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The Icon Bar: News and features: Wakefield '99: Show report

Wakefield '99: Show report

Posted by Tim Fountain on 01:00, 16/5/1999 | , ,
Not exactly a perfect summers day, but at least the rain held off. What we lacked in sunshine was made up for by the bright yellow banded WACG members who greeted us on arrival to the Thornes Park Athletic Stadium.

This was one of the most important Acorn shows to date, as it was the first "big show" since the cancellation of Acorn World last year, and the future of our platform was on display in the form of the new hardware products and RISC OS 4.



RISC OS Ltd's stand. There are some computers in there somewhere...
As you'd expect, there was a crowd around RISC OS Ltd's stand for practically the whole show. The company had a few machines set up with RISC OS 4 running on them, as well as order forms and feature list hand-outs. There were also application forms for the RISC OS Foundation, which we should be hearing a bit more about in the coming weeks.

Long filenamesBubble style helpThe new config window
Long filenames in actionImproved help systemVastly improved config

The operating system upgrade will be dispatched in early July, and should be well worth the wait. From a quick play on one of the machines at the show I can tell you that the speed increase is noticeable, and the new configuration offers many more options (including a huge array of screensavers, although not all have been implemented yet). The software bundled with the machine looks rather nice, Andrew Rawnsley (technical director) was demoing the word processor Writer at one stage; and there are several minor improvements which could prove extremely useful. For example, you'll be able to save files to RAM simply by dropping them onto the RAM disc icon on the icon bar -- especially useful when you want to download something from the Internet.


RiscStation 7500
The Tower version of the RiscStation 7500
The RiscStation 7500 probably had the highest profile of all the new machines at the show, largely because it was the first thing you saw when you came through the door. There were two machines on display, the desktop and tower models, and the display boards behind were covered in purple logos and specification lists.

The machine will use a 56Mhz ARM 7500FE processor, and will have RISC OS 4 pre-installed. This should make it about twice as fast as the original A7000+. Memory wise it comes with a 4.3 gigabyte Hard disc, and 16MB EDO RAM as standard. The machine will have a 40x CD-Rom drive, and a wide range of ports at the back allowing more expansion than the A7000+ offered. For the full spec., see the Cybervillage.



MicroDigital's Mico on display.
MircoDigital had a few machines on display, although their stand looked like a bit of a last minute addition to the show. While none of the machines were actually switched on, they were handing out copies of the glossy brochure and answering questions.

The ARM 7500FE based machine comes in desktop or mini-tower variants, with RISC OS 4 pre-installed, a 56k modem, Argonet account for 6 months and more room for expansion than the A7000+. Prices start at £499 (excluding monitor and VAT).


Millipede and Peanut

 Millipede had hoped to have a prototype of their Imago motherboard on display at the show but unfortunately it didn't make it in time. They were giving out sketchy specifications, and I'm sure we'll hear more from them in the not-too-distant future.

Interconnex's stand was a bit empty, they had been hoping to show off the final machine at the show, but there wasn't even an empty case in sight. The delays are due to hardware difficulties, but hopefully they will be sorted in time for the machine to start shipping towards the end of the summer.


Castle Technology

Castle Technology
Castle Technology's stand
The new official distributors of "Acorn" machines win the award for the most computers on display at the show. Their stand was surrounded by all sorts of RiscPCs and A7000+'s, along with details of their specific bundles such as the 'Peak Performer' and 'Sprinter'.


R-Comp/RCI's stand.
From a gaming point of view, the show was pretty quiet. R-Comp/RCI's stand was where most of the action was, especially due to the absence of Artex Software. RCI had Heretic/Hexen and Heroes of Might and Magic II playable on SA RPCs, and they were selling the first copies of Final Doom. The Doom and Heretic upgrades were also available, although these had a lower profile than I expected, and weren't actually being demo'd as far as I could see. The HoMM2 expansion pack 'Price of Loyalty' was not ready in time for the show, although RCI hope to make this available soon. There will be a few preview of this pack on this site in the next week or two.

A few people were asking after Quake, as the Quake: Resurrection packs were sold at Wakefield last year with promise of the Acorn player "in the following weeks". The same Quake packs were this year in the "bargain basement" box.

Doom on a NetStation
Doom on a Netstation
There were the usual show offers, with Exodus and Ankh being sold especially cheaply (£15.00). The Doom trilogy was reduced to £30.00, and you could buy that and Final Doom for only £40.00. The Towers of Darkness pack was mysteriously missing from their price list.

The NC version of Doom was running on a NetStation on one corner of the stand. Due to the fact that it runs in low resolution, this ran pretty quickly; and of course on a larger (TV) screen rather than a conventional monitor. R-Comp were also selling the new mail/newsreader Messenger Pro, and their new MIDI sequencer.

Tau Press were selling the new CD version of Destiny through the Acorn User stand, although there had not been enough room for a machine to be running the game. CJE Micros were selling 4D's " Value for Money" range at the usual prices.

Games Arcade
The games arcade
The games arcade was rather small, consisting of only 4 machines, running Descent, Abuse, Destiny and Frak. The one running Frak wasn't working properly, but the other 3 were being used most of the time.

Next to the arcade was ProAction's stand, which was manned solely by David Bradforth. He seemed to be selling copies of Risc User more than anything else, but all the games in the ProAction back catalogue (including Repton and Technodream) were available at show prices.

Nathan Atkinson and friend on the VOTI stand.
VOTI were there, selling copies of their latest game SunBurst, and they had a Mice competition set up on a RISC PC. Among the more unusual exhibits were 5 real life Super Foul Eggs, which were sitting on the table looking very menacing.

Cerilica Vantage

Vantage mini-theatre
Cerilica's mini-theatre.
Cerilica Ltd. had one of the largest stands at the show, which included a mini-theatre. Nicholas Van der Walle was demonstrating Cerilica Vantage throughout the day on the big screen, and others were showing off the vector package on other machines on each side of the stand. The package offers a huge list of features, including many not available in any vector package on any platform. One of the most important was the 'true colour' display. What you see on screen really is what you get when printed out. This was demonstrated by comparing the difference between 100% Cyan in CMYK mode in Draw and Vantage. The package also allows you to set the paper colour, which gives you much more accurate on-screen representation if you are printing on a colour other than white.
Vantage being demonstrated
Vantage being demonstrated.
The package appears to be far more user-friendly than Artworks, for example setting the fill colour of an object is done by dragging the colour from the toolbar palette to the fill colour box, rather than having to navigate lengthly menus. You can also drag-select individual nodes, and there are far more keyboard shortcuts.

Text handling appeared to be equally impressive. While the package is not designed for use as a desktop-publishing program, it uses 200,000 greyscale colours for text anti-aliasing, and Cerilica's Acorn Publisher advert (A4 sized page consisting of 50/50 text/graphics) was loaded and displayed extremely quickly.

Vantage screenshot
Vantage screenshot, exclusive to Acorn Arcade.
Vantage's equivalent to layers - families was demostrated. These are easily manipulated and can be quickly displayed, grouped or combined.

Not all of the features have been implemented yet, and even the latest version shown at the show still had a few bugs in, but it is clear that when this package is released it will have a large impact on the Acorn community and perhaps even the graphics community as a whole. It certainly looks like the 'killer app' we need.

Cerilica were taking orders at the show, and they hope to release the package in about a month.

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The Icon Bar: News and features: Wakefield '99: Show report