In a month’s time SAM COUPE, the new Speccy wonder machine, starts rolling off the production line. But one, and only one in the entire universe, is finished and has set up home in Portsmouth with CRASH’s MEL CROUCHER. He’s had it for over three months and looks like becoming one of the UK’s leading experts on the SAM because he’s writing the manual!! What’s it like then Mel..?
Richard Eddy asks me to write a review of the longest awaited computer since Moses took the tablets. By the time you read these wee words MGT’s new baby will have been launched and everyone else can shoot their mouths off about it. But I just happen to be sitting here with the only wild SAM Coupe in the world! All the others are safe in captivity, getting their bottoms wiped, toenails cut and teeth brushed, back there in the nursery.
When I say I’ve got hold of the single untamed machine that exists, I really mean it! It’s got a keyboard that’s been nailed together, there are wires hanging off the back, and the MGT logo has been drawn on the back of a bus ticket and blu-tacked to the top of the case. So why am I the Chosen One, privileged to play with this unique computer? Well, those nice gents who designed the SAM Coupe have asked yours truly to write the SAM Coupe User’s Manual, so I suppose I deserve to have this bizarre prototype. It’s been hard work being a computer midwife and it’s a long story...
To hell with what’s inside the machine, or what it’s supposed to
do, it looks great! Very aerodynamic, with an angled keyboard and a panel to
rest my wrists on. There seems to be a pair of letterboxes at the front and
it’s got four dinky little legs, maybe that’s to let the air circulate around
its nether regions and keep it cool. Now let me look at its backside... ye
gods! Knobs, sockets and ports galore (sailors should love it), I wonder what
they do? What I need is a Manual.
They tell me that the SAM Coupe has four video modes and the lowest one runs Spectrum software, so let’s give it a try. Switch on and type in ‘Mode 1’. Load up this CRASH freebie, and bingo! It works. Now that comforts me more than somewhat, seeing as how I’ve been using a Speccy for seven years. My old software library is not going to become redundant overnight, and I can program this baby even if I don’t know what all the bells and whistles are for.
OK, I admit it. After five days I’m impressed. The SAM Coupe is the best 8-bit machine I have ever experienced. It seems to save and load off cassette twice as fast as the Spectrum, and gameplay is fast. But can they bring it out cheap enough to blow away the Amigas and STs of this world? MGT are aiming for £150, and that buys you a lot of machine. 256K on-board memory, and I’ve found a dinky little slot inside the case for plugging in an extra 256K. Those letterboxes on the front edge are for one or two 1- Meg. disk drives, which actually slip inside the machine like shuttles in a mother-ship.
The swine! I was led to believe the machine was capable of a 64 colour display, but they’ve lied to me! The hi-res Mode is offering no less than 128 colours on screen, with a display of 512 x 192 pixels, and I’m damned if I can tell the difference between this output and my Atari ST. The rear panel features the usual TV, joystick and cassette connections, plus dedicated mouse hole, light- gun socket, one of those 64-pin Euroconnector thingies for plugging into whatsits, a little button that I refuse to reveal the purpose of, and my favourite pair of plugholes MIDI-IN and MIDI- OUT, that are all set up for networking. This is where I get to play music!
Show these to an Atari ST owner and watch ’em turn green with envy!!! Yes, these ARE screenshots from SAM in hi.res mode (512 x 192 pixels) using 128 colours and Bo Jangeborg’s art package created especially for the SAM. You could be doing the same very soon!
I’m not going to kid you. I thought that the MIDI sockets might be a gimmick to disguise some terrible sound chip like the kind you suffer on certain ‘advanced’ machines. Now I find built-in sound effects like ‘POW’, ‘ZAP’, ‘ZOOM’ and ‘BOOM’. I remember prehistoric no-hopers like the Oric using exactly the same garbage to make up for the fact that the sound capabilities were about as useful as a stringless guitar. Well, so far I’ve managed to get a pretty acceptable steam train chugging away in stereo, and Beethoven’s ‘Ode To Joy’ doesn’t sound too bad, but I must say the sound is pretty disappointing so far. What I need is a manual.
