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21 PORTALS - Back to the Roots: A journey back in time: into the world of legal Amiga game downloads

on Thu 05 Jul 2018 by vS staff author listemail the content item print the content item create pdf file of the content item

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Back to the Roots: A journey back in time into the world of legal Amiga game downloads
= = = = =
by Bobic/4sceners^bitfellas

"Back to the Roots" was the most important Amiga website with legal game downloads until 2005. To understand the history and the passion behind it, we must travel far back in time, because the origin begins... on the Atari ST!

The wrong way

Christmas 1987 - and I got one! The computer of the year, right there on the gift table! I was so proud and happy to finally own a computer myself after I experienced the first basic excursions in school at the computer science lessons. It was a machine with much better graphics than the C64 at school! It was love at first sight, me and my Atari 1040 ST! Unfortunately, it did not last long. As a lone warrior in the 12,000-soul place where I still live, no one was interested in the mighty device that stood on my desk.

My whole circle of friends had chosen another wonder machine at that time: The Commodore Amiga. My best friend Markus, for example, who lived only two streets away, had an A1000 with two floppy drives! These were constantly fed with the latest games. I couldn't keep up, because I only had my three self-purchased games, the nice After Burner and Football Manager 2, as well as the outstanding RPG game Dungeon Master.

With Blood Money and a cassette

Until 1989 I remained faithful to the ST, but then there was Blood Money. An extremely difficult shoot'em up, which was highly acclaimed in the German games magazine ASM. Of course, Markus already had it and introduced it to me. What followed was a yawning void in my head. I couldn't believe what I got to see and especially hear. The intro with its rendered asteroids was quite a force, but this music by Ray Norrish, which only consisted of samples, catapulted me with full force from the mountain pines. I was no longer interested in the game itself. I just wanted to see this intro over and over again and above all listen to the music (which ended with Markus promising me completely unnerved to record the music on tape so that I could also listen to it at home).

The intro of Blood Money changed a whole life!

I ran home, got my parents to buy me an Amiga 500 and give away the Atari ST. I just had to have this new "girlfriend", as the Amiga is affectionately called by its German-speaking fans. Fortunately, my 14th birthday was just around the corner, which is the reason why this wish was fulfilled. From the middle of 1989 I was also an "Amigan" and lost myself in the world of games. I knew them all! Not only the titles themselves, but also their creators. They were my pop or movie stars. From then on, I paid homage to them all, the Andrew Braybrook's, Holger Schmidt's, Erwin Kloibhofer's or Andreas Tadic's. I listened to the wonderful, timeless sounds by Chris Hülsbeck, Allister Brimble or Jochen Hippel, and I reveled in the mighty imagery of Henk Nieborg, Mark Coleman, and Andreas Escher.

New worlds full of effects

When I got to see Hardwired in early 1992, a second passion developed on the Amiga besides the games: The Demoscene. I actually knew them already, because I loved all the crack-intros and their wonderful music, which of course were also recorded by me on tape! With the demo reviews in Amiga Joker, the first disk orders followed at Nordlicht Public Domain Service, my demo supplier number 1.

In the same year the A500 was literally struck by lightning and exchanged for an Amiga 1200, thanks to insurance. It still works today, but in 1994 it was extended with 4MB Fast RAM and a 500MB hard disk (yes, I speak about MEGABYTE!), which was incredibly expensive at that time and cost about 500,- DM. The reason for the upgrade mania were the demos. Tidbits like Psychedelic by Virtual Dreams and Fairlight, or Real by Complex simply needed a little bit more power under the hood.

When my heroes of Thalion finally said goodbye to the Amiga in 1994 with the best roleplaying game of all time, Ambermoon, I followed them a year later to play their latest work and spiritual Ambermoon successor at the same time, Albion, on a modern PC with MS-DOS. The relationship to the Amiga was interrupted, but games and demos remained my constant companion.

New, old love

It was not until 1998 that our paths crossed again. Somehow, I came across the topic Amiga emulation on the PC. Fellow was the best emulator at that time, but it was soon replaced by Brian King's ingenious WinUAE. After some fiddling around with the emulator I also got it to work. It wasn't that easy, because with the help of "Transrom" I had to read the Kickstart ROM from my 1200, and with the help of "TransADF" I could also copy some game and demo disks, which I still owned, to the PC. When I saw my most played game of all time, Player Manager, on the PC screen, the fire was rekindled. Incredible streams of happiness were flowing through my body when I played all the old treasures again.

