Chicago the biggest booth on the floor was
that of Nintendo. Rumoured costs of the Chicago Nintendo booth
was approximately $500,0000 whilst it took them five days to set
up everything. Nintendo is really flooding the market in the USA
(as it did before in Japan) with its cartridge based videogame
system, followed closely by Sega. No wonder - trying to keep up
with the Joneses I almost want to say - Atari introduced
(although only backstage) a 68000 based computer videogame
system. But once again Atari didn't convince me; the software
they showed was appaling. Can you imagine an 68000 based games
system with graphics like seen on a Sinclair Spectrum? Well,
that's why they showed us in those hush hush backstage
demonstrations of their new system that "was going to conquer the
Overall the atmosphere at the show was a little bit (no pun
intended) depressed with regards to computers and software.
The 8 bit market in the USA is collapsing, a trend also
noticeable in the U.K and the rest of Europe. 16 and 32 bit
software isn't taking over the sales that software houses need to
survive. Althought he MS/DOS or IBM compatible/clone market is
surging rapidly, nobody expects much of an entertainment market
What is happening in the market then?
When you go into an American computershop the only things they
sell are MS/DOS machines (clones and true Blue), Apple
Macintoshes and some Apple IIGS. In these 'high-end' stores
software is sold for these machines only, and apart from that,
they do not stock the diversity in product you would like to see.
Low end machines like Atari 800/130XE, Commodore 64, etc. are
sold only in some department stores or in electronics shops that
also carry watches, cameras, electronic organs and similar kinds
Amigas and Atari STs are hard to find in any shops as is the
associated software. Speaking to some shopkeepers I was told that
selling these machines wasn't worth their while. Indeed both the
Amiga and the ST are having troubled times in the USA. Sales have
not taken off as expected by Atari and Commodore.
With regard to software, most dealers claimed that selling
software for Amiga or ST was virtually impossible. The answer
given most in this respect was: "No need to put anything on the
shelves; they already have everything before it is even
This was also the general feeling among software developers at
the show. The average ST and Amiga owner pirates far more than
any other computer owner with the exception of Commodore 64
owners. Market surveys show that 8 out of 10 ST and Amiga owners
are former 64 people. And to quote the president of Epyx: "They
keep the pirate mentality".
Despite all this, software is still being developed for these
68000 machines, as it is for the C64. Although almost everybody
feels that within the next year the C64 will stop existing as far
as software is concerned because of this pirating. And several
people I heard voicing the opinion that Amiga and ST software
might go the same way.
It is of course ridiculous. If we look the the Dutch market we
have the following facts: C64s sold: Over 500,000. Of these,
about 50% are no longer used. 30% of the reamining 250,000 are
used in a school or business environment. Of the actually 175,000
machines used, 80% are used with a disk drive, so there are
approximately 140,000 disk drives out there.
Now show me a C64 owner with a disk drive who doesn't have the
Brøderbund "Print Shop" in his collection. Right, everybody's got
one of those, so there are at least 140,000 copies of the "Print
Shop" out there.
Now for the great surprise: Actual sales of the "Print Shop" in
Holland is per Januari 1st 1987: 1387 units.
Wow, great business developing software, right?
And how about this? If, in Holland, you ever have a smash hit of
a game you might actually sell about 350 units for C64. Now that
really recoups the money invested!
Thank God it is not as bad as that everywhere. Sales in the U.K.
and the USA are still good enough for a software house to survive
but with those 10,000,000 (yes, 10 million!) C64s on the market
worldwide, the biggest hit ever was "Ghostbusters" which sold
approx. 400,000 units world wide on that machine. It has now
been transferred to the Nintendo games machine and sold 1,000,000
units within the first two months in Japan alone.
One more reason for companies to try and get the public to buy
cartridge based games computers. Which is of course also greatly
helped by the fact that the general public is fed up with loading
cassettes and discs; they now want something quick and easy, i.e.
a ROM cartridge. For all the software world cares, Nintendo and
Sega are welcome to take over the entertainment market with
regards to games.
