I’m going to start this entry with a fairy story for any younger readers. Where some things have perhaps got lost in translation, I’ve provided a bit of explanation in [square brackets].
Once upon a time, in the days when the nights were long and dark, there was no such thing as the internet. In this pre-internet world lived a little monkey called Retro.
One day Retro decided he needed a new piece of software. He knew just the thing he wanted and best of all it was (nearly) free.
But because this was before the Magic Wizard had invented the internet he couldn’t just ask the Good Fairy Google to give him a link to the download. Instead, poor old Retro had to write his request on a piece of paper [a sort of non-digital hard drive made of dead trees], go outside [a bit like inside but colder. And wetter. And with more muggers] and send his request through the post [a bit like email, but involving actual people taking your actual message across the actual country], along with a postal order [like Paypal, but on paper]. Two weeks later, lucky old Retro got his new software delivered by the postman [think your email inbox, but with more arms and legs and fewer power leads] on a floppy disk [a really primitive… oh you get the message.]
Anyway for those of us who owned a computer in the 90s, PD (or Public Domain) libraries were the easiest way to get hold of non-commercial software. They operated on the principle that the software could be legally copied and distributed either for free or very low cost. Much PD software was also given away on magazine cover disks as it was a cheap way of filling them up.
“Cheap” didn’t necessarily mean “rubbish”, though. Sure, a lot of PD software was pretty dire: badly programmed, derivative, incomplete or just plain boring; but there were some real gems in there. Some now big name programmers cut their teeth making PD software, whilst some big names of the day (most notably Jeff Minter) saw it as an alternative distribution method that cut out the publishers and kept games affordable.
As you can probably guess from the title, the Ultimate Guide to Amiga PD Games (available as a Kindle e-book or in print) highlights some of the best games that were available for the Commodore Amiga.
Given that there were literally thousands of PD games available, how on earth do you go about selecting the best? Well, in this case, the authors drew up their personal top 100 titles and sought the opinion of the EAB (English Amiga Board) community. Using these suggestions, they whittled it down to the 200 or so titles reviewed in this book.
Each entry has a concise and consistent approach which works well: a screenshot, a brief overview of the objectives followed by a mini review, and finally a piece of trivia. This gives enough information but doesn’t bog you down in too much detail. It would, perhaps have been nice to have a few more screenshots, but obviously this would have made the book quite a bit longer and increased the costs of the print version. It’s also true that some of the trivia is a bit dull (“this game appeared on Assassin’s PD Disk 135) and that for some titles, the authors were scrambling around for something interesting to say.
Overall, however, this is an interesting book that reads well and provides both a nostalgic journey and/or a voyage of discovery. There were several entries that reminded me of PD games that I’d forgotten about, prompting me to dust off my Amiga emulator and give them another go. Equally, there were a fair few that passed me by when they were first released and so the book introduced me to some great new titles.
This is probably not a book you will read from cover to cover as it can become repetitive after a while. However, it’s ideal for dipping into from time to time. All told, it probably took me a couple of months to complete, reading just a couple of entries every few days. Broken down like this, it’s an interesting and enjoyable read. It could, perhaps, have done with a little tighter editing – there are quite a few mistakes in the text and some of the writing can occasionally feel a little bit “amateurish”. Mind you, this is not entirely a bad thing as it gives the book a more informal feel, as though you are chatting to other Amiga enthusiasts about PD software, rather than reading something better written but less interesting. The authors’ enthusiasm for the PD scene shines through and overcomes any potential weaknesses in the text or style.
Best of all, if you buy this book you will be doing some good. In the opening section, the authors explain that, in keeping with the spirit of PD, they wanted to give the book away for free. However, apparently Amazon doesn’t allow a permanent price point of £0.00. Instead, the e-book costs £1.50, with all proceeds going to Mencap. Good for them! It’s worth buying the book for that reason alone – the fact you also get a decent book to read is almost a bonus!