Teletext launched on January 1st 1993, and from the off it was clear that what we did and wrote on Digi could have ramifications on a national scale. Upsetting Amiga owners was the first indication of that reach.
Though we'd never explicitly stated that we wouldn't be covering the Amiga, we had - from day one - made it clear that our focus would be consoles, arcade games, and the PC.
Partly, this was because it was pretty apparent to anybody with a third of a brain that consoles were the future of gaming. Emap's Computer & Video Games had spun off into Mean Machines, and the latter magazine felt more exciting, due to its exclusive focus on console gaming. While we were demoing Digi, in the months leading up to Teletext's launch, Mean Machines itself had split into two - Mean Machines Sega and the officially-endorsed Nintendo Magazine System. A month later, Sega released Sonic the Hedgehog 2, and the media coverage had been unprecedented for a console game.
The Amiga had been around, one way or another, since 1985. The Amiga 500+ and Amiga 600 had been released in early 1992, and the Amiga 1200 towards the end of that year, but in terms of home computing, its rival the Atari ST was all but dead, and the PC was fast becoming the home computer of choice. Sales of the Amiga were declining, and there were fewer games being released for it.
The only people who still believed it had a future were Amiga owners - even if there was a sense that they were fooling themselves, like half-drowned passengers of the Titanic thinking that flapping their arms around and blowing a whistle would somehow prevent them from freezing to death.
To everyone else, the Amiga felt like the past, and - while teletext might not have been the most current medium - we at least wanted to try and capture the zeitgeist.
More pertinently, there was a bigger reason why we never reviewed Amiga games...
In short: we didn't have an Amiga.
Everything we reviewed on Digitiser in the early days was on hardware that I owned already. I had a Game Boy, a Super NES and a Mega Drive; we didn't need to blag machines. We managed to get a Game Gear off of Video Games Ltd. - the company which provided our review software for the first year or so - which Tim took home, but in terms of set-up costs, there were none.
We could've asked our bosses to get us an Amiga, but what with them launching a new national teletext service, it felt like they had better things to do, and we already felt like the least-important section on the service (originally, they'd wanted to bundle us with the chess pages, under the name "Mind Games", until I argued that this was a terrible idea). Plus, Amigas weren't cheap.
Basically, the Amiga didn't feel like a priority. We barely gave it a second thought. Which, clearly, we should've done, given that our predecessor - Oracle's FX page - had covered the computer.
Every Teletext employee was required to be in work on January 1st. The higher-ups had correctly guessed that we would all be fielding calls from confused viewers, who wanted to know why their beloved chess pages had moved.
I spent much of that morning speaking to confused, elderly people, but - gradually - more and more calls were put through to our desk demanding to know why we weren't going to be covering the Amiga. Some of these calls were civil... several of them less so.
It was clear, however, that Amiga owners were angry - and that would only get more apparent in the days, weeks and months that followed.
Our second day in the office meant more angry phone calls. Our third day brought with it the first Digitiser postbag - which would later become the highlight of our day. That first physical postbag was a big one - this being an era where most people, and certainly not Amiga owners, had access to email (Digitiser didn't even have an email address anyway for a couple of years) - and the majority of those letters were from furious Amiga owners.
In all honesty, as was usually the case when Tim and I were confronted with virtriol, we found it funny. We started publishing the letters, and our responses would double-down on our insistence that the Amiga was "a dead format", and that the PC and consoles were the future of gaming.
Suffice to say, this only invited more anger, and that anger made us dig our heels in. In fact, the level of rage from Amiga owners was such that we responded by making fun of them, or calling them "idiots".
In many respects, if it hadn't been for Amiga owners, Digitiser wouldn't have been what it was; we had our backs to the wall, and Digi's dismissive, disrespectful, tone was born from that. For everyone who read Digi, who wasn't an Amiga owner, this was doubtlessly hugely entertaining - and no doubt helped to drive up our viewing figures. It was a precursor to the spectator sport that Internet drama has become.
Our reputation for being controversial started literally on day one, and - to be honest - we rather liked it. Better that than having a reputation for being safe. From a personal point of view, I'd never really considered myself cool before, and suddenly I felt like a bit of a rebel.
The letters and phone calls didn't stop. When they didn't get what they wanted from us, they wrote to our bosses. Several of them demanded that we be fired. One, memorably, stated that - as a "publicly-funded" service - we had an obligation to cover the Amiga. Clearly, they had missed all the ads for premium rate phone lines and holidays on Digitiser, which made it quite apparent that Teletext was anything but publicly-funded.
At some point in that first year, we caved. Even we had a limits to how many times we wanted our employer to be told to fire us, and we wanted to open up our postbag to other topics. The only way to do that was to shut up the Amiga irritants.
We'd introduced The Man With A Long Chin to the letters page, who promised to reward outstanding letters with prizes from his "secret pocket", and wrote occasional letters ourselves as "Danny Boyd (Luton Area)" as a way to stoke up debate (incidentally, the CBBC show I write, 4 O'Clock Club, is about to introduce a character called Danny Boyd - if I get a chance, I'll mention that he's from "Luton Area").
However, the Amiga letters kept coming, fuelled by Commodore's announcement that it would be introducing an Amiga console - the ill-fated CD32 - to compete in a rapidly-shifting market. Ironically, this of course merely underlined Digi's original statement that the Amiga was the past and consoles were the future, but this seemed to be lost on most of our Amiga-loving correspondents.
Here's where things get a little fuzzy. I remember taking a brand new Amiga 1200 home from work, unboxing it, and playing on it... but I don't know where it had come from - whether our bosses had bought it for us - or even what happened to it. Adam "Mr Cheese" Keeble had joined the Digitiser team at some point in 1993, and we certainly farmed out the Amiga reviews to him, as he'd been an Amiga owner of some considerable long-standing. I've a vague memory of me handing it over to him, but can't be entirely certain.
Regardless, the Amiga came to be featured on Digi's pages... Well, for all of five minutes before games firms stopped making games for it, and Commodore went bankrupt, just over a year after Digitiser launched...
It's fair to say we felt pretty good about that, and having been proved right in such a conclusive fashion made us utterly insufferable.
Nay, invincible. That wouldn't last...
DIGITISER AT 25: PART 1
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