BalCheckHR Scan Preview

I scanned the 23 handwritten pages of the BalCheckHR documentation that MCM Design sent to me this past week.  These pages are in addition to the 85 typed pages of documentation.  I’ll be working with Michael Matte to get all of the documentation into order over the next few weeks.  Here is a preview of what I scanned.

This is a great hardware project, and I can’t wait to dig into it further.

Adam

BalCheckHR – New Prototype Hardware for the Astrocade!

Here is the new BalCheckHR hardware for the Bally Arcade/Astrocade that was sent to me by MCM Design a couple of days ago:

board1

This following information is from the preliminary version of the introduction of the BalCheck manual:

“What is it? A factory tester called ‘Balcheck’ (Bally Check), used by the manufacturer around 1980, was utilized to check Bally/Astrocade motherboards. BalcheckHR, providing an upgraded version of Balcheck, will do the same and more.

BalcheckHR is an 8KB package which includes:

  1. Standard and optional Balcheck test routines.
  2. An easier to read Balcheck error report sequence.
  3. A checksum test routine to compute and compare the checksums of 3 on-board
    ROM versions.
  4. Two custom write/read loops for use with a logic analyzer.
  5. Two “crash test” demos that can be used to determine if a motherboard
    will run perfectly for a long period of time.
  6. SetScreen3, a new diagnostic tool, which can help diagnose a failed motherboard
    producing a black (blank) TV screen at power on.
  7. Three user RAM test routines (user must provide a 50 pin ribbon cable adapter).
  8. Three high resolution demos for use on a “modified for hi-res” Bally/Astrocade.
  9. A hi-res screen RAM test routine similar to Balcheck’s low-res screen RAM test
    routine.
  10. SetScreenHR, similar to SetScreen3, can help diagnose a failed “modified for
    hi-res” Bally/Astrocade.

MCM DESIGN’S BALCHECKHR BOARD

This wire wrap board, built by MCM Design, utilizes standard TTL chips and two standard 7-segment displays. Two 74LS374 chips act like output ports, latching in output data and turning on or off the display segments.

This scheme allows custom characters to be displayed typically not possible with specialty LED display drivers or specialty 7-segment displays. This advantage is utilized in the BalcheckHR programming allowing hexadecimal numbers to be displayed. In most cases, the display is easier to read, ie, the user does not have to consult the user manual to look up some display interpretation table.

The board also uses a multi-carted 32KB EEPROM. Any one of four 8KB programmed banks can be selected and executed using a 2 position dip switch and mini-toggle switch. Two banks are programmed with BalcheckHR. The other two banks are programmed with a revised copy of the on-board ROM and a Z80 Check routine, both of which may be used to help diagnose a Zone B motherboard failure, relating to the operation of the Z80 address A0-A15 and data D0-D7 buses.

Here are some more pictures of the hardware sent to me by MCM Designs:

board2

board3

Here are some additional pictures that I took of the unit sent to me:

I’ll be using the BalCheckHR unit and software over the next couple of weeks and reporting about it here.  The manual for this hardware/software combination is about 85 pages long, so testing it out will take some time.  I’ll be posting more information from the manual and perhaps some schematics and other drawing.  Keep an eye out for updates over the next few weeks.

Adam

BASIC 10Liner Contest

Kevin, on the Antic podcast, for the Atari 8-bit line of computers, is talking in episode 56 about the BASIC 10Liner contest that he enters with many Atari BASIC programs each year. The contest is open to all computers. Uh, I think. I think that the official site is in German. Here’s a link to the English section of the site:

http://gkanold.wixsite.com/homeputerium/forum/_2019/official-start-of-2019-edition-is-january-the-30th

The programming contest begins on January 30, 2019 (in just a few days). The program, I think, has to be pure BASIC. I don’t even think that you’re allowed calls to machine language routines in a computer’s built-in ROM.

This contest sounds very fun. If we can figure this out, and if the astrocade is eligible for this contest, then is there anyone here that would like to participate in this BASIC programming contest?

Adam

What’s an “Astrocade?”

Hi, my name is Adam.  I’ve been a classic game fan since I began collecting Atari 2600 games in 1990.  In the 1990s, for twelve issues, I published a newsletter, eventually with a co-editor named Chris, called Orphaned Computers & Game System (OC&GS).  The OC&GS website went online in 1999.  In the April 1999 issue, I published an article called “The Software CD Project for the Bally Professional Arcade.”  This eventually became the BallyAlley.com website for the Astrocade game system.

