Open Your Mind
by Wade/HJB^FLT

Introduction

As Amiga devotees, it is reasonable to feel threatened by the PC. Like anything that is placed under threat, the obvious option is to fight. While this show of loyalty is admirable in many ways, commercial developers are too eager to exploit it, affixing Amiga logos to impractical and overpriced technology with an empty promise of saving our forlorn community - providing that we pay for this privilege, of course.

The PC vs Amiga debate is one that has lasted for nearly a decade, and is certain to fill disk magazines for many more years to come. However, most articles we read in Amiga magazines are often written from a subjective perspective, with the underlying intention of restoring faith in the Amiga and intensifying the hate towards the PC.

This is why I have decided to attempt this somewhat objective comparison of the two platforms.


Windows vs Workbench

Windows is easy to operate and packed with extensive help files. With automatic installers accompanying practically every software application, and plug in and play hardware detection as standard, even the most elementary user can enjoy the benefits of their PC without touching a single manual.

However, among more experienced users, Windows is a blatant restriction. It recklessly consumes hardware resources, such as processor power, drive-space and memory, impedes compatibility and can crash without explanation - and sometimes at the expense of unsaved work. Another frustrating aspect is the need for virtual memory and the incessant paging to the hard drive, which can result in frequent slowdowns and long loading times, regardless of memory or processor specifications.

Since Microsoft has monopolized the PC market, there is no way of avoiding Windows and no feasible alternative. Though it is possible to operate a PC under Linux, software for this OS is limited and there are, therefore, very few practical uses for such machines - at least in terms of scening, creative and entertainment purposes. This then means that PC owners are forever at the mercy of Microsoft and their greed-driven policies.

Workbench, on the other hand, is not necessary to run most Amiga software, as many applications and executables can be started from CLI.

Above all the Amiga OS is inexpensive, reliable and straightforward, and does not require excessive specifications to run. Workbench can, however, impose unavoidable memory restrictions. Many programs such as demos and games will not run under Workbench, owing to the limited amount of chip ram on standard AGA machines and inefficient coding from developers. Furthermore, as the memory gets clogged, it is sometimes impossible to use Workbench for any length of time without resetting. And in order to run most current internet applications, Amiga users must add MUI to their system. Although this improves the general appearance of Workbench, it is difficult to configure and consumes resources in much the same way Windows does.


Software

In regards to software, the PC clearly has the advantage - not only over the Amiga, but also over all existing platforms. Aside from the vast commercial market for Windows based PCs, the general quality of software is considerably higher. Existing applications are regularly updated and enhanced, and developers pay attention to their consumers' wishes.

Games also play a major role in the PC's success. Unlike the Amiga and most consoles, PC games can run in exceptionally high resolutions and colour, with implemented mip-mapping, translucency, fog and other such effects. Another enticing factor is the ability to customize games with third party (or even your own) textures, music and models.

Despite misconceptions, not all PC games are power intensive. There are, in fact, scores of new titles that support lower end users, allowing for reduced graphical detail according to the specification.

However, while the software market for the PC might appear faultless at a glance, nothing on the PC comes free of charge. Even trivial programs that Amiga owners take for granted, such as archivers, picture viewers and OS utilities, come at a cost - and those that don't come with a price tag are usually loaded with hidden adverts and spyware. For PC users, there really is no escaping the growing capitalist imposition.

Although Amiga users can still locate free software on the Aminet and similar sources, there is a distinct lack of productivity in this area these days. It would also appear that more and more developers are requesting financial support for their work, using free sites such as the Aminet to exhibit and advertise their products. Unfortunately, the applications and games being produced for the Amiga today are significantly inferior to those available for the PC.


The Demo Scene

As demo sceners, it really shouldn't matter what OS we use or what games are available to us, providing our computers comply with our creative needs. After all, sceners create their own entertainment for their own satisfaction and motivation.

ClipArt From JP#11 by Zito Needless to say that the Amiga scene has waned throughout the last five years, as many leading figures have moved on to pursue careers, real life ambitions or a more active role in the PC scene. Other hindrances have been caused by the frequently debated progression of Amiga technology such as PPCs, memory upgrades and graphics cards. While many sceners see this as a benefit, opening new doors of possibility and providing more creative opportunities, others claim that we are betraying traditions and losing sight of what the Amiga should be. This unresolved debate, and the general sense of uncertainty and impatience, has cost the Amiga a lot of sceners and activity.

The PC suffers from similar issues, but on a less threatening scale. Many argue that demos should be created without the aid of 3d cards and high-end processors in order to demonstrate the abilities of the coder. Conversely, there are those who believe this to be a creative restriction. However, PC hardware is reasonably priced and the benefits of upgrading are obvious.

Nevertheless, the PC scene is alive and active all year round, and this is where the main benefits lie. Unlike the Amiga, there aren't many PC groups without coders, and therefore most groups are active to some degree and new names are emerging all the time.


Demos

When it comes to demos, the PC has considerably more to offer than the Amiga. This is not an opinion, but rather a fact. In terms of quantity, PC demos are released frequently, and often between parties. The quality of PC demos also outmatches those on the Amiga, with high resolution and true colour graphics, MP3 soundtracks and a multitude of hardware effects on display. Moreover, as Amiga coders strive to imitate popular PC routines, PC coders are constantly seeking fresh ideas and new concepts, which add variety to the expansive catalogue of 3d engines. The common belief that all PC demos are founded on Doom/Quake imitations, real time raytracing and Lightwave/3d Studio scenes is not far from the truth. However, there are varied uses for such engines, including demos such as "Kasparov" by Elitegroup that takes the viewer on a chilling tour of a vast industrial landscape; "Spot" by Exceed, which follows the antics of an animated spotlight and his friends in a Disney-inspired environment, and then there are the more traditional object presentations such as those by Haujobb and Sunflower, each with their own unique atmosphere and identity.

