05th May2017

‘From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years’ VOD Review

by Phil Wheat

Written, Produced and Directed by Anthony Caulfield, Nicola Caulfield

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A couple of years ago we reviewed From Bedrooms to Billions, a documentary about the British video game industries early days; telling the story of the developments in computer technology in the UK during the late 70′s early 80′s, which helped inspire a generation of small team enthusiasts, hobbyists, school kids, bedroom coders and entrepreneurs to make and release some truly classic games of the era.

Now comes the follow-up, From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years, which looks at the next generation of computing, the 16-bit era and in particular the creation of the Commodore Amiga. A subject also covered by the documentary Viva Amiga… Much like that documentary, Caulfield’s film covers the same story – told by the surviving team members themselves – of the struggles to build a brand new computer at a time when, post-Atari crash, video games were a dirty word. If you’ve seen Viva Amiga, this documentary covers VERY familiar ground.

However From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years, once tale of the release of the Amiga into the market place is told, then goes onto explore how the Commodore Amiga helped evolve the video games industry as a whole new set of games and experiences were possible thanks to its incredible custom video and audio hardware.

Many of these styles of games, music and demos as well as development techniques honed during the Amiga era are still present in the video games industry we know today. After all, without the Amiga we would never have had titles from Cinemaware – titles like Defenders of the Crown – which undoubtedly had a MAJOR influence on storytelling and cinematics in video games; without Cinemaware titles we certainly wouldn’t have such immersive story-based games like the Uncharted franchise, The Last of Us, and more…

But it’s not just about the games. The Amiga was also home to apps like Deluxe Paint, an artist program which, again, pioneered techniques we still use today in the likes of Photoshop. Deluxe Paint was also key to the development of games, allowing Amiga developers to create graphics quicker, faster, and in more detail that before – developments told through interviews with many video game creators of the time – including the people behind classics like Populous, The Secret of Monkey Island, Sensible World of Soccer, Defender of the Crown, Syndicate, Alien Breed, Wings, Shadow of the Beast, Turrican II, Another World, Flashback and many many more.

Caulfield’s documentary isn’t afraid to shy away from the touchy subject of piracy as well. At the time of the Amiga it was easier than ever to crack games and sell pirate floppy discs of all the popular titles. But if, like me, you were around at the time, you’ll remember those days of piracy were renonwn for crack screens and weird demos included with pirated discs – well From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years discusses that period in time, and how pirates (particularly those in Germany and Scandinavia) actually pushed the boundaries, graphically and sonically, of what the Amiga could do. And how those crack screens turned into a huge demo scene, where “artists” would show off what they could create on Commodore’s home machine; even impressing Amiga developers of the time!

Much like Viva Amiga, the early portion of From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years is very dry and hard-going. Whilst the story of the in and outs of the physical creation of the Amiga will be of interest to hardened Commodore Amiga fans, it does feel like something of a slog – but once it gets to the games, where my personal experiences with the machine lie, then does The Amiga Years gets very interesting. As someone who played the games of the time it’s hard to believe that Commodore’s computer was such a pioneer, for me it was the BEST computer of the time, with games like Chase HQ and It Came From the Desert, which have never really been bettered.

With a run time of over two and a half hours (plus extras if your purchase via Vimeo), From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years truly is THE definitive story of Commodore’s flagship 16-bit computer. Where the Caulfield’s go from here, if they do continue this documentary series, will be interesting to see…

From Bedrooms to Billions: The Amiga Years is available to buy now, complete with extras, on Vimeo.

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