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Anyone here doing active Astrocade development? I've recently taken an interest in the machine and I've found it to be pretty fun (and straightforward) to get some rudimentary programs running. I've done more NES tinkering in the past, so it's a bit of a shift to switch from 6502 to Z80 (and totally different meanings for VBLANK).

 

My next step is to get a working console, and I wanted to know if there were flash/development carts still in production. Emulation (especially for the keyboard and paddle controls) just isn't giving me a good feel for the machine.

 

Anyhow, I had some technical questions and wondered if anyone had some programming insight. I've tried to join the Bally Alley Yahoo group, but can't seem to get them to accept me as a member...

 

 

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Anyone here doing active Astrocade development?

Lance Squire recently announced on the Astrocade Yahoo group that he was starting on BalZerk again. That is his clone of Berzerk that he started a few years back. Other than that, I don't think that there is any active development going on.

 

I've recently taken an interest in the machine and I've found it to be pretty fun (and straightforward) to get some rudimentary programs running.

Using the on-board ROM subroutines sure does make programming easier. I recently added a cleaned-up version of the Software and Hardware for the Bally Arcade - A Technical Description (also known as the "Nutting Manual") to archive.org:

 

https://archive.org/details/SoftwareAndHardwareForTheBallyArcadeATechnicalDescriptionDaveNuttingAssociates

 

There are also quite a few programming examples on BallyAlley.com. Let me know if you need help finding certain information. In April, I wrote an article on how to setup a simple programming environment for the Astrocade:

 

http://www.ballyalley.com/ml/ml_docs/ml_docs.html#ProgrammingTheBallyArcade-Astrocade

 

The source code for the on-board 8K ROM in available. If you haven't looked at that yet, then that should be your next stop.

 

My next step is to get a working console

When Michael Garber programmed War and Crazy Climber, he did most of it under emulation. While those homebrews were tested on real hardware by me (and others) during the development of the two games, there were a few bugs that only showed up on real hardware. For the most part, Michael was pretty pleased with programming under (at the time) the MESS emulator. One thing that's still a bit off with the Astrocade emulator is that the colors are not exactly always a good match. They're close... but not quite right. Also, the MAME emulation still doesn't support the game Dodgem (it crashes on start-up). That game used to work in MESS, but it got broken at some point during an update of the Astrocade emulation.

 

I wanted to know if there were flash/development carts still in production.

 

No, there is no flashcart in development. AtariMax did develop a 512K flashcart, but it never went into production. There is an archive of the documents for it here:

 

http://www.ballyalley.com/documentation/bally128k-com/maxflash/maxflash.htm

 

Your best bet to test your Astrocade program on real hardware is, unfortunately, using EPROMs. It's slow-- I know-- but luckily, you can use the emulator for most development, and just test on real hardware once in a while.

 

Emulation (especially for the keyboard and paddle controls) just isn't giving me a good feel for the machine.

 

I understand that! That said, if you use the Astro-dapter with a real Astrocade controller under MAME, then it works pretty good. These adapters are still available here:

 

http://www.2600-daptor.com/Astro-daptor.htm

 

I had some technical questions and wondered if anyone had some programming insight.

What specific questions do you have?

 

I've tried to join the Bally Alley Yahoo group, but can't seem to get them to accept me as a member...

I would be the one to approve you for the Bally Alley Yahoo group. I'm out of town and I can't do that until, probably (I think), Monday. In the meantime, I'll try to contact someone else to help you out. While you're waiting for approval, take a look through the documentation on BallyAlley.com. You've probably already do this... but there a lot there... and it's sort of tucked into the nooks and crannies of the site.

 

I love to see people getting interested in playing the Astrocade-- and it's even better when someone wants to tinker around programming the hardware!

 

Adam

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When you say "(and totally different meanings for VBLANK)" I suspect you are referring to the DATA chip VBLANK which blanks(makes invisible) display below its setting.

 

There is also a way to sync drawing to the TV V-BLANK with an interrupt. Your use of "meanings" may mean you are aware.

 

Lance

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Unfortunately the 512k flash cart from 128kgames is still in limbo, other than the prototyping we did and the amazing cart Steve Tucker created from it, the software for utilizing the bankswitched cart for gaming has not yet been completed. Michael Garber still has hopes of getting back to it someday, and I hope we can come together and release some amazing games utilizing it.

 

One thing he cracked (or was working on cracking) was the screen size limitation, so that Bally/Astrocade games are no longer limited to that square playfield, they would be able to use the entire screen.

 

With Lance tinkering with BalZerk again I should see if he has reached out to Michael as putting the game on the bankswitched cart could be quite fantastic (sound samples and all, after all whats Berzerk without the "INTRUDER ALERT!").

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Unfortunately the 512k flash cart from 128kgames is still in limbo, other than the prototyping we did and the amazing cart Steve Tucker created from it

 

The Astrocade flash cart isn't actually in limbo, that is, there are no current or possible future plans to release the flashcart, right? I think it was going to be several thousand dollars to create a full run of the flashcarts, and because of that high price, the project was permanently shelved... or was it? Michael, do you still have plans to try to release it someday (if money were no object-- or if you won the lottery or possibly, more realistically, via some crowdfunding source)? In case people haven't seen the Astrocade flash cart, it looks like this:

 

post-4925-0-92893600-1464887318_thumb.jpg

 

post-4925-0-01433200-1464887318_thumb.jpg

 

There was never a case actually created for the flashcart. The test PCBs were sent to the testers without an case. I was a tester, and I hacked up (literally, with a hacksaw) a spare case that I had and made a label for my personal flash cartridge.

