Amiga Story | Nostalgia Nerd

Of all the home computer stories, Amiga is
probably the most interesting, diverse and long. One reason for that is the number of machines
Commodore produced for the Amiga line in an attempt to diversify and capture the market
throughout the 80s and 90s. For that reason and to ensure you have adequate
toilet breaks, this documentary will be broken into two parts, and following in the lines
of chronological ordering, we begin, like all things, at the beginning. To do that, we have to travel almost 40 years
back in time, way back in the mid 1970s….. Atari were expanding. Having developed arcade machines for several
years, they were looking to expand their technology into living rooms throughout the world. To assist with this, a gentleman by the name
of Jay Glenn Miner was recruited to develop custom integrated circuits by Harold Lee. Jay had been in the electronics industry for
a number of years by this point, studying at electronics school in Groton, Connecticut
and progressing to electrical engineering at California-Berkeley University in 1958. During his early work career he worked at
various startups including General Microelectronics where he gained an impressive knowledge of
MOS technology. Armed with his knowledge he successfully reduced
the Atari 2600 display hardware down from a plethora of discreet components into a single
Television Interface Adapter chip. The 2600, as we know, went on to be one of
the most successful consoles of all time. Immediately after Jay would begin development
of a new set of chips; the Colour Television Interface Adapter, Alphanumeric Television
Interface Controller and Pot Keyboard Integrated Circuit, offering input and output control
for the line of new Atari 8 bit home computers. At the time the designs Jay created were impressive,
offering 40 on screen colours and custom accelerated circuity, allowing the 8 bit line to live
well into the late 1980s. By this point, Atari had been sold to Warner
Communications to provide suitable funding to market and deliver their home systems,
but Ray Kassar CEO and the new corporate management was more interested in milking their current
technology rather than advancing development. Jay and his team were keen to initiate a new
project based around the spanking new Motorola 68000, but with Atari uninterested, left the
company in 1980 and went back to medical development for a company called Xymos, helping to create
a remote controlled pacemaker. Another Atari employee who had left at around
this time was the first 2600 programmer, Larry Kaplan. Larry was unhappy with the lack of recognition
Atari attributed to their designers and had left in 1979 to found Activision. The first third party game developer who put
game creators at the core of their work. In 1982 with the console market slowing somewhat,
Larry felt the urge to pursue something more exciting. After seeing the Nintendo Famicom at the Consumer
Electronics Show, He contacted his former colleague Jay, with the idea of creating a
new company that would manufacture cartridges and peripherals for
the Atari 2600. Investment was needed and along with a few
wealthy dentists who were keen to cash in on the video game craze, Jay found additional
interest, courtesy of his current employment. Bert Braddock, Jay’s boss at Xymos was keen
to get both on board and on the company’s board. He quickly encouraging the Texas owner of
Xymos to invest, and agreed to the team using the Xymos semiconductor labs. And so in June 1982, work began from a small
office at 7, 3350 Scott Boulevard, Santa Clara. With Larry as vice president and Jay in charge
of the hardware, a chief executive & president was also brought on board; Dave Morse, head
of marketing at Tonka Toys (and yes, that’s the same Dave Morse who would go on to head
up Epyx. As we’re discovering with these documentaries,
the same names crop up again and again). With a team in place and suitable investment,
the name “Hi-Toro” was conjured for the venture, sounding both hi-tech and Texan. The founding idea was for Larry to design
games for the Atari 2600 and other systems whilst Jay designed chips for the cartridges
and other new accessories. By October Bert Braddock was keen for Nolan
Bushnell to come on board as board of director chairman. Larry called up his old Atari boss to suggest
it, but in a twist, Nolan ended up convincing Larry to come and work for him. Only a few months after setting up Hi-Toro,
Larry was gone, and Dave would ask Jay to take his place. The company was then split into two segments;
One division, under Dave Morse would continue work on software and peripherals for existing
game consoles, whilst under Jay’s guidance, the other would begin to focus on his old
dream of creating a new computer system based around the Motorola 68000 processor. This required some convincing for their dentist
investors. But still excited by the growing games market,
they agreed to Jay’s plans to create a new powerful games console, whilst Jay slyly worked
on the basis that it could be expandable to a full blown computer. Codenamed “Lorraine” after the wife of Dave
Morse – a naming tradition formed at Atari for labeling new chips after girlfriends so
outsiders didn’t realise what they were discussing; the hardware plan was to create an advanced
16 bit gaming machine following in the open development practices of Commodore’s new 64
machine. Once the design was complete, the circuits
would be hammered out at the Xymos Labs. 1983 would see the company named changed to
something friendly and welcoming with their investors unhappy that the current name sounded
too much like a Japanese lawnmower manufacturer, Toro. After several suggestions, including Amigo,
the team finally settled on “Amiga”, a soft Spanish word meaning “female friend”… And I mean, the Amiga kinda did feel like
a female friend, I guess. Also, like Acorn Computers, it came above
Apple and Atari in the phone book – this really was cutting edge marketing for the 1980s. And so it was, the company was renamed to
Amiga Incorporated, with one main objective and one side-line to supply funds and act
as cover for their secret technology. Whilst Jay worked on hardware, the other division
worked on devices such as the “Powerstick” and “JoyBoard”, a kind of early Wii Balance
Board, along with compatible titles such as Surf’s Up and Mogul Mania. These products weren’t really the success
the team had hoped for, hindered further by the American video game crash of 83, which
also brought with it a considerable degree of nervousness from their investors. Thankfully computer systems like the Apple
II and Commodore 64 were still selling well and having unprecedented foresight Jay reassured
investors by convincing them that the new hardware could be sold as a full and powerful
computer system from the go. However additional investment was needed for
which Jay would have to re-mortgage his house and borrow from other sources to keep afloat. Steve Jobs also visited the company a few
times at this point but decided the hardware was too complicated to invest in. Throughout 1983, Hardware development continued
