The Commodore Amiga – personal recollections

When discussing the 16bit era, most people jump to the subject of the SNES or Mega Drive. This is an obvious choice of console discussion. Not because they are mainstream, but simply because they synonymous with word ‘games console’.

I want to talk about another type of games console, though it’s the description ‘console’ is far from what it was. The Amiga 500. Now, I could go into the whole Atari & Commodore debate from which would spawn at least seventy pages of how Commodore as a company came to be. But, I am just going to focus on the Amiga 500. Now, imagine it’s 1990. You are playing on the current gen console, the Master System. You get a phone call asking you to go to a friend to play on their new Amiga 500. You debate in your head for a second or two if the walk to the next street is worth it. It’s a computer, with keys, no Phantasy Star. What’s the point? But you get thrown out by the parents because sunlight is apparently good for you. So, off you set, to the next street, knock on the door, enter and go to the room where this so called ‘Amiga’ computer is. You sit down and wait for a game called Shadow of The Beast 2 to load while thinking of Double Dragon still. Then, all of a sudden, the music starts and the main character is running across the screen with it’s vast, complex graphics and colours you have only ever seen in arcade machines in magazines. You stare at it… listen to it… then you play it. Suddenly, the SMS you left indoors becomes obsolete and old. Totally blown away by the Amiga, you walk home only to enter your house and say ‘Dad, I want an Amiga 500 with additional RAM and an external disk drive so I can copy games and sell them to my mates in the playground’

You could have asked for a Mega drive, but somehow it seems ‘tired already’ in comparison with what you could be doing on an Amiga.

The Amiga 500 was the evil child of the 1985 A1000. The A1000 was a big desktop machine that did not have the capability to load into a ROM. This had be booted form a disk. So, in 1987, Commodore along with the master mind and creator of the Amiga computer, Jay Miner, went about creating an ‘all in one’ Amiga which simply plugged into the back of a TV. The keyboard would be part of the package, simply integrated into the motherboard along with the disk drive. The machine could be upgraded to possible height of 8MB. Most people opted for the 1MB, 1.5MB upgrade as some games like the outstanding Alien Breed needed that extra power to run it.

I have had an Amiga since I was a kid, in one way or another. The feeling you get while playing an Amiga is the feeling of effort. The aging, yellowing chunk of plastic in front of you is why we as people have a computer at home, work or anywhere today. It’s innovative yet modern still to this day. Its keyboard arrangement still haunts the ones we take for granted in every day life. The Amiga OS, ‘workbench’ is what you are sitting in front of now, Windows. Yet it’s rarely mentioned or marked down in history that this Amiga started a new revolution in home computing history. In fact, it’s remembered for much more. Apart from its infamous decline into the abyss, it’s remembered for games, games and games. So that’s what I am going to talk about.

The history of Amiga gaming starts with Cinemawares Defender of the Crown. Nowadays, it’s not hard to imagine what a next gen game would or could look like. Graphical elements of a new era in gaming are the most important, but combining it with gameplay is as equal. Defender of the Crown is no exception. First released on the doomed Amiga 1000, it went unnoticed to the general populous. But, when it hit the shelves for the Amiga 500, it’s not hard to see why games consoles of that era such as the NES were made to look ‘primitive’ in comparison. Set in the medieval ages of jousting and over-taxing churches in England, the game gave the player control of what he wanted to do. For example, the player must build armies to conquer other opponent’s castles and land. It’s a strategy game that also turns it’s attention to smaller mini games where bys rescuing a fair maiden. Robin Hood also pop’s up to help from time to time. But it’s the graphics that stands out with this game. A full 16bit powerhouse of colours makes Defender Of The Crown the first modern animated video game. It was later ported to the NES in 1987, but failed to capture the atmosphere of the mighty Amiga 500.

