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cowbells

Remembering Richard Degler, an Astrocade Programmer

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I joined this forum to make this post, but I've lurked on here for years. One of my best friends Jeremy had an uncle that passed away this year that worked for Bally Midway. Richard Degler was his name and he primarily worked on the Astrocade. If you poke around, you can easily find his name on several Astrocade related projects.
 
Rick (as I knew him) was a super cool dude, always pretty quiet, never married and heavily encouraged us to get into classic rock like the Beatles and Pink Floyd.
 
The first Astrocade pictured is how I remember playing this console as a kid. It's modified to bypass the security chip inside the console and you can load roms into the zip socket cassette. I had no idea then that this was a test console for a guy that was tasked with porting arcade games to the system. Under the hood is the entire library of games. Rick also had a slew of homebrew games, music and software and it looks like he was active in that community up until he passed. Also pictured is a set of ROMs that appear to be Beatles songs for the Astrocade.
 
I currently have all of his old Astrocade stuff and am putting a bunch of research into what all this stuff is. He held onto a TON of hand drawn schematics, code, sprite layouts on grid paper, original employee packets from Bally, and just seriously a bunch of data.
 
I'm working on this for a few reasons. First off, I just want people to know who the guy was and have a forum thread about him. I also want to help raise some money for his family by selling most of this stuff and last, I'm hoping to find info on an elusive custom IC. Someone correct me if I'm wrong, but I believe the 0066-117XX currently doesn't have a replacement and there isn't much info on it. Well, there's a very good chance I've got info on that sitting in this giant pile of notes somewhere. It's used in the following games:
 
Gorf, Wizard of Wor, Robby Roto, Rotation VIII, Extra Bases, Sea Wolf II, Space Zap, Professor Pac-Man, 10 Pin Deluxe and of course, the Bally Astrocade home console.
 
I'd like to see if people here can help me with information about how much this stuff might be worth and also help me preserve these games. Rick worked on this stuff for a long time and I'm sure he'd be happy to know his work is going to live on and help future generations enjoy these great games.
 
There's 4 consoles, I haven't opened them up yet, but at least 2 of them have been modified, one is missing the entire top. I also haven't tested them yet. I figured I'd get information first before I go breaking things. I run an arcade so I'm pretty confident in my abilities, but it's always better to be safe than sorry.
 
There's also quite a few boxed and mostly sealed games, an original box and tons of developer notes and stuff like that. Pretty sure there's at least enough here to put together a boxed complete console including the stryofoam, bags, receipts, and manuals. I can add pictures of all this stuff as we discuss, but I figured I'd sell two main lots. One would be a boxed console and a sealed copy of the following cassettes: Basic, Artillery Duel, Pirates Chase, Incredible Wizard, 280 Zzzap / Dodgem. The other lot would be all this development stuff including the notes, chip sets and consoles.
 
Rick also worked on a port of the computer game 'Life' for the Astrocade, as well as a brick breaker game called Walz for the Atari ST (as well as a Walz level builder called Mason).
 
If anyone here is knowledgeable about this, I'd love to get help. I know the 0066-117XX has 40 pins, and I think it's a custom speech chip and that's about all I know. I'm not a programmer, most of this stuff looks like a foreign language to me. I'd greatly appreciate any help in determining what a good price to list this stuff would be and also help in hopefully shedding light on this IC chip.
 
I'll also add a picture of Rick once I get one from his family, so he can be remembered. Thank you in advance for any help!

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Thank you so much for posting this information here.  I'm sorry to hear that Richard has passed on.  It had been awhile since I had heard from him, so I wondered if he was okay.  He was a good guy and contributed so very much to the Astrocade community.  I'm very sorry for the loss of your Uncle Rick!

 

I'll answer this posting as I have time, but for now, check out my website, www.ballyalley.com.  In fact, search for the name "Degler" on this page:

 

https://ballyalley.com/ml/ml_source/ml_source.html

 

You'll see how much work he continued to put into helping us all in the Astrocade community understand assembly language programming.

 

I owe a great debt to Richard for all that he taught me in the many years that he was part of the Astrocade community.  He could come off a bit bristly at times, but I admired that about him: he wanted people to put the work in to get the most out of what he had to teach.

 

I'll let the people in the Astrocade forum on Groups.io know about this thread.

 

Adam

 

 

 

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1 hour ago, cowbells said:
I joined this forum to make this post, but I've lurked on here for years. One of my best friends Jeremy had an uncle that passed away this year that worked for Bally Midway. Richard Degler was his name and he primarily worked on the Astrocade.

