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Battle Of The Multimedia

Amiga Notes
Published April 1994

Paul Austin referees the first round of the Amiga's biggest ever multimedia battle.

If you're a regular visitor to the glossy folds of SOS, you may recall a feature in the main mag which introduced the Amiga's ultimate presentation tool to the unwashed musical masses.

If you are indeed an old SOS hand, the name Scala may seem vaguely familiar. However, since its first appearance, Scala has seen some impressive changes, along with the arrival of some stiff opposition in the form of a young pretender, namely MediaPoint...

Due to a lack of space, it's impossible to put both packages head to head in the same issue; as a consequence the big fight has been dissected into a double header, with the all‑new ScalaMM300 stating its case this month, whilst the contender follows up in the next issue.

For those who aren't familiar with programs that fit the multimedia bill, a little explanation is in order. Basically both packages bring the mythical beast of multimedia within the reach of mere mortals like you and I, rather than leaving it strictly the preserve of corporate giants.

As you'll discover, they achieve this in a number of ways, but essentially both packages provide various means of interacting with the person/s on the other side of the screen. In most cases, this will be simple presentations of text, clip art, brushes and graphics; however, the beauty of both programs is that they can act as a co‑ordination centre for all kinds of media — which can involve MIDI, sampled sound, video footage, CD‑ROM, Photo‑CD, laser disc and assorted videographic add‑ons, such as genlocks, playing a part in the production.

In addition, both have the ability to interact with the user, allowing him or her to decide what they see, hear and experience. A first step into cyberspace? The potential is there.


The MM300 package ships in a stylish brown folder‑box holding a 300+‑page manual, which, in truth, is mostly a reprint for MM210 with an addendum for the additions to MM300. The program itself is spread over nine disks and demands installation on a hard disk. In addition to the manual, you also receive a dongle — alias a hardware security key — which fits into either mouse port. Without it, you won't be able to run Scala.

A particularly pleasing aspect of the installation procedure is that you're asked what degree of overscan you would like the backgrounds to appear in. You can choose between none, standard, or maximum.

Another prerequisite of installation is a thorough understanding of system requirements. As you'd expect, power packages require reasonably meaty machines. In the case of Scala, this translates to a minimum of 1Mb chip RAM, 2Mb of fast RAM, Kickstart 2 and a hard drive. However, to use all the available wipes and effects, 2Mb of chip, 4Mb of fast plus an accelerator and Kickstart 3 are required as a minimum for optimum performance.

The tutorials offer a gentle introduction, but to be honest, using the package is so intuitive it's unlikely you'll spend very much time ploughing through the manual anyway. Having said that, there is a definite lack of tuition on the more advanced features, such as processing user‑supplied variables from questionnaire scripts, and designing complex interactive productions.


The heart of Scala is its main menu, which provides a list of the pages within the script. Next to the items or pages in the list are various attributes affecting them, such as pause length, and the transition used between each page.

The items on the list are usually pages of graphics but can sometimes be animations, sound samples or music. If you click once on an item, then click the edit button, you can edit the page, the way in which the animation plays, or how the music fades. Experienced users will notice a few subtle changes: the Move button is now no more, and instead you just grab the item you want to move and drag it around. There's also a new Out effect button, so you can not only bring text in, but also wipe it out afterwards. When using the effects list, you're now provided with two columns for the effects; one in and one out.

A rather nice pro addition is the ability to use Absolute Timing to prompt changes within the script. As a result, effects are applied and changes made in relation to start time rather than the length of the previous effects and pages. Although seemingly unimportant, this has real appeal to videographers and MIDI enthusiasts who wish to use Scala events with an external sync. Not surprisingly, an EX — alias a dedicated add‑on module — is provided which enables Scala to respond to timing information from programs such as Bars&Pipes Pro2, which, in turn, could be taking its sync from a SMPTE or MIDI source. As a result, linking Scala into a video suite or studio environment is fairly straightforward.

As mentioned earlier, past revisions of Scala would only wipe text and objects onto a page; you then had to remove the entire page to get rid of them. Now, however, you can remove both elements without replacing the entire page. Another useful extra is the ability to create lines, boxes and circles inside the program instead of being forced into a paint package and then back into Scala to add them as clips or brushes.

