Happy Amigaday, birth!

The Amiga recently turned 30 years old. That’s ALMOST as old as I am, so in a way it’s my older brother. I don’t want to talk about specs and sales and the businessy things with this – all I can really offer is my own history with the machine.

I grew up on an amazing road, a hill that rose suddenly out of the Pennine foothills. From there you could see Manchester, Wales, do a 180 and you could see the moors. It was a beautiful place, and thanks to the steep incline it was almost a quiet cul-de-sac. It was safe but we couldn’t play any sports on it otherwise the ball would roll down a quarter of a mile into a field below. Flying over the area now in Apple or Google Maps and all the houses that face out over this beautiful view now have extensions, dormer windows, balconies… people don’t seem to move once they settle there.

So there we were. A little gang of us lot. There was Jackie and Helen, the two slightly older girls, there was David and his brother Andrew, also older by a couple of years. Then we had Kieran and Jodi, brother and sister, one a year younger the other a year older, and occasionally their even younger brother. That was our core group. Branching out 200 more metres was the satellite group, Victoria who I went to school with, and then some mysterious people acting like the Green or White Ranger. They showed up occasionally and changed everything before vanishing back into the ether. One of them had a SNES and that’s all I remember.

Growing up, my father had a Spectrum that I could barely use, though my first game on it was Ghostbusters.

December 1992. I am now aged 6. My father bough me a CU Amiga, one with Street Fighter 2 and Bill’s Tomato Game demos. Confused by this since I couldn’t play it I took it over to David’s house to play it on his A500. Everyone from our little gang came over. We spent hours watching the rolling SF2 demo in David’s now cramped bedroom that was full of Star Wars toys. As one of the youngest in the group I was obviously pushed out so I played (or investigated because it sounds more grown up) with a large X-Wing model. It was pretty exciting being able to watch this demo of a game taking Japan by storm. It felt special and communal. We were reading off the characters in the game and altering the names, I changed Blanka into Wanka and the older kids said I shouldn’t repeat that to my parents. It was dark when everyone left. On getting home I told my parents that I really wanted to play this demo again. A week later we visited a friend of my fathers and I got to try each of the demos by myself in my own time. Hooray!

Christmas 1992 I got an Amiga 600 – the Wild, Weird and Wicked one. The first thing I did with my own Amiga was fire up Deluxe Paint 3, I drew a picture of a rocket. My folks also got me a Capcom collection pack that was imported from America. It had all the hits on it – Dynasty Wars, Forgotten Worlds, Ghouls ‘n’ Ghosts, LED Storm, Strider, Strider II & U.N. Squadron (thanks http://amr.abime.net/review_22918 !), but they wouldn’t play for some reason. When the shops reopened after Christmas we were told we needed a Relokick disk. To this day I’m still not sure what Relokick does, the internet would surely tell me but I like having a little bit of mystery around it. To 6 year old me it was a magic thing that made games work.

One of the games we bought included a registration card that, when filled in, would net us a free game. For some reason I gravitated towards Turrican 1. It arrived, it was great! However it always crash at the same point, quite far into the game, but I never got to finish it properly.

The first time a girl from school came round we just played Turrican 2 all afternoon. We were 7.

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(check the posters too! A moon map, Robocop, and Mario Land! Oh and the Terrapins)

It was maybe a year later that we moved into my grandparents house whilst our new one was being built. During this time I shared a tiny bedroom with my brother, but in the corner of the room was my Amiga. At that time a family friend gave me a (legit!) copy of Mortal Kombat 1 – the new ultra-hyped fighter! But now I was a mile away from my old friends. None of the new local ones were into games, but hey at least it was flat around here! Neither my school friends nor my local friends interacted, and worst of all neither group was into games. The Amiga started to become a more personal thing and it felt like I was leading a double life.

