Commodore Amiga: A Beginner’s Guide
Presented by Ivo, TheSonicRetard, and Racketboy
Typically, on Racketboy, we focus on game consoles. We tend to stay away from covering PC gaming topics as the topic is so broad and expansive. However, for this guide, we decided to cover a certain line of personal computers that had an interesting niche and a relatively limited retail lifespan. This guide was a long-standing idea that got a strong push by the phenomenal first-post by TheSonicRetard in the Racketboy forum. It was therefore much expanded as a combination of efforts by Ivo and TheSonicRetard, and repackaged and edited by Racketboy.
To start things off, here is a quote in regards to the Amiga 1000 (the first Amiga) near the time of its launch that neatly describes what made the Amiga special:
“Freelance writer described it thusly: “To give you an idea of its capabilities, imagine taking all that is good about the Macintosh, combine it with the power of the IBM PC-AT, improve it, and then cut the price by 75 percent.” This last part was a bit of an exaggeration, but not by much: the final price of the Amiga 1000 was set at $1,295 for the 256KB version and $1,495 for the 512KB one. This compared favorably to the Macintosh, which had only 128KB and sold for $2,495.”
The Commodore Amiga is not a single system but rather a family of home computers and consoles produced by Commodore, which had previously produced the PET, VIC-20 and the Commodore 64 (historically the best selling single computer model).
The Amiga series was started out by Commodore in 1985 (the same year the NES was released in North America). This description, however, sort of sells the format (the correct term when describing the Amiga as a whole, instead of “console”) short. When people say computer, most people will think of something akin to DOS or Windows, but Amiga isn’t really like that. In many aspects you can think of it more like a video game console than anything else, which goes back to its conceptual roots where it was originally envisioned as a video game console that could be expanded into a personal computer (which is actually the case with the CD32 model). As such, it shares more features in common with console gaming than most other computers. In parts of the world, namely the UK and eastern Europe, Amiga was the most popular and primary gaming format from about 1986 until around 1993, dominating the NES, SMS, Genesis, and SNES. (see Global Popularity section below)
The Amiga computers were extensively used for creating graphics, music and editing video. Some readers may be quite surprised to know that Electronic Arts’s Deluxe Paint was a very significant (non-gaming) Amiga software exclusive. One of the most famous uses of Amiga hardware was the creation of 3D graphics for the early seasons of the Babylon 5 series, which won an Emmy for the effects. For those interested, at the time of writing there is an extensive list of “Notable historic uses” in the wikipedia article
- Many versions: the main models were chronologically the Amiga 1000, 2000, 500 (best selling model), 3000, CDTV , 600, 4000, 1200, CD32.
- The Amiga 1000 was released in 1985, at $1,295 for the 256KB version and $1,495 for the 512KB one.
- The Amiga 500 was released in 1987, at $699 in the U.S.
- There is an excellent multi-part article written by Jeremy Reimer at ArsTechnica about the history of the Amiga (also the Spanish word for female friend).
- In addition to the ArsTechnica article, there is a recent book “The future was here” published by MIT press. The author of the book claims the Amiga was the first true multimedia computer and planted the seeds for many of the computing evolutions that we enjoy today. You can have a look at the table of contents and a sample chapter. Associated with this book there is a companion website with a wealth of material, such as videos demonstrating the capabilities of the Amiga. It is worth checking out this site even if you don’t read the book.
That line above about dominating the NES, Genesis, etc might have caught you off guard. Amiga bigger than the NES, Genesis, and SNES? If that’s the case, why is it virtually unheard of in the US and Japan? Well, for a multitude of reasons, the Amiga simply did not catch on in those regions (at least, not to the extent it caught on in Europe).
The circumstances surrounding this are explained in detail in that Amiga History link posted above, but the long and short of it goes all the way back to the Video game Crash of 1983. While it’s mostly assumed that the crash was global (and to an extent it was) the reactions to said crash were not universal. In the US, we pretty much abandoned gaming until the industry was revived in 1985 by Nintendo, in Europe, the crash signified a switch from dedicated gaming consoles towards gaming computers. Rather than buying machines completely dedicated to gaming, from the early 80’s until the mid 90’s, Europeans bought into machines which looked like a computer, but could behave much like a game console. It’s during this period that the greatest European gaming computers took over the market, including Commodore’s own C64, the ZX Spectrum 48k, or the Atari ST (Atari remained a huge gaming force in Europe well into the 90’s, unlike the US). The best and most supported of these gaming machines was undoubtedly the Amiga, which was low cost compared to the IBM PC or Macintosh, but boasted graphics and sound unseen in other personal computers at the time, that could surpass those on a Sega Genesis.
