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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Nov 22, 2016

Episode 6 of the Bally Alley Astrocast covers The Incredible Wizard, the port of the arcade game Wizard of Wor. Paul and I are joined by our new co-host Michael Di Salvo. Paul and I cover the Arcadian newsletter issues 7 and 8 (June and July 1979). Paul and I discuss six letters to the Arcadian, dating from the Spring and Summer of 1979.

The next Astrocast podcast (episode 7) will feature holiday feedback in the December episode. If you have any holiday stories to share, then please send this feedback that you'd like to see included in episode 7 by December 16'th. I can't wait to hear your tales!

Recurring Links 


  • Three Voice Music Program - This "AstroBASIC" program, by Brett Bilbrey and George Moses, allows the user to create three voice music on the Bally Arcade/Astrocade. This program was printed in the "AstroBASIC" manual on page 70. This program can be used on real Astrocade hardware to create new music. I encourage people to make music on the Astrocade using this software and then to send it in for inclusion on the Astrocast. I'd love to see music submissions start to pour into the show!
  • Lesson 9: Three Voice Music with Bally BASIC - This is a tutorial by George Moses from the "AstroBASIC" manual. It explains how to use the Three Voice Music Program (above).

Michael's History with the Astrocade

  • Astrocade Kiosk - This was the dealer's display cabinet, intended for small shops and large department stores. Made by the Santa Cruz Wire and Mfg. Co., this kiosk stood over five feet tall and resembled a coin-op cabinet. It came wired for 110 volts for use with the Astrocade and a TV (not included with the unit). There was a cartridge selector inside for up to ten game cartridges to be demonstrated (with a time limit); a "10 key" switch selected which cartridge was played.
  • Crazy Eddie's TV Commercial - This TV commercial features the Astrocade, Odyssey 2, Atari, Colecovision, Arcadian 2001, Intellivision and Vectrex.
  • "Astrocade Owners!" Ad - This half-page ad appeared in the January 1983 issue of Electronic Games. It lists "the professionals who support your computer with programs, hardware and information to help you enjoy your Astrocade to the maximum! Contact any of them for details." Each of the companies listed has contact information, along with a brief summary of what they do. Running this ad was very expensive. Richard Houser, from Astrocade Sourcebook (one of the companies in the ad), has said that everyone in this ad grouped together funds to run it for several issues in Electronic Games magazine. When asked if the ad worked at all, Richard said that it did have noticeable results.
  • Castle of Horror (Gameplay Video) - A gameplay YouTube video uploaded by "ArcadeUSA" on September 21, 2013. WaveMakers' Castle of Horror is the one tape game that Michael Di Salvo bought in the 1980s. He thinks he heard of it from the ad that was run in Electronic Games.
  • Swap 'N Shop Text Channel - Michael used the Cablevision Swap 'N Shop channel from his cable provider to sell his Atari 2600 in the early 1980s so that he could buy a Colecovison. This is an example of that channel for those (like me) who have never heard of this before. This is a five minute segment of a community access channel called 'Swap 'N Shop' from back in 1984. It is provided by Cablevision TV service in Downers Grove, IL.

The Incredible Wizard

  • The Incredible Wizard in Shrinkwrapped Box- If you bought this game in 1982, this is what you would have brought home.
  • The Incredible Wizard Cartridge - This is a high-quality picture of The Incredible Wizard cartridge.
  • "Astro Arcade" TV Commercial - This thirty-second TV commercial from 1982 features several prominent game for the Astrocade, including The Incredible Wizard, and several games that were never released.
  • The Incredible Wizard Ad - This advertisement is from the 34-page Astrocade, Inc. 1982 game catalog. This is a color catalog of the cartridges available for the Bally Arcade/Astrocade. Check out the ads for the unreleased cartridges: Bowling, Creative Crayon, Conan the Barbarian, Music Maker, and Soccer!
  • The Incredible Wizard, "Let's Play" Video - A "Let's Play" YouTube video uploaded by "ArcadeUSA" on September 29, 2013.
  • HSC01 Round 4: The Incredible Wizard - Round 4 of the Astrocade High Score Club (March/April 2016) featured The Incredible Wizard as the main game.
  • The Incredible Wizard - The instruction manual in pdf format.
  • The Incredible Wizard Screenshots - I used the Astrocade emulation in MAME to take screenshots of the twenty unique dungeons that I've come across in "The Incredible Wizard." The dungeons that the player reaches on each stage seem to be randomly selected. Therefore, there are probably more dungeons that I'm not aware of yet. I reached these later levels using save states in MAME while searching for more dungeons. Check out all the level variety that I've seen so far in, as the Wizard calls his collection of dungeons in the arcade game, the "Caverns of Wor."
  • Wizard of Wor (Video) - This is a gameplay video of Wizard of Wor in action. This appears to be the MAME version of the game. Use this video to compare the Astrocade home port of the game against the original arcade version.
  • The Incredible Wizard Review 1 - This is a review by Joe Santulli of The Incredible Wizard for the Bally Arcade/Astrocade. This review first appeared in the January/February 1996 issue of the Digital Press #28 newsletter.
  • The Incredible Wizard Review 2 - Here is a second review of the "Wizard." This review is called Astrocade's 'The Incredible Wizard' for Astrocade by Danny Goodman and was published in Radio Electronics, April 1983: 14, 20. This review is in pdf format. You can read the review in text format here.
  • "Wizard" Strategy Guide - Here is an in-depth strategy guide for the The Incredible Wizard. This is from an article called Conquering: The Incredible Wizard from Videogaming Illustrated, Dec. 1982: 24-26. You can read the article in text format here
  • The Incredible Wizard Video Review - This video review was uploaded to YouTube by Nice and Game on August 19, 2010.
  • The Incredible Wizard (Partial Z80 Disassembly) - This is a disassembly of the Wizard of Wor clone for the Astrocade called The Incredible Wizard. This disassembly was begun in November 2011 and has been worked on in fits and starts over the last few years. There is plenty of work that needs to be done, but this is a healthy beginning.
  • The Incredible Wizard Press Release - June 1982 press release announcing The Incredible Wizard.
  • Picture of The Incredible Wizard Ad at Baseball Game - According to an Astrocade press release from June 1982, this was the world's first video game to be projected on a giant screen (25' x 35') at a baseball game. Other than knowing that this is a White Sox game played in Chicago in the Summer of 1982, I don't know who took this picture. This picture is from the Digital Press CD released in 1997. Thanks to Digital Press for allowing this picture to appear on Bally Alley.
  • The Incredible Wizard CES Contest - This is a press release from June 6, 1982. Astrocade, Inc. held a special three-day Incredible Wizard video game contest at the June 1982 Summer CES.

