Amiga CD32 Review: History of gaming

The Amiga CD32 (often spelled CD32 or CD32) is a 32-bit CD-ROM based game console. Often referred to as the first 32-bit home gaming system worldwide outside of Japan (see FM Towns Marty). Its launch took place at the Science Museum in London (UK) on July 16, 1993, in Europe – in September 1993. The CD32 was based on Commodore’s AGA chipset, and its characteristics were similar to those of the Amiga 1200 computer. The CD32 could be supplemented with a keyboard, disk drive, hard disk and mouse, which turned it into a personal computer. An MPEG video decoding module was also available for playing Video CDs.

Ami ga CD32   logo

The Amiga CD32 went on sale in Europe, Australia, Brazil and Canada. It was planned to start selling in the United States, but Commodore delayed payments for the use of the Cad Track patent, which resulted in a lawsuit and a federal judge’s order banning Commodore from importing any goods into the United States. Soon after, the company went bankrupt, so the CD32 was never sold legally in the United States (although it was imported into the country in small quantities from Canada; some UK trading houses also allowed US buyers to place an order with transcontinental delivery). In record time, just a month after the CD32 hit the market, Commodore announced that it was discontinuing sales and product warranty coverage.

Amiga CD32 set-top box  

The Amiga CD32 console is considered the first fully 32-bit console. However, two years before its appearance in Japan, the FM Towns Marty set-top box from Fujitsu with a similar configuration was already massively sold. But due to the lack of awareness of gamers and the closed nature of the Japanese market, the title of the first 32-bit went to our today’s heroine.

I would like to talk about this console from afar, because one cannot miss the opportunity to tell about the direct ancestors of the CD32 – user computers of the Amiga series. These powerful units were divided into two types: gaming computers and for working with two-dimensional graphics.

Both the Amiga computers and the Amiga CD32 console were designed by Jay Miner. Back in the 1980s, he worked on the creation of special chips that were used in 8-bit Atari computers. However, his main dream is to work on a 16-bit multimedia computer. Therefore, Miner soon left Atari and, with a small group of enthusiasts, founds his own company under the proud name Hi-Toro. Investors were found relatively quickly.

Joystick for Amiga CD32  

Investors, however, were practically not interested in computers, they wanted to get a powerful gaming console. By creating a hybrid of the currently available consoles and a computer, Miner made his cherished dream come true. Nobody knew about the development, since it was carried out in the strictest confidence. In official statements, the company said that it was creating unusual, new game manipulators, as evidenced by the controllers used by the Atari corporation.

After a while, the console market crashed. In the end, there was no point in keeping the production process secret. The company changed its name to Amiga, however, due to serious financial problems, it had to be sold to the same Atari, which soon also began to have money problems. As a result, the Amiga went to Commodore, which at the time was the most famous developer of personal computers. After solving all the financial problems, the creators of the Amiga were finally able to present their developments to the general public.

Neo Collection CD32 Back Cover.png
Games for Amiga CD32 

Let’s skip over the history of the Amiga CDTV, which we have already talked about, and take a closer look at the console of the fifth generation – the Amiga CD32. The launch of the console took place in the London Science Museum on July 16, 1993. The system appeared on the European market after a month and a half. The set-top box was based on the AGA chipset developed by Commodore, while its characteristics were in many ways similar to those of the Amiga 1200 personal computer.

Amiga CDTV  

The Amiga CD32 was based on a Motorola 68020 processor (14.3 MHz), the amount of RAM was 2 MB, the amount of permanent memory was 1 MB. The two-speed CD-ROM was controlled by a special Akiko chip, which, among other things, expanded the capabilities of the graphics subsystem. The sound was processed by a standard Amiga four-channel 14-bit audio system. The AGA chipset supported expansion from 320 × 200 to 1280 × 400 dots for NTSC and from 320 × 256 to 1280 × 512 dots for PAL, the supported palette was up to 16.8 million colors.

ZOOL game cover  

It was possible to connect a CD32 keyboard, FDD drive and a computer mouse. Such additions turned the game console into a full-fledged personal computer. In addition, an MPEG video decoding module could be purchased, and the game console was already able to play Video CDs.

A large number of expansion modules were created for the Amiga CD32, which made it possible to use the hard drive together with a huge number of external cards, for example, samplers, hardware MPEG players and genlocks. The SX-1 Expansion Module was not originally sized according to Commodore’s specifications as it required an internal modification to the box in order to install it correctly. These issues have been addressed in the improved SX-32 module.

ZOOL game 

The CDs used in the CD32 console were created under the ISO 9660 standard (mode 1, level 2). Discs written using the current ISO 9660 extensions will not be readable by the Amiga CD32.

The Amiga CD32 console (similar to other Amiga) has its own template for wiring a mouse and an analog joystick, which, to the delight of gamers, is completely identical to the wiring of joysticks that were produced with the Sega Megadrive / Genesis. Thus, if the original joystick did not like it or broke down, you can easily find a replacement for it among the numerous controllers from “competitors”.

The Amiga CD32 would be a fierce competitor to 3DO or the future PlayStation if Commodore took into account its past mistakes and did not commit many new ones. But, as they say, not destiny, Commodore was on the verge of complete bankruptcy by early 1994. After the launch of the console, the company got into legal rework for the patent that was used on the Cad Track – Commodore significantly delayed payments, after which it was prohibited from importing all of the company’s products to the US market. Some dealers at one time transported the Amiga CD32 across the Canadian border, it was also possible to order the console from the UK and hope for a lucky break.

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Cover from the game Simon the Sorcerer  

Thirty days after the start of sales, Commodore announced the end of support for its own products due to bankruptcy. As a result, the first 32-bit console died before even living.

The company that designed and marketed some of the finest personal computers with hundreds of thousands of loyal fans couldn’t handle all the pitfalls of the business. Trying to cover the maximum number of market segments, ranging from game consoles to work computers, unwillingness to enter into contracts with other developers, categorical refusal to license – these are just some of the reasons for the collapse of Commodore.

Simon the Sorcerer game   

Within a month Amiga CD32 sold in the amount of one hundred thousand copies. This is the most modest result in the history of the console market. Nevertheless, the console was recognized as the most bought set-top box in 1993. Despite a fleeting existence of thirty days, the Amiga CD32 left a mark on the gaming industry and found many fans who keep the game console to this day.