With great trepidation I turn the page to reveal the next spread of Sam Dyer’s landmark volume on the Commodore Amiga. Sadness is slowly creeping up as I briskly process the remaining years covered by Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium; every letter, every pixel presented in a lavish, precisely elegant layout feasting on the glory of 16-bit graphics I savour like that eagerly sought after drop of water, enjoyed at last, after a perilous journey through a barren landscape.
The Amiga-less years have been harsh and unforgiving and this fabulous volume, clad in a pearly-white sleeve, finally provides relief to Amiga fandom.
Returning with utmost confidence to the original format Sam Dyer coined himself in preparation for his C64 Commpendium, the designer and author impressively raises the bar for retro-publications on the first few pages already. From graphics artists to sound engineers, music composers and demo artists, Dyer far from disappoints the incumbent Commpendium reader and, crucially, wholly amazes the first-time visitor to this perfectly researched tome of pixel lore. With the games and visuals thus enveloped in a rich tapestry of personal experiences of trade legends that covers not only games but literally everything that fit on a floppy disk, including productivity software, Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium supercedes the excellent Commodore 64 volume.
Although the crown of the best account of Commodore history arguably belongs to Brian Bagnall’s exceptional On the Edge, Sam Dyer’s most recent entry in his hopefully long-running series of retro-computing books ranks as one of the very great accounts of Commodore’s 16-bit flagship, its incredulous rise and heart-breaking fall. Incredible insights into the creation of games, artists’ varied approaches to challenges and the ingenuity of and cameraderie among programmers weave a palpable texture. Short of recreating the past in front of your very eyes, the eclectic combination of memories, factoids and occasional revelations veritably animates the colourful, pixellated racing cars or samurais breaking out of their state of printed affixation, propelled by choice words from the great heroes of an era, such as Ron Gilbert (Monkey Island), Franz Matzke (Turrican 3), Julian Eggebrecht (Factor 5), Brian Moriarity (Loom), Dan Malone (Speedball 2, Chaos Engine), Jim Sachs (Amiga graphics genius and “defender” of the “crown”), Steve Jarret (Amiga Format), Andrew Braybrook (Rainbow Islands, Fire and Ice), Gary Penn (One Magazine) or Andrew Morris (Lotus Esprit), to name but a few, to an exhilerating ballet of retrospection and heartfelt reflection.
Structured chronologically like its 8-bit predecessor, Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium takes readers along for a special journey. Loss is Amiga fandom’s ultimate reward, or so it seems, as increasingly complex concepts and presentational values crafted on the beloved platform’s potent hardware are felled by the irreversibility of history. Unlike the C64, which gracefully eased into history books as a perfectly evolved computer design for its time, its successor, the Amiga, was forced out of existence by incompetent management. The overall experience of Bitmap Books’ latest publication is thus intriguingly bitter-sweet. The precious memories the book restores are instantly grappling with the painful vacuity of the present.
Understanding how the Amiga was doomed to failure inspite of its success and, most importantly, the undeniable potential of so mallable and flexible a technology, is a difficult but inevitable result of having enjoyed this unique retro-volume, which must end where it does; Sam Dyer accepts the innately troubling circumstances of the history of the Commodore Amiga by wisely leaving business and management politics squarely out of this book. Although this might mitigate Bitmap Books’ latest as a complete account of Amiga history, it frees Dyer to create the ultimate testament to a platform that, on its very own – and created by some of the smartest engineers ever, captivated millions and would have to this day.
For at the end of an equally colourful, bountiful journey lies the ever-lasting realisation of how the Commodore Amiga brought out the best of an entire generation of home computer users, of how the fondness the platform continues to enjoy is endless, of how Commodore Amiga: A Visual Commpendium gives readers back a part of their lives or, even more phenomenally, introduces new generation to a lively period in computing history – and never lets go.
The urge to re-experience Sam Dyer’s latest from cover to cover is constantly overpowering, such is the success of Bitmap Books’ publication on the Commodore Amiga, both a visual “commpendium” and a must-buy.
Well done, Sam!