What a great story! Thanks for sharing! If (when?) I ever get around to making another episode of the Astrocast podcast, would it be okay if I read your story on there?
Yes, you may!
The article that you're talking about is called Private Screenings: The GAMES Guide to Home Video Games, by Phil Wiswell. It was published in the December 1982 issue of GAMES magazine. Page 38 of the magazine (page two of the article) has the Astrocade system on it:
This is one of my most favorite articles that I've archived; I'm glad that someone saw this article when it was new. I never saw it until I came across the ripped-out pages that were part of the Bob Fabris collection. GAMES magazine was a cool magazine; I also read it in the early 1980s. I think it's still around today, but its current coverage of the Astrocade and Atari has somewhat diminished.
Wow, thanks for that! I was just about to try searching around online for the article; great to see it again! I think when I picked that issue up, I was mainly thirsty for a video gaming magazine, and thought it was all about that. Wasn't there also a full-page ad for the Supercharger in that issue? I seem to remember that, but it could have been in another magazine from that era that I seen it in. Outside of that, the only other place I ever saw the Astrocade mentioned was in an old hardcover book I found when I first started collecting, I believe it was "The Complete Guide To Conquering Video Games".
Also, thanks for pointing me to the contact info for the guys that do Astrocade repairs. I'm going to keep an eye out for that new troubleshooting guide you mentioned, and perhaps contact Allen if that guide doesn't help me.
I meant to say that my old system had the "Bally Computer System" badge instead of "Bally Home Computer". It had Bally BASIC with the cassette port on it, so it was likely it was one of the ones that came bundled with that cartridge. Unfortunately at some point I dropped something on the smoke cover and it shattered, and I never was able to get it glued back together nicely. I actually thought I remembered it as saying "Bally Professional Arcade" on the badge, but I guess they never badged them like that, so I was remembering it incorrectly.
I still have some love for the Astrocade, even though I no longer own one and don't actively collect games anymore. I first caught sight of one in an early 80's issue of "Games" magazine, which was primarily a magazine for puzzle games, but had a special issue where they were showcasing what was going on with video games. (the same article also showed the Starpath Supercharger, which I think was still being called the "Arcadia Supercharger" at that point.) This was the only time I ever saw one growing up, since I live in a rural area and game systems that didn't get hugely popular were usually even less known in small towns, but I always remembered those odd controllers and wondered what they were all about.
Fast-forward to the early 90's, when I was in my early 20's and started collecting old games and computers. One reason I got into it was to find the best home versions of the arcade games I loved growing up, and also to play all the other game systems and such that I didn't get to growing up since I only ever had a Coleco Gemini/2600. I came across one for cheap at a flea market with a couple of controllers and some games, the Bally Professional Arcade version with the "Bally Home Computer" tag. For the most part it worked great, although you had to be careful not to bump it while playing since you stood a chance of resetting the game or glitching out the graphics. The controller cables were also in sad shape and worn where they went into the controllers, making it necessary to have to take them apart and cut some of the cable off and re-solder fresher wires to the contacts. That was also risky business, since the boards and contacts seemed a bit fragile. The was really blown away by games such as the port of Wizard of Wor of course, and also Artillery Duel, and I also loved the unique sound effects and music it put out. I also spent a fair amount of time with the Scribble program, fantasizing about and making screens of games I wished were ported to the system and how they might look.
Over the course of the 90's while I was still actively collecting and hitting up flea markets I came across a few more games here and there, along with another system that was in better shape. One of the cartridges I found was Treasure Cove, which I could not get to work for the longest time and assumed it was shot, not to mention how hard it was to actually get into the slot. One day while messing around a bit I got the title screen to come up and realized that the case was just warped in a way that wouldn't allow the pins to make proper contact. I ended up cannibalizing another cart to put the TC board in, and it worked and I was blown away by the music, even though the game was tough and got old after a while.
In the early 2000's I had a perfect storm of getting somewhat disinterested in collecting due to emulation, needing some extra money, and the realization that my musty basement was going to eventually ruin my collection, so I opted to start selling. I sold the better Astrocade unit and most of my games on eBay, along with loads of other stuff I had. I hung on to the original one until a few years ago, after getting into a band where the drummer was a collector. I made him a deal on the Astrocade, tested it out, and it proceeded to quit working when he tried to fire it up when he got it home. I have it back in my possession and would love to fix it and give it back to him if I could figure out what's wrong with it; it has the black screen of death, and I can find nothing visibly wrong inside of it. (this is actually part of what brought me here- there was a comment on a post on the AtariAge Facebook page where someone mentioned someone here that fixes them?)
An interesting note in my years of collecting- there was a local TV shop in my town that was around for ages, and in the early 90's the owner decided to put a few arcade games in part of his shop. One day while looking around I happened to notice buried in his clutter of TV stuff behind the counter was 2 or 3 boxed and sealed Astrocades! I practically begged him to sell me one of them, and he refused, saying he would want too much for them but would never give me a price. He said he had them since the late 70's/early 80's and was given them to sell from one of his vendors- I can't remember for sure, he was primarily a Philips/Magnavox dealer, but for some reason I think he said it had something to do with Zenith? Anyway, sadly, I wasn't in the financial shape to be able to make him a good offer, and years later he passed away.
Like with many failed gaming systems, I still look at the Astrocade and think of what could have been. You would think with all of the Bally/Midway-badged arcade games at the time, they could have ported a lot more arcade games for it. Especially Gorf! Seems like part of the problem may have been being stretched too thin with the popular idea at the time of making add-ons to turn a gaming console into a home computer.