Now, like animation, samples or MODs can be played direct from hard drive without having to worry about the amount of Chip RAM being sacrificed — an all‑too‑common problem when employing internal Amiga samples. You can also attach a 'mark' sound and a 'select' sound to buttons to enhance audio feedback of user decisions.

Some of the EXes have been updated, and new ones introduced. In addition to the existing support for Bars&Pipes Pro 2 a MIDI EX now interfaces with Blue Ribbon's One Stop Music Shop and Triple Play Plus MIDI interface. Another new feature, entitled AutoMagic Button Creation, now lets you click on a block of text or object and automatically make it into a button — which, again, makes interactive scripts even more intuitive for the user. There's now a separate underline colour, along with assorted — if basic — processing tools. The program will allow you to view thumbnails of pictures, brushes and animations within the optional shuffler file requester, a feature retained and updated from its predecessor; all items now appear as 24‑bit IFFs on AGA machines. When you bring a picture or brush into Scala, you can now re‑size it, change or reduce the number of colours with the assistance of Floyd‑Steinberg dithering. Scala will also optimise a restricted palette to give the best quality to pictures comprised of differing palettes on the same screen. In addition, the AnimLab utility — which ships as part of the support software — has also been improved to take advantage of Scala's Floyd Steinberg dithering facilities.

As for the overall look and feel of the package, it's very difficult to come up with any serious complaints. The manual is generally excellent and, better still, it's rarely needed. When it comes to ease of use, Scala is powerful and yet so easy to come to terms with. As far as I can tell, most of the annoying limitations and idiosyncrasies of its predecessors have been eliminated, with the possible exception of the dreaded dongle! It's not that I'm against Scala protecting their investment, it just seems strange that, thanks to the dongle, your multimedia creations — which by, definition, should spread information far and wide — are limited entirely to your machine.

Worse still, even the accom‑panying ScalaPlayer, which allows you to run existing scripts without loading the main program, also demands the presence of the aforementioned dongle. In my opinion, this is quite simply taking software security too far. What's the point of creating amazing productions for potential clients if you can't send them a demo of your handiwork without risking your beloved dongle to the local postie?

This paranoia for protection could well cost Scala heavily in the long run, as MediaPoint has no dongle protection whatsoever and can be installed on as many machines as you wish — and, of course, its stand‑alone player will allow any machine to run its creations.

Wipes And Fades

Without seeing the package in action, it's hard to appreciate just how impressive the assorted wipes, fades, page transitions, sound effects and EX detains can be. In fact, it's fair to say that, prior to the arrival of MediaPoint, Scala without a doubt boasted the best software‑based special effects in the business.

Fortunately, the arrival of strong competition has only spurred Scala onto greater things, with an impressive range of new effects and options, which is epitomised by the ability to wipe items on and off the same screen.

As a result, it's now no longer necessary to keep jumping backwards and forwards between pages; why not keep the same system‑efficient backdrop and add and remove text and brushes when necessary?

Spectacular Support

Scala has always shipped with an impressive array of backdrops and other bolt‑on extras, and fortunately this tradition continues with nine new backgrounds bringing the total up to 79; in addition, you also receive a wide selection of single‑colour pictograms.

Although this is great news for the beginner, I can't help feeling that existing Scala fans will be slightly disappointed that so many of the backgrounds have been simply ported across from earlier versions. All the aforementioned backgrounds — with the exception of the nine new ones — have been printed as part of the excellent reference section within the manual. However, none of the clip art and pictograms have been included, so you'll have to rely on guesswork initially

Scala again scores well with a collection of 17 assorted fonts in various sizes — again listed in the reference section. The program also has the ability to add in outside applications, but they must be placed in a specific drawer in the Scala directory and have their tool types set accordingly.

Both packages support add‑on control modules which, in the case of Scala, are called EXs, and allow the package to have direct access to a wide variety of hardware. A complete guide to the modular abilities of both programs will be listed in the next issue.

As for special effects, Scala now boasts a staggering 103 page transitions or wipes plus 86 text effects, which can now be applied to both intros and outros.