I honestly cannot recall the first time I ever used an Amiga, but it would have been a family friend who had one and stuck me in front of it with a game to keep me entertained while visiting them.
A good friend (who happened to live in the house in front of mine) soon got one, and I spent many hours there playing games with him. I became determined to get my own somehow….
Then Xmas day 1991, I got up and went out to the Xmas tree, and there under it was a couple of large boxes – except one was so large my folks had run out of wrapping paper to cover it all, and there looking at me was the Amiga logo.
Of course I hit the roof and demanded the family all got up so we could open presents.
I had that sucker along with the 1084S monitor setup in record time – or so I thought.
Due to a store stuff up I was missing a couple of items.
One of those things I could manage without for a period. But the other, no.
Being the 90’s, stores did not open over the New Years break, so I had to wait almost two weeks before we could get to the retailer and ask “WTF”.
Long story short, I waited, got the missing parts and got home.
Powered up, and got the following screen.
Not what I was expecting after seeing this screen on my mates Amiga’s.
Thought “cool”, and inserted a game I loved playing at a friends, Sid Meier’s Pirates!
Got the initial loading screen then…..
Tried multiple times but kept getting same thing….just figured it was a bust copy and moved onto other games which worked (F18 Interceptor, Future Bike, Gold Of The Realm).
Finally booted up the Workbench disk and thought “odd, different colors”.
Didn’t worry about it too much and over a few months, discovered via magazines such as Amiga Format and CU Amiga, that I actually had a new Amiga as it were, with the latest Kickstart etc.
Cool, but it had its downsides, and the main one was that it was not backwards compatible with some games etc.
I lived with it for a while, and eventually got frustrated that my favorite games would not run on my Amiga, so started looking at a Kickstart switch option.
Was about to order one, when a copy of CU Amiga came in that had “Relokick” on the coverdisk – OMG – the answer to all my problems.
Relokick let you boot into a software 1.3 ROM instead of the 2.0, and YAY! My favorite old games worked (mostly)!!!
Now, I can’t remember the exact time frames etc, but I ended up joining the Amiga Auckland club which met up once a month. Here I met a lot more Amiga fans, and made some good friends.
The club ran a BBS system for members, and it housed a decent collection of software such as the Fred Fish disks.
I soon picked up a second hand modem from a guy in Botany/Howick. It was a US Robotics Courier 14.4k. Massive thing really, but it did its job extremely well. The guy who sold it to me, told me how to access the built in phonebook on the modem where he had stored some “other” BBS’s.
Soon enough, I was online, and calling BBS’s around Auckland figuring out which ones were Amiga friendly or not and so on.
Thanks to the saved numbers, I ended up on a few warez orienteted boards, along with ones that seemed innocent, but as time went on, found mysefl being given access to the warez file sections.
Some boards that I recall are Twilight Zone, Star Fleet Academy, Central Suburbs, Marantz, The Village, Heavy Artillery, among many others.
Being on a floppy based Amiga, downloading files relied on my having spare floppy disks on standby – the standard Amiga disk would format to 880k. (Take that PC! Have your 720k!)
Most warez sourced games were compressed with DMS, which you would then have to decompress to another blank disk.
Thankfully, a local store (DEKA) had their own branded 3.5″ disks – found I got about a 90% success rate with these out of a box of 10. They were usually around $13NZD a box if I recall. Had a large number of these floating around the room……
After a few months of using BBS’s, I decided to look at running my own – figured it couldn’t be too hard.
I found that many of the Amiga based boards I was logging into, were using Max’s BBS 1.52 (and 1.54 as time went on). So I grabbed a copy of it and started down the fun road of becoming a sysop.
It took a while to get my head around how Max’s worked, but with some assistance from the sysop at Central Suburbs, I finally got my board up and running.
Now, still being on a floppy based system, I couldn’t exactly offer much in the way of files – so I ensured I had fun door games, and a good message base.
I started advertising the board, and surprisingly got a lot of callers, and a lot of those became regular users.
I had to expand somehow, so somewhere along the line I ended up with 2 external floppy drives (daisy chain FTW), giving me a total of 2.6MB of space! I also added an extra MB of RAM, giving me 2MB Chip RAM.
DF0: contained the core BBS files, and door games.
DF1: contained the message base
DF2: contained the files – these were just basic tools such as LZX, LHA, DMS etc
Users could not believe it was running just off 3 floppy disks as it was responsive, with no delay between messages and boards. But they kept coming back.