aided by additional colleagues from Atari and driven by Jay’s insatiable craving for
design. The team Jay chose to recruit, all had one
thing in common. They were looking to change the world, and
Jay’s tolerant and flexible management style certainly helped this and crafted the feel
of the Amiga. Members brought on board include programmers
Dave Luck and R.J Mical, designers Joe Decuir and Dave Needle and even Jay’s beloved Coakapoo,
Mitchie who came to work on a daily basis. The custom architecture wasn’t new to Jay. The chips he’d designed at Atari are what
made their 8 bit line so impressive for the time, offloading work from the 6502 CPU. Lorraine was also built around custom chip
designs, freeing up cycled on the Motorola 68000 CPU, which although meaning it would
be more expensive to manufacture, also allowed for arcade rivaling graphics. Something the entire team was very keen on
nailing. The chips in question were originally named
Portia, Daphne and Agnus, and each had a specific task. Daphne would manage the display. Portia was in charge of sound and I/O tasks
whilst Agnus synchronised them all to the CPU and memory whilst also housing the Copper
and Blitter circuity which gave the Amiga such impressive animation abilities. One of Jay’s inspirations for Daphne was a
“Link Trainer” Flight Simulator machine, introduced to him by Al Pound at manufacturer Singer-Link. He wanted to use the Blitter (which can push
large amounts of graphics around a screen quickly) to refresh frames fast enough to
create a flight simulator in the home. This simulator was also the inspiration to
incorporate a HAM Mode (Hold and Modify) that could place more colours on screen than memory
allowed by changing the hue and saturation of existing pixels. This laid the path for the Amiga’s impressive
4,096 simultaneous on-screen colour mode, although in these early stages it could only
muster 324 at the same time. The complex designs were put together using
wire and large boards in an anti-static area with an entrance sign saying “Ground Thyself”,
as if you were entering a church of god, and in many ways, that’s almost true. In September 1983, Lorraine was completed
in discreet form, which although unsuitable for retail, allowed some impressive demonstrations
to be coded up on the advanced hardware. Along with Amiga’s sideline peripherals, one
of these, the infamous bouncing ball, was on show at the Winter CES, but cutting it
fine was an understatement. At this point, the system had to be constantly
maintained as components failed on the fly. Bob Pariseau had been brought on as chief
of software design but hadn’t had time to implement a suitable operating system, so
RJ Mical and Dale Luck worked non stop at the show to come up with something worthy
of presentation. Lorraine didn’t even have a keyboard at this
point and software had to be uploaded via. a SAGE IV remote terminal. The result was a red and white checkered ball
that according to Dale only bounced, at this point, up and down, with no horizontal movement
nor sound effects. But even so, it was enough to spike the interest
of several investors who witnessed the system in a VIP only back room, and god knows that
Amiga needed the money again at this point… Badly. Even the transportation of their equipment
was done on the cheap by booking an extra airline seat and wedging it between them under
the name of “Joe Pillow”, with smiley face drawn on for good effect. Amiga struggled on through the first half
of 1984, fueled by passion, loans and foam baseball bats which the team would use to
settle disputes in meetings. RJ Mical even wrote a meditation program for
the “JoyBoard” where you had to sit as still as possible, without registering it’s sensors. This became a running joke and the inspiration
for the fabled “Guru Meditation Error” we’re all very familiar with. The kit was condensed a little, although still
strewn across a variety of bread boats and hundreds of MSI logic chips, which accurately
simulated the Amiga, albeit at a somewhat slower pace, and the bouncing ball demo was
improved akin to the version we’re all familiar with today. Bob Pariseau, Dale Luck, RJ Mical and recruit
Carl Sassenrath had also got stuck into the task of creating a suitable operating system
for the machine, and the team would arrive ready for the June Summer CES with their latest
hardware and bouncing ball demo, this time on wider display. But what was it about this ball which garnered
so much interest? Well.. the initial draw was the sheer size
of the ball. Remember, this was an era when computer animation
was always on the smaller side. There simply wasn’t enough power to chuck
a tonne of pixels around in unison. The Boing ball was a whopping 140×100 pixels
and seemed to jig around the screen completely seamless and mesmerising fluidity, much like
a modern 3D rendering. However, there were some cunning tricks behind
Lorraine’s big bouncing ball, thanks in part to the design of the hardware, rather than
mapping out 14 frames of animation, the ball was completed using just one, through clever
cycling of colour registers. The sound echoing from the ball is also from
a single sample simply by changing the speed and volume. Bob Pariseau was recorded hitting an aluminium
garage door with one of those foam bats and an Apple II digitised it from inside the garage. The demo is a testament to not only the team’s
advanced hardware, but also to their sheer programming skill. Creating something brilliant, in limited time
and with limited resources. But this wasn’t their only trick. By now RJ Mical had created the basis of an
application programming interface called Intuition. This was a window driven operating environment
which took seven months of 100 hour weeks and like others was based around an early
Xerox environment from the late 1970s. Combined with the Boing demo, the first glimmers
of multi tasking, thanks to Carl Sassenrath’s revolutionary multitasking kernal called Exec
– the core of the operating system – were tantilisingly evident, but really it was unncessary. By now several big names were interested in
Amiga’s technology, keen to forge their place in the evergreen and rapidly evolving computer
market. The main two were Commodore and Atari who
were eager to jump onto the 16 bit bandwagon. However with Commodore kicking it’s heels,
it was Atari who stepped up first, offering to buy 1 million shares in Amiga at 3 dollars
each whilst keeping the financially struggling company afloat, with a $500,000 loan whilst
buy-out preparations were formalised. However, the contract for the loan was a strict
one requiring Amiga to repay the entire loan within a month or Atari would be able to snap
up their company for next to nothing. Clearly a filthy move designed to work in
Atari’s favour, but Amiga were so desperate, they had no choice. Strangely, Atari weren’t even interested in
finishing the computer Jay and his team had come so close to completing, instead they
were looking to use the custom chips in their own machines. Behind closed doors however, at Atari’s parent
