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Retro Games & More Vampire V4

Eric Schwartz
From the AmiTech Gazette
Dayton, Ohio October 2021

Welcome to yet another month, and yet aother user group meeting. Admittedly the term “user group” is used rather loosely these last couple years, perhaps better defined as ‘group of two motivated Amiga fans, and maybe one or two other people will show up if they feel like it’s not slightly inconvenient to do so.” Sorry to be salty—I realize we’re still living through an extraordinary situation here, so I’m content to wait until our global virus nightmares are (eventually) under control, and then use that time and freed-up resources to attempt to regrow the group, recapture some of our previous regulars, and possibly even attract new ones, if we’re lucky. Of course this whole pandemic thing is taking its sweet-ass time, so I have a while to formulate a game plan.

The AmiWest Amiga show is coming up for the 15th thru 17th of October, in a non-virtual form this time, with several Amiga dealers and exhibitors making an appearance. I expect some interesting Amiga-related news will be coming from the show.

I keep noticing this continuing trend to embrace “retro” Amiga and making, remaking, or updating classic games, be they from the Amiga’s past, or even the days of 8-bit systems and classic arcades. I’ve mentioned previously updates/remakes of arcade games like Bomb Jack, Rygar, and Bubble Bobble. More recently, there is the shooter Jackal, a version of the game Kung Fu Master with more elaborate graphics than the spartan arcade visuals, and an AGA update of the classic Turrican 2, which basically uses the graphics from the PC VGA version of the game. I’m of mixed feelings about this one. The graphics look smoother and clean, but seem to lack a certain rough–edged ‘soul’ of the original Amiga visuals. That’s all subjective, of course, and I’m sure someone would love to see Turrican’s look updated.

What catches my curiosity, is new updates for granddaddy games like Space Invaders, and Pac-Man, both putting emphasis on trying to look as arcade-identical as possible, despite it not remotely being a challenge for a system like the Amiga, and despite there already being several Amiga remakes and updates of each game available for years, with varying levels of arcade accuracy. It’s interesting, but seriously guys, PacMan is pretty dull and repetitive by today’s standards.

Everyone knows Ms. Pac-Man is the superior choice.

Returning once again to my slow (lazy) yet ongoing quest to bring my Vampire V4 system into a position where it can take over for my aged A4000, I recently updated its FPGA core to the new 7-2 version, brought in the new Amiga OS distro of debatable legality, “Coffin R59,” and opened up use of the remaining space of the SD-card-in-a-CF-adapter-on-the-IDE-bus that is its ‘hard drive,’ giving me a good 30 gigabytes or so of usable free space, and that’s AMIGA free space, which is roughly equivalent to a terabyte and a half on a Windows machine.

One feature I like about the V4 is its capacity for both highly-accelerated performance with HD video card graphics, and hardware-level compatibility with old metalbanging programs. That’s not without pitfalls, and I run into them from time to time. I’m working on finding a good way to weed out screen modes my monitor doesn’t like, so maybe I can take the HDMI mode-converter out of the mix.

Recently, I found that Deluxe Paint IV had stability issues on my V4, or just wouldn’t run at all depending on the core and OS revision it tries to run upon. I’ll have to try out some of my other old paint software, and see if the newer Dpaint 5 performs any better. Of course, what I really wanted to see is if some of the old classic Amiga demos would run. No, I don’t mean those European musical showcases, I mean those very basic demos barely younger than the Amiga itself, the kind you might see running on loop in a computer store around 1987 or 1988.

First off, I tried THE OG Amiga demo, the Boing ball. It performed almost exactly as expected, getting along nicely with the system. There was a little bit of a shadow artifact moving with the ball, but I think this is more a function of the OS than the Vampire, as I have seen similar things happen on classic Amiga systems. Next up is Robo City, which is far from impressive to today’s viewers, but multiple large moving and overlapping multicolored objects was pretty special around 1986. This also runs perfectly fine, though the objects seem a little more prone to flickering. I’m not sure what methods this uses for its display, but it never seemed to be particularly efficient code. Finally we have the classic Juggler demo by Eric Graham, a first to show a desktop computer like an Amiga could be used to create and display full-color raytraced animated graphics. I’m reminded of back in the early 2000s days of the Dayton Computerfest®, when our group had the Juggler demo running on an Amiga 1000 system, and the PC gamer kids were still impressed by it, even if we didn’t tell them the A1000 wasn’t actually rendering the graphics in real-time. This one works without problem as well, though the variable speed controls feel a little off to me.

This has been pretty fun, returning to the olden days (even by Amiga standards) of graphic demos, and I’m hoping to investigate more of them on the big bad Vampire, bringing back some of those nostalgia-bombs that have been forgotten by even many of the hard-core Amiga loyalists. The challenge of course will be not just testing them out, but re-finding them to check them out. I guess it’s time to dig into the classic Fred Fish library.