The Astrocade was originally released as the Bally Home Arcade in 1977. The system competed directly with the Atari 2600. In 1980, Bally sold the system to Astrovision, who then renamed the system Astrocade. Due to this, many games and systems may be branded by Bally or Astrovision.
Despite its built-in programming language and unique game experiences, poor marketing made the Astrocade a non-competitor for other systems of the time. By 1984 the system’s lifespan was held together by a small homebrew community that still exists to this day.
The system was available in white and woodgrain variations. Each system contains a bin built into the system capable of holding 15 cartridges, and a removable dustcover that protects the games inside. The front of the console also contains a 24-button keypad, an Eject button, and a Start button. The back of the console has non-removable AC Adapter and video out plugs, as well as four removable controller ports.
The games are cartridge based, with each cartridge equivalent to the size of a standard audio cassette tape. Most cartridges carry anywhere from one to four unique games. The games are inserted into the front loading cartridge slot, and then pushed down to lock into place. Pressing the Eject button releases the cartridge. There were approximately thirty game cartirdges released into public domain.
The system itself contains four built-in games: Gunfight (a 2-player versus game) Checkmate (a Tron-like game in which one player cannot cross the path of another player) Scribbling (a very basic drawing program), and Calculator (self-explanatory).
The Astrocade has a very unqiue analog controller. The stick itself is capable of free motion in any direction. The top of the stick twists like a dial, for use with Pong-style gameplay in which a paddle moves along a singular axis. There is also a trigger on the underside of the controller. Each controller is individually numbered, however any controller can be plugged into any port.
The Astrocade has cooling vents on the bottom side of the console which are extremely susceptible to blockage. Placing the console on a carpet and playing it for any noticeable amount of time will effectively overheat and destroy the system. The problem was so severe and widespread, that the warning actually appears in bold on the front of the user’s manual. As such, it can be very difficult to find working machines in the modern era.
- CPU: Z80, 1.789 MHz
- Memory: 4k RAM(can be expanded to 64k with external modules in the expansion port)
- ROM: 8k
- Ports: 4 controller, 1 expansion, 1 light pen
- Sound: 3 voices with noise/vibrato effects (played through the TV)
- Resolution: True 160×102 / Basic 160×88 / Expanded RAM 320×204
- Colors: True 8* / Basic 2
- Graphic type: Bitmap, 2 plane bitpacked