Wars 68000, part 3: we made an Amiga computer, and they fucked it up
Before: & lt; & lt; Wars 68000, Part 2: Jack's Return
The Commodore/Amiga honeymoon could hardly have been more idyllic. Commodore complied with the wishes of the Amiga development team, and did not move them to its headquarters in West Chester, PA. Instead, they were relocated just ten kilometers from their crowded offices in Santa Clara, California, to new, spacious rooms in Los Gatos, around which there is a well-kept garden and walkways. All this gave the place the atmosphere of a university campus. Their equipment was updated accordingly; Instead of fighting to use the aging Sage IV workstations, every person who played a significant technical role had their own latest Sun workstation. And the best thing was that the Commodore knew when not to put pressure on people. They relocated them, gave them the equipment and left them alone. “Commodore,” says R.J. Mikal, “has taken the best possible action to ensure the success of the product she bought. She left us alone. ” In the early days, they all "felt deep appreciation for the Commodore." Still - after all that they experienced before this.
Since the Jay Miner chipset, the heart of their project, was almost ready before the acquisition, now Amiga has already concentrated on everything that should surround these chips in order to be able to create a complete computer. By the way, now it was no longer called Amiga Lorraine, but Commodore Amiga. The operating system was already required very urgently, and therefore software developers came to the fore. The three most prominent system programmers from Amiga each wrote one layer of the software stack, which will become the soul of the new machine. Carl Sassenrath wrote Exec, the core of the new OS, borrowing many ideas from larger operating systems, such as Unix. Not the last among the ideas was the revolutionary opportunity of the real preemptive multitasking . On top of this, Dale Luck deployed the Graphics Library, a set of software hooks that helps programmers unleash the power of the Miner chipset in a multitasking-friendly way, without directly accessing the hardware. And on top of this, R.J. Mikal made Intuition - a set of widgets, icons, menus, windows, and dialogs that allowed programmers to create consistent graphical user interfaces.
And while others created a system around his chips, Miner continued to constantly improve them. One of his later experiments was related to one of Amiga’s most important abilities, key to his status as “the first multimedia PC.” In low resolution graphics modes, 320 × 200 and 320 × 400, the Denise chip typically could display up to 32 colors selected from a palette containing 4096 colors. And now Miner has figured out how to display any colors from this palette at the same time using the technique he called “hold and modify,” HAM. Thanks to her, the chip could set the color of each of the pixels, changing only the red, green or blue component. He hoped that this would help programmers create a photorealistic environment for flight simulators, to which he was especially attracted. When he realized that the HAM mode was updating too slowly to ensure a decent frame rate, he even asked to completely remove it from the chipset. However, the chip manufacturers said that it would require too much waste of precious time and money, and since this mode does not bother anyone, why not leave it. Praise be to these accountants. HAM mode, although it really was not suitable for flight simulators and other games, will allow the Amiga computer to show beautiful photographs of the real world.As they later write in an advertisement for Digi-View, the first practical photorealistic digitizer available for use with conventional computers, “Digi-View brings the whole world to your Amiga!” It was the fusion of the analog world that surrounds us with the digital world inside the computer that became the key to the multimedia experience that Amiga was the first to offer us. HAM mode remains the classic lesson on the unforeseen consequences of technological innovation. Without it, Amiga’s claim for historical importance would have been far less solid.
1984 was replaced by 1985, and Commodore's patience for endless improvements and changes, similar to those that spawned the HAM mode, began to end. They wanted the Los Gatos team to just finish making Amiga. The striking debut that Atari ST made at the winter CES in January scared West Chester bosses a bit. And by the spring of 1985, when the home computer market had clearly begun to experience difficulties, Commodore's financial situation was gradually becoming more and more volatile. Bosses urgently needed an Amiga computer.
The unsung hero of the project was the recently hired employee Howard Stolz, young and inexperienced, like many of his other colleagues. He created the look of a new computer. Its shiny and neat body looks good today. No matter what they say about the first Amiga model, its appearance to this day remains the best among all models.
