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Bally Alley Astrocast

This podcast covers the Bally Arcade videogame console released in 1978. This system was also called the Astrocade and the Bally Professional Arcade.
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Oct 12, 2016

Episode 5 of the Bally Alley Astrocast doesn't cover a game this episode. Chris has left as a co-host, so the review of The Incredible Wizard has been pushed to episode 6. Paul and I cover the Arcadian newsletter issues 5 and 6 (March and May 1979).  We cover a bit of feedback too. Paul and I discuss eleven letters to the Arcadian, dating mostly from the Spring of 1979.

Recurring Links 

Introduction/News

  • 280 ZZZap / Dodgem - MAME Bug Report and fix (July 2016).
  • Bally Arcade / Astrocade - Bally BASIC Demo (1978) - Video. Bally BASIC Demo, by Bally Mfg. Corp. - Functional Series - 8K cart - 1978. This cartridge has a small (about 6") chain attached to the top-front. This cartridge was made in limited quantities and only distributed to dealers, as was also done with the Dealer Demo cartridge. The first 4K is a "crippled" version of Bally BASIC that doesn't have access to the keypad or hand controllers- except #3: all the inputs are disabled. The remaining 4K of the cartridge is a program written in BASIC.
  • Bally Arcade / Astrocade - Bally Dealer Demo (1978) - Video. Bally Dealer Demo. Bally Mfg. Corp. Functional Series. #6001. 4K cart. 1978. This cartridge was not sold to the general public and was only produced in limited quantities. The only public sales began in 1983 and came from ABC Hobbycraft (who acquired Astrocade's remaining inventory). The cartridge runs about two minutes and features the "built in" software of the Bally console. Written by Dick Ainsworth.
  • 280 Zzzap / Dodgem Disassembly - A partial Z80 disassembly of 280 Zzzap / Dodgem. This game was released by Bally Mfg. Corp. in 1978. It was programmed by Jay Fenton.
  • Cosmic Raiders Disassembly - A partial Z80 disassembly of Cosmic Raiders. This 8K game, part of the Action/Skills Series released in 1983 by Astrocade Inc., is part #2019. Written by Bob Ogden, Scot L. Norris, Julie Malan, and Lisa Natting.
  • Music from the Bally BASIC Demo cartridge - This music is used as a segue between segments.
  • Astrocade High-Resolution Upgrade - These five in-depth "packages" (documents) were created by Michael C. Matte in 1986. These documents explain how to upgrade a Bally Arcade/Astrocade from the "Consumer Mode," which uses the low-resolution display (160x102 pixels), to "Commercial Mode," which uses the high-resolution mode (320x204 pixels) used in arcade games such as Gorf and Wizard of Wor.
  • Red White and Blue Ram Announcement - Ken Lill's September 12, 2016 formal announcement of the new RAM expansion that he is working on that will be Blue Ram compatible.
  • Bagpipes (For Player Piano) - This music, created in BASIC, is used as a segue between segments.
  • Floppy Days Podcast - Randy Kindig's vintage computing podcast for all types of retrocomputers.
  • 2600 Connection - The online presence of the classic Atari 2600 newsletter 2600 Connection, originally edited by Tim Duarte, that began publishing in 1990.
  • HSC01 Round 11: Galactic Invasion / Outpost 19 - Most-Recent round of the Astrocade High Score Club.
  • Outpost 19 Map - A map for use with WaveMaker's game Outpost 19.
  • MazeMaker II Music - This music, written by by Mike Peace for the WaveMakers' BASIC game MazeMaker II, is used as a segue between segments. This music sounds very similar to the theme for the movie Bladerunner.
  • Astrocade BASIC Screen Layout: 88 x 160 Graph Paper - The archive includes three versions of the graph paper: a jpg, a TIFF image (with layers), and a TIFF (with no layers, "flattened"). To make the best use of the TIFF files requires a graphics editor (such as Photoshop or GIMP) that can deal with layered TIFF files.
  • Mega Everdrive for the Sega Genesis - The Mega EverDrive v2 is a flashcart, which loads the ROMs in the console itself. The handling of the flashcart is very simple.
  • Bruce Lee for Sega Master System - A homebrew game that attempts to recreate the classic Atari800/C64/Spectrum game Bruce Lee for the Master System. Collect the lamps and fight Green Yamo and the Ninja!
  • Programmers of the Bally Arcade/Astrocade Built-in Programs - This is an attempt to credit those people who programmed the four programs built into the Bally Arcade/Astrocade. These programs include: Calculator (Jeff Fredricksen), Checkmate (Lou, or possibly correctly spelled "Low," Harp), Gunfight (Alan McNeil), Scribbling (Jay Fenton), and miscellaneous code (Ken Freund).
  • Frenzy: A ColecoVision adaptation that beats the arcade original - By Chris Federico. The incredible Berzerk sequel is even better on the ColecoVision than in the arcade. Calm down! We wouldn't make such a claim without offering some great arguments, would we?
  • Arcade Games Based Around Astrocade Chipset - By Adam Trionfo.
  • Space Zap Arcade Game (1980 Midway Mfg.) - Video overview and review by "Keith's Arcade."
  • The Adventures of Robby Roto - Thanks to the kind generosity of Jamie Fenton, the original ROM images for Robby Roto have been made available for free, non-commercial use.
  • Wizard of Wor Disassembly - David Turner started the Z80 disassembly of the arcade game Wizard of Wor in 2002.