I was also pleased that I was not alone. The Internet, which I was allowed to surf with my 56k modem and which was billed every minute at that time (monthly Internet bills of 300 German Marks were normal!), was full of like-minded people. The first point of contact for us Amiga nerds was the website "Lazarus". They seemed to be professionally organized, cared for their visitors and had so much what the Amiga heart desired. The lines were hot and soon you had a proud archive of Amiga games in ADF format, just as you had to feed them into the emulator. The Amiga was again in first place for me, although the engine ran a little different.

In the next few weeks I started not only to expand my ADF game archive, but also to bring all my demos into the emulator-compatible format. That was quite a task, since my treasure of floppy disks at that time amounted to several hundred pieces. Reading all this out and copying it to the PC took time. Especially since I remember copying all ADF files on the Amiga to 720kb PC disks and then transferring them to my Pentium. I've packed, split and reassembled these on the PC until my fingers crashed!

Well such an Amiga emulator is not an easy to use program in which you can simply load your disk images. A lot of configuration work is required to start each game and each demo. One title uses Kickstart 1.2 and Chip-RAM, the other one needs some Fast-RAM and Kick 3.0, and so on. As a meticulous data collector and archivist, it is in my genes to create extensive lists with a lot of information. So, I started not only to record the games, the year of release and the manufacturers in an Excel-list, but also to add genre and personal ratings. For the games, these were the disciplines of graphics, sound and fun. With demos and intros, the fun of gameplay dropped, but effects and design were added. Furthermore, a set consisting of about 10 different configuration files was created and each individual program was tested to find out with which settings the game or the demo runs well. This information was also included in the Excel list.

A very small excerpt of BTTR's legal Amiga games archive.

Back to the Roots

In April 1998 the Amiga emulation community was just emerging. Lazarus were the great role models and some of us wanted to be as cool and trendy as the unknown operators, including myself. So, I started to play around with Netscape Composer. At that time this was one of the easiest to use HTML editors and you could create your own website with little knowledge. That's exactly what I wanted to do and offer there Amiga games and demos, as well as my configuration list and the configuration package for download.

A simple structured page was quickly created, and a suitable provision was found with the at that time obligatory free web space providers Geocities and Tripod, which each offered 10MB storage space. I immediately remembered "Back to the Roots" (BTTR for short) as the name for the up-and-coming star in the website sky, the old, well-known slogan of the group T.R.S.I. Also, it was clear that a cool logo had to be an eye-catcher. The choice was quite simple, because Cougar's "Roots" logo from Sanity's famous demo of the same name is one of the best logo artworks from the demoscene ever made! At least for me. So, I quickly wrote the three other words above the Roots logo and the website was ready for lift off.

This is a reproduction, since the original is no longer available. This was the first logo of Back to the Roots, simply borrowed from the Sanity Roots demo (author: Cougar).

Back to the Roots started at some Tripod URL, I think, with five Amiga games and demos each, which changed every few days due to the low storage space. From the first day on it was not only about the commercial classics, also the best PD games were offered. We all knew the Amiga was and is rich in fantastic hobby games. This kind of amusement had to be made possible for the emulator world! Anyway, the response was positive, and the people were grateful for a few games that did not yet exist on Lazarus. They especially liked the game list with its configuration information, because such things had never existed anywhere else before and made life easier for many people.

Copyright issues

The joy did not last long. Shortly after the start of BTTR the Lazarus website was suddenly no longer accessible. The community was in turmoil, especially after a statement by the operators became public. An organization called I.D.S.A. (Interactive Digital Software Association) have accused the Lazarus makers of copyright infringement and asked them to close the site immediately. We couldn't do anything with that, because we were young, stupid and unsuspecting. We were not aware that the old games could not simply be offered for download on the Internet. After all, the Amiga was considered "dead" and the games were no longer on the market for quite some time. In the meantime, however, I knew that copyright was valid for 25 years and that the term "Abandonware" was by no means a permission to distribute software without permission. As a result, I was looking for solutions.

So, I started asking the authors of the games for permission. However, where could these be found? How could I get in touch with them? Eternal research began on Google, which was the most important search engine on the Internet even then. Some programmers actually had their own internet presence, from others I could only find various e-mail addresses during the name search, which of course were all contacted with a nice, polite e-mail, in which I described my request and the motives behind it.

An answer did not always come back, but sometimes the result was simply overwhelming. Most coders were very happy about my letter and the fact that their old beads are still so much loved. Of course, they granted permission and BTTR was the first Amiga emulator site on the internet, actually on the whole emulator sector, which was allowed to offer games for download with the permission of the creators. From a legal point of view this may not be one hundred percent correct, but BTTR had more than any other emulation website on hand. During the entire time BTTR was online, there was exactly one single request regarding the rights. This was answered, and we never heard from the author again. Otherwise all people were happy and content. Unfortunately, I can't remember which commercial Amiga game was the first one we were allowed to put online with permission.

