Amiga Power To The People

Ultrowin, indeed.
[Doing some invoicing, I find a reference to the following. It was commissioned as part of a larger retro feature for PC Gamer which never quite came together, but stands alone well enough to lob it up here with a few tweaks. Because there’s more to “PC” than IBM’s descendants…]

I didn’t have a PC when I was a teenager, in the early nineties. If you’re reading this today, and are a Brit, in all probability you didn’t either. You wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Any PC whatsoever was over a grand, without even considering fifteen year’s inflation.

You’d have owned an Amiga. You’d have loved it.

The Amiga was the last in a line. The PC, as it is today, is very much an American import. While it similarly originated in the old-colonies, the Amiga was actually in a distinctly British lineage – that of the true home computer (best personified by the Spectrum). It wasn’t a console. It wasn’t really like the PC. It rested somewhere between, taking from both of the worlds. With the Amiga (or Spectrum) you could try anything – not always as well as the more specialist formats, but a good enough approximation. That lead to an audience willing to take from both lineages, so leading to the joy of rampant hybridisation. In modern terms, if the Amiga would be any one game it would be Deus Ex. Point being, trying at both leads to a space neglected by the extremes.

Sexy Amiga 500

Why was the Amiga different? Let’s take Amiga Power, the greatest videogames magazine ever crafted. No arguments accepted. If you disagree you either i) haven’t read it, ii) are the enemy. Scan across an archive of its covers and you’ll see many things you wouldn’t be surprised to see on a cover of PC Gamer – like, say, Syndicate, Frontier, flight sim Dawn Patrol, all manner of first-person shooters, adventures and so on. You’ll also see a selection of games you’d expect to see slapped on the front of a console mag – Mortal Kombat, Cool Spot, James Pond: Robocod. And then there’s a handful of games you’d have never even heard of. Take Zeewolf, a Virus-meets-Desert-Strike game of perfect physics. Until its recent PS3-remake, you could take the (brilliant) Super Stardust, an update of old-arcade classic Asteroids with the most beautiful pre-rendered rocks the world had ever seen. Hell, take at least two covers for pinball games.

Pinball games! On the cover of a games magazine!

Brilliant pinball games.

When you see this, you can't help but see the grains of what would grow into Battlefield 2. How could it not?

All were equal in our eyes. We bought them, snapped them open, sucked out all the marrow and were enlivened by the experiences. When I look back at the Amiga, what most impresses me is how omnivorous we were, understanding that games were games. The Amiga had an audience who implicitly understood that games were boundless, and that our shelves had hard-core wargames sitting side-by-side with the finest kid’s platformers and no-one blinked. You have to understand the difference. While if you have a PC, you can play literally everything that’s ever been made – but most don’t. This fuck-it-let’s-game attitude was absolutely mainstream Amiga gaming in the UK. Amiga Power wasn’t a tiny niche, but the best-selling Amiga games magazine for the majority of its existence. Its attitudes were the predominant ones, and we reveled in it. And the games reveled in it. It’s interesting to see how many future trends first germinated on the Amiga – take, for example, the Bitmap Brothers adding a harder-edge art-design sense to the classic arcade game in everything from Xenon II onwards. Just as noteworthy are all the routes unexplored. While not quite as insane as the auteur days of the Spectrum, the sheer warped thrust of the mainly British designers found fertile soil here.

In some ways you wonder if the British games industry is still trying to get over the Amiga. Many of its best developers have floundered in the years since, their quirkiness either driving them bust, alienating them from an increasing rulesbound mainstream, or ending with them being consumed by a larger publisher. Poor old DMA eaten alive and turned into the beating, anonymous fiscal heart of Rockstar, pumping the bloody GTA corpuscles about the corporate body. Lionhead’s (i.e. Bullfrog Mrk 2) sense of playfulness increasingly estranging it from the world…

GTA early prototype

It’s easy to be a little downbeat about all the things we’ve lost, but it’s important to cherish what we have now: if you’d showed Oblivion to my younger self, playing Legends of Valour with its postage-stamp-sized view window, my pulse would have rocketed to the point where my heart’d have flown out my nostrils. So while I wish there was a bit more of the anything-goes ethos around today – and I’ll fully admit that part of my motivation in writing RPS is to encourage that sentiment – I don’t get too nostalgic. It’s about what I took from there. My love for games was born in the arcades and on the Spectrum, but in terms of where I spent my adolescence – metaphorically and literally – the Amiga was it. The Amiga was where I grew up and made me the gamer I am today. The attitude I take with me every time I sit down to play is the one resulting from being sealed in a Stafford bedroom with my favourite peripheral (a younger brother, essential for 2-player games), Wizkid, Populous, Putty, Monkey Island and countless others, and being left to ferment for five years. The Amiga distilled me. I’m proof.

