Tech Time Warp: Back in the Day, the Hot Tech Rivalry Was Amiga vs. Atari

25 Jul 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

10 Commodore Amiga games that made it a legend.

The tech industry is full of iconic rivalries. 1980S BEDROOM BRILLIANCE the Commodore Amiga computer has reached the ripe old age of 30 and is still blazing in the hearts and minds of anyone who took keyboard and joystick in hand and shut the door on their parents.In 1985 my family made a terrible mistake – a mistake that would have far-reaching consequences; a mistake that would blight my life for several painful years.Thirty years ago, on July 23, 1985, Commodore took to the stage in New York to reveal the Amiga 1000, a personal computer with unprecedented multimedia capabilities and an intuitive interface that leapfrogged — though it would later succumb to — its IBM and Apple competitors.Commodore’s seminal 16-bit platform was initially marketed as an affordable home business machine, but was something of a Trojan Horse for many youngers.

The computer, which represented a leap up from other bedroom botherers like the Commodore 64 and the Spectrum 48, launched with the A1000 model in 1985 to a soundtrack that included Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms and the coming together of Mick Jagger and David Bowie for a street-based dance off. The Amiga’s hardware and software were well ahead of the PCs on the market at the time (including Commodore’s aging but still popular C64), and aimed squarely at creatives and artists.

Back then IBM-compatible PCs and Apple computers were too expensive for ordinary families, but most people could afford an Amiga – or its arch rival the Atari ST. Doting parents purchased the system under the pretence of assisting their offspring with their homework, but the computer was instead used for mammoth gaming sessions thanks to the flood of amazing games it played host to. The Amiga’s 512KB of RAM and huge colour palette was immediately popular, but the system really took off in 2007 with the Amiga 500, leading to international sales of six million units. Over 30 years later, supervisor Tim Hopkins said, the cash-strapped district is still using the same computer to control the temperature in more than a dozen schools. “The system controls the start/stop of boilers, the start/stop of fans, pumps; [it] monitors space temperatures, and so on,” Hopkins told local outlet WOOD-TV.

What happened was this – and if you’re a gamer of a certain age, you may want to sit down: my family bought an Atari ST instead of a Commodore Amiga. Its specs made the competition look prehistoric: 4,096 colors and a window-based UI ahead of its time, customized internal hardware, an early pen and tablet interface, and a suite of powerful tools for editing photos and print.

But it wasn’t until the release of the Amgia 500 two years later that Commodore really hit it big, as the humble grey box became the UK’s favourite home computer. Now, the Grand Rapids district is hoping that if the community votes to approve a $175 million bond offering in November, it will finally be able to replace the antiquated computer. “It’s a piece of gear that has been kind of forgotten about, and that’s why it needed to be brought up,” Hopkins told The Huffington Post. “I can’t imagine our security system or budget office would still be operating on something that’s 30 years old.” Hopkins told WOOD-TV that the computer could stop working at virtually any moment and that replacement parts are hard to find. With its powerful 16bit processor and vast 256k of memory (expandable to 512k and beyond), the original Amiga 1000 was the epoch-shattering home computer that effectively invented the concept of the all-round multimedia machine. The lavish announcement event featured appearances by Andy Warhol and Blondie’s Debbie Harry, artists keen to enthuse about the powerful graphical ability of the Amiga.

Further hardware variants would appear – including the A500+, A600 and A1200 – but it would be the standard A500 edition which confirmed the brand’s status as a true gaming legend. Warhol did some computer portraiture on stage, and later even created dozens of “digital experiments,” pieces that were lost until the floppies they were stored on were found last year.

The $99DeluxePaint application was a big hit, and it became the standard graphics editor for the Amiga and rode the wave of the Amiga’s success. “It’s amazing that such a sophisticated graphics program could be written for such a relatively primitive machine,” said Len Shustek, Museum chairman of the board of trustees. “The base machine had just 256 kilobytes of memory and a single floppy disk. It works on the same frequency as the facility workers’ walkie-talkies — which occasionally causes walkie-talkie disruptions. “It has been a tried, true, reliable system since the early ’80s,” John Helmholdt, executive director of communications and external affairs for the school district, told HuffPost. “With few exceptions, this computer has not been turned off, running virtually nonstop.” Keeping the Amiga running has become expensive and energy-inefficient, said Helmholdt. Although the Amiga was a major force in the UK and Europe its success in America was more fleeting, and many of its games are barely remembered by the rest of the world.

The code is a marvel of succinctness.” With the permission of Electronic Arts, Inc. the Computer History Museum is pleased to make available, for non-commercial use, the source code to version I of DeluxePaint. In fact, many of those people probably experienced the internet for the first time on an Amiga, via its original 1680 Modem (it had a 1200 baud rate, speed fans). In fact, since a lot of the games were made in Europe, for a primarily local audience, many American and Japanese gamers have never even heard of them.