At this time I was playing a game called Assassin. My older cousin was over one day, he told me he drew the artwork on the loading screen. Of course he didn’t but it later turned out the artist on Assassin (a certain Haydn Dalton) had an uncle that ran a garage opposite where our new house was going up. Isn’t that odd!

One night whilst my parents were at the school’s parents evening. Being a slightly naughty kid I was worried so I just played Lotus 2 all evening waiting for my inevitable grounding. And truth be told I can’t remember if I did good that year or not. But I do remember the music from Lotus 2.

Then came the big move! From a pokey terraced house shared with 7 people to a generous detached house with 5 of us. By now the Amiga should have been showing its age. We’re in 1995 now and the Playstation and SNES are the big things. There’s a Sega Saturn, but what’s a Sega Saturn? The landscape changed yet again. We were back on a hill but with no pavement and busy commuting traffic prevented kids from discovering each other. Oh well! I now just lived up the road from my best friend at school so all was well. So the Amiga should have been getting old, though even at the time you could tell it had some life still left in its old body. No home console sounded as good – the SNES, Mega Drive looked great but their midi-like, chip-like sounds weren’t as dynamic or varied sounding as the Amiga. The Playstation’s music quality was ahead of the production quality of most soundtracks. Visually the Playstation was a stunner and much better at handling 3D than the old Amiga.

At this point though the only way to get Amiga games was “from a friend” or carboot sales. The last boxed game I bought was Rise of the Robots. A game I adored at the time for its boundary-pushing visuals, completely glossing over the rubbish gameplay. One of the last non-boxed, aka PIRATED, games I bought was Turrican 3, an unglorified port of Mega Turrican. It was slower, sloppy, and didn’t have the scale of exploration present in the first two Amiga Turrican games.

The Amiga lingered on. At this point I was playing Dennis, Bob’s Bad Day, R-Type 2, Soccer Kid, Sleepwalker, Flashback, Super Frog, Midnight Resistance, Yo Joe!, Arabian Knights, and just drawing things in Deluxe Paint. It only “died” Christmas 1998 when my parents got my brother and myself a PS1 and N64 respectively. R-Type was replaced with Lylat Wars and that was that!

But by now the impact the Amiga had on me was profound. I grew up not really listening to music, all I’d do is load an Amiga game up and remove the disk so the game would freeze up with music on loop. I’d do my homework to that, draw, whatever! I had a headstart in creating digital art so I was good to go by the time I hit secondary school with their Apple Macs. A few years later I was creating complex drawings in Flash and Photoshop just by using a mouse. I knew what to do if a computer crashed, how to print, what to do if a mouse broke. I was creating little games in AMOS and the Shoot Em Up Construction Kit by now.

Completely forgot the year now but as soon as I got Klik and Play all my consoles saw little use. The Amiga was boxed up, it’s still around and I might get it out after getting all nostalgic writing this.

So that was the Amiga to me. It inspired me, I had fun with it, and to this day it has soundtracks unlike any other games. I still really want to make an Amiga themed game, something that conveys the art and music from that era. But for now you’ll have to wait for Stratonauts. 3 characters in that are inspired by the Amiga itself, and I don’t know if I’ll keep the settings for this in but there’s also an Amiga palette option.

 

BUT A SUMMARY!

Why was the Amiga great?

Simple! It was ahead of its time. The visuals and sound were unlike anything on the Mega Drive or SNES, and way more advanced than its predecessor microcomputers. It had creative tools as well as games. You could play, get inspired, and make your own stuff all on one machine. It took PC’s a while longer to catch up to this – or you had to pay a good 3-5 times more. It was a modern PC before they existed. You could write and print without driver worries, one time in 1994 my dad drew out the Jurassic Park logo in Deluxe Paint and had it printed onto a tshirt. No other machine at this price range could do that. All that, plus the incredible sound chip was walking all over Midi. It was a perfect computer-console hybrid that makes me wonder why Microsoft and Sony don’t embrace Linux or some other free OS to bring those creative capabilities to their machines.

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