Arcadian Newsletters

  • Arcadian 1, no. 5 (Mar. 23, 1979): 31-38. - The fifth issue of the Arcadian newsletter.
  • Arcadian 1, no. 6 (May. 4, 1979): 39-46. - The sixth issue of the Arcadian newsletter.
  • Bally BASIC Hacker's Guide - This was the supplement written by Jay Fenton in 1979 that went along with the Bally BASIC manual. It's full of all sorts of goodies, most of which found their way into the AstroBASIC Manual... but not everything.
  • Simon (Bally BASIC) - By Brett Bilbrey and Joe Borello. Bally BASIC, 300-baud program. First program printed in the Arcadian (Arcadian 1, no. 5 (Mar. 23, 1979): 35,38.) "One Player, Hand Controller. The computer shows you a pattern that you have to repeat, using joystick controls."
  • Simon ("AstroBASIC") - By Brett Bilbrey and Joe Borello. This 2000-Baud version of Simon has been converted by Mike White to run under "AstroBASIC". First program printed in the Arcadian (Arcadian 1, no. 5 (Mar. 23, 1979): 35,38.) "One Player, Hand Controller. The computer shows you a pattern that you have to repeat, using joystick controls."
  • Clock (Bally BASIC) - By J. Cousins. Arcadian 1, no. 5 (Mar. 23, 1979): 36. Clock is a 31-line Bally BASIC digital clock program that accepts hours, minutes and seconds. There is some error checking to make sure that the input data is accurate. It seems that FOR loops are used for the timing of the clock, so this program may not be that accurate.
  • Convert Hex To Decimal (Bally BASIC) - By Ernie Sams. Arcadian 1, no. 5 (Mar. 23, 1979): 36. This program concerts a hex number to decimal using Bally BASIC.
  • Man Vs Snake: The Long and Twisted Tale of Nibbler Official - HD Movie trailer for this 2013 videogame documentary.
  • W&W Software Sales Program - Digitally archived Bally BASIC programs by Bob Weber.
  • Self-Portrait: A Graphics Demo ("AstroBASIC") - By Guy McLimore, Jr. April 10, 1979. Hand-written BASIC listing from an unpublished Arcadian submission. This program draws a simple Bally Arcade unit.
  • Fox & Hounds (Bally BASIC) - By Esoterica Ltd. Fox & Hounds is a classic new version of an old game. It's you with 4 pieces against the computer with only one! Move 'checkers style' to prevent the computer from intruding your territory. We guarantee that you will not beat the computer twice in a row.
  • Programming Work Sheets - Page 3 of these worksheets seems to have been created (or inspired) by Chuck Thomka. This worksheet helps a BASIC user use the CX and CY valuables.
  • Random Art (Bally BASIC) - By Ernie Sams. Arcadian 1, no. 6 (May. 4, 1979): 44. Random Art is a quick little moving box program.
  • Arcadian At 2x Size (Bally BASIC) - By Glenn Pogue. Arcadian 1, no. 6 (May. 4, 1979): 45. "A further step along the way was taken by Glenn Pogue, who modified the "Game Over" routine of [Arcadian 1, no. 4 (Feb. 19, 1979): 25], making it print the word Arcadian in 2x normal letter size. I have not been able to totally duplicate this feat, I think it lies in the small differences in ROM locations that have previously been noted."
  • Set I - Games and Fun - Eight programs written by David Stocker in 1979: Building Blox, Cheese Boxes, Color Match, Memory Match, Random, Rock/Paper/Scissors, Siren, and Slot Machine.
  • Set II - Video Art - Fifteen programs written by David Stocker in 1979. This set includes the following video art programs: Building Blox, Color Box, Color War, Color Wheel, Electric Doily, Laser Duel, Perspective Box, Random Box, Random Line, Reverse Box, Rubber Band, Scroll Three, Scroll Two, Spiral, and Video Wallpaper.

