Retrochallenge 2010
      Winter Warmup
      Mark Wickens

                                       Amiga Nostalgia

      The Amiga - a machine before its time. In the early days of competition between
      Intel and Motorola, when there were many processors vying for the desktop
      market, many architectures came and went. Two which stayed the course were the
      Intel 8086 and the Motorola 68000. The 68000 was a 32-bit processor developed
      from the earlier 6800. The architecture was clean, the machine language for the
      most part orthogonal, and the instruction set designed to natively support high
      level languages to speed compiler time to market. Of the many machines that were
      driven by the 68000 two were to dominate the home computer market for a number
      of years: the Amiga and the Atari.

      I was in sixth form when the Amiga was launched. It was a generation away from
      Commodores last offering in my grasp, the venerable Commodore 64. RAM size had
      jumped from 64K to 512K, removable storage from the 1541 360K 5.25" floppy to a
      3.5" double density 880K drive. My model ended up sporting twin floppy drives,
      but I couldn't afford a hard drive.

      I used the Amiga as my main machine fo several years, including University until
      my final year. I then made the step into the PC world, which some would consider
      a backward step. MS-DOS was the defacto standard, I remember Windows 3 coming
      out right at the end. The benefits of the Amiga were lost on me for a while, I
      guess, although I was probably already sensing that having PC knowledge would be
      a crucial skill in the job market. As a gaming machine of course it was
      difficult to surpass. It was effectively a 'console' in the sense that for a
      number of years the hardware was standard. You need that kind of stability to
      get the very best out of programmers over a number of game iterations. That's
      why people like the Bitmap Brothers produced such exellent work towards the end
      of their support for the platform.

      I used several programming languages on the Amiga during my University course -
      a little Pascal, BASIC, some 68000 assembler, Prolog, some C and a lot of
      Modula-2. I used the Benchmark Modula-2 package which came with an integrated
      development environment compatible with Emacs. It was written by a single guy,
      Leon Frenkel. I've not been able to locate a copy so far, since my Amiga disks
      rotted in the basement, but I'd love to give it another go. There is a good deal
      of nostalgia for some of the better retro IDEs for good reason - the relative
      compactness of both the languages and environments meant that high levels of
      integration were possible. Modern IDEs and languages are like a swiss army knife
      compared to the vegetable knife of retro IDEs - if all you want to do is peel
      some fruit they are confusing and unwieldy. Well, maybe a crap analogy, but you
      get the idea.

      One thing that let down consumer Amigas towards the end of their hay-day was
      their lack of support for standard VGA monitors. Had their been better support I
      think there would have been more people stick with the platform for longer.

      The other thing that let it down was the lack of a memory management unit in the
      basic 68000 processor. This meant that there was no protection between programs
      running in a multi-tasking environment. The typical result of a rogue process
      was a GURU meditation, with a reboot required. Although later models included
      processors supporting both native floating point and memory management units the
      competition with Intel was already turning the battle, with PCs being sold in
      much higher numbers and as a consequence the scale of numbers landing in Intels
      favour. From an applications level point of view the 386 was an awesome
      processor, and with very little people interested in the complexities inherent
      in the machine language it was a powerful package at a good price.

      I installed the Universal Amiga Emulator under linux from a cover disk. I've
      included some screenshots of the games I decided to have a play with.

      Workbench Booting

      Amiga Workbench Booting

      A typical workbench screen

      Amiga Workbench


      Galaga 1

      Galaga 2

      Atoms - a game provided with UAE

      Atoms Game

      Mindwalker (not sure why I tried this)

      Mindwalker Game

      Space Harrier (not what I was expecting, popular though apparently!)

      Space Harrier Splash

      Space Harrier

      Elite. The World of Warcraft of the 90s (time sink)

      Elite - Splash Screen

      Elite - Title Screen

      Elite - Disk Menu

      Thargoids - the most feared race in the Elite galaxy

      Elite - Thargoid!!

      Ah, Flight Simulator. The other eternal time waster...

      Flight Simulator - Runway 27 Right

      Flight Simulator - San Francisco Bay

      Flight Simulator - Cessna Puddle Hopper

      Marble Madness - a very early Amiga game.
      Still looking good after all these years!

      Marble Madness!