Orphaned Computers & Game Systems

Vol. II, Issue 9    April 1999

The Software CD Project for the

Bally Professional Arcade

by Adam Trionfo

The CD Premise: This is important -- there is no software CD project for the Bally Professional Arcade (BPA), but there will be. This article is a call to all of those Bally owners who would like to put their Bally BASIC cartridges to good use -- and are willing to get their hands a little dirty in the process. Why let the BASIC cart go to waste when it is the best piece of software that has been released for the system?

People who own a BPA know what a great prize it is. I am not going to go into detail about the system here; either you know what it is or you don't. If you have a fondness for the system, then you will appreciate the idea of owning a CD full of Bally software. But how will something like this work? For that answer, you may want a bit of a Bally BASIC history lesson.

A Very Condensed Bally BASIC History: From the very start, the system did not have much support from the parent company, Bally. There was never a large amount of software released on cartridge. On September 1, 1978, the first steps to alleviate this software problem were taken. This was the day on which Robert Fabris contacted other Bally owners who had responded to an ad that he had placed in Kilobaud (which, I presume, was a magazine). It spoke about the forthcoming TBASIC that would allow the Bally to be programmed in -- you guessed it -- BASIC.

Most people who really liked their machines soon purchased the retitled Bally BASIC cartridge and bought a subscription to the newsletter that followed Robert's initial letter: the Arcadian. A few years later, another newsletter -- called BASIC Express (AKA >Cursor) -- was released. Writers for this publication often complained about the quality of the Arcadian; none of the whining is worth mentioning. Regardless, copies of both of these newsletters are invaluable additions to any Bally collection.

The version of BASIC originally released for the BPA consisted of a cartridge and a cable that connected to the joystick ports. This cable allowed an ordinary cassette player to be used as a storage device. The interface was rather slow (300 baud). It is known to be, at best, only slightly reliable when loading programs saved on a different cassette player.

When Astrovision bought the BPA, a new version of the cartridge was released: Astrovision BASIC. This is a slightly improved version, featuring a few more commands. More importantly, a built-in cassette interface is included that transfers data at a much faster 2000 baud. Not only does this eliminate the need for the special cable that was used with Bally BASIC, but the increase in speed allows any BASIC program to be loaded or saved in thirty seconds or less (compared to about 3 and a half minutes with the original Bally BASIC). Unfortunately, the new cassette interface is not backward-compatible with the older, 300-baud version. A program is included with the Astrovision BASIC book that allows older cassettes to be converted to the new 2,000-baud standard. Although this conversion program is a welcome patch, it still does not allow for complete backward compatibility.

CD Support For Astrovision BASIC Only! The idea behind this project is to create an audio CD, as was done with the Stella Gets a New Brain CD for the Atari VCS. Both versions of BASIC for the Bally would allow programs to be saved as .wav files and then converted into audio tracks. However -- and this is very important -- this audio CD will only support Astrovision BASIC. This is because about six times as many programs can be stored on a CD this way. I'm not sure how rare the Astrovision version of BASIC is, but every single Bally machine I have purchased has come with it. It seems that the upgrade syndrome isn't limited to the new computer platforms; if you have Bally BASIC then there is no alternative but to upgrade to Astrovision BASIC for any planned use of this CD.

Is This for Real? I have discussed the possibility of a Bally CD before. It was just wishful thinking, but now it's passed beyond that stage. This CD is going to be created even if I must do it alone (which would take a very long time). But it doesn't have to be that way. Indeed, a small group of Bally owners working closely together could make this project move along quickly. The final result would be a much better compilation.

The Preliminary Goals: For this to work, a solid foundation has to be laid so that it becomes easy for others to offer help. Some of the first goals that need to be reached are:

1) Give universal access to the Astrovision BASIC manual. Many people who own the cartridge do not own documentation for it. It is an excellent resource that should not be missed. The highest priority should be given to converting this manual to a text file for others to benefit from. An Adobe Acrobat file might even be preferable: It would be easier to create and read (but would be much larger).

2) Gather together cassette program resources. There were a number of games released on cassette for the Bally. The number of programs is small enough so that if we pooled our resources, we'd probably have the entire collection to convert to .wav files.

3) Complete a collection of the Arcadian and BASIC Express. These publications will have to be distributed among everyone who's helping with the project. Selected programs will need to be entered and saved as .wav files.

4) Inclusion judgement calls. What will be selected to go onto the CD? Although it would be easy to create more than one disc, it should be avoided. Why include mediocre software? Programs could possibly be judged on use value. Would a program that just creates random pictures, a precursor to today's screen-saver, be allowed on the CD?

5) Split responsibility for entering BASIC programs. The Arcadian and BASIC Express both have many programs that need to be typed-in after the selection process. This chore is not as large or difficult as it might seem. Astrovision BASIC only allows access to 1.8K of the total 4K system memory. None of the programs take long to enter, even taking into account the use of the calculator-style keypad. With careful consideration for distributing program listings, this step will be simplified.

6) The creation of the CD itself. Will all copies be gold CDs? Will there be enough interest to consider making a few hundred regular CDs? Should the first track on the CD-ROM be, say, a PC-formatted track?

Are You Willing? There will probably be few people willing to devote time to enter programs. But when the CD is complete, there will be an archive for all time that gives testament to one of the finest game machines ever created. Are you willing to contribute to a part of history?

Even if you have no desire to enter programs, why not spend just a few minutes to flaunt your collection? Maybe you could send along that one miscellaneous Bally cassette you have. How about sending a few comments on anything unusual that you know about the Bally? Perhaps you know where one of the original developers might be contacted. No contribution is too small, and all contributors will be given credit.

Who and How to Contact: My name is Adam Trionfo, the co-editor of OC&GS. The best way to reach me is through e-mail: atrionfo@tvi.cc.nm.us ballyalley@hotmail.com. It will be difficult to reach me by phone right now. If the desire strikes you to talk with me, send me an e-mail with your phone number and I will contact you. I'm looking forward to hearing from you! -- AJT