The Bally Astrocade is a second generation video game console that was released by Midway, the video arcade division of Bally in 1977. Unlike some second generation consoles, the Bally Astrocade survived past the video game crash of 1983/84 before being discontinued in 1985. However, the consumer technology division was sold off in 1979 as Bally grew less interested in the technology.
Above: Bally Astrocade retail box
Bally’s Astrocade survived in long part due to its powerful graphics capabilities. However, like all pioneering systems, accessing these graphics required some work on the part of developers.
Above: Bally Astrocade Game Console
In 1981 the Bally Astrocade was re-released as the Bally Computer System. In 1982 the machine was renamed again, this time to Astrocade.
The Bally Astrocade was powered by the Zilog Z80 driving the display chip with a RAM buffer in between the two much in the same way memory was handled by the Amiga some years later.
Failed High Resolution Hack
The Astrocade ran in two resolutions: low-resolution at 160 × 102, and high-resolution at 320 × 204. However, to take advantage of the video display resolutions, the Bally Astrocade used a trick to work around this problem allowing them to read one line at a time at very high speed into a buffer inside the display chip.
Above: Bally Astrocade boot screen
The line could then be read out to the screen as required and using less of the processor. This work around is used by fans of the system to justify its superior graphics but as the pins needed for this workaround were not connected, high resolution was not possible.
The Astrocade had access to 256 colors though the Astrocade did not include hardware sprite support. Instead, it used what could be termed as an early blitter, like that found in the Amiga.
Above: Bally Astrocade Videocade Cartridge
Games were available to the Bally Astrocade through cartridges. Each cartridge had two games built into each ROM and used a gun grip joystick for playing games.