Sunday, December 7, 2008

Let there be light!

Tis the season for lights, and I've been doing my best to take care of a major pet peeve of mine--games with nonworking lights. Collecting and playing standups is about the arcade experience, and part of that experience is lit up marquees and coin door lights. I was lucky to score an original marquee when I purchased my Centipede cab, but the fluorescent fixture was dead. One trip to Ace Hardware and I was able to find a starter and a fluorescent bulb. I'm pretty happy with the results:

Next up was a tricky puzzle with my Gauntlet coin door lights. (As you may recall, this game has 4 coin slots, one for each player.) They have never worked since I have owned the machine, and as it turns out, the problem was deceptively simple. I had tried changing lights/checking voltages on the left side door, and never found voltage. My big problem was I had 2 dead coin door lights on the right hand side door. As they say with Christmas lights, when one goes out, they all go out--and this is true for Gauntlet coin doors. They are wired in series, so if one side is entirely dead, the other side will be too. This is not true for most games--since there is only one coin door. Live and learn! The lights are lit, but I still need to fix them up with some new inserts and a new plastic piece for the rightmost slot.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Return of a classic

I've been going great guns on the Centipede restoration, and am happy to report that Centipede lives!

There were a few twists and turns (literally) along the way. First, let me get the obligatory trackball comparison shot out of the way:

The one on the left was nasty. It looked like someone poured lubricant directly on the ball in order to lube the bearings! The control panel I picked up got new bearings, rollers, and a snow white leaf button from Bob Roberts. Here's a shot of the control panel.

I *thought* the overlay was an original that had faded, but upon closer inspection, it appears that the overlay is an inkjet reproduction. It's not wide enough to cover the whole panel, and the cutout under the fire button hole is kinda ragged (but hidden here). I have a new silkscreened overlay on its way, but right now we are getting scored on functionality. Cosmetics will come in time.

After plugging in the new ARII (audio regulator two) power board, harness, and testing all the test points on the ARII, I was ready for the moment of truth--installing the game PCB (printed circuit board). Usually it's a bit of a nail biter, but you can only sit around and test voltages for so long.. I plugged in the board, and this is what I saw:

Upside down success! It was suprisingly easy to play, because I had installed the trackball backwards by mistake. After inspecting the monitor a bit more carefully, I discovered that someone had cut and swapped the yoke wires. These are the wires that go from the chassis board to the yoke (a set of deflection coils) on the monitor neck. Swapping wires allows you to reverse the way the picture is drawn on the screen. (The person who converted this to a Mania Challenge did this in order to get the correct display.) It's weird that they cut the wires, since the wires go to a molex connector where you can easily pop the pins out (with a paperclip) and reverse them. This is the route I took, which put the screen in the proper orientation.

With all this attention to the monitor, I noticed that the circuit board was held in place (literally) by a thread. Only one of the bolts was in place--the other was wedged between the bottom of the board and the cabinet shelf. (It's amazing it didn't short anything out.) Another annoying aspect of the monitor was the pinkish glow that it had. I wasn't able to adjust it away. I figured it was time for a cap kit, so I ordered one from Bob Roberts. I just finished installing it tonight, and the difference (shown in my blurry pic below) is clear:

No more annoying pinkish tinge! I also reflowed the video connections for the monitor and bolted the chassis board in place properly. I also got out the Windex and gave the thing a good cleaning. The monitor is now in good shape on this machine. Here's a picture of the Centipede in the row. (This is pic pre cap kit--I got the machine up and running quickly on a day we had some friends over.) I have the glass bezel, but I'm planning on touching it up before installing it.

There is still a lot to do on this one--marquee lights, coin door lights, uncovering the side art, etc.. but those can wait for a little while. I had forgotten how much fun this game is to play! I'm chasing GAB's high score (whoever that is), but I'm off by an order of magnitude right now.. See you in the arcade!

Monday, November 24, 2008

Centipede on a Budget

When people find out I have some games in the basement, most of them say: "Sweet, do you have Centipede?".. and I've always had to say: "uh, no."

I've kept my eye out for a machine, but it's one of those popular/recognizable titles that's a bit of a cross over. What I mean is this--collectors want it, but so do people who only buy one machine for fun. Centipede prices can be a bit higher than the average game, despite the large number of machines made. That being the case, I set out to find a decent converted cab.

Here's the one I found:

This is a Mania Challenge, but in a former life, it was a Centipede. It has the screen burn and the painted over side art as proof of its former greatness! When I called the guy about this machine, time was running out--he said I could come pick it up in the morning if it didn't get rained on in the meantime. (It was outside--he had just moved, and there was no room for it inside.) I got there and struck a deal for $50. Interestingly, when he found out I wanted to convert it back to a Centipede, he led me to his parts room, where I picked up a beautiful marquee, a completely populated control panel and an original painted glass monitor bezel. I ended up offering him $60 for those items, and he was fine with that. It just goes to show--if you don't like the prices on the internet, it's time to get out there and start pounding the pavement.

He said the machine wasn't running, which wasn't a big deal to me, since I wanted it for the cab (and perhaps the monitor). When I got it home, I found that the Mania Challenge boardset was sitting loose in the cab--I plugged it in to the wiring harness, and it fired right up! The monitor takes a long time to warm up, but it works fine. The cab is in exceptionally good shape--glad I got to it before the rain did! Time to convert this thing back to Centipede! For the rest of the parts, I went to the 'conventional' source--the internet. I was able to score a wiring harness for $25 shipped, an Atari ARII board for $13 shipped, and a working boardset for $50 shipped. Fortunately, the Atari power/transformer/fuse block was still installed in the base of the cab. A few miscellaneous parts from Bob Roberts (a new AC cord, a big blue capacitor (I had a spare from a while back), and a cap kit for the G07 ran about $20). All told I have about $218 into this project, with enough parts to make it go--I hope! Stay tuned!

