Reviews// From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years

Posted 11 Jul 2016 12:00 by
I should probably start with a confession. I never owned an Amiga. Sure, I've played Amiga games, but I never really felt that I wanted to own one.

I first became aware of it in the early 90's when they put out that brilliant advert for the Amiga 500 featuring Zoe's 'Sunshine On A Rainy Day'. The 399 price point was way out of my league and I was pretty happy with the SEGA Master System 2 I had won in a Kellogg's Rice Krispies competition. Only the 'rich kids' at my primary school owned the Amiga and later, in secondary school, only the kids who couldn't afford a new PC. I was well aware of the cult following the machine had, but I could never really figure out why, beyond the fact that games could be pirated easily, compared with the rather more expensive MegaDrive cartridges that I owned. I really missed out on something special, this has become very apparent, thanks to From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years.

The Amiga Years, is the sequel to the original From Bedrooms to Billions and charts the rise of the Amiga from its difficult inception as bargaining chip between arch rivals Atari and Commodore, to its years of success as a truly ground-breaking and innovative machine that began the careers of many videogame developers.

The film is a welcome addition to the growing number of computer game documentary series that are now available and fills in a gap that is often ignored. For many, including myself, gaming in the 90's was all about SEGA and Nintendo. The Amiga Years provides a counterpoint to that narrative, by detailing how the Amiga was not only relevant during the early 90's but also laid the groundwork for what would eventually become the 32-bit era.

The film absolutely made me wish that I had been a part of the Amiga scene, something that previously I had rather dismissed. The original Amiga team are interviewed at length and the passion they clearly still have for the project is infectious. Prior to watching the film, I had no idea how many of my favourite developers had begun their careers working on the Amiga and how developing on the machine had shaped their later work. The presence of so many British developers is also welcome, again providing a counterpoint to the usual Japanese/American focus of most documentaries of the era.

This is a film that celebrates everything Amiga, it is relentlessly positive. Consequently, it fails to mention some of the more troubling periods that the Amiga went through, not least the eventual collapse of the company. This was caused by a number of terrible business decisions that ended with the company sliding into irrelevancy and eventual bankruptcy.

More detail regarding the launch of the CD32 and the various Amiga versions would have been welcome, perhaps with some insight as to why they failed to capture the market in quite the same way in which the original machine did. Cheap PCs most certainly had a hand in the death of the Amiga market, but there are many other interesting factors that could have been covered.

To be honest, I would have liked to have seen more about Jack Tramiel and his role. Not that his relationship with the Amiga isn't covered in-depth, I just find him fascinating and would like to have learned more. Despite the slight lack of balance, The Amiga Years acts as a showcase of why the Amiga was important and expertly details why it deserves to not only be remembered, but also revered.

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