The 68000 Wars, Part 4: Rock Lobster

27 Nov

In the years following Jack Tramiel’s departure, Commodore suffered from a severe leadership deficit. The succession of men who came and went from the company’s executive suites with dizzying regularity often meant well, were often likable enough in their way. Yet they were also weak-willed men who offered only timid, conventional ideas whilst living in perpetual terror of the real boss of the show, Commodore’s dilettantish chairman of the board and interfering largest stockholder Irving Gould.

The exception that proves the rule of atrocious management is Thomas Rattigan, the man who during his brief tenure saved Commodore and in the process the Commodore Amiga from an early death. Rattigan wasn’t, mind you, a visionary; he never got the time to demonstrate such qualities even if he did happen to possess them. His wasn’t any great technical mind, nor was he an intrinsic fan of computers as an end unto themselves; in common with a rather distressing number of industry executives of the time, Rattigan, like Apple’s John Sculley a veteran of Pepsi Cola, seemed to take a perverse pride in his computer illiteracy, saying he “never got beyond the slide rule” and not even bothering to place a computer on his desk. He may not have even been a terribly nice guy; the thousands of employees he laid off, among them virtually the entire team that had once been Amiga, Incorporated, certainly aren’t likely to invite him to dinner anytime soon. No, Rattigan was simply competent, and carried along with that competence a certain courage of his own convictions. That was more than enough to make him stand out from his immediate predecessor and his many successors like the Beatles at a battle of the bands.

Thomas Rattigan

Thomas Rattigan

Rattigan was appointed President and Chief Operating Officer of Commodore International on December 2, 1985, and Chief Executive Officer on April 1, 1986, succeeding the feckless former steel executive Marshall Smith, whose own hapless tenure would serve as a blueprint for most of the Commodore leaders not named Rattigan who would follow. After replacing Tramiel in February of 1984, Smith had fiddled while Commodore burned, going from the billion-dollar face of home computing in North America to the business pages’ favorite source of schadenfreude, hemorrhaging money and living under the shadow of a gleeful deathwatch. The stock had dropped from almost $65 per share at the peak of Tramiel’s reign to less than $5 per share at the nadir of Smith’s. It was Rattigan, in one of his last acts before assuming the mantle of CEO as well as president, who negotiated the last-ditch $135 million loan package that gave Commodore — in other words, Rattigan himself — a lease on life of about one year to turn things around.

Some of the changes that Rattigan enacted to effect that turnaround were as inevitable as they were distressing: the waves of layoffs and cutbacks that had already begun under Smith’s reign continued for some time. Unlike Smith, however, Rattigan understood that he couldn’t cost-reduce Commodore back to profitablity.

The methods that Rattigan used to implement triage on the profit side of the ledger sheet were unsexy but surprisingly effective. One was entry into the burgeoning market for commodity-priced PC clones, hardware that could be thrown together quickly using off-the-shelf components and sold at a reasonable profit. Commodore’s line of PC clones would never do much of anything in North America — the nameplate was too associated with cheap, chirpy home computers for any corporate purchasing manager to glance at it twice — but it did do quite well in Europe; in some European countries, especially West Germany, the Commodore brand remained as respectable as any other.

Rattigan’s other revenue-boosting move was even more simple and even more effective. Commodore’s engineers had been working on a new version of the 64. Dubbed internally the 64CR, for “Cost Reduced,” it was built around a redesigned circuit board that better integrated many of the chips and circuitry using the latest production processes, resulting in a substantial reduction in the cost of production. The chassis and case were also simplified — for example, to use only two instead of many different types of screws. While they were at it, Commodore dramatically changed the look of the machine and most of its common peripherals to match that of the newer Commodore 128, thus creating a uniform appearance across their 8-bit line. As Rattigan said, “I think you’ve got to give people the opportunity not to have a black monitor, a green CPU, and a red disk drive.”

Commodore 64C

Commodore 64C

All of which was very practical and commonsensical. Looking at the new machine, however, Rattigan saw an opportunity to do something Commodore had never done before: to raise its price, and thereby to recoup some desperately needed profit margin. This really was a revolutionary thought for Commodore. Ever since releasing their VIC-20 model that had created the home-computer segment in North America, Commodore had competed almost entirely on the basis of offering more machine for less money than the other folks — an approach that did much to create the low-rent image that would dog the brand for the rest of the company’s life. Commodore had always kept their profit margins razor thin in comparison to the rest of the industry, trusting that they would, as the old saying/joke goes, “make it up in volume.” Now, though, Rattigan realized that the 64 had much more than price alone going for it. Almost everyone buying a 64 in 1986 was motivated largely by the platform’s peerless selection of games. Most, he theorized, would be willing to pay a little more than what Commodore was currently charging to gain access to that library. Thus when Commodore announced the facelifted 64 — now rechristened simply the 64C for obvious reasons — they also announced a 20 percent bump in its wholesale price. To ease some of the pain, they would bundle with it something called GEOS, an independently developed graphically-oriented operating environment that claimed to turn the humble 64 into a mini-Macintosh. (It didn’t really, of course, but it was a noble, impressive effort for a machine with a 1 MHz 8-bit processor and 64 K of memory.) Anyone who’s been around manufacturing at all will understand just what a huge difference a price increase of that magnitude, combined with a substantial reduction in manufacturing cost, would mean to Commodore’s bottom line if customers did indeed prove willing to continue buying the new model in roughly the same numbers as the old. Thankfully, Rattigan’s instincts proved correct. The 64C picked up right where the older model had left off, a brisk — and vastly more profitable — seller.

Sometimes, then, the simplest fixes really are the most effective. Taken together with the cost-cutting, these two measures returned Commodore to modest profitability well before Rattigan’s one-year deadline expired. Entering 1987, the company looked to be in relatively good shape for the short term. Yet questions still swirled around its long-term future. If Commodore didn’t want to accept the depressing fate of becoming strictly a maker of PC clones for the European market, they needed a successful platform of their own that could become the successor to the 64, which was proving longer lived than anyone had ever predicted but couldn’t go on forever. That successor had to be the Amiga. And therein lay problems.

The Amiga was in a sadly moribund state by the beginning of 1987. The gala Lincoln Center debut was now eighteen months in the past, but it felt like an eternity. The excitement with which the press had first greeted the new machine had long since been replaced by narratives of failure and marketing ineptitude. Commodore had stopped production of the Amiga in mid-1986 after making just 140,000 machines, yet was still able to fill the trickle of new orders from warehouse stock. Sure, some pretty good games had been made for the Amiga, at least one of which was genuinely groundbreaking, but with numbers like those how long would that continue? Already Electronic Arts had quietly sidled away from their early declarations that together they and the Amiga would “revolutionize the home-computer industry,” turning their focus back to other, more plebeian platforms where they could actually sell enough games to make it worth their while. Ditto big players in business and productivity software like Borland, Ashton-Tate, and WordPerfect. The industry at large, it seemed, was just about ready to put a fork in Commodore’s erstwhile dream machine.

The Amiga’s most obvious failing was one of marketplace positioning. Really, just who was this machine for? There were two obvious markets: homes, where it would make the best games machine the world had yet seen; and the offices of creative professionals who could make use of its unprecedented multimedia capabilities. Yet the original Amiga model had managed to miss both targets in some fairly fundamental ways. Svelte and sexy as it was, it lacked the internal expansion slots and big power supply necessary to easily outfit it with the hard drives, memory expansions, accelerator cards, and genlocks demanded by the professionals. Meanwhile its price of almost $2000 for a reasonably complete, usable system was far too high for the home market that had so embraced the Commodore 64. Throw in horrid Commodore marketing that ignored both applications in favor of positioning the Amiga as some sort of challenger to the PC-clone business standard, and it was remarkable that the Amiga had sold as well as it had.

If there was a bright spot, it was that the Amiga’s obvious failing had an equally obvious solution: not one but two new models, each perfectly suited for — and, hopefully, marketed toward — one of its two logical customer bases. Rattigan, industry neophyte though he was, saw this reasoning as clearly as anyone, and pushed his engineers to deliver both new machines as quickly as possible. They were officially announced via a low-key, closed-door presentation to select members of the press at the January 1987 Winter Consumer Electronics Show. The two new models would entirely replace the original, which had always been officially called the Amiga 1000 but had seldom been referred to by that name heretofore. The Amiga 2000 would be the big, professional-level machine, with a full 1MB of memory standard — four times that of the 1000 — and all the slots and expansion possibilities a programmer, artist, or video-production specialist — or, for that matter, a game developer — could possibly want.

Amiga 2000

Amiga 2000

But it was the Amiga 500 that would become the most successful Amiga model ever released, as well as the heart of its legacy as a gaming platform. Designed primarily by George Robbins and Bob Welland at Commodore’s West Chester, Pennsylvania, headquarters — the slowly evaporating original Los Gatos Amiga team had little to do with either of the new models — the 500 was code-named “Rock Lobster” during development after the B-52’s song (reason enough to love it right there if you ask me). Key to the work was a re-engineering of Agnus, the most complex of the Amiga’s custom chips, to make it smaller, simpler, and cheaper to manufacture; the end result was known as “Fat Agnus.” That accomplished, Robbins and Welland managed to stuff the contents of the 1000’s case into an all-in-one design that looked like a bulbous, overgrown Commodore 128.

Amiga 500

Amiga 500

The Amiga 500 wasn’t, especially in contrast to the 1000, going to win any beauty contests, but it got the job done. There was a disk drive built into the side of the case, a “trap door” underneath to easily increase memory from the standard 512 K to 1 MB, and an expansion port in lieu of the Amiga 2000’s slots that let the user add peripherals the old-fashioned Commodore way, by daisy-chaining them across the desktop. Best of all, a usable system could be had for around $1000, still a stratum or two above the likes of a 64 or 128 but nowhere near so out of the reach of the enthusiastic gamer or home hacker as had been the first Amiga. Compromised in some ways though it may have been from an engineering standpoint, enough to prompt a chorus of criticism from the old Los Gatos Amigans, the Amiga 500 was a brilliant little machine from a strategic standpoint, the smartest single move the post-Tramiel Commodore would ever make outside of electing to buy Amiga, Incorporated, in the first place.

