First off, let me apologize for how often I said the word “fascinating” in this episode. I really should cap the number of times I say a given adjective in one of these to three or so, but, well, I didn’t here. I shot this at about four in the morning, so I’ll call that my excuse. Luckily, though, it’s still about a
fascinating very compelling vintage game console: the Bally Professional Arcade, or sometimes called the Bally Library Computer, or the term I tend to use most, the Bally Astrocade.
The Astrocade was part of that first wave of cartridge-based home consoles, like the Atari 2600, Mattel Intellivision, and the Odyssey 2. Coming out in 1978, the Astrocade had some pretty impressive specs for the era: a fast Z80 CPU, 256 colors (though really you could only have four on the screen at a time, eight with some tricks), four controller ports, three-voice sound with hardware vibrato, a keypad, built-in games, and so on.
The controllers were amazing, too: a pistol grip-style that incorporated both joystick and paddle into one clever, easy-to-hold unit, the design of which I don’t think has ever been replicated on any other console, which is a shame, since it’s an excellent controller design to use.
They even packaged it with a BASIC programming cartridge complete with an interface for a cassette recorder so you could save your programs and load in other ones. There was once a whole little hobbyist ecosystem for these things!
Really, there was no reason why, technically, this couldn’t have been a major player in the late 1970s-early 1980s home console arena. But, it wasn’t.
Bally, despite being a big name in the arcades, seemed to have no idea how to sell home consoles, trying to vend them at computer stores and mail-order before finally cutting a deal with Montgomery Ward, but by then it was too late.
As far as driving games go, the best one on the system is actually kind of significant in another way: it’s a home adaptation of the first driving game to officially license a car from an actual manufacturer: 280ZZZap, and the car was the Datsun 280Z.
The game itself wasn’t that inspired, being basically very similar to Atari’s Night Driver (which itself was a clone of a German game called Nürburgring that I mistakenly call “Autobahn” in the video. Sorry.)
I cover all this in the video, so you may as well just watch it now, right? When else are you going to see a Bally Astrocade in action? Pretty much never, that’s when.
Next time I’ll try to do an episode before midnight. I’ll try.