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Where is the History of the Amiga?

Commodore AmigaYesterday I was part of a team presenting a lecture on the History of Computer Games (a nice small topic) and we chose to structure the lecture via our own gaming histories, so I touched on Defender in the arcades, the Vic 20 (and cassette tape drives!) before spending most of my time talking about the Commodore Amiga computer. The Amiga was the significant computer of my youth (late 1980s, early 90s) and as it seemed to have a similar importance to a lot of my friends. Being new to games studies at large I presumed there would be articles on the history of the computer, the games, the role of software piracy (a big issue, even then, long before the interwebs were there to blame) and the graphics power of the platform. To my surprise, there is almost nothing written at all (hello graduate students of the world, are any of you writing this history right now??).

I did find a few things, though, and thought I’d collate them here. Firstly, Jeremy Reimer has been slowly writing a column on his version of the Amiga’s history over at Ars Technica, with seven parts so far: Genesis; The Birth of the Amiga; The First Prototype; Enter Commodore; PostLaunch Blues; Stopping the Bleeding; and Game On! so far. Reimer’s history is very producerly, but nevertheless well written and an engaging read.

An important parallel to the production narrative is the emergence of the Amiga demoscene and game piracy, a history often linked but not always. This history is much, much harder to find although exotica (not a porn site, I should add, but rather about exotic computers) has collated a fantastic scene history, year by year, which you can access through their site. In some ways the demoscene is one of the most significant ancestors of both the open source, public domain and other freeware movements of today, and the great media bugbear, the pirates (although obviously mainly in terms of videogames at this point).

The one source that I couldn’t access in time, but I’ve not ordered and can’t wait to read, is a history of Commodore (mainly the C64 and Amiga) called On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore (which you can also get from Amazon). The book seems to have gotten overwhelmingly positive reviews on Amazon, so I have high hopes but I try and post something more once I’ve had a read of it.

Beyond that, though, Amiga fans of old should probably take a look at the emulators of the world (for Windows users, WinUAE works rather well) although you may have to once again resort to piracy to get a lot of your old favourite games – there doesn’t appear to be many other options right now! If you want to remember those amazing visuals and sounds, you can find videos of a lot of demos and games captured on YouTube. Zipping through 23 minutes of Defender of the Crown certainly fires a few old neurons!

One hope I do have is Ian Bogost and Nick Montfort’s new game studies series Platform Studies from MIT Press. Platform Studies looks to be an exploration of the affordances of computer platforms as part of contemporary history (so, looking at what the technology of certain platforms actually allowed programmers to do, what it stopped them doing, and how that influenced software design, among other things). A Platform Studies book on the Amiga must surely be on the cards somewhere in the rapidly emerging world of game studies! (I hope!)

Update: The Classic Amiga website has a huge archive of old Amiga demos, music and some games well worth checking out if you’ve fond memories of the Amiga years.

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  1. Hi, just to let you know, the Amiga is far from dead, even today. I’m a former member of the Phoenix Developer’s Consortium (which, for a while, was working on a next-generation Amiga successor). I just found out that there is a new Amiga, the AmigaOne-X1000, currently in beta, with release to be this year (it was supposed to be last year, but I’d rather they get it right). Find out more at http://www.a-eon.com/ (just click on the Boing! Ball to the right).

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