Could anything have saved the Amiga?

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Matt Barton
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I was wondering something today that you may have thought about at some point. Most of us blame the demise of the Amiga on poor marketing (not enough ads) and design decisions, such as not having a CD-ROM standard early enough, sticking to 8-bit sound, SCSI instead of IDE, etc. However, I'm wondering if anything could really have saved the Amiga once the VGA/Soundblaster combo became standard on most PCs. For that matter, could ANY computer platform have withstood the "open hardware" standard offered by the PC?

And, if the open hardware standard has worked so well for PCs, why haven't seen the like on the console (i.e., lots of rival manufacturers making consoles that can run compatible games?)

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Matt Barton
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Yes, I agree--backwards

Yes, I agree--backwards compatibility is frequently more of a ball and chain than a serious enhancement. It's frequently better just to burn the bridge and move on to a greener pasture. WHat did anyone use HAM for, anyway, besides porn? It was neat, but I can't imagine saying "Well, I'm not buying that new Amiga because it doesn't do HAM." Same thing with the zorro and other crap.

That said, some platforms fail if they don't offer people enough reason to upgrade despite the lack of backwards compatibility. For instance, I don't recall too many people trying to justify NOT buying an Amiga because it wasn't directly compatible with the C-64. There was clearly enough advantages to the new platform to make it worth the loss/trouble. On the other hand, when it came to the 1200 and 4000, people got concerned about b.c. I don't think anyone would have bought a 1200 or 4000 if it wouldn't run most of the current titles, one reason being that everyone was worried there wouldn't be any good new titles for it.

In general, if people seem worried about b.c., that's a bad sign. It should be an afterthought, not a pivotal reason to buy or not buy a new system. If it becomes a deal breaker, then the new platform just isn't good enough and should be revised.

Of course, there are many other factors at work here. One is how hard or expensive it is to maintain b.c. IF the system is designed with long-term planning in mind, it will not be costly, but a highly customized "hackwork" will no doubt prove easier to abandon than keep compatible.

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yakumo9275
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Commodore really painted

Commodore really painted themselves into a box with the custom chips. Even with the PC advances, commodore had to retain HAM and other modes and copper etc, which was a huge burden going forward. Look at the "A600", was supposed to be cheaper than the A500 but cost more to manufacture than the 500 so the "A300" became the "A600"... Keeping all the backcompat in new chipsets cost them, and that I think was one of the big killers

Plus, anytime a new model came out, everyone cired 'Blah is not compabitle' so if a single A500 game didnt work, it was a death knell on the machine...

they needed to move away from zorro slots and the whole chip ram/fast ram deal (did they ever fix the 2mb limit bug??)...

-- Stu --

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Matt Barton
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sure
Bill Loguidice wrote:

Hey, Matt, I'm thinking many of these ideas can be compiled and explored further in some type of future article, no?

Without doubt. I'm thinking along the lines of a, "The Should Have Beens" or something...Looking at those platforms that suffered a downright criminal overshadowing, including the famous (and infamous for its problems on our website!!!) L Y N X.

Do we know anyone who worked on the cd32? Be nice to get an interview for the next month's big deal

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Bill Loguidice
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Good Point - Another one added to the list
cdoty wrote:

I think the PC was picking up steam during the entire life of the Amiga.

The price and availability of upgrades was a big factor in the growth of the PC. In 1990 I could go to local stores (Sam's Club or even Montgomery Wards) and purchase PC upgrades; the Amiga upgrades were generally available using mail order only, and in many cases only from the UK or Germany.

Well, that's certainly true. Outside of software, there was little available in most mainstream stores. I remember being very excited by - and in fact we bought our Amiga 500 from - a store dedicated solely to the Amiga. It was a small store, but had tons of stuff. I would certainly agree that adding lack of mainstream store availability for the hardware was a factor in the platform's ultimate demise. Commodore really couldn't use the "K-Mart approach" they used with the C-64 due to the differing costs and the relative complexity. Of course today you see $400+ computer systems in every type of store, but back then computers - particularly those costing $1000+ - didn't show up in mass market stores like they do now.

Hey, Matt, I'm thinking many of these ideas can be compiled and explored further in some type of future article, no?



Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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cdoty
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The PC mammoth was already building

I think the PC was picking up steam during the entire life of the Amiga.

