Publisher: HeadFirst PD
Compatibility: Acorn Electron
Reviewed by: Will Watts
Originally published in EUG #07

As with most things that are worthwhile, setting up a PD library takes a lot of time and effort. In the case of HeadFirst PD (run by Gareth Boden and James Treadwell), it's still early days, but their software is of a pretty high standard. Several months ago they very kindly sent me a selection of software on tape, as at that time I only had 3.5" ADFS and HeadFirst only had 5.25" DFS.

The first program on the tape was a Tape-to-Disk transfer utility so I was able to compile my own ADFS disks equivalent to the DFS originals. It was just a matter of setting the *OPT codes for an auto-boot on each disk and I was away!

The first thing you notice about HeadFirst disks is that they are put together with a lot of thought which makes them very easy to use, as I shall explain in this review of my favourites.

Copy Utilities (Disk 1)

Having booted the disk with SHIFT-BREAK, up popped a menu screen [Good start! - Will]. By simply pressing one of the number keys between 1 and 7, I could choose from a variety of tape-to-disk or disk-to-disk copying routines. Item 6 on the menu offered instructions for using all the programs so I selected this first.

Detailed instructions for using all the programs could be read from a Mode 3 (or so I assume) screen which could be scrolled up and down using the cursor keys. I was impressed by the way they had managed to use a bold font for certain key words and would be interested to hear how this trick was done! If you use ADFS, DFS and tape, then these utilities are just the thing to keep your files in order.

Shadow RAM Database (Disk 3)

As the name implies, this utility must be used with the Slogger Master RAM Board in 64K mode and offers 24K of storage space.

This is a menu driven program with options being selected using the function keys. It allows as many as 20 fields per record each of which can have up to 25 characters. There is plenty of scope for use here, from a simple address 'book' to more complex record keeping.

Hyperball Screen Designer (Disk 4)

Again, the name speaks for itself! If you have the game Hyperball from Superior/Acornsoft, you can design your own screens, making them ridiculously easy or fiendishly tricky. Simple to use and a sure fire way of extending the life of the game.

Invaders Demo (Disk 7)

There are very few Electron demos around, but this has got to be one of the best. On loading, the top four-fifths of the screen displays the static message, "Game Over. Press SPACE to Play", whilst behind it can be seen a vertically scrolling parallax starfield (so beloved of 16-bit demo writers!).

At the same time an incredibly lengthy message scrolls from right to left at the bottom of the screen (EUG even gets a mention!). The lettering is very big and has the appearance of being back-lit, while the scrolling itself is surprisingly smooth and even. If you get bored with the scrolling message, you can press Space and three rows of huge 'Space Invaders' type sprites will appear in front of the 'stars' (which continue to drift down the screen).

A massive invaders' blaster also appears which you can move left and right with the Z and X keys and fire using RETURN. By the way, the scrolling message continues uninterrupted while all this is going on!

The actual game-play isn't all that demanding, but then I don't think it's meant to be!

What this demo demonstrates is that the Electron is capable of displaying huge sprites in three-plane animation, each moving in a different direction and all virtually flicker-free! This is a clever piece of programming by Gareth Boden and well worth a look.

How Do I Get Them?

HeadFirst PD disks (including a Sample/Catalogue 'taster') cost 1.25 each, but are only available 'direct' to 5.25" users. Programs intended for 3.5" owners have to be copied onto tape from 5.25" master files or onto 3.5" disk using an Acorn 32-bit machine (which automatically formats disks for use on a double-sided drive). So, for the sake of efficiency, 3.5" disk owners should do one of the following:

  1. Enclose a cassette with your order. HeadFirst will send you a blank (unformatted) 3.5" disk and the programs on the tape for you to transfer yourself.
  2. Enclose a pre-formatted 3.5" disk. HeadFirst will then be able to transfer the software to your disk and send it back. This costs only 75p as opposed to 1.25.

You can contact HeadFirst PD at 45 Cedar Street, Southport PR8 6NQ

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Look out for news of two new User Group software projects starting in the New Year, which should be of interest to users and programmers!