Console: Bally Astrocade
Manufactured By: Bally, Astrovision
Availability: December 1977, but not shipped until 1978
Original Retail Price: $299 ($1,052.36 today’s dollars)
By 1977 the home console market was growing in popularity with the release of the Fairchild Channel F console in 1976, and the recent release of the Atari Video Computer System (later known as the Atari 2600). So Bally through their Midway Games division decided to release their own home video game console. Initially the console was titled Bally Home Library Computer and was available through mail order in late December 1977, however due to production delays the consoles weren’t shipped until 1978. By that time Bally had changed the name to the Bally Professional Arcade. Unlike the popular Atari VCS console, the Bally Professional Arcade when it reached retail stores was available primarily through computer stores and had very little retail exposure. By 1979 Bally had grown uninterested in supporting the console any further and had decided to sell it to another investor.
During the same time in 1979 a 3rd party group called Astrovision was unsuccessful in bringing their own gaming console to the market, and they had agreed to purchase the rights to sell the Bally Professional Arcade consoles from Bally. Once Astrovision had taken over the rights of the Bally Professional Arcade, they decided to change the name again, and this time to the Bally Computer System. In 1982 they once again changed the name of the console to the final name…Astrocade. By 1985 after struggling through low sales and through the video game crash of 1983, the Astrocade had finally been discontinued.
The Astrocade similar to most 1970’s consoles during the time has a wood-like finish trim, and a removable plastic top that covers an area where controllers or 15 games can be stored. It also has an on/off switch in the back, a small 24-key “hex-pad” keyboard located in the front, and a cartridge slot also located in the front. The console came with a BASIC program, two built in games (Gun Fight and Checkmate), a simple calculator program, and a program called Scribbling which is a “doodle” style program. The consoles came in black or white, with black being the more common of the two versions.
A system expansion was released for the Astrocade called the ZGRASS. The ZGRASS sat underneath the console and could expand the Astrocade into a full-fledged computer. It added a full size keyboard, 32k RAM, and a new 32k ROM containing the GRASS programming language. It also included I/O ports to allow floppy and cassette drives.
The controllers for the Astrocade were truly ahead of its time. They feature a gun style handle grip with an action trigger button. There is also a built in joystick at the top that can be used to move in eight directions and can also turn as a dial to use for paddle controls.
All together there were approximately thirty games cartridges released for the Astrocade during its lifetime, and with most cartridges including two games. The Astrocade was one of the first ROM cartridge based home consoles, and the cartridges called “Videocades” resemble the shape of an audio cassette. Most of the games were clones from popular arcades during this time because Bally couldn’t obtain the rights for them. Some examples of these games include: Astro Battle (Space Invaders clone), Galactic Invasion (Galaga clone), and Muncher (Pac-Man clone).
- The Bally Professional Arcade console can be spotted in the movie National Lampoons Vacation when Clark is mapping out the families trip to Wally World on their home TV.
- Bally games, Bally Totally Fitness, and Bally Casinos have at one point been linked to the same company.
- Bally is still around, but they now only produce casino slot machines.