- The Amiga 1000 was the first computer to ship with a double-button mouse as a standard (Apple first with mouse).
- The Amiga 1000 was the first standard computer to be able to display more than 16 colors simultaneously – up to 4096 (using the HAM mode). It was also the first to have a digital sound processor with stereo channels.
- The AmigaOS was quite advanced for the time, implementing, among other things, preemptive multitasking much earlier than Windows and OS X.
- Gaming in home computers was quite popular in Europe, particularly compared to other regions, and the Amiga was the premiere platform for gaming for a short period.
- Like other home computers such as the Commodore 64, the Amiga got some users started with programming, creating art or music on their computers. One interesting manifestation of this aspect is the demoscene http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Demoscene (see also the section below).
- It had extremely good graphics and sound for the time, particularly for the price.
- Because of this the Amiga version of a game was often the best version in multi-platform games (including arcade ports).
- The Amiga has a few notable exclusives and often had “timed exclusives” – i.e. games would be made for the Amiga (and on the Amiga) and then ported to other formats later.
- Has a variety of games, with both “console style” games (platformers, shooters, arcade ports, etc.) and “PC style” games (mouse/keyboard games, simulation games).
- Hardware was mostly standardized and pretty much “plug and play”. With an Amiga 500 you have nearly no compatibility concerns or need to fiddle with configurations to get your games to run (unlike many DOS games).
- You can save your high-scores or progress on most games (due to the floppy drive).
- It can do much more than gaming, which made it easier to justify the purchase of the hardware.
- You can even program your own games, and this led to many free games for non-coders (some of which were quite good).
- It could handle, simultaneously, one mouse in each controller port (relevant for 2-player modes in a few games such as Lemmings).
This image of King Tut is one of the most enduring images of the Amiga. It was very widely shown off as a display of the graphical capabilities of the Amiga at the time, and this, along with a strong endorsement by Andy Warhol, established the Amiga as the first multimedia computer. Check this site for many more great Amiga graphics, and this site for Amiga music (from games or otherwise).
Before Apple Computer became associated with video editing and Photoshop, Amiga was there doing the exact same thing with Deluxe Paint and other software, and later with its incredible video toaster hardware. If you were in television or film, at the time Amiga was somewhat an industry standard to do video editing due to its affordable price compared to dedicated workstations. If you worked in print, you probably used an Amiga with one of several DTP (desktop publishing) software packages to do your work. If you made games for the NES, SMS, Sega Genesis, SNES, etc – you might have used an Amiga with deluxe paint to create your sprites and backgrounds (Guybrush Threepwood, of Monkey Island fame, derives his first name from being made in deluxe paint). Similar considerations applied to creating music and sound – in short, the Amiga was the format of choice when it came to video or audio. Here is an advertisement for the Amiga 500 that illustrates this and more. Keep in mind this was in 1987 and that the 500 was the “non-professional model” compared to the Amiga 2000:
Below is a sampling of some games from the Amiga library and their ports on other platforms (you can click on the images to see additional detail). At the time, the Atari ST was the Amiga 500 direct competitor.
The Amiga boasted the most impressive audio hardware of any machine for quite a while. It was only when the SoundBlaster 32 eventually released that it found an equal. Amiga games typically use a format called .mod, short for module, which provided a number of channels to play music created using samples. It’s perhaps most comparable to midi, although it has certain restrictions which gave it its own unique flavor. Like just about every great gaming machine, the music for the Amiga has a very unique sound which is instantly recognizable to anyone familiar with the hardware. The best way to demonstrate the awesome capabilities of the Amiga is to compare music written for the Amiga to its contemporaries:
Golden Axe Stage 1-1 (Wilderness)
Cool Spot Rave Music
Whether you prefer the Amiga version or not is up to you, but what is undeniable is that there is a certain sound inherent to the Amiga versions. Again, keeping a reference to the time this hardware was released will give you a much better appreciation for the sort of power it had.
- Amiga input controls were nearly always limited to the use of one button. The hardware supports 2, as demonstrated clearly by the mouse, and you can even plug in Master System or Mega Drive / Genesis controllers as they are compatible, but very few games actually use a second button. Arcade ports particularly suffered due to this controller limitation as the games weren’t designed with it in mind. Often the keyboard was used to alleviate this issue.
- As a consequence of the above, jumping can be problematic. Most games from that era didn’t need more than 2 buttons, especially platformers which mapped jump to a button. Thus, to get around this limitation, most developers would map the up direction on the joystick to jump. In Great Giana sister, for example, up jumps while the button is used to throw fireballs. For this reason, you may want to track down an Amiga Gravis gamepad, which has up mapped to a button, especially if you’ve cut your teeth on mainstream consoles. The good games on the CD32 that weren’t quick and dirty ports (a few) will spare you the “joy” of pressing up to jump.
