In this section of the web site we aim to give you some
information on how we produce the magazine, the software and
hardware we use, and the process of creating each issue. In the first
section you can get a feel for the look and feel of the current issue
of the magazine:
Sneak PeakHere are some page grabs from a recent issue of Total Amiga (16) to give you a feel for Total Amiga's design and layout:
How Total Amiga is ProducedWe could hardly call the magazine Total Amiga if it wasn't produced on AmigaOS so let's first have a look at the hardware we use:
HardwareIssues 1 to 14 of Clubbed and then Total Amiga were produced on my (Robert Williams) A3000 with a CyberStorm PPC '060 accelerator. With issue 15 I changed to a PC running Amithlon. In case anyone's interested in the reasons for the change I thought I'd outline them below.
Why Amithlon?Just after the completion of issue 14 my CyberStorm PPC accelerator (the PPC side of which hadn't been working for several months) became increasingly unreliable to the point where it would have been impossible (not to mention incredibly frustrating) to produce another issue of the magazine using it. I did have a back up system (an A4000 with a CyberStorm Mk I / '040) which I had bought second hand some time ago however, unfortunately, it proved to be similarly unreliable, not to mention slow.
This left me with a dilemma, I needed a reliable system in a hurry but none of the available options looked very attractive. Having the CyberStorm repaired was a possibility but whether it was repairable and how long it would take was another matter. A second hand CyberStorm was another option but I was unwilling to pay a lot of money for a board, of uncertain history, when complete PPC systems were coming to market.
So what about those PPC systems? Well AmigaOnes were becoming available but until they could run 68K Amiga programs like PageStream at a good speed they didn't (and still don't) solve the immediate problem. As I update this page (January 2005) I now have an AmigaOne XE system running a development version of AmigaOS 4 and the JIT 68K emulation is now in beta testing so perhaps I will be able to move production to the AmigaOne soon. At the time, the Pegasos with MorphOS was the option I considered most seriously, however being a new system which many people still describe as "beta" I was reluctant to rely on a Pegasos as my only production machine.
So what was the answer? Amithlon of course! Readers may remember that I reviewed Amithlon in issue 11 and was impressed with the system. So to give me a working system, until AmigaOS 4 or MorphOS is ready to take over, I went to a local PC parts place and purchased a bare-bones PC system being careful to select components compatible with Amithlon. The system consisted of a VIA KT233 based motherboard, an Athlon XP 2000+ processor (since upgraded to a KT400 board with a Athlon 2500+) and an nVidia gForce 2MX400 graphics card. I also purchased an Adaptec SCSI card and used a Realtek 2019 based Ethernet card I already had.
With the SCSI card I was able to hook up the drive from my A3000 and with a few tweaks had my system up and running (with all my applications of course since they were installed on the SCSI drive) in a couple of hours. Initially I had a few problems with Amithlon including not being able to print and slow screen redraw. These were solved, with the help of the Amithlon mailing list, by installing the latest updates to Amithlon.
Amithlon runs all the software vital to magazine production very well and at fantastic speed. Making the covers in ImageFX is a joy when effects complete so quickly. In PageStream common operations such as loading a saving are much faster as is page redraw - this makes a huge difference when working on a nearly complete magazine. Overall I would say that Amithlon is slightly less stable than the A3000 at its best, however the extra speed more than makes up for it.
Other EquipmentA CD writer is vital to keep backups of the magazine while it is in progress, archive completed issues and also to burn the CD given to the printers. I bought a generic 52X CD writer (the cheapest I could find) for the PC and I'm pleased to say it works like a charm in MakeCD. My trusty A3 capable HP Deskjet 1120C printer is used for proofing the magazine. We also have a small Samsung ML-85 laser printer (donated to the club) that is used for printing letters, renewal notices etc.
SoftwareAll the page layout for Total Amiga is done in Grasshopper's excellent PageStream DTP application, early issue of Clubbed were done in version 3.3, we then upgraded to 4 and are now using versions 4.1. In addition to PageStream many other programs are used to create the magazine, for graphics ImageFX 4.5, Photogenics 5 and DrawStudio 2 all play their part. Most articles are written in Final Writer or Amiga Writer before they are loaded into PageStream for layout. We even use the new mail-merge feature of PageStream 4.1 to produce the mailing labels. Sticking (groan!) to the administrative side of things for a moment we use the shareware database Fiasco to keep our subscriber list and produce mail merge files. Finally there are several utilities which are essential to magazine production, Ghostscript is used for all sorts of Postscript related tasks including dealing with files from advertisers and generating the final PDF files we send off to the printers. TurboPrint 7 is indispensable for driving the printer to its full potential and getting great quality output from PageStream via Ghostscript again.
PrintingIssues 1 to 8 of the magazine (then known as Clubbed) were printed for us by a SEAL member Jeff Martin at his work place. This worked out very well as Jeff was able to ensure a very high standard of production and the work was done at cost price. Sadly (for both Jeff and SEAL) the print department where Jeff worked closed so from issue 9 we needed to find a new printer. Sharon and Mick Sutton and Robert Williams started looking for a new printer and in the end Sharon found a local firm who seemed amenable to receiving Amiga generated files and were offering a competitive rate (although still quite a lot more than Jeff was able to charge).
The new printer, Dolphin Print of Wickford, Essex, take the magazine as two PDF files, one containing the colour cover and the other containing the mono inside pages. These files are produced by "printing" the required pages from PageStream as Postscript to a file and then using Ghostscript 8 to generate a PDF file from the Postscript. The magazine is then laser printed (colour for the covers, mono inside), collated and bound by Dolphin. Issue 9 was the first with the new printer and was completed in a bit of a rush to ensure it was ready for the WoASE show, despite this we were very pleased with the quality and have been using Dolphin ever since. You may be interested to hear that the owner of Dolphin print says we are one of his least troublesome customers, despite the fact that we produce the magazine on a computer he thought was just a games machine!