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© Echelon

THE PREPARATIONS by Richard Karsmakers

How it all started

A hazy morning sun was shining through the curtains. Condensed
water stained the windows and the silence was broken by nothing
but the dedicated chainsaw massacres arising from nose and mouth
of good old Frank Lemmen. The first thoughts that entered my mind
on January 1st 1989, were those of utter desperation and
tendencies to commit murder, glued together with the foulest
language imaginable.
I drew the curtains apart slightly, to shed some light upon the
scene of total destruction. Frank was lying on a busted mattress,
partly covered by a sleeping bag. Another mattress lay empty. On
the desk, some disks lay shattered in a small pool of spilled
wine and broken glass. The stench of alcohol hung in the air like
a blanket one could touch.
Where was Stefan?
I looked at the mattress again. Yes, it was empty; it wasn't my
hangover playing tricks on me.
I climbed out of bed, and awoke Frank. My ears started bleeping
and making funny noises at the sudden silence that struck the
room and hung there, not quite sure where to expect being broken
from, as Frank returned to the land of the living again.
We began our quest in search for Stefan. After several minutes
of trying to locate where the flat smelt most like heavy liquor,
we found him lying in the bed of my neighbour (don't worry; she
was gone and had offered her room for cases of emergency -
Frank's snoring obviously being one of those cases).
We let him sleep for another while.

Memories of the past night were the next things that occured to
me, albeit rather scarse: The fireworks, the nice girls and the
excessive use of certain brown liquids mainly consisting of a
chemical substance called ethanol. Also, the thoughts about
something Stefan and myself had talked about that night came
back.
Thoughts about a quest. A quest to England. A quest where we
would visit all major software houses and programmers. A quest
never before realised, or even imagined possible. A quest that
was to be featured in three major magazines, together covering
well over 100,000 ST users in well over twenty countries world
wide.

The whole idea had really popped up when Stefan and myself were
talking about spending a holiday in the U.S.A. together. Of
course, this would be very nice - but wouldn't it be nicer to go
to England and visit some of the people we admire instead?
Stefan considered this to be a good idea, but how was it to be
realised?
"Just let me handle things," I said, "if things don't work out
like we want them to be, we'll simply go to the States anyway."

The first day

I started on January 3rd, 1989. I had nothing but hopes,
ambition, and a couple of people I knew at the software
companies.
And I had ST NEWS to back me up, of course.
So I sat down with a copy program and made a tremendous amount
of copies of the ST NEWS Volume 3 Compendium. These were to be
sent to virtually everyone I knew in the 'bizz'. Standard letters
were prepared, as well as specific letters that would have to go
to certain companies or institutions that would have to be
involved in the preparations of our quest but that were non-
computer specific. So letters were sent off to the English
Tourist Bureau in Amsterdam, Ocean, Mirrorsoft, Microprose,
Telecom, Microdeal, Psygnosis, Barrington Harvey PR, Sanyo (for
supplying a portable PC), Gremlin's Ben Daglish, David Whittaker,
Llamasoft, Ken 'Ancient STatarian' Butler, Les Ellingham (Page 6
magazine), Activision and U.S. Gold.
The approach was simple: "The editorial staff of ST NEWS is
coming to England. Is it possible to visit you, and is it
possible to send us the addresses of your star programmers
(sometimes specifying names)?"
I also wrote letters to German "68000'er/ST Magazin" and Dutch
"Atari ST Nieuws" if they would be prepared to sponsor this
venture of ours. This was the most difficult. In the letters, I
just stated that the interviews with all THE names in ST
computing were already certain (which they were NOT AT ALL), and
that each of the other had already agreed to sponsor (so that the
other one would have less tendencies of lagging behind).
After a day of zealous writing and copying, I went to bed.
Devastated. Tired.
My tummy ached. Would this approach work? If it would....
I almost lost my mind when thinking about the things that might
happen! But what if everything went wrong?

Not yet sufficient

The next day, I decided that more people/companies had yet to be
contacted for the quest. I contact my brother Stuart, who lives
in London, whether it was possible to stay at his place for some
nights. Further, I wrote standard letters and sent ST NEWS disks
to Novagen and Hewson.
On January 5th, I received the first reactions: From the English
Tourist Bureau and the Importer of Sanyo in Holland. The first
had supplied me with loads of information about travelling by
train, reduced travelling, and a railway map of England. The
latter supplied me with renting arrangements of Sanyo Laptop
computers. Unfortunately, renting was only possible for 36 or 60
months - hardly the month or two we needed.
I began creating a list of stuff to bring with us to England:
Clothes. Tapes. Batteries. Disks. Walkman. Passport. Headache
pills. The works.
This had to be taken care of in a 100% proof way. Nothing would
have to pop up and screw up the whole quest. I wrote down every
idea, and everything else as well. A 30 Kb file was soon located
on my harddisk.

