Amiga

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Amiga is a range of home/personal computers primarily using the Motorola 68000 processor family, whose development started in 1982, initially as a game machine. The original Amiga hardware was designed by Jay Miner; his machine was ahead of its time when it appeared in 1985, having a custom chipset with advanced graphics and sound features and a sophisticated multitasking operating system, now known as AmigaOS. The Amiga eventually became popular among computer enthusiasts, especially in Europe, as they upgraded from 8-bit computers such as the Commodore 64. It also found a business role in video production. The Amiga was an important platform for computer games in the late 1980s and early 1990s. It was the first home computer to gain major success as a games machine due to its graphic and sound subsystems, which were widely considered to be far ahead of their time. A game made for the Amiga platform generally had much better sound and graphics than the same game running on a IBM PC.


History

The first Amiga computer, simply called the Amiga, was released in 1985 by Commodore, who marketed it both as their intended successor to the Commodore 64 and as their competitor against the Atari ST range. It was later renamed the Amiga 1000 (or A1000 for short).

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An Amiga 500 computer system, with 1084S RGB monitor and A1010 floppy disk drive.

In 1987 Commodore released two new Amiga models, the A500 and the A2000 as low-end and high-end machines, respectively. The former became the most popular Amiga computer of that decade and was mostly known as a games machine, while the latter was marketed as a more serious workstation for graphic purposes, due to the presence of a SCSI controller option, a Genlock slot and an I/O video connector.

In 1990 the A3000 was introduced in the market as the successor of both A1000 and A2000, with an extended chipset (ECS), and the second release of its operating system, to be known eventually as the AmigaOS.

In the same year, Commodore released three new low-end machines: the CDTV, aimed to move the platform to the living room; the A500+, with the same enhancements as the A3000; and the A600, basically an A500+ in a smaller box with an IDE controller for hard disks. All of them were a commercial failure, mainly due to poor marketing by Commodore.

Mass-market Amigas were then considerably cheaper than PCs or Macs of their time. This boosted sales in the more price-conscious European markets, but led to Commodore being viewed in the United States as a producer of cheap and nasty "game machines". This conception was furthered by the fact that most Commodore retail outlets were toy stores, and marketing campaigns which were woefully mismatched with the status-conscious American public. This explains why Amiga was very successful in Europe, but not in the US market, with less than a million sold.

In 1992 Commodore released their last Amiga computer models, the A1200 and the A4000: both of them featured the new AGA chipset and the third release of AmigaOS.

In 1993, in a desperate attempt to save their business, menaced by console giants as Sega and Nintendo, Commodore marketed the CD32, one of the earliest compact disc based consoles, with specs similar to the A1200.

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An Amiga A500 computer, photographed in 1988

In 1994 Commodore filed for liquidation and its assets were bought by Escom, a German PC manufacturer, which in turn filed for liquidation during 1997. The Amiga brand was then sold to another PC manufacturer, Gateway 2000, which had grand plans for it, but they eventually sold it in 2000 before actually realizing their plans. There are rumors that this sale was conducted because of ongoing force by Microsoft; however, this is unproven.

The current owner of the trademark, Amiga Inc., has licensed the rights to make hardware using the Amiga brand to an U.K. computer vendor, Eyetech Group, Ltd founded by some former employees of the UK branch of Commodore International. They are currently selling the AmigaOne via an international dealer network. The AmigaOne is a PowerPC computer suited to run the last remnant of the platform, the AmigaOS, that was in turn licensed to a Belgian-German company, Hyperion Entertainment.

During these years, a very limited number of clones (Amiga-compatible computers) were produced, as both Commodore and subsequent owners of the trademark strongly refused to have Amigas produced under license.

Amigas running any operating system up to version 3.9 are being considered "Classic" Amigas today, contrary to the new Amiga Inc./Eyetech/Hyperion models.

Many "Classic" Amigas are still in use today to produce commercials or local cable TV shows.

Technical features

The Amiga had some of the most impressive sound and graphics available for the home user. Indeed, it was also used for commercial entertainment production till the mid 1990s, aiding users in the Video editing and 3D fields.

The very first model, the Amiga 1000, was designed with a 7.16MHz CPU so it could easily work with NTSC video. The CPU clock frequency was precisely double the 3.58MHz color carrier frequency. Continuing its video focus, the 1000 had a composite video output, which allowed it to be hooked up directly to a TV or VCR. However, the output signal was considered too "hot" (strong) by many to be useful for anything other than home use.

The Original Amiga chipset, or OCS, was more advanced than other architectures of its time: it had dedicated chips for graphic effects based on the monitor's beam position and the use of genlocks was very easy; even today many broadcast corporations still use A3000s and A4000s for their real-time video effects. Many programs for making fansubs were written for the Amiga.

