A Planetary Anachronism: “No Man’s Sky” Beautifully Rendered on the Amiga 1000

It should be evident to anyone viewing this website that I have a bit of a vintage computer obsession. And regular readers who’ve been paying attention over the past year and a half or so likely know that my other obsession is the space exploration game No Man’s Sky. After watching an episode of The Guru Meditation (YouTube channel) the other day I got a nifty idea for combining the two and sharing the results with anyone who’d care to see.

No Man’s Sky is a game with some of the most beautiful visuals I’ve ever seen. And what’s more, those visuals render out an infinite universe made up of over 18 quintillion planets. Of all of the systems in my vintage computer collection, the Amiga stands out as having been furthest beyond the capabilities of its peers when it came to graphics rendering, among other things. The original Amiga’s 4,096 color palette seemed an infinite range of colors when compared to the 16 colors that was the typical best case scenario of the other machines of the day. And, with a clever graphics mode known as Hold-And-Modify or HAM, the Amiga could render with its full palette onscreen at once.

In the episode of The Guru Meditation in question, the hosts walk through converting modern, true-color images to the HAM8 mode of the late-model Amiga 1200. The results were impressive, shown on both LCD and CRT alike in the video. This inspired me to select a few of the beautiful in-game photos from the thousands I’ve taken along my No Man’s Sky journey and render them on my oldest Amiga, the original Amiga 1000 circa 1985.

The Amiga 1000 features what is known as the Original Chipset or OCS which delivers the 4,096 colors mentioned previously. The Amiga 1200, which came in 1992, introduced the Advanced Graphics Architecture or AGA chipset which expanded on the original HAM mode by introducing the new HAM8 mode capable of displaying 262,144 colors onscreen from the system’s 16.7 million-color palette, using eight bitplanes to work the magic that previously took six.

Investigating a reasonable way to convert the images, I discovered a fairly amazing Java-based application known, colorfully, as “ham_converter” which uses extremely optimized algorithms to get the most out of the Amiga’s bizarre HAM mode. The results, rendered in a 320×400 pixel interlace (and a 4:3 aspect ratio), are well beyond the quality that I recall seeing my Amiga 2000 generate with early, basic HAM converter programs, rendering MCGA images to the screen in HAM mode back in the early ’90s. In fact, they are so good that their shockingly high quality takes a bit of the “retro” out of this post; the images look a little too good! And, just to let you know this wasn’t just a click-and-drag process, the systems involved in the conversion were: a gaming PC [specs] able to run the Java app, an iMac [specs] not able to run the Java app (apparently) but also running an FTP server, an accelerated Amiga 2000 [specs] with a LAN connection and a floppy drive (and an FTP client), and the Amiga 1000 [specs] with a floppy drive, SCSI hard drives, and no LAN connection. Getting data to and fro was … involved.

After the images were converted, I moved them to the Amiga 1000’s SCSI hard disk and then spent a staggering amount of time searching for a slideshow program that would run on so early a machine, running AmigaDOS 1.3. But, I finally found one (QuickFlix from 1987) and the results can be seen in the embedded video. I felt that “going analog” and conveying the CRT experience, despite a bit of mild refresh-ghosting, got to the core of the experience better than simply throwing up a thumbnail gallery in the middle of this post. (Note that after the first pass through the slideshow showing the entire system at work, it repeats with a closer camera zoom for a better look at the images onscreen.)

I’m quite pleased with the end results (which can be downloaded here in IFF format). In developing No Man’s Sky, Hello Games have stated that they were visually going for the covers of the sci-fi novels of olde. Rendering the visuals of this modern title on the a 30+ year old Amiga platform seems something of an analog of that goal. I hope you enjoyed the show.

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23 Responses to A Planetary Anachronism: “No Man’s Sky” Beautifully Rendered on the Amiga 1000

  1. Hello, glad to hear that you like my program. Latest version comes with a new very mild form of dithering (checks lines-mixed) simulating a 15-bit color that does not add additional noise like other methods resulting in less artefacting than, for example Floyd-Steinberg. I also recommend setting palette generation mode to 5 or more to remove similar colors and make the palette more diverse. Triple mode calculates current pixel’s color by checking possible 3-pixel sequences of HAM operations (it takes up to 3 pixels to make a transition from one color to another in HAM6). My contact e-mail is available in the application.

  2. Microcosmologist says:

    Nice, this was real cool!

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  4. Jaruzel says:

    Hiya. Great write-up. I may have to try the same thing with my Amiga 1000 and other game screenshots!

    Have you considered uploading all the HAM images to Aminet so they can be preserved for all time?

  5. Pingback: New top story on Hacker News: “No Man’s Sky” Rendered on the Amiga 1000 – ÇlusterAssets Inc.,

  6. beiller says:

    But does it run crysis? But seriously, nice job. You’ve got some great hacking skills!

