Saturday, August 27, 2016

Episode 57 - Alien Breed

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Thanks to our supporters: Paul Harrington, Laurent Giroud, Loggins, Jonas Rullo, Kolbjørn Barmen, Tapes From the Crypt,  Adam Bradley, Chris Foulds Will Williams Daniel Bengston, O’Brien’s Retro and Vintage, Chad Halstead, and Brent Doughty!

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Teen reacts to the Amiga 500

I’m not quite sure how old he is actually. He Looks like he’s in his late teens (despite the much older sounding voice) - certainly too young to have experienced the Amiga when it was current anyway, and that’s the point.

The title of his YouTube, hardware tear-down video, ‘Why Not To Buy An Amiga In 2016’, should give you a clue as to his verdict. To be fair to the system though, he’s bought an “untested, sold-as-seen” bit of vintage tech, and the battered example that arrived hardly does it justice.

Illustration for the purpose of deceptive exaggeration only, this isn't the Amiga in question.
Yes, I'm a dirty, rotten scoundrel and was probably a journalist (or politician) in another life.

We interrupt this transmission to inject a dollop of preachy advice...

I find that eBay sellers who describe retro consoles and computers as “untested”, tend to fall into one of several categories…

  • They regularly sell this type of hardware, have thoroughly tested it and found it to be completely knackered, but don’t want to admit it because it will inevitably slash the final sale price.
  • They honestly don’t know what state of functionality it’s in because they haven’t got the knowledge or equipment to put it through its paces.
  • They know how to check the system, yet don’t have the time or inclination to bother. Some people will genuinely be having a loft clear-out and just want to get shut of everything ASAP, or are selling gear on behalf of friends or family so the history of the items is vague. 

One way to help you decide if they’re on the level is by checking their sales history, or taking a look at the other items they have on offer to establish whether they’re a dealer or not. you were...

Ryan is a network administrator from Sheffield, and while he’s clued up about computers in general, he’s quite misinformed about the limitations and expandability of the Amiga 500. Also, it’s not clear what he’d like to do with it that he believes isn’t possible. How can you tell if a system needs upgrading at all if you’ve never even flicked its power button on before? An unpimped 500 with half a meg of RAM will play hundreds of classic games, and after all, that’s the ‘meat and potatoes’ of this base model, to use a colloquialism and confuse non-Brits in the process, sorry.

Nevertheless, we all make mistakes and he’s clearly got the bug now as he went on to have another dabble with an Amiga 1200, which he was much more enamoured by.

It’s certainly refreshing to see someone wanting to learn about the Amiga who appreciates its charm, yet has no nostalgic bias towards the platform. That’s rarer than hen’s teeth embedded in rocking horse dung… under the light of a blue moon.

Amigos Plays Ruff 'n Ready

And now for something completely different

David Pleasance is a man of many talents. Before, during and after functioning as a Commodore linchpin, his other life affirming, driving force has been his passion for music.

Beginning in the ‘70s he was drawn to Spanish flamenco guitar music and song-writing, became a professional musician and went on to perform around the globe alongside some major players in the industry.

Post-Commodore he set up his own recording studio - Tangent Music Design - and released ‘Everybody's Girlfriend’ (soon to be available as part of the FriendUP package), a homage to the spirit of the Amiga, and now champions new and aspiring artists to surf in his wake, to evoke his Aussie connections.

It was this fervour to seize upon untapped raw talent and celebrate it that led him to refocus his attention towards the management side of the music business. Hence today, he runs the Glasshouse Acoustic Sessions from his home town in Peterborough, where promising, unsigned bands and artists are encouraged to get in touch to springboard their careers.

Not that he has had to scout far and wide to strike gold. His own sons, Emile and Marcel, clearly share his capacity for hitting the right chord.

Marcel is a singer-songwriter, and plays a range of instruments, while Emile’s speciality is bass and the blues harp. With one successful band - the Cambridge-based, genre-morphing Deltaphonics - already under their belts, they wasted no time in surging ahead to embark on a fresh challenge.

The Satya Dub Orchestra is a five (sometimes six) piece dub, funk, Latin-tinged reggae band that also draws inspiration from soul, jazz, Afro-beat and Australia’s stripped back beach life ethos. Acoustic and organic, the emphasis is on heavy bass and truth, this being the translation of the Sanskrit word, satya.

