First of a new generation of Atari Diskmags?
It was not that long ago, that we started to hear of a brand new
Atari-based diskmag which seemed to promise quite a lot. ST-Offline was
that new shining light in the grey and dingy diskmag firmament, and
almost before we could identify the website from whence it came, the
launch issue was upon us! Of course, the crucial question you will all
be asking ie. "Is it any good?" soon follows.
As a senior member of the jealously guarded diskmag hierarchy, further
investigations were required! I obtained a copy, which seemed to depack
down to the sort of footprint that would normally smudge over two double
sided floppy disks. At this stage we were hearing from early customers
that it 'sort of' had Falcon and hard disk compatibility. That the shell
program ran from the hard drive, but it still expected the other disk
containing the articles, still to be on floppy drive A: So I didn't take
any chances, creating such a data disk.
I had a few clues what to expect, even before I clicked on a program
icon. The two prime movers behind this new arrival, were none other
than Chris "Mega Diskmag" Swinson, and Lee "UFO-ST" Round. I had
encountered at least one of each of their productions, in the past, and
the verdict was mixed. 'Mega', or at least the early issue I saw was a
total disaster in the menu shell department. It relied on some abandoned
ZX Spectrum megademo menu from 1986, as its primary user interface,
which wasn't even satisfactory for its original purpose back then! The
articles were a mixture of a few strangely interesting pieces from
Chris, and a whole heap of internet blagged stuff which was a bizarre
mixture of self-help Americanisms, and outright paranoia.
"Grow big muscles, make $$$$ today, oh, and by the way, they're controlling
your mind from satellites in outer space!"
I never saw any more issues of Mega after that, but I gather up to four
issues in total were produced.
Lee Round came to our attention in the ST Plus days. He hovered on the
fringes of that publication for a while, but came up with quite a tidy
production of his own that lasted a couple or so issues. This was
UFO-ST, which managed to take STOS, and bend it into quite an impressive
multi-media styled menu shell. Didn't work very well on the Falcon, but
still, you can't have everything. The contents, I'll sort of skim over,
having been inspired to produce the deliberately sceptical 'Psycho
Babble Project',this time two years ago, by the more overwrought textual
outpourings of the UFO lobby!
With this pairing, it was going to be interesting to see what happened,
when these prodigies of diskmagdom finally worked together!
Starting up, we try a few casual things such as non-standard (Falcon)
screen modes, and running it under my preferred 'default mode' of 50
mhz CT2 with pre-cooked NVDI thrown in. The not so surprising result is
a 'Bless dis mess' concept when trying to mix this diskmag with NVDI
and the extended screen modes. Chastened, I switch down to the humblest
setting possible, taking my Falcon back on a nostalgia trip to 1993 and
rebooting in a naked low-res grot-green desktop, so pure, so clean, so
A short time later, and loading is completed. Disk 2 is requested, a
speech sample thanks you, and we are on our way!
The menu is a slight parody on Windows '95. A functioning bottom menu
bar waits for your options or requests for help. A bunch of icons
cluster casually around the Windows-turquoise screen, awaiting your
mouse clicks. These are nicely designed, one or two borrowing directly
from the best of current GEM or, erm, other sources!
Clicking on one of the icons produces a sub-menu. In this way, you can
have 'Computers', 'Music', 'Wibble', and more ominously, 'The
Paranormal', among others.
Clicking on an article brings up an LED text load screen. Loading and
depacking, even of the lengthier articles, is completed quickly. The
text displayer is a model of minimalism, or it may be a work in progress
version. This does its job efficiently enough.
Evidence of the authors personal involvement is sparse, it is
encapsulated in about a couple of articles! There is a functional "Let's
get the show on the road" editorial piece from Lee Round, and a much
longer, and more interestingly personal piece from Chris, which goes
into the many and varied reasons why he hardly touches his Falcon
anymore. (Things happen, people move on, etc.)
The rest of it is purely internet compiled material, but to be fair, ST
Offline was never setting out to be anything else.
In my own view, more original specifically written material lends a
diskmag more heart and soul. What we have here is a huge dry wodge
of netgrabs. There is certainly more potential for self-expression on
the part of the editorial team, and we saw but a glimpse of it here.
The material is varied, and there is lots of it. Some of it is ageing
rather rapidly, it seems the initial idea for this mag arose sometime
in the middle of last year, judging by the mid-2000 dates that cropped
up on a lot of the submissions.
Some of the material is mildly interesting, ranging from sensible
concepts such as the Napster debate (as it stood in mid-2000), going
through to the charmingly bonkers, such as the lucid dreams FAQ.
The core 'Computers' section is divided into PC ST and others. The ST
section includes a very useful STinG/Atari internet setting up FAQ,
there are related PC topics.
The 'X-Files' or Paranormal section mostly stays away from the little
green men, instead looking at the Echelon Surveillance Satellite network
and (the lack of) internet privacy.
There is a promised emulation special for the next issue. Which will be
useful to those people with a PeeCee, and a hankering to get back to the
good old days. Interestingly, Lee also mentioned something about a
special 30th issue of the legendary 'Stosser' Diskmag too!
I'm not really sure what kind of reader ST Offline is aimed at. It's
based on an idea which would have had more relevance about four or five
years ago. A repository of some of the more mentally challenging
corners of the Internet, aimed at enlivening the outlook of the net
deprived. But now, most people are on the net, and able to dig this
material out for themselves. Have the ST Offline team missed the boat
with this production?
In conclusion, it's a diskmag Jim, but not as we know it!
CiH For Alive! Mag - March '01