Home/BOING/BOING #3/Interview of Apollo Team Last update: 2022-04-03
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You obviously already know the Apollo Team, including their Vampire accelerators cards for Amiga Computers. Some members of the team answered our questions...

The interview was initially published in BOING French magazine issue #3 (December, 2021). Thanks to our partner amiga-news.de, it's also available in German.

TEAM

The Apollo Team

Hello to the whole team ! Where does the name of your company come from, "Apollo" ? When was it founded ?

Miri : Gunnar wanted a memorable name that could be pronounced worldwide.
Dr. Procton : He loves mythology, sometimes he and me talk about miniature gaming like Warhammer and stuff, as I am a big D&D collector and fantasy minis gamer.
Gunnar : APOLLO is one of the Olympian deities in Greek and Roman mythology. The national divinity of the Greeks, Apollo has been recognized as a god of archery, music and dance, truth and prophecy, healing and diseases, the Sun and light, poetry, and more. That sounded really good fitting, and so he decided that new Project name should be APOLLO.


What is the main objective of Apollo Team ?

Bartek : Fully revive the Amiga. As we remember Amiga was sold in millions of units. We want Amiga back in every home.


Do some people work full time for the Apollo Team ? Or does everyone have a "day job" ?

Miri : Gunnar and I work full time for the project. All the rest do volunteer their spare time as they life situation allows and every team member is giving as much as he can. Quite often we can see many of the Team members working on the project on a daily basis.


Igor Majstorovic, present from the start, recently left the Apollo Team. What is the reason ? How is he ?

Bartek : Igor joined the Team in 2013 and the Project started in 2007 with NATAMI. It was a great time with Igor and we appreciate his work a lot. Igor left for personal reasons. We wish him all the best, but I am sure he will appreciate if you also ask him directly.


Thomas (Hirsh) replaced Igor in the team: is he a new member of the team ?

Gunnar : Thomas can hardly be called a "new" member, simply because it is Thomas who started all of this in 2007, when everything started with NATAMI. So he is a founding member of the project and our Team.


Do you plan to recruit new people ?

Miri : We are always open to cooperate with passionate Amiga fans. This project is so huge, that every hand on deck is need to revive the Amiga. For sure especially developers who are interested to improve AROS are welcome. But our daytime is full of other stuff like testing, graphics, promo videos, webshop, developing new Amiga games, and so on and so force so feel free to help.


You own several websites (apollo-accelerators.com, apollo-core.com, apollo-computer.com, ...): do you plan to merge everything into a single website ?

Miri : Miri: Yes we plan and we already try to clean up and bring structure to the pages. The basic idea is that we will have two pages:
1.) www.apollo-core.com:
Main information for coders and very passionate amiga fans and also the great forum is part of that page
2.) www.Apollo-computer.com:
The main Page where people can buy the products of the Apollo Team and also get all important information about the Team and the Products.



VAMPIRE

Vampire Standalone V4

Can you introduce us to the Vampire V4 ?

Gunnar : The Standalone version, known simply as the V4, is a new Amiga-compatible model.

It is an AGA Amiga with 512MB RAM and the 68080 CPU which is much faster than an 68060. The v4 has 12 MB chipMEM, Ethernet, USB Support, and it includes all the features that the original Amiga designers did plan for the next generation Amiga model, which never came out back in the days. The improved sprites, more Amiga audio channels, 16 bit audio, true colour graphics, and 3D acceleration. Or to say it with the words of our Team member Stefano: "The new AMIGA Reborn".


Who chose the name "Vampire" for your FPGA ? What is the story behind this name ?

Bartek : Igor invented the name Vampire for his series of accelerators. The region of Europe where Igor comes from is world famous for Transylvania, where the gothic fortress associated with the legendary Dracula is located. So the vampire is probably the only Bosnian word known to the rest of the world.


I understand that the Vampire V4 are produced in Germany whereas in general, this kind of material is produced in China. In addition, the consumption (2 watts) is very low. Is it an environmental will ?

Bartek : We believe in a world where excellent hardware can be produced locally and we do not think everything needs to be coming from just one region of the planet. The low power consumption levels for the V4 were carefully chosen, as we do care about our tiny blue dot and future of our kids and grandchildren, who also deserve the right to enjoy clean and green environment.


Could the pandemic create supply and therefore production problems for you ?

Miri : We produce our PCB in Germany and the solder house is also located near Stuttgart. We buy our chips directly from Intel and not on some chinese markets. Moreover gladly Gunnar was so smart buy two years ago all needed parts for three years, because he was afraid of what happened know. That was the best step, because even Intel currently has a delay of two years for the FPGA.

So currently we have no big problem to produce and we hope that in the end of 2022 the parts we be again available.


