Wednesday 19 April 2023

Commodore Amiga: A Visual Compendium Review

Written by Dan Gill

Bitmap Books have been prolific over the past few years, releasing gorgeous books that run the gamut of gaming. Anything from their collection would look great on the avid gamer’s coffee table, tempting you to have a peek at its lovingly collated artwork and gaming summaries. Having previously covered everything from RPGs to the art of game covers, the focus here shifts to possibly the biggest cult hero of computer gaming, the Commodore Amiga.

It’s easy to overlook the Amiga for those that were either raised on consoles or transitioned to them from the 8-bit computers such as the Spectrum or C64, but the Amiga was a big thing when it launched in the late 80s. With its dedicated custom chipsets to handle processing, graphics and audio (named Agnus, Denise and Paula), the Amiga was a huge step up from the C64, and it was a graphical and audio powerhouse. It was essentially an affordable and much more intuitive alternative to IBM compatible PCs of the time and bore similarities to Apple’s Mac of the era. As with most capable computers, developers – mostly bedroom coders from the early 80s – began working on the machine and legends were born. Without the Amiga the gaming landscape would be quite different today, Amiga: A Visual Compendium pays homage to the system with style.

The book opens with a foreword from Stoo Cambridge of Sensible Software and opens to a huge list of contributors from across the games industry. Soundbites from industry veterans, members of the demo scene, and even Andy Warhol accompany huge art spreads showcasing some of the Amiga’s best-looking titles. There are some interviews with developers and artists which offer an insight into how they worked with the hardware, offering an insight into how the tools allowed them to develop some classic games. While the focus is on the visuals of Amiga games, there are some features throughout that delve into the history of the brand, articles on developers and a look at the demo scene.

The focus is the art, and some 140 games are featured, ranging from stone cold classics such as The Secret of Monkey Island and Cannon Fodder, to deep cuts like Disposable Hero and Walker. The artwork is the focus and remains uncluttered bar a few quotes here and there. The inclusion of imagery from demos is also welcome as a reminder of the artists and coders that used to push the hardware to its limits. The book offers some a brief look into works by Scoopex, Angels and Lemon, and touches on the scene’s ties to game crackers – coders who would find ways around copy protection of Amiga games. It’s a welcome addition to the book, as it’s something integral to the Amiga’s success on two fronts: technical showcases from demos, and easily pirated games from crackers. Of course, your opinion as to whether easily obtainable games was a good thing depends on whether you were a developer or a kid with enough money to buy blank floppy disks, but that’s a conversation for another time.

All in all, there’s nothing bad I can say about this book. It’s as beautifully presented as you’d expect, and really scratches that nostalgic itch for those that were lucky enough to grow up during the Amiga’s heyday. From a personal point of view, I was reminded of some titles I’d read about but never played (not to mention a few vapourware titles) and has prompted me to seek out some games that have passed me by (and has led to me taking a serious look at the A500 Mini). This is essential reading for Amiga fans, retro gamers or fans of digital art in general.

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