But 400,000 is a one-off exception. General sales of a game
worldwide might be anything up to 20,000 units, usually the
figure centers around 12,000 units.
Now that may sound like a lot, but considering the cost involved
in developing a really GOOD game (or something like a Pascal
compiler), it is not enough. I agree that the majority of games
put out by software houses is rubbish, but the occasional good
game suffers from the piracy as well. Because that's what all
this is about. Sales aren't so low because a game is or isn't
bad, sales are so low because the majority of C64 owners (and now
STs and Amigas as well) consider it rightful to pirate software.
They'll go haywire when somebody steals even their tiniest gadget
(or, in Holland, their bike), but stealing software is considered
normal. Sometimes it even sounds as if some people consider
pirating to be a right they have acquired with buying a computer.
What it boils down to is that on one hand you have hardware
manufacturers turning out even more beautiful machines (the Mega
STs for example) and on the other hand you have the software
developers who more and more consider it not worth their effort
to develop software to use all these neat new machines. And where
does that leave Joe Public who bought the ruddy thing?
Nobody is sure what to do about all this. Lowering software
prices certianly doesn't seem to help a lot, so then what will?
This was also the general feeling at Chicago. Where do we go from
here with regard to software?
Most software developers state now that they still will develop
products, but will keep the down-going sales in mind. They
calculate the break-even point of the product and will invest no
more than needed to get the product out. Quite rightly so,
because at the end of the day everybody wants to eat.
However, it also means that products will never be as good as
they could be. And once again we, the end users, lose out.
In a sense it is a shame, because we have all this nice
technology and we won't be able to use it if there is no solution
found for the mentioned problems.
As Bill Patton, MD (Managing Director, ED) at Sublogic said to
me: "This business is young, actually still in its diapers. And
by the way things look now it might die there!"
Despite all this moaning there was still enough to see. Sublogic
didn't have its own booth but sister company Activision did. They
showed an MS/DOS version of their already classic "Up
Periscope!", well known on the C64. This submarine simulator
beats Microprose's "Silent Service" and the recently released
"Sub Battle Simulator" by Epyx hands down and although MD Dena
Kareotides couldn't name a date, they are thinking about an ST
Knowing that they use the same routines which gave
"Flightsimulator II" its graphics and smooth operation, you know
what you're waiting for.
As in Las Vegas in January, the actual Atari booth was a bit of a
letdown. The last couple of years, Atari has opted for the
umbrella idea with regards to the ST. So About 40% of the booth
is dedicated to the ST, or more correctly ST software. The rest
of the booth is always being used for the revamped 2600 and 7800
games computers, with loads of people blasting away. One corner
of the booth, this time, had a simulated Cessna cockpit in which
you could try out Sublogic's "Flightsimulator II". On the other
side of the booth, Hybrid Arts showed the possibility of their
MIDI software - yawn, once again. OK, they have good products but
as a non-synthesizer freak I don't know head from tails on a MIDI
With regards to new hardware I can't tell you much. Why? There
wasn't any. No Mega STs in sight, not a laserprinter to be found.
Two Atari IBM compatible MS/DOS machines were present and that
was it. So much for Atari hardware.
God knows why, because as you read this Atari Benelux has started
shipping Mega STs (4 meg only to start with) as well as
laserprinters (both at about 3500 Dutch Guilders).
No, obviously Atari concentrates on the cartridge based machines
as far as America is concerned and leaves the ST to Europe. Which
indeed is what is happening. In America they hardly sell any STs
while, on the other hand, the European market is booming. This
also explains the lack of American-based good non-game software.
The best non-game product at the moment still stems from Germany
(GfA Basic for one).