I didn’t have a PC when I was a kid. I had an Amiga. I loved it.

104 Comments

  1. Beefeater says:

    Oh my…I remember spending hours on that pinball game. The ‘graveyard’ pic brings it all back…sniff.Were there 4 different boards? Can’t remember that much detail.

    Also: lemmings. Say no more. Except, maybe Speedball II and “Ice-cream! Ice-cream!”.

  2. Henrik J says:

    I miss the Amiga :(

  3. born2expire says:

    it came from the desert and defender of the crown were so good, in fact, most cinemaware titles where great.

  4. Del Boy says:

    Right, Shadow Of The Beast was great and I’ll fight any man who says it wasn’t.*

    *Not that anyone has…..but you all will now.

  5. Taxman says:

    Ah the memories of the Amiga, I loved Pinball Dreams god those games were good, DICE of Battlefield fame was responsible for those (there is an Xbox Live pinball game that reminds me of pinball dreams but I don’t think it was made by them).

    All the other classics too like Cannon Fodder, Mega Lo Maniac, Flood (I cheated to see the ending & what an awful ending to the game Bullfrog gave it).

    Those were the days such a pity the Amiga platform ran itself into the ground it was way ahead of it’s time. Ars Technica have been running some Amiga history articles for those with an interest, well worth a read.
    link to arstechnica.com

  6. Nick says:

    I always wanted an Amiga. I had an Amstrad CPC x86. Green screen.

    You could plug it into the TV for colour though – how advanced was that! Eh?

    Head Over Heels was a classic on any system, I happened to have it for the Amstrad.

  7. fluffy bunny says:

    “So while I wish there was a bit more of the anything-goes ethos around today”

    This is why I love Russian/Eastern European games. I mean, take 1C. If you look at their release list, they’ve got RPGs, arcade racers, turn-based strategy games, first person shooters, truck driving simulations, space games, flight sims, horror games,…

  8. Schadenfreude says:

    I still have my Amiga 1200 and an absolute box load of naughtily copied games. Alas, the left-button on the mouse is broken. :(

    I think I’m gonna dig it out and try and play through Darkmere; that game just oozed atmosphere.

  9. rand526 says:

    stunt car racer, carrier command, hunter, frontier, new zealand story, turrican, deluxe paint 2, beneath a steel sky, tracker software, anything with a red sector intro…. amazing amazing amazing amazing.

    my youth was defined by saturdays xcopying discs from grown men in community centres.

    weeps

  10. Five says:

    Best selling apart from that German magazine right? :p

    Amiga Power was not only the first games magazine I ever bought, it was responsible for defining my sense of humour… reading that magazine at such an impressionable age, and playing Amiga games with my cousins, cemented my love for gaming that will never die.

    These days I don’t have a lot of time to play games. But I understand just how important they are. Every few years I fish out my old issues of Amiga Power, and when I compare it to todays games journalism I usually feel sad that things haven’t become better.

    But Amiga Power still lives on, on this site as well as other places. When I first read an article on RPS the writing reminded me of AP before I even realised who the author was, and I knew I was home again.

    Oh and about Amiga games: the other day I used an emulator to play K240, which is still a wonderful game, but it took more patience to play than I have left any more.

  11. thefluffyfist says:

    I sold my Atari ST for an Amiga. Best sale I ever made. I remember buying the 512k expansion so I could play Dungeon Master!

    Stunt Car Racer, Carrier Command, Paradroid 90 (Graftgold where are you now?), the intro music to R-Type, Turrican 2, all the Bitmap Brothers games, SWOS, Cannon Fodder, Hired Guns (seriously underrated game)…..

    Happy, happy memories….

  12. Mike says:

    Zool. Superfrog. Dizzy. Never forget.

  13. SwiftTheRedFox says:

    Anybody else notice something different on the keyboard? It’s kinda weird and I won’t say just to let others be surprised on their own. Any explanation on that?

