Most art packages are really just part of a sales pitch to persuade you to buy a mouse which you probably won't use for anything else. Such packages are expensive, though and by omitting the 'squeaky' hardware, Italian software house Idea have managed to produce an art utility at a sensible price. Phil 'Picasso' King puts away his crayons, picks up a joystick and starts work on his latest masterpiece...
First things first, I have to admit I'm not one for super-realistic artwork, I prefer the modern approach [He can't draw, but he likes to doodle - Ed]. But once the program was running, *everyone* was trying to push me off the C64 trying to 'improve' my masterpieces or even have a go at their own.
It's fun to mess around and one of the great things about computer graphics is that, even for those of us who can't draw a straight line, quality computer art is still possible. Pictures can be endlessly tweaked until perfect and most art utilities include a host of special features to create impressive effects.
Saracen Paint hasn't got masses of features but at least the program is easy to pick up. By pressing RUN/STOP, you call up the menu screen; this partially obscures the picture you're working on, so you keep having to flick between the two - on-screen icons would have been so much handier.
Nevertheless, many of the usual art utility functions are here. The most obvious is Draw, allowing you to draw freehand in any of the sixteen available colours. Sadly there are not any different 'brushes' to draw with - just a standard one-pixel line thickness. Another problem is the lack of a mouse - using a joystick it's virtually impossible to draw smooth curves or lines.
There is a mouse option if you've already got a mouse, but if you don't then the special functions are really invaluable. Line can enable you to draw a perfectly straight line by selecting a start and finish point with the on-screen pointer (a minor niggle about the pointer is that it's a solid arrow which often obscures vital pixels when you're trying to draw precisely - a crosshair would have been preferable.)
Box creates a rectangle: first you select a start point for one of its corners, then by moving the pointer you can stretch the box horizontally and vertically - when you've got the size and shape you want, hold down the Fire button. A similar technique is used for the Ellipse function: this time select its centre first, then stretch the ellipse with the pointer (of course by having equal horizontal and vertical stretch you can create a perfect circle). It's a pity there's no 'arc' command, though; to get a smooth curve you have to create an ellipse, then erase the bits you don't want.
To add colour to your picture, the Fill command is invaluable. This fills selected enclosed areas with whichever colour you want. However, care must be taken, for if the area is not completely enclosed (i.e. there are a few missing pixels) the filling colour will 'leak out', inevitably messing up the rest of your masterpiece. This is where Saracen Paint's biggest shortcoming soon becomes apparent: there is no 'Undo' command to correct mistakes. Aarrggghhh! I mean, being such a pathetic artist, this is one of the most important features I look for in any art package. The only way to get around this omission is to regularly save the current picture to tape/disk (via another pull-down menu).
A safer way to 'fill' is by using the Box Fill and Ellipse Fill options. These are used in the same way as their normal counterparts but subsequently fill the newly created box/ellipse with the designated colour. Sadly, there are no patterned fills (as featured in some other packages) which often create interesting effects. The only drawing function is the Paint command which simply changes the selected colour throughout the whole screen.
Thankfully, to make up for the inadequacies of the drawing functions, the program features two very useful magnification options. Zoom magnifies a small selected area of the screen, showing the tiny pixels as fairly large blocks. Their colour can be changed by simply selecting the desired shade from the palette and clicking on the relevant pixel, making fine tweaking very easy, though laborious. Handily, there's an actual-size inset of the magnified area at the top-left of the screen.
While you're drawing and editing, you'll occasionally come across the C64's colour attribute restrictions. In any 8x8 character block, you are allowed only three different colours plus the generic background colour which applies to the whole screen. This is where the Byte option comes in handy. A cursor is moved around the picture to select any character block which (by selecting OUT) is then magnified for editing purposes. Its four designated colours are also shown and can be changed. Selecting IN puts the altered character block back into the picture - this can be used to copy the same block anywhere on the screen.
However, a much better way of doing this (and more) is via the powerful Copy command. You can box any area of the screen and copy it elsewhere. The only restriction is that you can only move said area a number of character blocks; small pixel movements aren't possible (this is due to the afore-mentioned C64 colour restrictions).
Another impressive function is Invert, which can be used to flip any selected area, either horizontally or vertically. It might not be that useful - but it's good fun!
Finally, when you've finished your masterpiece, you might want to give it a title or put your name on it. This is possible via the Fonts option. Text can be typed onto the screen in any of several fonts (typefaces). A pity you can't alter the size of lettering though.
As a comprehensive art package, Saracen Paint doesn't measure up. Its better points, such as the impressive Zoom and Copy functions, can't really compensate for the limited drawing functions and, worst of all, the omission of an Undo command. Looking at the sample pictures on the other side of the program disk, some reasonable results can be obtained, though you'll need a lot of patience. Nevertheless, we all had lots of fun producing our own pics and it's certainly good enough to keep us doodlers entertained on rainy afternoons.