A dream?

Everything was still very much a dream. The days that I woke up
not believing in it anymore were not quite seldom.
The idea was actually crazy. Which company, in its right state
of mind, would want to deal with a bunch of Dutchies that happen
to slam together a stupid disk magazine, let alone allow them to
visit? Which programmer would allow us to visit him in his home
surroundings, let alone stay at his place for the night or have
us raid his freezer at eating hours?
All kinds of doubts raised in my mind. At times, I would phone
Stefan and try to make him a bit more enthusiastic with hollow
promises.
"What if we would visit Steve Bak and Jeff Minter?" I used to
say.
'What IF'.
He used to get quite enthusiastic anyway, and so would I. We
would make each other very enthusiastic indeed, but when the
phone went dead we would be more rational again.
This couldn't happen. It was just a wild dream.

Make the best of a bad job

It took until the 12th of January before I got any other replies
in the mail. David Whittaker agreed to us visiting him. This was
great, of course! He even knew a place down the road where we
could stay for the night.
After that, there were some disillusionments. The importer of
Sanyo told me on the next day it wasn't possible to have an
alternative arrangement, in spite of the fact that the whole
quest was to be covered in several magazines (well, I wasn't sure
of that at the time - but one couldn't let THAT bother you, could
one?). So there was no chance of getting a portable computer.
Stefan's boss had one, but that one wasn't really 'portable' but
'movable'. It was the same thing we had used over a year ago,
writing the 'Computer Orgy' real time article. An Olivetti that
was too heavy. Much too heavy.
The day after that, I received a letter of Novagen's Bruce
Jordan. We could visit allright, but the guy behind their
"Mercenary" and "Backlash" couldn't be interviewed: Paul Woakes
lived a rather secluded life. Later, Tarik Ahmia told me that
many reporters had tried to interview him. Nobody succeeded in
doing so. Even Steve Bak's phone calls, so I would later learn,
were not returned by Mr. Woakes.
But the job went better soon.
On January 16th, I contacted Willem Hartog (ACN) again. This
time by phone rather than by mail. He was willing to sponsor the
quest, and also knew someone 'who might sell a nice portable
computer'.
What an understatement would that turn out to be!
But I didn't know that then.

The Z88

Two days later, I contacted the guy we was said to import the
'nice portable': Ton of Data Skip in Gouda. The portable was
called 'Z88'. When I heard that Clive Sinclair was the designer
of this machine, I should have known better already.
But I didn't, so I couldn't.
Anyway, he sent me the machine for a two weeks' probation.
I was hooked the very moment I received it (a historical date:
January 25th 1989). I didn't need convincing any more. I bought
it right away.
The Cambridge Computer Z88 is a truly magnificent device, which
I then reviewed in ST NEWS Volume 4 Issue 1. It was incredibly
light, small, and yet ultra versatile. To name some things:
Built-in word processor, up to 3 Mb of memory internal, 20 hours
of operation on four penlight batteries, data storing on EPROM,
etc.
Great.
Great!
On that same day, I received a phonecall from Tarik Ahmia
("68000'er/ST Magazin"): They would also sponsor the quest. But
instead of money, they would supply a second portable: A Toshiba
T1200 laptop with 14 Mb built-in harddisk, MS-DOS compatible.
That would then be Stefan's computer.
Electronic Arts also answered. They were open all holiday, and
we were free to come and visit them, and meet the in-house
programmers (like the Bullfrog team, known from "Fusion" and
"Populous"). They were also very nice and put ST NEWS on the
review list.
Apparently, they were kinda impressed by it.

Tower Records

Since it was to be a leisure holiday as well (well, a bit
anyway), we were also seeking stuff to do when not visiting all
those software houses and programming buffs.
Stefan was in London at the time when I received a card of his,
February 7th. He spoke of a giant record store called "Tower
Records". Talk of 'enormous floors filled with CDs', 'many
Samantha Fox calendars' and 'enormous Yngwie Malmsteen posters'
made me realise that a visit to this place mightbe worth our
while.
And there were a couple more of these giant record stores as
well (i.e. Virgin Records).