Classic Letters

  • Tom Woods Letter (February 3, 1979) - February 3, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from Tom Woods. The explanation of the "Onboard Calculator" in the March 1979 issue of Arcadian seems to be based on this letter. Bob seems to have expanded on the letter (by writing an example program).
  • George Hale Letter (February 14, 1979) - February 14, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from George Hale. George Hale has used an ohmmeter to trace-out the 50-pin connector on the back of the unit. He has included an illustration of it. He's not sure he's 100% right, but he can see that every pin of the Z80 is present on the 50-pin connector. The Bally PA-1 Service Manual doesn't explicitly give this 50-pin information in an easy-to-read illustrated format (as George created), but the Bally Arcade's schematic does provide the necessary information for the information to be extrapolated. Also, the "third page" of this letter was written later. It is one-page letter to Charles Vollmer, Bally's National Service Manual. George explains that his letter to Bob crossed in the mail with his receiving the Bally Service Manual. He notes that most of the information he figured out is correct, although he numbered his 50-pin connector in reverse order from the one provided in the Service Manual.
  • Boyd Perlson (February 26, 1979) - February 26, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from Boyd Perlson. Boyd, who seems to be an accountant, has developed a system on the Bally for keeping track of his chargeable time for each office client. He would like to know how he can make printouts of this, rather than copying the information off of the TV screen. This is just another example of the Bally system being used in situations that I wouldn't have ever expected!
  • James Wilkinson Letter (March 30, 1979) - March 30, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from James Wilkinson. This letter talks about the experience that James had running GAME OVER from the February 1979 issue. He had to substitute line 50, which originally had X=3164, with X=3159. This discrepancy is caused by differences between versions of the Bally Arcade's 8K ROM. Craig Anderson (of Hoover Anderson Research & Design) eventually covers this problem in detail (nearly four years later!) in the January 1983 issue of the Arcadian in an article called Sneak Up and Bite Ya Department. He did this because "AstroBASIC" programs that he would write would work on some versions of the Bally Arcade and not on others.
  • Sneak Up and Bite Ya Department - This is a January 1983 article by Craig Anderson from the Arcadian which discusses the differences between different 8K on-board ROMs in the Bally Arcade/Astrocade.
  • Brett Bilbrey Letter (April 10, 1979) - April 10, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from Brett Bilbrey. Brett sends corrections for a typing mistake that he made in SIMON (printed in the March 1979 issue). Many people had called Brett directly to find out how to fix the program. Brett had NO idea how they got his phone number, but he figured that it must mean that they're very interested, and he thinks that's good. He expects "many letters" to be coming (to, possibly?, Bob) about this SIMON mistake. Some of the issues that people had were not understanding common computer notation, such as that the asterisk means to use the "times" key, the difference between "O" and "0," and the "not equal" sign. He wants people to write to him, NOT call, as that "ties up" the phone line for his family. Brett tried transferring programs over the phone using his Bally unit, but he doesn't go into details about how he does it. Brett put up flyers in the Computer Center (at, I suppose, the University of Michigan?) to form a Bally user group. The first meeting will be May 12, 1979. This is probably the user group that became the Michigan BUGs (Bally User Group) and eventually called the Michigan AstroBUGS. Brett has included two programs: a SIN subroutine and OTHELLO. He says, "No mistakes, I hope!" Othello was never published in the Arcadian, but it was published fourteen months later in the June 1980 issue of the Cursor newsletter.
  • Brett Bilbrey Letter (April 14, 1979) - April 14, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from Brett Bilbrey. Brett sends another correction for SIMON. He makes an odd-sounding, but understandable, statement when he says, "Many people have called in response to these errors. I am now writing to these people to help them with other questions and problems. So, if there had not been the mistakes, I would never have contact all these other Bally users in this area." "Also," Brett says, "many of these people now know of the user's meeting coming up May 12 at the Computer Center. The attendance is expected to be about 50 users." Brett notes that the April issue of BYTE, on page 193, has news called "Magnavox Files Suit on Microprocessor Video Game Patents." Included among the manufacturers they have filed suit against is Bally. As a follow-up to this 1979 news, I came across an 11-page Activision Case Reading by Ralph Baer, called "VIDEOGAME HISTORY: A little matter of record keeping." I am not sure when this was written, but it seems to be possibly from the late-90s or early-2000s. Mr. Baer states: "Let's examine the numerous stories floating around about the various videogame patent infringement lawsuits that were carried on by Magnavox and Sanders Associates, the owners of the seminal Baer patents and of the Baer, Rusch and Harrison patents. Those lawsuits started in the mid-seventies and ran all the way through the 1990's, the last of them for past infringement only, since the patents had long since lapsed. Bally, Seeburg, Mattel, Activision, Nintendo, Data East, Taito and others fought lengthy legal battles against the Magnavox/Sanders team in an effort to avoid having to pay license fees. They lost every one of those lawsuits, both in the initial actions in various Federal District Courts and finally, ignominiously, in the Court of Appeals. Then they had to pay up!" Brett also says, "One of the Arcadians [by which he means a subscriber to the Arcadian newsletter] who called, mentioned an article in a recent STOCK (I don't know the name) which states that Bally will be cutting funding to their home arcade program. This is said to be because of their casino opening in Atlantic City." I checked, and Bally's hotel/casino opened on December 29, 1979. Brett closes his letter with, "I am sorry for the mistakes in SIMON, and hope it did not cause too much trouble! But many users have learned something about debugging and a little about BASIC (sort of a learning experience). I will try to prevent further bugs from happening."
  • Videogame History: A Little Matter of Record Keeping - By Ralph H. Baer
  • John Collins Letter (April 12, 1979) - April 12, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from John Collins. John says, "Many of the stores in our area have not been able to be resupplied with the Bally Arcades and have not been able to get the new tapes [cartridges], even after two months wait." This delay is so bad, in fact, that John asks, "Do you know whether they are still manufacturing the basic unit?" John is working on a version of HANGMAN, BOWLING and a special spelling routine. He'll furnish a copy when the bugs are worked out. Bob was having trouble with John's CHECKERS program (which was eventually printed in the May 1979 issue of the Arcadian), but John didn't know of any glitches. He hoped that Bob might be able to provide what the game board looked like and what level the game was playing when a bug occurred. John explains that the number printed on the screen tells the user that the computer is "still working." The number also provides the "type of decision or level the computer was at when it made its move." John describes in detail what the computer is doing as each number is printed on the screen. John dictated this hand-written letter to his wife, which I found rather surprising. He ends his letter with, "My wife's arm is tired, so I must close now." I found that pretty amusing.
  • Mary Stanke Letter (April 21, 1979) - April 21, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from Mary Stanke. After reading Joe Sugarman's SUCCESS FORCES, I recognized Mary's name right away. Joe originally hired her as a secretary, and over the years she continued to move up in the company, eventually coming, it seems, his right hand man (woman?). This short letter informs Bob Fabris that JS&A can not provide him their "list of owners of the Bally, as JS&A has a policy wherein [they] do not divulge this type of information to anyone, nor would [Bob's] material be of interest to [JS&A] since [they] have discontinued offering the Bally Home Library Computer." So, now we know. By April, for certain, JS&A had given-up 100% on Bally!
  • David Stocker Letter (April 23, 1979). - April 23, 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from David Stocker. David submits two of his tapes to Bob Fabris. These tapes contain a total of 23 programs. It seems that David took some of the programs from the Bally BASIC manual, changed them up a bit (or a lot-- I don't know) and sold them on tape and as program listings. David would like Bob to inform the "Arcadians" about his programs, which he sells as two sets for two different prices. If you buy one set, then the cost is $8 (or $4 if you return the tape). If you buy both sets, then the cost is $10 (or $6 if you return the tape). This returning of the tapes seems like it would have really complicated matters and been extremely labor intensive. There are three pages of hand-written instructions for some of the programs. Both sets of David Stocker BASIC programs were added to BallyAlley.com on March 13, 2015. Since these were available on tape-- they are some of the earliest third-party programs available on tape for a game console. Mr. Stocker even beat Activision to the punch, so it's too bad this stuff isn't up to say, "Pitfall" quality. The instructions for these two tapes provide the hand-written BASIC listings for each program. This was common even in the early days of the "Arcadian" newsletter. Mr. Stocker's script is quite small (or maybe it was reduced), plus the quality of the original paperwork was also difficult to make out, which makes these programs quite hard to read. The first tape is called "Set I - Games and Fun." It contains eight programs. The second tape is called "Set II - Video Art." It contains fifteen video art programs.