Sorry to hear of Rick's passing, please pass my condolences on to your friend Jeremy.  Having lost my dad in February, I know what kind of a toll this can take.  2020 just keeps on dishing it out it seems...

 

I'm not much of an Astrocade historian, just a long time collector and gamer, and its one of my favorite systems.  Back in the day, I got an Atari 2600, and then, an Astrocade (Bally Computer System, to be exact, just like you have pictured).  17 or so years later, I picked up another machine and spent a good 10 years acquiring as much of the product line as I could.  

 

Never heard the system had a security chip, let alone that it needed or could be bypassed.  I have seen other socked carts like the one pictured along with the various ROMS to play the different games.  Must have come in handy for a programmer who wanted to burn and test their latest programs.  

 

Definitely interested in any hardware laying around, and would be happy to help with valuations on any of the equipment that I'm familiar with.  Things to look for would be any prototypes, especially games like Munchie (Pac-Man) or maybe even Kong (unknown if there was any progress on it), GI Joe Artillery Duel, etc. etc. The steering wheels that went with 280 Zzzap / Dodgem - especially if you find any advertising or packaging for them - would be a huge find for the community.  

 

A Bally or Astrocade retail store Kiosk would also be huge.  

 

Just flipped the ROM pic and I see some cool items already:

 

Solar Conqueror
Pac-Man
Balcheck

 

Conqueror is known, but you never know if this is a final or proto, Pac-Man was rumored at one point but then changed to 'Munchie" in advertising (commercials / catalog) and a handful of protos exist, but none that I know of Pac-Man.  My guess is Bally / Astrovision / Astrocade probably would not have released it as such, and anyway the Atari lawsuit against them had them drop Munchie from release anyway. 

 

Balcheck ROM I "think" is out there, but still cool, I have a Nutting Associates in-house Balcheck tester device myself. 

 

Feel free to post here or you can always PM me via the forum. 

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Very sorry to hear about this.  I know the name very well, but sadly, I never knew the man.  He was for certain one of the legends in the Bally community!  I repair Bally system's, and build some external hardware for the system (Lil' WHITE RAM and Ulti-Multi).  I will try to answer some questions:

3 hours ago, cowbells said:

security chip inside the console

There is no security chip.  The zif socket just allows you to change games without switching cartridges.

 

3 hours ago, cowbells said:

the 0066-117XX currently doesn't have a replacement

That is correct.  It is one of 3 (or 4 if you count the ROM) custom chips in the system.  This is the I/O chip, and mostly controls things like hand control movements.  It also has data lines and "controls" audio.  If I'm not mistaken, GORF uses 2 of these.  The other 2 custom chips are 115XX (Address) and the 116XX (Data).

 

3 hours ago, cowbells said:

There's 4 consoles, I haven't opened them up yet, but at least 2 of them have been modified, one is missing the entire top. I also haven't tested them yet.

I would be interested in all of them, working or not.  If you end up with a nice looking system that works, you would be better off selling it to someone other than me.  I cannot offer too much for several systems.  But I would be able to restore any that need cleaned up, and likely repair any that are not working.  I would want someone else to determine a value for you.  I absolutely hate pricing someone else's stuff.  Get some opinions, and I'll decide if I'm willing to pay your asking price. 

3 hours ago, cowbells said:

Rick also worked on a port of the computer game 'Life' for the Astrocade

As far as I ever knew, he was the father of this game.  It was 100% developed/programmed, and finished by him, and if I'm wrong, someone can correct me!

Again, I didn't know the man, but wish I would have.  He took a wealth of knowledge with him.  Were there any interviews done with him that may have been recorded?

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1 hour ago, Allen Schweitzer said:

There is no security chip.  The zif socket just allows you to change games without switching cartridges.

 

As far as I ever knew, he was the father of this game.  It was 100% developed/programmed, and finished by him, and if I'm wrong, someone can correct me!

 

Were there any interviews done with him that may have been recorded?

I'm learning as I go, I just assumed the jumper wire in the console was to bypass a security measure. So, this is good to know! Do all of the consoles have this jumper wire inside?

 

As for the game Life, he has printed microfiche excerpts from the Feb 1971 issue of Scientific American that details the origin of the game and how to play. It was originally a solitaire based game by a mathematician named John Conway. So I guess you could say that Rick was the father of the video game version of Life, but it's based on a real life game, meant to be played on a Go board. I double checked this after you mentioned it. For some reason I thought this was an early computer game.

 

I'll ask about interviews! I'm not aware of any.

