Jay Miner was a hardware engineer who worked for Atari during the 1970’s and was instrumental in designing the Atari VCS’s video controller chip (the TIA). Around the time of the VCS’s release in 1977 Atari was sold to Warner Brothers and Miner began work on a sequel to their games console. This machine was released in 1979 at the Atari 400 and 800 home computers.
Miner wanted to continue his work following the Atari 8-bit line, Warner had other ideas focusing on the then popular original VCS system. This lead to Miner, and others, leaving Atari to form a new company called Hi-Torro which financed development of its new games console by producing joysticks for the Atari systems. It was also around this time others were leaving Atari and setting up their own companies like David Crane and Activision.
Based on the principles learned from the Atari VCS’s TIA and then the Atari 8-bit architecture, The Lorraine games console was based around a newer 16-bit Microprocessor design with support from dedicated controllers for Graphics and Sound using a system of Direct Memory Access to allow these controllers to function independently of the main CPU.
Originally the project was being kept alive with a $500,000 loan from Miner’s old employers at Atari. However following the North American market crash in 1983 Warner wanted to sell Atari. At this time Jack Tramiel was forced out of the company he founded, Commodore, and bought Atari from Commodore.
Both Commodore and the new Atari were looking for a 16-bit follow up to their 8-bit home microcomputers. In what may have been an act of retaliation against their former CEO Commodore agreed to purchase Hi-Torro allowing them to repay their loan with Atari at the 11th hour and prevent them from falling in to Atari ownership.
The Lorraine system was finally released as a full fledged 16-bit desktop computer in July 1985 by Commodore as the Amiga 1000. Atari on the other hand rushed out their own 16-bit home micro based on Tremiel teams previous work at Commodore on the 64. The Atari 520ST was a low cost single box all-in-one solution retailing at $799 all-in and released a month earlier in June 1985.
By 1987 Commodore were riding high with continued success of their flagship 8-bit home product in the 64. Atari were also seeing success with their 16-bit ST system which by this point had briefly reduced in price down to £299 with built-in floppy disk drive and TV modulator.
A special cost-reduced version of the Amiga 1000 in an ST style home-micro case was released in April 1987 and retailed for £499 as a more powerful direct competitor to Atari’s system.
Initially the Amiga suffered in sales due to it’s higher price however Atari couldn’t hold the £299 price for long and Commodore started bundling a TV modulator as standard bringing the two systems closer together in comparison at £399 and £499 respectfully.
The turning point came over Christmas in 1989 by which point the 512KB Amiga 500 had reached the same £399 price as Atari’s 1MB 1040STFM model. However despite having less memory the Amiga was seen as the faster, more powerful, home computer and was being bundled with a free copy of the seasons biggest video game release, Oceans Batman.