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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
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Posted Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:16 pm

Did you know that Suncom, the creators of the TAC-2 and eventual owners of the Wico line made more than just joysticks? They actually made several office supply products, like things to hold paper you needed to copy and type into a computer, printer stands, monitor stands...
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But they also made a very cool and creative package: Animation Station.

Animation Station plugs into a joystick port and can be used as a crude graphics tablet with special software called Design Lab, also provided by Suncom and created by Baudville, LTD. The tablet also came with a stylus, although you could even use your finger to draw across its surface.
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A likely direct competitor to the legendary Koala Pad and Atari Touch Pad, Animation Station could actually be used like a mouse, joystick or paddle with most any software (supposedly). To my knowledge, a game would have to have special code to support this device properly and I've never heard of any out there that do. But, it's on the box so it must be true. Right? I'd never want a table to replace a joystick, but the mouse swap would be cool. Again - if it worked.

In addition, the Design Lab software supported several printers from back in the day to easily print your creations. However, I don't think the files could be easily saved and shared the way the Koala Pad's could. (Update: looks like this isn’t true. At some point the Design Lab disk quietly included a Koala converter).

This interesting device was released in 1984 and retailed for $80 US, although my personal copy was made a bit later than that.
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Hard to see from where you're sitting, but mine is stamped Nov 09, 1988. I would have been a senior in High School... dang!


It is actually a bit bigger than a Koala Pad. One of the interesting things about it right off the bat is it actually seems to be closer to the aspect ratio of a 4:3 screen, where the KP is more of a square. It also has a lever on the back that can be extended to prop the thing up at an angle while sitting on a desk. But is also has some very single long finger grooves on the back; I find it more enjoyable to just hold.
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Buttons on both sides of the tablet support both righties and lefties.

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All in all, the hardware doesn't seem to be of much real use outside of the the realm of the included Design Labs. However, the software package - for the time - was pretty nice. The major issue with it is the image files seem to be trapped within the Animation Station universe and were never supported to be used with other tools at the time. Kind of a shame, as the thing looks and feels really cool.

In 1998 (a bit late...), however, New Edition did release Graphics Transformer, which claims to be able to work with these files along with several others.
Works with files from Art Studio, Billboard Maker, Cadpak 64, Computer Eyes, Doodle!, Flexidraw, Geos, Print Shop, Animation Station, Blazzing Paddles, Flying Colors, Koala, Micro Illustrator and on & on.
So at least now, in theory, if you wanted to draw with it you might be able to export the image type to other formats and actually use it.

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
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Posted Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:29 pm

Interestingly, the disk that came with my Animation Station came with this "Koala Converter" PRG. I will need to investigate further.
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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
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Posted Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:39 pm

Design Lab does look pretty sweet, have to say.

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McTrinsic

Posted Wed Jul 15, 2020 1:46 pm

Awesome find!!

I love it when the past gets alive with these introductions of how we used computers back then.

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
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Posted Wed Jul 15, 2020 2:09 pm

Also... The program on the disk I found does indeed appear to do the Koala pic conversion. I'll have to play with it more later, but that's very interesting indeed. It's not mentioned anywhere on the box or in the manual, so it must have been added later after customer complaints or feedback. I had to search to find it and there are no instructions, but it is indeed there and looks fairly self explanatory.
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Zippy Zapp
CA, USA

Posted Wed Jul 15, 2020 5:10 pm

Excellent. I haven't seen one of these in years. Nice write up, as always. Heh, I remember these being in the clearance bin at our Mall at either EB or Software Etc. I had a Koala Pad already so never bought one.

But I did actually own a bunch of other Suncom stuff including the Icon joystick, a document holder for the computer, a printer stand and a couple other odds and ends. I think they were big on Floppy Disk cases too.





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