 

Thank you guys for the responses! I'm planning on going through and scanning a lot of this stuff, especially technical drawings, which will take some time, but hopefully there's information that is useful. At the very least, it's interesting stuff.

 

Do you guys have any recommendations for testing these consoles? I know I'm supposed to keep it off of carpet!

Edited by cowbells
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2 hours ago, 128Kgames said:

Conqueror is known, but you never know if this is a final or proto, Pac-Man was rumored at one point but then changed to 'Munchie" in advertising (commercials / catalog) and a handful of protos exist, but none that I know of Pac-Man.  My guess is Bally / Astrovision / Astrocade probably would not have released it as such, and anyway the Atari lawsuit against them had them drop Munchie from release anyway. 

 

Balcheck ROM I "think" is out there, but still cool, I have a Nutting Associates in-house Balcheck tester device myself.

No kiosks or cool peripherals or anything like that, just consoles and the regular paddles, but there are loads of ROM chips. I'll line them all up and take pictures.

 

I've got plenty of arcade friends with ROM dumping/burning equipment, so we can get pretty much everything dumped if there's anything that hasn't hit the internet yet. It'd be really nice to not have to do all of them.

 

I'll definitely PM you about values of things. I actually own an Astrocade of my own, I bought it years ago and it never worked, but it is the super cool white variation of the console. Guess I'll finally be going down the road of getting it fixed haha

 

I'll keep checking this thread and making updates as we go here guys.

 

I'm 100% down to do as much as I can for the community if there's anything that's been in hiding, I'll make sure we get it backed up before I sell anything.

Edited by cowbells

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4 hours ago, ballyalley said:

You'll see how much work he continued to put into helping us all in the Astrocade community understand assembly language programming.

I definitely went through your website first thing! Thank you for keeping so much of that information alive. It was really cool to see the Beatles chips pictured on your site and be holding the actual tin in my hands at the same time. Very cool to trusted with all this stuff from the Degler family. I grew up with them, they were like a second family to me, so I'm pretty honored to be handling this.

 

I should probably learn how to work this forum so I don't have to make a new post every time I quote someone haha

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I’d be interested in checking out his documentation. I wanted to talk with him from a historian’s perspective before he passed away, so any papers and such he has may help fill in some of the gaps I now have.

 

My condolences - he really seemed like a major member of that scene.

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3 hours ago, ubersaurus said:

I’d be interested in checking out his documentation.

 

I believe that all of the software and documentation that Richard had in his collection was archived by Richard over the years.  He either scanned it, dumped it or took pictures of it.  Some items were shared with me and he was rather explicit that he didn't want anyone else to have access to it (that was that prickly part of his personality for some folks; I was fine with it).

 

Some of the items that he didn't want shared weren't technically part of his collection, but were still Astrocade-related.  For instance, he created software tools and utilities to help program and/or disassemble programs on the Astrocade using cross-development tools.  He also posted some items into the software and picture area of the discussion group and then removed them when no one would use them.  When the Astrocade group was moved from Yahoogroups to Groups.io last year, he deliberately deleted some pictures and software that he had shared because he felt slighted that it was ignored.  In many ways, I didn't blame him.

 

Richard poured countless  hours into the Astrocade community and only a few, more-technical, people seemed to notice.  I can easily say that without Richard, none of the disassembly work that I was able to do for the Astrocade cartridges could have been done.  He wrote programs in the LUA language that automatically unraveled about 80% of the on-board ROM routines when a machine language program was disassembled.  Without that automatic work, it would be such slow work to disassemble code on the Astrocade that it would be nearly impossible to do for lack of time.  There are bits of Richard left in his commented code.  In a way, if you want to know him, read through those remarks that he has left behind in Z80 source code.

 

At one point, Richard got upset with the community, as he was a bit disillusioned that he had to repeat himself to answer the same questions that would crop up time and time again.  He thought people should put some effort into the project/hobby that is the Astrocade game system/computer.  He did this with me on numerous occasions.  One good example was when I would have a programming question: he rarely (if ever) gave me a direct answer.  It wasn't that he couldn't or wouldn't answer me, but he thought that I would learn better and perhaps even faster, if he just dropped me hints.  He never stated this life-outlook to me directly, but I understood it by his actions.  He was right; he had a pretty good teaching method-- although it sort of required the learner to be thick-skinned.  It also meant that it required more work on the part of the person asking questions (and this was somewhat frustrating to some people), but it meant that-- for me-- I could retain more of what I learned because I "learned it on my own," well, really I learned it from him, but through slight indirection.