Wait, what is the Bally Arcade/Astrocade?  It’s a game console released in January 1978.  It looks like this:

home library computer (front - cover on)_02

Now, finally, after just a short 18 years there is now a blog for the BallyAlley website!  What am I going to cover here?  I’m not sure, but new things do happen in the Bally/Astrocade community.  I’ll try to highlight what’s going on in the Astrocade sub-forum on AtariAge Astrocade sub-forum on AtariAge.  There’s also the BallyAlley Yahoo group, where you can read the messages and post to a thread if you’re a member.  There is also an Astrocade podcast called The Bally Alley Astrocast.

A BASIC cartridge was released for it in September 1978 and a homebrew community grew up around it through two newsletters, The Arcadian (1978-1986) and Cursor/The BASIC Express (1980-1981).

In 1977/78, [Jay Fenton] implemented a BASIC interpreter called Bally BASIC that ran on the Bally Arcade system in a cartridge. BASIC language statements were entered using a keypad overlay over the calculator keypad. For about 6 months, [Jay] held the honor of providing the world’s cheapest computer. – http://www.fentonia.com/bio/

The 1981 re-release of the BASIC cartridge looks like this:

astro basic (bally)

With BASIC you could program this game console.  Many games and other programs were written for the system that could be typed into BASIC.  There were even hundreds of games released and sold on standard audio tapes like this:

lookout for the bull i and ii (wavemakers)(side 1)

Neat, right?

Are you curious about Bally BASIC?  I made a video overview of it in June 2017:

Bally BASIC limited the programmer to just 1.8K of programming space, but there were RAM upgrades available in the early 1980s, such as the Blue Ram:

The Astrocade could even be programmed in machine langauge using the a cartridge called the Machine Language Manager by Bit Fiddlers:

But, come on!, aren’t game consoles about the games?  Of course!  Some of the best known games for this console are ports of the arcade games Space Zap (Space Fortress) and Wizard of Wor (The Incredible Wizard).  Still, despite the quality of these games, I’ve always been partial to games that don’t appear on any other platform, such as Ms. Candyman by L&M Software:

Recently, I’ve been entranced by art that was created in BASIC. J-3 3K Art by Stanley Kendall is an excellent example of video art for this system:

I’ve never made a video overview of the Astrocade, but other have made some of them.  Jason Slaughter published a great Astrocade overview in February 2012:

Well, folks, that’s it for now.  Is this my last post, or is it the first of many?  I guess we’ll find that out together over the next few months.

Adam

Past January 26 BallyAlley.com Site Updates

BallyAlley.com has been online since sometime around the summer or fall of 2000.  The first note that I have in the What’s New area of the website is from October 22, 2000 and it says, “Completely revamped site. Site can now be reached at http://www.ballyalley.com as well. Added many new pieces of documentation. A Picture of the 16K Blue Ram and various pictures of the 16K Viper 1 are now online.”  This update is talking about that the BallyAlley website used to be hosted at ClassicGaming.com (now defunct).  The BallyAlley website, as it looked on October 29, 2001, hosted at ClassicGaming, has been archived by the Wayback Machine. If you’re curious about the vast ugliness of the site, and want to cringe, then you can view it here, BallyAlley.com (Archived October 29, 2001).

I would be the first one to admit that the BallyAlley website isn’t easy to navigate.  Basically, it’s just a collection of software (in WAV format) to load from tape in Bally BASIC, pictures and lots of documentation.  If you know what you’re looking for on it, then it might be difficult to find (sorry about that issue).  The whole site is hard-coded in html.  Why was that ever a good idea?  This was originally done so that the website, as mentioned in my last post, could make its way onto a CD-ROM.  That hasn’t been a plan for, man… how long?  A decade?  Fifteen years?  Let’s just say that it has been a long time.  Let’s face it: BallyAlley.com is stuck in time.  The site looks like it was coded in 2000 because, it was coded back then and its format hasn’t changed much since that time.  There are ugly tables and, uh, more ugly tables.  At least there aren’t any flashing fonts, or Under Construction GIFs, right?