And then and now at first you are surprised by its small size; even Apple’s cars of those times looked awkward and heavy next to her. And it is full of various small thoughtful details, such as a “garage” at the bottom of the system unit, where you can hide the keyboard while the computer is not working. Signatures of key Amiga team members were printed on the inside of the lid - they borrowed this idea from the original Apple Macintosh computer. Among the signatures is the paw print of Jay Miner's favorite dog, Mitch.
The Amiga computer debuted publicly on July 23, 1985, becoming the most unusual event in Commodore's long history. Obviously, hoping to reproduce the audience’s enthusiasm for the example of what Apple could call, Commodore rented a Lincoln Center in New York to deploy there a performance that had never been and never will be. At the dress code party, free booze poured in, the waiters scurried around in the crowd with trays of snacks, a laser show, a classical music trio and even a ballerina replaced each other on the stage. The Los Gatos team was there in full force, awkwardly squeezing into the rented tuxedos. Bob Parizo, Amiga’s traditional entertainer since Amiga Lorraine was still a bunch of wires and circuit boards, again led the show, looking like a magician in his tuxedo and with long hair tied in a ponytail. And the rabbit he pulled out of his hat was probably the only computer in the world at that moment worthy of all this pomp and honors. The crowd exploded with spontaneous applause several times: when, thanks to the HAM mode, Amiga showed all 4096 colors on the screen at once; when Amiga played part of Smoke on the Water with her guitar distortion; when she spoke in female and male voices; and when Boing's beloved demo appeared. The party ended with Andy Warhol, right on stage using a digitizer to edit the portrait of Debbie Harry from Blondie, with a result reminiscent of his famous diptych “Marilyn” in 1962. Everyone agreed that Amiga's show was excellent.
Amiga received the best press reviews in her entire career right after this show at the Lincoln Center, which, ironically, happened long before anyone could buy it. Byte magazine, whose opinion was the most respected in the entire industry, devoted a detailed technical description of the machine as many as 13 pages, proclaiming it “the most advanced and innovative personal computer of today.” Creative Computing, a respected publication that often produced prophetic texts, scattered in even more colorful compliments. Amiga was not just a new computer, but also “a new medium for communication - a dream machine, a new means of self-expression,” which, as the reviewer stated, is simply impossible to describe in the article. John Freeman, in an article for Computer Gaming World, announced that “everything your favorite computer can do will work better with Amiga.” And faster. And in stereo. ”
Freeman published his games through Electronic Arts, and in his article followed the same line as his publisher. Publisher EA was the most staunch adherent and enthusiast of the new computer, and watched it with interest even before the purchase of Commodore. Trip Hawkins, still dreaming of how EA's programs line up on every hipster’s shelf next to music albums that the carefully designed package of programs should have resembled, immediately realized what the advent of Amiga meant for the computer entertainment industry. He considered this almost the only hope of the industry, which suffered from its first failures, and did not understand what went wrong. EA got its first prototype many months before the premiere at the Lincoln Center, and worked hand in hand with the Los Gatos team to improve the car, and wrote programs for it to get it started quickly.
Therefore, a significant part of the very first programs for Amiga appeared in the bowels of EA, including both ports of old favorite games like Archon and Seven Cities of Gold, as well as new things that were destined to become Amiga classics: DeluxePaint, Arcticfox, Marble Madness. Right after the car went out, while other publishers took a “wait and see” approach, EA actively supported the computer, ordering long editorial articles in almost every published magazine.
Amiga will revolutionize the home computer industry. This is the first home computer in which there is everything that you want and what you need for all the main options for using a home computer: entertainment, training, productivity. The software we develop for Amiga will blow you away. We believe that Amiga, with its incomparable power, sound and graphics, will provide Electronic Arts and the industry with a very bright future.
We believe home computers will soon become as important as radios, audio players, and televisions today.
But so far no fulfillment of computer promises has been seen. Programs were severely limited by the abstract, angular shapes and low-grade sound of most home computers. Only a small part of the pioneers were able to appreciate the opportunities that appeared. However, once television was considered only suitable for transmitting information on civil defense.
