Saturday, 3 March 2018

Amiga 500

Ah, the Amiga. What can I say? Amiga 1000 may have been the first, but it's the relatively affordable Amiga 500 that won over people's hearts in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

Yes, it's easy to get a bit emotional about the Amiga. Somehow it was possible just to stick in floppies, play games, watch demos, draw with Deluxe Paint, and not care too much about the world. With A500, Workbench appeared great but unnecessary, Amiga BASIC was laughable, Assembler simply could not be learned by mortals. The software sometimes crashed a bit too easily, with that immortal line "Guru Meditation - Software Failure". But you could play minesweeper while your file downloaded from a BBS. There was a speech synthesizer that could be made to utter truths about your brothers. A clockface that could be displayed while there was another window open. Directory Opus. CygnusEd. Multitasking.

Amiga was the games machine. Interceptor, Time Bandit, Pandora, Wild Streets, Sky Chase, Firepower, Sword of Sodan, Cosmic Pirate. Crazy PD games like the Egyptian RunZerg and Top Hat Willy. Workbench games, Unix conversions, PC conversions, 8-bit conversions.

I hope he got that extra ram.
It's been said the demoscene was properly born on Amiga. But from the periphery, we'd happily watch any old presentation in early 1990s, whether from "legit" sceners or not. Gaudy copper bars, spherical bobs, wireframe vector graphics, ripped game graphics, glenz vectors, silvery metallic logos, tracked music with Italo disco samples, Garfield scans co-existing with Kraftwerk, Jean-Michel Jarre, Axel F, Miami Vice theme, Acid House, digitized Star Trek, copies or tributes of Larry Elmore, Hajime Sorayama and Boris Vallejo.

Long sinewave scrollers, multiple scrollers, circular scrollers, stretching scrollers, unreadable scrollers, copper-colored scrollers, endless scrollers, vector scrollers, star wars scrollers, scrollers that start with "yyeeaaaoooooaaaahh!!!", scrollers with accusations of lamery and calling your arch-enemy a "faggot" (an unfortunate aspect of the early demoscene).

Time's not been kind, but at the time it was better than TV.
Megalo from Wild Copper, and the Deathstar Megademo were some of the earliest material I saw. For me the first demo that showed some kind of consistent styling was Universal Pictures from Unique. Clearly it's not aged that well, and neither has that Miami Vice remix from HCC.

As the 1990s progressed, I learned about demoparties (but did not attend), Scoopex: Mental Hangover, Enigma from Phenomena, Spaceballs: State of the Art and 9 Fingers, 242, Kefrens: Desert Dream and so on and on, and although it was all very grand something had already vanished. Suddenly it was all techno/breakbeat/funk and "design" and by the way aren't the best demos always something you had seen back in the day?

Naturally, with blitter filling.
Having an Amiga was bit like enrolling into a media school: I'd learn first hand a bit about graphic design, composing music, sampling sounds, creating animations, 3D-modelling, programming. AMOS Basic teached me something about planning larger programs and writing games but maybe also prevented from learning other languages sooner. I tried my hand in assembler but could only write small subroutines to support the BASIC code.

Emulation really started with Amiga and emulators like ZXAM showed that simpler computers like the ZX Spectrum could run games, although you'd need A1200 speeds to do that. Many hours were spent with revisiting ZX Spectrum classics and also the ones I thought I'd never see in my life.

Many times seeing this, too
I'm wondering if the later developments did Amiga much good. Sure it was great to have a hard disk and a faster processor, but PC envy started to hit hard, and the concern was trying to better the PC in it's own game plus some.

PC games like Ultima Underworld and Falcon 3.0 were pretty worrying, but especially Doom seemed like a watershed moment, Amiga had lost the (bouncing) ball. At the same time console games appeared to do that other thing better, too. Doom was eventually ported to Amiga, but then 3D cards entered the scene and eventually homogenized graphics across all platforms.

Yes, a TRS-80 conversion. Why not?
And that brings me to a difficult point. Although one hears rumors of Amiga's comeback over the years, something about the idea of an Amiga revival seems a bit off. Can the new Amiga now do WWW properly? Javascript and HTML5? Can it play HD video? Can you plug a GPU to it? Can you stick USB devices to it? If not, then it's too off mainstream to gain any real traction. If yes, then it would be a bit similar to any current computer. Perhaps a well thought-out decidedly hobbyist computer built around a specific genealogy of a GPU might represent an "Amiga" these days but don't expect many to buy it.

Thinking it now, the Amiga happened in such a short time. Generously, one could say the overall Amiga phenomenon was relevant for about a decade. But that intense time with the A500, a few summers, really. Maybe it really does get a bit emotional here.