One of the big names in the Amiga, Dave Haynie, is mentioned in one of your adverts. How did meet him ? Are you regurlarly in touch with him ? Does he give you advices ?

Gunnar : After long time email contact, we finally met Dave at the Amiga34 in Neuss. Dave followed our project for many years and he is a fan of the developments and the reviving work for the Amiga. He loves that we finish the original plan of the Amiga developers.

On the A34 he saw the V4 Standalone the first time in action and as he told us, he was blown away.

We appreciate Dave Haynies work as the most famous former Commodore Chief Engineer, and so we gave him a system to test it. The quote: "If commodore would have had the 68080 CPU than Amiga would have ruled the world". Originated when he was testing the machine back home.


Was it hard to implement AMMX technology into the FPGA, which allows several data to be handled simultaneously in order to speed up some processes/software ?

Gunnar : Yes, adding the AMMX instruction enhancement was definitely one of the biggest tasks we decided to undertake, but it was worth it. The AMMX instructions set enhancement was carefully designed with feedback from game programmers, applications and demo coders and it is optimized to highly improve the performance of games, graphics and Video processing. We have placed a main focus on ensuring that the architecture is easy to understand and coder-friendly. To achieve this goal we did a lot of brainstorming, we wrote tones of test cases, discussed and evaluated.

And the result is outstanding! AMMX is very coder friendly and gives up to 10 times performance increase for important algorigthms.


Does the software developed for the Vampire take advantage of this technology by default or do programmers have to use specific APIs to be able to use it ?

Gunnar : Many of the features of the 68080 CPU, like improved branch prediction, memory streaming and instruction fusing, work automatically and also enhance old programs. The AMMX features need of course be used by the coder directly. The Programmers can use AMMXinstrutions without an API, you can use AMMX instructions directly and easyly in the code, the same way a programmer uses FPU instructions.

More and more software, like Milky Tracker, Riva, Jake and Peppy, Diablo, command and conquer, Neo Geo uses AMMX to accelerate graphics, audio and video processing. AMMX helps to reach incredible framerates with many games and ports we do.


Can developers take advantage of this technology also under AmigaOS 3.2 (and not only under ApolloOS) ?

Gunnar : Of course, any 68080 equipped Amiga is capable of processing AMMX instructions.

Means if you have a V4 running OS3.2 or AtariOS/ Emutos or you have a Amiga 500 with FIREBIRD Card using Amiga OS1.3 all of them can use AMMX instructions.

We would love to see new software and operating systems making use of the great AMMX power. It is designed for that purpose.


Do you think that one day we will be able to see in a fluid way a video in 720p on Vampire V4 ?

Gunnar : The video playback capability of Riva is already quite optimized, today DVD like resolutions can be played fully smoothly. 720p is out of the scope of FPGA based.

But if we reach our goal to revive Amiga and at some point in the future are able to build ASIC 68080 version then 720p will be absolutely no problem even fluid FULLHD and 4K video will then be possible.



OPERATING SYSTEMS

ApolloOS R7

It seems that the first V4s were delivered with AmigaOS 3.1 and the agreement of Amiga Corporation (Cloanto). Can you tell us more about this? How did the negotiations go ?

Gunnar : Igor shipped the V2 accelerator line with the Cloanto ROM. Mike is responding very positively to our project and decided to contribute us with as many ROM/OS licenses as possible, which was really a good solution for the accelerator line. Due to the years of litigation, which recently resurfaced again, Cloanto was unable to serve us with more license and it was also not clear, in which direction the "lawsuit jorney" would go.The V4 Standalone is an important step to revive the Amiga and to ensure the success of that product we want to have a reliable solution, which is legal and lasts for the long run. So we need a legal and future oriented OS solution. After the Amiga fair A34 in Neuss, where we sold the first 30 units of the Standalone, we switched to AROS, which was the best alternative at that time. That was in October 2019, since that time the Apollo Team is working day by day to debug and polish AROS/ ApollOS, with the goal to have one day a even better.


When did you decide to stop including AmigaOS 3.1 with Vampire V4 and replace it with ApolloOS ? Was this decision easy to make ? Did everyone at Apollo Team agree?

Miri : No that was really not easy, it was maybe one of the hardest decisions for the Team. We are all maximum passionate Amigafans and one part we all love about the Amiga is for sure this wonderful Amiga OS. So in first step it was Gunnar who drove this decision and you can believe that it costs hours of discussion and best persuasion to go where we are today. Unfortunately there were some team members who didn't want to go this route and who are today no longer part of the team. We very much regret this but it is important to stand together at that significant point.

The todays team agree that the current legal situation is killing the Amiga more than technological inferiority. We believe the best option for AmigaOS 3.1 is to open-source it, respect its abandonware status and make source code and binaries available for everyone to use. Instead of trying to monetize it endlesly through legal battles.