After a while, a hard drive was required (OK, WANTED).
I picked up an A590 which came with a Quantum 120MB SCSI drive (which I still have in working condition), and 1 or 2MB of Fast RAM on board which complemented the 1MB I had nicely.
I soon had the BBS moved to the hard drive and running with about 40MB of files (that took a long time copying them from floppy).
Users were stoked, and I expanded the message bases and door games.
The BBS ran for some time in this configuration with very little downtime or issues (downtime was usually my wanting to play a game).
Amiga Auckland soon started offering hardware and software via various suppliers, and one of the things available was Aminet CDs. CD’s for the Amiga we’re fairly new to a degree (CDTV had failed, and the A570 was rare), but I saw great potential (as most sysops did) in these CD’s, allowing 600MB of data to be made available.
Purchased a couple of the CD’s.
Problem was, I did not have a CDROM.
Resolved that – $300NZD later, I had in my hands, a brand new NEC CDR-25 external SCSI CDROM. A whole 1x CDROM. So yes, it was slow – but was just going to be used for the BBS so who cared.
Connected it to the A590 – and nothing. I could not get the OS to recognize the unit at all.
I jumped onto the boards and started asking around for assistance, and as it happened, I was chatting with Powerslave from Heavy Artillery whom I had become friends with, and he suggested I take it to his place to try with his A590.
Connected it up to his setup, and it worked straight away.
We established, it was an A590 controller ROM issue – he had a newer ROM in his A590 – so we swapped ROM’s.
600MB of Aminet data was now available on Syndicate X.
A good friend of mine (now passed away – RIP Rodders), had an A500 with the killer of all addons for an A500, a GVP A530+.
This for the uninformed, was a SCSI controller, with RAM expansion slots, AND a Motorola 68030EC CPU running @ 40MHz. The standard CPU for the A500/+, was a Motorola 68000 @ 7.14MHz.
So a massive increase in speed processing wise, and hard drive access as it was using a proper SCSI controller and not a hacked XT controller as on the A590.
Rodders was a GFX artist, and he was offered a good deal on an Amiga 4000 which he took up, and offered me the A530+.
Of course I took it.
I added 4MB of FAST RAM to this at some stage, so I now had a powerhouse of an A500+.
40Mhz – 2MB Chip RAM – 4MB FAST RAM – Motorola 68030EC
Around the time I added the RAM, I found out about a replacement 3rd party ROM for the A530+, called a GURU-ROM. I read up on it and found it would give my system another shot of NOS as it were, improving the data transfer rates of the HDD by using optimized SCSI commands.
I soon had that ordered and installed.
This machine was now beating Amiga 1200 owners systems in everything except the GFX department (the A1200’s having newer AGA chipsets).
And the OS.
So after using Relokick for getting back to 1.3 for older games, I started thinking about moving forward instead, to 3.1 that had been released for pretty much any Amiga.
Pricing for the ROM and Workbench disks were not the cheapest at the time.
But then I came across S-Kick.
It basically let me boot any Kickstart ROM I had. So it was a start – and the hunt for a dump of a 3.1 ROM was on.
Eventually someone on a BBS uploaded one for me – they had obtained it from the internet which was now starting to become more popular and easily accessed.
I played with S-Kick and found it worked with the downloaded ROM happily, and soon enough I was running on a Soft ROM version of 3.1, and obtained the Workbench disks for 3.1.
I now had a modern OS.
Pretty much everything ran as it did on 2.0, but I did modify my startup-sequence file so it would check on startup which ROM was in place, and if it wasnt 3.1, to fire up S-Kick and load up the 3.1 environment.
It worked perfectly. (The startup-sequence I used is available here.)
Commodore was struggling. They had released the Amiga CD32 but due to poor marketing and management, sales were not good and the PC community was gaining traction.
One night, I was contacted by Amiga Auckland, and asked if I was interested in purchasing an Amiga CD32- for around $400. This was half the normal retail price.
I grabbed one. And a few more which I sold to friends.
Commodore NZ had been told to start packing up, so sold off their stock, hence the cheap price.
I enjoyed the CD32, but without a keyboard etc, it wasn’t going to replace my A500+ setup.
The internet had arrived and BBS users were flocking to it. And why not.
Calls dropped, new users on the BBS were non-exsistant.
So I jumped “online”. I initially used the internet as a source of files to share via the BBS, but it started taking over more and more.
I did not want to close the BBS but figured if I wanted to attract users, I had to do something – so I re-branded the BBS as “Amiga Unlimited”.