But unfortunately, this was still Irving Gould’s Commodore, a company that seldom failed to follow every good decision with several bad ones. Amiga circles and the trade press at large were buzzing with anticipation for the not-yet-released new models, which were justifiably expected to change everything, when word hit the business press on April 23 that Thomas Rattigan had been unceremoniously fired. Like the firing of Jack Tramiel three years before when things were going so very well, it made and makes little sense. Gould would later say that Rattigan had been fired for “disobeying the chairman of the board” — i.e., him — and for “gross disregard of his duties,” but refused to get any more specific. Insiders muttered that Rattigan’s chief sin was that of being too good at his job, that the good press his decisions had been receiving had left Gould jealous. Just a couple of weeks before Rattigan’s firing, Commodore’s official magazine had published a lengthy interview with him, complete with his photo on the cover. To this Gould was reported to have taken grave exception. Yet Rattigan hardly comes across as a prima donna or a self-aggrandizer therein. On the contrary, he sounds serious, thoughtful, grounded, and very candid, explicitly rejecting the role of “media celebrity” enjoyed by Apple’s John Sculley, his former colleague at Pepsi: “When you have lost something in the range of $270 million in five quarters, I don’t think it’s time to be a media celebrity. I think it’s time to get back to your knitting and figure out how you’re going to get the company making money.” Nor does he overstate the extent of Commodore’s turnaround, much less take full credit for it, characterizing it as “tremendous improvement, but not an acceptable performance.” It seems hard to believe that Gould could be petty enough to object to such an interview as this one. But at least one more piece of circumstantial evidence exists that he did: Commodore Magazine‘s longtime editor Diane LeBold was forced out of the company on Rattigan’s heels, along with other real or perceived Rattigan loyalists. It made for one hell of a way to run a company.

True to form of being less of a pushover than Gould’s other executive lapdogs, Rattigan soon filed suit against Commodore for $9 million, for terminating his five-year employment contract four years early for no good reason. Commodore promptly counter-sued for $24 million, the whole ugly episode overshadowing the actual arrival of the Amiga 500 and 2000 in stores. After some five years of court battles, Rattigan would finally be awarded his $9 million — yes, every bit of it — just at a time when everything was starting to go sideways for Commodore and they could least afford to pay him.

With Rattigan now out of the picture — Gould had had him escorted off the campus by security guards, no less — Gould announced that he would be taking personal charge of day-to-day operations, a move that filled no one at the company other than his hand-picked circle of sycophants with any joy. But then, for Gould day-to-day oversight meant something different than it did for most people. He continued to live the lifestyle of the jet-setting super-rich, traveling the world — reportedly largely to dodge taxes — and conducting business, to whatever extent he did, by phone. Thus Commodore was not only under a cloud of rumor and gossip at this critical moment when these two critical new machines were being introduced, but they were also leaderless, their executive wings gutted and reeling from Gould’s purge and their ostensible new master who knew where. There was, needless to say, not much in the way of concerted promotion or messaging as the months marched on toward Christmas 1987, the big test of the Amiga 500.

While it didn’t abjectly fail that test, it didn’t really skate through with honors either. On the one hand, Amigas were selling again, and in better numbers than ever before. The narrative of the Amiga as a flop that was soon to be an orphan began to fade, and companies like Electronic Arts began to return to the platform, if not always as a target for first-run games at least as a consistent target for ports. WordPerfect even ported their industry-standard word processor to the Amiga. But on the other hand, the Amiga certainly wasn’t going to become a household name like the 64 anytime soon at this rate. In addition to the nearly complete lack of Commodore advertising, distribution remained a huge problem. Many people who might have found the Amiga very interesting literally never knew it existed, never saw an advertisement and never saw it in a store. Jack Tramiel’s decision to dump the 64 into mass-market channels like Sears and Toys “R” Us had been a breaking of his own word and a flagrant betrayal of his loyal dealers from which Commodore’s reputation had never entirely recovered. Yet it had also been key to the machine’s success; the 64 was available absolutely everywhere during its heyday, an inescapable presence to tempt plenty of people who would never think to walk into a dedicated computer store. Now, though, having laboriously and with very mixed results struggled to rebuild the dealer network that Tramiel had demolished, Commodore refused to do the same with the Amiga 500, even after some of those dealers had started to whisper through back channels that, really, it might be okay to offer some 500s through the mass market in the name of increasing brand awareness and corralling some new users who would quite likely end up coming to them for further hardware, software, and support anyway. But it didn’t happen, not in 1987, 1988, or the bulk of 1989.

The Amiga thus came to occupy an odd position on the American computing scene of the late 1980s, not quite a failure but never quite a full-fledged success either. Always the bridesmaid, never the bride; the talented actor never quite able to find her breakout role; pick your metaphor. Commodore blundered along, going through more of Irving Gould’s sock-puppet executives in the process. Max Toy, unfortunately named in light of the image that Commodore was still trying to shake, took over in October of 1987, to be replaced by Harold Copperman in July of 1989. Meanwhile the two Amiga models settled fairly comfortably into their roles.

Video production became the 2000’s particular strong suit. Amigas were soon regular workhorses on television series like Amazing Stories, Max Headroom, Lingo; on films like Prince of Darkness, Not Quite Human, Into the Homeland; on lots of commercials. If most of this stuff wasn’t exactly the pinnacle of cinematic art, it was certainly more Hollywood work than any other consumer-grade PC was getting. More important, and more inspiring, were the 2000s that found homes in small local newsrooms, on cable-access shows, and in small one- or two-person video-production studios. Just as the Macintosh had helped to democratize the means of production on paper via desktop publishing, the Amiga was now doing the same for the medium of video, complete with a new buzzword for the age: “desktop video.”

The strong suit of the Amiga 500, of course, was games. At first blush, the Amiga might seem a hard sell to game publishers. Even in 1988, after the 500 and 2000 had had some time to turn things around for the platform, a hit Amiga game might sell only 20,000 copies; a major blockbuster by the platform’s terms, 50,000. The installed base still wasn’t big enough to support much bigger numbers than these. An only modestly successful MS-DOS game, by contrast, might sell 50,000 copies, while some titles had reportedly hit 500,000 copies on the Commodore 64 alone. Yet, despite the raw numbers, many publishers discovered that the Amiga carried with it a sort of halo effect. Everyone seriously into computer games knew which platform had the best graphics and sound, which platform had the best games, even if some were reluctant to admit it openly. Publishers found that an Amiga game down-ported to other platforms carried with it a certain cachet inherited from its original version. Cinemaware, the premiere Amiga game developer and later publisher in North America, used the Amiga’s halo effect to particularly good commercial effect. All of their big releases were born, bred, and released first on the Amiga. They found that it made good commercial sense to do so, even if they ultimately sold far more copies to MS-DOS and Commodore 64 owners. While it’s true that Cinemaware could never have survived if the Amiga had been the only platform for which they made games, neither could they have made a name for themselves in the first place if the Amiga versions of their games hadn’t existed. Some of the same triangulations held sway, albeit to a lesser extent, among other publishers.

All told, the last three years of the 1980s were, relatively speaking, the best the Amiga would ever enjoy in North America. By the end of that period, with the 64 at last fading into obsolescence, the Amiga could boast of being the number two platform, behind only MS-DOS, for computer games in North America — a distant second, granted, but second nevertheless — while Commodore stood as the number three maker of PCs in North America in terms of units sold, behind only IBM and Apple. And Commodore was actually making money for most of this period, which was by no means always such a sure thing in other periods. But perhaps more important than numbers and marketshare was the sense of optimism. Every month seemed to bring some breakthrough program or technology, while every Christmas brought the hope that this would be the one where the Amiga finally broke into the public consciousness in a big way. To continue to be an Amiga loyalist in later years would require one to embrace Murphy’s Law as a life’s creed if one didn’t want to be positively smothered under all of the constant disappointments and broken promises that could make the platform seem cursed by some malicious higher power. But in these early, innocent times everything still seemed so possible, if only there would come the right advertising campaign, the right change in management at Commodore, the right hardware improvements.

But, ah, Commodore’s management… there lay the rub, even during these good years. Amiga owners watched with concern and then alarm as Apple and the makers of MS-DOS machines alike steadily improved their offerings whilst Commodore did nothing. In 1987, Apple debuted the Macintosh II, their first color model, with a palette of millions of colors to the Amiga’s 4096 and a hot new 16 MHz 68020 CPU inside. Yes, it cost several times the price of even the professional-grade Amiga 2000, and yes, 68020 or no, the Amiga could still smoke it for many animation tasks thanks to its custom chips. But then, even Apple’s prices always came down over time, and everyone knew that their hardware would only continue to improve. That same year, IBM introduced their new PS/2 line, and with it the new VGA graphics standard with about 262,000 colors on offer. More caveats applied, as Amiga fans were all too quick to point out, but the fact remained that the competition was improving by leaps and bounds while Commodore remained wedded to the same core chipset that they had purchased back in 1984. The Amiga 1000 had been a generation ahead of anything else on the market at the time of its release, but, unfortunately, generations aren’t so long in the world of computers. Gould and his cronies seemed unconcerned about or, still more damningly, blissfully unaware of the competition that was beginning to match and surpass the Amiga in various ways. In 1989, IBM spent 10.9 percent of their gross revenue on R&D, Apple 6.7 percent. And Commodore? 1.7 percent. The one area where Commodore did rank among the biggest spenders in the industry was in executive compensation, particularly the salary of one Irving Gould.

For the 1989 Christmas season, Commodore launched what would prove to be their first and last major mainstream advertising campaign for the Amiga 500. The $20 million campaign featured television spots produced by no less leading lights than Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and George Lucas’s Lucasfilm. The slogan was “Amiga: The Computer for the Creative Mind.” The most lavish of the spots featured cameos by a baffling grab bag of minor celebrities, including Tommy Lasorda, Tip O’Neill, the Pointer Sisters, Burt Bacharach, Little Richard, and astronauts Buzz Aldrin, Gordon Cooper, and Scott Carpenter. Commodore’s advertising agency announced confidently that 92 percent of Americans would see an Amiga commercial an average of twenty times during November and December. Commodore would even begin selling 500s through mass-market merchandisers at last, albeit in a limited way, going through Sears and Service Merchandise alone. The campaign was hyped in the Amiga press as a last all-out effort to make that ever-elusive big breakthrough in North America. Sure, it was something they really needed to have done back in 1987, when the 500 first debuted, but at least they were doing it now. That was something, right? Right? In the end, it proved a heartbreaker of the sort with which Amiga fans would grow all too familiar over the years to come: it had no appreciable effect whatsoever. And with that Commodore slipped out of the mainstream American consciousness along with the decade with which their computers would always be identified.