Arcadian Newsletters

  • Arcadian 1, no. 7 (June 15, 1979): 47-54. - The seventh issue of the Arcadian newsletter.
  • Arcadian 1, no. 8 (July 20, 1979): 55-68. - The eighth issue of the Arcadian newsletter.
  • Coin-Operated Americans: Rebooting Boyhood at the Video Game Arcade - Carly Kocurek examines the factors and incidents that contributed to the widespread view of video gaming as an enclave for young men and boys. Coin-Operated Americans holds valuable lessons for contemporary culture as we struggle to address pervasive sexism in the domain of video games—and in the digital working world beyond.
  • HSC01 Round 12: The Adventures of Robby Roto! / Q-B2B - The main Astrocade High Score Club game is not a cartridge-based game this round. Instead, it is an arcade game that uses the "Astrocade chipset." The Adventures of Robby Roto! is the main game for Round 12 of the Astrocade High Score Club. The BASIC bonus game is a Q*Bert clone called Q-B2B by WaveMakers.
  • Jameco JE 610 ASCII Keyboard Datasheet - These keyboards, from 1979, were often hacked with the 300-BAUD interface to create a keyboard that could be used with Bally BASIC. From the datasheet: "The JE610 ASCII Encoded keyboard kit can be interfaced into most any computer system. The keyboard assembly requires 5V @150mA and -12V @ 10mA for operation. Interface wiring can be made with either a 16-pin DIP jumper plug or an 18-pin (.156 spacing) edge connector."
  • Bangman (AstroBASIC) - This is the "AstroBASIC" (2000-baud) version of Bangman by Ernie Sams that appeared in Arcadian 1, no. 7 (Jun 15, 1979): 47-49. Bangman is a take-off on the classic Hangman word spelling game. It has two novel features - letters being entered are hidden from view of the opposing player - and the penalty for losing is not a hanging... One person keys in a word to ten letters; another tries to guess it with no more than nine wrong guesses using the knob and trigger.
  • Bangman (Video) - This is a gameplay video of Bangman by Ernie Sams for Bally Arcade/Astrocade. This BASIC program appeared in the June 1979 issue of the Arcadian.
  • ABC Hobbycraft Website - ABC Hobbycraft used to sell Astrocades in the late 1970s and early 1980s. They were a hub of Bally Arcade/Astrocade activity. The company still exists today in Evansville, IN, although now these specialize in trains, plastic models, scale models and accessories.
  • aMAZEd in SPACE (AstroBASIC) - This program is by Aquila and Richard Houser appear in Arcadian 1, no. 8 (Jul. 20, 1979): 58,60-61. aMAZEd in SPACE is a rocketship-thru-the-maze challenge with a number of levels of difficulty. Maneuver spaceship thru maze without crashing into walls. Direction is controlled by joystick 1. Path size, maze height, maze width and degree of difficulty, are selected by keyboard input. Score is based on these inputs and time taken to complete maze. It takes quite awhile to complete maze interior, so start small.
  • aMAZEd in SPACE (Video) - aMAZEd in SPACE is a BASIC game by Aquila and Richard Houser for Bally Arcade/Astrocade (Arcadian, July 1979).
  • Astrocade Programming Sheets - Nine Programming and Graph sheets specifically for use with the Bally Arcade/Astrocade. Many of these were created by Spectre Systems in 1982. The different sheets are BASIC Programmer's Sheet, Z-80 Programmer's Sheet, Screen Map (Type 1, Character Number CX, CY Value), Screen Map (Type 2, FC/BC Color Map), Screen Map (Type 3, Right/Left Color Map), Screen Map (Type 4, Totally Blank, Screen Map (Type 5, Blank, No Map Key), Screen Map (Type 6, Blank Character Graph Paper), and Screen Map (Type 7, Character Graph Paper, With Color Key).
  • Slot Machine (Bally BASIC, 300-Baud) - Slot Machine was written for Bally BASIC by Ernie Sams. This program was originally published in Arcadian 1, no. 8 (Jul. 20, 1979): 59. A correction was published in Arcadian 1, no. 9 (Aug. 18, 1979): 69.
  • Slot Machine (Video) - A gameplay video of Slot Machine by Ernie Sams. This video shows a full game being played.
  • The Music Synthesizer (Article, Text Format) - The Music Synthesizer by Chuck Thomka. "The synthesizer circuit, which is contained wholly within the 40 pin custom I/O chip, is a very versatile circuit which contains counters and amplifiers to give the programmer tremendous control of the three voice output along with a tremolo, vibrato, and even a noise generator. The output frequency range is very accurately adjustable from less than 14 hertz to ultrasonic frequencies. The upper limit may be set by the capacity of your TV sound system." This tutorial original was made up of two parts: The Music Synthesizer [Part 1], Arcadian, 1, no. 8 (July 1979): 62-66. and The Music Synthesizer, Part 2, Arcadian, 1, no. 9 (August 1979): 71-73. This text version of the tutorial is missing four parts as they appeared in the Arcadian newsletter. The missing parts are: 1) Sound Graph - A Bally BASIC program that allows access to the sound ports and makes a simple graph of the results. Arcadian, 1, no. 8 (July 1979): 65. 2) Touch Tone Simulate - A Bally BASIC program that can be used to dial phone numbers. Arcadian, 1, no. 8 (July 1979): 65. 3) The Sound Synthesizer as Perceived by Chuck Thomka - A visual overview of the sound ports. Brett Bilbrey has said that this has some errors, but he can't remember what they are. ARCADIAN, 1, no. 8 (July 1979): 66. and 4) Frequency Table - A table of all the sound generating keys, their &(17) values, the resultant frequencies, and any special notes about them. ARCADIAN, 1, no. 9 (August 1979): 73. The two tutorials have been extracted from the two different issues of the Arcadian newsletter and combined into one text document.
  • Sound Graph ("AstroBASIC," 2000-baud) - Sound Graph b Chuck Thomka from Arcadian, 1, no. 8 (July 1979): 65. This utility is part of the "The Music Synthesizer" tutorial by Chuck Thomka. In order to understand what "Sound Graph" is doing, the user must read the tutorial or at least have previous knowledge of the sound ports. With this knowledge, then you may be able to make some noises, but you won't be able to understand why they work or really what is happening. "Sound Graph" is an early BASIC program that allows direct access to the sound ports. The user can try making different sounds by changing the ports with an interface that uses hand controller #1..
  • Touch Tone Simulate - Touch Tone Simulate by Chuck Thomka from Arcadian, 1, no. 8 (July 1979): 65. and modification from Arcadian, 2, no. 10 (Sept 1980): 90. This utility allows the user to type in a phone number, and then dial it by placing a phone near the TV speaker and then pressing PRINT. The Bally Arcade will automatically dial the phone number. Make sure that when you use the program that your TV's volume is set to a high enough level so that your telephone can "hear" the TV.
  • Fabris/Thomka (Phone Conversation) - A very technical phone discussion between Bob Fabris and Chuck Thomka about circuit frequencies. This was probably recorded on January 2, 1982. This recording (in FLAC format) is 15:29 long.
  • Memory Display (Bally BASIC, 300-baud) - Memory Display by Chuck Thomka from Arcadian, 1, no. 8 (July 1979): 67. This is a machine language utility for BASIC. This program displays input memory locations in both Hexadecimal format (with hex pairs in reverse order) and Bally BASIC decimal format. This is a nice memory dump program that displays the decimal and hexadecimal location numbers (address) and data. It will do whole blocks of dumps by giving a starting and ending address. It will increment the address by the entered amount if you only want to check every 1000'th location, for example. Use negative numbers to check the upper memory: -32767D = $8001 to -1D = $FFFF.
  • Square Root (Bally BASIC, 300-Baud) - Square Root by David Stocker from Arcadian 1, no. 8 (Jul. 20, 1979): 67. The Arcadian does not have any comments or instructions for this program. Although the name implies that the program calculates a square root in BASIC, it would be impossible to know that while running the program as it gives no indication of what the program is asking for at the INPUT prompt. Only a look through the code would give a hint of that information.
  • Distance Between Two Points (Bally BASIC, 300-Baud) - Distance Between Two Points by David Stocker from Arcadian 1, no. 8 (Jul. 20, 1979): 67. The Arcadian has no comments about this program, though from the title it can be surmised that this eighteen-line calculates the distance between two points.
  • Bally Chess Board (Bally BASIC, 300-Baud) - Bally Chess Board by John Collins was originally offered for sale for $6.00 in 1979 (as Chess), then later printed in the Arcadian newsletter in the October 1984 issue on page 120.
  • Bally Chess Board ("AstroBASIC," 300-Baud) - Bally Chess Board by John Collins was originally offered for sale for $6.00 in 1979 (as Chess), then later printed in the Arcadian newsletter in the October 1984 issue on page 120.
  • BATNUM (Battle of Numbers) - BATNUM for the Bally Arcade by Ron Schwenk was originally printed in Creative Computing. It has not been archived from tape and is only available as a type-in BASIC listing.
  • Mastermind - Mastermind for the Bally Arcade by Ron Schwenk has not been archived from tape and is only available as a type-in BASIC listing.
  • Scott Waldinger (Type-in Programs) - Scott Walldinger advertised ten programs for sale in Arcadian 1, no. 8 (Jul. 20, 1979): 68. The ten programs are Connect Four, Craps 2, Horse Race, Robot War, Sea Battle, Slot Machine, Star Wars, Star Ship, Star Trek, and Tic-Tac-Toe. None of these programs have been archived from tape; they are only available as a type-in BASIC listings.
  • A Guided Tour of Computer Programming in BASIC - A link on to A Guided Tour of Computer Programming in BASIC by Thomas A. Dwyer and M.S. Kaufmann. A book recommended by Arcadian subscribers.
  • 57 Practical Programs and Games in BASIC - A link on to 57 Practical Programs and Games in BASIC by Ken Tracton. A book recommended by Arcadian subscribers.
  • 24 Tested Ready-To-Run Game Programs in BASIC - A link on to 24 Tested Ready-To-Run Game Programs in BASIC by Ken Tracton. Programmers who submitted program to the Arcadian used this book for inspiration.
  • BASIC Computer Games: Microcomputer Edition - A link on to BASIC Computer Games: Microcomputer Edition, edited by David H. Ahl. Programmers who submitted program to the Arcadian used this book for inspiration.
  • The BASIC Cookbook - A link on to The BASIC Cookbook by Ken Tracton. Programmers who submitted program to the Arcadian used this book for inspiration.

Classic Letters

  • Ron Schwenk Letter to Bob Fabris (February 2, 1979)

    Ron gives early comments on a few cartridges: "Football is very good. They even have music with Vibrato! It sure sounds good. I quickly ran out of them, but should have more in a week. Maze/Tic-Tac-Toe is ok, but mainly for kids. I think that Star Battle is their poorest videocade and don't care for it at all."

    The add-under never made it out the door. It had issues from the start. Ron already has a criticism, "In the expansion unit it looks like they are increasing the amount of ROM but decreasing the RAM. And increasing the price!" Not only does the increase cost of the unit upset Ron, but he is confused by what's on offer. He hopes that Bob can clarify the statement, "To get 80 characters per line, does 'optional TV printer' mean a video monitor?"

    Ron has written a Mastermind game. This is mentioned in passing by Bob in the March 1979 Arcadian on page 31. There is an ad for Ron's Mastermind in the July 1979 Arcadian on page 68. The program was never printed in the Arcadian, but there is printed BASIC listing of the program available in the Bob Fabris Collection. Copies of two other games are also available: BatNum and One Check.

    Ron includes a one-page listing of the Bally items that he carries through his company Schwenk Enterprises. Among these items are the Bally Arcade systems. At the time the list price was $329.95 for a system with four controllers. Ron sells them for a cash price of $289.53 (or 296.95 for credit card purchasers). After looking over Ron's 11-cartridge listing, I noticed that the list price for 2K cartridges is $19.95 and the 4K cartridges sell for $24.95. Ron sells the carts for slightly cheaper than retail: his cash price is about $18 for 2K carts and $23 for 4K cartridges.
  • RM Martin Letter to Bob Fabris (May 28, 1979)

    Mr. Martin has some programming questions for Bob Fabris. Along with this letter, I found handwritten notes that Mr. Fabris prepared to answer the questions that he was asked.

    Mr. Martin says that his Checkers game, by John Collins, cheats. This game was printed in the May 1979 issue of Arcadian. As usually occurred, there were errors in the original listing. The June 1979 issue of Arcadian printed some corrections. Hopefully these got Mr. Martin fixed-up. Over the years, John Collins revisited his Checkers program, eventually making two major updates to it (calling them, quite originally, Checkers II and Checkers III).

    Mr. Martin asks how he can convert Star Trek and Wumpus written for other computers that have READ and DATA statements. The Bally doesn't support these commands, and he wonders how he can work around this limitation of Bally BASIC.

    All of the information in this letter is pretty typical for much of the correspondence that is written to the Arcadian. It's this letter's last paragraph that made me choose to include it in this podcast. Mr. Martin says, "You are doing one hellofa job. I have learned more about computers than I thought I ever would. Thanks." I'm not sure if this is an accurate summary of Mr. Martin, but I picture him as somebody who purchased his Bally Arcade to play games in much the same way that someone may have bought an Atari VCS in 1979. Then he stumbled into the Arcadian newsletter, bought Bally BASIC and was delving into his game system after realizing it could do much more than he originally thought possible.
  • Guy McLimore Letter to Bob Fabris (May 29, 1979)

    Guy recently received Scott Waldinger's version of the Star Trek program that he ordered. Scott must have ordered this from the classified ad in the May 1979 Arcadian on page 46. The instructions and the BASIC listing are available here:

    1. Star Trek by Scott Waldinger (Bally BASIC Listing)

    Guy hasn't had time to type in the listing yet, but it looked to him like Scott Waldinger found a unique way around the Bally's lack of substantial memory and multi-dimensional arrays. That's one of the neat details about the Bally system. People who owned it had to find interesting, and perhaps unique, methods to work around the system's minuscule 1.8K or RAM and limitations imposed by the Bally BASIC cartridge.

    It seems that Bob must have given Guy the corrections for Checkers, for its now working for him. He's glad there is a BASIC version of this program, "Bally has held up the videocade version." Actually, this cartridge never did ship, although a usable 2K prototype does exist-- though I've not played it. Guy says that the "the programmer [of Checkers] deserves applause for his work, as I would have bet it couldn't be done in 1800 characters."

    Guy is working on a light pen. The work is currently stalled, but if he gets it working, then he plans to sell it through the Arcadian. However, I don't think that this ever occurred. Some people in the Bally community did end up creating their own light pens, among them are Craig Anderson and Leroy Flamm. The Light Pen was supposed to be used with the Creative Crayon cartridge, but that cartridge never shipped and I don't think a prototype has ever surfaced.

    Bally's National Service manager told Guy that they planned to revise the Hacker's Manual and make it into an advanced operations manual. This never occurred. It seems that Guy already had doubts about it being released, for he mentions to Bob that if Bally falls through with this project then he thinks that someone, maybe even himself, should make such a manual for the Bally Arcade.
  • Laurence Leske Letter to Bob Fabris (June 6, 1979)

    This is a letter that Bob Fabris wrote to Larry Leske, an employee at Bally. Bob is hoping to get some more information on the internal workings of the Bally system. Bob says:

    "I publish a newsletter for owners of the ARCADE, and provide them with material which enables them to better understand the machine, and which informs them of operations that are possible. The inputs for my paper come primarily from the more technically oriented subscribers. I now have over 600 persons subscribing from across the country and Canada, plus a handful foreign, and we are all concerned about the status of the Add-On, or Programmable Keyboard. We have the Bally story of 'waiting for the FCC to act on the TI proposal', but we have also been waiting since last year when the Add-On was originally expected. Many of the subscribers responded to the JS&A advertising of Oct/77, and are quite frustrated with the situation.

    "We would be greatly interested in a surrogate keyboard, with additional memory capacity and capabilities approaching those which were advertised in the literature - a more powerful BASIC and a full-size ASCII keyboard, at least. In addition the units should have some equivalent to GRAFIX, ZGRASS, TERSE, etc., languages if at all possible."

    Before I continue with Bob's letter, I want to say how fascinating I find Bob's statements. He's basically writing a letter to Bally saying, "Hey buddy, we can't wait anymore for your delayed keyboard add-on, so we're gonna make our own." Imagine this happening today. You'd probably get a cease-and-desist letter from the manufacturer. Times surely have changed!

    Bob continues:

    "I am writing this letter on Jay Hess' recommendation to let you know that we as a group exist, and are interested in upgrading the system to higher capabilities. Of my group, I would suspect 70% to 80% would be in a position to purchase a unit in the $400-600 range.

    "I would be pleased to receive your comments and thoughts about our 'problem', and to answer any questions you may have."