The "Flightsimulator II" was what Atari concentrated on at this
show. A Cessna plane was hanging over the booth, to be seen from
The same people as in Las Vegas were demonstrating on the booth:
a.o. Michtron, Electronic Arts, Hybrid Arts and FTL (of "Sundog"
Not much exciting news this time around, everybody was showing
the same products as in Las Vegas and, in the case of FTL, as in
Chicago last year.
What I liked most of the software shown here was a game called
"MIDI Maze". Being developed by Xanth F/X, "MIDI Maze" is
distributed by Hybrid Arts.
"MIDI Maze" was already shown in a version still under
development in Las Vegas, but the version displayed in Chicago
seemed to be ready to be marketed. This is indeed a MIDI
orientated product, but as opposed to all other Hybrid Arts
products, it actually is a GAME!
And a game you've never seen the likes of! The first time I
played "MIDI Maze" in Vegas (the really easy version!) they had
to drag me away after 3 hours.
Wow, what a game!
"MIDI Maze" is roughly based on the Sirius classic "Way Out" on
the Atari 8 bit and C64. In a 3D maze you wander around. Goal of
the game is to shoot as many "happy faces" as you can find in the
maze. These happy faces look a lot like Pac Man, they smile a lot
You can select up to 15 (computer controlled) opponents in the
maze. But, and here comes the nice thing, you can also play
against 15 human opponents. How? The game allows you to connect
16 STs to each other through the MIDI ports. For every computer
in the network you therefore need 1 MIDI cable.
Add to this the fact that you can design your own mazes with
"First Word" and what more do you want?
"MIDI Maze" is the latest from Xanth F/X, the people that
developed the "Fuji-Boink" and "Shiny Bubbles" demo programs.
"MIDI Maze" allows up to 16 players to compete in real-time
combat. Each player has his own computer and point-of-view in the
All players in the game are 3D representations of Pac "Smiley
face" Man. To add insult to injury, whenever an opponent kills
you he tells you to "have a nice day". Following the slapstick
theme, the game score is displayed on a musical score, the
winning player sticks out his tongue at the losers.
Game play is like walking. Normal joystick controls apply. All
players are in the same maze and have the same objective; the
first player to make 10 kills for himself or his team wins the
game. Almost forgot that - you can play in teams against each
other. Up to 4 teams can play. Neat, eh?
"MIDI Maze" is expensive - about 40 dollars and as of yet nothing
is known about European distributors. But as far as I'm concerned
this is one hell of a game!
Apart from "MIDI MAze", Hybrid Arts announced upgraded versions
of their regular line of MIDI products, i.e. "EZ-Track", "MIDI
Track ST" and "GenPatch ST".
FTL from San Diego (well known "Sundog" developers) once again
showed their "Dungeon Master" game. This game probably never will
be finished. Based upon the "Dungeon and Dragons" role playing
idea "Dragon's Lair" as it is found in the arcade halls or (with
inferior graphics and really boring gameplay) on the C64.
By the way, what ever happened to the laserdisc interface shown
in Vegas with which you could play "Dragon's Lair"? A videodisc
player provided the game as in the arcade hall, the computer did
all the controlling. Vanished into nothingness? Nobody, not even
Michtron (who carry the item in their catalogue), could tell me
anything about it.
Anyway, the graphics of "Dungeon Master" looked terrific, game
playing was perfect, a game well worth having. The only problem
will be: When will they finish it?
What was ready for marketing was a game called "Oids". This
graphically nice arcade game is a cross between "Asteroids",
"Choplifter" and "Gravatar" but with better gameplay.
Also soon to be released was "RPV". This "Starglider" lookalike
will possibly have the possibility of two players competing
through MIDI cable. The bits and pieces shown were allright but
both the MD of FTL as the developer of the game denied ever
having heard of "Starglider". Do people like that really exist?
