AMIGA CD 34 one of the most derided Amigas of all time

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Amiga CD 32

Although it launched in 1993, the story of the Amiga CD32 really begins in the late Eighties when Commodore dominated the home computer hardware market with both the Commodore 64 and the Amiga 500 but was well aware that it had only cornered one half of the industry. its computers were primarily business machines, albeit with massive gaming potential, with high prices that only the wealthiest families could afford. Consequently, console manufacturers had taken the opposite approach by pricing hardware as low as possible and making profit on the games themselves. The space beneath the family TV set was increasingly taken up by a dedicated games console and Commodore knew that it had to come up with something similar in order to compete. Furthermore, the respective storage mediums of the cassette tape and the floppy disk did nothing to facilitate profit for Commodore themselves; the standard storage devices were easy to come by, so Commodore could not enforce licensing fees and, worse still, piracy of such software was incredibly easy, even for the home user.

Two attempts to break into the console market soon followed, with the Amiga CDTV, an Amiga 500 powered set top box, and the cartridge-based Commodore 64GS, but neither had the desired impact. The C64GS quickly died out due to its underpowered hardware and lack of games, whilst the CDTV passed by unnoticed thanks to its (699 price tag and the fact that nobody really knew how to best make use of the fledgling CD-ROM format. Still, Commodore soldiered on with the console idea, eventually settling on the CD32, a piece of hardware that, at the very least, had the potential to get Commodore into that coveted spot underneath the TV once again. Having learnt from its past mistakes with the CDTV and C64GS, the CD32 got a number of things right straight away. The chipset inside the box was based on the Amiga 1200, which had been released in the previous year, meaning that software would look bang up to date.

The graphically impressive Bump ‘N’ Burn made good use of CD32’s Akiko chip.

the time, good controllers were judged by how many buttons they had, and with six action buttons to its name, the CD32 pad did not disappoint. Finally, the CD-ROM medium had now been around
for a few more years, giving consumers, developers, and publishers the opportunity to get to grips with the format’s strengths and weaknesses whilst, fortunately for Commodore, the technology had not reached the point where software could easily be pirated.
As for the internal architecture itself, the CD32 was almost exactly the same as an Amiga 1200 except with the keyboard removed and the floppy drive replaced with a CD-ROM drive. A less obvious addition, however, was the addition of the Akiko chip to the 1200’s custom chipset. To this day, the full capabilities of Akiko remain a mystery to all but the most tech-savvy, but we do know that its main purpose was to perform “Chunky to Planar” conversions on the hardware rather than waste valuable processor time. in plain English, this means that 3D games would run much quicker on the CD32 than they would on an unexpanded A 1200, and with several Room clones just around the corner this would prove to be a usefully pre­emptive addition.

The CD-ROM drive itself, was designed to transfer data from disk at 300k per second, an abysmally slow speed by today’s standards, but twice as fast as earlier CD-based hardware like the Fujitsu FM Towns and Commodore’s own CDTV. More importantly, of course, the medium was much faster than floppy disks and would eliminate the pesky problem of disk-swapping that plagued fans of adventure games, which often took up more than ten floppies. The loss of a writeable format was countered with the inclusion of internal flash memory, which could be used to save game data, much as Sega’s Saturn would the following year.
Externally the CD32 seemed like any other simple games console, but there were hidden depths. As well as the usual ports and sockets associated with such hardware, the CD32 featured an S-Video socket for improved picture quality that far exceeded the standard RF output of both the SNES and Mega Drive, whilst the two nine-pin joypad ports allowed any Amiga compatible controller to be plugged into the machine, meaning that mouse-driven games like Cannon Fodder and Sim City could be played Just as they were meant to. Best of all, however, the back of the console featured a full expansion bay, which allowed for the attachment of an FMV module to play Video CDs (and even some of the Phillips CDi’s videos) and, much more excitingly, the bay could be used in conjunction with a planned expansion card that would turn the CD32 into a fully functioning A1200, complete with disk drive ports, printer ports, extra RAM, faster processors, and even a hard drive. An auxiliary port allowed for an Amiga 4000 keyboard to be plugged in, thus completing the CD32’s potential to function as an Amiga computer.

Special issues of CD32 Garner came with an entire free game.

ln September 1993, the CD32 launched. As had become tradition with Amiga hardware, the console had limited appeal in its home country of America, but received a much warmer reception in Europe, most notably in Germany and the UK, where Commodore U K supported the console with a fierce marketing campaign. ln the time-honoured Commodore tradition, a celebrity was roped in to endorse the console with “popular” TV presenter Chris Evans lending his visage to CD32 promos, just as William Shatner had endorsed the Vic 20 over a decade earlier. More aggressively, however, Commodore UK went straight for the throat of the Japanese console giants. A huge billboard advertisement was erected just outside Sega’s U K headquarters and read “To be this good would take Sega ages”, whilst Commodore U K’s boss, David Pleasance, took every opportunity to remind consumers that to buy into the CD32’s nearest