  14. Janto says:

    Man, we had an Acorn, and I still believe it was a superior OS… exact same case, though.

  15. PetitPiteux says:

    ok, i guess i will be the enemy here (but then again, with me being french, i guess it was to be expected, UE or not):

    Atari over Amiga, any day.

    (I mean amigas were not even capable of booting without a os floppy around, tss…)

  16. CrashT says:

    Amiga? Bah… Atari ST all the way.

  17. Nick says:

    We should feel lucky, being a gaming kid in the eighties and early nineties in the UK was clearly a golden age.

    Thinking back, it really fucking was, wasn’t it?

  18. Pidesco says:

    Gods, Pinball Fantasies, Secret of Monkey Island, SWIV (so, so awesome), Kick Off 2, Sensible Soccer, Mega Lo Mania, Zool were all games I first played on my next door buddy’s Amiga 500.

    I had a PC, myself. Where I first played Rick Dangerous 2, Xenon 2 (best graphics of all time. Seriously), Prince of Persia, those Accolade racing games (link to youtube.com), Leisure Suit Larry, Sim City, and Civilization.

    The days when every game was awesome.

  19. Cargo Cult says:

    ATARI ST FOR EVAR!!!1

    8MHz instead of 7.09MHz, thus was much better at running those fledgling 3D games like flight simulators, Elite, Infestation, Tower of Babel, Midwinter, blah blah blah…

  20. alphaxion says:

    I had a speccy (my mum still plays scrabble on it from time to time, the game cheats! Also, I still have my original paperboy tape kicking around.. it’s sitting next to the most embarassing tape that I still own, a sega power tips tape with cathy dennis songs on it!), one mate had an amiga with another owning an ST.. then my secondary school had acorns. I still remember playing lander on the acorn, damn thing was a pain at times.

    I think it’s cause we all would play on each others systems that I just don’t get the rabid fanboyism that exists in todays gaming culture.

    I have to admit, of all the things I miss the most, it’s the immense diversity of british produced and released games – with the internet we should be able to create a second golden age of the bedroom programmers and have the games released in the UK first.

    The british gaming scene today just reminds me of the bland, identikit high streets we now have.

    Let’s get the british sense of humour back in home grown games!

  21. Max says:

    Putty. Wow. Now there was a game. God I loved that, and Lemmings of course.

    AND OH DAYUM; ZOOL. That was king.

    This article = made of win.

  22. Ginger Yellow says:

    “If you’re reading this today, and are a Brit, in all probability you didn’t either. You wouldn’t have been able to afford it. Any PC whatsoever was over a grand, without even considering fifteen year’s inflation.

    You’d have owned an Amiga. ”

    Or an Atari ST/STE. Jeff Minter forever!

  23. InVinoVeritas says:

    @ SwiftTheRedFox: That is weird! I want an explanation as well. What’s with the keyboard hijinks, Amiga…

  24. Kieron Gillen says:

    To the germans: Yeah, brit-centric on it. Should have made that clearer.

    To the ST owners: I stressed early nineties rather than late eighties – in the former, you could have gone both ways, but if you were buying an ST by the early nineties, you were MAD.

    KG

  25. Pidesco says:

    In Portugal, no one had STs. Everybody went from Spectrums 48k/128k to Amigas, except for a few richer blokes who got PCs.

    I don’t even know what an Atari ST looks like.

  26. Janek says:

    I assume the krazy keyboard is because it’s a German Amiga. Germans who had Amigas: Confim?

    I’m fairly sure my earliest memory is sitting on my dad’s lap “helping” play the original Silent Service. That may have been on the C64, I’m a little fuzzy on precise dates. But certainly we upgraded when I was very young.

  27. alphaxion says:

    swifttheredfox: that’ll be because the image was swiped from pugo.org instead of the other images from google image search ;)

  28. Dinger says:

    Amiga 1000 here, with the 256 MB toaster up front, and a 2 gig (!) Ramdisk sidecar on the bus port on the side.
    7.14 MHz sure, your ST would clock at 8. But with the bus running at 14.28, and the off cycles going to the blitter shifting stuff around, sound and video doing its stuff, the only time the ST looked similar was in those crappy ports that ran identically on the Amiga and the ST (yes, I did test them side-by-side. I was paid to).
    It took five years after retiring the Amiga (so 12 after I got it) for me to get a PC with similar audio , and nearly a decade for me to get a PC that could print a document without freezing, and even then, the noticeable stutter made me miss the ol’ Amiga. Really, the only truly fine OS ever made was AmigaOS CLI+Workbench. For the time, flawless, unambiguous and unintrusive. As God commands.

