The ex-girlfriend returns...
Original hardware is a fantastic thing, there's a real sense of memory connection to playing retro games the way they were supposed to be played with proper media on actual systems.
See the thing is that emulation is also amazing as it allows visuals to be upgraded to modern standards whilst keeping the fundementals of the game pure and true.
So what happens when the best of both worlds colide? This is where the Portal section aims to answer those burning questions. Over to Olly023 to show you something cool.
Sometimes it's nice to play with your floppy!
It is probably rather obvious by now that myself (Olly023) and Megatrons_Fury have huge adoration for the Commodore Amiga (check out the Amiga's history page while your at it, written by me...standard), for it was home for some of the greatest video games of the glorious 16-bit era. When Megs caught wind of the Armiga Project, we knew we had to get an interview. After all, anyone willing to do their utmost to bring the undisputed king of microcomputers back from the dead in a beautiful new form are folk right up our alley.
The following interview with the guys behind the Armiga project, we discuss the history of the project itself, relish in some true retro love and chat about some of our collective favourite things about the legendary Amiga 500. So put on some B-52's, shake the dust off those floppies and prepare to get your read on...
Re-Inventing the wheel, retro style!
RGG: Hello there, would you like to introduce yourself for the readers of RetroGameGeeks?
Armiga: Hi. First of all, thanks for the interest of RetroGameGeeks on our Armiga Project. We are two engineers (Igor Modino and Luis Guirado) with a crazy idea and project. We are from Spain and we live in the Canary Islands.
RGG: First of all, let's talk about what you guys are seeking to bring to the table (or more literally: the retail market) with the Armiga and just why retrobates will love it?
Armiga: We are trying to bring back the Amiga 500 in the shape of a plug and play device which is a mix between the retro world and the new technologies. It is aimed at retrogamers and people who want to recall the feelings of the old games.
RGG: There's been many a clone console over the years and the increase of smaller Android-based console set-ups are a recurring thing, the RetroN 5 for example merging that world together of retro emulation with HDMI output - what truly makes the Armiga stand out from the pack?
Armiga: We share the same basic idea with Retron5, but they are focused in cartridge systems, while we are mainly focused on floppy systems. Our main target is the Amiga 500, which Retron5 does not support. The problem with the Amiga is that it’s quite hard to emulate and disks are not easier to read, so it’s not a “weekend project” to do this.
The base we have set during the Armiga development lets us easily support other systems and Atari ST, NeoGeo and MegaDrive are currently being tested. This last system is the only one shared between Retron5 and Armiga. As far as we know, however, there is no system that does what Armiga does. Of course we have PC emulators and FPGA systems too. There’s the Kryoflux for reading the disks…, but there’s no system that works as a whole and much less, that’s truly plug and play.
RGG: Undoubtedly, the current design of the Armiga strikes nostalgia while retaining a somewhat modern feel, with its lovely Commodore-esque beige colour and font choices especially - how much work did it take to complete the physical design?
Armiga: It’s really hard to quantify the time and effort involved in each of the Armiga aspects. However, from the very beginning we had 3 main design objectives: make it stylish, make it modern and make it resemble the original Amiga. We tried different patterns, orientations, sizes… It was a constantly evolving process as we were also designing the circuits and both had to fit together like a glove.
From the very first hand sketches, we moved to the CAD systems, polished it there and then did many 3D-printing tests, until everything was just perfect. It’s quite amazing how every piece of the hardware fits so well in the design.
RGG: You have stated the Armiga is good to go with Kickstart 1.3, so for the folk unawares of that systems particular importance, care to elaborate on your choice of Kickstart?
Armiga: Kickstart 1.3 is the Amiga 500 bootloader and, as that’s our main target, that had to be the choice.
Some people suggested we could go for a more modern version, like 3.1, but for us compatibility is a must and we all now modern versions bring issues in that area. Even the Amiga500+ was not 100% compatible with the 500. In addition, the hand with the disk from version 1.3 is a real icon :)
Sweet ride, what's under the hood?
RGG: Speaking of Kickstart 1.3, how'd you officially go about nabbin' the rights for legalness?
Armiga: We contacted Amiga Forever, which owns the rights for Kickstart 1.3, so a fully legal copy of Kickstart 1.3 is provided with every Armiga. We want to remember that Kickstart is copyrighted and can only be used or distributed under license.
RGG: The Armiga Project has a clear intent to re-establish use of old Amiga floppy disks, but why the Amiga 500 (with 1MB RAM) specifically? Is it for ease, or simply due to the iconic nature of the original machine?
Armiga: As you say, mainly due to its iconic nature. But also because the Amiga 500 was the best selling Amiga, so it represents the broader market. In fact, most people consider it was actually the starting point for the 16 bits era, together with the Atari ST.