    While searching the BallyAlley website for some additional information on Larry Leske, I found a quote from an article called In the Mind of Tom Defanti... Inventor of ZGrass by Suzan D. Prince. This was printed in the June/July 1982 issue of "Business Screen." Here's what Tom DeFanti says about Larry Leske:

    "About this time [1976 or 1977], another friend, Larry Leske, decided he could no longer afford to remain a student at the University [of Chicago] and went to work for Bally Manufacturing Co., the games producer. There he discovered the Bally Professional Arcade system, a fully assembled home computer game unit Bally planned to market to the public. Leske started programming on the Arcade, and believe me, he nearly knocked our socks off. Two others—Jay Fenton, a top programmer and developer of Bally BASIC; and Nola Donato, a language programmer-- and I, quickly wrote all the code for this new form Leske based on Grass. In 1979 Bally brought out the Arcade and its new software written in Z-Grass."

    Tom's remarks are not entirely accurate, for the BPA came out in 1978, and Bally never actually did release Z-GRASS. The full article can be read online:

    1. In the Mind of Tom Defanti... Inventor of ZGrass (Article) - In the Mind of Tom Defanti... Inventor of ZGrass by Suzan D. Prince. Business Screen (June/July 1982).

    Also, of note, there are several recorded phone conversations between Bob Fabris and Larry Leske.

    1. Larry Leske and Bob (Phone Conversation, Part 1) - Bob Fabris talks on the phone for about eight minutes with Larry Leske, who's been working on a programmable keyboard kit. [Arcadian volume 1, issue 8, page 55] It seems likely that Fidelity Electronics will take over the system, and they plan on possibly reviving the ZGRASS add-under in about six months. Larry has great respect for the engineering at Fidelity, and thinks it's likely they'll get out a quality product fairly quickly. Given this, Larry doesn't really want to compete with them, so the project is put on hold. [Arcadian, volume 2, issue 3, page 19]
    2. Bob Freeman and Bob (Phone Conversation, Part 2) - Bob Fabris talks on the phone for about fifteen minutes to Bob Freeman, who's been working on an S-100 adapter for the system [Arcadian volume 2, issue 2, page 11]. With Larry Leske losing interest on programmable keyboard work, Fabris is now particularly interested in this. Freeman is also thinking about things like a modem. But he's not moving at a fast pace unless there's enough interest to make it profitable. Fabris is planning on surveying the Arcadian readers on what they want. [Arcadian volume 2, issue 3, page 19]. Freeman has also programmed a system monitor ROM (it COULD be the "ADS System Monitor," but this is only conjecture), to be used for debugging assembler programs. Freeman wonders if Fidelity Electronics would consider speeding up the system's Z80, but Fabris says they're trying to cut costs on the board instead. They might consider a retrofit kit, though.

    They probably originate from around this era. It's intriguing to know that Bob reached out to Bally for help and maybe even guidance.
  • Light Pen Plans and Schematics - These plans by Leroy Flamm show how to build a light pen for the Bally Arcade/ Astrocade. The documentation refers to a tape with a program for the hardware. It can't be certain, but that program is probably Light-Pen Graphics Program, which was printed in Arcadian, 7.4 (Aug. 15, 1986): 68-69.
  • Guy McLimore Letter to Bob Fabris (June 14, 1979)

    Guy thanks Bob for his additions to Skyrocket (known also, on as Logo). According to the letter, it was Bob that added the rocket's vapor trail. Guy thanks Bob for his corrections to Checkers, but he's still having issues with the game.

    Guy is meeting with Bally's national sales manager [probably Jack Nieman] in Evensville on June 20, 1979. He plans to "get on his case pretty heavy about the keyboard expansion."

    Guys feels that "The potential is there for Bally to wrap up a large hunk of the personal computer market, but they are blowing it by holding up the keyboard, by failing to provide adequate documentation for Bally BASIC, and by falling to properly promote the system, service current customers, and provide software. I have just seen information on ATARI's new system, and Bally is going to lose customers to this new system if it doesn't provide the keyboard FAST."

    Guy is "encouraging all local Bally owners to write Bally encouraging a firmer commitment to expansion of the unit and demanding definite answers on the keyboard." He goes on to say "If all 600-plus ARCADIANS would write, maybe it would make a difference. Unfortunately, Bally is in the unique position of being able to well afford to ignore public demand, since their income from consumer products is only a tiny, tiny fraction of their total income. They just don't seem to give a damn one way or the other."

    Guy has "given Bob Fabris' address to two or three Bally owners in [his] area that [he] contacted through the Evansville Computer Club. One man [Guy] talked to [...] was frankly flabbergasted at all the information that was left out of the manual. [Guy] showed him &(9) [to control the left/right color boundary], the music oscillator and vibrato controls, ABS(X), the PEEK and POKE functions, ROM subroutines, etc. and [the man] nearly lost his teeth. He echoed the sentiments of so many others-- "Why doesn't Bally let people know what they have here?"

    Guy's light pen, which he talked about in his previous letter dated May 29'th, still won't work.

    Guys says, "This is unofficial and-- as yet-- not for publication, but I am negotiating with a major war gaming wholesaler in the East to supply him with game support software for the Bally system. He intends to become a Bally wholesaler, and will deal with Bally dealers by mail order if this goes through. I will be acting as his consultant on this project. Nothing is settled yet, but if it works out, we may be able to provide Bally dealers nationwide with a source of reliable software. If you wish, you may run in the ARCADIAN that I am interested in hearing from programmers who wish to license or sell their software. I can make NO PROMISES yet, though. It might help if I could give him some idea on these programs-- availability, reliability and such. Guy added a handwritten note here: "Again, P.S.: Hold off on this. Negotiating still proceeding, but slowly!"

    Guy makes a point that I've noticed over the years when reading the instructions for software published on tape. Guy says, ""So far, most of the Bally software I've seen is pretty amateurish in terms of presentation and documentation, while being surprisingly sophisticated in terms of actual program writing. What is needed is a tutorial on documentation, and my submission for such an article is enclosed. An improperly documented program is almost as bad an no program at all." [Unfortunately, I was unable to find in the Fabris Collection this documentation that Guy wrote.]
  • John Sweeney Letter to Bob Fabris (July 14, 2016)

    This is a double-spaced, nine-page type-written letter.

    John laments about the "new delay in the keyboard [add-under]." John gave up waiting for the add-under already and he has purchased a TRS-80 with the money he had set aside for the keyboard expansion. However, he still plans to use his Bally Arcade. In fact, he plans to get the two systems talking to one another.

    John has enclosed the schematic (for the main logic components) for a memory expansion that he created for his Bally Arcade. John assembled it with, he says:

    "wire-wrap on a 4 1/4" x 4 1/2" Vector board, mounted in a Radio Shack instrument cabinet. Actually, the mechanical problems of getting the signals out of the Bally, and of arranging the power supplies and cabinet were more formidable than any of the electronic or logic problems, save one. [which he doesn't mention]

    "As drawn, the schematic provides for up to 8 kilobytes of additional memory. At this moment, I have 3K installed, and the last 32 addresses at the top of the space are decoded to provide I/O & other special purposes."

    John goes into great detail about how his RAM expansion unit works. He provides a parts list too. Any listeners who are hardware hackers will probably be interested to read (or at least skim) this letter. This information was never published in the Arcadian newsletter, but I suspect that it was probably shared with some Arcadian subscribers.

    The hardware and software projects that were created by the Bally Arcade users in the late 1970s and early 1980s seem to fit very close with what homebrewers on 8-bit and 16-bit classic gaming systems and computers are creating today. The Bally system is hardly unique in this respect, even for its time of release. The Apple II, TRS-80, Commodore and S-100 users all were hacking away nimbly at their systems. The difference, to me, is that we don't look at the Bally Arcade system today as a computer, but rather as a game system in the same vein as the Atari VCS or, perhaps, the Intellivision. In 1978, one didn't bring home an Atari VCS and start adding RAM to it. Atari owners played Combat. They had great fun doing it (and so did I!), but maybe the Bally users had a type of fun that Atari game system owners couldn't touch: the fun of learning a system and creating with it.


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 


  • 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 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.


Aug 14, 2016

Episode 4 of the Bally Alley Astrocast covers the Bally Arcade/Astrocade cartridge game Sea Devil and the BASIC type-in game (published in the Arcadian newsletter) The Pits. Chris and I discuss, as always, what we've been up to lately. Paul and I cover the Arcadian newsletter issues 3 and 4 (January and February 1979).  We cover a bit of feedback too (we could always use more though-- so keep it coming to us). Paul and I discuss seven letters to the Arcadian, dating from late 1978 and early 1979. The show ends with a short tune called Golden Slippers played from a type-in program called Player Piano from the Bally BASIC manual

Recurring Links 


  • Sea Devil/The Pits - Astrocade High Score Club, Round 10: Sea Devil / The Pits (July/August 2016). Includes a screenshot of The Pits.

Cartridge Review - Sea Devil

  • Sea Devil Manual - (1983) Game "manual" (instructions) for Sea Devil by L&M Software.
  • Sea Devil Ad - (1983) Advertisement for Sea Devil. This document contains much more of the game's backstory than is in the manual.
  • Sea Devil Cartridge - Picture of the Sea Devil cartridge.
  • Sea Devil Video Review - YouTube video of Sea Devil gameplay by "Highretrogamelord"

BASIC Game Review - The Pits


  • Arcadian 1, no. 3 (Jan. 13, 1979): 17-22. - The third issue of the Arcadian newsletter.
  • Arcadian 1, no. 4 (Feb. 19, 1979): 23-30. - The fourth issue of the Arcadian newsletter.
  • Bally BASIC and "AstroBASIC" Manual Differences - By Richard Degler (October 2010)
  • Success Forces Book - Purchase Joe Sugarman's 1980 book from
  • The Seven Forces of Success - Joe Sugarman's 2014 eBook on
  • Division with Decimals - By Paul Law. "Division with Decimals is just in from Paul Law who says he modified a BYTE 2/79 program. N indicates the length of the decimal portion." This 300-Baud Bally BASIC program can be loaded into BASIC using the 300-Baud tape interface.
  • Game Over (Program) - By Tom Wood. "This routine will print "GAME OVER" depending on which version of the Bally Arcade that the user has." This 300-Baud Bally BASIC program can be loaded into BASIC using the 300-Baud tape interface code.
  • Game Over (Article) - By Tom Wood. This pdf document was excerpted from the Arcadian. This is the program's explanation, the BASIC loader, the Z80 machine language source
  • BASIC Zgrass--A Sophisticated Graphics Language for the Bally home Library Computer - By Tom DeFanti, Jay Fenton, and Nola Donato. This article was printed in Computer Graphics, 12, no. 3, (August 1978): 33-37. Abstract: "Home computer users are just now discovering computer graphics. Modest extensions to BASIC allow plotting but not much more. The Bally Home Library Computer, however, has hardware to aid implementation of video games. Custom integrated circuits working on a 160X102 pixel (2 bits per pixel) color television screen allow certain forms of animation in real time. To give this power to the user, BASIC Zgrass has been designed and implemented. It is an extension of BASIC that allows parallel processes, picture objects that move, scale and group together as well as several drawing modes. There are also software controls of a three-voice music synthesizer, interactive input devices, a film camera and an IEEE bus interface. We will concentrate mainly on the language design for making it all easy to learn and use."
  • Bally BASIC Hacker's Guide - By Jay Fenton. This was the 1979 supplement written by Jay Fenton 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.
  • Bally Arcade - More than Fun - By Graham M Wideman and Mark J Czerwinski. Electronics Today, November 1978. Paul and I refer to this article as "Bally Arcade: Game or Computer," but that's only the title on the cover of the magazine. This article covers the Bally Arcade. Although the page numbers are not consecutive in this scan, the article is complete (full page advertisements were removed). The article is notable because it assumes a basic level of technical knowledge and includes photographs of the internals.
  • 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!
  • Bally Programming Keyboard - Color picture of the unreleased "programming keyboard." The Bally Arcade system sits on top of this "add-under."