Games, demos, music and images such as box and advertising scans. We had them all!

Change of direction

Since not all visitors had Excel and therefore could not enjoy the list, I looked for alternatives. For lack of knowledge I could not convert the list into a neat, browser-readable format. A question in a forum was answered by a certain Hippie2000, who turned out to be a true genius in HTML programming, data security and future leader and thinker. He said that this Excel list could be turned into a complete website. To me, as total code idiot, this sound completely incomprehensible, but extremely exciting. So, we tried it together, because Hippie's policy has always been to help others. Especially when there's no money involved and it's legal.

In a few days Hippie2000 had a first rough draft ready, which actually formed a useful HTML representation from the individual rows and cells in Excel. Of course, numerous changes had to be made to the list itself. A flag for names that occur twice or more than once was mandatory for the engine to be able to detect differences. Old ratings were automated, change numbers entered, screenshots for each individual work created and named, separate manufacturers and genre lists created and much more. The list literally exploded!

Excerpt from the BTTR games list with information on emulator configuration in HTML format.

I constantly added new entries for games and demos, the engine got confused again and again and there were mis-exports. I was to blame, who made a spelling mistake in the heat of the moment and thus the manufacturer's name in one column did not match that in the other list. So, Hippie created a powerful, automated bug finder that always showed me where something was wrong or where a link between the creator and the manufacturer list didn't work.

The man of action in the background

Hippie made Back to the Roots ready for the future, away from the beginner's website to the "Amiga Culture Directory Project", as he called BTTR. I didn't have a clue about so many things, especially the technical ones. All I've always been good at is bringing content if you give me the right platform. That's exactly what Hippie2000 did and made me smarter bit by bit. Yes, I really owe him a lot! His work made our baby really big. It wasn't just about games and demos, it was a link directory, a gigantic collection of almost everything there was in this wonderful Amiga world!

Manufacturers, demo groups, they were all archived and, if available, linked to the websites. Screenshots from games, box scans of the packaging, Amiga mods with the soundtracks from games and demos, picture galleries to the demoscene, reports to music albums of Amiga musicians, even save disks to several games were available. Because, you may not understand it these days, saving in games was not so easy in the early days of the Amiga emulation, because some save disks were simply not recognized. We transferred ours from my real 1200 and look, most of the time the saving worked. What BTTR still had to offer was its own, inappropriate download area with PC demos. That had to be, because my love for the whole demoscene was just too strong!

The BTTR start screen with hosting message to Emulators Unlimited.

Of course, at that time a hosting service like Geocities was long gone. Therefore, we gladly accepted an offer from the emulation center "Emulators Unlimited". They offered us endless webspace, of course with a few editions, but Hippie2000 blew these away in his inimitable way. With the result, that “Emulators Unlimited” could soon look forward to a powerful Amiga package and made the URL www.back2roots.org available to us, including enough storage space. BTTR was able to grow further. The number of hits skyrocketed. Sometimes several thousand visitors per day were on our hobby project website.

Excerpts from the official scene demo for "Back to the Roots".

With the start at EmuUnlim and the introduction of the new URL came the "Back to the Roots"-scene demo. As a fanatic demo fan, I wanted to have my own demo for our baby. Thanks to our visitor and scene artist Nomad from the group Haujobb, contacts could be made to their programmer NoName. To the brutal music made by the two music legends Virgill and Muffler, NoName let some nice effects dance across the screen and shake it to the rhythm, just as I had wished. In addition, we added a few keywords to our site, as well as the new URL, ready was a piece of art that put me into ecstasy and was the reason for visiting my first demo party: The Mekka & Symposium 2000 in Fallingbostel! There was a new logo on top. Thank you, JCS!

Total free game madness

The search for permissions was our daily bread. There were always happy coincidences of fate. At that time, for example, one of our regular visitors was a support employee at Activision Germany. In 1999 (or was it already 2000) Activision was in possession of the license for the Sierra games. This employee establishes contact with the head of Germany, who in turn consulted with the US department. After some back and forth, thanks to him we were able to exclusively offer Amiga versions of adventures like Leisure Suit Larry or King's Quest for download! On top of that were the games of the other Sierra daughters, namely Dynamix, Coktel Vision and Impressions. The latter were not very successful on the Amiga, but later achieved world fame with games like Pharaoh.

The first Amiga-Mod radio available on the Internet was also a central and important component.

