Amiga Mia

Q: I've been hearing that the beloved computer of my youth, the Commodore Amiga, is making a comeback. Seems like these rumors have made the rounds before. Any reason I should get my hopes up this time?

The Amiga is, indeed, rising phoenix-like from the ashes of computer history, though you can forget about the "Commodore" half of the equation. When the onetime king of budget PCs went kaput in 1994, its Amiga subdivision managed to survive the bankruptcy. Several incarnations later, the mini-company is finally on the verge of making a splash. Beta testing's just about finished on a new Amiga operating system, which will be much coveted by über-geeks and video editors alike. If neither label fits, however, fear not—the Amiga platform's also being shoehorned into PDAs and cell phones.

For millions of diehards, the Amiga craze never went away. About 300 user groups thrive on university campuses, particularly in Britain, where the machine's four-channel stereo sound and 4096-color screen were especially adored during the Thatcher era. On these shores, the Amiga's multimedia prowess is legendary among TV gearheads, especially those infatuated with creating low-cost 3-D effects. Editors at Disney and Warner Bros. still lovingly tend to their 15-year-old machines, which made possible the creation of such cutting-edge schlock as Max Headroom.

Rabid fans do not a success make, however. The Commodore brain trust of the late 1980s was filled with clueless salarymen who'd been promoted one notch too high, and had about as much business tangling with Microsoft as Mr. Roboto has playing first-chair viola for the Royal Philharmonic. They were slow to encourage third-party software and abysmal at consumer education; Joe Sixpack never understood why he should spend $1500 to enjoy such Amiga benefits as "pre-emptive multitasking" and "specialized co-processors." For that sort of scratch, you could just as easily buy a monochrome Apple Macintosh, star of those cool anti-IBM Super Bowl commercials.

After stints under the aegis of Escom A.G. and Gateway, Amiga Inc. re-emerged as an independent start-up in early 2000. The new company is focused on software exclusively, especially the upcoming Amiga OS 4.0. But it has signed partnerships with hardware vendors to build Amiga boxes; Britain's Eyetech (eyetech.co.uk), for example, has been shipping the $500 AmigaOne since March. Don't be dusting off your Amiga floppies just yet, though—the AmigaOne is mainly just a motherboard for developers. If you lack the chops to build your own PC, Mr. Roboto recommends steering clear for now.

Owners of handhelds running the Pocket PC platform needn't wait to revisit Amiga's colorful heyday. The Amiga Anywhere Entertainment Pack #1 has been available since April at amiga-anywhere.com, so now's your chance to play "Planet Zed" on your cellie. Handheld designers dig the Amiga OS because it provides rich graphics without hogging memory, so expect to see more releases as the Japanese passion for mobile gaming spreads stateside.

Can't live another moment without joining the Amiga renaissance? Your best bet is to download an Amiga emulator, which'll let your current machine mimic the look and feel of Commodore's albatross. Mr. Roboto recommends WinUAE or MacUAE, depending on your OS persuasion; reliable download sites for each are just a Google away. Both emulators are a bit buggy, but if you're jonesing for Amiga's take on Deluxe Galaga, you're going to have to deal.

The feeling here is that Amiga's never going to cause too many sleepless nights at Microsoft or Apple. Still, you've got to admire the company's nostalgia trip. The Amiga's back, L.L. Cool J's on the charts, the threat of nuclear annihilation looms large—it's as if Mr. Roboto's '80s childhood never ended. Sigh.


Speaking of the neon decade, word is that a big-screen version of Pac-Man is finally in the works. According to The Hollywood Reporter, it's going to be a live-action take on the yellow orb's quest for dots. No casting decisions have yet been made, though Mr. Roboto can definitely see Willem Dafoe as either Inky or Blinky. Given the track record of game-inspired flicks, which include such famous duds as Super Mario Bros., hopes here aren't high. Wouldn't Donkey Kong have made more sense?


Input questions at bkoerner@villagevoice.com.

 
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