The cream of the crop is their début single, 'Like Water’, and 'True to You’. Dub reggae has its roots in some pretty meaty, expansive ideologies (Jamaica's history of intra-racial terror, violence, and murder, and Afro-futurism, for instance), awareness of which lends the tracks an enveloping sense of gravitas. Simultaneously haunting and catchy, they conjure a polarising air of cognitive dissonance, albeit a pleasurably ironic one you'll be in no hurry from which to escape.

Meanwhile, touching down on planet earth with a thud, their inaugural track sounds to my layperson’s ears like it would dovetail neatly with the otherworldly aesthetics of the James Bond film, Live and Let Die. The one set on the fictitious Caribbean island, San Monique, in which Roger Moore vaults over alligators using their snouts as stepping stones, and tangles with the peccant Kananga who engenders a maleficent mythos surrounding the voodoo priest, Baron Samedi, to keep the locals away from his poppy-heroin crop.

It has an enigmatic, lugubrious vibe that lures you in with or without your blessing, much like 007 who is lulled into an esoteric, occult milieu he can't quite fathom, is alienated by, and yet at the same time finds himself bewitched and incapacitated.

Pretentious, clueless waffle aside, I had no idea of the true origins and semantics of the tracks so asked the song-writer himself to give me the low-down. Here's what Marcel had to say...
"Like Water: A song about learning to let go and being open and honest in your relationships, because the truth flows like water and water is always flowing and always finds a way through, no matter what you do to try to contain it."
"True to you: this is essentially a political song but the message is about learning to be your true self once again, and understanding that society is designed as a trap to control you by teaching you that as an individual you are not important, and that you should be a "cog in a machine". The lesson is to find out who you are and embrace your journey, because ultimately that is all that really matters and that is what will truly fulfil your life purpose."
If pop is more your genre, Marcel performs the most beautiful acoustic cover version I've ever heard of Al Green’s 1972 no. 1 hit, 'Let’s Stay Together'. You’ll find it 40 minutes and 30 seconds into the interview he conducted with Peterborough FM Radio's Brian Watson. While you may not visit the same dimension Marcel is transported to when he sings, you’ll certainly be moved.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Amigo Scour issue 4 out now!

In the words of Stuart Ashen, “are we still doing these?"

Yup, dusty vintage Amiga mags won't plunder themselves you know, so here’s my latest scrapbook, cold and dog-eared off the press.

Imagine having a fully-fledged coin-op cabinet in your living room, loaded with hundreds of arcade quality games, and all set to free play. It's no big deal today of course because we're spoilt for choice - we have fruity Pi oozing out of our ears and throwbacks to the original hardware can even be found in Argos. Blimmin’ diddly-darn-doodly Argos of all the mainstream, curmudgeonly outlets in the universe! (sorry for the strong language).

No, what I'm alluding to is possessing an arcade jukebox style cabinet way back in the early ‘90s when Joe & Mac and Bonk were whacking Diplosaurus with wooden clubs, and only that one bratty, over privileged kid in your school class had access to the internet at home. He's probably a professional pipe-smoking, tweed jacket-wearing toff these days… and I bet he shoots pheasants for sport.

In September 1990 this is precisely what Active Consoles unveiled to we the drooling proletariat at the European Computer Entertainment Show.

Mean Machines issue 1 (October 1990)
Their intriguing plan was to offer for sale the meaty arcade hardware on a ‘bring your own display’ basis for under £300. The ‘Powarcade’ cabinet was to feature a credit button in place of the usual coin slot, and a double joystick, coupled with a three button configuration assigned to each. They'd even convinced arcade machine stalwarts, Silverline, to take care of the manufacturing process to guarantee the quality would be top notch.

A limited range of games were initially intended to be made available for around £50 a piece, and delivered on interchangeable PCBs to be inserted into the system's Jamma slot. This opening volley it was hoped would eventually be followed by complete compatibility with any and every arcade game.

I know, I know, it has all the hallmarks of pie-in-the-sky wish fulfilment, yet Active did actually bring the product to market, and it was advertised in many of the mainstream gaming magazines at the time. Still, I don't know anyone who owned one and further information is extremely thin on the ground today.

Despite being a Newcastle fan, Colin Proudfoot, Commodore’s financial wizard and joint MD, arranged for the company to be Chelsea Football Club’s official sponsor in a multi-million pound deal that stretched from 1987 to 1994. For the first six years the players were running sandwich boards for Commodore, before the logo was supplanted by the Amiga branding in 1993.