But what of the games? Sadly the CD32 was initially bombarded with ports of regular Amiga games, which was undoubtedly bad news for existing Amiga owners – but for the thousands of people whose only Amiga was a CD32, it wasn’t all bad. Sure, many of the games that were ported directly from the A500 failed to take advantage of the new hardware, but then with games as good as Speedball 2 and Superfrog, there was little reason to complain.
There were plenty of games that did take advantage of the CD32 though. Unfortunately, some were merely misdirected attempts to exploit the CD medium but, equally, there were original games that

But what of the games? Sadly the CD32 was initially bombarded with ports of regular Amiga games, which was undoubtedly bad news for existing Amiga owners – but for the thousands of people whose only Amiga was a CD32, it wasn’t all bad. Sure, many of the games that were ported directly from the A500 failed to take advantage of the new hardware, but then with games as good as Speedball 2 and Superfrog, there was little reason to complain.
There were plenty of games that did take advantage of the CD32 though. Unfortunately, some were merely misdirected attempts to exploit the CD medium but, equally, there were original games that

Simon The Sorcerer. one of the best reasons to buy a CD32.

rival, the Mega CD, required them to buy a Mega Drive for it to work and would therefore cost far in excess of the CD32’s price tag.
Somehow, Commodore UK’s brutal tactics worked … to a degree. Though the CD32 did little to dent the armour of the SNES and Mega Drive, it was a relative success in the booming CD arena. Conventional wisdom dictates that the CD32 was a complete failure, but the truth is that in 1993, sales of CD32 software far exceeded those of any other CD-ROM medium, including the Mega CD and even PC-CD. Why? Weil, price was an important factor. Mega CD games cost between £40 and £50 each, whilst PC-CD ROM games were much more expensive, reaching as high as £70 in the case
of Virgin’s The 7th Guest. CD32 titles on the other hand compared favourably with their floppy counterparts. The most expensive games were released at only £29.99 while some came in much lower or added value by compiling more than one game onto a disk and even adding playable demos, as was the case with Team 17’s hugely popular double packs.

made the CD32 worth owning and even ports of existing Amiga games that used the new hardware to improve on the original.
Of those ports, nearly every game featured a CD-Audio soundtrack or animated intro, whilst a few others were boosted with extra levels, characters, or something even better. Sadly, the launch software couldn’t be counted amongst those that added anything new. The laughably poor Oscar was a terrible platform game, directly ported from the A1200, while the far more interesting Diggers was a good Lemmings-style puzzle game that, though very playable, hardly wowed prospective buyers. Aside from both games cohabiting the same CD, neither took advantage of the CD32’s true potential. The first game to really do that came from Team 17 in the shape
of Ultimate Body Blows. By combining characters from the original Body Blows and Body Blows Galactic, an epic roster of fighters was created that just would not have been possible on floppy disk. Several more expanded Amiga games soon followed: Team 17 struck again by releasing a double pack of Alien Breed Il and Alien Breed Tower

Assault, which was most notable for the specially filmed FMV intro that featured Team 17 staff spreading their Yorkshire accents deep into the far reaches of outer-space. Codemasters took the easy route by using the massive storage space of the CD to bundle six Dizzy adventures together on a disk. Titled The Big 6, it was a cheap way of getting a title out, but the excellence of the Dizzy games made it an essential release. The CD32 version of Worms made more interesting use of the format: it allowed you to flip up the lid and pop in your own audio CDs, thereby allowing custom soundtracks eight years before the Xbox did.
Sound was, in fact, the one aspect of the CD medium that CD32 developers most made full use of; while most just included a musical score, some were daring enough to attempt CD speech. Liberation was one of the first; the voice acting wasn’t great, but is fondly remembered for such classic (read: hideously embarrassing) lines as “Hey you, you wanna buy an animal? A real stuffed animal?”. The aim was to create an immersive and realistic world, but was undone by the cheesy lines and soon became a parody of itself.

Above: The FMV Module allowed Video CDs to be played, but was overpriced at £199: Commodore’s proposed CD1200 would have allowed the Amiga 1200 to play CD32 games, but was never released.