I also did something I had never done in the whole time I had Syndicate X running – I asked for donations to help with the phone bill.
I did receieve a couple of donations (thanks guys!) surprisingly.
But after a couple more months, I made the call to close the BBS. My regular hardcore users were gutted but understood the situation.
So I went online the internet “fulltime”.
Loved IRC (#amiga.cafe), and being able to obtain software so easily.
I used an IAP (Internet Access Provider – they offered no other services except the connection and email. No helpdesk.) called Sinesurf – $35 unlimited where as the nearest competitor was IHUG at $45.
One night I was on the phone talking to Kartel (my co-sysop from Syndicate X), and he asked what would happen if he tried accessing my internet account while I was online – I honestly had no idea.
So we tried it.
He already had my account details as I let him use it occasionally, so he hung up, and a few mins later I got a private message from him via IRC – it had let him on while I was online.
So he had a free internet account.
Turns out, Sinesurf hadn’t enabled any form of checks to confirm you were not already connected – they did eventually cotton onto this (months later) and suspended my account. My excuse was that my BBS had been hacked and my config file for the internet had been swiped.
They reset the account – and then suspended it again a few weeks later. For the same thing.
As time went on, I stuck with my Amiga, until one day in 1998, it refused to power the A530 unit all. There was power getting to the device but otherwise it was dead. Tried everything I could to recover it but it was gone.
I was gutted. I’d had a good run with it.
I sold off all my gear (which had built up to quite a collection) and bought a Windows PC – a Pentium II with the brand new Windows 98 operating system.
It was never the same.
The Dirty Stuff
I bump into the occasional user from my BBS days still, via IRC, Facebook etc. Everyone had fond memories of the BBS.
One thing I was eventually asked by one old user, was where was I sourcing my files from before the internet. The files he was referring to, were “warez”.
Yes, I admit I had warez. A lot.
I sourced them from multiple boards I had access on – the reason he never saw them all on those boards, was because standard users just didn’t get the access to those sections.
How I got access, was just by being a good user on the boards, and 9/10 the sysops would eventually chat with me, and when found out I was a sysop, gave me full access. I never asked for access.
There were a few “elite” boards around, and I obtained access to a couple of them, one of them being “Golden Sword” somewhere in Wellington, run by “Zorro”.
I had seen Zorro on a couple of other warez related boards and saw he was a popular uploader of files. I never reached out to him or anything, just downloaded anything he uploaded.
One evening, a new user connected to Syndicate X – Zorro.
I monitored their movements on the BBS to see if it was actually Zorro or an impostor just wanting access to my warez sections.
After looking around the BBS, the user paged me – I answered.
Turns out it was Zorro, and he’d heard good things about my BBS, and invited me to use his BBS as a source – I was stoked – except for the toll call to Wellington.
I cant remember if it was Zorro or someone else, but I was offered some numbers to open PABX systems, to make “free” toll calls. It intrigued me, but I never did it.
I just had to wait for Telecom to have their $5 weekends – $5 for unlimited call to a number within NZ. Guess whose number was added.
Golden Sword was a great source of the latest stuff and Zorro was reasonably chatty.
It was around this time that one of my users reached out to me, and asked if I could help him setup an “elite” BBS using Maxs BBS – Maxs was not considered worthy of being “elite” grade, but it did the job.
The BBS was The Wall, run by “Floyd”.
I spoke with him a few times via voice calls, and over time he got things up and running.
Was interesting to see what he was doing with Maxs BBS compared to my own setup.
When the internet took over, I found my way to #amiga_warez – a pirates ultimate treasure chest. You name it for the Amiga, you could find it here.
Even ran into a few Kiwis who were members of various well known groups in the scene which surprised me, as NZ was considered bit of a backwater for internet access.
I made some good contacts via the channel and would spend hours just chatting with them, not even downloading.
Its amusing how the Amiga and PC scenes differed – Amiga was all friendly, open, and “FREE”.
PC scene was very much “What can YOU give me before I give you anything” – if you didn’t have anything worthy of sharing, you were ignored.
Yet another reason why I love/d the Amiga.
There was a LOT more stuff I got up to and involved with the Amiga, but recalling it all is a mission.
It is/was a great community, and I made some good friends from it and will always remember them all fondly.
XPD^ / XPD / Demise / DemiseNZ
Greetz to : Powerslave, NME, Kartel, Snarfcumber, TGR, Da5id, DC, Fairlight, Zorro, and so many more.