At a time of limited television and tape cassettes, its advanced sound, use of a disk drive, and graphical gaming leaps made the Amiga the thing to have in your bedroom. Times change, though, and things like the Nintendo Entertainment System started to make a grab for hands and hearts and Amiga as we knew it came to be no more.

The stories of software’s origins and impact on the world provide inspiration and lessons for the future to global audiences—including young coders and entrepreneurs. It’s been 30 years this week since Commodore International, best known for the iconic Commodore 64, launched the Amiga, which is still remembered today as a remarkable machine that offered cutting edge multimedia features for a much lower price than a Macintosh. But the following 11 are. (It was supposed to be a top 10 but we threw Sensible Soccer in as an extra, since although we have no interest in football we do recognise it as a legitimate classic.) But much as we loved them we have left out games we think of primarily as PC titles, such as Dune II, UFO: Enemy Unknown (aka XCOM), and Civilization.

For other releases in the Museum’s historic source code series, please see: APPLE II DOS, IBM APL, Apple MacPaint and QuickDraw, Adobe Photoshop, Xerox Alto, Early CP/M, Microsoft Word for Windows Version 1.1 and MS-DOS. Commodore tried to hold on with systems like the CDTV and CD32 – the latter being a consolized Amiga with the CD-ROM drive attached – but by 1994 the company was declared bankrupt and liquidated. However, the brand name is far from dead – there’s a Commodore phone coming out soon – and the Amiga’s birthday is well worth celebrating, as these 10 essential titles prove beyond doubt. Anyone who isn’t that hungry and doesn’t have the whole weekend can spend $20 on a day pass, which provides access to rare artefacts and memorabilia. µ

The Museum is dedicated to the preservation and celebration of computer history and is home to the largest international collection of computing artifacts in the world, encompassing computer hardware, software, documentation, ephemera, photographs, and moving images. The Bitmap Brothers were treated like rock stars back in the ’80s and ’90s, and with very good reason – they created some of the most iconic and playable titles of the 16-bit period. Fueling the tension between Atari and Amiga is was the fact that Atari was being run by none other than Jack Tramiel, the Holocaust survivor who founded Commodore as a typewriter repair company in 1953. It was on the Amiga that burgeoning Dundee studio DMA released Lemmings, its ridiculously compelling platform puzzler that introduced inspired sandbox game mechanics to the ancient genre.

The Museum brings computer history to life through large-scale exhibits, an acclaimed speaker series, a dynamic website, docent-led tours, and an award-winning education program. Speedball 2 is arguably the studio’s masterpiece, offering a violent take on soccer which tests both your reflexes and the strength of your friendships – during the Amiga’s days, many long-standing childhood relationships were irrevocably broken thanks a particular tense game of Speedball 2. Although Apple is often credited with democratizing computers in the 1970s, it was Tramiel’s commitment to bring computers “to the masses, not the classes” that made computers truly accessible.

The Museum’s signature exhibition is “Revolution: The First 2000 Years of Computing,” described by USA Today as “the Valley’s answer to the Smithsonian.” Other current exhibits include “Charles Babbage’s Difference Engine No. 2” “IBM 1401 and PDP-1 Demo Labs”, and “Where To? Later, the Wakefield-based studio Team 17 would similarly combine cute critters with open gameplay with its Worms series of turn-based war games, which has now been ported to just about every platform in existence and will no doubt outlive humanity. A mix of rugby, ice hockey, and Rollerball this future sport has the perfect mix of skill, violence, and the gorgeous graphics and sound that accompanied all Bitmap Brothers games. There was James Pond the Underwater Agent and the incredibly playable Superfrog – both classic platformers that gave their console rivals a real run for their money. For more information and updates, call (650) 810-1059, visit, check us out on Facebook, follow @computerhistory on Twitter and the Museum blog @chm.

Showcasing an alien ninja who was as fast as Sonic and as agile as Mario, Zool was so popular that it was ported to other systems and even enjoyed an arcade release. Interestingly, Team17 grew out of the demoscene, an international group of hackers, crackers and coders that specialised in creating and distributing audio visual computer programs, either via the internet or at massive parties.

The Computer Chronicles video is a reminder that there was once a time when Apple and Microsoft didn’t dominate the desktop operating system market. Three major operating environments were occupying the energies of programmers of the day, computing pioneer George Morrow said at the end of the segment, referring to Microsoft DOS, Apple DOS, and the Macintosh operating system. “It seems unlikely that the pool of software developers is expanding rapidly enough to support even one more operating system, let alone two,” he said. LucasArts in the early 90s were an absolute powerhouse, and before they started to diversify into Star Wars and other action games their graphic adventures were second to none.