Amiga is pushing the new medium on all fronts. For the first time, a personal computer gives us the visual and sound quality that our complex eyes and ears require. Compared to Amiga, using other home computers is like watching a black and white TV with the sound turned off.
For the first time, software developers have come up with tools to fulfill all the promises made by home computers.
Two years ago we said: we are looking to the future. And this future has come.
And what could go wrong after all these praises?
Yes, anything, and for a while it seemed that everything had gone to ashes. After the premiere and rave reviews in the press, overclocking was almost lost, while Commodore tried to add finishing touches to Amiga and start production of the machine, which was much more complicated than anything that the company supported or produced before. Only in November could one hope to go to the store and take with them the new Amiga. The Commodore ad campaign, which began at the time, had a scatter comparable to a confetti gun. Instead of meaningful arguments describing what Amiga represents and why this is important, Commodore gave out to the public black-and-white videos about the generation of baby boomers and foul rhetoric that “your neighbors already have such a thing.” Commodore somehow decided that it was necessary to sell such a futuristic and technological advanced computer, causing... nostalgia.
Why did Electronic Arts better than Commodore understand what Amiga is? Why are Electronic Arts selling so much better than a computer than a Commodore? Electronic Arts frankly and without hesitation convincingly proved that Amiga is a revolutionary technology for home entertainment. In the meantime, Commodore threw a fishing rod everywhere - everywhere, except for the most obvious use of Amiga as a gaming machine, which they dismissed in fright.
Then, a few weeks after Amiga appeared in stores, Commodore's computer ad disappeared altogether. The reason for this was simple: Commodore could not afford to pay it. The previous year was so devastating that they suddenly found themselves on the verge of bankruptcy.
After the magical 1983, when Commodore briefly became a billionaire company and was not even bigger than Apple for a short time, only bad news came from financial fronts. In 1984, there was a gradual cooling of enthusiasm for home computers. This problem has affected many companies, but few have suffered more than Commodore. At that time, Commodore had 60% of home computers, and it already got rid of its more expensive models. 1984 brought to the company a setback that hit the extremely unsuccessful Plus/4 model, dangerous overstocking of warehouses with boxes with Commodore 64 and disappointing Christmas, and did not come close to the previous one. But their troubles have only just begun.
In 1985, a decelerating home computer market turned into a collapsing home computer market. Suddenly, Commodore began to suffer huge losses - about $ 200 million in 1985 alone. She has accumulated debts of approximately the same amount. By the beginning of 1986, she had not sold nearly half a billion dollars worth of goods, and due to staff cuts, the number of employees decreased from 7,000 to 3,500. Commodore not only had to abandon Amiga ads in popular media - they did not even attend the largest party in their industry, the winter CES in January 1986, because they simply could not afford it. Ahoy! Magazine compared the absence of Commodore with the “departure of Russia from the USSR, the departure of Sly from the group Sly & amp; the Family Stone .
Most people who bought home computers in 1982 and 1983 quickly became disenchanted with them, seeing how limited they were, while the rest already had their own Commodores 64, and they didn't need more. The rest of the citizens, who seemed to have to buy computers without restraint for many more years, they were no longer interesting. So what was Commodore doing, which had already spent so much on a massive West Chester campus, bought for them by Jack Tramel at the peak of 1983 success, and which even then they couldn’t fill?
Now bankers asked this question, as the Commodore defaulted on its debts. The financial community was not particularly inclined to trust this company, which even in its best of times had a reputation for being unreliable. In the end, it came down to dry numbers. What was better - to demand payment of bills from Commodore, forcing the company to declare bankruptcy and liquidate it, thus giving investors a chance to partially recover the damage? Or was it better to wait and see if there is a chance that everything will change for the better? For several painful weeks, they held the fate of the company in their hands, while the Wall Street Journal and other business publications talked about the company's chances. Finally, in March 1986, an agreement was reached: Commodore will receive another loan of $ 135 million, which will help her pay off her debts and try to change the situation.