Also with the Anno makers from Sunflowers and Max Design, the football experts at Ascon (Ascaron), Core Design (Rick Dangerous), the ex-Silents members from Digital Illusions (Pinball Dreams), Gremlin Interactive (Lotus) or Hewson (Cybernoid) there were great conversations. The Factor 5 team around Julian Eggebrecht put Turrican and Co. after our request first on their website for free download, to allow us the same later. For Revolution Software's adventure classics Lure of the Temptress and Beneath a steel sky it's the same story. Team17 made three games available: Project-X, Superfrog and Alien Breed. Furthermore, we got the chance to know one or the other star better on this way. With the musicians Mike Clarke (Psygnosis) and Mark Knight (aka T.D.K.) we wrote for years. I met the Apidya and Turrican 3 graphics artist Frank Matzke personally at the Games Convention fair in Leipzig in 2003, which resulted in many more further Amiga contacts and also in an interview with him I did for the print magazine Amiga Plus.

In 2001 I got into conversation with the well-known games journalist Roland Austinat, who was an editor for the magazine PC Player. He also thought BTTR was cool and we managed to be introduced in issue 4/2001 of this magazine. As a thank you we helped them to release the Amiga versions of 1869, Aufschwung Ost, The Clou!, Fightin' Spirit, Whales Voyage 2, Doodle Bug and Ziriax on their cover CD.

The magazine PC-Player reports about BTTR in issue 4/2001 (top left). Thanks to our help, a total of ten full Amiga games were released on the magazine's CD.

A special experience was also when a visitor showed us a video, recorded from a show at an American TV station at the beginning of the year 2000. In the show "Screen Savers" on ZDTV they showed some effect magic from the Amiga and PC demo scene and that BTTR would be a good starting point for getting demos. I beg your pardon? Did they mention OUR BTTR? And then this site was also shown on TV? Simply ingenious!


With the increasing traffic, the operators of Emulators Unlimited slowly but steadily got into a sweat, especially since entire CD images have meanwhile landed on BTTR. The approvals were finally given for the Amiga versions, and these sometimes include a version on CD, or HD offshoots and different language versions. That was too much for our host, so they wanted to get rid of us.

With Warlock, a bold Norwegian offered himself, who operated a small, fine site in the Amiga community with "Warlock's ADF Archive". As a student at a university in his home country Norway and at the same time a system administrator, he could rob us of all problems and put together an all-round carefree package for the future. We only had to refurbish the hardware and the storage space of his box. That's exactly what we did. From the own means a thick non-removable disk was financed and sent to Norway. BTTR was able to move and from now on had nothing to fear at all.

With music and fish

Meanwhile, Hippie was working on new features for BTTR. Thus, he brought the first mod radio into the world of the Internet, because our music archive had become really large. Not only from the games, for which we had a permission, the music files were offered individually for (as always!) free download, also some musicians had given their approval to make their game music available. Also, here the archive was really impressive, because Tim Wright, Martin Iveson (Nuke / Lemon), Allister Brimble (The Demon), Andrew Barnabas, Björn Lynne (Dr. Awesome / Crusaders) or Chris Hülsbeck provided for quite a few unforgettable listening pleasures from the Paula chip. And this was only a small excerpt!

The legendary collection of Fred Fish was also available on BTTR.

Furthermore, it was thanks to Hippie that the entire archive of Fred Fish CDs, probably the most popular CD collection in the history of the Amiga, could completely find its way on BTTR. For this purpose, he set up a separate page to pay tribute to the god of public domain software. Also, other interesting projects landed on our server. "Melcom's Chiptune Archive" was a treasure of cult beeps and bleeps, Robotriot's "Amidemos" video archive was also the first of its kind. Long before Amiga demos flooded YouTube, Robbi, who lived only 25km away from me, had taken videos directly from his Amiga and made them available to the internet world.

Hippie was, as always, hard to stop. In the meantime, he had set up a real hosting service. Free of charge, of course. Mirrors of Aminet, Amigascne.org, Modulez.org, the GeekGadgets or WinUAE.net and many other cool projects snuggled together on our server hard drive.

Until now, we two had almost exclusively handled BTTR on our own, but then we added competent support for the license search and games uploads. The Amiga expert and game sympathizer Bernd Gmeineder joined the core team. Bernd had been in the Amiga emulator community for almost as long as I had and had a legal, flourishing website running with "Ami Sector One" as well. We had known each other a little longer, had met in person at the Mecca & Symposium 2002. Now we sat together in the same boat and provided the net with great games.

The proof, on the left under "BTTR": Back to the Roots" recorded 30,577 entries. In addition, there were many mirror archives and hosted websites.