Classic Letters

  • Letter to Bob Fabris, From Brett Bilbrey (December 11, 1978) - Brett was a mainstay of the early issues of Arcadian and Cursor. He went on to write two Astrocade cartridges (ICBM Attack and Treasure Cove), contribute to the "AstroBASIC" manual and work for Action Graphics (as well as contribute to the Bally community in many other ways). Later, Brett worked for Apple. This eight-page letter shows a hardcore user's enthusiasm for the Bally Arcade.
  • Star Trek - By Brett Bilbrey (and/or friends). Brett did not 'write' the Star Trek game. He either typed it in from the book 101 BASIC Games or one of his friends that Brett started Spectre Systems with did it. This 300-Baud Bally BASIC program can be loaded into BASIC using the 300-Baud tape interface code.
  • Star Trek (Docs) - Instructions for the above program.
  • Byte Magazine (December 1978) - Many articles dedicated to Life. While none of these articles/programs are specific to the Bally Arcade/Astrocade, the manual for Life by Jay Fenton does directly lift quite a bit of material from that issue of the magazine.
  • Interact Model One Computer - The Newman Computer store suggests potential Bally Arcade purchasers buy the Interact Model One instead. (
  • Letter to Bally Arcade Customers, From Joseph Sugarman (May 1979) - Joe Sugarman, the president of JS&A, claims that the company "had spent hundreds of thousands of dollars in advertising to obtain our sales." That's a lot of money, which makes it hard to believe this claim. However, in the early 70s, when JS&A began, full-page ads in the Wall Street Journal cost about ten-grand (says Joe in his 1980 book, Success Forces), so perhaps this high-dollar advertising figure is possible.
  • Letter to Bob Fabris, from Glenn Pogue (Jan 22, 1979) - Glenn says that if a user complains about the unit's name change, then Bally will send a "tag" to those users who request one that says "The Bally Computer System." This letter has a list of release dates (month and day) for Bally games, including some that were never released at all (including Checkers, Desert Fox, Astrology and Drag Race/Desert Fox
  • Bally Dust Covers Pictures - Each time the Bally system's name was changed, the dust cover reflected the new name.
  • Unit Label Variations - Lance Squire does an excellent job explaining the different labels on the dust covers of the Bally units. He also gives an approximate rarity level for each label.
  • Letter to Bob Fabris, from Guy McLimore (January 29, 1979) - Guy is a Bally Arcade dealer for ABC Hobbycraft. Guy has popped up on the Bally Alley Yahoo group from time to time. In this letter, Guy says that he gets more information from the Arcadian newsletter than he can get from Bally-- and he's a dealer! He mentions several programs he's working on. He suggests that Bally should make a second, more detailed (I presume) version of the Bally BASIC manual for "the really rabid Arcade freak." In a way, Jay Fenton's Hacker's Manual was this second "book," but it was only about twenty pages long and probably wasn't widely available.
  • Fantasy Game Package - By Guy McLimore. 1979. There is an advertisement for this program in Arcadian 1, no. 7 (Jun 15, 1979): 54. A fantasy game package for advanced players is available for those who enjoy the Dragon/Dungeon type of operation. The package includes: Dungeon Grafix I and II, Fantasy People and Multidie.
  • Arcadian Logo - By Guy McLimore. From Arcadian 2, no. 1 (Nov. 29, 1979): 3., "Logo shown at the head of page one is based on an idea by Guy McLimore, and embellished by myself. If you'd like to see it in action (literally) and in living color, the program is included."
  • Letter to Bob Fabris, from Jim Unroe (December 27, 1978) - Jim canceled his order with JS&A after waiting for long time and then he got an Arcade unit right away from another dealer (yes, even at the end of 1978, JS&A wasn't getting enough units from Bally to fill orders). He's having issues with his unit (it sounds like overheating). He notes that you can have commands executed directly from tape rather than being loaded as a program line. This is one advantage of Bally BASIC over "AstroBASIC." Jim talks about wanting to create an elaborate alarm system using his Bally Arcade.
  • Letter to Bob Fabris, from Joe White (November 26, 1978) - Joe talks about his general experiences using the Bally to program in BASIC. Joe's son, Greg, wrote Bally Trek, which is based on Erik Mueller's Star Trek for MINOL - Tiny BASIC.
  • Bally Trek - By Greg White. 1979. Unpublished Arcadian submission. Bally Trek is based on Erik Mueller's Star Trek for MINOL - Tiny BASIC. Bally Trek follows a popular style of game program from the 1970s era. Other examples on the Bally Arcade/Astrocade include Space Chase by WaveMakers and Star Trek/Starship Command by Esoterica. This 300-Baud Bally BASIC program can be loaded into BASIC using the 300-Baud tape interface code.
  • Letter to Bob Fabris, from John Sweeney (January 22, 1979) - John requests Executive Software by Tom Wood because he is trying to write an assembler for the Bally Arcade. This is very early in the Bally Arcade's history to be working on something like this. There is no evidence that this assembler was created, but General Video Assembler (which required a RAM expansion) was eventually written and released on tape in 1982 by Dave Ibach and Steve Walters (General Video). Dave used this assembler to write his centipede-inspired, cartridge game, Sneaky Snake. John talks about safe places for assembly code in Bally BASIC (he uses the editor/buffer). He recommends some articles/books for Tiny BASIC information.
  • General Video Assembler with Examples (Programs) - By General Video. The General Video Assembler is made-up of four programs which include: General Video Assembler Collector, General Video Assembler Pass I, General Video Assembler Pass II, and General Video Assembler Text Editor. Also included are sample programs (both as assembler code and in their final assembled form), Flying Witch Sample, Logo Sample. This 2000-Baud "tape" runs from "AstroBASIC and it requires extra RAM.
  • General Video Assembler (Docs) - By General Video. Written by Dave Ibach. Documentation for a Z80 assembler that runs on the RAM-expanded Bally Arcade.

End-Show Music


Jul 26, 2016

Episode 3 of the Bally Alley Astrocast covers the cartridge game Crazy Climber and the BASIC game (released on tape) Missile Defense. Chris and I discuss what we've been up to lately. Arcadian newsletter issues 1 and 2 (November and December 1978) are covered in detail.  We discuss a bit of feedback. Chris, Paul and I go discuss the very first ad for the Bally Home Library computer (from September 1977). I read from a few letters that JS&A (the mail order company that originally sold the Bally Home Library Computer) sent to customers. The show ends with a one-minute rendition of the Happy Days theme song.

Recurring Links 


Cartridge Review - Crazy Climber

Tape Review - Missile Defense 

JS&A's First Ad for the Ballly Home Library Computer

Arcadian Newsletter 

  • Arcadian 1, no. 1 (Nov. 6, 1978): 1-8. - The first issue of the Arcadian newsletter.
  • Arcadian 1, no. 2 (Dec. 4, 1978): 9-16. - The second issue of the Arcadian newsletter.
  • Music-Cade by Ed Horger - In the Arcadian segment, a "Toy Organ Keyboard" is mentioned. I remembered this previously unpublished article form the Bob Fabris Collection. It contains suggestions, ideas and methods on how to hook up a music keyboard to a Bally Arcade/Astrocade. Includes a machine language 3-voice music program.
  • Blue Ram Modem Interface Owner's Manual (with optional Printer Port) - An add-on for the Blue Ram unit that allowed the addition of a modem and printer. The Blue Ram Utility was used to control the modem.
  • Chessette by Craig Anderson - A two-player chess game written in Bally BASIC. Published in Cursor 2, no. 4 (November 1980): 74-75.
  • Connecting a Printer to the Bally Tape Interface - "The Bally BASIC audio cassette interface was originally designed to have a third 1/8" jack into which a printer could be plugged." The Bally BASIC Hacker's Guide by Jay Fenton, published in about 1979, gives the required details on how to modify the interface for use with a printer. The finished modification provides a TTL level RS232 standard ASCII at 300 baud.
  • Keyboard Attachment - Basic instructions and schematic on how to hook up a Jameco 610 keyboard to the Bally tape interface (Arcadian 2, no. 8 (Jun. 23, 1980): 69.)
  • Blue Ram Keyboard Owner's Manual - These are directions on how to assemble the Blue Ram Keyboard.
  • 3x5 Character Set Review - This article is by Al Rathmell. It was submitted to the Arcadian newsletter on September 15, 1982.
  • Arcadian RDOS 1.0 by Stu Haigh - This is a CP/M compatible resident Disk Operating System written in 1980. This code is designed to interface into the Cromemco software system and is provided with an autoload feature that will load track zero, sector zero of Drive A starting at RAM location 0080. Control will then be passed to the just loaded code at location 0080. The code uses a 5501 as a COM. controller and a 1771 Flex Disk controller. It will support four 5 1/4", or two 5 1/4" and one 9", or two 9" disk drives.
  • Three Voice Music with Bally BASIC - Article by George Moses and program (probably by George Moses and Brett Bilbrey) from the "AstroBASIC" manual.
  • Game Over Tutorial by Tom Wood - This tutorial, from January 1979, provides a machine language subroutine usable to BASIC users so that they can print "GAME OVER" in large letters on the screen using a subroutine that is built into the Bally's 8K System ROM.
  • BASIC Zgrass--A Sophisticated Graphics Language for the Bally home Library Computer - Article by Tom DeFanti, Jay Fenton, and Nola Donato. Published in Computer Graphics, 12, no. 3, (August 1978): 33-37.
  • ZGRASS Documentation - Various documentation on ZGRASS, including the user's manuals.
  • Bally On-Board ROM Subroutines - Originally called Executive Software Description and submitted to the Arcadian by Tom Wood on October 7, 1978. This was later republished by the Cursor newsletter without credit being given to Tom Wood. This booklet explains what the On-Board ROM routines do that are built into the Bally Arcade/Astrocade 8K ROM. This manual is used as a reference for BASIC programmers so that they can save a few bytes when programming and also take advantage of the faster routines that machine language offers.
  • Peek 'n Poke Manual by Brett Bilbrey - An introduction to Astrocade machine language programming in Bally BASIC. Although the manual doesn't credit Brett Bilbrey, he gave all this information in 1980 to Fred Cornett of the "Cursor Group."
  • Bally Videocade Cassettes Catalog - This catalog contains these 13 cartridges, including some that were not released.

Classic Letters from JS&A National Sales Group 

  • February 28, 1978 letter to JS&A Customer - From William Mitchell; JS&A National Sales Group; Marketing Director. "Enclosed you will find your Bally Home Library Computer." JS&A urges their customers to order the add-on soon to receive free items such as a modem and diagnostic cartridge.
  • October 11, 1978 letter to JS&A Customer - From William Mitchell. "We trust you have your Bally Home Library Computer and have found it quite satisfactory." JS&A asks their customers if they want to wait for the Bally add-on module.
  • October 19, 1978 letter to JS&A Customer (Robert Simpson) - From William Mitchell. "As you are well aware, there has been a delay in the shipment of your Bally unit. The delays have been caused by almost every problem imaginable and have lasted almost one year now."

End-Show Music 

Jul 1, 2016

Episode 2 of the Bally Alley Astrocast covers the cartridge game Red Baron/Panzer Attack and the BASIC game (released on tape) Castle of Horror.  Issues 3-5 (from June to October 1978) of the Arcadians newsletter are covered in detail.  We also discuss: news, feedback, a few classic letters to the Arcadian from Ernie Sams (who discusses JS&A, the company that originally sold the Astrocade) and Richard Belton (who covers the Maryland User Group).  Finally, there is an interview with Ward Shrake, who created multicarts for several systems, including one for the Bally Arcade/Astrocade.