- Floppy disks aren’t as reliable as carts, and it can be annoying to swap floppies in multi-disk games.
- In some you don’t have music, or sound effects, or at least not both simultaneously. Some games will give you the choice of one or the other.
- Not a weakness of the hardware, but there were no first- party titles by Commodore, meaning there were not many true “exclusives”.
- The hardware wasn’t 100% standardized. This includes the existence of 32-bit Amiga models and also expanded RAM (a very common upgrade frequently purchased with the machine). Unlike most retro consoles, you can run into incompatibilities.
- Beyond incompatibilities, some games simply don’t try to use the capacities of the hardware (this is more so for the A1200 and CD32 as most games were made to run on the A500).
The experience of playing an Amiga may be compared to that of playing a Super NES or Sega Genesis, but due to the above it can tend to be noticeably inferior in many ways. Many games run in small windows that are maybe 70% of the total screen, for example in the upper right corner of the screen. This screenshot of Shinobi that shows off the black border surrounding the screen.
Basically you may need to temper your expectations. If you go in with an open mind and can tolerate many these flaws, Amiga gaming can pleasantly surprise you. Furthermore, don’t let that 32-bit claim of the A1200 or CD32 mislead you, as you’re still getting something closer to the Sega Genesis than a Sega Saturn. In terms of the A500 games, in most cases if the game is released on both the genesis and Amiga, the Genesis version is better (at least on the controls). That said, there are some games which are really worth playing and exhibit none of these flaws, but you may have to pay a bit more for those gems.
Further, getting into Amiga gaming involves getting around a lot of barriers, particularly outside Europe. Most people will not be willing to do the research or put in the money needed to make playing on an actual Amiga worthwhile. If you get a CD32 you probably want one of the better gamepads, and the good games can go for a premium if boxed and are hard to find outside Europe (see affordability section). When you do wind up with a full setup, it is actually a decent console-like experience. For those that are not purists in terms of hardware, you can also try emulation:
Amiga Hardware Models
When diving into the Amiga scene, it is easy to be completely overwhelmed by the number of models and configurations of Amigas that existed. In chronological order, the primary models are the original Amiga, now referred to as A1000, A500, CDTV (basically a A500 with CD instead of floppy), A2000, A600 (basically a smaller A500), A1200, CD32 , A3000 and A4000. The custom chipsets are referred to as OCS, ECS, AGA, and so forth. To add to the confusion, the Amiga models are clearly not sequential, and thus it’s not enough to simply choose a large number and expect a great Amiga. The Amiga 2000, for example was released earlier and is generally much inferior to the Amiga 1200. Some versions might lack a specific port or interface, some have less ram, some have more, etc.
In reality, for floppy-based gaming there are only two models of Amiga you need to worry about – the Amiga 500 (or the 600) and the Amiga 1200, and each of these comes with the CD-based counterparts in the CDTV and CD32.
If you want a CD-based model, the 32-bit Amiga CD32 is backwards compatible with the CDTV so that is probably the way to go. There are a few 32-bit and a few CD exclusives, as well as some “remakes” of 16-bit Amiga games with improved graphics and sounds. There are very few CD32 exclusives though; usually there is at least a 32-bit floppy version (even though the CD32 version could have some extras, better music, and rarely even improved controls using the gamepad’s extra buttons).
Pretty much all Amiga gaming can be broken down into those two types, the 16-bit (with OCS or ECS chipset) and 32-bit (with AGA chipset). The A2000, 3000 and 4000 were mostly intended for professional use and had many expansion ports, so if you just care about gaming you probably are not so interested in them.
For the sake of simplicity, you can think of the Amiga 500 as comparable to a stock Sega Genesis in that the vast majority of games released for the format are Amiga 500 games.
