Latest Developments in the Atari Diskmags Scene
In these days in which not a lot of diskmags are released in the whole scene, it becomes yet more interesting to take a close look at the few who have not left us, regardless of the platform for which they are released. On the occasion of the recent release of Undercover Magascene #22 (in the middle of April 2002), I've taken a peek on the recent development and the current state of the Atari diskmag scene.
"Atari scene", that's a term that comprises the demomakers active on such different platforms as the ST, a 16-bit computer from the middle 1980s which once was the most fierce competitor of the Commodore Amiga, the Falcon, a newer architecture which made serious trouble for 486s in the early 1990s, and the Jaguar, which was the first 64-bit video game console ever - it had already been established three years before the development of the Nintendo 64.
Since ST programs can be run on Falcon and PC too, in the latter case using a free emulator such as PaCiFiST or SainT (available at Little Green Desktop), most diskmags are still based on ST shells. In fact, as we will shortly see, there are two mags using a rather old engine that has seen hardly any changes since 1998. Due to this, graphics and sound capabilities are restricted; the clear focus of most Atari diskmags is the content. However, there are also a few Falcon mags. As far as I know, there is hardly any active Atari demomaker who does not own a Falcon, so the number of people from the target group who are unable to read them is rather small, but of course ex-Atari users and those who've never had an Atari won't be able to read these mags using their PCs.
Three years ago, we had the first Atari Diskmags Report in Hugi, to be more precise Hugi #14. Back then there were two major magazines, the Undercover Magazine (UCM), which had already reached issue 14 as well, and Maggie, of which 26 issues had seen the light of the day thus far. The first being published in Germany, the second in England, both had international contributors, were targeted at an international readership and featured in the former case mostly and in the latter case only articles in the English language. Furthermore, there was another active diskmag, Toxic Magazine. But this one was en Francais and not intended to address anyone outside la Grande Nation.
Similar to other magazines at other platforms at other times, UCM and Maggie were struggling to become leaders in the scene. Of course this was not a serious struggle, it was a competition driven by fun. The answer to the question of who was the leader was left open, as both magazines had their own diskmags charts in which, naturally, they themselves were placed number 1 respectively. Basically it seemed that, like so often, there were two factions in the scene, one being Maggie groupies, the others defenders of the undercover crown.
The UCM adherents regarded their mags as more scenish, since it focused on news and heaps of reviews of demos, music packs, diskmags and even ascii art while containing only few non-scene articles - mostly jokes in German language from an unknown origin. By contrast, Maggie was more open-minded towards other topics, the scene section being just one of many. The games and game-dev section was of the same size, and there were lots of stories and reports about real-life as well as fictional happenings. At the same time Maggie also featured more coding articles. Well, yeah, I see that you are smiling - or at least I am.
UCM was directed by Moondog, a German editor and member of the demo group .tSCc. (the sirius cybernetics corporation). He was (in)famous for his harsh, opinionated reviews in which he did not hold back criticism, no matter whether the respective production had been released by a friend or foe of his. His writing was not too bad, never too short, sometimes rather too long. However, his style very often appeared to be quite spontaneous, which was shown by the frequent use of the words "hehe" and "hmm". That's why MrPink, deputy editor of Maggie, once joked that Moondog was probably living in Hmmburg.
Short after the review in Hugi, Moondog's scene activities were interrupted by the loss of a very close relative. It was not easy for him to recover from this shock, especially as it also meant that from now on he would have to assume more responsibility for his remaining family. That was why he decided to stop working on the magazine which he had been leading and filling with articles for more than five years.
The new main editor was STsurvivor, the former editor of the French Toxic Magazine. STS created issues 15 to 20 of UCM. Whilst issue 15 was still in the Moondog style because Moondog had left quite a lot of articles to his successor, he was on his own in the remaining issues. STS faced the problem with which a lot of editors who aren't accustomed to writing everything themselves are confronted: lack of contributions. So the fact that UCM was released quite frequently, and once there was even just a month's time between two issues, isn't due to a flood of articles; these issues were simply small in content.
After UCM #20, STS resigned. At about the same time the last issue of Maggie was released - 10 years after Maggie #1. The Atari scene was left without a major diskmag. Then editors of both magazines, such as CiH, Paranoid and Exocet, decided to team up and create a new mag. Born was Alive, the mag that was supposed to show that the Atari scene was what its name indicated. One former UCM editor, however, didn't join this move; instead, Grey of Mystic Bytes founded another disk magazine, Chosneck. So far there is only an issue. It is based on a Falcon engine which, according to the review in UCM #22, looks very much like PC diskmags such as Hugi.
Whereas Chosneck apparently has a pretty modern interface, Alive is embedded in the engine of the old Undercover Magazine. It looks so much like older UCM issues that, if there wasn't the Alive logo, you'd think you were reading yet another UCM edition. But in contrast to the last UCMs, it did have quite a lot of content: about 70 articles per issue. The first issue came out in early 2001. By now there are already four issues.
But, now comes the surprise: Short after Alive #1, UCM #21 was released under the .tSCc. label; Moondog was back in business! Again he had created an issue almost with only his own articles. The mag appeared in the same old, or let's say classic style, it featured the same sections as before, a big news corner and lots of reviews, including reviews of Alive and the last issues of UCM with STS as the main editor - the headline is already very telling: "UCM at its worst?".
A year later, in April 2002, UCM #22 came out, again mainly with Moondog editorials, Moondog news, Moondog reviews - and, okay, Mc Laser party reports.
Moondog is a veteran who is obviously very dedicated to the Atari scene and loves writing about it. He also seems to feel responsible for his magazine, which is very understandable, as he built it up himself, led it and dominated its contents for several years. He is the example of a single person with oustanding commitment - commitment strong enough to keep a whole scene alive.
Apart from those, some new mags saw the light of the day in Poland and England: Syntax vs Underground and ST Offline respectively. At this point it seems to be impossible to tell anything but that future will show us how they will develop.
The latest two issues of UCM can also be read online at sirlab.de. That's a very good move for those who want a quick read without bothering to install an emulator and find out how to handle that new, virtual system.
In conclusion, although Atari systems aren't widespread, the scene seems to be still running, and there are still mags of some quality. I'm personally not much attracted by reviews except sometimes mag-reviews, but if that's what an editor wants to write, there's no reason to forbid him to do so.
Adok/Hugi - 29 April 2002