That's Chelsea midfielder and captain, Dennis Wise, in the forefront should you be wondering

The arrangement was a bit of a double-edged sword by all accounts because the better Chelsea performed, the more Commodore would have to pay for the publicity. The base rate per year was £1m, whereas if Chelsea reached the FA Cup final or won the Premiership League, another £1m would be slapped on top of the bill. A place in the semi-final would cost £500,000, and even getting to the quarter-final would set Commodore back a cool £250,000.

The One issue 47 (August 1992)
In April 1994, the same month Commodore declared bankruptcy, Chelsea reached the FA Cup final for the first time in twenty-four years. Talk about adding insult to injury! It would have meant little consolation that they didn’t win.

To ensure Commodore could meet Chelsea’s demands, Colin would take out insurance to guard against the club’s success, though when the inevitable happened, the insurance premiums were hiked by an extortionate degree.

Bizarrely, Colin demonstrated that it was 40% cheaper to pay a syndicate of people around the country to place bets in Ladbrokes to achieve the same end! Apparently there are (or were?) companies who offer this service as a legitimate business venture. This was in the days prior to automated computer analysis that would have detected evidence of strategic gambling, and put the kibosh on the scheme.

Similarly, between 1984 and 1989 Commodore's Deutsche division sponsored Germany’s biggest football club, Bayern Munich, and also the Ukrainian football team, Dynamo Kiev in 1987.

Amiga Computing issue 57 (Febuary 1993)
Surely not paedophile, Chris Denning? The guy who has made prisons dotted around the globe his second home? He wouldn’t be my first choice as a spokesman for the Amiga!

In a moment of Madness (appropriately!), Gremlin intended to develop a Mega Drive/Amiga platform game based around the wacky English ska band fronted by Graham ‘Suggs’ McPherson. Perhaps not such a crazy idea in hindsight given that they were massively popular back in the ‘70s and ‘80s - they clocked up 15 top ten singles, one no. 1 in the UK and two in Ireland, and are still going strong today following a return from retirement. Motörhead had their own Amiga game, so why not?

The One issue 57 (June 1993)
That's not another new entry for my 'They sold a million' article in the last paragraph by any chance?

Unfortunately it was to be a bit of a cheap hack job using a modified version of the Harlequin game engine as its foundation. The protagonist would have been ‘Mr Smash’, a character based on the band’s trumpet player, Chas Smash. The original graphics were to be substituted for more theme-relevant sprites and environments, while the backing music would have consisted of Madness tracks, obviously.

Despite being previewed in issue 17 of Mean Machines Sega and Mega Force (I expect each magazine began life at the same time so had parallel issue numbers), the game originally intended for release in 1994, was flushed down the carsey never to be seen again on either of the proposed platforms. It's not known what went wrong exactly, and Suggs wasn't available for comment as he was stuck in the queue at Primark trying to buy a new pair of Baggy Trousers as we went to print.

Amiga Shopper issue 5 (Sept 1991)
The CDTV was a spectacularly misguided own-goal so it stands to reason that Guy Wright’s welcome disk would be a botched misfire too.

Amiga people are too wily for their own good, that's partly what sunk the ‘Commodore Dynamic Total Vision’ multimedia device, to use its full backronym. They recognised from the outset that it was little more than an A500 with a CD drive, in a sleek, jet-black wrapper… released at a time when the A570 CD add-on was right around the next corner.

Existing Amiga owners were content to wait, while new users baulked at the £499 price tag, and couldn't fathom what they'd do with it in any case.

Ironically, to its detriment, the CDTV was ahead of its time. The CD format was in its infancy and software developers were still trying to establish how to engage with it, which is why for a long time you'd see discs being released that used a fraction of the available capacity. Even when the CD32 emerged - the CDTV’s spiritual successor - the vast majority of games were tiny A1200 ports with no additional audio or FMV whatsoever… precisely what the system was designed to exploit.

Accidentally stuffing the CDTV's intro disc with embarrassing filler material was a novel way to redress the balance!

Amiga Shopper issue 4 (August 1991)
Never has the aphorism, 'it takes all sorts', been more apt. Did this guy really buy a magazine and then write to the editor to complain on account of it being full of words? Words no less! I hate the blighters too; they just sit there all po-faced expecting you to run your flagging peepers over them, interpreting their meaning as you go along. It's all such a chore. Yawn.

All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication. All white space and no text makes Amigo Scour an unprofessional publication.

There, that's fixed that problem.

Amiga Shopper issue 2 (June 1991)
Along similar lines, another reader writes in to moan about the number of adverts in Amiga Shopper! He/she sort of gets it, yet at the same time doesn't.