The future

BTTR had become a real monster, created by two lunatics who put all their free time into this project. Over 30,000 handmade entries were in our archive with the last update in 2005, and not even everything we had permission for was already online! It was clear that this effort could not always go on like this. Even if such a heart project is often called a "baby of its own", life goes on. You get older, priorities shift, new phases of life begin. Until 2005 we put a lot of time, joy, passion and fascination into Back to the Roots. Then came more important things, above all family, children, new challenges at work, the own house... Normal things that made it difficult to continue BTTR.

Hippie and I live about 500km apart. A personal meeting is therefore not so easy. We have talked a lot about how to continue. One thing was always clear to us: BTTR should and must remain online. Forever! We have created so much, and we do not want history to be forgotten.

Unfortunately, the registration of our URL www.back2roots.org expired about five years ago. Yeah, we just forget that! Unfortunately, buying it back now is not an option and would go beyond our financial framework. With help of RCK from Abime.net (English Amiga Board) a short reactivation at a different web address was possible. But not for long, because we have to update our server in Norway. Achieving this is our second challenge. The first one is much harder to solve. Our administrator Warlock left university long ago and moved away. We do not (yet) know where he lives now, but once contact is restored, Warlock must embark on a final journey. Go to the server, so BTTR can go online again. Because everything we've accumulated is still waiting for all of you out there. Then the site may no longer look like the spirit of the times, but we all know that true beauty comes from within!

The somewhat different extension of horizons

However, not everything is currently lost. After years of fighting the robots of Archive.org, Hippie2000 allowed the "Internet Archive Wayback Machine" to take a snapshot or two. If you enter our old URL www.back2roots.org in the search on Archive.org, you can browse through our heart project again. Not everything works, not all screenshots and subpages are displayed. You can still have fun, reminiscing in memories and getting lost in the endless expanses of BTTR.

4Sceners.de was created from the PC-Demos-Section of BTTR.

Also, the PC demo section of BTTR still lives on today in a strongly extended version. When I was asked in 2005 by the well-known German online game magazine 4Players.de whether I would be interested in making a German-language page about the PC demo scene for them, I did not have to hesitate long for this new hobby project. I just loved and love the demoscene, the effort for the site was less and better in my free time, and I watched demos regularly anyway. At start, 4Sceners.de went online with almost the same download archive of PC demos as BTTR had at the end. Since May 2005 I have been writing news and reports about the demoscene, introducing new demos and looking again and again at the marvels of the Amiga demo scene.

That the Amiga is still a faithful companion to me can be seen not only by the fact that every few weeks my good, old A1200 is connected to the TV. Then my oldest son (10 years) and I kick a few balls at Sensible Soccer and shoot around a bit in Disposable Hero and Turrican 2 with my old Quickshot joysticks (I never liked the Competition Pro!). He thinks that's pretty cool! Also, my last demoscene project, the browser-based music and art disk Analysis, includes a piece of Amiga history. In the person of the legendary musicians Chris Hülsbeck, Muffler, Virgill, Pink, Scorpik and Frederic "Moby" Motte, all of whom contributed great music. Also, Amiga graphic artists were on board, amongst them Slayer/Ghostown, Acryl/Haujobb and Bridgeclaw/Gods. Amiga is simply everywhere! Amiga forever!

A piece of Amiga is always included! Chris Hülsbeck, Virgill, Muffler and other Amiga gods have contributed to "Analysis", the Music & Art Disk for the web.

About the author:

Bobic lost his heart as a teenager. Not to the pretty neighbor's daughter or the girls from the 1989 neighbor class, with their perms and the strange carrot jeans. Rather, the Commodore Amiga conquered his heart. As was customary at that time, he often dragged shoe boxes filled with floppy disks home from school, which his friends literally forced upon him and which were the reason why nothing existed what you didn't own at that time! With temporary jobs at weekend markets, however, he piled up his pocket money to the point where he could indulge his passion for collecting original games. Equipped with a lot of knowledge about the game makers and sound gurus on the Amiga, he was soon regarded as a walking Amiga encyclopedia on the playground.

After he changed to MS-DOS in 1995, the Amiga emulation on the PC led him back home in 1998. A few months later, "Back to the Roots" was born, the first Amiga game site on the Internet, which offered only approved downloads.

Today Bobic is the proud father of three children, is professionally on the paths of digitization in the automotive industry and writes on http://www.4sceners.de about his second great passion, the demoscene. He still throws a smile and proud glance in his basement archive to the beautiful Amiga game boxes (with instructions and poster) on many occasions.

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