Hello fellow atarians,
I would like to share my experience with the Atariada 2017 retro-computing event. I try to provide as much general information as possible, but this is obviously a (rather long) personal report.
Atariada, in its current format, is a yearly three-day event that takes place in Olomouc, Czech Republic. This event is organized by "Atari klub - spolek pznivc historick vpoetn techniky" (loosely translated as "Atari Club - association of fans of historical computers") and visited mostly by atarians (from 8-bit to 64-bit) from the Czech Republic and Slovakia. This event has also a few visitors from the neighbouring or even more distant countries. Fans of other similar platforms (such as Commodore C64 or ZX Spectrum) are also welcome (if they can tolerate few friendly jokes about their inferior computers). This event has a lot of history. The very first Atariada took place in 1996.
Thanks to the efforts of the Atari Club, especially its headmaster Bohdan Milar, Atariada can take place in the "Secondary, primary, and nursery school of Professor V. Vejdovsky Olomouc - Hejn" that provides education for visually impaired students. A portion of the top floor is dedicated to the event, mainly the great audio hall. Two smaller rooms serve as sleeping rooms. A typical equipment of a typical visitor is therefore a sleeping bag (I am used to booking a room in a nearby inn, so they call me the "luxury man").
The audio hall (hereinafter The Hall) is really a very nice place. We have to take special measures in order to prevent any damage to the school equipment and keep the place clean. Smoking is prohibited (the smokers have to go outside the fence that surrounds the building), eating and drinking is allowed only in the corridor (except plain water, I think). As a consequence, the Visiting Rules are long, strict and also include the word "banish."
Atariada is mostly a free-form event. Bring your computer(s) and do whatever you want with whoever you want - play games, develop software, design graphics, compose computer music, program, discuss anything, solder, buy and sell relevant goods. However, there is also an official programme.
The official programme includes official opening, presentations, quiz games, gaming competitions, prize giving ceremony and an official ending.
Mostly during the second day (Saturday), we are ready for visitors from general public. The idea is to find some "lost atarians" and get them back on board, or to find people just interested in retro-computing. It happens, but in a very funny way. See below.
The first day is a very busy day for the members of the Atari Club who live in Olomouc. Since morning, they were preparing the place - bringing tables from the attic, installing electrical equipment (there is never enough extension cords), bringing some television sets, computers and game consoles for the "gaming corner", tickets, cables, and everything that is needed. It is a lot of stuff (1000+1 things) to be done.
As I live in Prague, I travel to Atariada by train (it takes 3 hours and 15 minutes, includes time spent waiting for a local train in Olomouc) carrying a backpack with my personal belongings and much bigger and heavier bag with Atari equipment - this time I had my Atari 800XL and a box full of accessories. In Olomouc, I happened to meet my friend Peter "HardCore" who lives near Ostrava and then we went together to the final destination by a local train and had lunch.
When we arrived at the place, the preparations were almost over. Peter and I volunteered (or were volunteered?) to help with the navigation. We were gluing navigation signs (so the visitors don't get lost and know how to operate the entry gate). The headmaster of the Atari club showed his impressive organizational skills once again - there was a complete plan describing where to glue all the signs.
The more entertaining part of the navigation is barricading some corridors with chairs, so the visitors do not go where they are not supposed to go (a security measure stronger than the signs). This is a good exercise, because the chairs have to be carried from the attic and moved to various places. That day I was particularly clumsy, but thanks to Peter's efforts and patience, the task was completed. The icing on the cake was gluing the Visiting Rules on the door to the audio hall. This document somehow gets longer every year. I also paid my Atari Club subscription fee and was given a blue ticket.
During the afternoon and evening, various atarians were coming and unpacking their computers and accessories. I know some of them, so it was a good time to shake hands. As I have poor memory for names and faces, I know some only by their nickname.
Together with Peter "HardCore", "Jack Free", and Zbynk "Ja_Jsem_CD" we went shopping to obtain some provisions for the upcoming two days. We also bought two big buckets of Bambas - an unplanned gift to our fellow atarians (these were consumed to the last Bamba later). Then we agreed that I will go to the inn for a guest registration and then we all meet in a nearby pub to have a dinner (and few glasses of beer, of course). After the dinner, we all went back to The Hall. On our way back, a new group named BAHA Software (Baktra + Hardcore) was born.
