Amiga Memories

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Amiga Memories

I have a huge nostalgic connection to the Commodore Amiga. I’ve never owned one and I can probably count the number of hours when I have even used one on a single hand. I haven’t even really played many games on it. However, what I do appreciate is the idea of the Amiga, a mysterious and powerful machine that can inspire and unlock creativity.

Despite being a computer, the Amiga seemed to be a very popular machine for gaming. For most of the world, the 16-bit video game war seemed to be between Sega and Nintendo. To me, and I’m sure many in the UK, it seemed to be the Amiga vs everything else. I heard stories of all the marvellous things you could do with it. You could create artwork, compose your own music and even make your own games. There was also the story that it was used to render the special effects in some science fiction TV show. Very impressive stuff, but it did little to convince me that Zool was better than Sonic the Hedgehog. Everyone seemed to own one and, despite the lack of gaming quality when compared with the Megadrive that I owned, I was still convinced it was a machine worthy of my interest.

The Amiga was much more than a games machine

It wasn’t the quality of the games that impressed me, but their creativity that really caught my attention. Looking at titles from developers such as Psygnosis and The Bitmap Brothers show a unique approach to game design and visual expression. Many of these games were designed to express an idea rather than appealing to the widest audience. In most cases these games were designed by very small teams and sometimes even a single person. √Čric Chahi’s Another World is a great example of this, feeling more like a modern day cinematic indie title and blending a mix of experimental visuals and a haunting atmosphere. This was the first that time I considered games to be art. Not so much graphically, but more in the unique ways developers were trying to express themselves.

Another World was one of the first cinematic games

Lemmings by Psygnosis was one of the Amiga’s most popular titles, which was ported to practically every system in the first half of the 1990′s. Designed to be played with a mouse, it’s unique gameplay and visuals made it an appealing title for consoles gamers too, who were more used to action games played with a joypad. This, along with Another World and games like Shadow Of The Beast and Flashback, showed that the Amiga was more than just a computer with some low quality arcade ports. Many of its original games were good enough to compete with those found on the newer consoles and, once ported to those systems, found an even bigger audience. The Amiga couldn’t compete with the popularity of those machines, but the games stood out with their creativity alongside the more expensive console titles.

The Amiga came at the end of the home development era. This was a time when all you needed to develop a game was a computer, a coding book and a bit of creativity. The games on the newer Sega and Nintendo consoles were gaining popularity, developed by much larger teams with better tools and a higher budget. Whilst the quality of games greatly improved during this time, fewer risks were being taken as games were developed to target a particular audience. The cartridge based formats were much more expensive than the cheap and easily available floppy disk, making development on these platforms unfeasible for any small teams or lone developers. On top of this was the issue of becoming a licensed developer on the hardware, coming with the cost of a reduced percentage of the profits.

Gods with its distinctive art style

Of course we all know where this leads and we’ve actually ended in a much better place. Eventually. The average person now has access to some of the best development tools and the internet has made marketing, distribution and sales much easier than they’ve ever been. There is now a market where a short, low budget game can compete against the biggest and most expensive blockbusters. They can compete both in sales and critical acclaim. Creativity is back and it is a major selling point once again. Game development was inaccessible to most for a long time, but now all you need is a computer, an internet connection and a bit of creativity.

We often think of the golden age of home game development as being the time that started with the ZX Spectrum and ended with the Amiga, but it seems the best time is now and it’s likely to continue for the foreseeable future. Software such as Game Maker, Unity 3D and free tools such as Blender means a high quality game can be made and ported to any of the popular systems at a very low cost. In the recent past, you would have needed to buy a development kit to do this, expensive software and be signed to a publisher.

The PC, once an incredibly awkward platform for gaming, has now become everything the Amiga had promised to be and much more. It’s great to look back at an old machine fondly, but we can once again develop anything we can imagine and reach an even larger audience. A much larger audience. Only this time we have more resources, more opportunities and more tools to create games that will continue to inspire. It didn’t start with the Amiga, it didn’t end with the Amiga, because great ideas can only be put to the side for so long.

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