company, Time Warner, negotiations were taking place to find a buyer for Atari as it was
currently loosing some $10k dollars per day. James Morgan, CEO of Atari was even unware
of these negotiations himself, hence operations were business as usual. One of these negotiators, in early July was
Jack Tramiel. Having recently left Commodore over disagreements
he was looking for a new venture to sink into and Atari seemed ripe for the picking. A deal was quickly drawn up and Jack became
the owner of Atari’s consumer division which was renamed to Atari Corporation. He would have also become the proud new investor/owner
of Amiga incorporated at this point too, if it hadn’t been for his former company…. Commodore. With Jack and his team of engineers departed
from Commodore, the company was keen for a new machine and although late to the party,
swept in before June was out and bought out Amiga from right underneath Atari’s noses. This included the repayment (with interest)
of the $500,000 loan and a $4.24 per share investment in Amiga, taking ownership and
bringing them in house as the new Commodore Amiga Incorporated. Upon finding this out, Jack was a little scythed
and set about suing Jay and Commodore for breach of contract for $100 million dollars
on August 13th, which would be finally settled out of court in Atari’s favour after a few
years of shouting legalities at each other. Still, disruption was minimal for Jack as
he began work on his own, new 16 bit machine, which would soon become known as the ST. Back at Amiga, Commodore set about investing
a further $20 million in the development of their new machine. Jay and his team may not have been running
things exclusively anymore, but they were on safe and stable footing for the first time
since 1983 at the company Jack Tramiel had first founded in 1955. Things were looking good. The
first task was to move the team out of their pokey little office into a spacious facility
down the road in Los Gatos, California. More engineers were brought on board to expedite
proceedings and their single Sage workstation was subsidised with another 10 so that everyone
could work simultaneously. Work quickly progressed on two vital areas,
the first was the chip design. Daphne was renamed to Denise, Portia to Paula
and a lot of refinement began, including some technical improvements, an increase of memory
from 128k to 256k and of course condensing the massive prototypes on actual silicon chips. Although the team, particularly RJ Mical had
completed some exemplary work on the Exec Kernal, Graphical interface Intuition and
the new operating system, which as a whole was dubbed CAOS (Commodore Amiga Operating
System) at this point, it was still taking time to develop into a usable system and needed
operating system fundamentals such as file handing and resource routines. As part of the buy out, Commodore had imposed
their own strict deadlines to get the system to market and so employed MetaComCo to port
a version of TripOS and incorporate it into the Intuition code. TripOS was originally developed at Cambridge
University on an IBM 3081, this was then ported to the Motorola 68k by Dr. Tim King. It’s fit with the Motorola chip meant that
modifying it for the Lorraine chip set was reasonably straight forward, however the final
results were still far below the original visions of Jay and his team, lacking many
of the features they had intended, including resource tracking which would free up resources
on the fly and a technically advanced file system. Still Workbench, working alongside the KickStart
Boot ROM still made for a cutting edge operating experience compared to rival systems. This was still a time before Windows 1.0 had
even been released. Aside from the technical aspects, there was
also the aesthetics of the new computer to deal with. Jay had a whole swave of design drawings which
had already progressed, showcasing an elegant system in line with desktop systems like the
IBM PC Junior, but some additional tweaks were put into place including a garage unit
which allowed the keyboard to fit under the machine, suggested by Dave Morse, who was
still present and managing the subsidiary, along with a pencil holder on the keyboard
and a stereo start up tune. Not only did Amiga put a lot of time into
the machine, but Commodore did as well, fully in the belief that they had hit the holy grail
of the computing world. Just 11 months after the purchase of Amiga
Incorporated, the Commodore Amiga was unveiled at a lavish New York show at the Lincoln Centre
on 23rd July 1985. For this grand event, a full orchestra was
hired, all Commodore and Amiga employees were shipped over and a lavish display was presented. Commodore’s Vice President Bob Truckenbrode
hosted the show but it was Bob Pariseau who took charge of the machine’s real demonstrations. In many respects, the event was designed like
a flamboyant version of the Apple Macintosh launch, and it showed the key stand out abilities
of the new machine, but purpose and direction felt a little lacking. To end the display, the old faithfull Boing
Ball demo was back, this time running on a full blown AmigaOS with Workbench file management
and Intuition windows allowing tasks to be run simultaneously in the background whilst
the ball bounced on regardless. The ball had become so synonymous with Amiga
that it was originally uses for it’s official logo (something that holds true in more recent
times), but Commodore decided to replace it with a rainbow checkmark, similar to the style
of their earlier Commodore 64 detailing in a bid to identify the Amiga as a continuation
of their earlier, and somewhat equally as impressive hardware. The show was finalised by Andy Warhol and
Deborah Harry (of Blondie fame) joining each other on stage to show case some of the machine’s
graphical abilities, along with a helping hand of resident Amiga artist, Jack Hager. The paint program in question, called ProPaint
was still in it’s alpha stages and had known bugs with the flood fill tool, however blissfully
unaware Warhol went off on a flood fill pandemic, seemingly pushing the software to breaking
point, but thankfully for Amiga, no freezes or glitches occurred. Press coverage of the show seemed somewhat
mixed. People were clearly impressed with the Amiga’s
abilities, but the system was perhaps so far ahead of it’s time, that many didn’t know
what these features could even be used for. It seems a little absurd now, but the industry
was quite well entrenched in the IBM PC Compatible landscape of blandness. The Amiga was just pissing all over that and
people didn’t know how to react. The original machine was available as either
a 256KB variant, or 512KB via a front expansion upgrade… something Jay had to plead with
Commodore to incorporate, knowing that 256KB just wouldn’t be enough after the Operating
System was loaded into memory. Other than being able to read to and from
disk, there was very little in the way of ROM at this point also, with Kickstart loaded
via. disk into a 256KB Write Control Store area
