IMAGINE SOFTWARE may be dead but its bones have yet to be laid to rest.
The company left the marketplace with debts estimated at £1 million and with 80 creditors. The meeting of creditors and former employees was a heated affair with directors Mark Butler, Dave Lawson and Ian Heatherington hiding from the wrath of former customers in a room next to where the vote for closure was taking place.
The official receiver, Bill Wheatley, has managed to recover £300,000 in assets from the sale of company vehicles and furniture. At one point Imagine directors tried to set up a company called Finchspeed which bought the rights to the megagames developed by Imagine and said to be worth £4 million. Those were sold for £700 on the understanding that Finchspeed paid some profits back to Imagine in order to clear its debts.
Accusations and counter-accusations have continued to fly. At one point it was reported that Steve Blower, a former director of Imagine, had requested warrants for the arrest of Butler and Lawson. Blower claimed that a previous court order which instructed them to remove his name from a £100,000 bank guarantee was not honoured.
The Merseyside Commercial Squad knows of no such request. A police spokesman says: "The Commercial Squad does not have warrants of arrest out for any of the directors. It is, however, looking at the case in a wider sense".
CHINA is about to receive its first Spectrum experience.
A total of 600 units are bound for the computing and automation department of China's North East Technical College. They will be used by graduate researchers as an effective low-cost means of learning Basic programming skills. Sinclair Research is supplying an introductory library of Spectrum software including MicroPROLOG and Logo languages.
Charles Cotton, head of Sinclair's export department says: "China is a very important potential market for us, and one in which we are investing considerable time and effort."
A VEIL of secrecy surrounds the Software Projects sequel to Jet Set Willy.
Apparently the game is to be called Willy Meets the Taxman and involves our hero trying to avoid paying tax on his gains from Jet Set Willy.
Another sequel soon to be officially launched is Travel With Trashman, the New Generation international follow-up to Trashman in which the wandering waste collector samples the delights of foreign rubbish.
In Samoa he relaxes on the beach only to be bombarded by coconuts. In Russia he runs the gauntlet of the KGB when he picks up top secret litter in Red Square.
Also due for release soon is Doomdark's Revenge, the sequel to The Lords of Midnight from Beyond Software. The new game also forms part of a competition in this issue of Sinclair User in which you can win a specially commissioned map of the Land of Icemark.
AGEING HEAVIES of punk The Stranglers are to include an adventure game on their next album Aural Sculpture. The game has been written on the Gilsoft Quill system and involves travelling around the world collecting parts of an ear.
GAMES WORKSHOP, the company which introduced the Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game into Britain, has launched its first two software releases.
Battle Cars, for the 48K Spectrum, is a two-player game produced from an original board game. It involves racing around a city doing battle with other drivers.
The other game, also for the Spectrum, is D-Day. It is based on the Normandy landings in 1944 and again involves two players.
Melbourne House has finally released its latest adventure Sherlock. It has the same format as The Hobbit, including a graphic display of the locations together with a powerful input editor which reads almost normal English commands into the game and acts upon them.
The company is not so willing to talk about its dealings with the Lord of the Rings copyright holders Allen and Unwin. It is reported that Melbourne House wants to produce a series of games based on the books. The company has an option on the rights but eager customers are unlikely to see the games before the end of 1985.
Legend, the creator of the popular adventure Valhalla, will be launching a new game soon called The Great Space Race. It is a science fiction adventure and includes 3D space scenes which are produced almost instantaneously on the screen using a system which Legend calls Movisoft 2.
Hewson Consultants has a release which it feels is destined for winter stardom. Avalon features 3D action as a sorcerer battles his way out of an evil wizard's castle. The game's graphics are a major selling point according to Andrew Hewson, managing director of the company and columnist for Sinclair User.
THE FIRST BATCH of QL software from Sinclair Research is planned for release in the last quarter of this year. It is reported that the products will include a full 68008 assembler and versions of the languages Pascal, C, and MicroPROLOG.
Some companies have beaten Sinclair to the software starting post with products such as machine code aids, business programs and languages.
Metacomco has produced a full assembler for the QL. David Sykes, a spokesman for the company says: "The assembler has a high specification including a powerful editor and allows access to the full multi-tasking capabilities of the QL".
Asked about the Metacomco link with Sinclair Research Sykes would not give too much away. "We are a software company which has an established series of languages for 68008 based computers. I leave you to draw your own conclusions".