It’s always been fun for me, every once in a while, to look through BallyAlley’s old posts and see what I can find.  I figured that it might be fun to push out some of these older posts that I made on this exact day.  Not necessarily of last year, but of some year.

On January 25, 2017, I added TV Output Notes, by Marc Calson (possibly a misspelling of Mark Carlson):

tv output notes (marc calson)(1979)_tn

http://www.ballyalley.com/basic/basic.html#TVOutputNotesByMarcCalson1979

The four pages of this document were created using the output of a short 10-line, BASIC program. The author methodically noted down four sets of numbers for each ASCII character. This information nicely supplements the August 1979 issue of the Arcadian‘s music coverage from Robert Hood (American Concert Frequencies) and the second part of Chuck Thomka’s music tutorial, The Music Synthesizer.

This additional information is pertinent to the August 1979 Arcadian.

While searching for letters in the Bob Fabris collection, I came across these four scanned pages that are labeled as “TV Output Notes.” When originally scanned, credit for this document was given to someone named “Marc Calson.” However, while searching the Fabris Collection, I can find no reason why it is credited to this person. I wonder if the name is misspelled? Perhaps the name should be Mark Carlson (someone who did correspond with the Arcadian— although I can’t find any reference in his letters to this document). The scan is labeled (in the file’s name) as being from 1979– but again, I’m not sure where that information is from originally.

On January 26, 2016, I added complete documentation for 1984’s “Atlantis,” by Fred Rodney.  This two-player game was published in ARCADIAN 6, no. 6 (Apr. 20, 1984): 57.

http://www.ballyalley.com/program_downloads/2000_baud_programs/fred_rodney/fred_rodney.html#AtlantisAB

Atlantis, the mythical city that rises above the waves, is under attack by a squadron of ruthless bombers. A bomber flying east, carries a lethal steerable bomb. If the bomb is guided through the city’s vulnerable power vent, the above-ground structure explodes and the island’s alarm sounds. In a flash, though, the structure is rebuilt.

All bombers that pass over the city must return unarmed! It is during this westerly flight that Atlantis can even-up the score by firing a guided missile aimed at destroying the bomber. If the missile is on target, the bomber explodes and the sky flashes brightly. But, alas, a new bomber attacks.

When all attacks (turns) are made, the game ends and both scores are displayed continuously. The best score wins…

As you tally up the scores, the city of Atlantis survives, as it always has, and always will, high above the “waves.”. . . . . Long Live ATLANTIS.

Player 1 defends Atlantis, launches the missiles (trigger) and guides them (joystick score is on the right # of bombers hit. Player 2 attacks Atlantis, releases Bombs (trigger) and guides them (joystick).

On January 26, 2010, I made nine significant additions to the website.  I’ll just highlight three here:

I added an alternate version of the Bally Professional Arcade Owner’s Manual (Bally “Fun and Brain” Version). This isn’t as clean or high-quality of a scan as the regular version, but this manual has a different version number on the back of the booklet (though there are no apparent differences).  Here is the pdf:

http://www.ballyalley.com/documentation/inside_the_box/BPA_Fun_and_Brains_Owners_Manual_(alt_version).pdf

I moved the location of the Chain Store Age ‘Catalog’ – This ‘catalog,’ from June 1978, was put together by Bally to promote the Bally Professional Arcade to salespeople. This is a full-color ‘catalog’ that is a large download (9MB). It is 8 1/2″ x 11″ and is sixteen pages long. I love the 1970’s style art!  Here is the pdf:

http://www.ballyalley.com/documentation/marketing_materials/pdf/chain_store_age_(june_1978).pdf

I also added an ad called “Astrocade… the home video game that’s a computer too!”  It says, “Three Built-in Games, Built-in Calculator, Octave Music Synthesizer, 256 Color Variations, Four-Player Capability, and BASIC Program. The ad is from the October 1982 issue of Boy’s Life.

astrocade-the_professional_arcade)_ad_(boy's_life-oct_1982)

I also added a picture of Fred Cornet, the publisher of the Cursor newsletter (AKA BASIC Express). This picture was developed in January of 1980 and was provided by Brett Bilbrey.

fred cornet (from the cursor)(developed_jan_1980)

I like the idea of providing information about these older BallyAlley.com updates.  It’s not hard to collect this information, so it should provide plenty of fodder for future posts here.  That’s not all I plan to post about on this blog, but it should get my writing juices flowing!

Adam