of memory, which remained resident until power off. One reason for this was to iron out bugs in
the code before incorporating a complete Kickstart ROM chip. At it’s heart was of course the Motorola 68000
clocked at 7.16MHz (7.09MHz PAL) The custom chip set, later known as the OCS
or Original Chip Set comprised of our friends, Agnus incorporating the blitter block image
transfer processor and the Copper, co-processor. Denise is on hand to fetch planar video data
from the Amiga’s bitplanes and translate it into a color lookup as well as handling over
videos modes. She can provide a borderless display with
640 x 256 pixels on PAL screens, which can be vertically doubled for interlaced display. Denise can also handle 8 16 pixel wide sprites
on 3 separate layers in 4 colours, including transparent, or 15 colours when combined. Paula is still handling input, output, including
the floppy drive, serial port and mouse ports, but also holds the Amiga’s audio capabilities. She comes with 4 DMA based 8 bit sample channels,
split to allow stereo audio and also allows one channel to modulate another channel’s
output allowing for basic FM synthesis effects. Data is held by a 3.5″ Double Density floppy
drive offering 880kB of capacity and a single Zorrro 1 card slot is provided on the right
of the machine for expansion. Port wise, the machine has a keyboard port,
2 mouse ports, an RS-232 serial interface, Centronics parallel access and an additional
Floppy drive connector. For video there’s an analog RGB out, a TV
MOD output that can be used with an additional RF Modulator, and Composite outputs. As a tribute to it’s creators, who put their
heart and soul into this machine, the original models bear the molded markings of the entire
team’s signatures, including a paw print from faithful Mitchie, who Jay apparently posed
questions to and based many a decision around his K9 response. In it’s sleek low profile package, the Commodore
Amiga looked ahead of it’s time both technically and aesthetically, released for $1,495 for
the 512kB model and $1,295 for the 256kB iteration in North America. An analog RGB monitor was available for an
additional $300 bringing the cheapest package to $1,595. This was a price beyond most casual users
but was still half the price of a 128kB Macintosh at $2,495 and cheaper than IBM PC-AT machines,
whilst packing a hell of a lot more power. However, there was one, slight thorn in this
issue. Whist Commodore Amiga were frantically building
away, Jack Tramiel and his team of ex-Commmodore staff over at Atari had been working even
more frantically and had been successful in launching the Atari 520ST a whole month earlier,
and not only that, but at a far cheaper price. $799.99 with a monochrome monitor and $999.99
for colour. If you consider that the Amiga didn’t even
come with a monitor as standard, this was one hell of a deal. Of course it’s true that the Atari ST didn’t
have the same custom abilities as the Amiga but even without those chips, Jack’s machine
was still pretty advanced in itself. It also had the head start, further confounded
by Commodore not getting Amigas out until November. And crucially, it had the price. Rather than unveiling a golden ticket unrivaled
by other machines, Jack had got back at his former company within just a few months and
thrown Commodore Amiga into a furious competition from the go. By riding on higher development costs and
choosing a price point over $1,000 Commodore had immediately placed their Amiga into the
high end computer workstation market, fighting the likes of Apple and IBM. This was a market where software mattered. Where spreadsheets and productivity were king,
and as a new machine, the Amiga simply lacked a great deal of software. Atari’s pricing had placed their machine into
big player in an entry level price zone, opening up the system for a swathe of new users wanting
to get into something new and exciting. This early discrepancy meant the ST was initially
outselling the Amiga and as a result gathering a reasonable degree of software houses looking
to work on it, including game developers. However, Amiga did still have the wow factor,
along with a few other cards beginning to fall nicely from their sleeves. One of these cards came from the then innovative
Electronic Arts headed by the familiar face of Trip Hawkins. Before, after and during the Amiga’s debut,
the aspect which received the most interest was its remarkable graphics capabilities. Able to display 32 colours on screen from
a palette of 4,096 in low res and 16 in high res, not to mention it’s 64 and even 4,096
colour HAM mode, these abilities dumped all over Apple’s monochrome Mac, IBM’s 4 colour
CGA and even beat the Atari ST’s maximum of 16 out of a palette of 512. Amiga’s various demos showcased these abilities,
but if software was available which allowed users to really capitalise on this ability,
then the purpose of the Amiga would start to become clear. Deluxe paint, a rewrite of their Prism package
for DOS really brought the tools to the table, and artists inspired by the appearance and
continued work of Warhol on the machine began popping up. In a shrewd move, Commodore had given EA access
to prototype machines several months ahead of the launch date, allowing Trip Hawkins
and his team to really see the machine’s potential. Before this point, most programs had their
own file formats, in a bid to lock users into their line of software, however EA were the
first to really integrate a literal Interchangeable File Format (.IFF) into their package developed
by Jerry Morrison. This .IFF format acted as a container, allowing
images, sound, graphics and animations to all adopt this universal format. Combined with the new features offered in
Deluxe Paint, which rather than presenting basic digital tools, seemed to re-create an
artist studio in the computer, it opened up a door way for a generation of new artists
and graphical tweakers who could begin to unlock the wonders of this new machine or
just play around with a wealth of colour and bathe in its on screen glory. If the IBM had found it’s niche with business
and spreadsheet programs, the Mac with desktop publishing and the ST with music production,
the Amiga was just beginning to find its footing in the world of graphical superiority. Released in November 1985, Deluxe paint was
one of the first in a line of Electronic Arts releases which would help propel the Amiga
forward and solidify its place in computer history. Strangely, games, the software genre the machine
was apparently ideal (and originally developed) for had barely got a mention so far. The launch party was devoid of any nod and
Commodore seemed to be glossing over the subject altogether. This was alas, an early sign of the mismanagement
the Amiga would receive as Commodore tried to establish its identity and purpose. The trap they had fallen into was the trap
of “the serious”. The notion that expensive technology can’t
be seen as a frivolous entertainment machine at the cost of losing credibility. This was in part a notion IBM and Apple had
