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Amiga 1200: An Introduction

I'd happened across the Commodore 64C at the local flea market not by fluke, but because I was looking for Amiga controllers. I'd recently won this beautiful piece of equipment on eBay and was awaiting its arrival. The auction included an LCD TV adaptor, one joystick, a demo floppy and an LCD monitor.

Unboxing the loot

This thing is huge. It's form-factor is quite similar to the C64C, but scaled up. This specific instance isn't overly yellow and is in really great shape. It was very simple to hook up, a power supply and a video cable. I remember seeing the TV Box plugged through on the pics in the eBay auction, so I tried that out first.

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The TV Box has VGA in/out, I assumed this was to be used and hooked it up. No picture... on anything... The LCD monitor that it came with also didn't work... but I knew that this was meant to work; must've been doing something wrong. The LCD reported that the scanrate of 15.6khz was too low. I happily agreed with that.. as it was hideously low for VGA standards.

After a little googling I realised that the video port, plus VGA adapter, would only put out the standard PAL/NTSC ~15khz signal. This would never work, so I fed composite in to the TV Box. Yey! A picture!

Getting a decent picture

This turned out to be a lot harder than I'd expected. After toying with the TV Box, a lot, I'd realised that it wasn't going to work. I then tried feeding the composite signal from the Amiga straight into my LG TV. This worked, but still looked shite. Turns out there's all sorts of settings to get a good picture.

First, you need to dig into the preferences folder in Workbench. From here you can select ScreenMode. You'll find a whole lot of resolutions listed and they were totally foreign to me. It seems that, back in the day, there were all sorts of hacks to get more pixels displayed on CRT monitors. As that these TVs were more or less 'programmable', you could tune the electron gun to whatever resolution you wanted. I wonder how many TV warranties were voided due to bad choices from this menu?

Either way, there were options that indicated 'double-scan' which produced a much cleaner picture... even a (or so it seemed) higher resolution. I really don't quite understand resolutions over composite video, but it looked better!

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Next I tried to run the demo disk of Jungle Strike from workbench and it failed miserably. Turns out this works fine when booted straight from the floppy (or so I accidently found out!) I wonder if you have to set the workbench resolution to something hideously low prior to starting specific games?

Welcome to the workbench

Either way way, we'd now made it to the workbench. I clicked around trying to understand how it worked. I've never used a GUI on an Amiga before and this was all startlingly new!

A right-press seemed to bring up a context menu, when held down, but along the top of the screen. The text was fuzzy and hard to read, but resembled the old MacOS quite a bit. Some useful commands up there, but no power options (restart, shutdown, etc...)

The icons all allow a single click, this then 'highlights' them... well, it actually presses them in. I take it this means 'selected'. You double-click them to execute/open. Any alerts/warnings are displayed along the top menu. Speaking of which, this reports the memory free on your system (something we haven't cared about in the PC realm for a REALLY long time) ... so you know if you can start that next program or not.

Floppy disks

The A1200 has a Double-density 3.5" floppy drive. You'll be hard-pressed to find such disks around the shops nowadays, but don't freak out... you can use High-Density disks also. Of course, good luck finding those too!

With a High-Density disk, make sure the label is facing you and tape over the top-left 'hole'. Floppy drives have an optical sensor which, when light transmits through this hole, indicates to the drive that the disk is High-Density. If the light is blocked, then the disk is taken for a Double-Density.

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With the hole taped over, make sure the that the top-right write-protect switch is also covering the hole. If light can shine through this hole, then the drive will think that the disk is write-protected and the disk will be read-only.

Making an Amiga floppy from Windows

To be blunt; you can't do this. What you can do is create a PC disk from the Amiga and then use it on the Windows side to transfer the files across. Once you have a double density disk, as mentioned above, then you're ready to go.

I tried to create/format a PC disk from Windows; but I crashed explorer each time I tried to format it. It seems that explorer only wants to see HD floppies in the drive. Using the tape trick (as above) and then trying to format just did not work!

Making a PC floppy from Amiga

Yes, we have to do this backwards. Grab your taped up fake DD floppy disk and slap it into the Amiga. Chances are, depending on the state of the disk, you'll get a DF0:????? icon on the workbench desktop. Double-clicking this will result in "No application associated to this item" in the workbench title... or something similar.

Firstly, you need to enable the CrossDOS extensions. Browse to your boot HDD, then the Storage/DosDevices folder. Copy the PC0 file to Dev/DosDevices on your HDD. Pop the disk back out and reboot the Amiga (CTRL + A + A.) Once you're back at the workbench, insert the floppy. You should now see PC0:????? and DF0:????? on the workbench. Disregard both of them.

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Browse back to your HDD and open System. Here you'll find the Format application. If you choose PC0, then you'll format the disk as a PC disk. Alternatively, if you choose DF0 then you'll format it as an Amiga disk. This kind of cross-platform functionality is actually astonishing foresight from the Amiga developers at the time. Seriously helpful.

Once the format is complete... savour the sounds, there's nothing quite like a floppy drive at work... you'll have a disk that you can now use in Windows. It's capacity will be 720kb, so bare with a bit of disk shuffling to get the data across.

So then, how to I play A-Train?

