ST FORMAT has uncovered details of Atari's amazing top-secret plans for a new ST-based supercomputer, code-named Falcon. It is at the cutting edge of new computer technology, including CD-based data storage and a powerful operating system such as Unix.
Sam Tramiel, the head of Atari USA, has gone on the record about the previously unknown Falcon project and two further ST developments. This comes at a time when news of the two new portable STs, Style (formerly the ST Pad) and ST Book, is still creating shockwaves in the ST market. (See last issue for FORMAT's exclusive technical details.)
In an interview with FORMAT's correspondent in the States, Tramiel said: “There will be continuing expansions on the ST line. Today we have the STE, the Mega STE and the Falcon. We have at least four new machines coming out in the ST line and they are just phenomenal machine's” Tramiel added that all four new ST’s would be out in 1992.
We decided to investigate further and contacted Peter Staddon, Marketing Manager of Atari UK. He appeared stunned when FORMAT mentioned the name Falcon to him, He told us, “I couldn't begin to tell you about that” and asked if he could call us back.
Later, after behind-the-scenes discussions, Staddon returned our call and revealed that “Falcon is an umbrella project combining several areas of current technology. It will be launched into the high end of the ST market. Falcon will combine leading new technologies such as CDI drives with a high end operating system such as Unix, in a bundle with TT-based technology” All this means that a price of something under £2,000 is likely.
Tramiel was tight-lipped about exactly what the other two unspecified new ST machines would be like. He merely commented that they are “phenomenal machines, wow machines.” All four new machines are being lined up as additions to the existing ST range, not as replacements for any existing ST models. He also guaranteed that the new machines would all be compatible with the existing ST range.
Tramiel is hoping to ship Atari's brand new 64=bit RISC Jaguar games console for under $200. He sees the machine as being leaps and bounds ahead of the competition, namely Super Famicom. Tramiel says he wants a “wow machine” rather than an “okay” machine.
Atari are very aware of the developments taking place in the interactive CD market – systems that use CDs rather than disks for data storage. When asked if there would be a CD-ST package, Tramiel told ST FORMAT: “We have a new CD-ROM drive coming out for the ST series shipping, let's say, to be conservative, in August. It's a plug-in to STs and TTs, it's a CD-ROM and it does everything, at least, that CDTV [Commodore's interactive CD package] does. It just comes in separate packages.
“If the CDTV concept of one-box packaging does well,” Tramiel said, “we'll repackage and do it that way. Our CD-ROM will support ISO and High Sierra formats [standard CD data storage formats, analogous to VHS and S-VHS videotape formats] and it shouldn't be a problem getting titles transferred over” Tramiel is invoking at a target price of $499 maximum and reveals that we will definitely be seeing the machine in Europe this side of Christmas.
The new wait-and-see attitude Atari are displaying here seems to mean that they have learnt from their mistakes and are letting other companies test the water of new markets before they release any new machines.
It seems like hardly a month can go by without Atari proudly announcing a new and powerful addition to the ST range. All power to their sword - it's precisely this kind of news which keeps the ST software scene throbbing. But Atari must ensure that they encourage developers to support any new “super” machines.
A healthy software base which colorfully demonstrates the enhanced features of the new STs must be in existence before the machines hit the street. Atari released the STE without that and expected people to pay an extra £100 on the promise of what it could do. This might have been tolerable if decent software had filtered through within a couple of months, but a year and a half later the vast majority of games still don't utilise the features of the STE.
Programmers are still writing for the lowest common denominator - the 520STFM. Our reader survey revealed that nearly a quarter of you own STEs and that figure is continually rising. You invest money in the “superior” ST but see nothing for it.
The only way to show the games publishers that you want games which utilise the STE's extra features is to refuse to buy lesser games. But if you show such discernment, the software houses turn around and blow a trumpet of doom for the whole of the ST games world.
They have a right to be sceptical about new projects. Atari encouraged developers to support their Panther console and then withdrew it at the last minute. Against that background it's easy to understand developers' lack of support for Atari's new machines. So it's up to Atari to sort it out. They need to ensure that in future they send out hundreds of development machines to prompt programmers to work on new software. There must be no more of this practice of announcing new machines and then pulling them at the last minute. Publishers must be given every opportunity to produce new software, because without it all these wonder machines are worthless.