The Commodore Amiga was the computer of choice during the days of the 16-bit home computer. Well, I think so, anyway! Its big rival was the Atari ST, but the Amiga just had the edge when it came to graphics and sound. The Amiga appeared in it’s first incarnation in 1985, as the Amiga A1000. This version of the computer looked like a desktop PC, with a separate keyboard and base unit, upon which it’s monitor could be placed. However, most people will probably be more familiar with the version pictured, the Amiga A500.
The A500 was an all in one solution, with the keyboard, motherboard and floppy drive all enclosed in a big chunk of beige plastic. The mains adaptor was a massive beige block, and if you couldn’t afford a proper monitor, you had to plug another sizeable piece of plastic into one of the ports on the back of the machine in order to connect it to a standard TV set via an RF aerial. The Amiga came with a mouse, and was the first home computer to feature true multitasking, the ability to have more than one program running at a time. Workbench was the name of the window based front end used by the Amiga, in those days called a WIMP (Windows, Icons, Menus, Pointing devices – there’s an acronym that doesn’t get used anymore! Not surprising with a name like WIMP!).
The Amiga was more than capable of running word processors, and excelled at graphical programs, the most fondly remembered probably being Deluxe Paint. You could fiddle about drawing pictures for hours in Deluxe Paint, which it may surprise you to know was published by Electronic Arts! How times change! However, it is of course for videogames that the Amiga will always be best remembered. This was where the real rivalry between Amiga and Atari ST owners came in. Some games were written on the Atari ST and ported straight across to the Amiga, a job made fairly easy by virtue of the fact that both contained the same CPU, a Motorola 68000. However, whenever a games company took the initiative to write games directly for the Amiga, the difference in quality was clear. The Amiga had hardware support for pixel level scrolling, something the ST lacked, which meant most scrolling games were always much smoother to play on the Amiga. The Amiga was also capable of displaying games in 32 colours, whereas the ST could only manage 16.
Some of the games the Amiga was famous for include the Cinemaware series. Defender of the Crown was the first title that made peoples jaws drop with the quality of the graphics and animation on offer. Rocket Ranger and It Came From The Desert are further Cinemaware games that made the Amiga shine.
The LucasArts adventure games were also popular, if not exclusive to the Amiga. Games like Zak McKraken and the Alien Mindbenders and The Secret of Monkey Island games are still played by people today. These games were huge, and I’m pretty sure Monkey Island 2 came on 11 floppy discs!
Other great examples of Amiga game coding are the first Shadow of the Beast game, which may not have been a great game but looked stunning, and Lemmings, which started life as an animation made with Deluxe Paint before become the game which has appeared on more videogame formats than you could shake an entire tree of sticks at.
For more information on the history of the Amiga, right up to the present day, check out the excellent Amiga History Guide website.