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Posted on February 27, 2015
Modern Amiga gaming
Recently I have been having a long overdue Amiga revival! For those of you who don’t know (have you been living under a rock?) the Amiga is a 16-bit home computer made by Commodore and released way back in 1985. While originally released as a high end computer for business use (yawn) it wasn’t long before it became known as a gaming machine thanks to its fantastic graphical capabilities and fun software. A couple of years later the most famous model of Amiga, the Amiga 500, was released and it cemented Commodore’s machine as a home gaming platform bar none – It took PC games many years to catch up to the same level!
The Amiga 500 – the best selling model in the Amiga range
I was lucky enough to be given an Amiga 600 (a revised A500 with more memory and smaller case) for my birthday in 1993 and was instantly smitten with the incredible 16-bit graphics, wonderful Amiga soundchip and huge library of fun and quirky games with a uniquely British flavour. From a plethora of 2D platformers and action games such as Superfrog, The Chaos Engine, Alien Breed, Turrican and IK+ to mouse driven games like Cannon Fodder, Lemmings, Syndicate and The Secret of Monkey Island, the Amiga’s varied selection of gaming goodies kept me hooked. It also helped that the machine used floppy disks as opposed to the incredibly expensive cartridges used by companies like Sega and Nintendo. While they took time to load and often came on a silly number of disks (often resulting in some repetitive disk changing) the disk medium meant the games were much cheaper than console games, with budget re-releases of top sellers often going for a few pounds. I may have joined the party a little late in the Amiga’s lifespan, but I had the benefit of an enormous library of games to choose from.
Team 17’s classic platformer Superfrog
Fast forward to the present, and I consider many Amiga titles to be some of my favourite games of all time. I am always returning to Rick Dangerous to attempt to beat those fiendish levels for the millionth time, or hear the comedy screams of the little soldiers in Cannon Fodder as I let rip with the machine gun. I love to return to Superfrog – a game I find infinitely more enjoyable than any Sonic The Hedgehog title – for some good old fashioned jumping and coin collecting, or blast some xenomorphs in Team 17’s masterpiece, Alien Breed. I even play sports games – something usually unheard of – in the form of Sensible Soccer!
Another Team 17 classic – Alien Breed Special Edition ’92
EmulationI am a huge advocate of emulation and, on PC, you are sorted when it comes to the Amiga. WinUAE has been around for ages and is constantly being updated. It performs extremely well, playing everything you can throw at it – It does require slightly more tinkering with than the average SNES or Mega Drive emulator but it’s well worth the effort. However, I have found Amiga emulation on other devices such as the original Xbox, Wii and PSP to be less satisfactory. Often the games don’t load, or feature stuttering framerates, sound issues or crashes. It’s here where I strongly recommend the original hardware!
Sensible Software’s Cannon Fodder is one of the greatest games of all time
Amiga 1200 / Compact Flash Card
So, what’s the best option for someone wanting to play Amiga games today? Well, for the true Amiga aficionado I would recommend the more powerful Amiga 1200 model – capable of playing the more visually impressive AGA titles. Next you will need a compact flash card that can be used in IDE mode (stick to SanDisk’s range or Transcend cards) and a 44 pin 2.5″ IDE to compact flash card adapter. These can be bought together from Ebay for around £20, though you may be able to get them cheaper if you purchase them separately.
Once you have the two items it’s a simple matter of taking out the stock Amiga 1200 Hard drive and plugging in your CF card / IDE adapter combo. If, like me, you are happy with using an Amiga 600, you will be pleased to know you can use this CF card method on that model too.
A Transcend CF card slotted into the necessary IDE adapter
On this CF card you will need to install WHDLoad – a fantastic piece of software that you use from Workbench to launch your pre-installed Amiga games. It is worth noting that these are different files to the usual .ADF files and will only run on WHDLoad. There are many fantastic tutorials online should you need any further help with installing both a compact flash card and WHDLoad!