come up with to make their machine’s lack of graphical and sound abilities come across
as a selling point. Rather than breaking this mould and declaring
how revolutionary and ideal for the task their machine was Commodore fell right into it,
opting for the business computer pitch, and although games would also immediately begin
to emerge on the system, they didn’t really showcase the hardware. Mostly being conversions from other, lesser
machines or just ports from games which were already available on the Atari ST. In part Commodore still viewed their 64 as
the low end gaming machine, which indeed it was, but the market was ready for a leading
light, something to shine the way, even at a high price. Commodore were also under some strain, having
confusingly launched their original line upgrade, the Commodore 128 earlier in the year, alongside
the poorly selling Plus/4 range, their resources and profits were becoming thinner. The Commodore 64 was still being sold, and
selling well, at big retail chains, but the Amiga wasn’t even stocked in them, with Commodore
even turning down an offer for Sears to stock the new hardware, an outlet where Atari STs
were stocked and selling. Instead Commodore seemed to continue their
emulation of Apple’s sales techniques with a zombie based advert, similar to Apple’s
famous 1984 ad and a bizarre presentation based on 2001: A Space Odyssey. The advertising continued, apparently trying
to sell alone off the Amiga’s abilities and even moved to soul-less comparison shots before
the year was out. Combined with the delayed production, lacklustre
personality and muddled direction, the Amiga only sold 35,000 in 1985, and this wasn’t
helping with Commodore’s cashflow, leading to the company bailing on the January 1986
Consumer Electronics Show. This didn’t go amiss from the press who noted
that after establishing their brand at that very show, it was akin to Russia resigning
from the Soviet Bloc. Thomas Rattigan, former CEO of PepsiCo International
was installed as CEO in February 1986, replacing Marshall Smith, and immediately began a much
needed plan to redirect the companies operations and make the most of their frankly, ground
breaking technology. By now the Amiga was selling approximately
10,000 machines per month. A figure the Atari ST was beating, along with
dealer signups and software support, leading to further software ports from the ST which
just made the Amiga look like a high cost version OF the ST. Rattigan’s plan was to first cancel well overdue
lines such as the PET, VIC-20 and Plus/4 and then create 2 versions of the Amiga hardware. The first would be a high end desktop aimed
at the creative markets. The second would be a cost-reduced version
designed to replace the Commodore 64 and 128 models. Finally a clear path was beginning to be laid. Whilst these plans were being laid, Jay’s
original team based in Los Gatos were clearly still disgruntled by the handling of their
precious technology. To this end, whilst working on Workbench 1.1,
an un-named engineer tucked an Easter Egg into the operating system that would appear
when a certain combination of keys were pressed (“We made the Amiga, they fucked it up”). RJ Mical discovered it and although finding
it amusing, asked the engineer to change it. However, it was merely encrypted and the first
batch of European PAL Amiga’s flashed the message on screen for 1/60th of a second if
you held down 8 keys and inserted a disk at the same time. Apparently someone with keen eyes spotted
this, and recorded the output to a VCR, which even with shoddy 1980s freeze frame ability,
allowed it to be shown to Amiga executives, who quickly pulled thousands of machines from
UK shelves. Given that it was unlikely to ever be found
by users, pulling the machines and suffering a 3 month sales delay whilst new ROMs were
fitted seems a costly and strange measure to take. But then it wouldn’t be the first we’ve encountered
in the Amiga saga. Shortly after, Commodore decided to move the
Los Gatos team closer to head quarters in West Chester, Pennslyvania, whilst making
several lay offs in the process, due to cost cutting. Some of the remaining team did as bade, however
Jay Miner had had enough and decided to exit the endeavor and an official employee, and
instead work as an external consultant for the company from his home town. To further reduce Commodore’s overheads, staff
and other internal projects were discarded. This included projects like the Commodore
65, the Commodore 900 Unix workstation and even Commodore’s office branding and supplies
which had helped establish the company in its infancy. Rattigan then set about his plans. Proposals for the high end machine were first
given to Commodore’s German subsidiary, who had recently been responsible for launching
Commodore’s IBM PC Compatible range. Armed with this fresh PC knowledge their idea
was to incorporate an open architecture into the new Amiga, expanding the bus and allowing
ISA cards as well as Amiga Zorro cards to be added. A dedicated video slot was also introduced
allowing a genlock card upgrade. This allowed computer images to be placed
on top of video seamlessly, and fitted perfectly with the Amiga’s native video editing abilities. The Amiga was really defining the Multimedia
platform as it went, and it would pave Amiga’s way into the standard machine of use in the
video industry. The final case and keyboard wasn’t as elegant
as the original model, but that’s in part thanks to another cost cutting measure of
using the cancelled Commodore 900 workstation case as the housing. The new machine launching in March 1987 would
be called the Amiga 2000, instigating a name change of the original Commodore Amiga to
the Amiga 1000. It retailed for a hefty $2395, armed with
512kB of RAM as standard and including a monitor from the off. Immediately its path was sown and advertising
was launched hitting home the machine’s intended niche and selling points. At the other end of the scale work had also
begun on a low end Amiga, dubbed the 500. Engineer George Robbins was keen to jump on
the project from the go, having pitched for such a machine from the start, fitting much
more in line with Commodore’s earlier systems and indeed the expectations of developers
and consumers alike. Commodore’s core group of engineers were put
to task on the machine with Jeff Porter in charge – who had previously been working on
a cancelled Commodore laptop. Along with Robbins, Bob Welland headed up
the engineering of the system who set about shrinking the Amiga 1000 hardware, along with
some subtle improvements. One of these was the upgrade of Agnus to Fat
Agnus, allowing the system to be upgraded with 512kB of pseudo fast RAM. The motherboards were codenamed after a B52
song Rock Lobster, which you can find printed on the boards.. a trend which would continue
with future Amiga variations. The new case design was very much conceived
to flow on from earlier Commodore machines and the recently revamped Commodore 64C model,
and so a sleek wedge case was molded offering floppy disk access on the side much like Atari’s
