Looking back at the Amiga

My first post on the redeveloped website was about the Amiga.  The quest to resurrect old source code ended a while ago now and the Amiga has sat collecting dust, my rediscovered source in the cloud.  I had wondered about selling the Amiga sometimes – the nostalgia trip done.  I don’t think I can part with it though.  It is an A1200 NTSC therefore many games for the A500 PAL have a little trouble running and gaming is generally better served in an emulator (who would’ve thought it?), but the thrill of playing on real hardware just gets me.  I suspect it is here to stay especially when I hear of things like the Vampire2 accelerator and an eventual A1200 version.

This weekend however saw me using the A1200 and installing some more games on the hard drive.  This was fueled by the fact that WHDload (hard drive game installer) is now free.  Not that paying for it ever put me off but when I finally got around to trying to purchase it, the vendor was sort of closed and unable to process orders for a few weeks and after that I was away for a while.  I just can’t go paying for something and then not able to use it for two months can I?  So yes, lucky me…I held off of purchasing and shortly after that it went free.

So with WHDload in hand I installed some games on the Amiga.  I was actually doing something else at the time and multitasking to get the installs done – the idea being I was ‘working’ towards a play session and ending a long evening with some fun.  WHDload, the ‘paid’ version is really cool.  I’d previously used the free version but some games won’t run unless you’ve paid.  So first thing I did was check that a few things I was unable to play before worked, which they did.  Then I started working my way through ‘new’ games.

Looking at old games is odd.  I want to look at them, but often I am not motivated to play them for very long.  Merely seeing them satisfies the fix in some cases because the games often don’t hold up to play as well as I remember.  I also find that I talk myself out of booting some games, pausing as I hover the mouse pointer over the icon and never doubling clicking.  Almost always this is on the type of game I know requires more time to look at and the fix won’t be easily satisfied by a quick go.  I need to dedicate more time to looking at some of these games.

Well, here are some thoughts looking back at Amiga gaming.

Difficulty

Games were way harder back then.  Well…I might not be as good as I used to be.  I am sure both are true actually.  Either way I wonder how even my old self beat some of these games.  Dipping into a hard game IS frustrating and brief.  Then there are also those games that beat me back then and I was never very good at, but I thought highly of.  I still want to see and be quickly beaten by these games today.  Respect.

Controls

A funny thing I noticed is how accustomed I was (and no longer am) to using a joystick.  A one button 8 way controller is a fairly limiting input device, so much so that many games followed similar customs for control assignments.  I was accustomed to these conventions once, but now it feels alien, unplayable even.  It’s a daft thing really but even something as simple as pushing up on a joystick to jump because the sole button available is assigned to a firing/shooting mechanic is way behind the simple usability of switching a thumb between a fire button and a jump button on even a two button game controller.  The older joystick convention is odd.  I hate it!  In fact it has taken me quite a while to understand this – a phenomenon I first re-witnessed a few years back when looking at Mayhem in Monsterland on the C64.  Back then I just thought it was a bad idea – ‘who ever did controls like that’ – but now I realize it’s a convention of yesteryear I am no longer used to.  Had I have played MiM back in the day I would’ve done fine at it and loved it.  Today it falls into the ‘respect’ category due to my rubbish attempts to play it.

Resolution & Color

It is difficult to properly compare an Amiga on a modern TV with an Amiga hooked up to a scan doubler in order to run it through a higher quality monitor.  At some point, composite signals in modern TV’s became very cheap and shit quality because it was no longer as important.  Thus an older TV will often display an Amiga signal better and of course there were also some very clear Amiga dedicated monitors around anyway, which was always the high end as far as signal output went.

That being said, reviewing today on both these outputs, I feel the Amiga looks more like the next-generation C64.  What once was a cutting edge resolution for gaming now looks chunky by today’s standards.  The pixels are super big and super square, despite feeling hirez even 20 years ago.  This problem is exacerbated on the scan doubler where every pixel shows up very clearly.

The colors don’t help either.  There were many 4 and 8 color games in the prior generation and the Amiga, often shows 16 in a game (hardware was more capable).  It felt like a quantum leap back then but now indeed it looks just like it actually is, just double the prior generation.  16 very clear colors contrast sharply on the modern scan doubler making every pixel look even more square.

Quite interesting is the idea that some of these issues kind of blend away on the modern TV.  Some of the checkerboard shading patterns really do look like another color in the palette on the terrible TV, but the contrasting actually does show up as a graphic alternating between pixels of two colors.  In some ways, the better display of the scan doubler actually ages the system while at the same time being highly desirable.

Audio

I used to think the Amiga audio was high fidelity.  The prior generation of gaming hardware wasn’t really capable of sampling unless you pretty much tied up the CPU.  When you’ve only heard tone based chip tunes and 4/8 bit sampling from the prior generation the Amiga sounded like a CD.  It really wasn’t however.

Now it’s not that the Amiga’s audio was bad.  It was getting on for FM quality and more than halfway towards CD.  When the sample rates were set at those levels it sounded very good.  But most games used much lower rates in order to save on memory and bandwidth.  It makes sense but it does mean that the games make the Amiga sound less good than it actually is and yes I have more clouded nostalgic memories of it sounding much better.

Well I still like the Amiga.  This post isn’t meant to bash it at all and indeed I do have plans to move the Amiga to the game room and have it set up on the big screen.

Games played during this write up:

  • Nebulus
  • Ghouls and Ghosts
  • It came from the Desert
  • Falcon
  • Dizzy
  • Nitro
  • Civilization
  • Skidmarks
  • Stun Runner
  • Gauntlet II
  • Great Giana Sisters
  • Gunship
  • Total Eclipse
  • Theme Park
  • Newzealand Story