That evening I was working with Peter. Our project named "Where is my home", a conversion of a TV quiz game was suffering from some bugs. Programming in Turbo Basic XL after drinking two glasses of beer was an interesting experience. We hunted down some bugs and I was writing a re-indexing utility for the game that should solve its main problem - POINT statements failing randomly. The re-indexing was not working well and I was not able to figure out why. It was late, so we decided that it would be best to continue the day after. I went to the inn to get some sleep.
Saturday is the main day of the event. All atarians are present and The Hall becomes a very busy place. Everyone is fiddling with something.
I was again working with Peter fixing the project. Finally I managed to do the re-indexing correctly (after some, shall we say... face palms), and more bugs were fixed. We came to conclusion, that the status of the game justifies allowing beta-testers (a group of fellow atarians in The Hall eager to play the game who kept asking if the game is ready) to play the game and also giving a presentation about the game. So we started finalizing a presentation that was to be given in the afternoon's official programme. I switched from Turbo Basic XL to MS PowerPoint running on my laptop (a rugged Lenovo X200). With Peter we were adding slides to the presentation and discussing what we will tell and who will tell what. It was Peter's first presentation ever at Atariada.
We also took few breaks. Peter takes cigarette breaks, I take chocolate/biscuit breaks so our addictions are somehow balanced.
During these breaks, I made some observations that can explain what happens at Atariada.
A popular activity of the 8-bit atarians is playing various MultiJoy games for 2-16 players. It is only logical, because at events like Atariada there is enough players available. This is also my favourite activity, especially when I win :-). But working on the project took precedence. The project requires a MultiJoy, so Peter and I were testing it with one stick in each hand. Zbynk and "Jack Free" were helping us too.
No matter what, Frantiek Houra "Fandal the Great" wins most of the MultiJoy game matches. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that he writes most of these games. Some suspect he has a secret wire in his joystick combined with a backdoor in his games (IF PLR$="FANDAL" THEN WIN=1).
A most popular activity of the 16/32-bit atarians must be fixing and upgrading their computers :-) I couldn't miss the fact that their computers had their covers removed most of the time.
I was so busy working on the project that I almost ignored the official welcome ceremony when the key members of the Atari Club had an opening speech. I also hardly noticed the MultiJoy game competition in playing the Sails of Doom and MultiLoops (not yet published) games. The Sails of Doom game is a battle of ships of the line with realistic cannon shooting.
Our project and the presentation were ready, so when Bohdan, the headmaster of the Atari Club, asked if it is really ready, we confidently replied "YES, MY LORD!"
After that hard work, we rewarded ourselves with some fresh air, a long walk, and a lunch in the Golden Orb restaurant where they serve dishes made of Olomouc Cheese. We went together with "Jack Free", Zbynk, Peter, and "Pedros" who is a nice guy from Olomouc I never met before. I learned that "Pedros" likes retro-computing and works in IT (so do I). With his camcorder, he was shooting videos - opening speech, presentations, possibly more. These videos are waiting for editing and post-production, but should be available soon somewhere.
The rest of the day was devoted to continuation of the official programme. A group photo was taken. Then the block of presentations began. The following presentations were given.
Engine for Text Games. Rudolf Kudla "Rudla Kudla" described his generalized engine written in assembler for creating and running sophisticated text games.
Bad Apple, a Japanese demoepidemic. Antonn Holk explained a viral video named Bad Apple and related fandom activities. He also described various "ports" of the video to unexpected computing platforms (e.g. Vectrex) and his efforts to "port" the video to 8-bit Atari computers. His work was, as always, impressive.
Story of a new 8-bit game "Where is my Home" - from TV screen to Atari. Peter and I presented our new project. I think the presentation went well and it was one of the few that ended on time.
CosmosEx - Multifunctional peripheral for ST/TT/Falcon. Bohdan Milar presented the CosmosEx device that allows to use various memory cards and USB devices for emulation of ACSI/SCSI disks and also allows to connect standard USB mouse or keyboards to the 16/32-bit Atari Computers. And what is more, the device will fit in the floppy drive bay. If I were a 16/32-bit Atarian, I would say it is a must-have device.