Amiga Shopper was intrinsically a hardware/software catalogue, sparingly interspersed with interesting articles, reviews and commentary. It was cheap for a reason!

This would be like saying, "Christianity is great and all that, but can we have less of the God-chat please?".

"Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum."

"But I must explain to you how all this mistaken idea of denouncing pleasure and praising pain was born and I will give you a complete account of the system, and expound the actual teachings of the great explorer of the truth, the master-builder of human happiness. No one rejects, dislikes, or avoids pleasure itself, because it is pleasure, but because those who do not know how to pursue pleasure rationally encounter consequences that are extremely painful. Nor again is there anyone who loves or pursues or desires to obtain pain of itself, because it is pain, but because occasionally circumstances occur in which toil and pain can procure him some great pleasure. To take a trivial example, which of us ever undertakes laborious physical exercise, except to obtain some advantage from it? But who has any right to find fault with a man who chooses to enjoy a pleasure that has no annoying consequences, or one who avoids a pain that produces no resultant pleasure?"

"Far far away, behind the word mountains, far from the countries Vokalia and Consonantia, there live the blind texts. Separated they live in Bookmarksgrove right at the coast of the Semantics, a large language ocean. A small river named Duden flows by their place and supplies it with the necessary regelialia. It is a paradisematic country, in which roasted parts of sentences fly into your mouth. Even the all-powerful Pointing has no control about the blind texts it is an almost unorthographic life. One day however a small line of blind text by the name of Lorem Ipsum decided to leave for the far World of Grammar. The Big Oxmox advised her not to do so, because there were thousands of bad Commas, wild Question Marks and devious Semikoli, but the Little Blind Text didn’t listen."

Who are you calling a dummy?

If this ad was published today anywhere other than in Country Life you'd naturally assume it was meant to be an ironic, wry swipe at the smug, over privileged arrogance of toffy-nosed aristocrats.

The One issue 9 (June 1989)
Back then, however, dodgy, awkward advertising occasionally slipped through the focus group's ridicule-fodder detectors. I think I've stumbled across a prime example here. Have you ever seen anyone smoking a pipe who isn't 127 years old, or starring in a Lord of the Rings movie? (or that kid in your school class who got online way before everyone else!).

Of course the two models in the photo shoot would surely have had plastic surgery and been issued with new names by now so we can't ask them what on earth they (and the ad agency) were smoking at the time.

Despite the pompous hyperbole, MicroStatus (a division of MicroProse) released just one more title for the Amiga, Driller. All three fall into the 3D virtual world, action adventure category. I heard on the grapevine that Monty Burns liked the cut of their jib.

The One issue 7 (April 1989)
You'd assume Gilbert was another ‘Game That Wasn't’, wouldn't you? If so, you'd be dead wrong. Somehow it happened, it's real, it occupies space in our very own plane of existence, as did the kids’ TV show the character emanates from.

‘Get Fresh’ ran for five series between 1986 and 1988 and was shown on the CITV network.

It was hosted by none other than Violet Berlin's hubby, Gaz Top, and Adrian Mole initially. Gilbert the Alien, voiced by DJ Dave Clifton of Alan Partridge fame, replaced Adrian for the second and third series… which must have worked wonders for his self-esteem I'm sure!

Get Fresh is perhaps more notable, however - to the Amiga community at least - for unfurling The Bitmap Brother's Xenon as a blindfolded phone-in game.

Remember that bit in IK+ where Chuck Norris kicks the spit out of Jean-Claude Van Damme while Steven Seagal pulls off his best shell-shocked, thousand yard 'nam vet stare? I've seen things maaaan. Things you wouldn't believe.

The One issue 3 (December 1988)
When the Boogeyman goes to sleep every night, he checks under the bed for Chuck Norris.

Box art piracy on the high seas at its finest!

Amiga Computing 111 (April 1997)

Gateway 2000 might have taken issue with that...

...but then, “there's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Elvis...”

BBC Radio 1 DJ, Jakki Brambles, was such a vocal advocate for the Amiga she was offered a regular news column writing on behalf of a mail order hardware/software retailer known as INDI Direct Mail. Curiously, on a number of occasions she managed to snag a Commodore scoop before the major Amiga magazines had wiped the sebum from their weary eyes, leading them to wonder, who the hell is Jakki Brambles?

Amiga Computing issue 66 (November 1993)

Whilst broadcasting to the nation she would spoil recent Amiga games by supplying cheats and tips, or revealing how they conclude, much to the chagrin of gamers who hadn't yet played them. Booo, hissss!

