Video: 8-Bit Show and Tell Examines the Bally Home Computer System

Video is about 32 minutes long

The Bally Professional Arcade, a.k.a. the Bally Computer System, then the Astrovision, eventually settling on the Astrocade, was in its hardware a cut-down version of their early arcade hardware. While not a big seller, mostly an also-run alongside the Atari VCS, Intellivision, ColecoVision, or even the Odyssey2, it could, like several of those systems, run a version of BASIC with an add-on cartridge. (The VCS had its Basic Programming cartrige, the Intellivision had the Entertainment Computer System, and the ColecoVision had ADAM.)

The Astrocade (to settle upon one name for it) had some interesting advantages. It uses the same graphics chip as Gorf, Wizard of Wor, and Robby Roto, but due to having less memory to work with doesn’t support as good a resolution as the arcade units. If the chip is used in multi-color graphics mode, it would use all but 16 bytes of memory! The Atari VCS, by contrast, only had 128 bytes of RAM, but didn’t have a bitmapped display taking up so much of it. These were the kinds of tradeoffs console designers had to make at the time. While it didn’t have hardware sprites, it did have “blitter” circuitry for rapidly moving data around in memory.

8-Bit Show and Tell’s video also describes the culture around the machine, which saw production for a surprisingly long time, and had several independent programmers selling their own games for its BASIC cartridge. They even supported a newsletter, the Arcadian, that shared coding tips.

Everything about this system was odd, from the pistol-grip controllers, to the built-in software on ROM, to the calculator-style keypad set into the unit itself, to the almost-but-not-quite Atari-style joystick ports. But I don’t want to steal 8BSaT’s thunder, watch the video if you’re interested in learning more!

A Real Computer? Exploring the Bally Computer System aka Astrocade

News 6/9/2022: Multiversus, Pinball, Roguelikes

“We scour the Earth web for indie, retro, and niche gaming news so you don’t have to, drebnar!” – your faithful reporter

We’ve been distracted here at the news desk lately. A couple of our planet’s moons regularly collide with each other, causing both to reverberate and flex in a disconcerting way that causes them to warm appreciably, and will inevitably cause them both to disintegrate, resulting in major tidal trauma on the planet’s surface that our scientists insist “is nothing to worry about.” It’s still difficult not to be concerned, but I’m sure things like that happen on Earth all the time. Let’s get to the important stuff: video game news.

This building, the Sega Sammy corporate HQ, appears to be made of glass. They’d better not throw any stones! (image from Wikipedia, owned by TarkusAB and used under CC BA-SA 4.0)

Ollie Reynolds at NintendoLife notes that Sega Sammy’s finances are looking up this quarter, due both to the release of Sonic Origins (yay) and pachinko machines (boo). Jeepers Horatio Chrysler, it’s like gambling is slowly swallowing up every aspect of computerized gaming. It’s devoured most of Konami and all of former gaming stalwarts Bally, Williams, and Midway, is responsible for gacha mechanisms in mobile, and is behind several of the most odious aspects of that whole NFT thing. At least Sonic Origins is doing well.

Owen S. Good at Polygon chimes in with this week’s legally-mandated Multiversus news, noting that it’s getting ranked and arcade modes. I mean, on one hand it’s completely obvious that the game is the result of the same kind of soulless corporate mandate that resulted in the execrable Space Jam: A New Legacy, a movie that somehow took a 90s movie based off of a series of sneaker commercials and made the concept worse, but on the other hand it’s got Steven Universe in it. With the parent company in disarray, cancelling nearly complete $90 million dollar movies in order to take a tax writeup, it’s amazing WB, now WB Discovery, can do anything right at the moment.

At Ars Technica, Sam Machkovech reports on 1Up’s new pinball cabinet, which provides emulated (well, simulated) versions of several classic Bally/Williams games in digital form. No video pinball game can hold a candle to real pinball, because of framerate limitations, because of the importance of nudging the machine, and because pinball is cool because it’s a physical ball shooting around the table. Still though, most people can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for a real table. The unit is one of three pinball products they’re releasing, with this one offering 10 games running Zen Studio’s engine. The headliner is Attack From Mars, but most of the games are really solid, including some underrated classics like Junk Yard and No Good Gofers. Sadly, Machkovech reports that White Water suffers from stuttering and input lag, which speaking as a habituĂ© of Wet Willie’s, is unacceptable for that game. For the record, the other games are Fish Tales, Medieval Madness, Road Show, Hurricane, and Tales of the Arabian Nights. So, no Funhouse. I dunno, for $600 you’d think they’d just include all the games they had the license for?

Not mentioned in the article: NetHack

Cameron Bald at PCGamesN was just asking for our rancorous commentary when he wrote what he claims are the best roguelikes and roguelites on PC. I mean we host @Play now, honor demands that we chime in! The list is Hades, The Binding of Isaac, Darkest Dungeon, Dead Cells, Don’t Starve, Downwell, Into The Breach, Slay the Spire, and Spelunky 2. While, yeah, they’re all good games and I’ve nothing bad to say about any of them, they’re all commercial roguelites. Nothing about NetHack or Angband or anything. Oh well.

Whew, that’s a high commentary-to-link ratio. Let’s continue the list next time. Toodles!