Deficiencies in Amiga gaming

By Michael Webb, Editor-in-Chief, MikeWebb@CompuServe.COM

"Mr. Webb, how do you plead?"

"Guilty as charged, your honor."

Yes, looking back over the last few years, I must admit I'm guilty. Guilty, that is, of having somewhat abandoned the Amiga as a games platform.

I may be guilty, but guilty with an explanation, that is. You see, I played games a whole lot years ago. Probably half my time at the old A500 was spent using DPaint, Sonix, WordPerfect, and other applications in that vein, while the other half easily was spent playing games. Oh, I had quite a collection -- Crystal Hammer, MarbleMadness!, F/A-18 Interceptor, Flight Simulator II, Torch 2081(?), GravAttack!, and The Duel: Test Drive II were just a few of my favorites.

But then in 1994, I got a GVP A530 Turbo accelerator, and my aging A500 was transformed as if by magic into a snarling, fire-breathing (file-breathing?), 68030-powered beast. Good, you say? Well, in most respects, it was not only good, but simply awesome. But one of the first things I tried to do was to play some of my games.

Being naive and inexperienced at the time, I attempted to simply copy the games to the hard disk, thinking they would work (yeah, sure, laugh...but four years is a long time). Needless to say, they didn't. This itself didn't turn out to be a big problem (after all, even now, most software needs a little more than a copy operation to be installed), but then it slowly became clear that there often was no way whatsoever to install such games to hard disk, and worse yet, some just didn't work properly anymore at all.

To make a long story short, I was disappointed and disillusioned. The ancient game compatibility problems grew in leaps and bounds when I upgraded to AmigaOS 2, but by then it was an old story.

What this lengthy introduction was meant to illustrate is the problem with Amiga games. Given the programming techniques popular in the late 1980's, poorly-written software from that era is almost excusable. But the practice continued in the Amiga community right on past 1990, and up through today.

Through all this, though, I barely knew what I was missing, at least until I got a 486 PC (also in 1994). Gaming on that machine was a different world entirely. Most games (and all good ones I played) were, admittedly, written to run under DOS, but they were always machine-friendly, could always be installed to the hard disk, and (gasp) generally allowed one to quit and return to the operating system after playing.

It became obvious at that point that there was simply something in the world of MS-DOS gaming that was far beyond what had been achieved on the Amiga. It had little or nothing to do with gameplay, and certainly nothing to do with hardware or software capability; it had everything to do with programming attitudes.

Don't get me wrong; I have used my Amigas for almost every computing purpose over the last few years, generally relegating the PC to proprietary software (e.g. America Online, CompuServe) duties, and for that matter, I play computer games extremely infrequently. But when I have played games, I have usually preferred the PC.

I've checked back in periodically over the last few years, downloading an archive now and then, but most of the time, I have been disappointed. Games began to earn space on my disk only by virtue of system-friendliness, meaning I usually had a grand total of one or two of them installed. All this time, I saw my 68030/ECS machine's entertainment capabilities going to waste, since most new game releases that actually were good required AGA, and some games that could have been great on my system just never made it from other platforms.

But one day, a glimmer of light shone down from the Internet in the form of Nemac IV. I wasn't thrilled with the game overall, but it did run well (about as well as possible on a 68030 with ECS), and gosh forbid, I could actually flip screens and multitask while playing. I placed Nemac alongside Mind Walker (actually one of the oldest, period) and MegaBall in the ranks of "games I can play without being sure to save all files and exit all applications first."

I'll cover the "programming practices" issue more in the next article (for which this serves in part as an introduction). But for now, there is one other idea to address in reference to Amiga gaming, especially in more recent years.

Essentially, we've lost out. I don't wish to criticize game developers and shareware programmers in general, because many of them have done an exceptional job through the tough times. But many of the big-name developers left, and some others never even bothered to acknowledge us. Hit titles on the PC left Amiga users with only jealousy, and the IBM game world forged new paths and continued to make waves.

We all knew our machines had the power to run most of this great software. Well...did we? Quite a debate raged a few years ago when Doom was big news; it was widely believed that the Amiga's planar display memory format would handily preclude Doom-style games being written for it. The programmers responded, and we saw a slew of Doom clones, some of which were good, and others of which...well, you know. But the general consensus was that nothing truly measured up to Doom.

I can say I would have liked to have seen MicroProse release Master of Magic and Master of Orion for the Amiga (I've spent quite a few hours playing both of those...). Probably even a 68020/ECS/6 MB/hard disk Amiga would have been good enough to run them. But, this time MicroProse didn't even try (in my experience, their Amiga ports generally stunk anyway).

This, of course, only established the general pattern. The Amiga saw terrific software continuing to be developed for it in a variety of areas (Internet, word processing, image processing, etc.), but some genres simply suffered, and game software was one of them.

It may have begun to seem as though the situation were incurable. However, there have been some very interesting developments recently, and surprising as it may be, virtually all indications for the future of Amiga gaming are looking very good.

This brings me up to the starting point for my next article, as listed in the Table of Contents, and also accessible here.