Next up has to be Psygnosis revolutionary Shadow of the Beast Series. The first real 16bit platformer and its accompanying sequels. Originally named ‘Beast’, the first game was released in 1989 and had twelve parallax scrolling levels that were absolutely jaw dropping. The games other noticeable charms were the ear blistering and mind haunting music from the composer David Whittaker. The first true instrumental samples were used in this game. With the game’s ‘big box art’ coming from Roger Dean, the game was a hit. The second installment, Shadow of the Beast 2, improved on the graphical and musical elements of the first game. With an intro and death outro that has gone down in gaming history as ‘legendary’, the game didn’t fail to impress. But, gamers had been left infuriated by its ‘impossible to beat’ gameplay. By the time Shadow Of The Beast 3 was released, many other platform games such as Super Mario World & Turrican had entered the fray. But Psygnosis pulled no punches, completing the series with what many Amiga fans have labeled the best Amiga platformer ever.

With the Amiga leading the way in graphical and ‘chiptune’ sound platform games, it’s was only a matter of time before the machine was truly recognized for its potential to make innovative styles of gameplay. Lemmings, a puzzle-platformer from DMA Designs, now RockStar North released in 1991. The Scottish GTA3 company teamed up with Psygnosis in 1998. The companies first major hit, Lemmings took the average platform game, zoomed out and let you take control of the green haired creatures in an attempt to guide them through various dangers. Avoiding cliffs, fire and even meat grinders, the aim was to rescue a certain percentage of lemmings by guiding them to an exit on the other side of the level. Chances are, if you owned an Amiga 500, you had this game. The game had many sequels and spin offs, but to this day nothing can match what the first game in the series produced. Lemmings was a truly ground breaking game that can still be felt today in the form of Worms and possibly Angry Birds.

The next game in the Amiga’s glorious collection is James Pond 2 – RoboCod.

Now, I know what your thinking, it’s been on as many systems as you can think of, but the game has an extraordinary twist to it. The game may have been played death the world over, but the U.K. Amiga version had its own level design, kind of. This design comes in the form of ‘Product Placement Advertising’. Not uncommon these days, but way back in 1991, the British biscuit giants ‘McVities’  teamed up with Millennium Interactive to possibly make one of the earliest and first product plaice’d
(I made a fish joke) video games in history. McVities, the makers of Penguin Biscuit Bars, placed advertising within the levels of the game in the form of fully wrapped, complete with logo, Penguin chocolate bars. Also, the aim of the game was to rescue Santa’s or Father Christmas’s helper penguins. This contributed to the Penguin Bar outselling Kit-Kat bars for the first time ever in 1991.

The Amiga 500 will always have a place in gaming history. It pioneered and spear headed the early 16bit era with total ease. If you have access to this computer, it’s worth its weight in gold when in comes to playing video games on it.

My Top 30 Amiga Games, Because Ten Is Not Enough

  1. Cannon Fodder
  2. Lemmings
  3. RType 2
  4. Sensible World Of Soccer
  5. Shadow Of The Beast 2
  6. Nightbreed The Interactive movie
  7. Turrican
  8. Cannon Fodder 2
  9. Worms
  10. Theme Park
  11. Pinball Fantasies
  12. Flashback
  13. Another World ( Out of This World )
  14. Syndicate
  15. Agony
  16. Crackdown
  17. Shadow Of The Beast 3
  18. First Samurai
  19. Apidya ( Insector X )
  20. GODS
  21. Eye of The Beholder 2
  22. Switchblade 2
  23. Hoi
  24. Secret of Monkey Island
  25. Cruise for a Corpse
  26. Double Dragon 2
  27. Dyna Blaster
  28. Second Samurai
  29. Ghosts & Goblins (Arcade)
  30. Flight of the Amazon Queen

Author: Danny Major

Amiga 500 Gamer, Super Famicom Lover & Master System Hoarder.

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1 Comment

  1. hello Danny. I am glad to have another happy customer. Jay Miner and I have 4 expired patents on the Amiga hardware. The first concept was to make a game console that could render cartoons (in 1982). Later they turned it into a PC instead, after the game market collapse. I am working on a book on the Atari PCS (400, 800, etc) for MIT Press. Find and read the MIT book “The Future Was Here” about the Amiga, from Jimmy Maher. My book will be a prequel. You might also like “Racing the Beam” which is a prequel to mine.


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