I'll Never Love a Computer Like I Loved the Commodore Amiga

With a massive catalogue available to anyone with a penchant for piracy, the Amiga defined a generation of British gamers.

Ian Dransfield

Box art detail from the Amiga classic 'Turrican 2'

The earliest nightmare I remember was down to the Amiga. We got the Screen Gems pack for Christmas 1990, after my brother and I successfully wore down our parents in the way children are wont to do.

I'd had to put up with going around to mates' houses to play any games for the first six and a half years of my life, so by shitting Christ I wasn't about to let this new era of gaming in my actual house go to waste.

So I played the games that came with it. I played them a lot. Days of Thunder, Shadow of the Beast II, I even tried painting some crap on Deluxe Paint II.

But it was Nightbreed that did me in, and one scene in particular. I don't remember much from the game; I hardly even remember knowing what I was doing at the time – but there was one bit. You enter a graveyard. You encounter that twat with the snakes for hair. He gives chase. You have to hammer the mouse buttons to escape.

Go too slow? He catches you, bites you, and you die.

Go quickly enough? The police are waiting for you, gun you down, and you die.

'Nightbreed' was a shite game based on a shite film, but could still scare younger players

I didn't get back then that this was the point: you were supposed to "die" at that part of the game for the story to progress. All I cared about was I had encountered a situation where, no matter what I did, I ended up dead.

I came downstairs, bleary-eyed and shaking one night, to find my mum still beavering away at the tiger-hunting game Champion of the Raj.

"I think Nightbreed gave me a nightmare," I half-sobbed.

She looked away from her big game massacring, and in that way only a mother could, laughed at me. "Go back to bed, it's just a game."

I love the Amiga more than is probably healthy. It changed my entire life; it made me into the wasted bag of meat and skin I am today who tries to eke out an existence writing about virtual worlds and identikit manshooters.

A standard Amiga 500 setup, via Wikipedia

While the C64s, Spectrums, NESes and Master Systems my friends owned all impressed, it wasn't until we had our own gaming machine, an A500 with 512k memory upgrade (foresight on dad's part, there), that I really cared.

Over the following eight or nine years it continued to be my go-to device. It continued to provide experiences I couldn't get anywhere else, as I didn't own a PC and couldn't afford many Mega Drive or SNES games.

Armed with X-Copy and access to a mate's library of disks, though, I was able to play anything and everything I wanted to on the Amiga. We rinsed through Midnight Resistance repeatedly; we spent literally hours in front of Championship Manager '93 (this video being a very good example as to why); Gods showed us how fucking great games could look and sound; and the Viz game amused us in the ways it wasn't supposed to when were just children.

'Gods' was a Bitmap Brothers classic for the Amiga, and featured music by John Foxx

God, those games. The Amiga was a hotbed for some crazy development talent in the UK and Europe – and you'll see plenty of the old hands still around, while younger devs coming through talk of how it was the Amiga that inspired them.

Sure, it wasn't a Nintendo or Sega machine, and it doesn't sit in the upper echelons of gaming history – mainly because that seems to be written by Americans, who all but ignored the Amiga – but this was the last real home of the mad bedroom coder.

At least until the indie boom of a few years ago. And guess what a lot of those games-makers were influenced by? The Amiga years.

The Sensible Softwares and Bitmap Brothers and Bullfrogs and Psygnosises were the altars upon which we worshipped. War really had never been so much fun, we all genuinely dreamed of a world where we, too, could have magic pockets, Syndicate was better than anything else in gaming, and bloody hell that Psygnosis box art was stunning.

The Psygnosis-published 'Shadow of the Beast II' featured art by Roger Dean

It all lent itself to a culture around the machine that was decidedly British – with European influences coming from the likes of the German-made Turrican II and its ilk. And nowhere else was this more evident than in the literature that backed the Amiga up.

The One, Amiga Format, CU Amiga, whatever – I can take them or leave them. Amiga Power, though, just like the machine it supported (and derided in equal measure) is still having an effect on the industry today. Take a look at VideoGamer.com's output if you don't believe me.

The magazine and computer both straddled an era – beyond the first, tentative steps into home gaming but before the grasp of the publishers and big money had really taken hold. We had the shoddy cash-in film licenses sitting alongside some truly fucking weird games made by teams that had no suits demanding they make the Call of Duty of the day. And we enjoyed them all.

There was something innocent about the Amiga, like it was the oafish lummox who didn't know his own strength. Just when you thought it was done for – and Jesus crikey did Commodore ever try to fuck up the Amiga – it pulled something out of its arse.

'Gloom' was shamelessly ripping off... well, it's utterly obvious, but it was amazing to see this kind of game run on an Amiga

Usually it was the music that grabbed us, but sometimes things like Gloom would come along, titles that frankly shouldn't have been possible on the Amiga. At least, that's what we told ourselves.

It faded into obscurity and died the death of mismanagement, but there's still a committed group using Amigas – with an up-to-date OS, no less – as proper personal computers to this day. I'm not, because I'm not a nutter, but I did download the FS-UAE emulator the other day, and after getting my mitts on some "legally acquired" games, sat down for a quick bash. Which ended up lasting four hours. This little bastard still has chops, let me tell you.

My dad still reckons I can "do everything you need to" on the yellowed Amiga 500 still stashed in my childhood bedroom, but I don't want to break his heart by loading up Photoshop or Hotline Miami 2 or something. It was surprisingly future-proofed thanks to that 1MB of RAM, but not quite the Wonder Machine pops convinced himself it was.

Having said that, I don't recall any other gaming machine ever giving me nightmares.



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