A Brief History of the Amiga CD32

Commodore never really made it big in the video game console market, and with industry giants like Nintendo, Sega, and Sony (Sega would later drop out of this trio and Microsoft would come in during the 6th generation of game consoles) dominating the sales it was hard for all the smaller entries to gain a foothold with consumers. Still, Commodore 64 Game System, and their later offering, the Commodore Amiga CD32 managed to get a small niche following. To this day, both the C64GS and the CD32 are considered to be classic consoles of a bygone era. Obviously, only the CD32 runs on the AmigaOS (with the other system running on MOS technology).

Console Passion

A Taste of Amiga

The AmigaOS was not primarily designed for a game console, as it is an OS made for a computer. Still, the 3.1 version was the system that allowed players to pop in discs and play games on the CD32. Surprisingly, this version of the OS comes with complete computer functionality, and it is not uncommon for CD32 systems to be outfitted with mouse and keyboard peripherals in order to turn them into computers. Also, Commodore released a special external CD ROM drive for Amiga systems that would allow them to play CD32 games. This cross compatibility between the Amiga console and computer (despite the console being manufactured by a different company) is still often alluded to in discussions regarding the lack of cross compatibility between Microsoft's Xbox and PC games.

Odd Looking Controller

The original Amiga CD32 controller was a major disappointment to gamers. Ergonomics was basically thrown out the window with the strange shape. Still, it was not all that bad, you could hold on to the controllers for a full hour and get used to the grip. The controller featured a cross directional pad on the left, four colored buttons on the right, and single toggle button just right of the center of the pad. The weight was pretty light, making it feel like a flimsy toy. At least the button response was decent, though we have not been able to test how well it can handle some hardcore button mashing (though there are only a few games where you would ever need to do so in the first place).

The upside is that if you did not like Amiga's default controller, then you also have the option of using 9-pin D-sub controllers instead. These are not the best ones you will find, but they do pretty well considering that most of the games rarely require super fine control inputs. The best controllers we have seen that are compatible with the CD32 are the ones that come with Sega's Genesis/16-Bit Megadrive; the fit in the hands are perfect, and the button response is balanced exactly right.

Good Game Library

One of the most memorable things about the CD32 is the fact that it has a game library that reads off like the “best of the best PC games of yesteryear”. From Populous, to Syndicate, to Worms, to Wings, and a variety of other classic games that made PC gaming a great thing. The coolest part is that they play quite closely to the original version -making the experience quite convenient (if you can stand the occasional long load times). Considering that some of these classic games are pretty hard to run on a modern PC with all the compatibility issues, popping them on an Amiga sounds a whole lot easier.

Wide Functionality

The fact that the AmigaOS is fully functional on the CD32 is a good thing -for its' time anyway. Those who were looking to save a bit of cash buying a computer could opt for the CD32 then just buy the necessary components that would allow users to maximize the system. The SX-1 and SX32 expansion packs improve the system's performance while allowing users to use external diskette readers, IMB keyboards, and even connect hard disks. Add in the fact that the internal video and sound cards were pretty decent for their time and you have got a well rounded machine.

Still, both Amiga and Commodore had reservations about full conversions of the CD32 into a computer. This was due to the complications that happened with the much older A500 CDTV. The reverse, turning an Amiga A1200 machine into a CD32 device is also possible -all it takes is purchasing the special external disc drive developed by Commodore in order to read the game discs.

Why It Never Did Well

The CD32 was a pretty decent system and had excellent sales in the UK (accounting for at least 30% of all disc based games sales). It was the first 32 bit console to ever hit the European shelves (a Japan-exclusive 32 bit console was released more than half a year earlier), and considering the hardware and game library, the CD32 was at the start of the road to success. Yet, despite all of these advantages, the hardware never truly managed to take off.

So why did not manage to last in the console market very long? The issue was that the XOR technology in the US was patented to CAD Track, and Commodore failed to pay the necessary royalties. This meant that Commodore could not legally distribute and sell the CD32 to the US market, which locked them out of one of the largest regions of the gaming industry. The worst part was that they had already manufactured machines for US distribution. Unable to recuperate their lost funds, Commodore US filed for bankruptcy. Had Commodore been able to find a way to distribute their system to the US, the 32 bit era of the gaming console wars would have been very different from what we know today.

Living On

Despite the fact that the CD32 never became the gaming hit that it might have been, it found interesting uses among unique crowds. The CD32's AmigaOS turned the device into a very cheap computer -which meant that some companies turned to using the console instead of buying new computers. Several virtual drivers' test simulations, learning systems in Wall Street and even casino machines have used the CD32 hardware. In the more recent console generation, Sony's Playstation 3 was originally bundled with the option to be turned into a fully functioning Linux machine and saw a similar adaptability in function with a wide crowd of non-gaming users.