The One issue 47 (August 1992)

Amiga Computing issue 49 (June 1992)
The AmigaDrive was indeed a hoax, one which appears to have arisen from an April fool's joke printed in C&VG magazine, only there it was announced as a way to dump Amiga games onto custom cartridges to be played on the Mega Drive. A case of Chinese whispers I suspect.

If it had been true I'm sure plenty of people would have bought one despite the inflated cost. Invest now and make your savings on the duplicated games would be the mantra, as it was with the Amiga itself sadly.

Anyway, I wonder why April's fool jokes aren't spread more evenly throughout the year to better disguise them.

Hmmm, another one of life's great mysteries...

Light guns were mostly an 8-bit Nintendo craze that failed to set the Amiga world ablaze. By 1994, the manufacturers couldn't give them away. I've written a lengthy article on the subject elsewhere which explains why. They're now super-mega-rare and sell for silly money on eBay, despite not being compatible with modern TVs or monitors.

CU Amiga issue 55 (September 1994)

The One issue 57 (June 1993)
Sometimes things seem like a good idea at the time. On other occasions you know instantly they should never have been allowed to spring free from the drawing board. Meet the Barcode Battler.

Released in March 1991, it was marketed alongside genuine handheld gaming devices such as the Lynx and Game Gear, and looked similar enough to fool your gran on a spontaneous birthday gift shopping spree, yet crucially lacked sound, graphics, game-play, fun and a plausible reason to exist.

I suppose it was a bit like a Tamagotchi except you'd swipe barcodes through the built-in reader to create and level up your characters, who would then be pitted against your friends’ 'pets’... for some reason.

It bombed in the UK, yet was enthusiastically embraced by the Japanese, presumably because in the year of release the country had been hit by a nuclear blast and the fallout rendered the entire nation incapable of rational thought.

Amiga Computing issue 70 (February 1994)
I'd say it's a fair cop guv; that's totally despicable behaviour, though I'd have gone a step further and had her flogged to be honest. She brought it on herself... obviously.

White space, and white space, and white space,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death. Out, out, white space!
Life's but a walking shadow, a poor player,
That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,
And then is heard no more. It is a tale
Told by an idiot blogger, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

David Pleasance reveals Steve's fate in a 2015 video interview with Dan Wood. I won't repeat what he said here while the man is still alive in case I get sued. Not that I doubt its veracity.

If I leave some random, dissociated words down here, don't assume they are relevant to the story.

Conflict of interests, companies act, contravention, failure to declare.

Amiga Computing issue 52 (September 1992)
Sounds like it would be a kiddy-corrupting Bad Influence to me.

No good can possibly come of it I tell you! Batten down the hatches before it's too late slimy furtlers!

The VHS video 'magazine’ that was the basis of my Amigos Podcast Christmas memories submission. If I said it was a must-see… I'd be lying, but go and watch it anyway. You'll have the time of your life, if you've lead a very sheltered one.

The One issue 42 (March 1992)

Lobo never graced our beloved Miggy with its own version, but did eventually emerge as an unofficial, leaked prototype for the Mega Drive in 2009, and SNES in 2014.

The One issue 52 (January 1993)

Before the project was cancelled, it was originally intended for release in winter 1996 where the 16-bit consoles were concerned, by which time they were beginning to look a bit long in the tooth to be economically viable. Today you can buy a dodgy copy on a repro cartridge for that authentic retro kick...

Goodbye grey sky, hello blue,
there's nothing can hold me when I hold you.
feels so right you can't be wrong,
rockin' and rollin' all week long.

As always, I've been me, you've been you, and this was the latest issue of Amigo Scour... no relation at all to that other mag that sounds a bit similar, natch. Until next time, thank you, come again!

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Episode 56 - The Hound of Shadow

Download Mp3 (right-click and Save As)

Watch the podcast!

I kinda forgot to hit record on the playthrough this week. But seriously, you didn't miss much. Aaron says he's going to do a full playthrough on his own. Bug him about it on Google Plus!

A big thank you for O'Brien's Retro and Vintage for giving us the physical copy of this game!

Thanks to our supporters: Paul Harrington, Laurent Giroud, Loggins, Jonas Rullo, Kolbjørn Barmen, Tapes From the Crypt,  Adam Bradley Chris Foulds Will Williams Daniel Bengston, O’Brien’s Retro and Vintage, Chad Halstead, and Brent Doughty!

Support Amigos on Patreon!