also updated 520STFM model. It seems whatever the Amiga was doing, Atari
were always so very slightly ahead. Still, the Amiga 500 was planned for launch
in July 1987 but arrived a few months late in October for the budget price of $699 in
North America and £499 in the UK, and was ready to go head to head with the Atari ST
and wangle its way into homes and living rooms throughout the world. Not long after this the 2000 model, having
shipped 60,000 units was updated to include some of the 500s design improvements and a
few updates with US based Dave Haynie and Terry Fisher taking the task to hand. A new Buster chip was integrated to manage
the expansion bus, also allowing plug and play functionality, another ahead of it’s
time feature. A Co-processor interface was added for CPU
upgrades and of course Fat Agnus was integrated, giving the 2000 a much needed 1mB memory boost. It appears that once again, Commodore were
finding their footing. Thomas Rattigan had begun to turn things around,
posting $28 million in profits for the previous financial year, but yet, this apparently displeased
chairman Irving Gould who seemingly had a bone to pick with Rattigan, possibly an egotistical
disturbance, its hard to be sure. But Gould accused Rattigan of conducting himself
in a “high profile manner”, whatever that means… to me it sounds like he just didn’t
like the guy, and a consulting firm was hired to quickly concluded that Rattigan should
be fired. This was promptly executed by Gould in April
1987, and Rattigan found himself booted out of Commodore the very next day to the bewilderment
of fellow staff members. He would subsequently sue Commodore for breach
of contract and finally win in 1991 for $9 million dollars, but be unable to complete
the work he had begun. We’ll never know what difference he would
have made to the greater picture of Amiga, but for now Commodore had 2 new machines,
and a healthier set of accounts, and was about to launch the Sidecar, allowing the 1000 to
serve as a full PC-XT clone. So, what about software for these machines? After all, we know its pretty essential……. Well, ready for the 500 in particular, one
game had shone the way since the late 1986 World of Commodore show…. Defender of the Crown. Defender of the Crown almost defined a new
genre of game. It burst open the boundaries of experience
you could reap from a gaming world previously filled with abstract concepts or frantic action. Here was a game, which as it’s appropriately
named creators had envisaged, was essentially a play along film. For the Amiga, it was an experience which
tied well with the multimedia principles the hardware was designed for. Underneath it’s really a risk like game, dotted
with a plethora of mini-games, but it was the colourful, high quality graphics which
really caught the eye of gamers currently squinting at their 8 bit screens. Older hardware really needed an overlay of
imagination to bring it to life. In Defender of the Crown, there was no need. Bob Jacob, Cinemaware’s founder was no stranger
to game development, having worked on a number of Commodore 64 titles, but having witnessed
the Amiga in its early days, he really got a sense of what the machine could do and built
a development company to specifically take advantage of that. Although even the best Amiga games were selling
only 25,000 copies in 1986, Commodore 64 versions were selling over 100,000 more. Jacob’s idea was to wow the press and consumers
with the Amiga game releases, and then follow them up with cut down versions on other hardware. It was a strategy which worked and really
set the scene for the Amiga as the games machine it was. RJ Mical was actually contracted to re-write
the Amiga version and it turned out to be one of the best and most impressive incarnations. Almost 200,000 Amiga’s had been sold by the
end of 1986, but the new 1987 machines heralded a different approach, and keen to gloss over
their earlier mishaps, Commodore asked the press to refer to the new machines as “The
Amiga, from Commodore”, with new logo designs on cases. This pushed the Amiga as almost a separate
entity, and helped dispense confusion from Commodore’s continued Commodore 64 and 128
lines. With the Amiga 500 launched, sales began to
pick up in the all important home market, but the machines were still expensive and
relied on their impressive capabilities to sell. Nintendo was currently dominating the home
console market with the NES in North America and Sega was gaining traction with the Master
System in other regions. These consoles were cheaper than home computers,
in part because they relied on receiving most of their revenue from game licensing models. This meant that although hardware was cheap,
games were more expensive, and it was also harder to publish on them. One of the distinct advantages with machines
like the Amiga, was their open platform. Practically anyone could create their own
software on disk and publish it. This quickly meant a wave of new software
was created for the machines. Some conversions from the Atari ST, some brand
new and some was just coded by people at home
and released as Public domain software…. an area which would grow rapidly over the
next few years. Although the new systems were selling in America,
it was over in Europe where things were looking much more rosy. Since it’s launch, the Atari STFM in particular
had gained a foothold as the must have computer upgrade for current Sinclair Spectrum, Amstrad
and Commodore 64 owners. This was a region much more used to plonking
a full blown computer in front of the living room television for both gaming, and general
tinkering. It’s this tinkering which grew the number
of European development houses so quickly, and eager for new technology, many of these
developers had moved onto the ST when it arrived. Armed with Motorola 68000 knowledge, the Amiga
seemed a natural and exciting progression and although in the UK only some 50,000 500’s
were sold in the first year, soon games were released which really took advantage of it’s
custom hardware. In 1988, the number of 500 systems sold increased
in the same region increased to almost 150,000 and it looked like Commodore UK and European
based gamers, at least, were onto a winner. Another key reason for this was the tactics
which Commodore UK employed over their American counterparts. Instead of bundling the Amiga 500 with business
and educational software, followed by further mundane adverts, David Pleasance, the UK sales
and marketing director set about creating entertainment based packs, which echoed earlier
bundles from Commodore and even Sinclair, under Amstrad’s rule. One of these packages in particular was the
Batman pack, incorporating an A500, along with the new Batman game, based on Tim Burton’s
1989 classic, as well as The New Zealand Story, Interceptor and Deluxe Paint 2 for just £399. A similar pack was also released for the Commodore
64, but the Amiga was exciting, it was powerful, it was glorious. These key moves increased annual machine sales
to over 200,000 by 1989 and what’s more, the Amiga was just getting started.