In addition, we both had the Amiga 500 (one is still “alive”, btw) and it’s a system tightly bounded to our childhood :D.
RGG: Talk to us about all that glorious tech-spec, go in as much geeky detail as possible: I do love it, after all!!! Let's hear how that tasty Raspberry Pi has helped conjure some retro magic?
Armiga: People have talked a lot about this and some say it’s just a Pi with an emulator. Before entering the tech details, we want to make it clear what we are offering is not the specs, but a experience; the chance to play your disks back with the best AV quality, using modern gear and in a form factor that looks nice beside your living room TV. Tech specs have come after this and not the other way around ;)
Having said that, it took us quite some time to design our custom FDD controller. We finally decided to go for a powerful 32-bit controller on top of which we developed our fully custom algorithm, both for reading the disk and for transferring the digital image, which is currently done at 1Mbps.
The Pi came when it was the time for a first prototype. We decided to develop the first prototype with this board because of its broad availability, great community and documentation. On top of the Pi we ran a custom UAE version, more precisely, based on UAE4All (the original, not the versions for Android, for example, which vary in quality). As you may well know, there’s no ARM version of UAE that runs smoothly, so it was quite a mission to do it right. Processor specific and VideoCore optimizations were key for performance; however, we kept investigating alternatives and found some nice pieces of hardware around.
Right now, our second prototype uses a DualCore Cortex-A7 1Ghz. CPU, with a Mali MP2, DualCore GPU, with OpenGL ES 2.0 support, which the Pi lacked and 1GB of RAM. In a nutshell, just the CPU raw power in this new system is 4x what we got in the Pi… and we are not even talking about OpenGL here. This second prototype has allowed us to bring Symetric MultiProcessing (SMP) into UAE, sandboxing the emulation side from the rendering side. Right now we have to limit the frame rate; otherwise (unleashed mode, as we call it ;D) it climbs to more than 200fps, making games unplayable. We are talking here about HD 720p rendering, with upscaling and filters applied. The sound side is also “pumped up” and the output is 16bit 44.1Khz, in stereo format.
There’s nothing much to say about the system, but that is has 2 USB 2.0 ports, microSD slot, HDMI, Ethernet connection and 4GB of internal NAND memory. This is what allows us to do the DualBoot. In the second prototype, is in this internal NAND where Android 4.2.2 sits.
RGG: You've stated that Chui of UAE4All has helped the project out, just how much input have they had and how important has it been for you guys on a personal level (if at all)?
Armiga: We have had two main collaborators: Keith Monahan, for the FDD controller and Chui for UAE.
What can we say about Chui..., he’s just terrific. He really knows every bolt of UAE and the Amiga “dirty tricks” and that helped us specially in the first steps. We’ve been very lucky he was interested in the project and jumped in from the first time we talked. You just have to take a look at his emulators page (http://chui.dcemu.co.uk/) to get an idea of how good his job is. It’s not in his page, but he’s also one of the fathers of FAME M68K core and MegaDrive emulator GENS. Now he’s working in PierSolarHD.
On a personal side, this guy is just as good on the technical side. It’s being very easy to work with him and he does always find some time to help. In addition, he’s been the key for us being at RetroMadrid2014, where we first publicly showed the Armiga.
The future of the past, where does this all lead...
RGG: How are you looking to overcome the copy protection craziness of the Amiga days?
Armiga: As you may know, ADF is the de-facto standard when it comes to Amiga emulation and so it’s our main supported format. However, ADF is just raw bitstream, with no time (and hence, density) information and so we and no one that uses ADF, can read variable density tracks out of it.
There are several formats out there that circumvent this problem by basically oversampling the disk, but there’s no standard for that. We have our own custom format, that is not oversampling-based and, thus, is much more compact. We are still working on a single format for all the disks (unprotected, flaky bits protected, and variable density protected) and the mechanism to automatically detect them and that’s one of the goals of the Indiegogo campaign.
RGG: Is The Amiga Project looking to help push new homebrew titles for the old Amiga system through the new set-up at all?
Armiga: It’s not our target, but seeing new games coming out would be just great. We are not providing any new tools for Amiga development, as whatever can be done with the original Amiga can be done with modern systems much easier. We really don’t see the point of doing new stuff, but again, it would be great :)
RGG: So, to switch things up a bit, Amiga gaming...What are your earliest memories as a player on the King of all microcomputers?
Armiga: <Igor> When we bought the Amiga500, it came with Escape From the Planet of the Robot Monsters and that was the very first game I tried. I was simply mindblowing; I came from the MSX world and seeing such colour richness and resolution, hearing that multichannel music and effects…, was simply overwhelming.