Recurring Links


Cartridge Review - Red Baron/Panzer Attack


Tape Review - Castle of Horror






Arcadians Newsletter


Classic Letters


Maryland User Group


Ward Shrake Interview


End-Show Music

Jun 17, 2016

Episode 1 of the Bally Alley Astrocast covers the two built-in games Gunfight and Checkmate.  The first two issues of the Arcadians newsletter (from April and May 1978) are covered in detail.  Also discussed are the recent additions to the website, news and much more Bally Arcade goodness!

Recurring Links

Game Reviews


Arcadians Newsletter

What's New on

End-Show Music






Jun 3, 2016

The show's two hosts discuss what will be covered in future episodes of the Bally Alley Astrocast.

Recurring links: - Bally Arcade / Astrocade Website

What's New at

Orphaned Computers & Game Systems Website

Bally Alley Yahoo Discussion Group

Bally Arcade / Astrocade Atari Age Sub-forum

Bally Arcade/Astrocade High Score Club

Episode Links:

Bally Arcade / Astrocade FAQ

Bally Software Downloads - Cassette TapesAudio Recordings from Bob Fabris Collection

Arcadian Newsletter

Software and Hardware for the Bally Arcade - A Technical Description

Picture of the Crazy Climber homebrew cartridge

Picture of the War homebrew cartridge

ZGRASS Documentation

Arcade Games Based on the Astrocade Chipset

Gorf Arcade Game

Seawolf II Arcade Game

Space Zap Arcade Game

Wizard of Wor Arcade Game

Full Bally Alley Astrocast - Episode 0 Transcription

Adam: Hi, everybody.  My name's Adam Trionfo, otherwise known as BallyAlley on the AtariAge forums.  And I'm here with...

Chris: Chris, otherwise known as "Chris."

Adam: And you're listening to the zero-ith episode of Bally Alley Astrocast.  See, I barely know the name of it yet.

Chris: I think me and Adam believe that we thought up the name Astrocast ourselves, and we came to find out that there had already been one, it just hadn't been started. And I guess it was Rick and Willy (I think it was only those two).

Adam: Yup.

Chris: And, it kinda sat there for a year.  Hopefully they will be contributing to Adam's podcast here.

Adam: I don't think of this as "Adam's podcast." (And I just used finger-quotes, sorry about that.)  This is our podcast.  Chris and I are recording this right now.  Also, Paul Thacker, who is a regular of the Bally Alley Yahoo group (which we can talk about at a later time).  We're hopefully going to do this together at some point.  I wanna sound natural as possible for this podcast.  So, I'm trying to not read anything off a piece of paper.  I don't like the sound of my voice, and the fact that I'm letting you hear it means that I love you guys.

Chris: It's a great level of trust he's exhibiting, you guys.  Plus, I would immediately take his script away from him if he had one because...

Adam: Oh, thanks, Chris!

Chris: Yeah.  Extemporaneous is more fun to do, and I think it's more fun to listen to.

Adam: So, in saying that, we do have some notes we wanna talk about. For this episode we wanna basically go over what we want to cover.  Which is what people seem to do in these episodes.  Saying, "Hey, there's gonna to be an episode of a podcast called 'this'."  And, that's what we're doing here.  So, here's what we're going in our podcast number zero.

Chris: It was always funny to me, like oxymoron, like: episode number zero.

Adam: Right.  Right.

Chris: Let's go negative one.  Let's be rebels.

Adam: You may or may not know what a Bally Arcade, or an Astrocade, is.  It was a console that was developed in about 1977.  It was released in 1977, but the first units were not actually shipped, for various reasons, until January 1978.  And very few people got them.  They were first released by catalog-only, by a company called JS&A.  Those systems had overheating problems.  Most of them were returned-- or many of them were returned.  JS&A only sold approximately 5,000 units (so it says on the Internet).  I don't know where that number is quoted from.  I've never been able to find the source.  Bally eventually started selling them through Montgomery Ward.  Now, Bally also had something called the Zgrass that it wanted to release.  This was going to be expanding the unit into a full-fledged computer.  This never was released.  The Bally system itself did not come with BASIC, but it was available nearly from the start.  Many people used it.  A newsletter formed around it called the ARCADIAN.  The system has 4K of RAM and it does not use sprites, but it could move object just as well as the Atari [VCS] and other systems of its time period.  It could show 256 separate colors and through tricks and machine language, it could show all of them on the screen at once, but not normally in a game.  Although there are a few screens that did it (but not actively during a game).  The system is fun to play... if you can find one that works.  If you don't already have one, you're going to discover (if you go searching for one) they're not inexpensive.  They're becoming pricey on the Internet because of the overheating problems they had, since the beginning (with the data chip), you will find that if you own [should have said buy] one now, you're getting a unit that "has not been tested," which means, of course, it is broken.  If you find one on the Internet that says, "Not tested," please, do not buy it.  Just let it stay there and let someone else buy it.  And, when they get it and it doesn't work, if they're surprised then they did not read the "Bally/Astrocade FAQ."  We'll go into much greater depth about this system in the next episode.  I just wanted to let you know that's the system we'll be talking about.  It has a 24-key number pad.  It has a controller that is-- is it unique?  Well, I think it's unique.

Chris.  Um-hum.

Adam: It has a paddle built into the top knob.  It's a knob-- it's called.  And it has a joystick-- an eight-directional joystick.  It's built like a gun controller-style pistol.  It's called a "pistol grip."  It's sorta shaped like one, if you picture a classic arcade-style gun, and then just cut off the barrel.  That's basically what you have.  Something that was originally mentioned, and I think Bally might have called it that for two years, are Videocades.  Videocades are the cartridges.  These were actually also referred to as cassettes.  These are not tapes.  These are about the size of a tape, but they are ROM cartridges.  In the beginning they held 2K and later on they held 4K for Bally.  Astrovision, or Astrocade, Inc., later released some 8K games in about 1982.  Those were usually considered the best games on the system because they had more ROM to spare and to put more features into the games.  Now, BASIC was available from about the third or the fourth month after the system was released to the public.  It was originally called BALLY BASIC.  It did not come with a tape interface, but one was available for it.  BALLY BASIC cost approximately $50.  The tape interface, which could allow the user to record at 300-baud... which is pretty slow.  To fill the 1.8K of RAM, which is available to BASIC, would take about four minutes to load a complete program.  Better than retyping it every time, isn't it?  But, it's not a great speed.  Later on, the system (when it was rereleased), it actually came with BASIC.  It was still called BALLY BASIC, but today to differentiate it from the original BASIC cartridge, most people call it ASTROCADE BASIC or AstroBASIC.  The reason for this is the later BASIC has a tape interface built into the cartridge itself.  This can record and playback information at 2000-baud, which is an odd number because it's not a multiple of 300.  Because when 300-baud tapes were speeded up by a newer format later, they were 1800-baud.  Tapes were available, which meant the user community was able to grow because they could share programs.  It was sometimes a problem for them because I could record a program on my tape drive and I could send it to you in the mail.  And you'd say, "It's not loading.  It's not loading!"  Well, you'd sometimes have to adjust your read and write heads to match it.  Imagine having to do that today?  To having to... uh, I wouldn't want to think about doing it.  So, even if you can believe it, with that kind of an issue, with users having to adjust their tape systems in order to load programs sometimes, there were commercially released tapes.  These have been archived and are available and you can download them from

Chris: So, the play and record head on anybody's tape recorder... there was the possibility that it had to be adjusted to play a tape his buddy had sent him because he had a tape recorder with differently aligned play and record heads in it-- I mean, that's something else!

Adam: Now, the recorders that were normally used were called shoebox recorders.  These were recommended.  If you tried to record to a home stereo, maybe Chris can understand this better and tell me more about it in a later episode, but you really couldn't record to one and then get that information back.  I'm not sure why.  But, the lower quality that was available from the low-end tapes that were less expensive were actually better.  Just like there were better audio tapes available, which you should not have used for data because... because, I don't know why!  So, ideal podcast length.  In my mind I see about an hour, or an hour and a half.  While I listen to many podcasts, among them Intellivisionaries (and others) that are not short.  And, as has been discussed on the Intellivisionaries, there's a pause button.  So, if somehow we do end up at five hours, please understand that there is a pause button.  If we end up less, you don't need to use the pause button.  Isn't that great?  Technology... right?

Chris:  Well, a very good idea that you had was obviously to conduct interviews with some, I guess, what, Bally game writers, people who are really knowledgeable about it.

Adam: Well, there's quite a few people I'd like to interview.  If we can find people from the 70s and the 80s, and even now, there's some people who have written some modern games-- at least written some programs for the system.

Chris: It would help if they're still around. Yeah.

Adam: Something that's interesting, that I wanna use, is that there's actually recorded interviews that we have from the early 80s and late 70s of phone conversations that Bob Fabris did (from the ARCADIAN publisher).  There was a newsletter called the ARCADIAN and it published for seven years (from 1978 to 1984 or 85, depending on how you view things a bit).  He recorded some conversations with some of the more prominent people of the time.

Chris: That's cool!

Adam: We've made WAV files of those or FLAC files and they're available for download (or many of them are already) from BallyAlley.  But, it might be interesting to take out snippets from some of those and put them in the show.  I hadn't thought of that before, but that's why we're going over this.

Chris: Yeah.  Absolutely.

Adam: Right.

Chris: That's really cool.  We say Bally Astrocade, like we say Atari 2600, but it was never actually called the Astrocade when Bally owned it.

Adam: Not when Bally owned it; no.  But after it was resold they had the right to use the name Bally for one year.

Chris: Oh.

Adam: And Astrovision did do that.  So, for a short time, for one year, it was known as the Bally Astrocade.  And it actually was called that.

Chris:  Oh.  Okay.

Adam:  But, somehow that name has stuck.  And that is what the name is called.  And many people think it was called that from the beginning.  It was originally released under a few different names, which we'll get into at a later date.  I think of it... I like to think of it as the Bally Arcade/Astrocade.

Chris: Yeah.

Adam: It depends on how you look at it.  Sometimes I go with either.  Sometimes I go with both.  Sometimes I call it the Bally Library Computer.  It just on how I'm feeling at the time.  So, we also don't plan to pre-write episodes.  You might have noticed that by now.  We do have a list that we're going by, and we do wanna use notes, but reading from a script is not what I wanna do.  I don't want to sound dry and humorless.  I like to have Chris here making fun of me-- well, maybe not making fun of me, but, you know, Chris here... helping me along to give me moral support.  And I enjoy that I'll be doing this with him, and hopefully Paul as well.

Chris:  It is strange for you and I to sit around talking about old videogames.

Adam: Oh... isn't it!  Isn't it though!

Chris: [Laughing]  Some of the sections that Adam has come up with are really interesting.  They sound like a lot of fun.  And what's cool is that they are necessarily unique to a podcast about the Bally console.  For instance, we were talking about the ARCADIAN newsletter.  There's going to be a segment-- it will probably be every episode because there is a LOT of source material.  This segment will delve into ARCADIAN notes and letters that did not make it into the published newsletter.  It's kind of a time capsule.  In some ways it will be fascinating even for people who don't know a lot about the Bally Astrocade because what you're getting is correspondence from the 70s and 80s, before anybody really knew what was gonna happen with the 8-bit era, you know?

Adam: There's material in the archives.  All of this material is from Bob Fabris.  He was the editor or the ARCADIAN.  Two people, Paul Thacker and I, we bought that collection from an individual who had bought it in the early 2000s directly from Bob.  It was never broken up, so it's all together in about eight boxes-- large boxes-- all in different folders.  Bob Fabris kept a really, really detailed collection and in great order.  He kept it in that shape from 1978 until, what?, about 2001 or 2002 when he sold it.

