Amiga group goes from strength to strength

A busy SWAG Meet #3 gets going at Swindon Makerspace. [Pic Steve Netting]
A busy SWAG Meet #3 gets going at Swindon Makerspace. [Pic Steve Netting]
A popular British retro computing group focusing on the Commodore Amiga is continuing to prove that, more than three decades on from its birth, rumours of this classic computer’s death have been greatly exaggerated. This report of the South West Amiga Group’s latest meeting has been sent in on their behalf by members Brian Hedley and Robert Hazelby.

On Saturday 14 January 2017, the third South West Amiga Group (SWAG) meeting was held at what has now become our regular venue; the Swindon Makerspace.

Prior to each meeting we try and plan a rough theme so that those coming along have some idea as to what to expect. At this SWAG meeting our theme was Amiga vs the 8-bits. The Commodore Amiga was the platform of choice for a great many fantastic games, but on some occasions the same title on an 8-bit was actually better. To this end, at this meeting we had an Amstrad CPC464 running the recently released Pinball Dreams conversion using a DDI3 Floppy Emulator and a recently refurbished and AY sound-fixed Sinclair Spectrum +3, complete with a DivIDE Enjoy interface running various games.

Preparing to test an Acorn Electron. With Derek Fellowes, Dave Rowland, Steve Netting, Scott MacDonald and Zeb Elwood. [Pic Robert Hazelby]
Preparing to test an Acorn Electron. With Derek Fellowes, Dave Rowland, Steve Netting, Scott MacDonald and Zeb Elwood. [Pic Robert Hazelby]
One of our attendees also brought along a ZX UNO FPGA based machine which could be seen running recreations of various eight-bit computer systems including the MGT Sam Coupé, BBC Micro and the Spectrum. We even had an original Acorn Electron up and running once it had received some TLC from a SWAG member.

Naturally, as this was a SWAG meet, we had plenty of Amiga machines scattered about the room. Amongst the stash was an A600 with a Vampire V2 (Black Edition) FPGA-based accelerator board, which we’d installed last meeting and which was now running DOOM at a very fluid frame rate.

This Amstrad has been updated to modern storage with a DDI3 floppy emulator, complete with LCD display. [Pic Steve Netting]
This Amstrad has been updated to modern storage with a DDI3 floppy emulator, complete with LCD display. [Pic Steve Netting]
An RGB-modded Amiga CD32 console was being used to show demos and was hooked up to a Commodore 1084S monitor. The demos were those from the recently released Press Play on Pad CD.

A CD32 motherboard being re-capped, with Zeb Elwood (standing) and Scott MacDonald. [Pic Robert Hazelby]
A CD32 motherboard being re-capped, with Zeb Elwood (standing) and Scott MacDonald. [Pic Robert Hazelby]
Speaking of recent releases, we were visited at the meet by the one and only Galahad of the coding group Scoopex, who has been working on various ST ports to Amiga. Following his conversion of Denton Designs’ game Where Time Stood Still he has been chipping away at converting the Bubble Bus classic arcade adventure Starquake. The plan was to release the completed conversion at the meet, and while we were able to get it working on one Gotek floppy emulator equipped Amiga, the floppy disk routines needed some work, and the graphic routines required some slight tweaks on Indivision hi-res graphics board-based A1200s. When the game was running we were all pleased to see how well it ran, and the new music produced specially for this Amiga release was a joy to hear.

Following the meet Galahad contacted the group to say that he had now fixed the issues and Starquake was undergoing what would hopefully be the last round of testing before release. It was exciting for SWAG members to play a small part in the beta testing of this much anticipated conversion.

Elsewhere in the packed  room, we had a modern Amiga One 64-bit PowerPC-based computer running various games and utilities. All who saw it were impressed at just how responsive Amiga OS4.1 was, and just how nippy the applications were to use. Now, if only the cost could come down a bit!

A1200s assemble!