Our ApolloOS is open for everyone and we are sure that one day it will be the best AmigaOS on the market.


Can you introduce us to ApolloOS, the system now delivered with the Vampire V4 ?

Bartek : At the moment is probably the most advanced distribution you can use on your Amiga. It enables you to surf the internet, play new games and watch smooth videos out-of-the-box. It saves you tremendous amount of time of configuring the OS yourself and search and download all the files necessary to have a modern operating system.

On top of that we managed to greatly improve overall performance and stability. One of the crucial changes involved filesystem update and improving the disk drivers.


It seems that since R7, Directory Opus Magellan has been replaced by Wanderer as the ApolloOS office. What reasons led you to make this choice ?

Gunnar : Most of the users we used to use the regular Workbench and do not know Directory Opus well. Dopus does many things differently than good, old known Workbench. And this led to confusion of many of our beloved fan base. So we decided to improve their experience and switch to Wanderer, simply because it offers experience much more closer to the original desktop they remember than such an advanced desktop replacement as Magellan.

Besides our tests show, that Magellan was written in Amiga OS in mind and was not updated yet to work seamlessly also with AROS. This can cause some system instabilities we would like to avoid. However Magellan source files were generously open-sourced, so anyone who would like to update Magellan is very welcome to do so.


How do you evaluate ApolloOS today compared to AmigaOS 3.1 ? 3.2 ? 4.1 ? MorphOS ?

Gunnar : The ApolloOS greatest advantage lies in its open-source nature, which is not the case in any other OS mentioned. We have the opinion that one of the main spirits from Amiga and Commodore was to provide not only excellent documentation but even commented ROM listings and sources with the goal to enable Amiga community to build their own Kickstart versions and to empower them.

We believe in this spirit and want to empower the Amigauser again, thats why all our sources are open. So everyone can look how we solve problems and use the code.

There are several products in the Amiga scene which already use our open source drivers and developments, like some Zorro2 graphic cards. And that is what we want to support! Amiga OS 4 und 3.2 do not follow this originally open spirit of the Amiga fathers.


What do you think are the areas for improvement of ApolloOS ?

Gunnar : ApolloOS is today out of the box a real proper solution. The last year made a huge step forward. ApolloOS did get much faster, compatibility to legacy software improved a lot and new features and improvements were added. In many areas like for example Disk performance ApolloOS is significantly faster now than Amiga OS.

Our work of the last two years was basically to verify the code and most of the time- complete rewrites it, as it was clearly not tested on real Amigas. There were many performance issues of which we fixed most, but still some more are to improve for example some functions like RAMDISK IO are badly written and slow. Also there are still a few minor differences to OS 3 which sometimes give problems in some programs. We are looking for those and fixing where we find them. Our goal is to make ApolloOS 100% compatible with OS 3.1 and also the best Amiga OS experience. This is big project and we are working continuously on this.


We know the games "Jake and Peppy", "Apollo-Blocks" and "Apollo Crown". Are there any other ApolloOS specific game projects or applications ?

Gunnar : There are hundreds of game ideas in our mind and we would love to have more manpower to implement all this immediately ;). There are some games in the row waiting to be finished, one is called "Lucys Den" which is a two player Arcade game remake with excellent truecolor GFX and 16bit sound. We also started work on a Deluxe Remake of the well known Amiga shooter Menace. We are also working on now game ports like for example Command and Conquer.


Do you think one day you will be able to distribute the AmigaOS 3.2 preinstalled on the Vampire V4 ? And do you want it ?

Gunnar :We believe, that in the long run, the monopolistic concept of companies like Amiga inc, hyperion or many others, is not in the interest of Amiga community. We want to revive the Amiga! The past Amiga history of the last 25 years has shown, that greedy, controlling, and power obsessed Companies do not follow this goal, they damage the Amiga and the beloved platform.

So if one day AmigaOS 3.2 will become open-source or available for free legal distribution, anything is possible.



FUTURE

IceDrake accelerator card

Can you tell us a little more about the new FireBird and IceDrake accelerator cards ?

Miri : The FIREBIRD is the new accelerator for Amiga 500/ 1000/ 2000 and the ICEDRAKE is the new accelerator for Amiga 1200. Our main goal is to revive the Amiga and in order to achieve this goal, it is as important to bring new life into the "old" beloved Amigas as to provide new Amigas, such as V4 Standalone. So the new accelerator come s with a bunch of great features: AGA chipset, Truecolor Video out, 16bit Audio, 2x IDE ports for CF and CD-ROM, 100 MBit Ethernet and USB Joypad/CD32 support. Along with SD card port and real-time clock.

We think that all AMIGAS deserve to have these features and also cards for the other Amiga models (CD32/ A600/A3000/A4000) are in development.