The Amiga 1200 can be compared to the Sega 32X, in that it saw a speed increase in the CPU, and the graphics chip (called AGA) was improved (although perhaps not as drastically as compared to the Genesis->32X transition). More importantly, the Amiga 1200 is mostly backwards compatable with the Amiga 500 library, outside of a handful of games.Check eBay US for Amiga 1200 (expect $160 to $350 plus shipping)
Check eBay UK for Amiga 1200 (expect £35 to £125 plus shipping)
To target the the home entertainment market the CDTV was essentially an Amiga 500 home computer in a Hi-Fi style case with a single-speed CD-ROM drive and an infrared remote control. It was also sold without a keyboard, mouse, or floppy drive. Much like its competition, the Phillips CD-i, the market for a CD-ROM based home entertainment system wasn’t ready for the prime time with consumers just yet.Check eBay US for Amiga CDTV (expect $450 to $600 plus shipping)
Check eBay UK for Amiga CDTV
The Amiga CD32, was presented as the world’s first 32-bit CD-ROM based video game console. And while this was true in Europe and North America, the FM Towns Marty was already an exclusive release in Japan. The CD32 is based on Commodore’s Advanced Graphics Architecture (AGA) chipset, and is quite similar to the Amiga 1200 computer. Using 3rd-party devices, it is possible to upgrade the CD32 with keyboard, floppy drive, hard drive and mouse, turning it into an Amiga 1200 personal computer. Your can also purchase a hardware MPEG decompression module for playing Video CDCheck eBay US for Amiga CD32 (expect $160 to $200 plus shipping)
Check eBay UK for Amiga CD32 (expect £36 to £195 plus shipping)
As mentioned already, the graphics and sound capabilities of even the earlier Amiga models were quite ahead of competitors, roughly until 486 PCs became available (Super VGA and Soundblaster 32 eventually had PC graphics and sound match and surpass the Amiga). You can plug Amigas into monitors, but many people just hooked them up to their TVs.
Amiga hardware has a CPU from the Motorola 68k family (the Motorola 68000 in particular was used in many home computers and consoles of the time) and its custom chipset. For the early models such as the 1000 and the 500, it was the original chip set (OCS) that enabled graphics and sound superior to what other systems had at the time. Some models such as the 500+ and the 600 had a slightly enhanced chip set (the ECS, which also gives rise to some incompatibilities with earlier software), and the 32-bit machines like the 1200 and CD32 have the greatly improved advanced graphics architecture (AGA).
Now your first inclination might be to assume the console versions are superior. In a lot of ways, they’re easier to get into – they’re familiar, easy to set up, and perhaps more aesthetically pleasing. However, the lack of a floppy drive really hurts – the vast majority of Amiga games are floppy only. While you can add a floppy drive to both, doing so is expensive – more so than picking up an additional Amiga 1200 or Amiga 500 to go along with your CDTV or CD32 would be.
As mentioned, the Amiga 1200 can play most Amiga 500 games (the number of games which cannot be played on an Amiga 1200 today is tiny) making it overall the best selection if you’re getting into Amiga. The Amiga 1200 was faster (featuring a 68030 32-bit CPU over a stock 68000 16-bit CPU), more ram standard (2 mb over the 512kb in the 500), and had the improved chipset with a better GPU. There do exist a tiny number of CD32 exclusive games (as in, games only released on Amiga in the CD32 format), most noticeably Flink (which also saw a Sega CD port).
- Like most European gaming computers, the Amiga used a standard Atari 9-pin controller port. This is both a blessing and a curse. For the vast majority of the Amiga’s life, any Sega or Atari controller works with it. As such, most games use only 1 button and up to jump, but you can modify an SMS or Genesis controller to map up to a second button easily. A few games use button 2 on Sega controllers, but due to the way the A button is read on a genesis controller (it shares the pin with the B button and is toggled via a high-pin switch), 3 button gaming isn’t feasible on an Amiga.
- With the introduction of the CD32, however, the Amiga did get a standardized 6-button controller which works with many late-amiga games, and is only compatible with the Amiga (i.e. you can’t use it on a genesis). Unfortunately, it’s pretty bad. There exists only 1 third party CD32 controller, but fortunately, it is awesome. It goes by two names, either the “Honey Bee Controller” or the “Competition Pro CD32” (not to be confused with the competition Pro, which was an extremely popular 2-button joystick for the amiga). It is essentially a combination of all the 16-bit controllers – shape and D pad of the genesis, button layout of the SNES, and turbo switches of the Turbo Grafx 16.
- Additionally, the Amiga supports a 2-button mouse (usually plugged in to controller port 1) and for those models with one, obviously a keyboard.
Other Amiga Accessories
- Amiga computer models (i.e. not the CDTV and CD32) had a fair number of expansion ports and slots, particularly the higher-end models (2000, 3000, 4000). The Amiga has a number of interesting accessories, one of the most common must have been the RF modulator, which came bundled with many Amigas and allowed you to connect it to a TV instead of to a monitor.
- In a list of potentially game-related ones, there were regular controllers (mice and joysticks) or dedicated ones like racing wheels, and stuff like Action Replay cartridges that one should note could here be used for much more than cheat codes, e.g. you could rip stuff like graphics directly out of the game for playing around with Deluxe Paint.
- The CD32 in particular also had expansion modules, the SX-1 and SX-32. Basically, that added several additional ports to the system, turning it more or less into an A1200 by allowing you to plug in a keyboard and external floppy drive.
