Bally Alley

Michigan Bally Users' Group Report

by George Moses

(November 1980)

This article first appeared in the "Arcadian" newsletter for the Bally Arcade / Astrocade in the November 1980 issue. The four pictures in the newsletter were at least third-generation photocopies, which made the quality poor. These images have been rescanned from the original halftone photographs (from the Bob Fabris Collection) that George Moses provided with his submitted article. Clicking on each picture in the article will display high-resolution scans that have a photo description beneath them. The thumbnail image of the article links to the original 10-page "Arcadian" newsletter.

Link to Arcadian issue with 'Michigan Bally Users Group Report'

FENTON, MICHIGAN - Two Astrovision representatives attended the meeting of the Michigan Bally Users' Group on Sunday, October 26 at Tri-County Electronics in Fenton. Ken Charles, software manager and Rick Claghorn, computer specialist arrived at noon after a five hour drive from their headquarters in Columbus, Ohio, and were immediately welcomed and besieged with questions. But first things first. They were led to the food and beverage table and were brought back to life before the formal meeting began.

If Ken Charles and Rick Claghorn are any indication of Astrovision's dedication to the Arcade and its users then the future of this product and its future software and peripherals looks bright once again. It does take dedication to give up a Sunday with the family, spend 10 hours driving (round trip) and to occupy yourself all afternoon talking about products you've looked at all week at work!

The real meeting began. Ken Charles and Rick Claghorn were introduced and Charles took the floor. His remarks began with a short history of Astrovision and their previous entry into the video game market with Cybervision, a game, much like Bally's that was ahead of its time and not very aggressively marketed. Its chief retail outlet was Montgomery Wards who, as they are now doing with the Bally, only showed them in stock before Christmas and then only in the sporting goods department next to the jockstraps.

Picture: Rick Claghorn, Astrovision Computer Specialist and Ron Pollock, owner of Tri-Counter Electronics, Fenton, Michigan, talk over the manufacturer-dealer relationships.

Now, Charles says, they are going to aggressively market the Arcade in a great many stores that cater to the computer enthusiast such as our meeting place, Tri-County Electronics, who stocks Arcades, cartridges, control handles and interfaces all year round! Also, Ron Pollock, the owner, advertised our meeting to the public in the local papers, spending hundreds of dollars to generate interest in Bally. He really made us feel welcome! The questions began:

Q. When will the much-promised "add-under" keyboard memory be offered?

A. Hopefully by the middle of 1981 or sooner. There were many versions developed by Bally, none of which was what the buyer really seemed to want according to their surveys. They're trying to develop this as a 16K add-on with a language based on Terse or Forth in a Basic format that will allow the user to program superb graphics for games.

Picture: Ken Charles, Astrovision Software Manager, inspects the software of Bob Weber of W&W Software, the most prolific vender of software for the Bally Arcade.

Q. What about peripherals?

A. While there will be access-ports for attaching peripherals such as light pens, tape decks and printers, Astrovision does not plan to promote the Arcade as a word-processing machine. Any attachments offered will be to enhance its game playing capabilities, a property the Arcade has over all of its competition in the video field at anywhere near its price range.

Q. Now that there is advanced competition in the video game field that didn't exist when the Arcade was introduced how does Astrovision intend to capture a share of the market with a product designed 5 years ago?

A. When the Arcade was designed it was the most advanced in the field, and with its three custom chips and Z-80 microprocessor it still has the fastest graphics of any machine on the market at less than twice the price! (The music processor and 3-voice sound chip compares favorably with some sound synthesizers costing up to $2500 say the development engineers.) But Astrovision doesn't intend to sit on this design forever. Already a complete redesign is in the planning stages to offer a new "state of the art" Bally Arcade, possibly late next year that will be as far ahead of the competition as it was when first introduced in 1978.

Picture: Dave Ibach and Brett Bilbrey discuss their fantastic breakthrough in using foreground-background processor for smooth, fast graphics.  Brett is thanking Dave for telling him where to stick his stack pointer!

Q. We're still discovering secrets about the Arcade's Bally Basic! Why didn't Bally give us more support and software and tell us about the features we're still stumbling onto?

A. We don't know why Bally held such a close-to-the-vest attitude about the insides of the Bally Basic, certainly the most fascinating cartridge they've ever produced. But we are trying to put together a master file of Bally users, whether through warranty registrations, lists supplied to us from users groups that contact us or through Cursor and Arcadian newsletters, certainly the two main sources of programs for the Bally Basic. We want to bring the Bally users together and help them to develop better software. And, we are going to be looking for other sources of software to supplement Bally in developing and marketing programs for the Arcade. We also plan to market six to eight new game cartridges between now and next July. We've brought three of them with us today to demonstrate. Dog Patch, which is now on the market, Grand Prix and Demolition Derby, which still needs a little refinement to make it more challenging, and the music cartridge that we hope to have ready very soon.

Picture: Brett Bilbrey and Ken Charles, of Astrovision, looking at a display of the new 'Demolition Derby' cartridge, still under development.

After demonstrating the cartridges the air was abuzz with users playing the new games and showing off their own software to Charles and Claghorn. Bob Weber showed off his Blue Ram and loaded the Bally-Pinball game into his Arcade off a cassette tape thru the Blue Ram. Dave Ibach and Steve Waiters demonstrated their foreground-background processing routine formatted into a spooky Halloween demo that amidst skulls, pumpkins and spooky organ music sets a witch flying around on a broom in front of a haunted house. The witch is updated over 15,000 times a second, faster than the TV scans the picture tube, so she doesn't blink at all! Also, Steve Wilson had a new color basic cartridge and a machine monitor cartridge which allows him to program the Z-80 directly in hex. Also he brought his own 4K memory addition he built from trashbin computer parts. It works!

We were very impressed with Ken Charles and Rick Claghorn from AstroVision, and we hope they were impressed with our group of tenacious Bally lovers. Hope springs eternal in the heart of man, and if there is new life for the Bally Arcade there are many of us who would love to help with suggestions, programs and criticism to make it better. If you have any, please contact AstroVision at 6460 Busch Blvd., Suite 215, Columbus, Ohio 43229. Phone (614) 885-0130.

There is a follow-up user group article by George Moses and Brett Bilbrey called "Michigan Bally Users' Group Gets a Look at Z-GRASS "Add-Under" from the Arcade!" in:

     ARCADIAN 3, no. 6 (Apr. 15, 1981): 64-65.

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