A while ago, Polly wrote a review of a game called Cannon Fodder for the Amiga. In it she mentioned that she'd like someone to write an in-depth piece on the Amiga itself and its place in history someday, and I thought to myself 'Hey, I could do that!' since I had an Amiga growing up, and so I asked her If I could write such an article, and she said yes, so here it is, a brief introduction to the Commodore Amiga.
The Amiga was a very quirky little system. If you have never played one before it might seem like a forgotten system from a bygone age with a small, but devoted, cult following, but back in early nineties Britain, every young person had at least some form of exposure to it. You would have either owned one yourself, and loved it to pieces, or if you didn't, you would have definitely had a friend who owned one, and you would've spent too much time going to their house to play on it. While it could barely be considerd even a small success in the US, in Britain and the rest of Europe, it was huge. Consoles of the time, (and to some extent even today), were much more expensive here than on the other side of the atlantic, leading many people to purchase an Amiga as a suitable alternative. That's not to say the Sega and Nintendo consoles weren't popular, they were, they just had a smaller market share compared to the Amiga back then.
Now at this point I have to admit that I was only a mere foetus when the Amiga was in full swing, but thanks to the fact my brother is over a decade older than me, I had an Amiga (an A600 to be exact) and a fair amount of games waiting for me at birth (though obviously I didn't start playing them for a few years). So while my Amiga experience might be watered down, since I was a few years late for the party, I think I know enough about it to make this informative enough.
There were around 15 different models of Amiga computers released, but when someone says 'The Amiga' you can be more than certain they are referring to the Amiga A500, A600, or A1200, the most poopular models, much the same way as when someone says 'The Nintendo', you know they are talking about the NES. The only people who would disagree with that are the hardcore, militant, Amiga nerds who own all 15, but fuck them, everyone else only cares about either the A500, A600, or A1200. Until I read about it on the net when I got older, I never knew there were any models other than those 3, and the reason why is that mostly only businesses owned any of the other models, so when it comes to gaming, the only models of any interest are the A500, A600, and A1200.
Put simply, the Amiga A500 was a 16-Bit computer completely enclosed in a keyboard casing. It had a floppy disk drive on the side, and two joystick/mouse ports (the Atari 2600 kind) and the usual assortment of printer and serial ports on the back. It could be connected to a high-resolution monitor but the vast majority of people connected it to their Tv's with the RF adaptor that was included. Some people consider it the spiritual successor to the Commodore 64.
The A600 was basically the 'A500 Slim'. Lacking a numpad, and with the joystick ports moved to the side, the A600 was considerably smaller than the A500, and was supposed to be cheaper too, as you would expect a console redesign to be, but it ended up be more expensive, although it came down in price after time. The components inside were slightly different to the A500's as well, which caused compatibility issues with some older software, but only a handful. The numpads absence also rendered any games that required it unplayable, but again the number of these titles were small.
The Amiga A1200 was an upgraded version of the A500/A600. Going back to a full keyboard layout with a numpad, it looked almost identical to the earlier A500, but the hardware was significantly upgraded. Lots of software designed to make full use of the A1200's more advanced capabilities was released but, again due to the differences in the hardware, some A500 titles were incompatible, even more so than the A600.
Amigas, being computers and not consoles, where able to be used for a wide variety of applications, the obvious ones being word processing and general number crunching, but two areas the Amiga particularly excelled at were graphic design and audio production. Amigas were used a lot in the media industry at the time for animation and music production and the like, and even today some enthusiasts still use them for this, but the majority of owners used their Amigas for nothing but games. All Amigas came with an operating system that booted from a floppy disk called 'Amiga Workbench', which version you had depended on how old your Amiga was, but very few people ever used it, it was always about the games.
The games came in two flavours, big budget titles from proper software houses, and low budget independent games made by students in their bedrooms. If an independent game was good enough, a publisher would licence the game for retail release and maybe even offer the student a job if they were that good. If a game was of a poor quality, the programmers would pay to advertise their 'game' in the back of an Amiga magazine. The games for sale in the back pages of magazines were usually either too shit or too off-the-wall for a proper release, and worth avoiding, but you may of found a few 'diamonds in the rough' if you were lucky. You would also find pirated copies of popular games for sale in these back pages too, usually for fractions of the games actual cost, but that is a very shady area to get into, and magazines wouldn't publish these adverts if they could avoid it.
Many of today's well known British developers started off developing for the Amiga. Psygnosis, known at the time for games such as Obliterator and Shadow of the Beast, were bought by Sony and went on to become known as 'Studio Liverpool', developers of the Wipeout series. Rockstar North, famous for Grand Theft Auto, started out as 'DMA Design', known then as the developers of Lemmings, and Peter Molyneux, the man now known as the creator of Fable and Black & white, started out on the Amiga with early hits Populous and Theme Park.
There were plenty of arcade conversions made for the Amiga, but most of them pale in comparison to their console equivalents,(some are even downright unplayable). All the really notable Amiga games were original titles, such as Lemmings, Sensible Soccer, Cannon Fodder (which as mentioned, Polly has already wonderfully reviewed), Populous and Alien Breed, to name but a few. The Amiga also had some good ports of DOS games, such as Loom and Monkey Island. Many of the best selling Amiga games would later receive ports to other consoles, including the five mentioned above, but the ports were usually inferior to the Amiga originals, although they did help the titles reach a wider audience. An updated version of Sensible Soccer is currently available on Xbox Live Arcade, and the Playstation Network hit 'Super Startdust HD' is a major reworking of an old A1200 game called (you guessed it) Super Stardust.
As I said at the beginning, this is just a brief introduction into the Amiga, and while there are websites out there with much more detailed information, most (but to be fair, not all) are written in such a confusing and condescending way, that it makes them difficult to read. I recommend trying out some Amiga games through emulation to anyone who has never played any before, as there are some truly great classics out there, try and check them out.