With this development we want to bring all Amigas to the same level, so that that coders have a common coder-friendly basis (68K CPU, AGA, Truecolor, AMMX, 16bit audio, 3D acceleration, 512MB memory) so that developing games and new software makes fun, is easy and is successful.

So if you accelerate your Amiga 500 with the FIREBIRD you can play old and new games, play also AGA games and enjoy latest A1200 AGA demos and of course play new games using truecolor.


Are they already available for sale ?

Miri : Yes, the Firebird is already available for sale in our new shop (www.apollo-computer.com). Of the Icedrake we currently have the first cards for the team, the official sales of the Icedrake is planned for the beginning of 2022.


What about the people who ordered Vampire V2 accelerator cards but didn't receive them ?

Miri : These customers are enrolled to the new V4 offer and can get V4 accelerators in a priority queue.


Will they receive one or will they automatically get one of the two new accelerator cards ?

Miri : No the customers have the free choice to decide whether they want this new cards or not. But we produce in high quantity so everybody will be served.


You have defined an accurate roadmap for the Vampire V4 (one update per quarter until reaching R13). Will Igor's leaving or the release of the new accelerator cards can change this schedule ?

Gunnar : The workload, especially with the bringing up of the accelerator cards, is really high and we have enough to do. :-) So far we have been able to adhere to the release cycles and we hope that we will continue to do so in the future.



CONCLUSION

Are you satisfied with the number of sales in general ?

Miri : Oh yes, the people love our products and support the project. We are really happy about the great feedback from the customers


Taking into account your sales volume, how many active users of Amiga "classic" would you estimate ? 5,000, 10,000, more?

Gunnar : This is not easy to answer, from the beginning of Apollo Teams journey and the first accelerator V2 card until today products changed and it spans about 15 years time. Most of the Amiga users have not only an Amiga 600 with a V2, but they also bought a V4 Standalone and are waiting for the new ICEDRAKE. Moreover not every Amigauser is part of the Apollo-Movement. So it would be inaccurate to draw back conclusion here.

But if I have to guess, how many active Amiga fans are out there, I think they are over 10.000 classic users and maybe even 20.000.


Some users complain that V2 (especially V1200) is no longer updated. Can you assure us that the V4 will be maintained and improved for many years in the future?

Gunnar : As we told you above, we chose the same V4 technology for the accelerators and the standalone. We will also use that technology for all the upcoming cards for Amiga 4000, Amiga 600, CD32. The main reason for that decision is, that we want to provide continous updates and many years of support.

Furthermore we use on all the cards a modern RAM chip and a modern FPGA which will (under not corona circumstances) easy to buy at Intel for many years to come. Btw, the chip Cyclone 3 (FPGA from the V2 line) is EOL and that was a main factor why we decided to go for a new accelerator line.

Regarding the V2 range, even if they cannot be produced anymore, we are still supporting the cards with fix releases. The Apollo-Team is working on a major release for all V2 cards planned for the next month.


What do you think of the situation with the Amiga "classic"? Do you feel optimistic ?

Gunnar : The Amiga is the best design beauty ever built, and for us only Amiga "classic" is a real Amiga. We look really optimistic to the feature because we know that quality rules!


What do you think of "NG" systems like AmigaOS 4, MorphOS or AROS (x86)? Are any of you using them? Do you have projects on these platforms ?

Gunnar : I think that the Amiga is a excellent design. The Amiga uses the 68K CPU which is great to program. The 68K CPU has a very strong instruction set. Its easy to learn and very coder friendly. The 68k code is very compact and you can do real good programs, that need only little amount of memory. Even 1KB memory is enough to write a real nice demo. Now, the PPC CPU (used by OS4 and Morph OS) is exactly the opposite. It is very coder unfriendly, reading the PPC code is real difficult. The PPC cannot operate on memory as the 68K. You often need 5 or more PPC instruction to do what a single 68k instruction did. PPC code is bloated and needs a lot of memory. So what was elegant, efficient and coder friendly in the real Amiga is very inelegant, inefficient and unfriendly in PPC.

But Amiga was not only about the CPU. Amiga was also about the clever chipset. The AMIGA chipset is in my opinion very elegant in design. In the Amiga you have smart and powerful DMA channels doing the work. You have Sprite DMA channels, Audio DMA, disk DMA, Plane DMA and you have the Copper which works as controlling unit for all the DMA giving a great amount of flexibility to control this elegant design. The PPC systems have nothing of this great Amiga architecture. They have no Sprites, no Copper. The PPC lack all the elegant hardware features which to me are the essence of the Amiga design.

So the answer is definitely NO, we do not use this sytems, why should we, we have something much much better, THE REAL AMIGA :-)


A few words to add for our readers ?

The Team : Thanks to all the Amiga fans out there who support our project and never lost the faith in the best computer of all times!!!


Photos published courtesy of Apollo Team



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