The next year the first of a new generation of unprecedentedly ambitious games arrived — games like Wing Commander, Ultima VI, Railroad Tycoon — that looked, sounded, and played better on MS-DOS machines than they did on Amigas, thanks to the ever-improving graphics cards, sound cards, and new 32-bit 80386 processors in those heretofore bland beige boxes. Cinemaware that same year released Wings, the last of their big Amiga showcases, and then quietly died. The Amiga’s halo effect was no more. Just like that, an era ended.

And yet… well, here’s where things get a little confusing. As the Amiga was drying up as a gaming platform in North America, it was in many ways just getting started in Europe, with most of the classics still to come. Let’s rewind and try to understand how this parallel history came to be.

Commodore had always been extremely strong in Europe, going all the way back to their days as a maker of calculators. Their first full-fledged computer, the PET, had been little more than a blip on the radar in North America in comparison to its competitors the Radio Shack TRS-80 and the Apple II, yet it had fostered a successful and respected line of business computers across the pond. Commodore’s most consistently strong markets then would also prove the strongest of their twilight years: Britain and, especially, West Germany. Both operations were granted much more autonomy than the North American operation, and were staffed by smart people who were much better at selling Commodore’s American computers than Commodore’s Americans were. Germans in particular developed a special affinity for the Commodore brand, one that was virtually free of the home-computer/business-computer dichotomy that Commodore twisted themselves into knots trying to navigate in the United States. In Germany a good home computer was simply a good home computer, and if the same company happened to offer a good business computer, well, that was fine too.


When Commodore’s European leadership looked to the new Amiga 500, they saw a machine sufficient to make the traditional videogame demographic of teenage boys, who were currently snatching up Commodore 64s and Sinclair Spectrums, positively salivate. They unapologetically marketed it on that basis. Knowing what their buyers really wanted the machine for, they quite early on took to bundling together special packages, usually just in time for Christmas, that combined a 500 with a few of the latest hot games. A particular home run was 1989’s so-called “Batman Pack,” which included the game based on the hit Batman movie, a fresh new arcade conversion called The New Zealand Story, the graphically stunning casual flight simulator F/A-18 Interceptor, and, since this was an Amiga after all, the platform’s signature application, Deluxe Paint II. Deluxe Paint aside, there was no talk of video production or productivity of any other stripe, no mention of the Amiga’s groundbreaking multitasking operating system, no navel-gazing discussions of the platform’s place in the multimedia zeitgeist. Teenage boys didn’t want any of that. What they wanted was great games with great graphics, and that’s exactly what Commodore’s European operations gave them. You were just buying a fun computer, a game machine, so you didn’t need to go through a dealer. From the beginning, the Amiga 500 was widely available at all of the glossy electronics stores on European High Streets. The West German operation went even further: they started selling Amigas through grocery stores. Buy an Amiga 500, hook it up to a television, pop in a disk, turn it on, and start playing.

The British and especially the Germans took to the Amiga 500 in numbers that Commodore’s North American executives could only dream of. By early 1988, Commodore could announce that they had sold 500,000 Amigas worldwide, a strong turnaround for a marque that had been all but left for dead a year before. A rather astonishing 200,000 of those machines, 40 percent of the total, had been sold in West Germany alone; Britain accounted for another 70,000. Even now, with the Christmas season behind them, Commodore West Germany was selling a steady 4000 Amiga 500s every week. A few months later came the simultaneously impressive and depressing news that the total market for Amiga hardware and software in West Germany (population 60 million) was now worth more than that for the United States (population 240 million). And where Germany led, the rest of Europe followed. Eighteen months later, with worldwide Amiga sales closing in on 1.5 million, it was the number one gaming computer in Europe, a position it would continue to enjoy for several years to come. Just about to begin its fade from prominence as a game machine in the United States, in Europe the Amiga’s best years and best games were still in front of it, as bedroom coders learned to coax performance out of the hardware of which its designers could hardly have conceived. The old Boing demo, once so stunning that crowds of trade-show attendees had peeked suspiciously under tables looking for the workstation-class machine that was really generating that animation, already looked singularly unimpressive. The story of the Amiga 500 in Europe was, in other words, the story of the Commodore 64 happening all over again. Commodore was now making the vast majority of their money in Europe, the North American operation a perpetual weak sister.

When journalists for the Amiga trade press in North America visited Europe, they were astounded. Here was the mainstream saturation that they had only been able to fantasize about back home. A report from a correspondent visiting a typical department store in Cologne must have read to American readers like a dispatch from Wonderland.

I came across a computerized book listing that was running on an Amiga 500. As I approached the computer department, I was greeted by a stack of Amiga 500s. I could not believe the assortment of Amiga titles on the book rack (hardcover ones, too!). I found two aisles full of Amiga software, consisting mostly of games. The Amiga selection was more than that of any other computer.

In a sense, it was just a reversion to the status quo. After all, prior to the introduction of the VIC-20 in 1981, Commodore’s income had been similarly unevenly distributed between the continents. Seen in this light, it’s the high times of the 1980s that are the anomaly, when American buyers flocked to the VIC-20 and the 64 and for a time made what had always been fundamentally a European brand — although, paradoxically, a European brand engineered and steered from the United States — into an intercontinental phenomenon. Not that that was of much comfort to the succession of executives who came and went from Irving Gould’s hotseat, fired one after another for their failure to make North American sales look as good as European sales.

But I did promise you 68000 Wars in the title of this article, didn’t I? So where, you might well be wondering, was the Amiga’s arch-rival the Atari ST in all this? Well, in North America it was a fairly negligible factor, although Atari would continue to sell their machine there almost as long as Commodore would the Amiga. The hype around the ST had dissipated quickly with the revelation in late 1986 that Atari really wasn’t selling anywhere near as many of them as Jack Tramiel liked to let on, and the Amiga 500, so obviously audiovisually superior and now much closer in price, soon proved a deadly foe indeed. The ST retained its small legion of loyal users: desktop publishers unwilling to splurge on a Macintosh, who took full advantage of its rock-solid monochrome high-resolution screen and Atari’s inexpensive laser printer, thereby truly making the ST live up to its old “Jackintosh” nickname; musicians, both amateur and professional, who loved its built-in MIDI port; programmers and hardware hackers who favored its simple, straightforward design over the Amiga’s more baroque approach; people who needed lots and lots of memory for one reason for another, on which terms Atari always offered the best deal in town (they released 2 MB and 4 MB ST models as early as 1987, when figures like that were all but inconceivable); inveterate Commodore haters and/or Atari lovers who bought it for the badge on its front. Still, there was little doubt which platform had won the 68000 Wars in North America. In the wake of the Amiga 500’s release, Atari began increasingly to turn to other ways of making money: buying the Federated chain of consumer-electronics stores; capitalizing on nostalgia for the glory days of the Atari VCS by continuing to sell both the old hardware and the cartridges to run on it; wresting away from Epyx a handheld gaming machine, the first of its kind, that was ironically designed by members of the old Amiga, Incorporated, team. When all else failed, there was always Jack Tramiel’s old hobby of lawsuits, of which he launched quite a few, most notably against the former owners of Federated for overstating their company’s value and against the new kid on the block in console gaming, Nintendo, for their alleged anti-competitive practices.

In Europe, the ST also came out second best to the Amiga, but the race was a much closer one for a while. Along with their love for all things Commodore, Germans found that they could also make room in their hearts for the Atari ST. It found a home in many German markets it never came close to cracking in the United States, being regarded as a perfectly respectable business computer there for quite some time. It also continued to do fairly well with gamers, thanks to Atari’s pricing strategies that always seemed to keep its low-end model just that little bit cheaper than the Amiga 500, enough to be a difference-maker for some buyers. When the Amiga became the biggest gaming computer in Europe, it was the Atari ST that slipped into the second spot. It would take the much more expensive MS-DOS machines some years yet to overtake these two 68000-based rivals. The economic chaos brought on by the reunification of West and East Germany, which caused many consumers there to tighten their wallets, only helped their cause, as did the millions of new price-conscious buyers who were suddenly scrambling for a piece of that Western computing action following the fall of the Iron Curtain.

The story of the Amiga, and to some extent also that of the ST, is often framed as a narrative of frustration, of brilliance that never got its due. There are some good reasons for that, but it can also be a myopic, America-centric view, ignoring as it does a veritable generation of youngsters on the other side of the Atlantic who grew up knowing these two platforms very well indeed. When I was writing my book about the Amiga, I couldn’t help but note the markedly different responses I got from friends in Europe and the United States when I told them about the project. Most Americans have no idea what an Amiga is (“Omega?”); most Europeans of a certain age remember it all too well, flashing me smiles redolent of nostalgia for afternoons spent before the television with their mates, when the summer seemed endless and the possibilities limitless. Instead of lamenting might-have-beens too much more, I expect to spend quite some articles over the next few years talking about the Amiga’s innovations and successes — and, yes, I’ll also have more to say about the Amiga’s perpetually overlooked little frenemy the Atari ST as well. Whether you grew up with one of these machines or you too aren’t quite sure yet what to make of this whole “Omega” thing, I hope you’ll stick around. Some amazing stuff is in store.

(Sources: Invaluable as always for these articles was Brian Bagnall’s book On the Edge: The Spectacular Rise and Fall of Commodore. I can’t wait for the better, longer version. The long-running “Roomers” column in Amazing Computing is my go-to source for a month-by-month chronology of developments on the Amiga scene, and the source of most of the nit-picky factoids in this article. The issues of Amazing used include: March 1987, June 1987, July 1987, August 1987, October 1987, November 1987, December 1987, February 1988, April 1988, May 1988, June 1988, July 1988, August 1988, September 1988, November 1988, December 1988, January 1989, February 1989, March 1989, April 1989, May 1989, June 1989, July 1989, August 1989, September 1989, October 1989, November 1989, December 1989, January 1990, April 1990, May 1990, June 1990, February 1991, March 1991, April 1991, May 1991, December 1991. Commodore Magazine‘s fateful interview with Thomas Rattigan appeared in the May 1987 issue. Other sources include Retro Gamer 39 and of course my own book The Future Was Here. Hey, it’s not every day a writer gets to cite himself…)


Posted by on November 27, 2015 in Digital Antiquaria, Interactive Fiction


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83 Responses to The 68000 Wars, Part 4: Rock Lobster

  1. William Hern

    November 27, 2015 at 4:30 pm

    Another great article Jimmy!