Chris: Wow.

Adam: So the fact that it survived and then someone else bought it and didn't want to break it up and sell it is pretty amazing to me.  We were able to pool our funds together, Paul and I, and purchase it.  All of it has been scanned.  Not all of it is available.  Oh, and by the way, BallyAlley, in case there are some listeners who don't know... BallyAlley is a website that I put together.  It's mostly from the archives of the ARACADIAN.  But, there's a lot, a LOT, of interesting material there.  If you're interested in the Bally Arcade, you should check it out.  It's

Chris: Adam is being kinda modest.  He's done a lot of work on this.  You're gonna find archived materials that will make your eyeballs pop out of your head.

Adam: [Laughing]

Chris: You know, he's...

Adam: If you saw Chris, then you'd know that's true.

Chris:  Yes.  Absolutely.  I'm recording blind.  You know, he's very picky about high quality scans (as high as possible only).  He's vey meticulous about it.  And I definitely recommend that you guys visit BallyAlley period com.  I know it's a lost battle; humor me.  They're not dots.  All right... anyway.

Adam: All right.  Cartridge reviews.  The Bally Arcade... it has a lot of perks, one of them is not it's huge library of games.  I take that back.  It has a huge library of games.  Many of them, as some people may not even know who are listening to this, were released on tapes.  But the vast majority of games, that people would think of as the console games, are cartridges.  The Bally could "see" 8K at once.  It didn't have to bankswitch or anything like that in order to do that.  There was never a bankswitching cartridge that was released for the Bally.  At least at that time.  Since the library is so small, I'm not sure if we're planning to cover a game per episode, or since we plan to cover all of the games (and there are certainly less than fifty, if you include prototypes) and some of them are not games.  Some of them were... BIORHYTHM, so that you could know when it would be a good time to get it on with your wife to have a baby.  You know... [laughing] So, if that's what you wanna talk about and listen to... write us and say, "That's sounds great.  I want you to tell me when I can get my wife pregnant." [laughing]  The other day my wife was taking a look at a game I was playing for a competing console, the Atari 8-bit game system.

Chris: I thought you were gonna say the Arcadia.

Adam: No, not the Arcadia.  I was playing a SUPER BREAKOUT clone.  She took a look at it and didn't know what it was.  I said, "You know, it's a BREAKOUT clone."  She's like, "I don't know what that is."  I said, "No.  Look at the game for a minute.  It looks like BREAKOUT."  And she still didn't get it.  And I said, "Okay, so you're gonna have a ball that bounces off a paddle and it's gonna hit the bricks up above."  And she goes, "I've never seen this before."  And I said, "Okay.  You've heard of PONG, right?"  She's like, "Well, yes I've heard of PONG."  I said, "It's that."

Chris: [Laughing] It's that... except better.  Between you and all of the people you're in contact with from the Bally era, and people like Paul.  People who actually wrote games back then...

Adam: Um-hum.

Chris: Information about how the console works and its languages and stuff... is that pretty-much taken care of, or are there more mysteries to be solved.

Adam: There's some mysteries.  The neat thing about this system was that even in the ARCADIAN, in the early issues, you could get access, for like $30, to the photocopies that were used at Nutting Associates.  These are the people who actually designed the Bally system for Bally.  They did arcade games-- we'll go more into that in another episode.  This information was available to subscribers... almost from the get-go.  So, if you wanted to have a source listing of the 8K ROM, you could get it.  Of course, it came with a "Do Not Replicate" on every single page, but... it was... you were allowed to get it.  You could purchase it.  It was freely available and it was encouraged for users to use this information to learn about the system.

Chris:  The reason I ask is that I'm wondering what the next step is.  Whenever I think of this console... do people refer to it as a console or a computer, by and large?

Adam: A game system in my eyes.  I mean, it's a console.  People don't think of it as a computer.  No.

Chris:  I'll start over.  Whenever I think about this system, what usually comes to mind is the fact that it is unexploited.  And that is perhaps the, not quite an elephant in the room, but that is the only real disappointment about the Astrocade is that there are these amazing, vivid, brilliant, games.  I mean, the arcade conversations on the Astrocade are, for all intents and purposes, arcade perfect.  This was a superior machine.  And yet, players were teased with a handful of astonishing games and then that was it.  So, "what could have been," comes to mind for me a lot.  And the phrase tragically untapped.  What I'm wondering is why nobody has brought up the initiative of making new games.  The last two were arcade conversations.  They were not original, but they are, of course, phenomenal.  I mean, two of the best titles, you know are WAR (which is a conversion of WORLORDS) and, of course, CRAZY CLIMBER.  You were in charge of all the packaging and EPROM burning for those.  I'm not saying...

Adam:  Partially.  Partially.  For all of one of them I was, but the other one was handled by a man name Ken Lill.  I did... I came up with the package design and stuff like that, and made a lot to make it happen.  But, I didn't program the games.  No.

Chris:  Right.  But I mean, somebody else did the coding, but didn't you have all the cartridge shells.  And you were burning...

Adam:  I made sure it all happened.

Chris:  Okay.

Adam:  Yeah.  I mean, I didn't do all the work though.

Chris:  Okay.

Adam: It helped that I was there.  Put it that way.

Chris:  We're talking about CRAZY CLIMBER, mainly, right?  Because you helped with WAR as well.

Adam: Yeah.  I did both.  Yeah.

Chris.  Okay.

Adam:  Um-hum.

Chris:  And you wrote some of the back of the box copy.

Adam:  I did all of that.  Yeah.

Chris:  As expensive and limited as such a run would be, that's not really quite what I'm talking about.  As having to go through all that to give people physical, boxes copies, I guess.  Another reason why people might not have written anymore Astrocade games is that the relatively few surviving consoles could be prone to overheating themselves to death at any time.  But, then there's emulation.

Adam: Right.

Chris:  MESS is all that we have, and it's not perfect.  So, wouldn't that be the first step for somebody to write a really good Astrocade emulator?  I would do it, if I knew how.

Adam: Yes.  If there's one of you out there who's like, "Who couldn't write an Astrocade emulator?"

Chris: Yes.

Adam:  Please, would you do me a favor and send that to me tomorrow?

Chris:  It's time.  ...Tomorrow... [laughing]

Adam: Something that I wanna get at is that MESS does work for most games.  There are a few that don't work.  Some of them used to work and now they're broken.  MESS was updated to make it "better," and now some games don't work.  I don't understand why that happened.  The biggest drawback to MESS is that is doesn't support the tape.  It doesn't support-- it supports BASIC, but you can't save or load programs.  And since they're hundreds... there's probably over 500 programs available.  And there's... many, many of those have already been archived and put on  So you can try them out on a real system, but not under emulation.  And it's quite easy to use under real hardware.  We'll get into that at another time too.

Chris: In terms of cartridge reviews.  And I'm only going to say this once.  Thanks, by the way, for saying that this is our podcast

Adam: Sure.

Chris:  I thought I was just being a guest.  

Adam:  No.  No... you're just a gas.

Chris:  I'm just a gas.  So, should I help you pay for the the Libsyn?

Adam: I think we'll be okay.

Chris: All right.

Adam: All of our users are going to send donations every month.

Chris:  Oh, that's right.

Adam: [Laughing] Just kidding there, guys.

Chris:  So, I'm just going to say this once.  And you're welcome.  Review is a word I have a problem with when it comes to my own, well, stuff I write.  But now, apparently, stuff I talk about.  Because I associate the word review with critics.  I think I was telling you the other day, Adam...

Adam:  Yes, you were.

Chris:  I would never hit such a low level of self-loathing that I would ever call myself a critic.  Talk about a useless bunch.  For me they'll be overviews.  It's very picky.  Very subjective.  It has nothing to do with anybody else.  You wanna consider yourself reviews-- totally respect that-- but I don't do reviews.  So, either that, or I'm in some sort of really intense denial.  But, personal reflections on games, reviews leaves out... when you call something a review, it leaves out the fact that taste is subjective.  It's a personal thing.  I can't review food for you and have you think, "Oh, now I like that food I used to hate."  One's tastes in games, music, etcetera is just as personal.  So, Adam was saying that there's so few of them, that we're not going to cover a game every episode.  So, what we're going to do is alternate, so that you don't go completely without game "content" (isn't that a buzzword, a frequent word online now: "content").

Adam:  That is.  Yeah.

Chris:  Everybody wants content.  I gotta table of contents for ya.  We're going to alternate actual commercial cartridge games with commercially available tape games and even type-in programs, because there were a lot of good ones.

Adam: Most of them were written in BASIC.

Chris:  Which is just awesome to me.

Adam:  Yeah.

Chris:  We were thinking of alternating the games stuff I was just talking about with this:

Adam:  The Astrocade system, well, the Bally Arcade system, as it was originally designed for home use, it had two versions.  There was an arcade version, which came out in 1978 with the first game, Sea Wolf II in the arcades. And there was the version that was released for the home.  It had 4K of RAM, while the version in the arcades had 16K (and some additional support), but they use the same hardware (like the data chip). They're so similar in fact, that many of the systems games were brought home as cartridges.  They don't use the same code.  They are not-- you can't run code for the arcade and vice-versa.  You can, for instance, take a Gorf and run Gorf on Wizard of Wor hardware.  It'll look the wrong direction, but you can do that.  The systems are very similar in that respect.  But, you can actually take an Astrocade (and it has been done before) that is a 4K unit, and actually do some fiddling with it, change the ROM a bit, give it more RAM (there's more that you have to do)-- there's actually an article about it, it was written in-depth (it's available on BallyAlley, the website).  And you can make it into an arcade unit.  It wouldn't be able to play the arcade games, but it would have access to 16K of RAM and that sort of thing.

Chris:  When you say Sea Wolf II, you mean the arcade game was running this hardware that you're talking about.

Adam:  Right.

Chris: Much of which was also in the console.

Adam:  Yes.

Chris:  Okay.  And that goes for WIZARD OF WOR, GORF, SPACE ZAP.  Well, that explains why there are so many arcade perfect home versions.

Adam.  Um.  Right.  They don't share the same code, but they are very similar.  The Hi-Res machine could display, in what was considered then a high resolution.  The Bally display in 1/4 of that resolution.  I think perhaps will have the first episode cover specifically the hardware of the astrocade.

Chris: So, you are saying that this segment would cover the arcade games that used the astrocade hardware, and I find that really, really interesting (because I never knew that).  I thought that they were just, you know, very similar and some of the same people created the home versions, but I didn't realize that... I never realized they were so close.

Adam: So, another segment that we plan to do is called, "What the Heck?!?"  It's going to focus on unusual hardware and maybe even released items, but something that, while it was released through the Arcadian newsletter or perhaps the Cursor newsletter (and maybe even one of the other small newsletters that were around for a short time for this system exclusively).  When we're talking about a released product here, we are probably talking about in the tens-- the twenties.  I mean, new homebrew games get a wider release than games that are considered released back then.  Maybe not the games, but hardware peripherals.  There was something called the Computer Ear which could do voice recognition-- sort of.  But the software for that isn't available, I don't think… maybe it is.  I have the hardware, but I've never tried running before.

Chris:  We're also gonna-- I say "we," even though Adam's knowledge about, well pretty-much all of this stuff is much greater than mine, hoping to cover the Zgrass keyboard/computer.  Is that a fair description?

Adam:  Yeah.  That's what you would read on the Internet about it.  And if you can call that true, then that's what it is.

Chris:  Right.  And not just on the WikiRumor page.

Adam:  Yeah.

Chris:  It's a very unusual system and it's worth learning about.  See, you don't hear about any of this stuff anywhere else and that's what's really cool about this podcast.  Everything you've got archived, everything you've learned, you just never read about it back then, you know?