The price and availability of upgrades was a big factor in the growth of the PC. In 1990 I could go to local stores (Sam's Club or even Montgomery Wards) and purchase PC upgrades; the Amiga upgrades were generally available using mail order only, and in many cases only from the UK or Germany.

Matt Barton
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I agree whole heartily about

I agree whole heartily about the slow upgrades, but I think that's a consequence of being a proprietary rather an open system (like the PC). If I remember correctly, IBM itself was beaten to the punch by Compaq on the 386, and its own graphics cards were quickly surpassed by third party manufacturers (to say nothing of sound standards). The only thing that held back the platform was the lack of industry standards; yet again (fourth?) parties had to step in to try to establish some. These seem to have been aided greatly by the big game makers who supported some at the expense of others (think here particularly of Sierra and Origin). Then people like The Fat Man with Team Fat tried to establish some industry standards for sound. In any case, once these were somewhat stabilized, they of course blazed past the dinosaurs who could only depend on their own underfunded and understaffed R&D teams to come up with any ideas, and no doubt the best of those were strangled in the cradle by some short-sighted CEO who'd rather use the capital to fund his grandchild's Harvard tuition.

My own answer to the "What Could Have Saved the Amiga?" question is along those lines. What they really should have done is worked hard to become an industry standard for "next gen" computers; of course, then they were called "multimedia machines." They could have opened the manufacturing to all comers, offering some sort of "seal of approval" to compatible devices. I see no reason why they couldn't have continued to sell their operating system, provided they were able to use the revenue from the above process to fund improvements (and I realize this is a BIG if). They could have been ready for the rise of the web, if nothing else, striking early with a quality browser. In short, their best chance was to beat Microsoft at its own game. Furthermore, they could have forced industry standards far faster than what we saw on the PC platform, thus gaining that critical edge that stalled PC gaming for so long (to say nothing of graphical apps). I remember playing with a PowerPoint like program called Scala MM (multimedia) back in the day; it was in some ways much finer than PPT and even offered integrated videoclips. I believe it's still being used in some museum kiosks even today.

I think the Amiga would actually have done better in these areas than IBM, simply because the Amiga had already established itself as a multimedia machine. The PC, as has been pointed out repeatedly, was still mostly monochrome and text, with no sound but an internal speaker.

On the other hand, there is no denying that conspiracy effect of the media. If you guys aren't willing to buy the ad revenue argument (I still think it's valid), it may have been a simple choice of demographics (which itself becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy).

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Mark Vergeer
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I did play Doom on an Amiga A4000

If I remember correctly I did play Doom on a friend's Amiga A4000 though, it ran in a small Workbench window or it could be ran full screen - so in the end Doom also came to the Amiga, but horribly late.
It may have been one of these - a great website containing ports of various games to the Amiga (probably AGA only):
http://www.doomworld.com/ports/amiga.shtml

The conspiracy theory might be a valid one. The power of the media is enormous. As a comparison, just look at what happened to the original xbox in the media? The ps2 still gets coverage - okay some new games still come out for it - but the original xbox has disappeared from the media overnight.



Editor / Pixelator - Armchair Arcade, Inc.
www.markvergeer.nl

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Seb
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AGA!

Commodore didn't update their machines fast enough. AGA graphics were too little too late. A lot of people talk about HAM (4096 colors) but it was rarely used. Most of the time, we were dealing with 32 colors. The new LucasArts & Sierra adventures looked (VGA, 256 colors) & sounded (AdLib) much better on PC. In 1993 none of these classics could be played on the Amiga: Wolfenstein 3D, Ultima 7, Doom, X-COM, Day of the Tentacle, Sam & Max Hit the Road, and X-Wing (full MIDI soundtrack)... it was pretty much the end.

Of course, no marketing whatsoever from Commodore... :(

And I believe there was a conspiracy.. magazines like Compute!, Byte and others stopped reviewing Amiga (and Atari) software. Even at the height of Amiga's popularity they were ignoring it. There was a little bit of coverage at the beginning, but they soon switched to a "PC" only exists policy that i always found strange. It was very common to read complaints from angry Amiga users in the letters pages.

