Those of you who weren't able to make it to the Commodore 'World of Amiga' show in December are probably dying to know what went on (or might at least be mildly interested). On the music side of things, though, I'm afraid that the answer is -- not much. HiSoft's new 12-bit Aura sampler appeared to be selling well, although I heard more than one person say they were disappointed that it wasn't being demonstrated. There were no stunning Bars & Pipes multimedia demonstrations around, no new heavyweight music packages announced -- in fact, not one running Amiga MIDI sequencer package in sight!
As always, however, there were plenty of products being sold at knockdown prices, so almost all who made the trek to Wembley were rewarded with bargains. A stock of the early (version 1.x) Music-X packages, for example, were being sold for £10 each, and if you were in the market for an Amiga MIDI sequencer, and didn't want to spend a fortune getting one, it was 10 quid well spent (especially since it's still possible to upgrade to the latest Music-X2/Notator-X for a relatively modest upgrade fee). Provided you were prepared to hunt around the various stands, there were similarly good deals on MIDI interfaces, 8-bit samplers and editors, tracker programs, and so on.
Now, I'm all for bargains, but I must say that at times it did seem that too many exhibitors had only one aim in mind -- to shift stock. I know people have to sell things to survive, but for me, the show felt a little too much like a computerised boot sale at times!
There is no doubt at all that people do like to see demonstrations, and the exhibitors that had gone to the trouble of having their kit up and running were clearly reaping the benefits of having their hardware and software seen and used. As far as demonstrations were concerned, the emphasis, as you might have expected, was on video/graphics. SEL (who specialise in multimedia presentation graphics and related bureau services) had their Canon SV (Still Video) equipment on show, and were making a real impression. You stood there, had your photo taken either with a Canon Ion RC560 or RC260 still video camera, and almost before you had time to turn around and look at the monitor, your image had been grabbed, and was up on the screen.
What was so impressive about this gear was not just the easy-to-use point and click technology -- it was that the results were absolutely brilliant. Used in conjunction with the very reasonably-priced video genlocks and graphics packages that are available, it's clear that the Amiga can form the heart of an extremely cost-effective AV (audio-visual) design setup. It occurred to me more than once that a lot of bands and studios could be producing their own multimedia-based promotional material with this sort of gear, at a fraction of the price the pros charge. If you want further details, SEL can be reached on 0734 272093.
This powerful new 24-bit Amiga graphic effects package from Almathera lived up to all expectations, and was, for many, the software star of the show. Photogenics is able to add effects to your images -- it can convert them into greyscale form, alter their colours, soften or add movement blur, adjust the contrast, solarize, tint, create pixel mosaics, and so on. You just select the desired effect and apply it using one of the brush tools. There are a couple of dozen brushes to choose from, including airbrush, ballpen, cloth, crayon, sponge and so on, and all these create the effect you would achieve if you were physically drawing with such tools on paper.
If you decide you've overdone a particular effect, you can either simply undo it, or progressively reverse the effect by spraying back the original image. As you reach the stage where you like the result of your work, you can 'fix' it, ie. make it permanent. Similarly, to take cuts of any parts of the images being worked on, you just select the scissors tool, mark out the area using the mouse, and bingo! -- that section goes into its own image window, and is then available for manipulation on its own.
The most important thing about Photogenics is not just that it can produce these stunning effects, but that it does this in the areas of the picture that you, the user, mark out. As well as the usual filled or edge-marked rectangular/circular effect templates, the program also offers you the facility to freehand draw around any irregularly-shaped area, and then impose effects on this region. Other images can be designated as 'masks', and these can then be drawn through using all the effects and brush methods already mentioned. Equally importantly, the intensity of the effects that you apply can also be finely controlled.
As an example, I took a picture of a rose, slightly blurred it, turned into a 'near b/w' line drawing, and then gave it a pink-to-white downward gradient. These changes took me just over a minute to experiment with, and you can see the results amongst the screenshots. Trust me -- this package is going to turn people without any real artistic talent (such as myself) into artists. Just imagine how useful it is going to be for the more artistically gifted amongst us!
But that's just the start. A whole range of other goodies is on offer, including generating 'loaders' which algorithmically generate backgrounds, masks and so on. Photogenics also handles a large number of different image types: IFF (including Ham, Ham-8, IFF-Deep and the IFF 24-bit image standard), Windows BMP, JPEG, GIF, and Gem IMG, to name but a few. What may surprise you even more, given that Photogenics is a 24-bit graphics program, is that you don't need a 24-bit graphics card to run this program. However, you do need a minimum of 2Mb of chip RAM, and the AGA chipset for colour display -- so a recommended system for doing any real work would comprise, say, an A1200 or A4000, with 4Mb of RAM and a hard drive.
Photogenics is a brilliantly conceived program that shows the Amiga in the best possible light. It takes about half an hour to learn the basics of how to use the program, after which time you are ready to pick things up by experimenting. The program makes you want to be 'creative' and it helps you to be so. On the first day I was using it, I had several PC and ST users sitting shell-shocked around my A4000, in total disbelief at what this £54.95 package was capable of. Yep, that's right -- Photogenics costs just £54.95. At this price, it's the bargain of the year! For details, contact Almathera on 081 687 0040.
Oh yes, (yawn) I nearly forgot. What about Commodore themselves? Well, rumour had it that there was going to be an official first day 'Everything's Been Sorted' message from Commodore. In fact, quite a few of us Press guys crawled out of bed especially early on the opening day of the show just to attend the rumoured press conference. Needless to say, it didn't happen on the first day... nor the second... nor the third!
Nevertheless, some details were provided by David Pleasance at one of the developer seminars that took place. Commodore UK are still very much officially in the running, and the 'good faith' deposit and proof of funds have been arranged. If all goes well, Commodore UK could get an interim manufacturing licence, so that Amiga production could be restarted within about one month. The bad news (which is contrary to some rumours that are circulating) is that whilst there may be plenty of particular Amiga components around, there are certainly no vast quantities of finished Amiga machines hidden in factories waiting for legal wrangles to be sorted out. Because of this, you can bet your life that it will be April '95 before Amiga supplies are anywhere near like back on the road to normality!
OREGON: GAME IF YOU ARE
Oregon Research have a new games design package out called GameSmith. It costs £99.99, and provides high-level tools for creating animations, along with a powerful library of support routines. The GameSmith environment is extremely good, and is aimed at all serious graphics/games programmers -- but you do need to be familiar with either C or assembly language in order to use it effectively. Further details are available from HiSoft, on 0525 718181.
IMAGINE IN 3D
The popular Imagine 3D graphics package has recently been updated to version 3.1. New features include state morphing and backdrop image loading. More details from Impulse Graphics on 0101 612 425 0557..