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

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