One unique feature the Amiga had was the ability to change the monitor resolution on the fly, within a scan line or two. This allowed multiple overlapping screens of different resolutions that could be pulled down or up in front of each other, completely without interfering with each other, controlled at the hardware level. The chipset included a blitter, which could not only copy and manipulate large area of graphics, making the Amiga well suited to arcade action games, but it also included line drawing and area-filling hardware, which helped advance the popularity of real-time 3D games.

Amiga 500

From its launch in 1987, marketed as a games machine, the Amiga A500 was an amazing success for Commodore International, reviving the ailing sales of its hardware. It was equipped with a 7.14MHz Motorola 68000 processor. At the time, it was the only domestically-priced machine capable of displaying up to 4,096 colours on a display simultaneously, and was also capable of managing a 8-bit 4-track audio output at up to 28.8KHz. The A500, also known as the Amiga 500, was the first "low-end" Commodore Amiga 16-bit multimedia home/personal computer model. It was released in 1987, at the same time as the high-end A2000, and competed directly against the Atari 520ST.

Technical specifications

  • Motorola 68000 (32-bit CISC microprocessor with 16 registers lacking MMU for memory protection and virtual memory)
  • Default operating system AmigaOS 1.2 or 1.3 (having 32-bit pre-emptive multitasking microkernel) depending on the revision
  • 512 KB of Chip RAM by default (sound buffers, graphics buffers and software existed in the same memory space)
    • upper limit of 16 MB of memory due to MC68000 limitations (24-bit external address bus)
  • OCS/ECS chipset
  • 50 Hz PAL and 60 Hz NTSC TV output by default versions available; 50/60Hz mode switchable by software in later revisions
  • software-switchable low-pass audio filter (power LED shows filter status, darker when off)
  • IRQ sharing (like the PCI bus)
  • IRQ system had 7 priority levels of interrupts
    • No limit on number of interrupts available
    • Resources handled by Autoconfig, very similar to ACPI, resources were not numbered or labelled, just given as amounts and addresses
  • No specific I/O ports, instead using memory mapped I/O space separately for each hardware device (thanks to Jay Miner)

Games History

From the Amiga's introduction in late 1985, through to the early 1990s, Amiga games were developed in parallel with the Atari ST as both machines utilized the Motorola 68000 CPU. The Atari ST was, by default the industry's primary focus for 16-bit games development because it initially had a larger user base than the Amiga. Additionally, the ST became the default platform because developers found it easier develop software for. This was due in part to the ST's minimalist hardware design.

A major proportion of games developed from 1985 to 1988 were written specifically for ST, then converted to the Amiga. As a result, many Amiga games of this period were, in most cases, identical to the ST version. The only differences were apparent in audio effects and in-game music. This was an unfortunate development for the Amiga, because only its audio subsystem was demonstrating the Amiga's custom chipset, while its graphical subsystems remained untapped.

Amiga games popularized tracker-based music, particularly the MOD file format, which has enjoyed continuing popularity in the Demoscene community, which was influenced significantly by the Amiga and its plethora of games with upbeat, electronic music soundtracks. Music was considered a big part of the game experience in most Amiga games.

The ST continued to be the dominant machine until the introduction of the Amiga 500 in early 1987. Although the A500s chipset was more or less identical to its predecessor, the Amiga 1000, it was cheaper, making it the first "mass-market" Amiga. With the success of the A500, the games industry gradually shifted its focus to the Amiga. By 1988, an increasing number of games were developed specifically for the Amiga. At its zenith in the early 1990s, the Amiga continued to be the platform of choice of many games development companies. At that time virtually every game destined for the PC was first released on the Amiga to test the waters due to cheaper development costs.

The Amiga gaming scene was responsible for the rapid growth of small gaming companies including Electronic Arts who were contracted by Commodore International to produce the Amiga's standard graphics format IFF, and Electronic Arts' Deluxe Paint was included as standard with many Amigas thus giving them early access allowing them to gain a major foothold.

Important Amiga games

Early games

Popular games

Historically significant games

Amiga game developers

Many famous game developers first established themselves on the Amiga, although some such as David Braben has already established reputations from the 8-bit computer games. Famous Amiga game developers include:

External links

Amiga Games

News and discussions

Software

  • Aminet — List of Aminet Mirror-Sites for public domain and freely available software for AmigaOS 3.x and 4.x
  • OS4Depot — Unofficial repository for AmigaOS 4.x software
  • Amiga.sf — Your source to Amiga ports

Links Directory

Link pages

History

Other