    One small typo – I think you meant to write “Jackintosh” as the Atari ST’s nickname, rather than “Jackintoch”.

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 27, 2015 at 11:19 pm


  2. Stefane Fermigier

    November 27, 2015 at 4:59 pm

    Awesome article ! (From a former young european Atari-lover / Amiga-hater).

    One small typo: s/naval/navel/.

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 27, 2015 at 11:20 pm


  3. Bernie

    November 27, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Wow Jimmy ! Another great article. This is one of your best series and I’m sure Part 4 is going straight to the Greatest Hits list.

    Keep up the great effort and quality !

  4. Lisa H.

    November 27, 2015 at 10:23 pm

    That successor had to the Amiga.

    I think you missed out a “be” there.

    not much in the way of concerted promotion or messaging

    Did you mean “marketing”?

    Commodore would even beginning selling 500s

    Mismatched your tenses there.

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 27, 2015 at 11:24 pm

      The second was as intended. The first and third, not so much. :) Thanks!

      • Lisa H.

        November 27, 2015 at 11:56 pm

        What do you mean by “messaging” in this context, then?

        • Jimmy Maher

          November 28, 2015 at 1:45 am

          Message-making in the sense of creating a coherent marketing narrative. Who should buy this computer and what should they do with it?

  5. Ronixis

    November 28, 2015 at 1:25 am

    How ‘traditional’ was the “traditional videogame demographic of teenage boys” at this time? I’ve read it wasn’t that way at the beginning, but I don’t recall what was said about when it did start.

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 28, 2015 at 1:52 am

      Teenage boys were always the biggest consumers of standup-arcade and home-console videogames. Computer games often attracted a somewhat older demographic, especially in North America, especially in the very early years, but by the late 1980s the prototypical Amiga user in Europe was a teenage boy likely enjoying a frenetic action game like those Psygnosis became so known for. I’m not generally hugely interested in those sorts of games, which can perhaps create a misleading narrative here on this blog, but the fact remains…

      • Pedro Timóteo

        November 28, 2015 at 10:32 am

        Yes, I used to read British gaming magazines (we got them in Portugal), such as Your Sinclair, Sinclair User, Crash!, Zzap 64, Computer & Video Games, Micro Hobby (Spanish), Joystick (French), and so on, and they were mostly oriented to action games (with a couple of simulators here and there, a few, rare RPGs (usually not on the Spectrum, the only “big” one it got was the first Bard’s Tale), and lots of text adventures (Infocom was seen as the pinnacle of the genre, but expensive and not available on tape, which most people had, but there were also the usual suspects: Level 9, Magnetic Scrolls, Zenobi, and a lot of (actually often decent) Quill / GAC / PAW stuff).

        It was a shock to me when, in the early 2010s, I found an archive of scans of the (American) Computer Gaming World, completely full (even in the 80s, even for 8-bit computers) of simulations, strategy / war games, RPGs, etc., most of which were never even heard of in Europe. It felt as if Americans got all the *really* fun stuff all for themselves, and a lot sooner than I imagined, too.

        It’s not that I didn’t enjoy a lot of the games made in Europe, but they were usually simpler affairs: shoot ’em ups, platformers, arcade adventures such as the Magic Knight or Dizzy games, etc., many of them licensed from movies (such as the Batman game mentioned in this article).

        • Isofarro

          November 30, 2015 at 12:52 pm

          Retro-collecting over the past few years I’ve come across a few RPG games for the Spectrum (in addition to The Bard’s Tale):

          Times of Lore from Origin (so before Ultima),
          A couple of Advance Dungeon & Dragon’s themed games: Dragons of Flame, and Heroes of the Lance.
          Can we classify Bloodwych as an RPG, or just a dungeon crawler?
          Though, squinting a little bit, Lords of Midnight and Doomdark’s Revenge could be classified as RPG-ish…
          And one I picked up recently: Twin Valley Kingdom, a text adventure but with “intelligent” NPCs.

          • Pedro Timóteo

            November 30, 2015 at 5:36 pm

            Times of Lore and Bloodwych, yes. The others… not so much, in my opinion. That could be a long discussion, but a RPG must have some kind of character progression (typically seen as “leveling up”), and none of the other examples have it, I think. At best, one could say they have RPG *elements*, such as hit points, but I don’t think that’s enough for a game to be an RPG.

            The CRPG addict, some time ago, played through Ring of Darkness, a 1983 Ultima I clone on the Speccy I had never heard about before. Another one I also found about there is Out of the Shadows.

  6. Keith Palmer

    November 28, 2015 at 1:27 am

    There was an incomplete “history of Amiga” on Ars Technica that got to about this point, making a similar deal of “Thomas Rattigan brought the Amiga new years of life then got fired for his troubles,” but certainly this is a fine narrative in itself. It does sort of get my attention how Rattigan “also” came from Pepsi, knowing how John Scully’s original role was supposed to be “the marketing man” (although after the ouster of Steve Jobs he did seem from my own studies to at least appear to be a steady hand on the tiller, saying reassuring things to the suspicious Apple II users, until he started thinking of himself as a “technological visionary” a year or two later… The Macintosh II’s cameo appearance here also got my attention; I’m now reading Macworld magazines from 1987 and seeing how big a deal it was in them; the comments there about it being “workstation-class” might be inspired by its price as much as anything, of course.) I’m inclined to muse about the general case design embodied in the Amiga 500 being a sort of default “home/inexpensive computer” in the late 1980s, remembering the “EX” variant of the Tandy 1000.

    One bit of proofreading did catch my attention:

    crowds of trade-show attendees had peaked suspiciously under tables

    I’m pretty sure “peeked” is the proper word here.

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 28, 2015 at 2:24 am

      Thanks for the correction!

      I will be getting into the Mac II and later Mac history in a later article.

  7. Healy

    November 28, 2015 at 2:16 am

    Nice article! I noticed a typo, though:

    Commodore’s most consistently strong markets then would also proof the strongest of their twilight years:

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 28, 2015 at 2:49 am


  8. Wade

    November 28, 2015 at 4:09 am

    Being a kid/teen myself at the time, I didn’t perceive the financial strains of any platform. I did perceive which of my friends had what, however. I figured I’d just throw in my anecdotal observation about the platform situation in Australia – or Sydney, at least!

    I grew up in a well off middle class area here. When I was very small, my maths teacher dad bought an Apple II. And several of my friends had one at home as well. One friend had a Vic-20, but then pretty soon we had a generation where half the computer kids had Apples at home and half had C64s.

    When I got to high school, the split of new machines became: half the computer kids had PCs at home (usually when the family was in business, or where more than one family member used the computer) and half started to get Amigas. The teens who were getting Amigas had them for themselves – eg as xmas or birthday presents, or with siblings, and the parents didn’t use them. I only knew one person who had an Atari ST.

    In spite of the Atari’s near invisibility here to me, the magazine Australian Personal Computing serviced both the Amiga and Atari ST very thoroughly with game reviews. All I did was drool over screenshots of The Pawn and such in most issues (I still had my Apple II+).

    The Amiga was miles ahead in aesthetic output. But the PC moved out of primitiveness very quickly. From playing Shinobi in crappy CGA with no soundcard, on a computer in a forbidding office room with the PC fan whirring in 1988/1989 it was only a year or two to colourful games with great sound appearing on the PC. The port of Gauntlet II was killer.

    In 1990 my family moved from the Apple II+ to an Apple IIGS after much begging and pleading by me. This was already very late in the IIGS’s run (something I was unaware of), but still at least two other people in my school had IIGS’s. A lot of people at school now had an Amiga, while they also moonlighted on their parents’ PC, which was now a good games machine, too.

  9. Jubal

    November 28, 2015 at 8:28 am

    Reading this and previous articles about the Amiga’s poor fortunes in the US have been astonishing to me as a Brit. It was THE computer to have well into the mid-90s. Then again, a lot of us poor kids were still using ZX Spectrums in 1993, when the last Sinclair magazine finally closed down. IBM clones back then were weird, serious machines that possibly your friend’s dad would do inscrutable office work on, but no more than that. I can’t remember even seeing an Apple product until 2000 or so.

  10. Markus

    November 29, 2015 at 3:39 am

    How strong and well-off Commodore was particularly in (West-)Germany is something rather frequently overlooked or forgotten, it seems. Kudos for pointing that out. If memory serves, Commodore Deutschland GmbH was doing well enough to actually outlive its mother in the collapse of 1994 by a few months (the other one, I think, being Commodore UK). This still shows in what one might want to call the “Commodore scene” of today – whether it’s modern Amiga matters, emulators, demo scene, programming, etc., there’s always a rather significant number of Germans involved or around.

    One minor nitpick though – the German reunification did cause a surge in sales figures, with a whole new market opening up behind the former iron curtain now longing to catch up with the West. Plenty of demand there, but little money. The real spike there affected mostly the much more affordable machine, the C64, which was technologically way past its prime obviously, but all of a sudden (and unexpectedly) sold in six to seven-digit figures again. Any Amiga sales spike was mostly a second-hand matter of sales in the West (think more westerners selling their old used C64s to the East, or passing them on to friends or relatives there, to finally transition to Amiga themselves).

  11. Bumvelcrow

    November 29, 2015 at 8:08 pm

    As a barely teenage brit in the late 80s the Amiga was the machine to aspire to, but rarely to actually own. Even at the tail end of the decade most of my friends still had 64s and Spectrums, with the odd, unfortunate, Amstrad CPC owner among the. The Amiga was just never cheap enough to be something the average human could own. Atari ST owners were always insufferably smug that the ST, being cheaper, had more games! :) The earlier generation of Atari 8-bits were the rarely-seen exotics, and Apples were more or less non-existent.

  12. Nate

    November 29, 2015 at 9:25 pm

    Another great article.