    It wasn’t a compromise of PC and console. It was better than both, and stayed better than both for a damn long time.

  29. Butler` says:

    I wonder if, at 20, I’m one of the younger Amiga connoisseurs :p

    I have very fond memories of flipping through large boxes of discs and picking out my favorite games. The old Workbench logo certainly brings back a few memories, too.

  30. mrrobsa says:

    I had a BBC Acorn when I was three (’88) and moved onto a Commodore 64 a couple of years later. Where do I fit into things? I was too young to form memories! Well, apart from playing an old school platformer called ‘Magic Mushrooms’. I was a slave to that game for a period, I seem to recall.

  31. Wolfman says:

    I still have myA500 which gets wheeled out every christmas so that my brother and I can spend hours playing Sensible Soccer and Speedball 2.

    Oh and the Amiga was the home of the best scrolling shooters. Xenon 2 and Project X! Awsome. So many good games!

    Skychase. Chaos Engine. Cannon Fodder. Skidmarks. Knights of the Sky. Vrooom. UFO: Enemy Unknown. Pinball Illusions. IK+. Zany Golf. F117A. Gods. Magic Pockets. Armourgeddon. Megalomania. Turrican 2. Robocod. Superfrog. Fury of the Furries. Monkey Island.

    Damn it I get all misty eyed thinking about the grand old days.

    -wolfman

  32. alphaxion says:

    how many remember the strange trend of releasing snooker/pool simulators?

  33. muteh says:

    none of the atari people I knew got involved in the whole atari/amiga fight. what was the point? we already knew we were better than them…

  34. Stelios says:

    Nice article! My poor A1200 is gathering dust on my desk next to my PC but I do load up every so often WinUAE for some Project X, Stardust or the god of all side-scrolling platform shooter games, Turrican 2! Never loved a game as much since. Bloody hell, I think I am becoming a cranky old bastard.

    P.s. I have also left my heart in AmigaOS. Never found another OS that I enjoyed as much; grudgingly using XP nowadays but…

    P.p.s. anyone else remember how insane some of those French games were? Loved North & South.

    alphaxion: I do; never bothered with them though, heh.

  35. thefluffyfist says:

    @alphaxion – Archer Maclean’s (of IK+ fame) snooker and pool games!
    I was utter rubbish at playing them. I remember the balls taunting the player. Very bizarre.

  36. Arnulf says:

    It’s a german keyboard.

    Z and Y are swapped. The enter key is totally disfigured, and of course all them umlauts have to be squeezed in.

    But, gods! Look at the size of the space bar! No dumb windows keys hemming it in! Heaven!

    My parents had an A1000. I swiped it because I was a CS student back then and needed it for, erm, studies.

    Yep. Studies.

    My first game I bought for it was Marble Madness. I supported EA!

    Obliterator had the best intro sequence ever. Back then. Cadaver, now that was a hellish difficult game. But I liked it.

  37. c-Row says:

    Yeah, the Archer MacLean series of snooker simulations for example. I remember one of the games in which the balls made funny faces at you if you didn’t move the cursor for some time.

    Now I am not only sad and depressed as I already was before reading your article – now I am nostalgic as well. Thank you very much. :(

  38. Optimaximal says:

    …the intro music to R-Type…

    <3 Chris Hülsbeck!

  39. Cargo Cult says:

    Oh, the joys of resurrecting twenty year old flame-wars… ;-)

  40. Robin says:

    I had a PC from the late 80s onward, the first one being quite literally a US import (and an IBM).

    PC owners were bent double with envious rage at the Amiga until about 1992.

  41. fluffy bunny says:

    “none of the atari people I knew got involved in the whole atari/amiga fight. what was the point? we already knew we were better than them…”

    Maybe you were better than us, I don’t know about that, but at least we had better computers than you… :-p

  42. Slang says:

    If you miss the good ol Amiga shooters like Turrican then I’d HIGHLY recommend this brilliant spiritual sequel/remake:

    link to hurrican-game.de

    At first sight it looks like a PC indie game…but believe me, at its heart it’s a hardcore Amigastyle shooter.

