Amegas: Commodore Amiga

Amegas: Commodore Amiga
Amegas: Commodore Amiga

Insert Disk collects Amegas for the Commodore Amiga.

Today’s retro game review is Amegas for the Commodore Amiga. This retro gaming classic is a landmark game for the inclusion of the first .mod music file. Karsten Obarski’s Amegas and Crystal Hammer theme tunes set a new bar for digital music creation. Amegas itself went on to become a popular bat and ball game with Commodore Amiga fans.

Greetings collectors and welcome to today’s retro game review. Back in my youth I was regularly glued to my Commodore Amiga and all of the classic gaming goodness it had to offer. As was so often the case many games at this time took their inspiration from notable arcade successes. Not direct clones as such but games that followed very much in the same vein of gameplay. Today I’d like to reminisce with you on one of the earlier games that I played on the system, Amegas.

Now at first sight you may think that Amegas is simply an Arkanoid knock off, and well there is a little truth in this but the game certainly deserves a little more credit in its own right. Arkanoid had set the standard for bat and ball games. In many ways it was the natural extension to Pong! By the same leap of logic Amegas was an extension of Arkanoid.
Guido Bartels working with ReLine Software who released Amegas in 1987 did set out to raise the bar though. Wider playfields, colourful backdrops and enemy design all helped polish an already well-established concept. Simply move your bat left and right to deflect the oncoming balls in to the tile field. Notably some tiles have dots representing the number of hits required to destroy them. It’s also a good indicator as to where a power up tile would drop. Collecting these coloured tiles would enable. Multiball. A slow ball. A longer bat. A sticky bat. Or everyone’s favourite, the spaceship that could shoot at the tiles via the left mouse button. It also made a very satisfying sound.

Once all of the tiles have been depleted, it’s on to the next round. Amegas has a beautiful simplicity to it. You can explain the game in under a minute yet play for hours. Guido Bartels may have been the driving force behind Amegas’s programming and visuals. However, it’s neither of these elements that the game will be best remembered for. Yes, say Amegas to an Amiga enthusiast these days, they will simply nod and reply, “Karsten Obarski”. Amegas was well animated, addictive and fun to play. But the element that makes this such an important title? The music.

Karsten had been friends with Guido who had asked him to score the Amegas theme. Karsten already having a successful background with music composition on the C64. It’s said that coding the music in the traditional way in to the source code became tedious. To this end it inspired Karsten to create the “Ultimate Sound Tracker” software. The software allowed 4 channels split in to the melody, accompaniment, bass, and percussion. It also enabled up to 15 samples or instruments. Outputs could then be simply be integrated back in to code of a game. This was the creation of the .mod file type. The moment modular music first appeared in gaming. A truly important moment in history. This approach created a fundamental shift in the way that game music was composed. Now more intuitive and visual, the Amiga music scene would undoubtedly never be the same again. Perhaps more on the Ultimate Sound Tracker another time but for now, we just need to understand how much of an impact this approach had on music composition. In short, it changed everything.

Multipart sampled music could be created like never before. After this point it was the new normal and modular music was here to stay. It’s not too much of a leap to pinpoint this as the moment that the music tracker came of age and soon became the standard for music creation on the platform. The Ultimate Sound Tracker was improved upon over the years but its DNA can be seen even to this day. Software such as Fruity loops may bring the power and convenience of a home recording studio. In essence though, yes, it’s a sound tracker. The Ultimate Sound Tracker though was the birth of a new generation of music creation and one that Karsten perhaps himself knew. Karsten Obarski gave us two very memorable early moments in tracker music. The Amegas theme tune was loved by many an Amiga fan and saw a wide audience due to the 10 star pack release of the game. However, for me it was his Karsten’s other track for a ReLine game that cemented his technical and musical wizardry. A tune that became somewhat of an unofficial anthem of Amiga tracker music. That track was: Crystal Hammer.

This multi-channel tune simply blasted out from the Amiga’s Paula chip set. A masterpiece of what could be achieved in 1987, so early on in the software’s history. Crystal Hammer smashed the conventions of the day and dared to shake up the industry. Karsten’s new approach simply ripped through the Amiga music scene and we never looked back. Decades later it remains a firm fan favourite and in my opinion some of Karsten’s best loved work. Quite frankly there’s just so much going on here you can’t help but be impressed. You will of course notice the similarity of the bat and ball style game play. Two great games, two great soundtracks. Decades later the Amiga music scene still hooks back in to this era with updated remixes of both Amegas and Crystal Hammer. The music is recreated on both specialist hardware and newer modular tracker programs. Karsten’s early tracks truly are the tunes that will never die. It’s a testament to just how much endurance these simple tunes have in the modular music scene even today.
These days Crystal Hammer can be quite hard to pick up due to its obscurity but Amegas is still rather easy to track down, whether it’s the 10 star pack release or the Smash 16 release.

Personally, Amegas is a simple game that holds some great memories and I can certainly recommend it to younger gamers as well as the old school gamers. It’s simple, fun and knows exactly who its audience is. Throw in to this the soundtrack and you have a perfect piece of gaming and proof of how the Commodore Amiga once more helped shape the course of gaming history.
Amegas, a simple bat and ball game that changed the course of digital music creation. Until next time, happy gaming.

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