My early gamer years (Part 2)
So last time we went through this, I focused on my days on the Commodore 64. The 64 was an awesome machine for its time, as I am sure you know. It made massive leaps with its’ sound chip, so Commodore had some really big boots to fill when the world changed and most of us went from 8-bit to 16-bit. The Amiga 500 which was released in Europe in 1987; I would have been 12 at that point in time. I can’t remember when I got mine, but I do remember saving up as much pocket money as I could so I could go to the computer trade show with my Dad to buy one.
My Amiga stuck around for years. It became the system I learned a lot more programming on; starting with Amiga Basic and going on to learn the fabulous Blitz Basic. It helped with typing up documents for school and became a companion in my bedroom, as I wrote thousands of words into my own personal diary. After going through several upgrades, it was eventually replaced by its successor the Amiga 1200 which stuck with me until after I left home for a job at 19.
The Amiga was a superb system for its time and if I named every game that I ever played we would be here for weeks. I’m just going to concentrate on the games that I remember the most, these may not be Amiga exclusives but it’s the main ones I remember.
I could not do an Amiga retro piece without a nod to Bullfrog who, rose to fame with their game Populous which was originally Amiga only and then ported to several other platforms. We should also mention the sequels Populous 2 and the less popular Populous 3, as well as their quirky little platform game called Flood. But it’s Syndicate, which was originally released in 1993, with a Syndicate reboot made in 2012 for Windows, Xbox and PS3.
At the time I remember that I was playing the Cyberpunk 2020 RPG over an email system known as FidoNet and reading a lot more William Gibson novels, so my mind was full of augmentation fantasy. Syndicate played right into that because you took control of a team of up to four cyborgs as your particular Megacorp try to gain world domination. Your ‘agents’ would have to perform tasks such as infiltration, assassination, theft and actually just persuading people using a device called the Persuadertron.
There was something really engaging about the look and feel of Syndicate. I also remember appreciating that it was not an easy game and you could take several approaches to finishing your mission. Although it did encourage you to be absolutely ruthless, (and received critical flak for it,) there was nothing to stop you trying out a different approach to trying to a mission. During the course of the game you would select which next bit of tech to research and in some missions, this would give you some sort of tactical advantage, depending on what you had chosen. I spent many an hour playing and replaying missions to find new and interesting ways to finish them and this was in the days before Achievements!
Rainbow Islands was certainly not Amiga exclusive. However, it remains one of the best platform games I have ever had the pleasure of playing. It’s actually a sequel to the classic arcade game Bubble Bobble. You take control of either Bub or Bob who are not in their dragon form and has set out to defeat the “Dark Shadow” and restore the Rainbow Islands. This time instead of shooting bubbles the heroes this time use Rainbows to defeat their enemies, there are 7 islands to complete, each one having their own look and feel with distinct enemies.
The beauty of Rainbow Islands comes in its simplicity. You can play it in a very simple way, but there is a proper way to play it to aim for that perfect game that you strive for. Your standard fire button creates a rainbow which you can walk up to get to new heights. You’re going to need to climb too, as each level has a time limit and if you take too long the level will begin to flood. There are power ups available to improve your rainbow creation ability; yellow potions will make your rainbows form faster, a red potion will change your rainbow from single to double and eventually triple. Rainbows can attach to each other and if you jump or fall on them, they will then crumble. You can kill the enemies with your rainbows directly, drop a rainbow on an enemy or capture them underneath them and then jump on it to kill it. You gain more points by dropping a rainbow on multiple enemies under rainbows and it will make them more likely to spawn a gem. The gems are there to aid you to get a better score. When you collect all seven colours you get an extra life and when you complete the end of level boss they open up a bonus point stage.
Bubble Bobble was one of the first cooperative platformers I had played. I enjoyed changing between trying to finish the level with whomever I was playing and then stealing as many of the bonuses that I could to get the better score. Sadly Rainbow Islands is missing a cooperative mode, but I think if it had one the game would be way too easy.
I generally dislike sports games, however, Speedball 2 is no ordinary sports game and there was no way I can mention the Amiga without mentioning this title. You take control of a team playing one of the most brutal games ever invented, where punching an opponent just so you can get the ball is encouraged and rewarded. Developed by the fantastic studio known as the Bitmap Brothers, who are famous for a number of excellently made games that include Gods, Chaos Engine, Magic Pockets and classic shoot-em up Xenon 2.
Speedball 2 was beautiful, humorous and challenging to say the least. As you played through the league you would gain enough money from matches to be able to upgrade the armour and power of your team members. I remember the AI of the latter matches becoming quite tricky. The real fun came from playing against a friend and being ruthless with their Goalkeeper. So much so that they were eventually carted off on a stretcher which would significantly reduce that player’s ability.
I’d like to say that Speedball 2 still remains one of the best sports game I have played. It received critical acclaim by all the major magazines on time of release. It was revamped with an HD version being released on Steam in 2013 but the game was criticised, as it was missing any sort of internet multiplayer and it was reported for being slow, buggy and actually worse than the Amiga version.
The great thing about today’s technology is that systems like the Amiga can now be emulated. If you want to do so then you should look into Amiga Forever, WinUAE or FS-UAE. All three of these products do a pretty good job of emulating the original system and all of its variants. I learned so much with my Amiga so it’s a real nostalgia moment for me to look back on it, it got me through some hard teenage years and gave me an outlet to put my creativity into.
I actually have my first credit in a game on an Amiga product, back in 1994 I worked for a company known as Kompart. They were a publisher in the UK and it was the first anyone had ever heard of the Croteam who later went on to make the Serious Sam series. Football Glory was essentially a Sensible World of Soccer clone, my role in the game was support based. I remember several times during the development of the game logging onto the BBS that the Croteam were running to download the latest version of the game for testing. I was 19 at the time, young and eager to get into the games industry, little did I know what a cut-throat business it was going to turn out to be. Still, I have both very fond and very odd memories about this time in my life.
Did you have an Amiga? If so tell us what your favourite games were? Do you still play any with an emulator? Do you have any great emulator tips to share with our community? Give us your feedback via the comments section or as per usual over on Facebook, Reddit and Twitter