There’s a film called 2001: A Space Odyssey (you might have heard of it).
And at the start of the film, a large black monolith appears in prehistoric times and kick-starts evolution. In the computer gaming world, a similar event occurred 30 years ago. But this time, it was a large cream-coloured monolith; a slab of computer heaven, that was here to change your life. And it was called the Amiga 500.
Commodore were a big player in the home computing market in the eighties. Their 8 bit computer, the Commodore 64, had been a resounding success in the early part of the decade (it’s still the best selling computer of all-time). But times were moving on, and they needed a new, more powerful machine to break through to consumers.
Their first attempt, released in 1985, was the Amiga 1000 and it was a bit of a dud. In fact, it was a huge dud. It had all the nice specs, sure, but it lacked the personal touch. The A1000 simply didn’t connect with the public and its poor sales reflected this. But then they brought out the A500 in 1987 and it was like sunshine on a rainy day. Seriously, what were they thinking with this awful advert?
Whereas its predecessor was aimed at the more tech-savvy end of the market, the A500 was a machine that spread itself evenly across a wider gaming audience. It had powerful components, just as the A1000 did, but it didn’t let them overshadow what it could do best: become the ultimate fighting champion… sorry, the ultimate computer gaming platform.
The PC may have had a head-start in this field, but the A500 was cheaper and more accessible. And it had something that the PC lacked. It had a personality. And this was a badge of honour it proudly wore in the games that were released for it.
The A500 would produce much more interesting games compared to the PC. Smaller developers and designers were given creative free reign to run riot on Commodore’s computer, and this opened the door to some of the greatest, and most original, games ever to appear on a floppy disk. Or several floppy disks, depending on the size of the game.
Released in 1991 on the Amiga 500, Another World remains even to this day, a jaw-dropping game. It’s a gorgeous cinematic masterpiece of vector graphics and stunning game design. When you first played Another World, it felt like no other gaming experience you had before.
There were no menu screens, no on-screen energy levels, and no obvious tutorial; you simply were given an opening cut-scene, and then thrown head first into the game. And what an intro this was, as you were flung onto an alien world and terrifyingly chased down by a ravenous extra-terrestrial beastie.
Another World was revolutionary for the time, and its sheer brilliance would inspire games developers for many years afterwards.
There are certain puzzle games that expertly defined the puzzler genre. In the eighties we had Tetris, and in the noughties we had Portal. And then, shoved in-between like a blocker, we had Lemmings in the nineties:
First released on the A500 in 1990, Lemmings was the greatest puzzler of that decade (sorry Bust-A-Move). A simple concept – get the lemmings to the exit in each level – made fiendishly difficult through intricate level design and devious skill management.
Each Lemming could be given a role, you see, and you needed to use them wisely in order to make all the other Lemmings achieve their goal of escaping. In many ways then, Lemmings was heavily influenced by Karl Marx and the communist manifesto.
It was a game that required lateral thinking and fast fingers to master. And hey, if you couldn’t master it, at least you always had that vindictive nuke option. Oh no, you cruel, cruel bastard.
Long before the FIFA series and the slick presentation of football games that we have today, we had Sensible Soccer on the Amiga:
It wasn’t a game that tried to emulate what we see on Sky Sports, it didn’t have fancy camera angles, or Alan Smith providing oh-so-helpful analysis of your failings as a player (don’t call me, Al). There were no perfectly rendered faces of players in Sensible Soccer either.
You didn’t see a digital Ronaldo screaming at you in a HD celebration; except what you really see, if you look deep into his hollow CG eyes, is that there was no actual emotion there. Digital Ronaldo is completely, and utterly, dead inside.
Sensible Soccer was just the pure simplicity of football that makes the sport so great. It had simple controls, a basic top-down camera and little Subbuteo men graphics. All of which made it easy to play, quick to enjoy, and most importantly, fun as hell. It was, and still is, the perfect epitome of an arcade footy game done right.
The Secret Of Monkey Island
If the Amiga 500 became famous for a certain genre of game, it had to be the point-and-click adventure. From LucasArts’ original take on the Indiana Jones series, to the cyberpunk brilliance of Beneath A Steel Sky, this was a genre the Amiga 500 did better than everyone else (yes, even you PC).
But it was in 1990, when LucasArts (again) introduced us to the swashbuckling surreal world of Guybrush Threepwood, that the ultimate point-and-click game was born:
Much like the Indiana Jones games that came before it, Monkey Island was a beautiful hand-drawn cartoon world. But it had something more, it had a ridiculous sense of humour; a silliness that would become the back-bone of the entire genre for years after.
The designers had created a gorgeous gaming environment too, one that urged you to explore it – which was a fairly essential, and necessary, trait in any good point-and-click game. Monkey Island never made exploring feel like a chore, you wanted to rummage through the world, and one yearned to discover every silly little object in it that would help in their quest.
And let’s not forget too, that instead of button-bashing your way through fights, you had to instead come up with witty insults to win battles:
You fight like a dairy farmer.
How appropriate. You fight like a cow.
These games, and many more beside them – Cannon Fodder, Speedball 2, Syndicate, to name a few – defined the legacy of the Amiga 500. Even after 30 years, these games are just as playable as they were when they were released. Each one has helped to cement the A500’s rightful place in gaming history.
Amiga, we salute you.