By Michael Webb, Editor-in-Chief, MikeWebb@CompuServe.COM
"They'll never be able to make Doom for the Amiga!"
Well, if recent developments are any indication, there may be undiscovered wisdom in the aphorism "Never say never."
First off, I'd like to say that I'm not writing strictly about Doom here. There's something bigger happening, and Doom is only the most visible, and perhaps most symbolic, part. Doom sums up in a word one of the single largest sources of frustration for Amiga users over the last few years, that being the lack of availability of hit entertainment software from other platforms for the Amiga.
But besides, Steve Duff has put together a fascinating and informative article on the status and progress of the various new Amiga Doom ports for this issue. So in the interest of not repeating what he has said, what I'd like to discuss here is a more general, and extremely refreshing, current trend in Amiga gaming.
The AGA generation brought somewhat of a revival for the Amiga games market, but Commodore's usual errors (and the not-so-usual error of going bankrupt) caused the movement to falter. Then we started to see interesting signs of life in the form of a whole flock of Doom clones, some of which were even well-done.
There was little or no central direction to this, however. And all too much of it seemed like a constant patch job, with Amiga programmers and developers asserting their (and the platform's) capability along the lines of "Oh yeah? Well I can do that (or something like it...) too!" I don't want to disparage their efforts because, as said above, some of the results were very admirable. In general, however, it seemed like we were always playing catch-up, and never quite hitting the mark.
This has changed. It was probably when clickBOOM announced their intentions to port Myst last year when things really started to pick up. At the time, of course, I cynically thought to myself "Great, another piece of vaporware that will never see the light of day. This will just make us all a little more jaded, and chase a few more Amiga users out of the loop." But clickBOOM delivered on their promises, and from the looks of things, did so in grand style. I personally have never played Myst, Amiga or otherwise, so I can't speak from experience, but their outstanding sales would appear to indicate something.
But it wasn't enough to bring just one hit game to the Amiga.
Before I go into that, let's look back a bit. Sometime in the last year (this is one of those things that I neatly filed into the "sometime recently" section of the mental archives), an illegal Amiga port of Quake appeared online. The prospect of playing Quake on the Amiga was moderately interesting and exciting, but I ultimately decided that, the legal factor notwithstanding, hunting down all the files I would need just to try it out would have been prohibitively annoying. Plus, it supposedly was little more than a raw engine port, and a crude and not-altogether-speedy one at that.
But now, thanks once again to clickBOOM, as you have probably heard, the Amiga is going to get Quake, for real. And this is not just a hack, or a poor port, or even a reasonably adequate translation; from the looks of Quake's feature list, and preview reactions from various members of the Amiga print media, Quake Amiga is going to be one outstanding game. I have played Quake on the PC, and as most others who share that distinction generally agree, I'd say it's quite a game, to say the least. Now, clickBOOM is apparently right on the verge of releasing a full port that will run on even a 68020 AGA Amiga. The word is, a 68060 does extremely well, and graphics boards and the PPC accelerators should make things more interesting still. Once again, the Amiga wins out on the performance side, apparently squeezing every last ounce of power out of the hardware. It has such a clean, unencumbered feeling to it.
Of course, we can't neglect what in some ways is the most startling current development in Amiga gaming (plus, I used it as the lead-in to this article). Yes, after years of hoping, and a whole lot of people saying that it not only wouldn't, but simply couldn't, be done, Doom is here, on the Amiga, in several incarnations. This was all made possible in the first place by id Software releasing the source code recently, but my goodness, some Amiga programmers have really done an outstanding job in the brief interim. When I first heard about the Amiga Doom port, I [cynically] assumed it would be just another "Amiga Quake" (the first one, not clickBOOM's) type of debacle, and fade away without really doing anything. On the contrary, we are seeing far more than mere hackish engine ports. I've had MS-DOS Doom for some time, but I've been playing Doom more lately than I ever really did before, and all very nicely on my Amiga.
Indeed, apparently the three games I have mentioned so far (Myst, Quake, and at least ADoom) have one particular characteristic in common, and it's a surprising one at that. For years, many Amiga game developers have stubbornly broken the programming rules, and as a result, have continued to produce software that takes over the system, and crashes on non-standard hardware configurations. It becomes extremely tiring, to say the least.
But the Amiga versions of Myst, Quake, and Doom (again, ADoom in particular) are all (are you ready for this) SYSTEM-FRIENDLY, AND FULLY MULTITASKING. Yes, folks, believe it or not, these three games that are making so many waves right now actually won't take over your Amiga! Okay, enough with the sarcasm. But this is extremely significant. Quake promises to include Amiga-style menus, and even ARexx support. Not to mention the use of the OS screenmode database, among a host of other wonderful Amiga-style features. To someone like me who is a real stickler for adherence to the style guide, this is music to my ears. It's been an arduous enough struggle getting applications programmers to follow all the rules, but now game developers are doing it too. Excellent!
And even ADoom (I haven't tried the other ports), the only effort here that is non-commercial in nature, supports multitasking, screen-flipping, the screenmode database, etc.
And as I said, this is a very refreshing trend -- not just because some very good games are coming over to the Amiga platform (after all, "our" developers have been periodically producing winners right along), but because finally, the old notion that a game must disable the operating system and program the hardware directly in order to run well on an Amiga is being dispelled completely and utterly. I think Quake's ability to run on a 68020 with AGA attests well enough to this. But I don't need lists of specifations in order to know this, because I have played ADoom, and it runs superbly on my 68060/AGA system (and almost playably on the old 68030/ECS A500). In fact, it runs as well as any rule-breaking program I've ever used. But what's really new is the idea that I can actually pause a game, and go answer some e-mail, all without a single reboot. Isn't progress nice?
The main idea here, however, is an unmistakable trend. Yes, nobody is quite sure what to expect from the future of our platform of Amiga-based systems (since based on what Joe Torre said, we won't be seeing any more "true" "Amigas"); but we have been witness to massive achievements taking our "dead" platform above and beyond what anybody could ever have imagined. phase 5 produced top-of-the-line 680x0 accelerators for years, and now brings us the PowerPC; superb efforts from many parties have yielded several suites' worth of outstanding Internet and telecommunications software for the Amiga; 3rd parties have given us workable retargetable graphics and audio schemes, and the hardware to use them; and now we are seeing world-class games once considered out of reach brought to the Amiga, and in an extremely elegant and successful manner.
I don't know about you, but I'm not going anywhere. It's just now starting to get fun.