By Steve Ticehurst
Readers who have read some of my previous work would have become accustomed of my regular references to the Molehill. Over the years I have come to refer to my small room in a house in the middle of the Norfolk Fens where my Atari setup has lived for a number of years, as “The Molehill”. It’s a long story really that would take too long to explain here, I can’t even say that I’ve seen many moles either. But the fact remains that over the years the Molehill has been steadily collecting Atari disks and magazines, along with parts of computers both working and non-working. Even when I went to University, the collection grew each time I went back to Norfolk.
Why am I telling you this? “So what?”, you may be thinking, you too must have quite a collection that has steadily built up over the years. The reason why is because I have just moved into a little house on the South Downs over looking Brighton & Hove, and a very nice little house it is too. Because of this major move it meant for the first time I had to clear out all my stuff from the Molehill and move it down to Brighton. From small room in Norfolk to a full house in Brighton, from the Molehill to “Moleville”.
So getting back to the main purpose of the whole thing. Because of this move I now find myself sitting in the middle of the floor surrounded by boxes, computers, monitors, and magazines. In the spare bedroom that has become the “computer room” or as it will become known as “Moleville”, it is a complete mess. As the spare room it soon became the junk room when we were first moving furniture in. Very slowly it is starting to empty out again and when the normal household items have all been removed it will be over to me to transform this room into some sort of order and design some sort of setup where all my computer parts can be put together and they will all talk to each other perfectly. No doubt more on this sometime in the future along with other points of interest I find out to continue with my “Coming Home” series that have appeared here in the past.
During the last week or two I have been reading some of the old Atari magazines that had been laying around the Molehill for all those years and some of them bring back the memorys. In particular the launch of the STe is something that I find most interesting in Ataris history. I must admit that it all happened before I really got into the Atari world. I had used an STf and an STfm at school during music lessons and I was very impressed with what you could do with a little amount of money. I found it amazing that you could not only record your music via MIDI, but you could print the score as well. Both functions were something I had dreamed about for some time and had even looked into getting a MIDI interface for my Commodore 64.
By the time I had saved enough money to buy an ST I had left school and the STe had been out long enough for TOS 1.62 to be released, but not long enough for the STe to still be thought of as something new and sometimes a pain when running some games. However, I remember being rather chuffed with my new purchase espically when I read the label on my first ST User coverdisk which informed me that all programs on the disk would work on the new STe. It wasn’t years afterwards once I had been around a while did realise that maybe the STe was not much more than an STfm with some extra features. However, all the time that I used the Atari STe as my main working machine it seemed like I had something special. I had an ST but it was a bit different from the normal “fm”.
Looking back, magazines were talking about an “ST Plus” or the “ST Enhanced” months before it was released. People were hoping for 256 colour resolutions and stereo sound that would match the Amiga. When this “super ST” finally came out in the UK it seemed like nothing more than an STfm with twiddly bits. Infact, Atari didn’t even make use of the Christmas rush, the first STes seemed to be available in the UK in January 1990. Even before this time developers did not seem to be too impressed with the STe and Atari threatened to take early developer STe machines away from those who complained! To make the whole STe story worse, it wasn’t long that it was discovered that STOS programs would not work, shortly followed by PD libraries announcing that great numbers of demos and graphics programs would not run on an STe. All this after Atari saying the STe would run everything that the STfm would do. But wait, because it didn’t even stop there, a bug was found in the TOS (1.6) which prevented you from booting up in medium resolution, a bug that was recognised by Atari as “minimal”.
By March, it seemed that everyone had accepted the STe as a bit of a failure. This was backed up by ST Format who ran a news special titled “The STe - What Went Wrong” (issue 8). They summed the whole thing up in the first words, “The new enhanced ST was going to conquer the world, but instead became Christmas 89’s biggest turkey. We devote a special news feature to the continuing saga of Atari’s STe fiasco”. Remember, this was a magazine that supported Atari!
When people used to ask me what computer I had, I would also say “STe” with pride. It always seemed that I had a brand new machine that was so new that not much software had yet been written for it. Back then, that was the case and I would always look into the future for when stereo sound and 4096 colour pallete, and analogue joysticks would become the norm, and all STfm users would have to upgrade. That was a nice feeling back then, as the years past there was still no major STe only software, eight years later and I am still waiting.
My STe was, and still is, very special to me because it was always a new machine. You always have to make sure that a piece of software is STe compatible (although maybe not so much these days) and I still look at those extra joystick ports thinking one day they will be used, one day I will use all the extra functions of my STe. I am looking forward to that day, but somehow I think it may have passed me and the Falcon has taken the limelight. You won’t find me jealous, the Falcon was, and still is, a great machine, but I always think of what could had been with the STe, even what should had been with the STe. Of course, the Falcon is yet another story.....
After a short break during which time Moleville is put back in order, I will continue to “Come Home” with my travels back into Atari world after my short phase of being a PC owner in future editions.