  7. Lester C. says:

    Hi there. Doesn’t the HAM8 mode display 262,144 max colours from the full 24-bit truecolour palette? I’m trying to remember what it said on the side of my A1200 carton but sadly that was lost long ago.

  8. Leirbag says:

    Amiga 1000 does NOT display HAM8 mode….only Amigas with the AGA Chipset like the A4000, A1200 and CD32….there is also a way to do regular HAM mode on the A1000 without the color banding issue.
    I wouldn’t trust Converting images into HAM on a PC or other machines..it is best done on a real Amiga as there are things not taken into account on whatever PC software or Mac software you used.

    By the way, that is a Massively Pristine A1000 wih the correct monitor and external disk drive….best looking Amiga and the only one that does not say COMMODORE on it unless you got the eurpean version.

    • Blake Patterson says:

      Right, this Amiga 1000 does “HAM” mode which became “HAM6” when the AGA machines landed. I explain about HAM8 to speak to the video that inspired me, which is using HAM8 as a target on their A1200.

      As far as HAM converters, I don’t beleive there is a more advanced HAM converter than “ham_convert,” the Java app I used, anywhere. It uses a number of approaches to wring the most fidelity out of the Amiga in generating the HAM file. Click the link and read about it. The author left the first comment on this blog post, by the way. I believe “ham_convert” notably outperforms ADPro, etc. It’s fascinating and reminds me of the efforts of bmp2DHR, in the Apple II community:

      https://www.bytecellar.com/2015/02/07/bmp2dhr-the-best-apple-ii-graphics-youve-seen-this-week/

      And, thanks for the compliment on the Amiga 1000. Indeed, state-side Amiga 1000’s did not have the Commodore logo attached. I was thankful for this.

  9. Pingback: No Man’s Sky as a Commodore Amiga slideshow – f1tym1

  10. Matt says:

    Nice pics.

    I’m not too surprised at the quality either; HAM was regarded as pretty close to photo-realistic for its time and enabled some superb demos for the machine. The ability to compute an optimal layout on new hardware is only going to make it look better too.

    You could do similar things with the Atari ST using the Spectrum 512/4K software-driven mode, although it hogged the CPU. Here’s one I prepared just now:

    http://i65.tinypic.com/x3ds2.png

    Speaking of Spectrums, here’s the best I could manage on one of the ZX variety. It’s not quite up there with the others, obviously, but at least it’s recognizable:

    http://i68.tinypic.com/2nspf75.png

    So far as running NMS on an Amiga goes, I’d think that Frontier is about as close as you’re going to get. Modelling an enormous universe full of stars and planets is computationally far simpler than giving them complex terrain and an assortment of plants and wildlife, and modern PCs are thousands of times more powerful than even the best machines of the 80s.

    • Blake Patterson says:

      Superb — thanks for this! I remember hearing word of Spectrum 512 on the local BBSs in 1987 (was it?) and waiting eagerly for that demo disk to land online, coming over from Russia. It blew my mind. I was looking at a Spectrum 512 slideshow on the Atari 520ST that sits opposite my Amiga 1000 down in the computer room just the other day. Your example is striking. Good show.

      https://www.flickr.com/photos/blakespot/albums/72157604329654261

      I love this fringe area, pushing the capabilities of these machines to the extreme. That’s where the most fun is. And not to shame the Zed-Exx, the ST surpasses it marginally. :-)

  11. I like this porting of games to retro systems like the Amiga. Good Job, keep it up.

  12. John Heritage says:

    This is beautiful on the Amiga 1000! Quite a slideshow, and awesome that it’s on the original Amiga!

    Now I’m curious if the 4096 color palette on the (later) Atari STE are the same 4096 colors as Amiga OCS. I’d assume not..

    • Blake Patterson says:

      Pretty much, I think. It’s not a case of “let’s pick 4096 colors that are important and roll them in,” it’s a situation of pure, full intensity red, green, and also blue, and then there are 15 darker intensities of those colors. So the total palette is 16 red x 16 green x 16 blue colors. Pretty much the same palette.

      The Atari ST pre-STE has 512 colors, which is the same situation but with 8 total shades of each color for 512 total.

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  17. Jiri Svoboda says:

    Hello Sean,
    there was actually a game released around 2000, that tried to convey the same feelings and had somewhat similar gameplay to No Mans Sky. It is called “Noctis IV” and it is a freeware DOS game. I remember spending like 100 hours with this little game. I suppose you would need something akin to DosBOX to play it today.
    A nice summary of this game is here: https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/8gx8wb/before-no-mans-sky-there-was-noctis
    Regards,
    Jiri

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