Xenon 2 is a graphical treat but also sounds amazing – the Amiga’s talent for handling sampled sound was put to good use with the Bomb The Bass track Megablast (Hip Hop on Precinct 13). Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade, Loom, and Indiana Jones And The Fate Of Atlantis, were all great but it was The Secret Of Monkey Island that remains their most beloved, and funniest, game.

Alongside it rose another sporting innovator, Sensible Software, whose top-down-viewed Sensible Soccer series is still considered by some as the greatest approximation of the beautiful game in digital form. Sequels followed and the format was successfully carried over to the SNES in the form of Top Gear (albeit with fictional cars), cementing the franchise’s status as one of gaming’s best arcade racing experiences. But despite all the controversy it was actually a pretty effective anti-war game, as you watched the hill on the menu screen slowly fill up with new gravestones – making you surprisingly guilty about the death of every new recruit. Released a year before Wing Commander, Warhead managed to create the entire space combat simulator genre from scratch, with a believably complex control system, proper story-based missions, and some impressive 3D graphics for the time.

The simplistic concept – allied with that all-important social play element – make it a total riot, and it’s little surprise that the franchise is still going strong even after all this time. Despite the numerous updates, ports and inevitable leap into full 3D, the original game still feels like the most fun, thanks largely to the purity of concept. However, evacuating staff would later follow Molyenux to Lionhead, creator of the Fable series, or set up on their own: current Guildford studios such as Media Molecule (LittleBigPlanet) and Hello Games (No Man’s Sky) can be traced back to that company.

The stark beauty of Another World’s cinematic graphics were always impressive but the gameplay was always pretty shallow, and it doesn’t really stand up today. The Amiga era was a period of exciting transition, from the formative days of the 8bit computers with their cute, blocky games made by cute blocky bedroom coders, to the serious business of the 32bit consoles, with their big development teams and million-dollar budgets. At first it seems a relatively straightforward, and gorgeous-looking, 2D platformer but it actually has some surprisingly complex gameplay and even experiments with open world exploration. A cartoon-like but surprisingly powerful take on modern warfare (lost soldiers are represented by a growing hill of gravestones on the mission select screen), the game’s mouse-driven interface allows for surprisingly graceful play.

They might be called Rockstar North now, but the creator of Grand Theft Auto originally named his company DMA Design and started off with 2D shooters Menace and Blood Money. Sensible caused a minor furore when it planned to use a poppy on the game’s cover until complaints from various sources, including the British Legion, forced a change of heart.

And in France, there was Delphine Software bringing incredibly lifelike human animation to its standard-bearing modern platformers Flashback and Another World. But the studio’s first big hit was this classic puzzler, where you had to get a troupe of suicidal lemmings to safety over the course of a 100 levels. Critics claimed that the title glorified war and disrespected those who had fallen in combat, which is ironic given the strong anti-war message at the core of the title. Shadow of the Beast isn’t actually that amazing from a gameplay point of view – in fact, to play it today, it feels hopelessly simplistic and limited.

I experienced the machine almost vicariously, through the brilliant magazines of the era, most importantly the anarchic Amiga Power, where irreverent writers like Stuart Campbell and Jonathan Davies helped create a new kind of games journalism. The idea is very simple: you, for reasons that went thankfully unexplained, are racing around on roller-coaster like tracks and… you better not fall off. However, it still has the power to captivate thanks to its amazing visuals, unique atmosphere and crazy-smooth parallax scrolling, all of which were truly mind-blowing when it launched back in 1989.

The game didn’t give many clues as to what you were meant to do, which is probably why it was never a bigger hit, but it had a proper physics engine, believable artificial intelligence, and totally non-linear gameplay. Blatantly inspired by Ridley Scott’s Alien movie franchise but also influenced by the classic arcade title Gauntlet, Alien Breed boasts a selection of weapons, co-operative play, bags of atmosphere and oodles of challenge. Another title that illustrates the Amiga’s aptitude for fast-paced arcade titles, Alien Breed’s impact is such that it has recently enjoyed a new lease of life on smartphones. FIFA and PES may be fighting for the attention of football fans on modern consoles but many will tell you that digital soccer never got any better than this Amiga offering. Featuring Sensible Software’s typically cute character sprites, the game benefits from a wide view of the play field, tight controls and that all-important ability to apply bend to your shots.

Sensible World of Soccer would follow and added in a surprisingly in-depth manager mode, and would rightly be ranked as the best Amiga game of all-time by Amiga Power magazine. To be honest, by 1996 most people had given up their Amiga in favour of a PlayStation or N64, but Sensible keep producing new variants every year, with the later version adding in player manager elements as well.

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