    Regarding: “a hit Amiga game might sell only 20,000 copies, a major blockbuster by the platform’s terms 50,000”

    I think there needs to be a comma added: “a major blockbuster by the platform’s terms, 50,000”

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 30, 2015 at 5:02 pm

      I don’t think the comma is necessary. A second “might sell only” is understood in this case, and the understood clause really can’t be grammatically replaced by a comma.

      • Nate

        December 2, 2015 at 6:09 am

        I asked a friend who’s an editor and she confirmed what I said, as well as another point I didn’t bring up (using a comma instead of semicolon to join two independent clauses).

        It’s apparently an “elliptical clause”.

        So it should read:

        “a hit Amiga game might sell only 20,000 copies; a major blockbuster by the platform’s terms, 50,000”

        • Jimmy Maher

          December 2, 2015 at 12:26 pm

          With the semicolon, that does read better. Thanks!

  13. Nate

    November 29, 2015 at 9:31 pm

    One thing I think may be relying on hindsight too much is your conclusion that a reason for creating the Amiga 2000 was genlock or desktop video. I don’t think that was the original intent, though running the address lines out to an external bus was definitely intended to allow for expandability. I think Dave Haynie didn’t really foresee what it could be used for, but thought it would be a useful addition.

    The biggest problem with the Amiga was the continuing lack of investment in the platform. Because the first chipset was so complicated and interlocking in its design, it would take some real visionary work to evolve it that Commodore just didn’t spend on. Losing the original design team was a big hindrance, but I also wonder if they would have been capable of evolving their own work or would be too tied to how it had begun.

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 30, 2015 at 5:17 pm

      I disagree with your first point. Desktop video was an acknowledged Amiga application by the time the 2000 was launched, although the term itself wasn’t yet prevalent. Genlocks were available, articles on integrating Amigas with video cameras and VCRs were cropping up in the magazines, etc. It still wasn’t understood how pivotal an application it would end up being for the Amiga, but, as Rattigan himself stated in that fateful Commodore magazine interview, it was understood that Amigas were unlikely to replace MS-DOS machines on the desks of everyday businesspeople but could still find a home with professionals whose work involved “a degree of creativity.” I think my own statement is very much in line with that emerging consensus: “The Amiga 2000 would be the big, professional-level machine, with a full 1 MB of memory standard — four times that of the 1000 — and all the slots and expansion possibilities a programmer, artist, or video-production specialist — or, for that matter, a game developer — could possibly want.”

      The Amiga’s tightly integrated design would indeed have been a huge problem when it came to extending the platform’s life even without Commodore’s lackadaisical attitude toward R&D. The Mac faced somewhat similar issues when Motorola announced the end of the 68000 line. It took a hugely expensive effort on Apple’s part to make the switch to the PowerPC architecture, and even then it was touch and go for a while. It’s hard to imagine how Commodore, with fewer resources and all those baroque custom chips to contend with, could have pulled a whole series of similar rabbits out of their hats to keep the Amiga competitive. I do get into these issues in some depth in my book on the Amiga.

      • Nate

        December 2, 2015 at 6:24 am

        Regarding the A2000 and genlock, I thought this article was helpful:

        My impression was that the German team had just designed a generic expansion slot, running lots of signals to it, including some video signals. Then Dave added a few more in the rev B model. But I don’t actually know what those signals are (never used an Amiga, but I did read your book).

        I thought the additional signals Dave added were what enabled the full features of genlock, but it’s quite possible I’m mistaken.

        • Jimmy Maher

          December 2, 2015 at 12:36 pm

          The ability to mix digital graphics with analog video sources was a key design component from the beginning, although it was initially conceived not so much as a tool to enable video-production as a something that could be used with laser discs to make games like the ones that were popular in arcades at the time in the wake of Dragon’s Lair. (See In the original vision of the Amiga as a game console, Miner and company imagined selling an add-on (or possibility even integral) laser-disc drive for these sorts of games. That this vision was present from the beginning makes Commodore’s failure to jump into CD-ROM for so long doubly bewildering and damning.

          Anyway, Commodore announced the first genlock for the Amiga simultaneously with the announcement of the Amiga itself. This ability was present from the beginning, and was already being used in a fairly high-profile way by the Amazing Stories television series well before the Amiga 2000.

      • Nate

        December 2, 2015 at 6:32 am

        I do know something about the Mac hardware and I don’t think it’s a good analogy. While the 68k to PowerPC transition was a big one, I don’t think it was the peripheral chips that were the problem. Other than video and audio boards, there weren’t many custom chips in early Macs.

        Apple didn’t go in for ASIC design like MOS did.They used a standard CIA for the two serial ports, for example, and burned a lot of CPU polling various registers. The most complex “custom” part in the original Mac was a gate array, and that’s field programmable.

        The other computer that never made the leap due to custom peripheral chips is the C64. :-) Even MOS couldn’t actually do much to rev the VIC-II and SID after the designers left. Instead, they did an HMOS tweak (but used mostly the same cores) and the C65 had a full redo for the VIC-III.

        You get it right in your book, if I remember correctly. You pointed out that exposing the hardware as an API ultimately ended up being a drag. It would have taken a start from scratch (like the AMD64 architecture did for x86) to wrest that access from the programmers’ hands. Though Commodore did try to do that with Hombre and other Amiga designs that never launched, it just never had the funding to do right (ROM upgrades, manuals, OS rewrite, etc.)

        • Jimmy Maher

          December 2, 2015 at 12:45 pm

          I think it’s a worthwhile analogy in that both platforms were facing the same end-of-life issues if they couldn’t transition to another CPU architecture. Apple was able to execute the transition; Commodore never even got started on it. I agree that the custom chips would have made that transition much more difficult even had Commodore had the resources and vision to try (in truth, they had neither).

          The way that the Amiga allowed programmer to bang on the hardware, and the way that programmers of games in particular loved to do so, certainly did create huge issues of its own even with the relatively modest upgrade from the original chipset to the AGA chips in 1992. Yet most of the really graphically spectacular games that sold so many Amigas wouldn’t have been possible without this ability. It’s just one more way that the Amiga was a platform before its time, which contained the seeds of its own destruction from the beginning. For all Commodore’s mismanagement, the only way the Amiga could have survived longer would have been if Commodore had done what Apple did, making new “Amigas” that were similar in name only — and perhaps an additional software emulation layer — to their predecessors.

          For all the criticism it attracted, the only truly future-proofed platform of the 1980s was IBM’s PC architecture. That makes it as visionary in its own way as anything in Apple or Commodore’s sexier machines. Yes, it’s a bit like comparing a pickup truck to a sports car — but in the final analysis the former does tend to be a lot more long-lived and useful, doesn’t it?

          • Nate

            December 10, 2015 at 6:39 pm

            I agree with all the above.

            IBM was definitely future-proofed, by virtue of being a “least common denominator” product backed by the industry leader in business computing. Of course, its future wasn’t really guaranteed until the clones appeared.

            I think of the PC architecture as like Unix that way. AT&T almost killed it with mismanagement and lack of focus, but it fortunately escaped the parent in a form that allowed it to be cloned and expanded by BSD and then Linux. It also started as a least common denominator OS with some great ideas underneath.

            BTW, I made a mistake in my prior comment — the early gate arrays aren’t field programmable (that came later).

          • Joe Peter

            November 15, 2019 at 1:49 pm

            You forgot how IBM tried to close this hole with the PS2 and the clones attack.. It was not because of IBM but because people were able to design their own computer. Basically that was it. The PS2 cost like $20k all decked out.. But I think for 5K.

            I also remember buying my own mother board, ram cpu, gfx card keyboard etc etc etc… And just build yourself a computer like how you wanted and you even got a dozen flavors of OS’s.. And you had a lot of tools and utils to go with it. More like a make your own flavor ice cream sundae.. Companies like Dell and HP etc offered a standard range of product that works okay.. All this was in spite of IBM trying to close down everyone who did not buy IBM blue.. So there is another story here as well. Microsoft was more successful in stopping others from over taking them using similar tactics and by basically giving away their msdos got many to bundle it as standard and being as IBM also used them, became a standard. . That also worked on clones and other hard ware.. Intel is also here as they lucked out.. In the end the worst of the worst ended up on top by sheer luck.

  14. Firedragon

    December 1, 2015 at 1:52 pm

    “(…) most Europeans of a certain age remember it all too well, flashing me smiles redolent of nostalgia for afternoons spent before the television with their mates, when the summer seemed endless and the possibilities limitless”.

    Perfect summary of my feelings and summer of 1987, 1988 and 1989 spent in front of my beloved Amiga 500 (serial number below 10.000). As a german teenager whose parents could not afford to go travelling, but splashed this one time on their child´s education in computers, the Amiga 500 was the saviour.

    Of course we played games. But the intention of my parents was reached. Until today I benefit from my “lost summers” in front of the Amiga – I can intuitively use any new technology and type away at 300-500 characters per minute touchtyping. I also did some programming, which ten years later lead to easily passing university exams in Modula-2, C++ and Java with only a few days of study of the syntax and priniciples of those languages.

    This ability for intuitive use of new tech and softwares comes from – you may have guessed already – from hundreds of games and – to a lesser extent – commercial software, which we did not have a manual to…. and why did not come with one is pretty obvious – they were copies. This of course in general was practiced everywhere but more so on the Amiga, which also ultimately helped the downfall of the Amiga as a profitable plattform for software developers.

  15. Brian Bagnall

    December 1, 2015 at 9:39 pm

    Some people say the 3D movie theater shark sequence in Back to the Future 2 was done on an Amiga, though I’m having trouble at the moment finding a reference.

    You probably hit on something there that had Rattigan stayed aboard, an effort would have been made to properly advertise the Amiga 500 with TV commercials. In all the brouhaha surrounding his dismissal, it seems like someone forgot. :) Probably more complicated than that of course.

    Typo: ” at all will understood”

    • Jimmy Maher

      December 2, 2015 at 12:23 pm

      Thanks for the correction!

      The Amiga’s actual role in some high-profile productions tended to get inflated by the fans: “The Amiga makes Max Headroom!”; “The Amiga makes the Jurassic Park dinosaurs!”; etc. Really its graphics, impressive as they were for a consumer-grade PC, were nowhere near up to such tasks. Amigas filled very ancillary roles in such productions, as well as, I suspect, Back to the Future II. The classic example of a production that was done almost entirely on Amigas is the early seasons of Babylon 5 — but that was done some years later, and with Video Toaster-equipped machines that bypassed the Amiga’s native chipset.