Also talking to some FTL people backstage it turns out that, in
the beginning of 1988, there is a really good chance of a "Sundog
II" being released. Based upon the original "Sundog", they will
throw in "Dungeon Master" aspects when you land on a planet and
explore there. But this wasn't sure, yet. If they ever do release
a "Sundog II" with all the niceties they were thinking about,
that will surely kill me; "Sundog I" made me lose so much sleep
that I though I never would be back to normal. Wait and see,
Michtron was also there, showing their now well overdue "Musix
32" program (?!?!?, ED). They played around a lot with their
newly to be released tennis game "Matchpoint". By the time you
read this, "Matchpoint" will already be out for two months in
Europe as "Super Tennis". Stay away from this one, that is if you
don't want Spectrum graphics on your ST. Crappy game if I ever
Also shown (of course): "Goldrunner" and its follow up "Jupiter
Probe" (sneak previews only backstage).
Electronic Arts were there but didn't show much new. Planned was
"Chessmaster 2000", reputedly the best chess game ever; beats the
hell out of "Psion" Chess so it seemed.
Also to be released were "Starfleet 1", a "Elite"-like
strategy/arcade game; "OGRE" (strategy) and "Quizam", an
adventure game with "Trivia" quirks. Nothing was known with
regards to "PHM Pegasus", "Bards Tale I", "Bards Tale II" or even
"Bards Tale III" on the ST.
Origin Systems has released "Ultima III" by now, one of the best
adventure/strategy games ever. Soon to follow (probably
September) is an arcade action/strategy game called "Auto Duel".
Another rumour has it that the well-known Aegis programs Deluxe
Video, Deluxe Print and Deluxe Paint will be transferred to the
ST. But with Fleet Street Publisher a.o., who needs them?
Strategic Simulations, Inc. has already release "Phantasy II" and
"Colonial Conquest" for the ST. "Colonial Conquest" is a strategy
game loosely based on the well known "Risk" boardgame (also
present in a lousy ST version, ED). Most SSI releases (except of
course "Colonial Conquest") will run on color, b/w and television
ST systems. A rarity, certainly for US based software, when the
majority of sold systems is color only. It seems that only in the
Netherlands and Germany 90% of sold ST sets consist of ST plus
monochrome monitor. The rest of the world goes for color
immediately. This means that as far as software houses are
concerned, b/w systems are non-existent.
Access Software Inc. showed a really neat 3D space flight
simulator on the C64 called "Echelon". In this simulator you find
yourself at the controls of a C104 Tomahawk. You can use 4
different state of the art weapon systems. Using your unmanned
Remote Piloted Vehicle you explore enemy territory. Refueling and
docking must also be undertaken to end the mission successfully.
If the demonstrated screenshots on Amiga come close to the actual
ST shots, then we really have a goodie coming. When, though?
Beginning '88, they claim.
Also to be released by Access is their Multibotics Robotic
Workshop. This is a complete electronic instrument and electro-
mechanical workshop which contains interface unit, DC motors,
gears, sensors, construction components, software and
instructions for 50 sample projects. Projects included are:
Digital storage oscilloscope, digital voltmeter, digital speech &
sound (record and playback), infrared control, motorized
mechanical robotics, etc., etc.
Heart of the workshop is the B100 interface unit which connects
to all types of sensors and is able to control lights, motors,
relays and other external devices. The manual contains
suggestions and instructions for many advanced projects such as
antennae positioning and relay control.
Available soon for your ST at the fingerlickin' price of 150
Brøderbund will shortly release their well known karate game
"Karateka" on the ST. The screen shots didn't surpass "Karate Kid
II" anyway, so why bother??
Also to be released Fall 1987 will be the infamous "Print Shop"
at about 60 dollars, the European equivalent being approx. 50
sterling/150 Dutch Guilders/100 German Marks. Once again, who
needs it with "Publishing Partner" and "Fleet Street Publisher"
around. Not to forget this Dutch program that is soon to be
released for about 25 sterling/100 Dutch Guilders/100 German
Not much else to be gained from Brøderbund by the way.