100 thoughts on “Amiga Story | Nostalgia Nerd

  1. A certain computer magazine back in the day, reviewed the Amiga and said it was "one hell of a magic box". and it WAS! I miss it… somewhat.

  2. Amiga was and still is a beautiful machine, sadly beset by poor management decisions & a few poor systems. I left the Amiga scene in 97 and to this day miss it, only able to partake in it via emulation now! But glad it still lives on in us all as one of those systems that shaped our young minds and gave us all a chance to be truly creative.

  3. Another great video and it is amazing that a Brit (or even a European) is more accurate and knows more detail about the Amiga than the folks from its country of origin. It seems Europe was the center of the home computer/micro world at the time starting with the U.K. in the early 1980's . Again a great video.

  4. i remember me and all my friends at school had amigas here in the uk… almost every game we had was pirated lol… and people used to swap games all the time to copy…i remember viruses seemed a lot more fun back then too…we used to write our own and test them out on each other lol…the games were great though.

  5. Trying to remember what we got when we bought our Amiga 500. Shadow of the beast 2, Days of Thunder, Nightbreed… God those were the days… Playing Nightbreed as a 6 year old and shitting my pants with fear. Watching my dad waste half a year of his life playing SWIV only to finish it and receive a in game screen telling him he'd been fired, lol. Good times.

  6. 27:00 I've never heard the PC-AT architecture pronounced like the word "at" before. The letters are pronounced individually, like "ay tea".

    FWIW, I recall advising people on the decision of whether to buy the now discounted XT or the more expensive AT. I even worked in a retail shop selling computers, when "640 K directly on the motherboard" was a progressive feature of PC compatibles.

  7. I know this video is old but I still appreciate it! Some of my fondest computing memories were on my AMIGA 500 and 2000. Both were hand-me-downs.

  8. I love how the ball (13:14) looks like the HSBC logo, but the red parts are square instead. I wonder if they took inspiration from it? Hmm… 😛

  9. This is excellent, informative and entertaining. I had an original Amiga 1000 and still miss its graphics and musical capabilties, people say "Oh PC's are much better now" but the Amiga's software was far superior, easier to use, more intuitive. Best machine I ever owned. Thanks for this video.

  10. Great video. It brings me back to different times. I wrote a lot of software for the Amiga. No games. I stopped programming when Commodore went belly-up. We are decades later now, and I still sorely miss the Amiga. It was often touted as the first real personal computer, I'd argue it was also the last real personal computer.

  11. 23:36 "… the Amiga was just pissing all over that …" (y) 😀 — indeed, most IBM PC compatibles still ran in text mode with green (or sometimes amber) monitors, and the only other color systems noticed by the public were game consoles and 8 bit computers. It took many years until color displays were finally accepted in the business world (until the early 90ies, when Windows 3.x began its rise, and then, much later, Windows 95 and NT, and OS/2 2.x).

  12. This is better than "A Commodore Story". This is as complete without putting you to sleep. Fun fact – the Atari ST came about from the team working on it (previously) at Commodore joining up with Jack at Atari. Basically both the Amiga and ST swapped companies. BTW – unless the late hours have rendered me blind to the relevant link in the description – where can I find that awesome Panel discussion of the Amiga team where they talk about the purchase, the jets and slapping down the payment on Jack's desk? – Thanks in advance!

  13. So basically, these hippies fucked off Atari because the new owner was a dick and crawled right back in when they ran short of cash.

  14. He actually puts effort into the videos rather than some youtubers who just play speedrun and commentate over it

  15. My father's friend has an Amiga 1000 that was made (looked on the serial # inside) in October 1985. Hopefully him and I will repair it soon because it has a couple of issues as well as it being yellow.
    He also loved Defender Of The Crown on it!

  16. Whoa. I’m watching this with headphones for the first time, and I never realised that this video has stereo sound support! The music is split between both ears! That’s so cool!