So while the company was not going to close yet, but now everyone - especially potential Amiga buyers - knew that Commodore was balancing on the edge of a financial cliff.And even if you decided on such a risk as a serious purchase from a company that could very likely leave the stage, leaving the Amiga computer an orphan, you still had to try to find a place where you could buy it. And this is a completely different story.
In the mid-1980s, computers had two completely separate distribution channels. The first is a network of specialized sellers offering bundled service, advice and support. The second - mass retailers, large stores such as Sears, Toys ‘R’ Us and large chain stores of household appliances that sold computers along with televisions and washing machines. The latter did not offer any support, but competed with the former exclusively in price. Commodore, led by Jack Tremal, first took advantage of the latest form of distribution with his VIC-20, a home computer truly designed for the mass market. Most people are happy to buy a relatively inexpensive car for periodic home use through a large store. Those who spent more money, and especially bought a car for business, preferred to insure investments by contacting a dealer. Therefore, Apple, IBM, and other IBM clone makers like Compaq continued to sell more expensive cars through dealerships. Commodore and Atari, manufacturers of cheaper home computers, sold their machines in the mass market.
Now that the Commodore had a more expensive car and no dealer network for sale, the company got another poison pill that Jack Tramel left behind. We can say that the Commodore had to start from scratch - only in reality the situation was even worse. At the end of 1982, Jack Tramel destroyed the remains of the Commodore dealer network when he began distributing the VIC-20 successor, Commodore 64, through mass market channels, just a few weeks after he promised the suffering dealers that he would not do so. This betrayal led to the fact that many of his dealers went bankrupt, and the remaining ones signed contracts with other brands, hoping to deal with him. Commodore’s new director, Marshal Smith, has honestly tried in the phlegmatic, conservative style of the steel industry to get rid of the shameful aura that has always surrounded the company under the leadership of Jack Tramel. However, most potential dealers have not yet had time to forget the insult, regardless of how impressive the Commodore wanted to offer them. As a result, in most American cities there was at best one or two points where you could buy an Amiga computer. This situation was extremely disadvantageous.
Therefore, among the first Amiga users, the most notorious hackers predominated, who saw that Amiga was a revolutionary technology, and therefore did not consider it possible not to buy such a computer, no matter what. The early issues of Amazing Computing, the first magazine to devote itself exclusively to Amiga, are somewhat reminiscent of the first articles from Byte. Hackers probed various riddles of the machine - such as the nowhere explained “HAM mode”, which supposedly should allow miracles to work — and published discoveries so that others could use them. Commodore did not offer them any ways to expand Amiga's memory beyond 512 K - they themselves figured out how to expand this memory; the same was true for hard drives. Faced with the shortcomings of commercial software, a friend named Fred Fish began to fill the disks with the best copies of free software and distribute them through dealers. As a result, Fred Fish Collection will grow to 1100 discs. Another friend named Tim Jenison designed the digitizer, and began distributing discs filled with full-color photos of incredible quality. Another one, Eric Graham, wrote a program for three-dimensional modeling and of rattracing , and began to distribute a striking animated video “juggler”, thanks to the demonstration of which more Amiga computers were sold in computer shop windows than probably due to all Commodore advertising efforts combined.
User groups were formed all over the country, and there were gatherings of people loyal to Amiga in churches and separate rooms of libraries. These were the last sprouts of the spirit of 1975, which spawned the PC industry. And indeed - for example, the legendary member of the "home computer club" John Draper, "captain Crunch", among other things, taught Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs the basics phone phreaking , and who wrote the first practical word processor for Apple II, was one of the first users of Amiga. He figured out all the vagaries of the Intuition package long before the official documentation from Commodore was published, and published code samples and technical training materials that got onto Fred Fish’s CD No. 1. If Amiga was destined to become a cult computer, then this cult should have been extremely interesting.
However, the flow of hackers with the necessary desire for pioneering and an extra $ 2,000 in their pocket could not last forever. Sales went poorly - perhaps better than you might expect as a result of the perfect storm of all the problems Amiga faced. Commodore sold about 140,000 copies of Amiga in the first 18 months — most in North America, and part in Europe, where the car hit only in June 1986. As the British magazine Commodore User ironically noted, “you can't say that Amiga knocked the whole world off its feet ».