It has been reported that the company is preparing a version of Pascal for the QL and that Sinclair Research has shown interest. It may be one of the products launched by Sinclair later this year.
One company which has branched out independently into QL software is Computer One which is based in Cambridge. Its new range includes a typing tutor, an assembler, QL Forth and QL Pascal. Forth is configured to the FIG standard and the structured Pascal language has extensions to take into account special QL features.
Hardware for the QL is still only trickling onto the market and consists mainly of monitors from companies such as Microvitec and Centronics printer interfaces from companies such as Cambridge Systems Technology and QL Systems.
There is still no news, however, of the add-ons from Sinclair. A spokesman for the company says: "The RAM upgrade is high on the list of priorities for the QL but we have not set a definite date for its release".
Software company Psion, which is well known for its close links with Sinclair Research, is said to be developing a chess program for the QL.
Psion itself refused to comment on the report, but a reliable source said the program contains a real-time chess clock as well as options for recommended moves and withdrawal of moves.
OWL CONSULTANTS is setting up a regular series of courses to introduce businessmen to the QL, following an experimental course in July.
The introductory course has attracted interest from many business people, according to Principal Elayne Coakes. It will be joined in October by an advanced course showing how to set up simple models and a database using the Abacus and Archive software provided with the machine.
Courses will run every five weeks and last a full day each, costing £70 for a day or £130 for both courses together. 'There will be a maximum of six people on a course' says Coakes, 'So everybody gets hands-on experience. The aim is to introduce people to the machine and give them the confidence to use them in their own businesses.'
At present Owl has two early QLs, but is expecting a third dongle-free machine to arrive soon.
STEPHEN Briers, who runs Odyssey Computing, has been arrested by the police following a complaint made against the company.
Local police say Briers was arrested and later released on bail. No charges had been brought at the time of going to press, but a police spokesman said inquiries are being made by the Fraud Squad.
There have been doubts about the company for some months. Whatever the outcome of the investigations, it seems likely that Odyssey will join the list of software houses for whom 1984 was the end of the road.
AN ELECTRONIC software distribution system is to be introduced to British retailers later this year.
The system, from Program Express Limited, will allow retailers to manufacture their stocks of software using a remote terminal which is controlled by a central database containing a full range of business, educational and games programs.
When a customer wants a piece of software the retailer inserts the relevant storage medium - tape, disk or cartridge - into the terminal and asks the computer for the selected software. That piece of software is then downloaded onto the storage medium which is sold to the customer.
The database is capable of holding 1000 programs on a 40-megabyte disk which are updated by telephone link to a central computer. It does away with the need for retailers to stock great quantities of programs.
One of the first retailers to introduce the system will be John Menzies. Robert Black, managing director, says: "We are very excited by this revolutionary system having shown strong interest in it from the start. It will keep us at the forefront of computer software retailing".
Another company also interested is Boots. Peter Frost, Assistant Merchandise Controller says: "Boots see the system as being of benefit in the retailing of computer software. We are currently very interested in the system".
The central computer, based in Edinburgh, will also ensure that the security of the system is at its maximum. Copying of programs and physical theft are made virtually impossible.
A NEW package called the Expansion System has been launched by Sinclair Research.
The package is for the 48K Spectrum and comprises an Interface One, microdrive and four cartridges with an assortment of software. In the business field Tasword II from Tasman and Masterfile from Campbell Systems are included. Games players are catered for with the Quicksilva 3D Ant Attack and Games Designer. The package costs £99.95.
SOFTWARE companies have started to go to unusual lengths to combat the threat Of software piracy.
The latest device has been invented by Rising Edge Data Ltd, a company which is associated with software house Abacus Programs. It operates on the bank cash point principle. A device has to be attached to the computer and an identity card is inserted into it. If the information on the card matches that within the device it allows the program to run.
If the card is not the one designed for use with the system then the program cannot be used. A spokesperson for RED Ltd says: "The device will stop pirates who may be able to duplicate the programs but not the cards which are made by Datacard, the company which deals with Access and Barclaycard. The system protects itself."
The initial hurdle to be overcome will be convincing software houses that the system is worthwhile. Only if sufficient companies are involved will customers be persuaded to buy, the device. The costs of the cards supplied with each software item are likely to be absorbed in the overall price.