WHDLoad is a fantastic and easy way to load Amiga games –
it even combines multiple disk games into one file
If you aren’t up for opening an A1200 and installing a flash card you could always take the easy option – buy an Amiga CD32! The CD32 is often cited as one of the worst consoles ever made and one of the biggest failures – up there with the Atari Jaguar and Nintendo’s Virtual Boy – but these days it is a great way to enjoy Amiga games. When it was first released in 1993, Commodore’s 32-bit CD-ROM gaming console sounded great in theory, but with a library of software that was little more than A500 or A1200 games with some CD audio, it wasn’t long before gamers abandoned the console for superior platforms such as the PlayStation and Saturn. Indeed, the CD32 was only in production for 6 months before being discontinued – surely a record of some kind?
The ill-fated CD32 console
These days you can pick one up for around £80 (with the controller and a few games), which is pretty decent value for money. Many of the games are excellent, though practically identical to the standard Amiga versions, and the CD music is often great as it captures the rave and techno vibes of the early 1990’s (if you were in the UK, of course). The CD-ROM technology also allowed for full voice acting in games, with the first being the wonderfully voiced Simon the Sorcerer (featuring Red Dwarf’s Chris Barrie as the titular hero) point & click adventure. The second great thing about the CD32 is the controller – sure, it’s not to everybody’s taste, but I rather like it and it also allows you to use a second button for jumping instead of up on the joystick like the majority of Amiga disk software.
Simon The Sorcerer was the first Amiga game to feature voice acting
Best of all, there exist online several custom made CDs that contain either 200, 400 or a whopping 800 Amiga games from the A500 / A1200 range. Once downloaded these can be burnt in a specific way to enable them to be played on a standard CD32 – That’s right, there is no copy protection on a CD32, so you can burn disks from downloaded ISO files.. though I couldn’t possibly condone such naughty behaviour (cough!).
I rather like the CD32 controller, though many others feel differently
If piracy just ain’t your bag then you could always add a floppy drive to the CD32 in order to play all your wonderful floppy disk originals! I have not had any experience of this method but I hear that you need certain adapters and software. I believe you would also need to have a keyboard in order to play many non-CD32 games. If this is something that interests you then head over to one of the many helpful Amiga forums online and see what people have to say. If I get around to trying out this method for myself I will add the information to this article!
The CD32 was the only Amiga machine to get Psygnosis’s
gorgeous 2D platformer, The Misadventures Of Flink
Amiga 600 & Gotek USB Floppy Drive
Despite the above method being the best way to enjoy Amiga games, I stand by my choice for an Amiga 600 with a Gotek USB Floppy Drive installed. The ease of copying .ADF game files to a USB drive is the deciding factor for me. The Amiga 600 holds the most nostalgic memories for me, personally, and its smaller design is far more appealing than the humungous A500 model. You don’t get a numerical keypad but, if you only intend to use your Amiga for games, you won’t miss it!
The smaller, sleeker, Amiga 600
The Amiga 600 I had been using over Christmas suddenly died on me. Thankfully I was able to pick up an Amiga 500+ locally for only £35. It also works perfectly with the Gotek, though the sharp edges contained on the metal parts inside the machine have rendered my hands a sliced up disaster area. I was pleased when my replacement Amiga 600 arrived this morning and after a couple of minutes cleaning and installing the Gotek I was soon playing the brilliant Ruff N Tumble again!
My Gotek USB
The Gotek USB Drive is a nifty little device that, once installed, allows you to plug in a USB flash drive and run games in .adf format (.ADF being the image of an original Amiga floppy disk – much like an ISO for CDs today). Installation is exceptionally easy and consists of the following easy steps:
1. Open Amiga and lift off top case
Inside the Amiga 600
Be careful when lifting the top off an A600 as this small connector
in the bottom left only has a short cable to attach it
2. Unscrew and unplug the floppy disk drive
3. Plug in the Gotek using the provided cables (which look almost identical to the ones you just unplugged)
4. Leave the Gotek inside the case or feed the cables through the casing (the disk drive part) and leave it on top of the Amiga
5. Close case
Side view of Gotek inside case – note the plastic part broken off to make
USB stick fit and create easier access to tiny disk swap buttons
With the Gotek on the outside (A600)
With my first Amiga 600 I had the Gotek inside the casing, using some card to keep it in place, but I had to snap a little piece of plastic from the casing off so I could press the tiny buttons on the Gotek. For the A500+ and current A600 setup I am happy for the Gotek to sit on top of the case!