      • Brian Bagnall

        December 3, 2015 at 12:43 am

        Here’s a comprehensive listing of where the Amiga was used:

        Notably I don’t see Back to the Future II, or even Star Trek: Voyager (the intro render was supposedly done on an Amiga). I do see Jurassic Park previsualization, so as you say, an ancillary role. Jeff Bruette (Commodore software engineer) confirmed he was the SFX guy on an Amazing Stories episode titled “The Eternal Mind”. That episode was enjoyable purely for the 80’s cheesiness.

        • Maxx Daymon

          December 3, 2015 at 5:50 am

          While they still used models, some Star Trek: Voyager work was done in Lightwave. Some was done on the Amiga version, some on SGI. ST:V came out about the time NewTek discontinued the Amiga version (1995) and is, in fact, the reason for a visual defect in the opening sequence:

          John Goss (visual effects artist for Star Trek) said, “We always use beta software [remark: meaning a new version of LightWave which, at the time, was available on two different computer systems, Amiga being the hardware component of the 1990 “Video Toaster Suite” package], which means there tend to be some bugs. As we were modeling Voyager, some of it was being done in the Amiga version; some was being done on the SGI version. If you transferred the model between the different systems, the textures – effectively the paint on the ship – would get lost. That happens in the final shot where the belly tips up toward us and Voyager goes to warp.”

          NewTek had been working on porting Lightwave off the ailing Amiga platform. In 1995, they released Lightwave 3D 5.0 for PC, SGI, DEC Alpha, Macintosh, and the last version the Amiga would see. Even at that, I expect that the Amiga version of 5.0 was used almost exclusively as a bridge simply to get the assets into other versions.

          Many Amiga enthusiasts do not realize just how quickly studios moved to these versions, nor do they realize that Lightwave was no longer synonymous with Amiga after 1995. Effects studios tend to be on the bleeding edge of technology and, given the state of the Commodore, they were anxious to leave the hardware platform. Lightwave was the killer app at that point, not the Amiga.

          Even Babylon 5, “the” show Amiga fans pointed to, moved off the Amiga after the just one season, replacing 24 Amiga 2000s with 12 Pentium PCs and 5 DEC Alpha workstations. The only reference I can find to an _exclusively_ Amiga rendered show is only the B5 pilot itself.

  16. Maxx Daymon

    December 3, 2015 at 5:08 am

    “The two new models would entirely replace the original, now retroactively dubbed the Amiga 1000”

    The Amiga 1000 was always the Amiga 1000, but marketing frequently dropped the model number only speaking about it on a first name basis until there were more models to talk about.

    • Jimmy Maher

      December 4, 2015 at 10:24 am

      Hmm… I can’t actually find *any* examples of the Amiga 1000 being referred to by that name in any of Commodore’s literature prior to the 500 and 2000. The box and manual, for instance, simply say “Amiga,” as does all of the advertising I’ve seen. Ditto all of the reviews and articles that greeted the debut, like Byte’s well-informed and lengthy piece. While it’s quite possible that the first Amiga was always the 1000 internally, I have to think that in the eyes of the public at least it was indeed a retroactive renaming. Unless you have some other examples of the name being publicly used prior to the 500 and 2000, I think I’m going to let the statement stand.

      • Maxx Daymon

        December 5, 2015 at 1:21 am

        Generally speaking, I agree that Commodore emphasized just “Amiga” as the name of the computer and journalists writing about the machine referred to it as such. They _may_ have even discouraged using the model number in advertising and articles. It would be interesting to see any press materials they supplied, and if they had a prohibition on the model number.

        To me, it is an interesting question. Did they drop the emphasis on the “1000” because Apple did with the Macintosh? Was it an effort to be ‘friendlier’ or was there simply no need to emphasize model numbers yet. Who came up with model number 1000? The original Hi-Toro team or Commodore? Was it a nod to the Commodore 900, or perhaps an homage to the Atari 400/800 that Jay developed? If Amiga, Inc. somehow resolved their financial issues and released it, would it have been the Amiga Amiga? It seems that the father of the Atari 400 and Atari 800 _might_ have called his next machine MyCompanyName 1000. Was that the case, or did the model no. come from Commodore? It smells like a marketing decision, but was it?

        “I can’t find *any* examples…”

        On the way! :)

        “While it’s quite possible that the first Amiga was always the 1000 internally”

        (I have linked my Google Photo album with supporting images [1] for the much of the following information and included references to serial numbers for dating.)

        We can _definitely_ say that it was the Amiga 1000 internally. The first publication of the Assembly Level Repair manual PN 315038-01 is titled “Amiga Computer Model 1000” and Dave Needle’s pre-production Amiga with serial number XM1000001 says “Model No. 1000-X” on the FCC label.

        In terms of anything published to the public, the peripheral naming convention points very strongly to a model number of 1000 for the base unit: The Amiga 1010 (3.5) and 1020 (5.25) disk drives, 1025 Amiga Transformer, 1050 RAM expansion, 1060 sidecar, 1080 monitor, 1300 genlock, and 1680 modem all follow this 1000-series convention. The first production Amigas (with UL Pending stickers) all say “Model no. 1000” on the FCC label. Additionally, the English keyboard label (SN: MT0051938) says, “Amiga keyboard for model 1000” and the Italian label (SN: 0000421) just says right out, “Keyboard for Amiga(TM) 1000.” One of my own Amiga 1010 floppy drives (SN 0043596) says “Power are supplied from AMIGA1000 personal computer.” I disassembled the drive and confirmed the internal parts are rev A or -01 and manufactured in 1985. The original schematics included at the end of the manual clearly says “Amiga 1000” in the “used on” description, with a date of 11-18-85. Publicly visible, but not something most people would look at. Still, it shows that it was definitely called the Amiga 1000 internally.

        “The box and manual, for instance, simply say “Amiga,” as does all of the advertising I’ve seen.”

        I searched around for images of the first Amiga box, the so-called “tick” box. Unfortunately, there appears to be a conspiracy to never take a clear picture of the information side of the box. Most shots of the front, back, and ‘blank’ info side, but _never_ the contents and features (or the shot is a blurry Loch Ness/bigfoot/ufo thumbnail and impossible to read)

        So I dug _my_ original box out and took a bunch of up-close-and-personal *high* resolution (4320 x 2432) pictures (Commodore yelling in all caps here, not me) [1]:

        On the left panel,

        and, on the right panel:

        The artwork on my box has a copyright date of 1985, the UL and CSA statements are covered with a white label (they did not have UL/CSA listing initially), and the description of the monitor is another printed label covering the original monitor description. (I don’t know if the original description is for the short-lived 1070 monitor or simply inaccurate information about the 1080.) In other words, this is from the very first run of Amiga packaging and it clearly says in at least 24 point type “AMIGA 1000.” Twice. (I will grant you that the “1000” is in ~100 point type on the later red/blue 1987/1988 box)

        So, when we had Amigas stacked up in the store for sale, we generally had two boxes “full face” and “full back” views, and the rest stacked showing these panels of information. Any customer who looked at the stacks would see “AMIGA 1000 PERSONAL COMPUTER” repeated 10 to 20 times.

        As far as advertising, there were three major English language advertisements circulated in 1985. [2] One ad was the front side of the sales brochure sent to dealers, the others a one and two page spread of the “You’ve always had a lot of competition” ads. The first ad was a top down picture of the Amiga 1000 with an italicized headline, “AMIGA 1000 PERSONAL COMPUTER SYSTEM” and the version sent to dealers had specifications on the back. [3][4] Whenever a customer came in to ask about the Amiga, this is the sheet they left with. Sadly, I no longer know the Commodore part number for this sheet.

        There was another tri-fold brochure[1][5] that we handed out _before_ the Amiga was available. When you folded out the features page, the bottom text read, “The initial Amiga 1000s will have a write protectable block of 256K additional RAM…” (Note the ‘will have’ statement, this flyer pre-dated shipping units.)

        It is safe to say that anyone who came in interested in the Amiga in late 1985 left with at least a few dozen impressions of the full name “Amiga 1000.” No, they didn’t typically say it in full when they discussed it because there was no other model needed to disambiguate it.

        I could not find all the original flyers that actually came _in_ the box, but someone else did, and they posted pictures. [6] Ironically, they state in the article itself, “Commodore decided to discontinue the computer, _now called_ the Amiga 1000…” even while they have a picture of the original flyers from the very first shipment that _clearly_ say, “That’s right! Included with your new **AMIGA 1000** Personal Computer is a set of 4 microdisks and 2 manuals to get your started.” (Note the copyright date of 1985)

        “Ditto all of the reviews and articles that greeted the début, like Byte’s well-informed and lengthy piece.”

        The French translation of an article written in November of 1985 by Marshall M. Rosenthal describes the machine as, “l’Amiga A 1000” [7] where Byte missed that. For as well-informed and lengthy as the article is, it’s striking that they lack the most basic statement of identification taken directly from the product box, no? Still, from an historical perspective, I am cautious of magazine and news articles because they are so often written to be accessible over complete or precise. Even today when I read a news story or article about technology, I often find them to be very lacking in detail if you know much of anything about the topic.








        • Maxx Daymon

          December 5, 2015 at 1:46 am

          One more reference.

          Page 3 of the Commodore 1060 Sidecar manual:

          “Welcome to the Commodore Sidecar, a system that combines hardware and software to give IBM compatibility to your Amiga 1000 computer.”

        • Jimmy Maher

          December 5, 2015 at 10:56 am

          Well, I certainly can’t ask for more documentation than that! In retrospect, the existence of the 1010 floppy drive and 1080 monitors, both of which were commonly referred to by their model numbers, should have been the giveaway that an Amiga 1000 “model line” was a thing from the beginning. Thanks so much! Minor edit made.

  17. Ianoid

    December 4, 2015 at 10:02 am

    Fantastic entry. Thoroughly enjoyed it, as with all of your posts!