A simpler, but less secure, solution to the problem of piracy is being used by a new software house called Elite Systems. The company, has started to put holographic markers on the cassette inlay cards. Those are difficult to produce without a knowledge of holographic techniques. All Elite titles will bear the hologram. If any are found without it they will be pirated copies.
A BILL on computer software copyright has been introduced to the House of Commons under the ten minute rule by Nicholas Lyell, MP for Mid-Bedfordshire.
The Bill seeks to amend the 1956 Copyright Act to provide greater search powers and new penalties for pirates who infringe copyright of computer software. It is unlikely to become law as the ten minute ruling is for MPs who want to raise an issue with the house through their own Bills but cannot get government support or have it included in the normal business of the House.
Donald MacLean, Chairman of the Federation Against Software Theft which supports the Bill says it "highlights precisely the changes in legislation required to counter the growing problem of software piracy."
Although Lyell's Bill is unlikely to succeed in leading directly to legislation Donald MacLean does not believe that the battle against the pirates is being lost. "We are encouraged to know that the government and many individual MPs appreciate the need for legislation now."
SIR CLIVE Sinclair has announced an investment program of "millions of pounds" into the development of fifth generation computers capable of using artificial intelligence techniques to process and transmit information.
The project is based at the Sinclair MetaLab, which employs a group of high-powered programmers and electronics engineers committed to research and development of advanced application of new technology.
In entering the field, Sinclair is competing not only with multi-national organisations such as IBM, but also with government projects in the EEC and Japan. Sir Clive claims that what counts is the calibre of the people involved, and not the number of dollars spent.
Underpinning the project is the development by Sinclair of the Wafer Chip, a new Processor capable of very high speeds and with powerful multi-tasking abilities.
Sir Clive plans to release the first product using wafer chips in the form of a half-megabyte RAMpack for the QL. The company has not however fixed any firm dates for the new add-on, although a spokesman says the product has the highest priority.
Meanwhile, Sinclair Research is expected to reveal profits considerably lower than those forecast for the last year. Profits rose from £8.5m to £14m in 1982-83, but seem likely to remain at £14m or even fall for the 1983-1984 tax year, reflecting the company's problems with distribution and production.
The disappointing news may jeopardise the promised flotation of Sinclair Research next year as a public company. Managing director Nigel Searle insists that investors do not realise the full range of the company's activities because they will only see the figures to the end of March, which do not include QL sales.
"It is very difficult to convince people that we're doing the right things and they shouldn't worry about last year" he says.
Future plans for expansion include re-entering the American market under the name Sinclair and stepping up the production of Spectrums to 200,000 machines a month. The QL and flat-screen TV are also said to be ready for full production, and hopes for a renewal of public confidence in Sinclair Research clearly depend in large part on the success of those products.
MICRO-MAGICIAN David Hambly shows ITV presenters Tessa Shaw and Valentine Nonyelu a trick or two with a Spectrum. David was making a guest appearance on Video and Chips, the network teatime show for young computer enthusiasts.
PLANS to increase manufacturing capacity for all major products have been announced by Sinclair Research.
The company wants to double Spectrum production to more than 200,000 units per month by the end of this year and to start to produce QLs at a rate of 50,000 units per month and pocket televisions at 20,000 units.
As production increases Sinclair will mount a £4 million UK advertising campaign including television coverage. It will include the new Spectrum Six Pack software offer. All buyers of 48K Spectrums will receive six titles, normally priced at £56.70, for free, including Chequered Flag, Scrabble, Make a Chip and Horace Goes Skiing.
Nigel Searle, managing director of Sinclair Research, is confident that the new advertising strategy will work but is cautious as retail sales of the QL and flatscreen television planned for this month will be necessarily low as supplies are limited. "While production volumes for both are building up fast, we anticipate that demand will inevitably outstrip supply. We will be working carefully to ensure the fairest possible distribution".
A £30,000 golden hare is being offered as a prize in a game from a new company called Haresoft.
The game, called Hareraiser, is in two parts and takes its plot from Masquerade, a best selling book by Kit Williamson. The author crafted a golden hare which was won by solving the pictorial clues within the book.
The same strategy is being employed for the game puzzle with one difference. In the original competition the winner had to dig up the hare. Haresoft, however, does not want to encourage purchasers of the game digging up fields and ancient monuments.