Bill Loguidice
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More thoughts and scenarios
Mark Vergeer wrote:

The Amiga was years ahead of it's time, but what is also true is that it was pretty pricy when you compared it to non-comparable other systems out there AND the fact that so many incarnations of the Amiga platform existed with different chip sets (ECS, AGA) and different versions of Workbench. Non standard cd-rom implementations that were later added on and differend among Amiga models (very much like the pc-situation was at the time with panasonic non-ide interfaces etc). How come cd32 software titles don't run from cd-rom drives installed in an Amiga4000? How come a good games machine is actually an Amiga 500/600 and not the much more powerful Ax000 series?
I think the Amiga was just way ahead of it's time. It just peaked early - too early for a whole portion of the population that discovered computers a tad later. Mind you PC clones were a lot cheaper than Amiga's over here in the Netherlands. Also Atari ST was more affordable and seemed more uniform/compatible across the various TOS/Hardware incarnations - but I believe the latter is what hurt Atari too. AmigaOS/Workbench was way more advanced than the Apple OS at the time and the hardware was more powerful - what made Apple win in the end was the fact that there was more uniformity (perhaps even a little dull) and more compatibility - even across various hardware/OS versions.
The Amiga is a very special machine that easily could have been more powerful/influential than it actually has been. Don't underestimate the influence it had and actually still has on current computers.

At least here in North America, the Amiga was very competitive price-wise with PC clone systems. The ST series was usually cheaper, but it became a non-factor much quicker than the remaining competitive systems. Both the ST and Amiga should have done better over here, but for whatever reason, PC clones took off, partly due to being ubiquitous in businesses and partly due to the mass of clones versus single companies in Atari and Commodore. Again, I also believe that both systems, the ST and Amiga line, should have played up their compatibility with Mac and PC systems much more than they did. They should have also so four different configurations: basic ST/Amiga, advanced ST/Amiga, advanced ST/Amiga with PC compatibility, and advanced ST/Amiga with PC and Mac compatibility. That should have been the unified strategy for each for the lifetime of the products and been featured in all the advertising, and striving for $500, $1000, $1500 and $2000 price points for each respective system class.

Mark Vergeer wrote:

How different was the cd-32 from a playstation? Same basic concept, but the Amiga cd32 was more versatile albeit lacking in 3D power that the PSX had. It all comes down to timing and marketing. Don't flood the market with too many hardware incarnations with too large breaks in compatibility - Apple does seem to get away with that but all current and older hardware runs the same OS and software.

Well, the CD32 was too little too late. I was working at EB Games at the time during college and a poll was taken about whether to carry the system or not. I wanted it carried, but it turned out that the vast majority of managers chose not to. I think a few in Canada ended up carrying it, but overall, it wasn't even deemed worthy of shelf space, simply because the Amiga (software) was dead in the stores and Commodore wasn't deemed financially viable. There was something similar going on with the Jaguar, but that was at least given a chance. Of course, years earlier, Commodore tried something similar with the CDTV, which also didn't go anywhere, but that was as much due to price as it was anything else. It wasn't necessarily a bad idea to try and branch out, but you can't branch out if your company is not strong enough. Atari chose to throw everything behind the Jaguar, which was probably their only chance, but they were ignored by too many third party publishers (which is not surprising since their third party relationships were irreparably damaged from the 80's) and were never able to pick up momentum. Again, I think what both Commodore and Atari should have done as their respective last ditch efforts was to make one low end computer that was compatible with their latest and earliest standards and one high end computer that was also PC compatible and roll the dice with that. Both Atari and Commodore did produce solid PC clones, but again, it was too little, too late and not enough of the focus for the respective companies (and probably a bit confusing for potential customers). Perhaps the answer was for Atari and Commodore to team up together on a unified ST/Amiga/PC platform with three different models at $999, $1499 and $1999.

Mark Vergeer wrote:

The Sega Dreamcast failed for a large part due to timing and marketing flaws - like the Amiga it was a very special platform deserving more than it got.

I agree it was partly timing and partly marketing, but I think it was majoratively Sega's financial health at the time. They were so financially damaged by then that anything short of a multi-territory runaway success would have saved the company. As it was, they were much more successful in North America than they were in Japan, though of course it was Japan where the last few releases went to, even long after the system was dead (not counting homebrew releases). Peculiarities of the markets...



Wii: 1345 2773 2048 1586 | PS3: ArmchairArcade
Bill Loguidice, Managing Director | Armchair Arcade, Inc.

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