- You could also upgrade your Amiga by means of extra memory – as mentioned above, this was particularly common on the A500. You could get a dedicated monitor, external floppy drives (for multi-disk software) or hard-drives. It was even possible to get what was then called an “accelerator”, containing a more advanced CPU of the Motorola family (60030 or 68040 with a high clock speed). Many of these upgrades were usually for productivity reasons, but notably during the time Doom came around and Doom-clones appeared on the Amiga many required an accelerated Amiga to run decently.
The Amiga also had a number of other interesting (non-game) accessories, focusing on the graphics side, some examples are:
- scanners / digitizers were popular due to the advanced graphical capacities of the Amiga – this was even emphasised at the Amiga launch gala, where Andy Warhol demonstrated these capacities by scanning a picture.
- So-called genlocks (think of them more accurately as video mixers) allowed the Amiga to overlay video sources, often used to add Amiga graphics – you could overlay stuff like subtitles, or add corny effects to your home videos.
- The Emmy-awarded Video Toaster, which in association with Lightwave 3D let people create 3D models (at that time it was often referred to as “raytracing software”)
Additional Amiga Features
- Games on the Amiga were distributed in two formats – 3.5″ Floppy disk (see sample photo) & 650MB CD-ROM. Disc art for these CDs range from console-quality, like this Chuck Rock 2 label to well-below shareware and freeware quality labels, like this Guardian label
- Games for the Amiga don’t need to be installed, in fact most cannot be installed. Nor do they have to be manually launched from the OS (called workbench on the Amiga). To boot a game, you simply pop the disk into the Amiga and turn it on. The machine will then boot into the game. Turning the Amiga on without a game inserted will result in a white background screen with a blue floppy, or a purple screen prompting a game to be inserted, as most Amigas didn’t support a hard drive (and thus, workbench itself was distributed on floppys which were booted into just like a game).
- Additionally, unlike the IBM PC or Macintosh, or virtually any modern PC, the Amiga didn’t need a specialized computer monitor. Although many were seen connected with a standardized (and incredible) 1080S monitor from Commodore, the machines were intended to be used with a standard TV. Most software was written with a normal TV in mind. Almost all Amigas feature a standard RF-out port, or an A/V port. In fact, finding an amiga with a VGA-out port is actually pretty hard to do, as, on most models of Amiga, VGA-out was sold as a separate add-on. See image below for a typical Amiga to TV setup.
Notable Amiga Games
When looking at Amiga games, it is useful to keep in mind the strenghts and weaknesses listed above. For example, you should not be surprised that many of the Amiga’s best games are mouse controlled (due to one-button joystick controls). You will perhaps know many of these games from other formats, but most of these games either originated in the Amiga or had some special association with it (like having the best version).
The Amiga had games of every type: it had great arcade ports and god games and RTSs since the genesis of those genres with Populous and Dune 2; adventure games with great music by LucasArts and Sierra; pinball games such as Pinball Fantasies; platformers like Superfrog and Zool; racers such as the Lotus trilogy or Skidmarks; run n’ gun like Turrican and Ruff n’ Tumble and turn based strategy like Battle Isles. A main weakness became apparent as the PC overtook the Amiga in capacities and extremely influential games like Doom were absent in what, until then, had been a premiere gaming format.
Before we get into the games: 100 Amiga games in 10 minutes is part of a series of videos on Youtube and is an excellent look into Amiga gaming. If nothing else, if you’ve made it this far into this topic and are still curious about Amiga gaming, you should watch that video. It gives you an extremely quick look into what the format has to offer, and it’ll only take 10 minutes of your time. The music is, of course, awesome.