 

The Astrocade 512K flash cart plugs into the Atarimax Maxflash Flash Cartridge System for Atari 8-bit Computers (yup, alien hardware mated for the first time!). The Atari flashcarts and interface are available here:

 

http://www.atarimax.com/flashcart/documentation/

 

Note, that the Astrocade cart is certainly not available at the above link (or anywhere else, for that matter).

 

If you're familiar with AtariMax products, then you know Steven Tucker builds high-quality hardware, so it's a shame that this project never was completed. The Astrocade flashcart used the standard Maxflash Cartridge Studio to load a 512K image file to the Astrocade flashcart. However, since the Astrocade flashcast wasn't released, only special beta versions of the Cartridge Studio have that feature built into it.

 

the software for utilizing the bankswitched cart for gaming has not yet been completed. Michael Garber still has hopes of getting back to it someday, and I hope we can come together and release some amazing games utilizing it.

The Astrocade flashcart doesn't actually require any special software to use. As long as you follow the memory map for it, and come up with your own scheme for making use of the different banks, then your software will work fine. Michael Garber was working on a way to allow easier development for the Astrocade flash cartridge by making bankswitching a little easier to handle from the programmer's perspective. This program was called Bally Alley Videogame Engine, or BAVE. It is this program that isn't finished.

 

If a Z80 programmer had one of these flashcarts, then they could program it without BAVE using one of three methods:

 

  1. 4K Cart - Program a game that is limited to 4K (the cartridge is split into 128 4K banks). The image would still be be 512K, but only the last 4K of the image (bank 128) would be used by the programmer. While this might sound like a waste, it certainly would speed-up game development over using EPROMs for testing on real Astrocade hardware.
  2. 8K Cart - Program a game that is limited to 8K. This would be done in a similar manner to programming a 4K cart. In this case, the highest bank would hold the first 4K of the cartridge and some other bank, probably the first bank (Bank 0), would hold the 2nd half of the 4K image.
  3. Bankswitched Cart - Program a game using a bankswitching scheme of the programmer's own devising that could use some or all of the 128 4K banks.

 

You can read about the Astrocade flashcart's bankswitching scheme here:

 

http://www.ballyalley.com/documentation/bally128k-com/maxflash/Astrocade_Maxflash_512K_Memory_Map.txt

 

Most of the information concerning the Astrocade flashcart is archived here:

 

http://www.ballyalley.com/documentation/bally128k-com/whatsnew.htm

 

One thing he cracked (or was working on cracking) was the screen size limitation, so that Bally/Astrocade games are no longer limited to that square playfield, they would be able to use the entire screen.

 

Michael Garber converted an animated GIF of Pikachu into an animation for the Astrocade that ran from the flashcart. I think that this was done when the flashcart was still limited to 256K of space. This demo was not fullscreen, as Michael was "just" page-flipping the images to see how fast he could move ROM from the flashcart to the Astrocade's screen RAM. The animation wasn't fullscreen... but it was only a test of concept: there was never a true limit of a square playfield when using the Astrocade flashcart.

 

Adam

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The Astrocade flash cart isn't actually in limbo, that is, there are no current or possible future plans to release the flashcart, right? I think it was going to be several thousand dollars to create a full run of the flashcarts, and because of that high price, the project was permanently shelved... or was it? Michael, do you still have plans to try to release it someday (if money were no object-- or if you won the lottery or possibly, more realistically, via some crowdfunding source)?

The Astrocade flashcart doesn't actually require any special software to use. As long as you follow the memory map for it, and come up with your own scheme for making use of the different banks, then your software will work fine. Michael Garber was working on a way to allow easier development for the Astrocade flash cartridge by making bankswitching a little easier to handle from the programmer's perspective. This program was called Bally Alley Videogame Engine, or BAVE. It is this program that isn't finished.

 

Michael Garber converted an animated GIF of Pikachu into an animation for the Astrocade that ran from the flashcart. I think that this was done when the flashcart was still limited to 256K of space. This demo was not fullscreen, as Michael was "just" page-flipping the images to see how fast he could move ROM from the flashcart to the Astrocade's screen RAM. The animation wasn't fullscreen... but it was only a test of concept: there was never a true limit of a square playfield when using the Astrocade flashcart.

 

Adam

 

No games, no releases, hence "limbo".

 

There were never any plans to release the flashcart in as much as there were plans to use the flashcart to release games, taking advantage of up to 512k of ROM space.

 

Plans have never been shelved, the 128games.com and related domain names are still reserved and the files are still hosted where they were originally. While cost was always a factor (among others) I have always been a firm believer in where there is a will there is a way (not so much "if you build it they will come").

 

With the amount of effort it took to get the board developed in the first place I would never allow all that development to go to waste. Steve Tucker, Michael Garber, yourself, and all the others involved (including me!) deserve to see this board put to use someday.

 

While I have tried to drum up interest with programmers for this project in the past the fact that only the 4 prototype boards were built and loaned out has also been a factor.

 

Perhaps with the new forum, interest may be revived and things could one day change.

 

I have high hopes for the completion of the BAVE software some day, certainly anything that would make programming for the flashcart easier would be beneficial to all.

 

As far as the screen size limitation goes I may have gotten that wrong, but hey, I'm an idea man not a programmer. :)

 

The animation demos were cool nonetheless and I'm sure this ability would be a great feature if included in any bankswitched games. If anyone is interested you can click on the 128kgames.com link in my signature and see them in action at the bottom of the page.

 

Oh and if ever I do win the lottery you can bet I'll secure the rights to the Astrocade name, domain (which I registered originally but let go of, stupid me) and plans will be underway to build "Astrocade Tower" somewhere, kind of like the Avenger's tower, strictly for game development and publishing.

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