  • John Perkins Letter (April or May 1979) - April or May 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from John Perkins. The Bally Astrocade only has 4K of RAM. This may seem like a plenty of RAM when compared to, say, the Atari 2600 (which only has 128 bytes of RAM), but 4,080 bytes of this 4096 total bytes of RAM is all dedicated to screen RAM. This makes up the entirety of the Astrocade's 102x160 bitmap screen (the remaining 16 bytes of RAM is called the scratch pad). Things begin to get really confusing when you consider that the BASIC cartridge doesn't contain any of its RAM, and yet it somehow (almost magically) it provides the BASIC programmer with 1.8K of RAM to program the system. How is this done? John Perkins wrote a hand-written letter to Bob Fabris which provides some of these answers. This letter is the background and research for which the tutorial in the May 1979 Arcadian called "Screen Operations" by Mr. Perkins is based. The tutorial, as printed, condenses the information that John provided to Bob. The tutorial also excludes a short example program that John wrote that shows how to display four colors on-screen at once. The letter explains how the BASIC program is hidden on the screen in plain sight by taking advantage of some of the Bally Arcade's Left-Right Color Boundary. In the early 2000s, I had a phone conversation with Mike White. I remembered that he said this article explained the details correctly, but that is was a bit muddled with some of its information. I couldn't remember exactly what Mike meant by this, so I emailed him back in February and he provided me with a full explanation. Mike says, "John Perkins declares the program to be "stored in the even bits" with the picture using the odd ones. This is "computer geek" thinking and not what an algebra teacher would say! In algebra the digits are numbered 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8! While in computers it's 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7! Now, turned around to their natural format they become; 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 and 7-6-5-4-3-2-1-0 respectively! Therefore, hex 55 (01010101 binary) is EVEN and hex AA (10101010 binary) is odd in a computer ONLY! If you did this on a math test you would flunk out, and may be sent to the principal's office!"
  • Doug Marker Letter (September 1979) - September 1979 letter to Bob Fabris from Doug Marker. Doug is a "computer specialist working on IBM compatible machines." It's notable that since this letter was written in 1979, Doug must have been working on IBM compatible mainframe computers, as the IBM personal computer wasn't released until August 12, 1981. Doug started his career as a hardware engineer, advanced to a software engineer and eventually became a Systems Engineer for IBM. This type of in-depth knowledge of hardware and software is a common thread among quite a few letters in the Bob Fabris Collection: many users had technical backgrounds. What sets this letter apart from so many of the other letters is Doug's location: he lives in Auckland, New Zealand! Doug doesn't explain how he came across the Bally Home Library Computer in New Zealand. Perhaps he ordered it directly from JS&A from the original September 1977 ad in Scientific American. What's significant about this letter is that there is no PAL version of the Bally Arcade system. Thus, Doug is using an NTSC system in a PAL territory. This isn't unheard of (many collectors do it today), but it's quite unusual (especially for 1979). Doug says, "I am presently building a PAL modulator so that I can get color. The USA has a different color transmission system called NTSC, so I have to modify my Bally." He talks about working on upgrading his unit's RAM internally to 8K or 16K, but won't work on this until he has the PAL modulator working correctly. Doug has done some exploration on his own of the built-in routines of the 8K system ROM, but he proposes a project that he would find very useful: a list of all of the built-in routines in the "resident ROM and the BASIC ROM." Doug goes into some depth on what he has discovered on his own about how the interrupts works on the Bally Arcade. Doug's final discussion is about changing the speed of his Bally Arcade unit, providing that the custom chips can handle it. [Which I don't think that they can do.] He intends to replace the basic timing of the microcomputer by replacing the master oscillator, which he has to do anyway so that he can get the PAL color working correctly. He plans on replacing the 14.31818 MHz with a 16Mhz crystal oscillator.
  • Comments from Tom Meeks - Tom Meeks worked at Astrovision. Among the questions that he answers in this compilation of comments from the Bally Alley Yahoo Group are if any PAL Astrocade systems exist.

 

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