Adventure designers fared much better and, as history has proven, found that CD-speech and graphic adventures fitted together perfectly. Bath arriving in 1994, Beneath A Steel Sky and Simon The Sorcerer broke new ground and shaped the way all adventure games are created today. instead of having to read a line of dialogue that floated above the character’s head, the speech would jump out of the TV set and into the gamer’s world. When done well it brought added characterisation to everyone you met and allowed the listener to understand situations in a clearer way than was possible with text. Speech allowed characters to sound like they might be lying or to show if they sympathised with the main protagonist or even if they were a possible danger. Beneath A Steel Sky far outstripped its floppy counterpart with a full-speech track voiced by members of the Royal Shakespeare Company, whilst the opening sequence featured a hand-drawn comic-style intro, exclusive to the CD. Simon The Sorcerer’s production quality was similarly high: comedian Chris Barrie voiced Simon to an excellent standard, dropping his trademark wit and cynicism into every remark. The supporting cast did their best to match Barrie’s excellent performance and ensured that the end product stood the test of time. Simon The Sorcerer stands out to this very day for its voice acting as well as its devilish puzzles, humorous plot, and outstanding hand-drawn backgrounds.
Another voice-fuelled adventure game did appear on the CD32 but was, disappointingly, only available in Germany. inherit The Earth introduced the player to a future Earth where humans had become extinct, and animals roamed the land on two feet and worshipped the long-dead humans as gods. As you may have already guessed, the voice acting was all in German so it is difficult to tell if it was any good. A text-only, English version did appear on the Amiga and PC though, and is well worth checking out.
As well as the aforementioned conversions there were some CD32 exclusives. First up was Bump ‘N’ Burn, a cutesy cartoon racer by Grandslam. Though it failed to better Mario Kart’s gameplay it did have a few graphical tricks up its sleeve that showed how the CD32 could have competed with the other consoles if it had been pushed properly. For a start, the game ran in full-screen rather than the split­screen that MK players were used to. Secondly, it made great use of the Akiko chip to generate a track that climbed uphill, rolled down, and banked at the corners. Finally, each race was preceded by a Wacky Races style introduction commentary in full CD audio.

Amiga CD 32

Another CD-exclusive title that wowed Amiga owners was Psygnosis’ Misadventures Of Flink. Most Amiga platform games paled in comparison to those on the SNES and Mega Drive, but Flink was refreshingly different. Graphically it soared well above the usual standard, with gorgeously colourful levels and screen-filling monsters; it used Akiko to generate sprite scaling and rotation effects and even had an unprecedented 60Hz mode!
There were certainly a few games that showed off the potential of commodore’s latest machine, but there were still signs that some developers didn’t yet understand where the true capabilities of the medium lied. Despite creating magic with Flink, Psygnosis was one such developer to misjudge the CD format so dramatically. With its first CD32 game, Microcosm, the developer created a 3D shooter that used 34o/o of the CD for music and 62o/o for pre-rendered graphics, leaving only 4°/o for the actual game, which some might say they forgot to add at all. Still, Microcosm was something of an oddity on the CD32, which had far fewer FMV-driven games than on other formats, like the Mega CD for example.
With its promising start, towards the end of 1993, it looked as if the CD32 might actually develop into Commodore’s first decent console. After all, the ability to easily port Amiga software across meant that they had the support of the developers, and the fair prices and general quality of the games meant that consumers favoured the console over its direct competitors; however, the CD32’s future was already doomed.

Sixth Sense Investigations was the last known CD32 game to be released in 1998.

Commodore was falling apart at the seams, having milked profits dry and developed far too many hardware variations in a short space of time, and it was slowly becoming obvious to the public. Commodore Australia had already shut down, months earlier, and Commodore USA was next. Only seven months after the CD32’s launch, Commodore’s main office closed its doors for the last time. Commodore UK struggled on for a while, and even tried to buy the whole company at one point, but it was not to be. Commodore was dead and although the rights to both the Commodore name and the Amiga would be sold from company to company over the next three years, it became apparent that the brand would not return, Developers continued to produce new CD32 games long after April 1994, however. No doubt encouraged by the Amiga’s massive user base and the fact that third-party manufacturers had developed CD32 compatible CD-ROM drives for the A1200/A4000, the CD32 didn’t truly find its best software until long after Commodore had perished. Great games like Worms, Gloom, and Alien Breed 30 all made their CD32 debut in 1995 and beyond.
Even if Commodore hadn’t passed on, however, it’s doubtful
that CD32 support would have lasted much longer than it did. By 1997, far superior consoles like the PlayStation and N64 were doing so much more than the CD32, essentially a product of the 2D era, could ever hope to achieve. There’s no doubting that the console was a moderate success though and, had Commodore survived,
it’s possible that they would have built on that success to create the CD64 or CD128. Who knows where the Amiga CD might be today?
Yet, in many ways, the CD32 did live on. Amiga fans may have preferred the A1200 or A4000 back in ’93, but with many having moved on to the PC (or Mac) since then, there’s little room left on the desk for a second computer. lt’s the CD32, however, that retro Amiga lovers are increasingly turning to for their slice of Blitter-fuelled nostalgia. The compact design of the console and the speed and ease-of-use of the CD games make the CD32 the most convenient, hassle-free way to enjoy an old Amiga game. Sure, not all of the Amiga’s games were ported across, but most of the best ones were and plenty were graced with enough significant improvements to make the console worthwhile. What’s more, if you have an old Amiga game lying around, that wasn’t available on CD, there are ways to
get it to play (see boxout).

A 6-page CD32 supplement given away free with Amiga Format in September 1993.

ln short, the CD32 may not have been the best model of Amiga ever made, but it was certainly the most interesting and seemed to point the way for a possible bright future for the Amiga format before Commodore kicked the bucket and left us with what is essentially a more accessible Amiga 1200, with a couple of exclusive games, but one that’s nowhere near as bad as some like to make out.

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