Lilliput-Put - Small talks about news from the Atari world. A set of shorter presentations. New video output board for Atari Jaguar, invitation to a computer history museum, and small video output mod for C64 that allows to use CINCH connector instead of DIN.
ZX Uno. "Factor6" described ZX Uno, a ZX spectrum computer clone based on FPGA. This little device can replace various 8-bit computers including 8-bit Atari. All I can say is... Impressive! Both "Factor6"'s presentation and the device.
After a break for dinner, we were competing in two quiz games prepared and moderated by our "unofficially official" and magnificent MC nicknamed "Wotnau."
Fort Atariard. When competing in Fort Atariard, you must identify computer games or well-known atarians using visual clues. There are five visual clues revealed gradually (these are not screenshots from the games, that would be too easy). If you know the game or person, you shout it. If you shout first and your answer is correct you get points. Then you have a privilege to answer a bonus question and get more points. If you don't answer, others can. I find this quiz very entertaining, though I usually score very poorly. This time, I scored only one point.
Mixtures in Pixels. When competing in this quiz, the audience is presented with screenshots of games. There are few deliberate mistakes in the screenshots and you have to identify them. You simply shout the answer and you get points when you are loud, fast, and correct. Bonus questions are available too, this time for everyone. To my surprise, I won this quiz. One of the screenshots was from the Curse of the Lost Miner game I wrote in 2015, that helped me a lot. One could tell that it was cheating, but as the MC pointed out, we could see how beneficial is to create new games. I cannot agree more :-).
I enjoyed these two quizzes very much and I must salute "Wotnau" for his work and skills. He was managing the competition extremely well and switching from Czech to English to accommodate our guests from abroad. It was almost midnight, therefore time to go to my room in the inn and dream.
Sadly, the last day of Atariada. I woke up, packed my belongings and left the inn and walked back to The Hall. I discovered a shortcut in the process (through some seemingly abandoned garden) that will save me 5 minutes of walking next year.
That day, I came bit later and The Hall was already busy, as expected. As we had enough of programming, Peter and I were playing Boulder Dash II. Our project was in the capable hands of the beta testers. When we took our first cigarette/cookie break, my notepad was full of ideas and enhancement requests that we were discussing. There is a strange joy in seeing 4 people playing a game I helped to create, even though they are complaining a bit.
Also "Fandal" approached Peter and me to discuss our possible engagement in his potential project - localization of one older game full of texts (I cannot tell what game) to the Czech language. I can only tell that if all goes well, it will be brilliant.
Some of the fellow atarians started packing and leaving, as they had obligations or a long way home.
Then there was the prize ceremony. As I won one of the quiz games, I was called to the stage, to take prize for the 1st place (three items, various chocolate bars or older mags) and for a photo of our glorious gestures. Then there was an official ending.
It was time to have a lunch and then help the core Atari Club members with "restoring The Hall to its original state." Peter and I removed all signs we had previously glued, put all the "barricade chairs" back to the attic or to The Hall and helped moving some of the tables to the attic. That day I was not that clumsy.
As I mentioned above, visitors from general public are mostly expected on Saturday. But every year there is someone who comes on Sunday when the event is almost over and asks for help with Atari. This year was no exception. A potential atarian nicknamed "KoplSopl" came and asked for help with testing of extended memory of his 130XE. We agreed that he should try some games that require extended memory. I send him a package with such games by e-mail. I hope it helped him. He also got some contacts, so he can reach atarians that live close to him. Perhaps one day he will join "the family."
So this was the end. Peter and I went by local train to the main railway station in Olomouc and parted company. He went to Ostrava and I went to Prague.
Atariada 2017 was an enjoyable event. I will never regret my decision to go to my first Atariada few years ago and I will go there next year. This event is always an inspiration to keep my Atari running and program it or get involved in new projects. I will also keep involved in the official programme - preparing at least one presentation.
P.S. The MultiJoy is a handy device for events like this one. It for sure allows to connect multiple joysticks, but in reality, it multiplies the joy of playing games with (or against) your fellow atarians.
Written by Michael "Baktra" Kalouš