Another common belief is that there can be no such thing as a technically impressive PC demo, owing to the extensive hardware specifications and advanced software available to demo creators. However, during the past three years there have been some astounding technical feats and breakthroughs within the PC scene. I refer to the 64k revolution, including such releases as "The Product" and "Poem to a Horse" by ex-Sanity legend, Chaos, "Heaven 7" by Exceed, and Aardbei's "Please the Cookie Thing", to cite just a few examples. With high quality musical scores, true colour graphics and extensive routines, the term "64k demos" would seem like an apt description for these productions.

Although it is fair to say that recent Amiga demos - especially those by Ephidrena, DCS and Mawi - have made considerable progress in areas of design, they are still generations behind the latest PC efforts. After all, PC sceners have the same resources as commercial designers, advertisers and movie producers and can achieve a professional style with minimal effort. Furthermore, where Amiga graphics suffer from reduced palettes and resolution, PC demos do not impose such limitations.

Another huge advantage the PC holds is the ability to emulate multiple platforms, including various 8bit systems, consoles and even the Atari ST and Amiga. Furthermore, thanks to DivX and Mpg conversions, it is also possible to see the latest PPC, PS2 and Wild demos. Therefore, as either a participant in the scene or a mere observer, the odds here are certainly in the favour of the PC.


Magazines

Sadly, there has been a decline in the quantity of regular disk magazines appearing on the Amiga scene. Nevertheless, there is no doubt that Amiga magazines and writers transcend those from the PC scene.

Amiga magazines, including Eurochart, Jurassic Pack and D.I.S.C. strive to inform sceners of the latest scene events, scoops, interviews and opinions. They are written and compiled by dedicated editors and writers, each with individual styles and methods. Some writers like to employ a factual approach to their articles, some use satire and irony, some are nostalgic and sentimental and others are deeply provocative.

PC magazines such as Hugi and Pain, on the other hand, are far less committed to quality reading, comprising pasted texts from web pages, impulsive articles written without direction or purpose and a long list of non-scene related topics, like joystick reviews, fiction and gaming nostalgia, for example. There are a number of talented writers, including Adok, Unlock, Morph and Makke, but they are too often obscured by external contributors.

The general attitude towards disk magazines also differs greatly between these platforms. On the Amiga, a magazine release is a major event. When news of an imminent magazine gets out, IRC channels suddenly become packed with sceners, all desperate to get their hands on this new release. PC sceners don't appear to share this same sense of anticipation. Instead, they rely on Internet news sites and forums to keep up to date with the scene. This results in a distinct detachment between sceners and their counterparts and a sense of isolation from the scene community. In fact, if it weren't for internet sites like Pouet.net, sceners would never even see any feedback for their hard efforts.


Scene Spirit/Attitude

An argument frequently raised by Amiga sceners is that there is an absence of "spirit" and "feeling" in the PC scene. It would, however, be impossible to summarise this factor objectively since this is an individual perception, one that stems from familiarity and fond experiences. Amiga owners are likely to associate their computers with the friends they have made, the knowledge they have gained and perhaps even their adolescence or teenage years. To say then that the Amiga has more feeling would be the same as our elders affirming that the 60s were better than the 90s.

What would be fair to say is that the PC scene appears to lack intimacy and a sense of community. This could be attributed to the close links with commercialism, business users and mainstream interest. It could also be the result of its size. With so many sceners involved it is difficult to form the same sense of seclusion and closeness felt by Amiga sceners. And as previously mentioned, with the lack of true scene magazines available on the PC scene, one can easily lose touch with the latest happenings.

PC sceners also have their own customs and methods of doing things, which might appear unfamiliar and a bit daunting to Amiga visitors. Hand-crafted graphics, for example, hold little prestige among PC owners. Intricately constructed 2d artwork is regarded with the same value as a 3d image, or even scans. It follows that if graphics look good, the process of creation is irrelevant.

Music too, is treated with the same disregard. Melody and structure looks to be unimportant to PC musicians, who often favour white noise and computer generated breakbeats. While Amiga sceners stand to be scorned and ridiculed for ripping, many of the leading PC demos contain commercial tracks, looping riffs or remixes. The highly rated "State of Mind" by Bomb is a perfect example. Not only does this demo contain ripped music and video footage, but the ideas and theme around which the demo is based, is also derived from the same source.


Creativity

In past years, the Amiga name became synonymous with the word Creativity. With such programs as Protracker, Octamed, Deluxe Paint, Amos, Blitz Basic, RSI demo maker, Demo Maniac, Scala etc etc... even inexperienced users couldn't resist applying their creative skills to something.

Today, however, there are restrictions to using the Amiga for creative purposes. Whatever Amiga users are capable of, PC users can achieve better, with far less time and effort. Whether it's music, graphics or code, PC software makes this task so much easier. Applications including Direct X, Photoshop, Cubase, Fruityloops, Bryce and Poser, allow users to produce professional looking results without any prior knowledge of code, music or graphics.


Conclusion I have covered just a few of the main factors that most sceners might consider important, although there are many that have been omitted here. I have no personal motives in writing this article; my purpose is merely to share some facts encourage Amiga sceners to open their mind.