Speak friend and enter: a reflection on my Amiga years12 minute read

I take a nostalgic look back over my Amiga years and the experiences they gave me

Amiga is the Portuguese, Spanish, Occitan and Catalan word for friend. Thinking back over my gaming life I can honestly say that this rings true when thinking of my Amiga years. The Amiga was like a faithful dog, giving back as much as it took. If you are familiar with the terms DF0 and DF1 then you too have been graced with experiencing the Amiga.

SEGA and Nintendo paved the way

Early gaming for me took the form of cheap handheld LCD systems picked up in quirky gadget shops. Some of these I still have to this day, with games such as Vampire Attack by Systema. I vividly remember getting Vampire Attack on a daytrip to London with my mum and my sister. That day ended badly when we had found out that my father had left the house whilst we were gone. To ease my pain, my sisters friend lent us the SEGA Master System. It was a notion completely unfamiliar to me. There was a box that plugs into a TV and allows the user to move this sprite around the screen. I was totally blown away and it wasn’t much longer until I had my own Game Boy and soon my own console.

In the same year I also won a competition and the prize was the Nintendo Entertainment System. The competition meant the player had to answer a question and enter it into the prize draw box. It was near the queuing area in Luton’s Cannon Cinema, so I was too shy to take part so my mum entered on my behalf. On September 4th 1991 the Luton News/Gazette published the competition winners. I was now fully immersed into the world of console gaming with my first console. It was Christmas of the same year when I received the SEGA Master System II doubling my experiences. Gaming back in the day truly was a family activity, and one I shared with both my mum and sister.

A goofy me (second left) receiving the Nintendo Entertainment System

These years of gaming were excellent for me. The consoles would be the only consoles I would have until the PlayStation was launched. This was no issue for me as between these moments I was truly blessed with the Commodore Amiga.

You Wing Chun, you lose some

Five years after entering the console fanbase came the summer of 1996. At the time I was studying Wing Chun, which is a form of Kung Fu. I had been entered into the 8th British Martial Arts Tournament. It wasn’t far to travel, but I went with the class that day to take part in the Chi Sau tournament. After a very long April 21st I achieved first place and made my way back home, gold medal in hand.

Unbeknownst to me, my mum had purchased an Amiga 500 for me. The Amiga was probably a hybrid present for either celebrating a win, or consoling a loss. Either way, a fantastic day ended even better when I arrived home and found this beast of a machine set up and ready to go. I am not sure what was paid for the Amiga, but I can imagine it stretched the budget greatly.

What was the Amiga?

The Amiga 500 was part of the Commodore Amiga series and was originally released in 1987. Coming into the Amiga 500 troupe nine years after launch was fantastic! There was already a huge selection of games available, masses of software, magazines and more. This was in the age when carboot sales sold bootleg copies of software. Picking up the newest game for £1 a disk was perfect for someone on a pocket money budget.

The Commodore Amiga 500

Commodore advertisments of the 1980’s cast the computer as an all-purpose machine. The Amiga Sidecar made this dream possible, with an Intel 8080 processor capable of emulating the processes of a PC. Amiga did lose its market share quickly when it was hit with a string of poor marketing campaigns, but for a child, none of this mattered.

A sterling catalogue

It is hard to remember what I did first on the Amiga as there was so much content over the next few years, but I vividly remember some titles more than others.

Developers such as Sensible Software, Psygnosis, Team17 and of course The Bitmap Brothers are what stand out. The array of developers were staggering and it allowed me to experience some fantastic games from the time. One of my first “blown away” moments was when I experienced Another World. The game was published under Delphine Software originally for the Amiga and Atari ST. Dubbed as a cinematic platformer action-adventure game is was my first true experience of cinematic visuals on a video game. This game managed to use cinematics in real-time and cutscenes, which was not a common occurrence in games in 1991 when it was launched.

Another World (image credit: Delphine Software)

Other titles that stand out for me are the Alien Breed titles. The remaster/remakes that were released in the Xbox 360 generation seriously lacked in comparison to the originals. The original trilogy of games had a pure synthwave feel to the soundtracks, utterly stressful tension and amazing graphics. Based on the Alien franchise you had to explore facilities where an alien outbreak had occurred. Wandering halls of bloodied bodies where the click of your tracker would alert you of movement gave an intense atmosphere. These games truly captured the power of the Amiga as a home computer setup.

Worms was another great addition to the collection, and made for some hilarious two-player action. Nothing can beat the feeling of a 100 meter grenade toss that completely goes wrong and kills off 75% of your team. Me and a friend used to make forts in the game with girders and tunnels. Note that this was long before Worms Forts was even conceptualised.