And although Commodore would like her Amiga to be compared to the Macintosh, it was hard for her to get rid of the image of a manufacturer of cheap home computers. Therefore, most often, Amiga was compared with the new Atari ST line of computers from Jack Tramel, despite the fact that their first days in North America were far from ideal. Most of the early Atari STs were shipped to Europe; Of the 50,000 Atari STs sold in the first three months, only 10,000 were sold in North America. Like Amiga, Atari ST in North America suffered from a disparate and neglected dealer network. Dealing with Commodore, which Jack Tramel left, wanted even fewer dealers than those who wanted to get in touch with his new Atari. In January, Jack Tramel, true to his Commodore 64 principles, threw the Atari ST into the mass market. However, even then its distribution stalled. Most retail stores that had already abandoned their Commodore 64 stores a couple of years ago were very skeptical of any new machines, no matter how impressive they were, given the general fading interest in home computers.
Despite all this, Atari marketers have proven themselves experts in inflating the enthusiasm of selling their computers beyond all propriety. For many months, it was “known to everyone” that the Atari ST almost crushed Amiga, and sold about three times better. But in September 1986, the holiday was over. Preparing to enter the exchange with an offer of 15% of its shares, Atari had to publish the true figures of its sales. It turned out that they sold only 150,000 Atari ST, and 90,000 of them - in Europe. It turned out that in fact Amiga is slightly superior in sales to Atari ST in North America, although it cannot be said that the success of any of the competitors bewitching. Atari ST sales definitely didn’t reach the millions of pieces a year that Jack Tramel promised before starting the computer. The lauded return of Atari's renewed, fit-for-profit approach to small profitability in 1986 turned out to be as modest as the nostalgia-generated revival of their game consoles. The latter were sold at a low price, but making them was even cheaper. The new 8-bit Commodore 128 was also four times faster than Amiga and Atari ST, and the old 64 was even better than 128.
However, as they say, sometimes perception determines reality. The clearest example of such a process would be how software publishers reacted to Amiga and Atari ST competition. Manufacturers of games and other home software already supported a significant number of platforms.Many, for obvious reasons, did not want to add two more to this list. It was easier for them to choose the probable winner of the war 68,000 and put on it. And most of the publishers succumbed to the arguments of common sense, and with rare exceptions - Electronic Arts can serve as a vivid example - chose Atari ST, since for many of them this computer was a logical continuation of Commodore 64.
The positions of Commodore and Atari in a funny way swapped places. A few years ago, Atari offered an 8-bit line of Jay Miner computers, which were the most technologically advanced compared to all the others that existed at that time, but were a bit expensive and suffered from poor marketing. The Commodore, driven by Jack Tramel, wiped Atari's nose with the Commodore 64 — these machines were simpler in design, while the Atari were too elaborate, making the 64th much easier to manufacture and sell. Now that Jack Tramel was in charge of Atari and Miner worked with Commodore, the story was about to repeat itself, only in a mirror image. In favor of Atari ST said that it was more accessible and simpler. The paradigm shift presented by the Amiga computer with its sophisticated multi-tasking OS set new demands on programmers, while the Atari ST could be programmed like Commodore 64 on steroids.
Therefore, in 1986, the development of many large game projects started for Atari ST, but not for Amiga, and many old games were ported to Atari ST, and not to Amiga. Amiga, despite a slight sales advantage, was threatened by a self-sustaining chain reaction. The industry, at last, began to understand that the most important factor influencing the consumer’s decision on which platform to choose was the provision of the platform with programs. The early selection of a large number of Atari ST platform publishers led to more games and applications for it on store shelves, which led to increased sales, which encouraged publishers to install on Atari ST - and so on. Therefore, by the end of 1986, a considerable amount of fear mixed in with the accumulated disappointment and anger of Amiga fans towards the Commodore. How could Commodore, which owns not only a superior but also a better-selling car, allow Atari to run the market for so long? And nowhere else has this annoyance, anger and fear been felt so much more than among the old employees of Amiga, Incorporated in Los Gatos.