Adam:  It was available to read about, but not in the normal sources that people read about the Astrocade.  Which would have been Electronic Games and some of the other computing magazines at the time.  But they didn't talk about, I mean, it was mentioned briefly... but only as a product that was supposed to come out.  But, in a way, ZGrass did come out.  The product, the language, ZGRASS, was available.  There was a hardware system, a computer (which could cost upwards of $10,000) that used some of the custom chips that were available in the Astrocade.  It was called the UV-1.  It was-- I'll get more into that when I cover the Zgrass system in some future episode, which is why we're talking about it here.  I would like to discover more about it.  I wanna learn.  I want-- I don't think I can use it, because it has not been archived.  But, the documentation is available on BallyAlley.  I have that.  Maybe I'll go through that a little bit.  It was... something to learn about and share...

Chris:  Yeah.  Really cool.

Adam:  It's all about sharing, man.  And caring.  Okay.  The Bally Arcade and Astrocade history.  History of the month is something that we are going to have.  It's going to start with the "Arcadians" #1, which was the first available newsletter.  The "Arcadians" was a newsletter that published for just four issues.  And it was published-- and it was only two pages.  The first one, I think, was only front and back.  Then, I think, maybe the next one was four pages, but that was only two pages front and back.  It was really just a round-robin letter.  It predates the "Arcadian."  It was only available to a few people.  These have been archived.  You can read them online.  I'm gonna start there.  As soon as BASIC was released, it took a few months after the Astrocade came out (excuse me, before the Bally Arcade came out).  Once that system came out with Bally BASIC (which required a separate BASIC interface so that you could record to tape), then Bob Fabris, the editor, said, "We've got something we can explore together.  Let's do this.  Let's pool our resources and come up with a way to share information.  That was what they were all about.  They did this very early on.  That's something that interests me greatly about the system, and I want to be able to share that and compare it with knowledge of other systems that were out at the time.

Chris:  That's really cool.  I mean, it's one of the earliest systems of any kind, that I know of, that actually did have a community.  You know, that were really trying to goad each other into doing new things and write programs and stuff like that.  I mean, I can't imagine there was an Altair community.  I'm trying to...

Adam: There was an Altair community.

Chris:  Oh.  Well, but they were all very rich.  And they had a lot of time on their hands!

Adam:  ...those switches, right?

Chris:  I hope that you're gonna to do a "What's New on Bally Alley" I know I keep going on about this, but that is just an amazing website to me.  You do a lot of updates to it, so when you do add new things to the BallyAlley website.  And, who knows, maybe this will give you a reason to add more things to the website.

Adam:  It could.  The website isn't updated very frequently.  I have great intentions, everyone.  So, if you've been wanting to see updates, give me some motivation to do some.  I don't mean send me money.  We, as the two of us (and other people on the Yahoo group), we do like to BS about the system.  But, there's so much information in my archives, and there are only a few people who share it with me.  Basically, two other people.  We're thinking about putting it up on, but some of it is kind of-- I think it should, might remain hidden from viewers, even though it might be archived there.  Because, it's personal letters that, I think, probably shouldn't be shared.  Because, there's personal information there.  I mean, when I got the collection, there was actually checks still that were un-cashed in it that were written in the 70s.

Chris:  Wow!

Adam:  Those kind of things I did not scan.  Because I was like… what? [sounds of exasperation and/or confusion], it was very strange to me.  They are un-canceled, unused checks out there in some boxes that were people subscribing to the newsletter.  I'm not sure why he didn't cash the checks, but... they're there!

Chris:  So you could have them in the archive, I guess.

Adam:  Right.  But I don't think I wanna-- I don't think that sort of information should be shared.

Chris:  Oh, I agree.  But, you know, I mean back then a dollar, back then, was the equivalent of fifty grand today.  Don't you love it when people say stuff like that?  It's like... well, you're going a little overboard.

Adam:  Right.  [Laughing]  We had to walk up and down the hill both ways...

Chris: Both ways!

Adam: the snow.  Pick up the coal from between the tracks.

Chris:  Any Cosby reference, I'm on!  What I'm hoping... do you think that Paul is going to take part in some way in this first episode?

Adam:  I would like him to.  If we take a long time, then probably.

Chris:  Well, I'm hoping we're going to hear a lot from Paul Thacker.

Adam:  Paul Thacker, he will definitely join us, at least, for the... if he can't make it into this zero episode, he will be in for the first one.  He's a good guy.  He has helped me-- more than helped me!-- he has... he is in control of archiving tapes.  That is his department.  After I wasn't really updating the site too much anymore (I actually had even pulled away from it), in about 2006, Paul Thacker came forward and he introduced himself to me through an email.  He said he would like to help with archiving tapes.  And... he really, really has.  He's the leader in that department.  He has contacted people to make archiving programs possible.  He has followed up with people with large collections.  He has archived them.  Not all of it is available on the website yet, but it is... it has been done.  They're truly archived.  And, what's neat about Paul he has tapes that were available between users.  If you're familiar with growing up with these old systems, you might have had a computer like an Atari 800 or a Commodore 64.  Maybe you had some tapes that you recorded to (or disks).  You would write a "Game Number 1."   And then that was what you'd name the program-- even if the program was a type-in from a "Compute!" magazine or an "Antic" magazine.

Chris:  Oh, you would save it as "Game Number 1"

Adam:  This is how these tapes were.  People would write one program on it... maybe, maybe even give it a clueless name, that meant nothing to either Paul or I.  Paul would record the whole side.  Paul would go through and say, "What's on here?"  Paul would find a program.  Paul would find SIX different versions of that program!  Paul would find programs that had been halfway recorded over.  Paul made sure to archive all of that, separately (and as efficiently as possible), document it.  So, something I want to cover... there are so many topics... I should back up here, and I should say that there are a lot of topics available to anyone who is starting a podcast.  Something that has to be zeroed in on (and that's not supposed to be a pun on the zero episode) is that you have to choose.  You have to narrow.  You have to focus.  I am no good at that.  I am not good at that... I can't do it.

Chris:  How many fingers am I holding up?

Adam:  Chris is holding up a finger, and I'm supposed to see one.  And I'm hoping that is what he was doing-- and not giving me the finger.

Chris: [Laughing]

Adam:  So, I would like to cover the ancestry of the Bally Arcade.  Something that came up and about 2001, perhaps 2002, is someone named Tony Miller, who was responsible for working on the Bally Arcade when it was created, mentioned that the Bally Arcade's chipset is actually a direct descendent of "Space Invaders" arcade game's... the CPU for "Gun Fight".  Or something to that affect.  I didn't understand it then, I might be able to understand it better if I find those exact posts (which are definitely archived).  Now, "Gun Fight" used the Intel 8080 CPU, which is why the Astrocade uses the Z80.  Because it's compatible... sort of.  The Z80 can run 8080 but not the other way around.  As you can see, my knowledge of all of this is completely limited.  What I just told you, is pretty much what I know.  There's obviously a story there.  If I could find people to interview, if I can dig into this, there is a GOOD story there.  And I would like to discover it and present it.

Chris:  Yeah, 'cause that would mean Taito took some technical influence from Midway.  Because it was Midway that added a CPU, at all, to "Gun Fight," right?  So... that's pretty interesting.

Adam:  We'll find out, Chris.

Chris:  Yeah.  So, I've already talked about writing new games as the next logical step once one has a lot of information about any game system, or any computer (or anything like that).  So, are we going to encourage activity in the homebrew Astrocade scene?  Because, there is a latent one there.  You should definitely cover the two released games that we've already talked about: WAR and CRAZY CLIMBER.  Those were pretty big deals.  The first new Astrocade game since... what?... 1985-ish?  I mean, on cartridge...

Adam:  It depends on how you look at it.  There were actually some people in the community, who were just sending cartridges back and forth to each other, who were sharing code in the 80s.  They're not considered released cartridges.  Something that is available to the public… yes.

Chris:  In terms of talking about homebrew programming, you can also talk about people who just play around with this system, or even interview them.  What do you find interesting about the…

Adam:  Yeah.  I would like to do interviews with people who actually have a lot of experience with the system and maybe grew up with it, which I did not do.  I didn't learn about it until... the 90s.  About homebrew programming: I believe, and I would love to make you guys believe, that homebrew programming did not start in the 90s.  I would like to let you know that homebrew programming has been around since 1975 (in my eyes) and earlier.  The very, very first PCs, and by that I mean "Personal Computers," not "IBM Personal Computers," (alright?)... these systems were programmed in people's living rooms, in people's kitchens.  If that is not homebrew programming, I don't know what is.

Chris:  Right.

Adam:  These people were learning for the sake of learning.  They were playing for the sake of the experience of touching the hardware, learning the software-- they weren't doing this for work, they were doing this for pleasure.  This is the same exact reason people are homebrewing games today.  They were doing this back then.  An insight that you get to see very clearly is in the in the "Arcadian" newsletters, and in the "Cursor" newsletters as well, is people want to teach other people.  They are about sharing.  They are about, "Hey I wrote this.  This is great.  You guys should type it in and try it out... and if you find out anything about it, let me know what you think.  If you can add something to it… if you can cut off six bytes and add a sound effect, please do that, because there's no sound."  These people wanted to help each other, and through that it is available in archives, and we can look at this and learn today.  I would like to have that happen, so that people of today, people who have the knowledge, have modern computers that can cross-compile and create new games-- that would be neat... to me.

Chris:  Yeah.

Adam:  It has been neat, went two have been released already.  But, even if new games don't get created, what about MESS?  Let's make that better.

Chris:  Before we go any further, I think you should "share" your email address so that you get feedback.

Adam:  My name is Adam, and you can reach me at

Chris:  You can private message me on AtariAge.  I'm chris++.

Adam:  Now we expect to get loads of email.  We are gonna be clogged.  We're going to have to have the first episode be nothing but reader feedback.

Chris:  I'm telling ya, we really got a good thing going, so you better hang on to yourself.

Adam:  [Laughing]

Chris:  That's a Bowie quote.  Well, before we wrap this up, let's cover the obvious thing.  How did you get so involved in the Bally Arcade/Astrocade?

Adam:  When I first began collecting some of these older consoles and home computers... I never stopped playing them, but when they started becoming available for a quarter, I said, "You know, why don't I just buy each one of them."  I had a very large collection for awhile, until I finally gave some of it to Chris... got rid of most of it, and... I am glad I did, because now I play the games I own.  What I don't play, I get to eventually.  In about 1994... '93... I read about this system in one of the books I had that was from the early 80s that covered the Zgrass, actually.  It was the system, I was like, "I want to get a Zgrass, that'd be neat."  I don't have one.  I did find out that it was related to the Bally Arcade.  From there... I wanted one.  I found my first one for a quarter.  I picked it up at a flea market.

Chris:  Oh.

Adam:  It came with a few games.  In fact, I saw the games first, and I was like, "How much you want for these?"  Each game was a quarter.  I think there was four or five of 'em.  Then I saw the system, but I didn't have that much money with me.  I had like a dollar left or something (I'd already bought some other things).  I was talking to a friend that I'd gone with, and he said, "Why don't you go back there and offer him your buck for it?"  I went back, and I said, "How much do you want for the game (the system)?"  And he goes, "A quarter."

Chris:  Wow.

Adam:  So, I still had change to go by another: 2600, an Intellivision... no... [laughing]  But, I didn't find anything else that day.

Chris:  Those were the days before you people let eBay ruin that part of the hobby.