The true golden age of gaming

Sensible Soccer was another prevalent game in my arsenal. For months I would come home from school to play a few matches of my ongoing career. I used to write down each and every score and tally up my goals so I could see how I had progressed – something I carried over into the Track and Field days on my future consoles.

Of course there was The Bitmap Brothers who developed some of the most iconic games of the Amiga years. Games such as Xenon 2: Megablast, Gods, The Chaos Engine and Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe were among my favourite titles on the Amiga. Unfortunately my copy of Speedball 2 had a bad disk sector, and this meant that in career mode I could only get to the last match before the game gave up on me and crashed.

Speedball 2: Brutal Deluxe (image credit: The Bitmap Brothers)

Other classics such as Zool, The Secret of Monkey Island, Pinball Dreams, James Pond, Lemmings, The NewZealand Story, Elite II: Frontier, RoboCop, Simon the Sorcerer, Rainbow Islands, FIFA Football, Mortal Kombat, Toki and more took up my free time. Many of these games have a place in modern gaming, with various re-releases and remasters, but playing them in the period they were released was nothing short of magical.

Upgrades and quirks of the Amiga 500

There were also comical moments with owning an Amiga. Having games such as Flight of the Amazon Queen and The Legend of Kyrandia: Fables and Fiends meant games that were sometimes over 10 disks in size. The internal drive of the Amiga was dubbed DF0, and this could only take one 3.5″ floppy disk. However, I managed to obtain a super-sweet upgrade and snagged myself an external drive dubbed DF1. now I had the ability to load two disks at the same time (probably only increasing loading speed by 2%).

Another thing the Amiga was great for was warming your feet in the winter. The Amiga power pack was a very large block of plastic that became very warm. When you were chilly you could place your feet on it and it was utter bliss.

The 1mb module for the Amiga 500/500+

Soon came the day when I had saved enough money for an upgrade to my Amiga. I managed to save enough money to upgrade the RAM from 512kb to a staggering 1mb (1/32,000th that of my current computer). However, some games would not run with this immense amount of memory, so a switch was required to turn off the expended memory so these games ran correctly.

A home computer for all purposes

The Amiga didn’t just allow me to experience amazing games, but also allowed me to learn more about other aspects of computing. Writing simple programs, using Deluxe Paint to draw blinding pictures that I could print on my dot matrix printer and messing around with the voice synthesizer in Workbench (AmigaOS) were all great experiences for the novice user.

Paperboy

I soon became old enough to have my own paper rounds. Saving my money for big things, or splurges was always my strategy. My first couple of years saw me putting that money towards toys, Star Trek and other such nonsense. Then came the Christmas of 1999. I had saved a fair amount that year, but I was aiming at £119.99 for the new price of the PlayStation advertised in Beatties of London.

The Sony PlayStation (photo credit: Sony)

Christmas arrived my sister made a point of me knocking doors for Christmas tips (something I would severely cringe at now as it sounds like begging). However, my sister was not one to argue with so I obliged and thankfully made more than enough money to make my purchase. I had already purchased the previously released Grand Theft Auto from a friend at school. This was so that I made sure that I purchased the console – some strange form self-reverse-psychology.

After Christmas I was taken down the town centre and I made my purchase, bringing me back into the console community once more. To say that I abandoned my Amiga would be a lie. Of course my usage of it went down severely as I now had a more powerful CD-based gaming machine. But I never completely stopped using it.

Regrets and reconciliations

A few years later, when collecting video games just wasn’t a thing, I relinquished control of my Amiga 500 and Amiga 600 (gifted) to the local tip. All circa. 1200 disks were sent off into the abys, which is something I massively regret to this day.

The Amiga CD32

However since starting my current collection (which still consists of my original NES and Master System II) I have scraped some Amiga goodness back. I now own an Amiga 500, 1200 and a CD32 – reconciling my relationship with the machines. They are truly my prized possessions as they take me back to an age where I had no concerns. Back to a gaming age when the entire family could get involved and when games were more than their cinematic counterparts we see today.

Today we await the launch of the ninth generation of consoles – the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X. We will be sure to see amazing graphical performance, super-fast loading times, a huge multiplayer capability and flawless cinematics with famous voices and ray-tracing. However, watching what is ultimately a film with a game controller doesn’t cut it as much as a 32-bit sprite with a chiptune theme.

The Amiga years for me will always be the pinnacle of gaming and to go back to that time would be perfection incarnate.