The team that created Amiga gradually sprawled. David Morse, who founded (together with others) the company, and so brilliantly led it around Atari networks in order to bring to the safe harbor of Commodore, even left before the show at Lincoln Center, believing that his work at Amiga was over, and the position a simple administrator is not attracted to him. Commodore has appointed its manager in Los Gatos. From this moment, the differences between the branches on the east and west coasts began to intensify. In December 1985, R.J. Mikal and Karl Sassenrat left immediately. Many others threatened dismissal. They had to be persuaded and begged to stay at least until the development of a normal OS for Amiga was completed, which was released in a state far from ideal.
However, months passed, and it became clear that Amiga was not turning into a sensation of the mass market, which was expected from him with such confidence - and the employees from Los Gatos knew perfectly well who should be blamed for this. They found Commodore mistreating Amiga a personal betrayal. Some printed t-shirts with the words “Get Fit, Aim, or Flirt!” Claiming to have found these T-shirts in Commodore marketing department bins. In turn, West Chester considered Los Gatos a bunch of arrogant young people who considered themselves too cool. For evidence of how badly the relationship between Commodore and the Amiga Veteran League has deteriorated, you should go no further than the third revision of the OS (version 1.2), which was being updated at that time. Amiga employees had the habit of inserting secret messages into programs — small Easter eggs that could be activated with complex key combinations. Basically, these were the things that can be expected from narcissistic youth: “INTUITION by=RJ Mical=Software Artist Deluxe” [R. J.Mikal, software artist]; “Carl EXEC Sassenrath reminds: All things are in Flux!” [Sassenrath reminds: everything flows, everything changes!]; “Brought to you by not a mere Wizard, but the Wizard Extraordinaire: Dale Luck” [not just a wizard did it specially for you, but an outstanding wizard, Dale Luck]. However, after the release of version 1.2, a more unpleasant message quickly spread in the Amiga amateur community: “We made Amiga, They f ---- d it up” [we made the Amiga computer, and they screwed it up]. It did not take long for the rumors to reach West Chester - as well as to understand who they were. This only confirmed West Chester's view of Los Gatos as an unruly kindergarten full of immature and ungrateful upstarts. In June 1986, West Chester, apparently deciding that the OS was currently operating quite normally, chopped off the ends. They fired a whole bunch of people, including Bob Pariso, who was the face of Amiga at so many presentations and trade shows.
By the end of the year, Los Gatos had withered from 80 to only 13 people. Of the key employees that we met on the pages of these articles, only Jay Miner and Dale Luck remained. An Amazing Computing correspondent, having been at a developer conference at that time, noted that the feud between Los Gatos and West Chester was practically "tangible" even in public. And all this could end in only one way. In March 1987, at the end of the lease for this remarkable Los Gatos campus, the short-lived Commodore wing from the west coast split up and the staff who remained there made an unattractive offer to relocate to West Chester, which they predictably refused.
Amiga veterans held an “Amiga Wake” to mark the end of their participation in the brand’s history. They coincided almost a day with that moment five years ago when Larry Kaplan called Jay Miner asking if he knew any lawyer and passed just a few days after the end of the long legal battle between Commodore and Atari because of the call that followed events. From the general atmosphere of the party, including the coffin room located in the center, it was easy to conclude that there is a requiem here not only for the team that created Amiga, but also for the Amiga brand itself. Given the commercial status of the brand at that time, it is likely that many who attended believed exactly that. In fact, Amiga was just about to get a second wind in the form of two new models, which were much smarter presented, advertised, and, most importantly, who were assigned the right price. Atari ST also waited for clearer days.
It is ironic that both platforms had to go through their best days not in North America, on the continent, which they had planned to conquer, but overseas, in Europe. And while the 68,000 wars so far looked more like an exchange of slaps between two commercial pygmies than the battle of the titans that was awaited in the press, both rivals had just begun.