Firstly, you need the ADFs from somewhere... if you know of google, then you'll be fine. Acquiring these images will, usually, mean that they're then marooned on your Windows PC; we'll need to get them over to the Amiga somehow. A-Train happens to be two disks. Each ADF image is a full Double-Density disk size, and therefore can't be copied onto one as-is. Formatting PC disks on the Amiga, as above, won't leave youwith enough space to copy either ADF onto a single disk. Therefore, the best method here is to copy the A-Train zip onto a floppy and then copy this zip onto the Amiga. You'll then need an unzipper and an ADF-to-floppy writer.

Copying files to the Amiga

So, just like that old joke of the farmer, the sheep and the wolf... how then do we safely get them all across the void to the Amiga without them eating eachother? Simple. Drag and drop!

Head back to the Workbench and insert your PC-Formatted Double-Density Floppy Disk with an A-Train ZIP on it. On the workbench you'll still see DF0:?????; disregard this. You should now also see a new icon with a CrossDOS icon and an 'EMPTY' title.. unless you named the floppy, somehow, when you formatted it.

Open the floppy and view the contents... should be there. Drag it to your HDD.

Once copied, view the HDD and ... wait ... where is the file? It took me a while to work out that Workbench only likes to show 'Drawers'. Hold down your right-mouse-button and view the menus up the the top. Under one of them you'll find the option to view all files, or just Drawers. Select all files.

Now you'll see your zip file on the Amiga. Unfortunately, Amiga's native compression application is LHA... it doesn't deal with zip files... so we're stuck.

Zip files and the Amiga

Or are we? Turns out there's a crapload of software for the Amiga just waiting for us to ferry across from our Windows machine! Browse to Aminet and download Unzip v5.40.. or any other version of your choosing. Once you have this file (YOSH! It's an LHA!), copy it to the floppy (you can delete, it's already across the void) and transfer it to your Amiga HDD.

Go to System on your HDD and you'll find 'Shell'. Double-click this. Welcome to the console/shell/command-prompt. This acts very much like any other DOS that you've had to deal with. The goal here is to lha -d UnZip.lha (turns out it's not case-sensitive) to get to your new Un-Zipper!

Once extracted, you can shift into the Unzip directory by typing cd Unzip_v5.40. In here you'll find the application UnZip. This simply wants a zip file as it's argument to extract. Type UnZip [hdd_name]

It'll take a while, but you'll now have two ADF files sitting in your Zip programs folder. Not overly clean, but we can delete them later once we've written them to real floppies.

Writing an ADF file to a floppy from the Amiga

A-Train needs two floppies. Find two blank ones. No need to worry about formatting, but make sure they are Double-Density! If you've only High-Density, then tape them up as per the trick above.

Once you have two ready to go... browse to Aminet again and you'll find a lovely application called ADF2DISK. Again, it's an LHA, so we just need to get it on the floppy and across to the Amiga.

Once there, extract it as you did Unzip (not as you did A-Train!) and then browse into the directory. You should find an application called ADF2DISK.

Now that we have the app, we need to insert a floppy (doesn't need to be blank, but its content WILL BE OVERWRITTEN!) and run the following command: ADF2DISK [hdd_name]:UnZip_v5.40/ATRAIN1.ADF. I might have the A-Train Disk 1 ADF filename wrong there, so just make sure you get that correct.

As per usual... sing along with the beautiful sounds of your floppy drive and wait for the 'burning' to complete. Once done so... eject it and burn the second disk.

Playing A-Train

For some reason, re-inserting the disk wouldn't work. It's like Workbench was trying to be too smart and cached what it thought they disk should contain. In this case, nothing, as they were crap disks to start with. Maybe I was being to hasty, maybe you need to wait a bit before ejecting/inserting disks.

Either way.. I restarted it with Disk 1 inserted and, lo-and-behold, the disk worked and booted into an archaic Workbench (via a lovely demo-scene intro stating who the evil people where who made this all possible) with the A-Train icon just waiting there to be double-clicked. There was also an installer application!

I didn't want to run from floppy, so I popped the disk out, rebooted the machine and then inserted it again. It happily appeared on my Workbench and I could install from there.

After that, I browsed to the 'Drawer' it created and ... bang ... double-clicked and she was off and running!
... now to remember how to play the game!

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What next?

Turns out this unit is highly expandable. You can insert daughterboards in the 'trap door' underneath which increase RAM and/or CPU. There's also a Parallel Port, so I think I'll make the model railway interface that I discussed back in the C64 article work on both machines.

I'll add articles and links to the list below when I get around to writing them!

  1. RAM Cards: This machine needs more RAM. It comes with 2mb on-board 'chip ram', but Workbench 3.9 needs more.
    More information here...
  2. OS: This unit is currently booting into Workbench 3.1. I've seen some great eye-candy of 3.9 screenshots and want to run it. Seems it needs more RAM. It also needs a newer Kickstart ROM. The ROM is ordered... more research required for the RAM.
  3. HDD: Maybe a bigger one? Seems I have a CF in there with 512mb of disk. Will need a re-partition or renewal for OS 3.9
  4. VGA: This needs to be done. I want pixel-for-pixel. Information here and here.
  5. Games: Day of the Tentacle, etc...
  6. Accelerators: Where to start with this? Watch Majsta for something insane shortly!
  7. Parallel Port: Build an interface for the model railway. Use it for the Commodore too... parallel port information here and here.

Again, these machines are awesome to work with.