Things were going nicely...

On February 10th, I received a letter from Ken "Ancient
STatarian" Butler. Lucky for me, the post had forwarded my letter
from his old London address to his new address, a pictoresque
village called Middleton-on-Sea between Bognor Regis and
Littlehampton. He told me we were welcome to pay him a visit, and
that his wife Irene would prepare us a decent meal as well.
One day later, a reply from our English ST NEWS distributor Les
Ellingham was received. We could also count on hospitality in his
Stafford residence.
Yet we still hadn't had some of the major programmers on our
schedule. No sign yet of Steve Bak, Jeff Minter, Ian Oliver, John
Phillips and Pete Johnson.
Doubts were once more beginning to arise, especially over a
month after I had got Tarik Ahmia to give me their addresses and
I had written letters to them (and sent them ST NEWS issues). It
would be very difficult to discontinue the whole quest now,
although the thought more than once entered our minds. What was
the use of going to England if we couldn't even visit the major
software buffs?

The ball starts rolling smoother

On March 25th, John Phillips replied. We were welcome to visit
him, but at the time he would probably be working in the Hewson
office in Abingdon, near Oxford. We just had to arrange something
with Mrs. Toni Waknell at Hewson. Elite and Mastertronic also
replied positively in that week, and on April 11th we received a
reply from Pete Johnson as well. The latter's reply included a
hand-drawn map to his house in the tiny village of Gosforth, near
Sellafield in Cumbria (just to the South of the Scottish border).
Hopes lifted again. Yet another programmer agreed to us visiting
them, and that was very positive indeed.
A couple of days later, I got a phone call from Tim Moss of The
Lost Boys, to which I had written a letter earlier in April. We
could also visit them in their Teddington, London, residence.
Hopes lifted even more.

One Very Effective Way of increasing your phonebill

On March 25th, I decided to make a last desperate attempt to
arrange everything. I started calling the people we wanted to
visit. On that day, I assured visits to Electronic Arts, Jeff
Minter (though he turned out to live in Wales' Newcastle Emlyn),
Steve Bak (!) and Jez San. I was slightly taken aghast when all
these living legends just agreed to us visiting them, and also
because of the compliments I got on behalf of ST NEWS; especially
Steve Bak was impressed by its presentation and seemed to have
read all articles thoroughly.
I phoned Stefan that evening, and he went mad when I told him
about Jeff Minter in particular.
The next day, I just went on with calling everybody I still
needed to arrange something with. During the many hours spent on
the phone, I assured visits to Microdeal in Cornwall, Ben
Daglish (at Gremlin), Ocean, Barrington Harvey PR (including a
distant possibility for an informal meeting with Corinne
Russell!) and Ian Oliver. Ben Daglish even told me he would be
happy to convert his "Trap" music to the ST for use in ST NEWS.
Later, unfortunately, it turned out that the conversion would be
too difficult for the ST. Since at the time it was already known
that Jochen would do Rob Hubbard's "Knuckle Busters", this would
mean that some of the best musical compositions ever made were to
be included in ST NEWS!
Within the week following these two days of extensive calling, I
was able to get permission from Anita Sinclair (Magnetic
Scrolls), Microprose, Hewson and Alex Herbert to visit them as
well. Microprose even told me they would take us on a flight with
the company plane.
But something even more important came up.
I called David Whittaker and asked him if he would perhaps be
inclined to convert his "Panther" music for use in ST NEWS as
well. Quite on the contrary to what I (and Steve Bak) had
expected, he agreed. That same day, I contacted Jochen again and
asked him (no, I begged him) to convert the "Hyper Sports Loader"
music as well. This would mean that even more of the best musical
compositions (the best of Rob Hubbard, David Whittaker and Martin
Galway) I had ever heard would all be included in the same issue
of ST NEWS. Jochen, luckily, agreed. Later, I even heard that the
screen made by a rather unknown German hacker would include one
more song made and composed by Jochen himself: So that would mean
that the five best musical compositions of the five best music
programmers ever would all be in ONE issue of ST NEWS.
From then on, I knew that ST NEWS would beat everything and
everybody. Never again would it be possible to create anything
that contained so many interviews and so many GREAT musix!

We eagerly awaited the coming of July 4th, the day on which we
would go to the United Kingdom...

Disclaimer
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.