<Luis> One friend bought the Amiga500 when we had 14 and I went crazy the first time I saw it. He showed me Kick Off 2 and we spent the afternoon playing to Speedball II. Some months later I bought my own Amiga.
RGG: Who were your favourite programmers and developers of the Amiga days and what makes their contributions to the history of the Amiga and video games as a whole so special for you?
Armiga: It’s hard to pick, as there were real genius studios around at that time. However, we agree The Bitmap Brothers made some of the most beautiful games around.
Some other studios, like Team17, SensibleSoftware, Delphine Studios or Psygnosis were also well-known by their beautiful games.
RGG: What's your favourite B-52's song?
Armiga: As we are talking Amiga500 here, Rock Lobster ;)
RGG: What was your favourite model of Amiga during the Commodore days and what are your thoughts on all the recent attempts at Commodore/Amiga reboots? EG: The AmigaOne, etc. and the updated OS'?
Armiga: We both owned the Amiga500 and agree it’s the real icon. However, we always liked the more compact design of the Amiga600 and the Amiga1200 and its AGA chipset made us look at it with envy. However, all-in-all, we stick to the Amiga500
Amiga, Just saying it out loud makes life better!
RGG: Does only Amiga make it possible, does only Amiga make it happen?
Armiga: We think the Amiga created some kind of synergy with developers and artists, suddenly allowing them to do things they couldn’t have done before. This also allowed new uses for the Amiga, making a “virtuous circle”.
Amiga was way ahead of its time and it took years for the rest to catch up, so yes, at that time, only Amiga made it possible.
RGG: If you absolutely, positively could only recommend five games from the massive available library on Amiga, what would they be and why?
Armiga: Speedball2: I think it’s the only game I could still spend 1 hour playing with.
Cannon Fodder: Epic intro music; tons of fun.
Sensible Soccer: Wonderful example that making it a bit harder makes it more addictive.
Future Wars: Because of its story and graphics.
Alien Breed: Killing aliens is great fun.
RGG: Right, so let's start wrapping this up. When can we expect a retail release for the Armiga and what avenues do you intend to push said release?
Armiga: The design is done; the software is working; the agreements with suppliers are set… It’s just about polishing the details and start manufacturing. The problem with this is that “starting the production machine” is expensive, so we need a “big batch” just for not losing money.
If the Indiegogo campaign is successfully funded, the dates are around November this year. If it’s not, it would need to be delayed, as we need alternative plans that we are already working on.
RGG: How has the support been for the Armiga Project been so far from both the Amiga community and the wider base of retro gamers?
Armiga: It’s been very good. There are always some voices against whatever you do, but we haven’t got bad feedback from anyone that has tested it.
RGG: Any parting messages for the folks of RGG? Now's your time to plug away!
Armiga: Of course!, we really congratulate you for your good work and the very nice site!. Keep making retro-reviews and showing that still in 2014 classic games rule ;)
RGG: Thanks for taking the time to speak with us here at RetroGameGeeks, we wish you well with all the cool things you got planned! One final question...Turrican or Shadow of the Beast?!
Armiga: That’s a hard one. Even though Shadow of the Beast has some technical wonders, like the parallax scroll and is a very nice game, Turrican wins on the fun side; memorable music, colourful graphics… We think it’s Turrican :)
Thank you very much and please check out our website after the campaign as we’ll announce the future of the Armiga.
RetroGameGeeks Final Thoughts...
There's a saying about the unstoppable force meeting the immovable object however what happens when another two sets of definitives colide? This was the question posed at the top of the portal interview and by now all of you reading this should have worked out that the answer, it's simple.
If you sit and listen to the retro community for long enough (and we have) you will hear all sorts of double standards about hardware modification, softmodding and of course emulation. So many people don't even understand that when they have a go at others playing classic games in non traditional ways they look really stupid once they pre-order a Retron 5 console.
You see the Armiga project is exactly this but honestly about 400 times cooler becuase it's Amiga 500 baby so instantly it wins at life. The Amiga was doing things in 1987 that the Megadrive and Snes struggled to do without custom chips in it's cartridges in 1993, quite simply it was 2 generations ahead of everything and everyone.
This is real hardware running real images off of the actual media then appying all that hi-res modern graphical trickery and input/output options, how is this not anything short of incredible. The hardcore Amiga fan community understand all too well that much like cassette's the disc's used by this iconic retro micro computer also eventually fade and die so having SD Card options are quite literally a godsend.
Having arguably the pound for pound best system ever created all in one handy box with original stylings and functions is like closing your eyes and travelling back 25 years to when Commodore ruled the waves so for that alone RGG applauds everything these two massive Amiga fans are doing. If you consider yourself a fan of this brand then right now you should be thinking the following....
When can I purchase one please? And it's a good job I can retire at some point cause i'm gonna need that decade to really see what that beast of a machine could really do.