  17. WOW blast from the past I remember the amiga we had the amiga 500 and amiga 600 and I use to play speedball on it. Another’s awesome 👏 vid 👍

  18. the Amiga was really ahead of its time in the early years. especially games were incredible compared to what a PC could do back then.

  19. The multimedia abilities of the Amiga were impressive, but it failed as a computer and a game console, too. I know it is hard to accept it for an Amiga fan, but it was 70's technology and everything came crashing down for it. Still, it was great for music and video making, that is the legacy of the Amiga.

  20. This makes me want to pull my Amiga 1000 out of storage and fire up the 1MB (512 soldered on piggyback) memory. Good times!

  21. I wonder which was the first to mold the developers signatures into the case – Amiga 1000 or Sun386i/250?

  22. Can anyone help me? I'm trying to remember a game on commodore/amiga. It was a 3v3 game with jetpacks and you would try to throw the ball in the other teams goal. Basically 2d blitzball in space instead of water. Help!

  23. I remember my parents went to some time share type deal and they gave away a free Commodore 64. It was all way and good till we realized there were no software available anymore. Don’t remember exact year but probably mid to late 80s. Later on got a TRS color computer 3 lol. Really enjoy your channel, new sub here.

  24. Still fire up the amiga every once in a while , ok so it’s my raspberry pi running an emulator,but I’m still loving the amiga

  25. that use of stretching for the 4:3 footage. sad. as if the low res, heavy compression isn't enough. it's even worse in part II…

  26. When a friend of mine gave me his Amiga (because he bought himself a PC) my schoolgrades began to go down… but I still don't think there was any correlation between the two events, lol.

  27. Just had a baby and im more excited about watching this video!!! I loved the amiga, it blessed many of us with a toaster, music trackers and so on. Nice one nerd!!!!!!!

  28. So at 17:45 there's a guy rubbing the shoulder of his boss. Was this guy instrumental to anything? I get the feeling from this and other moments in the video that he was "That Guy". i.e. You view a group of people working while he smiles and tempts them with meaningless conversation / laughter. Like our Production Manager yelling at people, then laughing about it with other employees. Is this the same guy? The one that's sucking hard, only hoping the current owners will induct him for supporting the 70 hr. work week. Message me if I'm wrong.

  29. First, AMIGA is not a Spanish word is a Iberian word first appearing on Portuguese language, so AMIGA (FEM) and AMIGO (MAN) are Portuguese words not Spanish words.Why you people that speak English thing that everything else is Spanish? Do you guys even know that Portuguese is older?

  30. Amiga also allowed the world's first BBS system with full interactive programmable graphics, Skyline (originally marketed as Atredes). Jay Miner ran it for a time. You can read about the graphics language Skypix at Wikipedia. I'm probably the only one with a copy these days… because I wrote it.

  31. Amiga was too expensive…and the graphic was far inferior to that of the nes ..and the nes came out 2 years earlier than the amiga 1985

  32. The Robocop clips remind me of the Kim Justice documentaries on the Amiga, which came out a year earlier.. Not a bad thing, but definitely noticeable.

  33. Sad thing is that a calculator now is more advanced but most people arent even educated enough about computers to understand how the old tech in this video works.

    Computers are the most important tool for humans now and most dont even know how 0 and 1 makes everythings happen.

  34. Commodore was big in Australia as well. I had a 64 as a kid then a Amiga as a teenager. Still have them. I loved my Amiga.

  35. Look at these old school nerds with actual love for what they are making.
    Now days its brainwashed college drones employed to pay bills and push the bullshit they were fed in social studies class.

  36. Hey Nostalgia Nerd love this nicely done! My Amiga 500+ was my introduction to digital music which was a major life event in retrospect. May i ask how you obtained the footage used here? I'm currently making a documentary where i reference my old Amiga and one or two of the shots you've used here is perfect… Any advice on the matter would be sincerely appreciated! Cheers

  37. @47:34 was trying to remember the name of this game for like 20 years – kept thinking it was like f-16 something – started to doubt my memory that it existed!

  38. I know nothing about the amiga and I weirdly find myself rooting for it while watching this, tho I can tell its going to fail at some point in the second half

  39. In North America we didn't get it, there were so many old crappy IBM 286 games, and Commodore America were more sale prevention reps, as David Pleasance of Commodore UK. I live in Canada and couldn't agree more with David's statement, but Atari America was the as bad, both companies needed guidance in North America sales. They targeted the small to large business market here and didn't stand a chance😔

  40. not almost 40 years. 40 years. shit cant beleave my mom will be 50 this janurary. fuck im getting old. shes getting old. need to start being a better son and being around my family more for creating new memories. because my current best memories as a kid always involved my family unless its tech shit or whatever other things that i didn't do with my family like the internet or other computer related whatever or vidya.

  41. Good documentary 🙂 I have the TripOS source code sitting around here if you're interested in poking around it – it's a combination of bcpl and various asms for hardware specific parts. Has a few compilers (plus sources) as well.

  42. my first computer was a amiga a500plus a Simpsons boxed edition with game and a Bart figure 😂🤣 I loved that game and James Pond also Lemmings 😂🤣 among others.. what memories 😄 I wasn't allowed a console that was meant to of been a better option.. I've never really had a console for long, but had a PC about always

  43. I never knew the 80s was a battlefield for computer technology. Back in the 80s I only had an NES, I never got my first computer till the early 90s with Macintosh. It was not until 1998 my brother and I got our first PC, an IBM PC.

  44. Excellent work. We at BitBeamCannon have been working on Amiga games. I am fairly new to the Amiga and this was a really good documentary. Subscribed.

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