  18. Carl

    December 7, 2015 at 11:43 pm

    I know I’m way behind on this but I remember in late 1989 Commodore had a bizarre 10-page advertisement in an issue of Newsweek. Each page interviewed a creative type (I remember Bo Diddly, the musician, for sure) and talked about what he or she did with the Amiga. I remember thinking it was a weird move and as a teenager I wasn’t really into marketing. I did see the commercial at the time (I remember Tommy Lasorda). By that time I was resigned to Commodore’s failure in the US (only a handful of friends had them) and I got all my magazines and a lot of my games from Europe.

    It certainly seems it would have been more effective to put ads every issue for months in Newsweek rather than one monster ad. It must have been so expensive!

  19. Maxx Daymon

    December 8, 2015 at 12:48 am

    I took some better pictures of the Amiga 1000 box. (All Public Domain Dedication: CC0 in case you, or anyone else reading this, ever wants to clean them up and use them for any reason.)

    For a while, I thought maybe I was just crazy and mis-remembering. I think people were just so mind-blown by what the Amiga was that the model number seemed… insignificant? Looking through old magazines and videos, people really did mostly just refer to it as the Amiga. (I did find another reference: Byte Magazine, May 1986 page 352 refers to it as the “Amiga 1000” in the comparison table against the Macintosh, Mac Plus, Atari 520ST and 1040ST, but always as just the “Amiga” in the article itself.)

    In any case, at some point during all this, I realized you were Jimmy “The Future was Here: The Commodore Amiga” Maher. Just bought your book in hardcover (a book like that deserves hardcover… arrives tomorrow!) and definitely bookmarked this site!

    Fantastic stuff here! Keep up the excellent work!

  20. iPadCary

    December 17, 2015 at 10:41 pm

    Great work, as per, Jimmy!

    • iPadCary

      December 17, 2015 at 10:42 pm

      DEFINATELY my favorite era of computing!

  21. himitsu

    April 6, 2016 at 11:51 pm

    I find the 150.000 Atari ST puzzling… Is it just the US distribution number or global? I should look up where I read this, but afaik Atari was seriously low on cash by early 1986 and they were unable to scale up production, but still, there wasn’t enough Atari ST for the EU market and because of the middling interest in the US, they rather focused on the EU that year, so much so, that the ST was almost nowhere to be found in the US.

    Then they quickly concentrated on larger memory capacity models, just when the chip famine of the late 80s hit. I think this is even mentioned in ST User, ACE or C+VG, that Atari was just unable to build enough MegaST for the right price, or contract large enough batches of chips from the makers.

    Then there was the Atari TT, what they first mentioned in 1986 with a 68020. I wonder if the reason was that they spent too much time on the ATari Transputer, hoping that transputer chips would become a breakthrough technology.

    Also i wonder what led to the fact that they never introduced a 12Mhz and 16Mhz ST only the MegaSTE… Though the architecture of the ST did not allow a 100% increase in performance with the change of the chip, there were some quite nice 3rd party accelerators out there, and in case of GEM it had real benefit. Especially in case of the STE model… it took to 1992 to realize the MegaSTE, which could have been an amazing machine in 1990. I wonder if Atari was not satisfied with the speed increase, or the upcoming TT, or the market fragmentation, or the scarcity of 16Mhz 68000s was the reason for that.

    Then once again with the Falcon which had some very cool idea next to some very severe constraints, they announced it for £500 in early 1993, half year later, DRAM shortage hits again, and the price jumped to £600.

    And let’s not forget about the laptops and the portfolio…

    So I would argue against that Atari gave up computers with the origial modest success of the ST. Atari kept trying but most of these machines had some very good characteristics in their respective market, and until the Falcon bombed(no TOS reference intended), Atari was committed to the computer line.

    I even wonder what led to delaying the STE that late… I think they really trusted either the transputer or the laptop project or the lynx works out, and they did not have the money for R&D on the main product line.

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 7, 2016 at 9:24 am

      The 150,000 figure is global. Like you, many in the trade press greeted it with considerable surprise, given that the Tramiels had created the narrative that it was selling much, much better than that, one so compelling that it led much of the software industry to choose to support the ST rather than the (slightly better-selling in North America) Amiga. You can find the figure and the surprise in some of the sources listed at the end of this article: Atari was forced into revealing the figure because they wanted to start publicly trading a small part of their stock, and disclosure rules demanded they do so. Tellingly, ST software support in North America began to drop off markedly from that time.

      I’ve never seen any solid sales figures at all from after late 1986; certainly anything that came directly from the Tramiel-led Atari’s mouth has to be taken with a metric ton of salt. As you’ve kind of touched on here, they also had a penchant for announcing products and never releasing them. Many have taken this to have been a deliberate strategy, an odd form of market research: announce a bunch of products, then only release the ones that people get really *excited* about it.

      While I’m sure Atari’s interest in computers never completely evaporated, it definitely faded later on, when it became clear that the ST *wasn’t* becoming the next Commodore 64. The Tramiels spent much time, energy, and money on a fruitless lawsuit against Nintendo beginning in 1989, and also got back into game consoles in a big way about the same time with the Lynx and Jaguar. The ST line was comparatively neglected.

      • himitsu

        April 13, 2016 at 7:05 am

        Hi, i am not sure what happened to my last comment by I tried to add some clarity and maybe some useful information what you might not have regarding Commodore and Atari, I thought it was up for moderation, but maybe the issue was that it was too long.

        Anyway, one of the main points I raised that Atari had 8 computers released between 1989 and 1993, in the same period they released 2.

        Also i linked some financial statements, which are interesting to read. These financial statements contain data, that computer sales took up 76% in 1989, 67% in 1993.

        Also I attached a link that google have with the balance sheet of Commodore for 1991,1992,1993.

        And there were some other imho interesting information, I just don’t want to type that again, if it doesn’t appear in the end.

        • Jimmy Maher

          April 13, 2016 at 7:51 am

          I found your original comment in my spam filter. Oddly, it didn’t get held for moderation, as usually happens with a comment with two or more links, but instead got spammed directly. Sorry about that!

          Your information does indeed shed some new light on Atari for me, and convinces me that to say that Atari had “fading interest” in computers so early may indeed have been overstating the case. I think one problem may be that I was too US-centric. None of those new machines introduced after 1988 were much noticed at all in the US. Thanks for that!

          And thanks a million for digging up those financial reports. I wasn’t aware they were available, and they should prove a great source going forward.

          • himitsu

            April 25, 2016 at 9:58 pm

            Great thanks for including my additions. this is an interesting period of computing, but I assume it will be very difficult to know more about why some of these companies developed their products as they did. Atari was in a difficult position, because of the limitation of the architecture, but it is difficult to believe that they needed so many years to come out with a fully functioning TT. Similarly in case of Amiga, it is interesting to think about if it could have survived without the XOR lawsuit on a niche market…

            • Kovacm

              January 16, 2017 at 3:43 pm

              Hi, I see that you post got lost. I suspect that it contains Q10 papers after Atari Corp went public. Like I say before, Atari did not publish sales in units but rather in money. These reports also contain percetange of income depending source (st line, pc line, game console…)

              Anyway, can you retype your lost post?
              Or Jerremy, can you publish lost post fron himitsu?

            • Kovacm

              January 16, 2017 at 3:49 pm

              Here is one Atari Corp report:

              I have them all on harddrive (curently I am not at home).

              I also have conversation on atari user group regarding Atari TT. It is very interesting since you can see development phases of TT. I will post it here when I get home.

      • Kovacm

        January 16, 2017 at 3:20 pm

        “You can find the figure and the surprise in some of the sources listed at the end of this article: A”

        I can not find any sources at the end of linked article that have ST sale figure.

        Can you be more specific: where did you found Atari ST sales figures?

        Atari Corp. NEVER published sales figure in sold units, even after going public, they only published sales figures in $$$.
        If you have links with units sold, please leave links.

        • Jimmy Maher

          January 16, 2017 at 3:56 pm

          Sorry, that was indeed the wrong post to cite. It should have been part 3 of this series, not part 2:

          The smoking gun in this case would be page 89 of the January 1987 Compute!: “ST sales figures turn out to be smaller than commonly assumed. As of September 15, 1986, about 150,000 were sold, with perhaps half of those going abroad. While some previous estimates had the ST outselling the Amiga by a considerable margin, it now seems likely that the two are close to even in U.S. sales, despite Atari’s six-month head start.”

          • kovacm

            January 17, 2017 at 11:47 am

            So you also do not have any documented sales numbers of ST?

            Jeremy Reimer made, now widely famous, spreadsheet with supposedly sales figures but he fail to disclose source for Atari ST numbers (now I certain that I should also check how he came up even with Amiga numbers…!).
            His estimation are quite dubious regarding ST sale. I already post on EAB ( forum but I will repost here:

            Here you can read about Jeremy sources about figures: – he did not mention from where he pull number of Atari sales!
            Here is Atari Corp. K-10 Form for 1989. (note that Atari Corp was not obligate to fill K-10 before 1989.!):
            as you can read THERE is NO sales figure in units, only in $.

            Further, in K-10 for 1989. Atari Corp. state:
            “Sales of ST and PC products INCREASED by 36%, from $218.1 million in 1987 to $296.5 million in 1988.”

            and according to Jeremy Reimer Atari ST sales:
            1987 – 400.000
            1988 – 350.000

            Jeremy fail to note increase of 36% from 10-K but instead he DECREASE ST sales for 15% !

            bottom line that somebody should make serious research instead of this “I have felling”… What is source for “150.000” ST sold in January 1987 Compute! ?

            I am pretty sure that Marty Goldberg and Curt Vendel have most exact information regarding Atari Corp. but we need to wait for their next book: “Business is War”… :/

            Other solution would be to have something like so Atari user could type serial numbers. If enough numbers are typed in, than we could make some analyses from it regarding sale numbers.

            • Jimmy Maher

              January 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm

              Mmm, the Compute! article I pointed you to, which draws directly from the report Atari was legally required to issue to potential investors prior to their late 1986 IPO under Tramiel, strikes me as quite trustworthy. Beyond that snapshot, no, I don’t have any hard numbers.

              I think we can feel confident that there was a concerted effort by Atari to obfuscate sales numbers, one that initially succeeded quite well in making the American software industry at least believe the machine was selling much better than it actually was. This intentional obfuscation continued thereafter, albeit less successfully; the news that the ST just wasn’t selling all that well in many places, particularly North America, was now out. Given those obfuscation efforts, I’m not sure if the hard numbers exist anywhere.