I take it all back! Those nice people at Philips have forwarded me all the bumph about their SAM Coupe synthesiser chip, and I admit to being totally bogged down by it. Six channels of stereo sound, over eight octaves, with full control over all those 54K envelopes and wave forms and stuff like that. I’ll never get all of this in the Manual, besides it’s boring. The same goes for all the graphics goodies. What users want is to hear and see what the SAM can do on day one, not wade through a load of old guff from me.
David Whittaker, maybe the best computer musician in the business is writing the synth package! Bo Jangeborg, graphic artiste extraordinaire, is providing the demo art package. MGT seem to be hiring all the top people (so what are they doing with me tagging along? Are they mad?)
A great bundle of documents arrives care of Postman Pat, and it’s Dr Andy Wright’s famous SAM Basic, which will solve all my problems, reveal every subtle nuance of the machine’s operation, and save me the trouble of writing the Manual if I just copy it. Oh boy, what a doddle this is gonna be!
I’ll kill that nasty Bruce Everiss for getting me into this. Just because he can get Codemasters all over the front pages of the tabloids doesn’t mean to say he can act like Machiavelli with me! I suppose I could resign now and get it over with. I mean how do you make the unreadable readable. Who reads manuals anyway? What would I want to find in a manual if I didn’t know the first thing about computers and didn’t happen to be a genius? Jokes? Cartoons? Quotes from Les Dawson?
Meet SAM the cartoon character, created by leading cartoonist Robin Evans. SAM will be gracing the pages of the SAM manual.
I have engaged the best cartoonist in the land to draw me a few dozen cartoons, I’ll write the jokes myself, and I may as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb, I’m going to quote from Les Dawson, Woody Allen, Little Richard and anybody else I can lay my ears on. This manual is gonna be different. I’ll try and make it like the one I always wanted when I started computing way back in the dark ages. I’ll even explain what all the words mean, you know, the technical ones like ‘bug’ and ‘crash’!
Andy Wright keeps stuffing extra commands into the ROM. Not that I mind being able to execute a triple-poke when I feel one coming on.
Alan Miles is the Miles bit of Miles Gordon. Bruce Gordon is the the Gordon bit. Miles Gordon Technology make the SAM Coupe. Alan used to be a schoolteacher, which is why he keeps giving me marks out of ten for my spelling. Bruce, on the other hand, seems to be concerned with making this computer perfect in every way. As a result of their interference, my manual looks like a battlefield. Ho hum.
Hopefully all Speccy games will run on the SAM and leading software houses are converting existing titles, like US Gold’s Strider, to special SAM format.
I think that anyone used to gameplay on a Spectrum is going to flip when they experience this. But will software houses support SAM? It’s no good tarting up Spectrum games with some sampled soundtracks and a few hi-res screens. Do-it-yourself programmers should be well pleased. I specially like the BLITZ command for whapping graphics shapes anywhere on screen, and then squashing and stretching them. The WINDOW routines are very neat, and I can SCROLL and ROLL my graphics with single commands, including graphic wraps.
It’s all down to fine tuning now. I’ve been using the Coupe as a word processor, 84 columns in its ‘serious’ Mode. There’s a single command for changing the size of characters in any Mode, up to 32 pixels high. I can see that being used in infant schools, shop displays, and also the visually handicapped can benefit. They haven’t written the network commands yet, so I can’t test out the potentials there, pity. Andy has just about finished adding new software features, including an amazing automatic ‘pretty’ listing/renumber routine. Robin Evans has turned my cartoon scribbles into a non-ageist, non-racist, non-sexist character called SAM (made of metal with no ‘thingie’!) I’d better start the specifications bit, indexing and all the techie stuff.
I have just hit the button on the laser printer, dear reader. This manual is something like the one I needed when computers were mysterious, as big as a bus, and as daft as a brush. If only it had been around when I was you. I think that the SAM Coupe is a wonderful machine, and if there is justice in the world it will revolutionise the lives of every CRASH disciple. The question remains, is there justice in the world?