Amiga's Identity Crisis


Way back in the old days between 1985-89 the Amiga was battling to be recognised as the most abled home computer available to the public. Its main rival at this time was the Atari ST, a very popular first choice to many 8bit upgraders. During this period the Amiga was being subjected to many game conversions from the Atari ST, many of which didn't quite meet the original standards. Atari's practical propaganda was proving successful, making the Amiga appear feeble in comparison to their machine. Unhappy about the situation, demoscene coders attempted to prove the Amiga to be the superior machine it really was and initiated the task of beating the ST at its own game with 'the bobs demos', a popular cliche used to describe this era. Coders attempted to find means of displaying more bobs and also smoother scrolling techniques that the ST would find impossible to match. Their mission was a success, coders eventually managed to display infinite bobs in many variations, a feat that could not be taken further. The release of the infamous game 'Shadow Of the Beast' utilised many advanced techniques learned within the demoscene and commercially declared to the world that the Amiga was the ultimate in home computer technology. Following this, Amiga coders entered the realm of vector coding, living proof that would shatter any hopes of the Atari ST contending any longer. The ST vs Amiga competition was no more, the Amiga had proved itself beyond its presumed capabilities.

The next threat to the Amiga was the new Sega Console - The Megadrive. A machine that virtually sold itself based upon its graphic display. Fortunately Amiga's HAM (hold and modify) mode had been discovered based on an accidental finding. HAM was something that could be used to promote the Amiga as a serious graphics machine extending its market to those outside the gaming field. Digitised images and raytracing had never appeared so impressive and it was easily enough to declare the Amiga's graphical powers beyond those of the Megadrive. Although the Amiga appeared to be successful in fighting the competition of the Megadrive, Sega unleashed their new breakthrough game 'Sonic The Hedgehog'. Never before had anyone witnessed such rapid scrolling and sprite movement. The demoscene didn't really retaliate to this duel, but occasionally a demo would appear with multi layer parallax scrolling included among the more traditional routines. On the game front, however, the Amiga began to see a tidal wave of platform games, each dedicated to the Sonic competition. Once again the Amiga appeared triumphant. The Megadrive competition was no longer a threat and the Amiga returned to its passive state.

It was Nintendo's turn. The Super Nintendo (aka Super Famicom) was ready to compete. Magazines generally worshipped the SNES as if it were a god, the specs and capabilities were printed in every possible place, claiming to have more colours than any other games system, more channels of stereo sound and hardware (mode 7) trickery that would blow everyone's mind! The Amiga looked to have met its match, the capabilites of the SNES were logically beyond those of the Amiga. The commercial side to the Amiga simply couldn't stand upto the competition, it was time for Commodore to release their new machine; the A1200. Although the A1200 was beyond the power of the SNES, many A500 coders would not accept defeat. With a lot of innovation and full use of the A500 hardware, coders found ways of displaying 256 colours at one time and the finest feat of all, Mode 7 emulation. Demos began to show the Amiga's de-resing and zoom rotate routines with higher speeds, more colour and finesse that even the SNES could not achieve. The SNES considered a threat no more, proved a great inspiration to the demo scene from this day onward. The theories discovered to emulate Mode 7 were used in different variations to achieve even more impressive visuals such as realtime morphing and bitmap distortion which were later advanced further using the A1200. For a few years onward the Amiga lived in triumph over other home systems, maintaining a smug lead over similar PC scene efforts.

Realising that their pathetically sparse Intel based machines weren't capable of Amiga style routines PC coders decided to use the available processor speeds and gfx cards to their advantage. The PC scene managed to attract a lot of people with games such as Doom and other such texture mapped, lightsourcing techniques. It was inevitable that cocky Amiga coders would want to put a stop to this and prove once again that the Amiga was capable of anything that the PC was offering. This, however, proved difficult. The Amiga's bitmap display was never designed to play this role and the task at hand was considered by many as being impossible. The determined coders of the scene attempted to use every possible theory of achieving such routines to the standard of the PC. Certain coders were able to make very valiant attempts at textured vectors and tunnels, the likes of which outmatched the PC in some aspects, but true texture mapping was far harder to achieve. As the PC scene advanced using their same theories (and faster processors), Amiga coders tried hard to keep the pace, attempting goraud shading, env mapping and everything else the PC was doing. The time came when Amiga coders were looking rather ridiculous in their efforts to compete with the PC, some coders decided to concede defeat and join the PC scene, others began raising the specifications required for their demos hoping it would decrease the PC's advantage. At The Party 7 coders finally admitted their incompetence, requiring top of the range Amiga specifications to run their demos, which unfortunately still leave a lot to be desired when witnessing PC advancements of today.

The point is that the Amiga scene competition has always been inspired by other platforms, ranging from the ST to the PC. Without the threat from these machines coders would not have been inspired to better themselves and enhance the Amiga's reputation. Unfortunately even the Amiga has its limits, and the discontentment of individual standards has finally proved to be the demise of the Amiga scene. We chose to chase impossible dreams instead of making the most of reality. Exception to impossibility can only be achieved once.