“Hidden” Astrocade Links

Every once in a while I’ll just type in the word “Astrocade” in Google and see what I find in the deep links. You know, the ones that no one ever clicks because they’re dozens of pages from the top of the searches. I posted a few of these not-at-the-top links to the Bally Alley Yahoo group back in August 2018. I figured that it would be fun to share them here again. It’s fun to find “hidden” Astrocade links!

Adam

Bally Astrocade RGB Schematic

I came across this Bally Astrocade RGB schematic by someone named “hotdog6394.” I’ve attached the original file.

https://easyeda.com/hotdog6394/Bally_Astrocade_RGB-4W86GgdNn

Can anyone vouch for this hardware? Does anyone know if this is an original design?

The Bally Astrocade, A True Hidden Gem

Here is a blog post about the Astrocade called “A closer look at the Bally Astrocade, a true hidden gem among game consoles.” This was posted by zadoc on April 11, 2018. The “article” is quite general, but I like the pictures:

https://imgur.com/gallery/tQJJI

Not too bad, right?

Revived Astrocade by drunknretro!

On June 24, 2016, a blog post was written by “drunknretro.” He fixed his Astrocade that had bad video and he shows pictures of the steps that he followed to do it.

https://drunknretro.blogspot.com/2016/06/up-from-crypt-bally-professional-arcade.html

It’s always nice to see an Astrocade live again!

Twitter has Astrocade Hashtag?!?

I’m not a Twitter user, but maybe I should join the “fun.” There are several people that use #astrocade. I didn’t expect it to be about the Bally Arcade/Astrocade, but the “tweets” (I hate that word) all seem to belong to the little console that could(n’t).

https://twitter.com/hashtag/astrocade

Does anyone here use this tag on Twitter?

“Meet me in the Astrocade” Lecture (June 2018)

Rachel Weil gave a lecture at the Joy of Coding 2018 conference on June 8, 2018 called “Meet me in the Astrocade: peace, love, and 8-bit hardware hacking.” You can read about it here:

http://joyofcoding.org/2018/rachel-weil.html

I met Rachel in July of 2018 when she was passing through town. We had a three player game of the homebew game “War” together. Great fun!

3D Moveable Model of Astrocade

Here is a link to a 3D moveable model of an Astrocade:

https://3dwarehouse.sketchup.com/model/ue9c95c6f-746c-4cc9-9eae-882e23ac2289/Bally-Astrocade

This is kind of cool. You can move the Astrocade console around in 3D!

Astrocade Emulation Video Tutorial

Yesterday I created a video called “Setting up Astrocade Emulation Using MAME.”  I uploaded it to various places today.

YouTube:

Archive.org:

https://archive.org/details/SettingUpAstrocadeEmulationUsingMAME

BallyAlley.com:

http://www.ballyalley.com/astrocade_videos/Astrocade_Emulation_Videos/Astrocade_Emulation_Videos.html#SettingUpAstrocadeEmulationUsingMAME

This tutorial explains how to setup the Bally Arcade/Astrocade console, a game system released in January of 1978. Although the tutorial focuses on how to install MAME on a Windows system, the information in this video can be transferred for use by Linux and Macintosh users too.

The steps required to get the MAME emulator up and running with the system ROMs are explained. Setting up and changing the keyboard mapping for use with joysticks is covered. Use of alternate inputs, such the Knob (paddle) and 24-key keypad are gone over in a cursory manner (these details may be explained in future videos).

The main idea of this video is to get a user playing games as quickly as possible. Anyone who has only a limited knowledge and prior-use of emulation, or has some knowledge of how to use emulation, but has never used a Bally Arcade/Astrocade console before today will benefit from this short video. After the instructions in the tutorial have been followed, any user of a Windows system should be able to use the MAME emulator to run Astrocade software. The main focus here is on how to use video game cartridges, the primary method that most users loaded games onto their real hardware.
The four built-in programs are covered:

  1. Gunfight
  2. Checkmate
  3. Calculator
  4. Scribbling

Some short gameplay examples from the following cartridges are provided here:

  1. Astro Battle (aka Space Invaders)
  2. Cosmic Raiders (a rare game from Astrovision)
  3. Crazy Climber (a homebrew game)
  4. Galaxian (aka Galactic Invasion)
  5. Incredible Wizard, The (a clone of Wizard of Wor)
  6. Ms. Candyman (a third-party game)
  7. Treasure Cove (a third-party game)

In a future installment, I’ll show how to set-up keyboard mapping so that the Bally BASIC cartridge can be easily used during emulation. I’ll also show how to setup MAME so that ICBM Attack, a game that uses a rare analog joystick called the Spectre controller, can be played using a mouse or trackball.

If this video helps you get started in the Astrocade world, then please share it with others who might enjoy taking a peek into the library of games for this underdog console that was only ever released in America and Canada.

Adam

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