It is very hard to limit to a short list of notable games, but a more in-depth list really requires a dedicated article – so please understand if one of your favourites is absent (and feel free to make suggestions in the comments). In alphabetical order, a handful of notable games:
- Alien Breed – The best way to describe Alien breed is that it’s the overhead missions from Contra 3 expanded into a full game. There are numerous alien breed games on the amiga, and late in the Amiga’s life it became the format’s premiere FPS, with the last Alien Breed game running on an engine that rivaled that of Quake. However, those games required incredibly beefed up Amigas, and thus most refer to the overhead games. They’re incredibly fun in 2-player mode. If you’ve ever played Loaded on the PSX or Saturn, it’s a lot like that. eBay / Youtube
- Another World / Out of this World – a highly influential game that was developed by Eric Chahi on the Amiga. The cinematic and atmospheric sci-fi adventure was something of a revelation to console gamers used to squat sprites and emotions conveyed through text boxes and sweat beads. The flat-shaded polygonal programming set in two dimensions signaled a meeting point between traditional console conventions and what was to come later in the 1990s. eBay / Youtube
- Beneath a Steel Sky – If there is one single game out of this entire topic that you should play above any other, this is it. The Amiga was home to some of the best adventure games of all time, featuring killer ports of the monkey island games, but this game takes the cake. I have this game in both 15-floppy format and CD format. The CD32 version features full voice acting which is actually really good. A tale set in a post-apocalyptic world, it’s one of the most refined adventure games I’ve ever played, bringing the formula down to the the simplest mechanics – all that’s needed is a 2 button mouse. The boxed versions of this game come with a comic book detailing the events leading up to the intro of the game that was drawn and written by Alan Moore. This game is actually freeware today, and fully compatible with ScummVM. Even if you find this whole Amiga deal isn’t for you, you should still check out this game. Amazon / eBay / Youtube
- Cannon Fodder – This military-themed strategy title with shoot-em-up elements thrived on the Amiga before being ported to a handful of other platforms including consoles and handhelds. The developers, Sensible Software developped a handful of other successful Amiga titles. eBay / Youtube
- Defender of the Crown – an early and important historical Amiga graphics showcase from Cinemaware, who also developed other cinematic games blending different types of gameplay with high-quality graphics and sound (like It Came from the Desert). Amazon / eBay / Youtube
- Fighting Spirit – A single glance at this game will tell you that the developers are gigantic Neo Geo fans, as interviews have confirmed. It looks, sounds, and most importantly FEELS like a Neo Geo game, specifically Fatal Fury. It’s also one of the most full featured games on the entire format, taking full advantage of the 6-button CD32 controller. eBay / Youtube
- Lemmings – released first on Amiga, it is perhaps the top example of an Amiga game with immense impact. The split-screen 2-player mode with two simultaneous mice probably remains an exclusive of the original Amiga version. The developer DMA Design later became Rockstar North. The publisher, Psygnosis was involved with other renowned Amiga games such as Shadow of the Beast and continued until very recently as Sony’s Studio Liverpool (news of its closure in August 2012), known for the Wipeout series. Amazon / eBay / Youtube
- Lionheart – A true Amiga exclusive, with excellent visuals that doesn’t require anything other than a stock Amiga 500. It’s a hack and slash platform game. Incredible graphics and music. Remember once again that this runs on an Amiga 500, which came out in 1987 (compare with the NES, released in the U.S. in 1985 and the Genesis in 1988-1989). eBay / Youtube
- Lotus Trilogy – This series of games survived the fall of Commodore and eventually wound up on other systems sans the Lotus license (as Top Gear) but the originals on the Amiga remain the best in the series. Incredible music and varied gameplay from each game in the series; it’s one of the best remembered series on the format. This one also comes from Gremlin games, they’re still around today and you might know them: they changed their name to Sumo Digital a few years ago. Amazon / eBay / Youtube
- The Sensible Soccer series – This series needs to be mentioned as the premiere arcade-style Soccer series. It included Sensible World of Soccer, a pioneer in combining management with playing and also having a huge amount of clubs from many countries. Sensible software is considered to be one of the top developers on the Amiga and had other hits such as Cannon Fodder. eBay / Youtube
- Shadow Fighters – Everything about this game seems stacked against it – it’s a 1 button fighting game on a format notorious for terrible fighters with a terrible art style (it seriously looks so ugly). Yet after spending extended amounts of time with it, TheSonicRetard confidently says that it’s not only the best fighter on the system, but one of the best fighting games of that entire generation. Despite playing with 1 button, each fighter has 9 normal moves, and between 5-10 special moves on top of that. A balanced, fun fighter that is worth digging up. It also comes from Gremlin Games. Amazon / eBay / Youtube
- (Super) Stardust – These two games – Stardust and Super Stardust – are likely the best known Amiga games today, due in large part to their incredible, well-performing PS3 sequels. Brought out by Team 17, one of the top developer/publisher on the Amiga, these games play true to their PS3 successors, taking the standard Asteroids concept and injecting it with a serious amount of awesome modernization. These games are actually a bit deeper than the PS3 sequels, featuring currency, a shop, a story (with cutscenes!), and an interesting 3D tunnel minigame. The CD32 version is the best available. eBay / Youtube