On to Micrprose. With "Silent Service" they really made a very
good entry into the ST market (although, in itself, "Silent
Service" isn't a really good program).
Their biggest hits at the moment are "Gunship" and "Pirates",
both on the C64. "Gunship" is a helicopter simulation; "Pirates"
is an adventure game set in the Caribbean. In "Pirates", you
become a 17th century privateer captain searching the Caribbean
for new ships and cities to plunder. "Gunship" is expected on the
ST end of 1987, "Pirates" is just being released here in Holland
by the time this issue of ST NEWS is published.
Also to be released end of September 1987 is the flightsimulator
"F15 Strike Eagle", but will we still want it by then?
In the very far future we can expect from Microprose on the ST
the famous "Kennedy Approach" (great!!, ED), in which you control
Kennedy Airport and try to get in all these flightsimulating
idiots to land safely at Kennedy Airport. Also to come: "Conflict
in Vietnam" (strategy), "Airborne Ranger", "Stealth Fighter" and
some others without any known names, yet.
Mindscape had some goodies on display, but nothing really new was
showing. They still were pleased (and quite rightly so) with
their excellent strategy game "Balance of Power". But what else
can you expect from a game written by strategy expert Chris
Crawford who set the standards with his original strategy games
written for the Atari 8 bit way back when.
Mindscape also proudly released "High Roller", but one quick
glance learned this to be the US version of the European "Strike
Force Harrier" program.
Mindscape is an excellent example of the software situation in
the USA. 75% of their new releases is licenced UK software, of
not too high a standard. It seems that the UK software houses are
more and more taking over the leadership role with regard to
developing software. It probably will turn out that, by the end
of next year, the American software houses will no longer play
any major part in the software business.
Loads of other stuff was on sight at the show, but most of it was
MS/DOS, Macintosh or C64. Lastly, two snippets for your ST:
"Interlink ST", a new telecommunications package by a company
called Intersect (from "Intersect RAMdisk", remember? ED).
Loads of promisis, but will they comes through? "Interlink ST"
* Autodial, with all settings customised to the service being
* Full disk commands incl. 400K SS and 800K DS format
* XMODEM, XMODEM CRC, YMODEM and ASCII files transfers from or to
disk or capture buffer
* Executing other programs without exiting "Interlink" through
the shell facility
* 48 line display on b/w system
* Type-ahead buffer; lets you enter and edit a line before
* Online help menus
* Buffer window with edit capabilities, like working with a word
* Record/playback lets you handle repetitive chores, like getting
those same stock quotes every day and collecting them on disk
automatically at a pre-specified time
* Automatic answer mode; allows remote unattended access (upload/
download) and message collection
* VT52, VT100 and user definable translation
* 20 macro keys
Sounds nice, but when it will be available?
And with this latest we close down this report on the CES in
Chicago. Once again, it became clear that, as far as the American
market is concerned, the ST as well as the Amiga play no role
whatsoever. MS/DOS is the old and new fad over there. Compare the
new products to be released for MS/DOS with what was on display
for the ST and the Amiga and you will proclaim the ST and Amiga
third world countries (no racist remark intended).
New products, both hard-and software, will therefore have to be
developed in Europe, where the user base on ST and Amiga is
substantially bigger. If however, as mentioned earlier on, the
piracy problem continues to grow worse, we might find ourselves
within the next year or so siting at home with all these Mega ST
macheines but nothing to play with.
Let's hope something will change.....
The text of the articles is identical to the originals like they appeared in old ST NEWS issues. Please take into consideration that the author(s) was (were) a lot younger and less responsible back then. So bad jokes, bad English, youthful arrogance, insults, bravura, over-crediting and tastelessness should be taken with at least a grain of salt. Any contact and/or payment information, as well as deadlines/release dates of any kind should be regarded as outdated. Due to the fact that these pages are not actually contained in an Atari executable here, references to scroll texts, featured demo screens and hidden articles may also be irrelevant.