The Amiga Doesn’t Get The Respect It Deserves

by Eric Schwartz
From the AmiTech Gazette, April 2019

One of the things that’s nice about the internet is that, while the Amiga may play historic market second fiddle to the Windows PC or Mac, there still continues to be content covering the platform to this day, from videos to podcasts and more. My “link of the month” this time is the Arcade Attack retro gaming podcast from the UK.

Listening to podcasts like these are partly interesting, partly infuriating… listening to these people sharing their fond memories for the Amiga from the perspective of young (at the time) gamers, and somewhat butchering their information on Amiga hardware and history.

Arcade Attack UK Podcast

In my bit of old man ranting for the month, I’ve been thinking a bit about how the Amiga is remembered today, especially among those who may not have directly experienced the platform, due to either being too young or users of other systems back in the day. Of course, enthusiasts of ‘retro’ systems, games, and software are quite common today, with some even being too young for first-hand knowledge of whatever they’re collecting or emulating. Part of this is probably thanks to “retro” media attention on YouTube and other internet venues showing off the good (and not so good) stuff from the past.

Still, when people, especially newer people, get into retro stuff, they do it from the viewpoint of someone without much historical perspective. As we know, history is written by the victors. As we all know, (depending on who you ask) Windows 95 invented multitasking and Apple invented smartphones and the GUI. It’s only those nutty conspiracy theorists that would deny that, right? Sometimes I wonder if this is why Atari doesn’t have quite the retro clout of Nintendo or Sega nowadays, despite being the first game console to hit it big. Either that, or the limited 1977 hardware of the Atari VCS restricted the complexity and variety of games that the later game systems would be known for, and retro enthusiasts may prefer a certain level of play over the older and simpler fare.

I tend to get more annoyed when people look at older games without proper perspective for the time in which they were made, or worse, an ignorant and incorrectly confident sense of wrong perspective. An example is when people like to toss around ideas like Atari’s 2600 version of Pac-Man, and/or the E.T. Game caused the American video game crash of 1983/4, when they were little more than convenient missteps to point to in a swirling mass of market forces. Another is saying Atari Pac-Man was a poor representation of the arcade original because the console was incapable of doing better, when later efforts by homebrew games makers and Atari themselves prove the 2600 can do a perfectly serviceable Pac-Man game given the right effort.

I guess what I’m saying is there’s a lot of ignorance out there regarding past computers and game systems, borne out of propagated misinformation and a lack of real experience.

Looking at various media on the Amiga, especially in retro-gaming circles, there seem to be two types of coverage. One type comes from Europeans, which tends to be more fond and nostalgic, and the other comes from Americans, which frequently treat the Amiga more as a curious bit of obscurity. These attitudes make sense in context, as the Amiga was never the big force in North America that it was in the UK and many other European countries. US gamers tend to look at past games through the lens of Nintendo and Sega and Japanese game creators, and have been seen to balk at Amiga games with their single-button joysticks, and their ‘European’ feel. Throwing around those misconceptions, many write off the Amiga CD-32 as a terrible, failed game console, and their not entirely wrong, as it failed to turn Commodore’s fortunes around enough to prevent bankruptcy. They’re not entirely right either, as for its short life the CD-32 was a top seller in the UK, and definitely outperformed Commodore’s previous attempts to turn computer hardware into home and game systems, such as the C64-GS and the CDTV. That doesn’t prevent a lot of US-based YouTube game channels from dumping on it however.

I have little choice but to live with it, as trying to explain the merits of the Amiga era to someone who someone who didn’t experience them just makes you look like the crank living in the past. I can even understand to an extent, as it’s not unlike a hardcore basketball fan covering a baseball game, or a scholar covering 1940’s swing music asked to give opinions on death metal. Still, I know how ahead of its time the Amiga was even if others might not, being a first consumer system to offer a multitasking OS AND multimedia capabilities AND graphic acceleration at a time when most other computers were lucky if they could put more than 8 colors on the screen at once. It pioneered the style-over-substance type of “Who cares if it plays like crap? Look at those graphics!” Games with releases like Shadow of the Beast and the Cinemaware games. It birthed several franchises that outlived it in games and graphic software, like Lemmings and Worms, or Lightwave 3D and TV Paint. It provided templates for the modern approach to PC design, such as a video/graphic and sound co-processors that can operate independently of the main CPU for better performance all around. For many out there today, it’s the most important computer system they might never have heard of.