- Ruff n’ Tumble – Probably the poster-boy for just how far ahead of the competition the Amiga was, this game is fully playable on a stock Amiga 500. Fantastic art direction and one hell of a plaform / run-n-gun game to boot. The best way to describe this game would be a slow Gunstar Heroes. This game was made by an all-star team of Amiga developers and it shows. eBay / Youtube
- Turrican Trilogy – it is hard to talk about the Amiga and not talk about this series of games. Although C64 fans also claim this game as one of their killer apps (and with good reason), most will say that the definitive port belongs to the Amiga. The best way to sum up these games is a mix of Contra and Metroid. They’re incredibly well polished, and among the best action games of any platform from that era. Both the C64 and Amiga versions demolish any other version of the early titles in the trilogy – the Sega ports are massively inferior, and the TG-16 port is awful. The Atari ST ports are also notably inferior. eBay / Youtube
- Worms – starting from the “homebrew” game Total Wormage, worms was developed on the Amiga and was a timed-exclusive. The game spawned a series that endures to this day. It was published by Team 17, associated among others with the Alien Breed and the Stardust series mentioned above. eBay / Youtube
- Xenon 2 Megablast – used the Amiga sound capacities to pioneer the use of licensed music in games – and had great gameplay as well. The Bitmap Brothers were another top developer on the Amiga with other hits such as Speedball and Chaos Engine. eBay / Youtube
- Zool 2 – the sequel to Zool is massively improved in just about every way, to the point where it is arguably one of the best 16-bit platformers around. It’s also a game which got better as it went along – the Amiga 1200 port improved upon the Amiga 500 version, and the Amiga CD32 version wound up being a hell of a game with exclusive levels and a kick-ass soundtrack (along with proper controls). There exists a Jaguar port but it’s a straight 1:1 Amiga 1200 port, complete with up-to-jump. Another gem by Gremlin games. Amazon / eBay / Youtube
Regions & Imports
As mentioned earlier, the Amiga was a massive hit in Europe, but it didn’t make a huge splash in the US or Japan. In fact, the CD32 was never even officially released in the US, seeing only an extremely limited release in Japan (as in, less than 100 units). Because it’s a much more European-centric format, the overwhelming majority of its software is written for the PAL standard, not NTSC. For this reason alone, getting an NTSC Amiga is not recommended, as in most cases you’re going to be missing out on 90% of the format’s best titles. But, as anyone who has ever looked into the subject is well aware, getting something meant for PAL to display correctly on an NTSC screen is an extreme exercise in frustration.
A more accessible alternative lies in emulation:
For the purists out there, TheSonicRetard spent over half a grand trying out various hardware solutions so that you don’t have to. If you do chose to import hardware, don’t skimp on the video converter – cheap solutions simply won’t work. From a cheap Pal->NTSC converter that never powered on through other video converters of varying quality, most got hung up around the need for a non-interlaced signal. After trying almost a dozen converters, one was found that works perfectly with both the Amiga 500, and Amiga 1200 (along with the Amiga CD32):
The Atlona CDM-660 typically goes for about $150 online, although you can find it for cheaper if you really look around. It’ll convert both an S-video and composite video signal both ways (either PAL->NTSC, or NTSC->PAL). In truth, this is an awesome piece of hardware that, if you’re really into retro gaming, has uses beyond just the Amiga. The only major downside is that it doesn’t support RF-input, requiring an RF->Composite converter if you’re looking to get into, say, Amstrad CPC gaming. But for it’s cost, it’s very useful. Compared to other converters, the video quality is excellent, without a hint of ghosting or blur that typifies these sort of converters (in fact, when outputting through S-video, the picture quality is almost too crisp).
This isn’t all you’re going to need, however. European outlets output at 220v, while our American outlets output at 110v. You’re going to need a power inverter to get this machine turned on. Unfortunately, places like fry’s tend to only stock plug converters, which simply change the size and shape of the plug. Do NOT use these – they’re cheap and will MELT within hours. They’re extremely dangerous and you’re better off just lighting your $20 on fire, as its safer. This is recommended instead:
These are a bit pricey – around $60, but they’re high quality and most importantly they are SAFE. You can safely keep this plugged in 24/7 without worry. Make sure you get something rated for at least 300 w (or 500 w actually just to be certain).
With both that video converter and the power inverter, you can safely connect your European Amiga to an American TV and outlet and enjoy the full range of what the Amiga offers. Best of all you can connect two Amigas to that video converter at the same time – e.g. CD32 connects via S-video and Amiga 1200 connects via composite, with a switch on the back to change video. Daisy chaining the inverters and the entire setup can look like this:
Games can be easily imported via eBay, although you can expect to pay between $40 to $70 for complete games (box, manual, disks) after shipping. Some games will require the manual as a form of copy protection, although there exists projects online to provide digital copies of Amiga manuals for the purpose of defeating this copy protection (thus enabling second-hand sales).
Note that many commercial Amiga games are currently legally available for free online.