 

I never spoke to Richard except through the forums and many personal emails.  We never spoke on the phone or in person.  I don't know of any interviews with him.  Yet, I don't regret not talking to him.  He seemed like a private person and the few people I spoke to who had personal interactions with him sometimes seemed to be a bit taken aback by his personality.  I'm glad I knew the part of Richard which he was willing to share with the public.  I'm grateful that he and I shared nearly two decades together virtually via email and various forums.  I've missed him these last few months for I thought he lost interested in the Astrocade and communicating with me.  Now I realize his failure to check-in with me was due to his death.

 

For those who survive Richard, know that I-- a relative stranger-- gained a lot from his life; with his passing-on, I've lost a bit of myself too.  Now, who will drop the breadcrumbs that feed my programming desires?  A part of my mind, with Richard gone, will always be hungry.

 

Adam

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1 hour ago, ballyalley said:

I believe that all of the software and documentation that Richard had in his collection was archived by Richard over the years.  He either scanned it, dumped it or took pictures of it.

You might be right, however if there's a chance of uncovering new information, I'll happily work on it. I'm going to start scanning stuff and uploading it to a dropbox folder, just in case.

 

Out of curiosity, have you seen this? It was a folded up piece of paper that looked like it hadn't ever been opened. There's an overflowing folder full of information just on this game. I figured I'd start by scanning that stuff first.

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8 minutes ago, cowbells said:

You might be right, however if there's a chance of uncovering new information, I'll happily work on it. I'm going to start scanning stuff and uploading it to a dropbox folder, just in case.

 

Out of curiosity, have you seen this? It was a folded up piece of paper that looked like it hadn't ever been opened. There's an overflowing folder full of information just on this game. I figured I'd start by scanning that stuff first.

 

That looks new to me!  I believe that the only information on Richard's program, "Life," is here:

 

https://ballyalley.com/cart_manuals/pdf_manuals/docs-life.pdf

 

https://ballyalley.com/cart_manuals/pdf_manuals/Life_Manual_(Ver-2).pdf

 

The original "Life" article is here:

 

https://ballyalley.com/articles_and_news/LIFE_Article_(Scientific_American)(October_1970).pdf

 

https://ballyalley.com/articles_and_news/LIFE_Article_(Followup)_Scientific_American_(February_1971).pdf

 

Yes, please scan that information; it looks like Richard had more than I thought-- or more than he remembered.

 

I don't think that the source code for Richard's version of "Life" is available, but if you uncover it, then that would be a great find.  I believe Richard once disassembled and commented his own game (maybe around a decade ago?), but lost it (along with other Astrocade work) to a hard drive crash.

 

Thanks for joining the forum to talk with the Astrocade community.

 

Specifics of Richard's death haven't come up.  When did he die?  What happened?  Is a link to an obituary available?

 

Adam

 

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I'm Gary Degler, Richard's younger brother (we always called him Rick, but he did seem partial to Richard).  Adam seems to have a very good grasp of Rick's personality and temperament.  He was very quiet, a bit of a smart-aleck but in a funny clever way.  We knew little of the details of his computer career, he was very private.  His career included a job for a telecom company where he traveled all over the world doing installs or troubleshooting for phone systems (some of his old telecom parts and diagnostic equipment was still in the house).  Then still in Chicago, he worked for years for Bally/Midway during the arcade and home game systems boom.  He eventually moved back to Indianapolis and worked for a cash register systems company, and also did some freelance programming for Atari and others. We did find all kinds of manuals, internal newsletters, memos (and even travel and expense receipts and logs) going through things at the house.  And a lot of his notes, diagrams and graph paper artwork from his projects, many things we didn't even know about. 

Rick had diabetes health problems for a few years, then developed cataracts the last year or so until he was probably almost legally blind. He finally got cataract surgery early this spring, but then found out he had cancer not too long after that. He had a rough few months at home, with some hospital visits, and then passed away peacefully at the hospital at the end of June.

He was always very involved with family activities (in his quiet way), and very generous, especially with our kids.  He had an interesting full (quiet) life, and has been missed...

 

-GaryD

 

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Gary very sorry for the loss of your brother, my condolences to you and your family.

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On 11/2/2020 at 9:36 PM, cowbells said:

Do all of the consoles have this jumper wire inside?

I'm assuming you are taking about the jumper at the bottom left of the board next to the TIP 31.  Page 24, next to Q1.

https://ballyalley.com/documentation/misc_hardware_docs/Bally/full_size/bally_service_manual.pdf

Only the earlier 15V systems had that jumper wire.  The later 12V versions (more common) had a 24 Ohm 1/2 W resistor installed there.

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