  43. Pod says:

    AMI-GA! AMI-GA! AMI-GA! AMI-GA! AMI-GA! AMI-GA! AMI-GA!

    If anyone fancies a peek at all the mags from back in the day, check this page:
    link to amr.abime.net

    I posted a link to it on an RPS thread the other day, and it’s even more relevant in this one!

    As a side note: Caveat: Gillen likes Amiga Power so much because he wrote for the damn thing! (Not that I’m disagreeing with it’s mantle of best-mag-ever, but still…)

  44. Radiant says:

    *ahem Zzap 64*

    Atari ST people on full alert!

    ST vs Amiga, C64 vs CPC464, Xbox vs PS, Dogs vs Cats.

    I still remember the pain of ‘the Amiga divide’ you either had the extra memory and an Amiga 512 or you didn’t and couldn’t play Skid Marks.

    But to this day I will take down anyone trying to play me at Kick Off 2 or Sensi.

  45. Radiant says:

    btw you know the Maniacs of Sounds are still around?

    link to xs4all.nl

  46. theleif says:

    Even though you have mentioned a lot of great games, you have forgotten the greatest. But I’m a nice guy and will try to find a place in my heart to forgive you. It might take time, but if time heal wounds, even this grievous stab at my heart will eventually mend. And i will correct your error and state the One True Game:

    Gravity Force

    Please treat the following text as the small print in a mobile carrier contract and hence ignore it.

    If you played duel or race against a friend, that is. As a single player game it’s only OK.

  47. Kieron Gillen says:

    Pod: In AP’s Beatles, I was only ever the guy who turned up circa Abbey Road to play the Tambourine.

    TheLeif: Hell, yeah. Frankly, if we started talking Amiga Games, I’d have been here all day.

    KG

  48. groovychainsaw says:

    Heh -i win, i liked the amiga so much i bought a cd32. Still got it as well, 2 pads and about 50 games ;-)

  49. James G says:

    YES! Oh, I’m sorry, I seem to have come over all tingly.

    Seriously though, I did actually love my Amiga. I mean, I really enjoy the gaming I achive on the PC, and I might occasionally pat my rig with the detatched fondness of a father who has just seen his child achive a dream, yet has never quite allowed himself to form any deep emotional attatchment to. But the Amiga, I actually had an affection for the hardware itself, the same way in which some people form an attatchment to their cars (Not to their children. I may have been very fond of the Amiga, but I am still grounded in reality.)

    I had an A600, the often forgotten halfway house between the A500+ and the A1200. I got it on my eight birthday, and was absolutely estatic, so much so that I couldn’t actually use it for about fifteen minutes as I was running about the house laughing. It came with Lemmings, and Deulux Paint 3, I also got Magicland Dizzy at the same time. I remember sitting gobsmacked by the graphics in ‘The Chapel’ where fancy colour gradients were a nice step up from the Spectrum.

    I was primarily an Amiga Power reader, although not a loyal one. I had a huge collection of magazines and coverdisks, many of them picked up at carboot sales, along with the inevitable collection of floppy disks on which the hand-written lables betrayed their slightly less than legal origins.

    I also remember being heavily in to the Shareware anf Freeware scenes, primarily due to a company called ‘Pathfinder PD’ which would offer an exciting treasure-trove at less than a pound per disk. With only short descriptions it was often a stab in the dark, but I found some true gems, many of them bearing the name ‘Jeff Minter’.

    But Kieron is right, the Amiga embodied the attitude towards games that I love. A gamer who can have a quick game of Peggle, followed up by a bout of Crysis; can play an evening of Dwarf Fortress before a retreat to Psychonauts. I’m not saying all genres should appeal to all people, but rather that we shouldn’t feel the need to draw up barriers, and should revel in the contrasts, rather than avoid them.

    To Echo Kieron: I didn’t have a PC when I was a kid. I had an Amiga. I loved it.

    (And now I shall actually read all the comments as I got a bit over excited.)

  50. Tom Armitage says:

    Bah; I had just my Dad’s 10mhz 286, and later a 386, until we hit 1995 and we got (gasp) a P100. Until that point, it was DOS all the way, always behind the times.

    Back then, I was the lone bastion of PC gaming – championing X-Wing and 1942:Pacific Air War and stuff (whilst lusting after a machine fast enough to run Ultima Underworld) – to my friends.

    I had PC, and all I could think about at times was wanting an Amiga.

    How times change.