Adam:  So, I did know that there was an "Arcadian" newsletter.  But, I was a member of an Atari 8-bit user group here in town.  It so happened, I was bringing it up... talking with someone there, and they said, "Oh, I've heard of that!"  I'm like, "Oh, you've heard of the Bally?"  They said, "Oh, sure.  You should talk to Mr. Houser" (who was the president of the Atari club).  Then he said, "I think he wrote some games for it."  I said, "Hmm.  That sounds interesting."  So, I approached him.  By 1994, there were very few users left in the Atari 8-bit group.  Who was left, we all knew each other very well (or, as well as we could-- even though some of us only knew each other from meetings).  We started talking.  He told me that he'd been involved with the "Arcadian."  He had published tapes.  He had something called "The Catalog" [THE SOURCEBOOK], which I now know was the way most people order tapes (but, back then I didn't).  He kept track of all this, and he still had all of his things.  He invited me over one Sunday afternoon and he showed me what he owned, which was... pretty-much everything for the Astrocade that was released.  We went through it one Sunday afternoon, and his son (who was in his early 20s) shared his memories of the machine.  I fell in love: I thought, "Wow, this system is great!"  While I was there Mr. Houser, his name was Richard Houser, he said, "Hey, you know what... we should call up Bob."  I said, "Bob, who?"  He said, "He was the person who used to publish the "Arcadian."  I said, "... Really?"  He's like, "Yeah, let's call him."  So, he called up Bob.  They chatted a bit (for a while) and he told him who I was-- I didn't talk to Bob.  But, he was available back then.  I thought that was great, so I wrote Bob a letter.  I said, "Would it be okay if I get some of your information..."  Later on, in the late-90s, he gave me permission to do that.  At the time, I just said, "Hey.  Here I am."  What's really neat, is I started sending him ORPHANED COMPUTERS & GAME SYSTEMS (which was a newsletter I did in the early-90s.  After three issues, Chris, here, joined me on board).  I sent them to him.  When I bought the Bally collection from him, those issues that I'd sent to him brought back to me.  Which, was, like, this huge circle... because it came through several people, in order to come back.  I found that really neat.

Chris:  Yeah.

Adam:  Eventually, with Chris, we discovered the system together.  We played around with it.  What was it...?  About 2001, I started  It doesn't look great now, and it looked worse then.  Now, here I am... having a podcast.  How about you, Chris?

Chris:  I never stopped playing all the way through either.  You know?

Adam:  Why should've we?

Chris:  Well, yeah.  I kept playing the old games through the period when they started to be called "classic" and "retro."  This happened at some point in the mid-90s.

Adam:  During the HUGE crash during in the 80s (that none of us saw).

Chris:  Yeah... that none of us knew about, except for the great prices (which I attributed to over-stock).

Adam:  I didn't even think about it.

Chris:  Well, they weren't all cheaper.  Even into '83/'84, I remember spending thirty-odd dollars on PITFALL II: LOST CAVERNS for the 2600.

Adam:  Yeah, right.  I got that for my birthday, because it was $30... and I didn't have $30, I was a kid.

Chris:  Right.  'Cause... that was about two-million dollars in today's money.

Adam:  Also, for us, I think, we went onto computers, like many people our age at the time.  So, we sort of distanced ourselves.  The prices for computer stock stayed about the same, as they had for Atari cartridges, and things like that.

Chris:  That's a good point.  Yeah.  In coming across "classic," after I hadn't really stopped playing my favorites (and discovering new favorites, thanks to the advent of thrift shops and video games at Goodwill, and stuff), I'd read that and say, "Oh, they're classic now.  Oh, all right.  If you say so."  I thought that was really funny.  So, by the late 90s, I thought I was the only person on earth (not literally, but pretty close) who is still playing these "old" videogames.  All I had when we started hanging out again, Adam, was an Atari 2600 and a Commodore 64.  That was all I wanted.  I didn't want to know about anything else, I didn't want to know about this new CD-ROM, with the "multimedia."

Adam:  So, let's... this time period would have been...?

Chris:  This is 1997.  By this point, I had been writing my own articles and essays for my own amusement (saving them as sequential files on 1541 floppies using the Commodore 64).  I wrote a file writer and reader program.  I thought I was the only one doing nerdy stuff like this, but I had fun doing it.  And I was still playing all the old games, picking 'em up for a buck or less, while making my rounds at the thrift shops and at Goodwills and everything like that.  I was in a subsidiary of Goodwill that was attached to the largest Goodwill store in Albuquerque.  I ran into a buddy of mine, from ten years previous.  He and I have been freshman in high school, and then I went to another high school and lost touch with all of my friends.  This guy's name, if you can believe this goofy name, was Adam Trionfo.  The store had an even goofier name: the U-Fix-It Corral, but then it changed into Clearance Corner.  Is that right?

Adam:  Correct.  Yes.

Chris:  Adam was working there.  So, I'm going through a box of... something... from the 80s.  He came over, "Are you Chris?"  I said, "Yeah.  Adam?"  He and I, you know, sort of shook hands.  I said, "Well, that's cool, you're working at Goodwill."  "Yup."  Then I left, and I never saw him again...

Adam:  [Laughing] Untill today.

Chris:  Until today.  That's why it really sounds improvised here.  He gave me a newsletter he had written about... old videogames (and they weren't even all that old yet, at the time).  He started ORPHANED COMPUTERS & GAME SYSTEMS (on paper, kids!) in 1994.  I asked him, "So, you write about video games too?"  He said, "Yeah."  We started hanging out playing games... a lot.  I didn't know anyone else at the time who liked to play Atari 2600 and Commodore 64 games.  He eventually nudged me to the Internet (or, dragged me... kicking and screaming).  When I encouraged him to start up his newsletter again, he said he would if I'd collaborate.  We did that for couple of years.  Sent out a lot of paper issues.  Had a ball writing it.  Going to World of Atari 98 (and then CGE 2003).  Using interviews that we had conducted at those to feed the material for the newsletter.  In 1999, it became a website.  We've actually been pretty good about adding recent articles...

Adam:  Recently.  Yeah.

Chris:  ... which is good for us.  I don't know what any of this has to do with what you asked me.  In 1982, we took a trip back East to Buffalo to visit family.  My mom's sister's best friend had a son named Robert, who was a couple of years older than me (I was ten, he was probably twelve or thirteen).  He was the kid who first showed me Adventure.

Adam:  Never heard of it.

Chris:  Summertime of '82 [mumbling/talked-over??] I got my mind blown by it.  This same guy, Robert, took me into his basement to show me his Atari computer (I believe).  He said not to touch it, because he had a program in memory.  He was typing in a program and he had a magazine open.  That's all I remember.  I wish I had focused on the model number or which magazine it was.  It looked like all of this gobbledygook on the screen.  I was absolutely captivated because-- who didn't want to make his own videogames?  I'd been playing Atari VCS games since February of '82.  It became an obsession with me, on par with music (believe it or not).  He said not to touch it because he hadn't saved it yet.  I said, "How do ya save it?"  You know what I mean?  I didn't ask him any smart-ass questions: "Okay, ya gonna take a picture of the screen?"

Adam:  [Laughing]

Chris:  He said, "I save them on these."  He showed me just a normal blank cassette, like you would listen to music on.  That just entranced me: all of these innocent music cassettes hiding videogames on them.  

Adam:  [Laughing]

Chris:  I learned how to program in BASIC that summer from a book checked out from the library.  I mean, I just really got interested in talking to this new thing.  This home computer: the microcomputer (as it was called quite often).  The "micro" to separate them from "mainframes," because, you know, a lot of our friends had mainframes in their bedrooms.

Adam:  Right.

Chris.  Then he brought me over and showed me one more thing before we had to go.  This was the Bally Professional Arcade.  I thought it was one of the most amazing things I've ever seen.  We played THE INCREDIBLE WIZARD.  He let me play for a little while.  I said, "This is just like WIZARD OF WOR!"  He said, "Yeah, it is."  I can't remember if he had an explanation, or had read an explanation, of why the name was changed.  That was my only experience with the Astrocade.  I loved the controller.  To this day, it is still one of my favorite controllers.  I love the trigger thing, and I love the combination of a joystick and a paddle in one knob on top of it.  I didn't see another Astrocade until I started hanging out with you again in '97.  It figures that you were able to collect all of that amazing stuff because you worked at Goodwill.

Adam:  I didn't use that to my advantage.

Chris: [sarcastically] I'm sure you didn't!

Adam:  I wasn't allowed to do that.

Chris:  Yeah, well, I'm sure you didn't steal it...

Adam:  No.

Chris:  But I mean, come on!, you probably made note of what came in.

Adam:  There was actually a rule that I had to follow.  When anything came in, it had to sit on the shelves for 24 hours before it could be purchased by an employee.  That didn't mean we had to show everyone where it was, but it had to be out.  And, that was true: it was out.  That didn't mean we said...  (because there were people that came in every single day, just like I used to like to go around too).  It would be on the shelf, but that didn't mean it would be right on the front shelf, saying, "Buy me please, Atari game collector."  It was in the store somewhere!

Chris:  You put it in the back, near the electric pencil sharpener!

Adam:  No, I didn't hide it either.  I didn't want to get in trouble.

Chris:  Nah.  I know.  Adam had an original Odyssey with all of the layover-- the "layovers?"  With all the airplane stops.  No, with all the overlays.

Adam:  [Laughing]

Chris:  Which, is pretty amazing!  You had an Odyssey, with original 1972 Magnavox console, with everything else: an Intellivision, he had an Odyssey 2 (with boxed QUEST FOR THE RINGS)... and...

Adam:  I had 43 different systems.

Chris:  Holy cow!

Adam:  I am so glad that I don't have that anymore!

Chris:  That is a lot for an apartment.

Adam:  So, now I have a few left.

Chris:  Yes, folks, he does have an Astrocade.

Adam:  I do.

Chris:  He does have all of the original cartridge games for it.  I think you got all of them?

Adam:  I had them, but now I have a multicart.  I got rid of most of them.  I feel... I kept some of my favorites.  I kept my prototypes.

Chris:  Which is cool.  Obviously, you have WAR and CRAZY CLIMBER.

Adam:  Right.


Adam:  I think, I have number 2's, because the programmer got number 1's.

Chris:  That's pretty cool.  

Adam:  Yeah.  But, honestly, I don't care about the numbers on them.  They were hand numbered, because collector seem to like that.  Personally, since I did the numbering, I found it annoying.

Chris:  Well, there were fifty sold?

Adam:  There were fifty each.  Yeah.  There was a run of 20 for WAR, because we didn't have any cartridge shells.  We got more, and we did the second run.  The run of CRAZY CLIMBER was always 50.  It was released all at once.

Chris:  You have number two, and [sarcastically], that's a collectors item..

Adam:  Right!

Chris: ...if anyone knew what it was.

Adam:  I should have got number 0!  Think of this, this episode is a collector's item already!

Chris:  You taught me a great deal about the Astrocade and how it worked.  You've told me some things that I just find...  so cool.  Like, you had to use the screen for code, because part of your available RAM was the Screen RAM, right?  (And still is.)

Adam:  Under BASIC, that's correct.

Chris:  That's how I became even more interested in the Bally Arcade/Astrocade.

Adam:  We are about finished wrapping things up here.  Just for the last few things to say.  We are going to have an episode every two weeks (or so).  So, that would be bimonthly.  I hope you guys... if you have any ideas that you want to come up with, will send in some feedback.  If we get no feedback by the first one, that's okay... because we expect... a couple of people... to listen to this.  

Chris:  Thanks for listening, and thanks for inviting me along, Adam.

Adam:  Good to have ya!

[End of episode]

Oct 22, 2015

The Bally Arcade game console was released in 1978.  Now, just a few decades later, you can listen to a podcast devoted to this wonderful computer/game console.  All of the great material of the Bally Alley website will be mined, filtered and added-to, thus forming a podcast for all those who enjoy listening to podcasts about orphaned computers and game systems.  Episode 0 will be landing here soon.  Stay tuned!