At time of writing, the completed ebay listings give a rough idea of the values the hardware and games will cost in the US (ebay.com). As the Amiga was particularly popular in Europe the prices in the UK (ebay.co.uk) and Germany (ebay.de) are also included and you may want to check other countries (ebay.fr and ebay.es).
Due to the scarcity of Amiga on ebay.com, prospective users based in America may want to look for local deals on dedicated Amiga sites such as Amibay (see also the “Additional Resources” section below).
- Check eBay US for Amiga 500 (expect $125 to $300 plus shipping)
- Check eBay US for Amiga 1200 (expect $160 to $350 plus shipping)
- Check eBay US for Amiga CDTV (expect $450 to $600 plus shipping)
- Check eBay US for Amiga CD32 (expect $160 to $200 plus shipping)
- Check eBay UK for Amiga 500 (expect £20 to £40 plus shipping)
- Check eBay UK for Amiga 1200 (expect £35 to £125 plus shipping)
- Check eBay UK for Amiga CDTV
- Check eBay UK for Amiga CD32 (expect £36 to £195 plus shipping)
In floppy based systems one can also consider getting a hard drive to install some games, usually those that came in more than one floppy (there is also WHDload that lets you basically install anything to the hard drive, but you may not want to get into that).
If you get a CD32 you may want to go ahead and get a Honey Bee / Competition Pro controller, the third party gamepad option. The official controller is widely considered to range from bad to terrible (and it is not very durable either), so consider that as a potential extra cost. A budget option that has been discussed in the forums is that a Genesis / Megadrive compatible gamepad works very well as most games do not use all the buttons of the dedicated CD32 pads.
Although we won’t cover these in detail, there are two options available nowadays for playing Amiga floppy disk games that should be noted and considered by prospective users: 1. the Amiga CD32 provides the option of playing (unofficial) compilations of many (hundreds) of floppy games that can be burned to a single CD. 2. Amigas with an hard drive can run software that was meant only to run from floppy disks, as WHDLoad enables such software to be installed and used from a hard drive.
- For a full guide on how to emulate the Amiga, check out our Racketboy Guide
- It is worth stressing that Amiga emulation can be 100% legal. You can get the “hardware” ROMs legally via Amiga Forever
- There is a cheaper bundle for $10 with the kickstart ROM of the A500 and for $30 you get you legal copies of every Amiga kickstart ROM, configured with the emulator WinUAE, with a collection of games and other software all bundled in one place.
- There is also a wealth of free software that you can emulate, ranging from public domain freeware to games to several commercial developers (including many of the top Amiga classics) with their entire Amiga libraries legally available online (either because they authorized the use or even released themselves).
The Demo Scene
This could be an entire topic in and of itself (and Hardcore Gaming 101 has an excellent article on the subject), but the Amiga format largely popularized the Demo scene (which began on earlier PCs like the C64). Demo scenes grew out of crackers who wanted to personalize cracked releases of games – they’d brand their releases with increasingly elaborate intros. These crackers, who gave birth to an entire art form, still exist today – Razor 1911 for example. But many of these crackers realized they had more fun creating the demos than just cracking the game, and soon shifted their talent towards creating full demos.
These demos are simple programs that set out to stretch the very limits of what is possible on the amiga visually and audibly. There are decades worth of demos out there, and it’s impossible to say which are the best, as the technology behind them was often shared (or imitated, or competed against, or all of the above).
The Amiga demoscene exists to this very day, with thousands of demos releasing every year. These really should be seen on real hardware, as youtube videos just aren’t nearly as impressive. Many historic graphical tricks were berthed from these demos, from parallax scrolling to h-blank interrupt polling. If you’re a graphical geek, this is as good as it gets.
Because I can’t possibly mention demoscene without providing at least ONE example, I’ll link one of the best known demos of all time: State of the Art. Some additional demos are present in the companion website to “The future was here”.
There are huge amounts of information about the Amiga on the internet, much thanks to an enthusiastic fan base. Two websites that are particularly of note:
- Abime.net – Is a portal to lots of information including the English Amiga board, Hall of Light (an Amiga software database), the Amiga magazine rack (a collection of scans from Amiga magazines);
- LemonAmiga -Mostly a host to a great database (focused on games), also has a dedicated forum and other interesting data (such as a few interviews).
- As usual, you can also join us in the Racketboy forums!
Special thanks to the Racketboy community that contributed to threads on the Amiga and in particular to those currently participating in the discussion about “The future was here”.
From the credits section of TSR’s forum post: MR_Grinch, Hardcore Gaming 101. Lemon Amiga, Arstechnica, TheNewGuy, KoolKitty89, The entire EnglishAmiga board, Paperweight of the Assembler forums.
We would like also to thank for the corrections and contributions received in the comments of this post.