              If I had to guess, I would probably give a ballpark figure, based on the machine’s profile in Europe, of perhaps 1 million machines lifetime, but that’s hardly a scientific estimate. I do suspect that if the hard numbers were really impressive Atari would have done much more to trumpet them, as for instance Commodore did when they sold their 1 millionth Amiga at the beginning of 1989. But admittedly this is all conjecture rather than hard data.

          • kovacm

            January 18, 2017 at 4:16 pm

            hmm… can we calculate like this (please bear with me):
            Official Atari Corp. numbers: “Sales of ST and PC products INCREASED by 36%, from $218.1 million in 1987 to $296.5 million in 1988.”

            If they sold ST computers worth $218.1 million and one ST cost $1.000 with Mono monitor (I believe that Annual Report count monitors as “sales of ST”) than Atari Corp. DID NOT sell more than 200.000 ST in 1987.

            (Price in September 1987:
            Atari 520ST + SM124 ~ $650,
            Atari 1040STf + SM124 ~ $925)

            This make sense, right?

            Regarding your feel “that Atari on purpose hide and lie(?)” about ST sales numbers, where Atari wrongly report numbers? Please give me link for Compute! article that you already mention and some more links if you have it.

            I can give you link* from InfoWorld (14. September 1987.) that state: “In small industrial city in central Germany (Heilbronn), the major computer dealer is Seel. …Seel sell “a few more than 20″ Atari ST per month, but no more than three Amigas.”

            From my personal experience: we bought first ST in 1986. I know many people in Yugoslavia that had ST but I did not know anybody who owned Amiga 1000. Only later, when Amiga 500 come to market, many people had it for playing games.

            Note that best software for Atari ST come from Europe. I insinuate that Atari Corp. did not have to lie about sale numbers since ST sold very good, you did not have to be a rocket scientist to recognize great value of ST hardware. We saw Atari ST and Amiga in same shop in 1986. in Munich and it was no brainer: for price of standalone Amiga we got ST with more memory, flicker-free mono monitor and Commodore 9-pin printer :) I believe (and I know) that we were not the only one that choose ST over Amiga 1000 in mid 80s.

            Anyway, I would like to see more links for you claim that Atari Corp. on purpose lie about ST sold numbers (and thus gaining software support).
            I contradict to you: and I would say that ST was most reasonable platform (lot of ram, flicker free hi res monitor, GUI, easy to operate, and cheap) to make new software, especial if you need to work with bitmap graphics.

            but thats are our opinions :) sales numbers are numbers.


            • Jimmy Maher

              January 21, 2017 at 6:18 pm

              To obfuscate does not mean to lie. ;)

  22. himitsu

    April 7, 2016 at 8:52 pm

    I am not sure that saying Atari had fading interest in the computers is correct. The Atari Lynx technology was purchased, and they did not have any serious console development until the Jaguar.
    Atari Lynx is 1989, Atari Jaguar is late 1993.

    In between:
    They upgraded the ST to STE 1989
    They released the Atari TT 1991
    They released the MegaSTE 1991
    They released the Atari Falcon 1992
    They released the Atari STacy 1989
    They released the Atari STBook 1991
    They released the Atari Transputer 1989
    They released the Atari Portfolio 1989
    And they had a line of IBM compatible computers.

    Maybe it is the lack of focus on individual products that took the company under….

    Some useful information: The financial reports for Atari are available on the Internet Archive among others. Unfortunately it is way more difficult to get financial information for Commodore, but I think some of their reports available in non-downloadable format, and can be viewed online. I know that the Amiga generated much better revenue, had much better sales, and that Commodore was a much bigger company to begin with(I seem to remember that Commodore had around $1300 million total assets at its high, while Atari’s total assets was arond $400 million around the same time)

    Anyway, some numbers for Atari:
    In 1988, 34% of the company sales came from video game systems, ST and PC sales constituted 64%. In 1989 computer sales increased to 76%, and video game sales dropped to 24%.
    Even in 1992-3, 67% of the company’s sales was from computers, in 1994 it constituted only 17%, but when the Falcon failed their sales expectations they immediately stopped all computer related business in 1993. Basically that 17% comes from the inventory.

    They were profitable in 1986,1987, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992 and 1994. However, 1988 was unprofitable because of the Federated Group buyout and its operational loss what you mention – I was not aware of that. 1991 was profitable because of the sale of the Taiwan factory. They stopped being a manufacturer in 1991. Their most profitable year was 1987, with $57 million net income, second to that 1986, $44 million net income. 1988 was the worst. $88 million net loss(Federated…), second 1992 $77 million net loss.

    1991 was the year of the crash, their stable $400+ million sales for the last 3 years halved that year, and halved again 1 year later, and it collapsed totally in 1993. They made the most sales in 1988, $450 million. Their net sales in 1994 with the Jaguar was only $39 million.

    Some other useful info: Supposedly they got out of retail 1 year after they bought the shops, because of the tremendous loss.(Federated bought in 1987, closed down in March 1989, mentioned in 1994 report).

    They don’t mention the Transputer in 1989, too bad I don’t have the 1988 report, according to wikipedia, it was sold only in the hundreds. Transputer technology was . They mention though the Atari TT, it was “previewed during the last quarter of 1989”, too bad it was not on sale until early 1991…

    Somewhere I saw some employee numbers

    others on same site.

    For Commodore this is all I have:

    1991: $1000 million revenue, and $48 million net income, amazing.
    1992: $900 million revenue and $27 million net income, super
    1993: $590 million revenue and $350 million loss, total collapse.

  23. FilfreFan

    May 5, 2016 at 12:46 am

    That was a great set of articles, thanks! Also, thanks to himitsu for some really good info!

    This period resonates most strongly with me. I still have my original VIC20, C64, SX64, and 1530 cassette in the original boxes. Although I don’t have the original box for my 1541, I do have plenty of cartridges and software, some in original boxes. However, my greatest love, and greatest disappointment, I reserved for the Amiga 1000.

    In those days, I used to say that even when IBM just s***s in the woods, everyone tumbles all over themselves to get a piece of it. Today I can acknowledge that I was wrong, because IBM standardization and openness have led to reliable technology advancement with a greater variety of capabilities than the former mish-mash of competing platforms and standards ever delivered. Still, occasionally I indulge in nostalgia for the old beloved Amiga.

    Thanks to your reviews, I’ve dusted off WinUAE and FS-UAE and enjoyed a bit of fun. Strangely, Dungeon Master and several other random titles work well on both, but Faery Tale Adventure hangs on the credits screen on both.

    Hungry for more, I looked at several sites advertising “best 100 Amiga games,” “top Amiga games,” and the like. Here’s what’s strange: I don’t recall having played any of those “best” titles on the Amiga. I recall a few games. Arctic Fox. Carrier Command. Marble Madness. Possibly Q-Bert. I have a few foggy memories of a two-player, 2D pseudo-3D, space game, but don’t recall the name of it. I may have played Starflight I and II on the Amiga. That’s about all I can recall. Hmmm, wonder what all that nostalgic fog was about?

  24. Zeid Nasser

    January 7, 2017 at 9:50 pm

    A very enjoyable read Jimmy…. I wonder why it took me so long to stumble upon it!

    As an Amiga owner in an Arab country, Jordan, we were more closely connected to the European markets and we read the British magazines and bought their games.

    I’ve read a lot about the Amiga story in the US and Europe, but there were many valuable pieces of new, uncommonly known facts in this post and its encouraged me to buy a copy of your book.

    Cheers and keep the retro-computing alive!

    Zeid Nasser
    Amman, Jordan

  25. kovacm

    January 21, 2017 at 5:05 pm

    hey, Jimmy!
    When you will publish my latest post?
    My replay to your post “Jimmy Maher January 17, 2017 at 12:23 pm” ???

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 21, 2017 at 6:08 pm

      I’m afraid there’s nothing in the moderation queue from you now.

      • Jimmy Maher

        January 21, 2017 at 6:12 pm

        Okay, found it in the spam filter. It’s up now.

  26. DZ-Jay

    March 29, 2017 at 10:58 am

    >> “… managed to stuff the contents of the 1000’s case into in an all-in-one design…”

    There seem to be too many prepositions there: “into in an” ;)

    • Jimmy Maher

      April 1, 2017 at 7:08 am


  27. DZ-Jay

    March 29, 2017 at 11:01 am

    >> “… Gould had had him escorted off the campus by security guards, no less…”

    I think a single verb will still work there.

  28. DZ-Jay

    March 29, 2017 at 11:06 am

    >> “… the talented actor never quite able to find her breakout role…”

    “Actor”… “her”?

    A fantastic leap of pronoun-activist gymnastics there. :P


    • whomever

      March 29, 2017 at 6:29 pm

      Dude, your axe-grinding is REALLY starting to show. Most people have switched to “actor” for women at this point and Jimmy is perfectly in the right to do it also. See, just as an example, IMDB.

  29. John

    May 26, 2017 at 2:18 am

    Don’t leave me hanging.. I found your site two weeks ago and have been reading the articles. Having been an Commodore kid since 1979 (VIC-20, 64, 64C, Amiga 600) before getting my first 486 in the mid 90’s. Loved the Gold Box articles too.
    I’m hoping for the rest of the Commodore story.

  30. Tom

    October 16, 2017 at 8:58 pm

    different that it did -> different than it did ?

    • Jimmy Maher

      October 17, 2017 at 8:21 am


  31. declain

    November 16, 2020 at 8:53 am

    I’m not a native speaker but shouldn’t

    “But I did promise you 68000 Wars in the title of this article, didn’t it?”


    “But I did promise you 68000 Wars in the title of this article, didn’t I?”


    • Jimmy Maher

      November 17, 2020 at 10:33 am

      Yes. Thanks!

  32. Jonathan O

    January 10, 2021 at 4:55 pm

    Not 100% sure of this but should “… a strong turnaround for a marquee …” be “… a strong turnaround for a marque …”?

    • Lisa H.

      January 11, 2021 at 12:06 am

      I think you’re probably right. (marque: a product model or type, as of a luxury or racing car)

    • Jimmy Maher

      January 12, 2021 at 9:19 am



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