Dual screen Amiga 1200. Indivision output on the left. Standard RGB output from the Amiga monitor port on the right. [Pic Robert Hazelby]
Dual screen Amiga 1200. Indivision output on the left. Standard RGB output from the Amiga monitor port on the right. [Pic Robert Hazelby]
There were also three Amiga A1200s in the room. The computer equipped with a Gotek drive was being used to beta test Starquake. The second was an expanded system incorporating an ACA1233/40MHz/128MB, 4GB CompactFlash HD, Indivision AGA Mk2cr, Gotek, external drive, and an external kipper2k CompactFlash adaptor, PCMCIA-> CF/SD). Just a few things added, then! The third was an A1200 Power Tower, which had been added to gradually over the last 20 or so years. This was equipped with an 80 gigabyte hard drive, internal and external floppy drives, 56x CD ROM, a network card, and Indivision AGA, and a MAS Player. The Amiga was hooked-up to two monitors – a nice Dell LCD for Workbench and point & click game use, and a Commodore 1942 CRT for those arcade titles and demos where smooth 50hz scrolling were needed. The MAS Player was demoed to a number of SWAG members, and considering its price (under 50UKP), produces excellent results.

Fix it up and fly

The event wasn’t just about games, though. A large section of the room was taken up with people cleaning and repairing various machines. This now seems to be a regular feature of the meets following the success of one member who brought along a broken A4000 to the second meeting only to have it repaired and working by the end of the day.

During this session we had a non-functioning A1200 which was diagnosed but not fixed. There was also a CD32 in the process of being recapped. This had been an ongoing job from meeting to meeting. We also had a pair of new members working on a SAM440 and trying to upgrade the core of a Vampire 2 on an A600, and getting RTG using Picasso96 and Saga drivers working. It really was a hive of  activity over in that corner and people regularly drifted by to see how progress was getting on.

Game on!

It's Game On! with SWAG at Swindon Makerspace [Pic Steve Netting]
It’s Game On! with SWAG at Swindon Makerspace [Pic Steve Netting]
Back to the games, and various new and classic titles were being run during the event.This included a small tournament of the ever-popular Speedball which went on using a recently repaired A500 from the last meeting. The competition here seemed to be rather heated!

Also, on one of the A1200 machines a number of members could be found playing multi-player Dynablaster; a title which has quickly become a gaming staple of SWAG meets.

Finally, we tried a game called Enemy 2, which was a recent release. This was put up on the large display in the room so everyone could see it in action. The response from members was interesting. Some liked the graphic style and others didn’t. What those who played it agreed on was the control scheme was rather odd. Up was jump if you weren’t moving, but as soon as your character started running you had to use down. Naturally, most people who had a go ended up running off the edge of a platform to their death!

Summing up

Fun with Amiga and more for kids of all ages! [Pic Dave Rowland]
Fun with Amiga and more for kids of all ages! [Pic Dave Rowland]
In conclusion, the whole event was lively, fun, and everyone seemed to be having a good time. This was our first meeting of five hours in length following the request to increase the time, and you could see that by the end people still hadn’t had enough time to do everything they wanted. Our third meeting was the busiest yet, and with so many people and so much kit there simply wasn’t enough room to accommodate more. Thankfully, for our June meeting (date now confirmed as Saturday 10 June 2017) the venue will have an extra floor available, so we’ll be able to fit in more Amigans – and even more equipment!

The group seems to be taking on a real life of its own. What started off as three geeks meeting in a pub in January 2016 planning the first meeting and thinking no one would turn up, has transformed into such a popular event that if the current venue wasn’t expanding in size we’d have to look for an alternative location for our next meeting. So If you’d like to be part of a growing Amiga usergroup then check out our web site at

http://southwestamiga.org.uk

or visit us on Facebook for more pictures (and video!) of this event and to meet the group online: https://www.facebook.com/groups/southwestamiga/

Judging by the activities of SWAG, the Amiga in Britain seems to be very much alive! Our thanks to Brian Hedley, Robert Hazelby and their fellow SWAG members for this first report and pictures, which we hope will be the first of many more, and we wish the group every success!
Advertisements