Saturday, November 15, 2008

On your mark, get set...

Track & Field is a really fun game--you can't beat the button pounding, and it has appeal to a wide array of people. In an effort to make my row of games more appealing to visitors, I've set out on a quest for a Track & Field.

A few years back, I picked up a cabinet that had been partially converted to MAME. It was a Track & Field cabinet (painted black) that was stripped, but otherwise in really nice shape. At the time I thought, hey, I can use this for MAME and *maybe* convert it back at some point in the future.

The parts didn't seem to fall into my lap though, so the project was on the way back burner until a few weeks ago, when I bought some parts and the guy threw in this for free:

I believe his exact words were (while chuckling): "You want that?" I was pretty psyched, since this would finally get my project off the ground. The panel had seen better days, but the metal was good, and that's pretty much all you need. If you find yourself restoring a control panel, there are 2 tools that are an absolute necessity in my book. The first is a heat gun. It looks like a hair drier but gets a lot hotter. Hitting the trashed overlay with the heat from the gun loosens up the adhesive, which allows the overlay to be easily scraped off.

Next off I had to remove some of the adhesive. There are a lot of products out there that are supposed to do this, but I went with an odd recommendation from rgvac--peanut butter. It worked ok, but next time I think I will try something stronger. Apart from the adhesive, I had to remove a lot of rust. Both sides of this panel had a lot of rust; maybe it was left outside at some point. This is where the second tool comes into play: a power drill with wire wheel brush. I've sanded stuff by hand before, but this bad boy ate it up like nobody's business! If you already have a drill, you can get a wire wheel for about $3.00. After cleaning off the metal, it was primed, and painted satin black on the control panel side. (I did this so only black would be visibile on the sides if the overlay was slightly offset on application--it's usually a good idea to do this.) This was all done with spraycans (Rustoleum), since I don't have a fancy painting setup.

After letting this dry, I placed an order with Pheonixarcade . They do great screenprinted arcade artwork, and Track & Field appears to be one of their specialties. Here's the sweet overlay they sent:

Installing it went smoothly. It arrived with a the backing punched out for two of the buttons. This allowed me to set the overlay on the control panel with two buttons aligning it on the button holes. I pulled away the backing on the opposite side of the panel and tacked it down. Then, I unfastened the buttons, and removed the rest of the backing, and carefully smoothed the overlay into place. I would have pictures of what I just described, but my hands were kind of full at the time! Here is the final result, finished off with some leaf switch buttons from Bob Roberts:

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Return to DK Jr.

I've made a bit of progress in turning my recently acquired '8 ball action' back to its original Donkey Kong Juniorness. This involved tracking down some parts. Fortunately, the monitor bezel (surround) was installed backwards on the machine. All I had to do was unscrew the bolts holding it in and turn it around. (Easier said than done!) For the marquee, I had to go to Ebay. There were a lot of overpriced ones there, but after watching auctions off and on for a few weeks, I was able to find a decent one at a decent price.

I also had to remove the 8 Ball Action EPROMS/PROMS from the board and replace them with some DK Jr. ROMS. Fortunately, I was able to find a set at The picture shows what they looked like pre install. I recommend getting a chip puller if you are going to be removing chips from printed circuit boards. You won't be as likely to damage your boards, your chips, or yourself. (This is the voice of experience--I once impaled my thumb with a chip way back.)

Here are some pics I snapped of the machine in its current state:

I still need to replace the control panel overlay and substitute in a nintendo joystick. (These are an easy find--I'm just looking for a deal.) I also have to install the cap kit I got from Bob Roberts to fix the vertical foldover problem on my screen. (See how it is scrunched on the left?) After that, some sideart and fresh t-molding would finish this one up in good shape.

Saturday, November 1, 2008


"Flynn--are you embezzling?"

I've been doing some work on my Return of the Jedi cabinet. This machine and I go way back. When I bought the machine, it had a bezel (cardboard monitor surround) in it, but it wasn't in very good shape. Years ago I removed it, traced it, and scanned the artwork. Then I put the machine in storage for a while. Fast forward to now--I was able to find the tracings and the file for the artwork, but not the original bezel. (I must have put it somewhere safe! :) Anyway, that has left me playing a machine that looks like this:

I got tired of the 'exposed wood' look this weekend, and used the tracings to make a new bezel:

(I still need to trim the bottom piece a bit, but you get the idea.) I ended up hunting around a bit before I found the right material. The stuff they had at the big box office supply stores was either too thick or too thin. This image does not do a great job of showing the 3D nature of this bezel. It consists of several pieces, folded and interlocked. (Building one of these is a bit like origami!) I still need to get the instruction decal on there--then I can start looking for my monitor glass.

In addition to the bezel, I did some work on the Audio Regulator II board in this machine. One of my speakers was buzzing like crazy during gameplay and attract mode. I got an AR II capacitor kit from Bob Roberts and replaced all the capacitors on the board. The buzzing is gone, and the game sounds a whole lot clearer too. Thanks again Bob!

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

New Acquisitions

With this hobby, it's always good to mix things up every now and then. I recently tracked down a couple of nearby classics. First up was a Black Widow (in a Gravitar cab):

I bought this one working, which is amazing, given that it clearly hadn't had any maintenance for a while. The first thing I did was clean the power block and replace the big blue capacitor with a new one. Next up, I replaced the rubber grommets in the Wico joysticks. They had turned to powder, and the joysticks handles were just 'floating' in their sockets--not very playable. As it turned out, there was a 4 way Wico knockoff installed in the left (motion) stick; it's tough playing an 8 way game when you can only move in 4 directions! I replaced the stick with a spare 8 way. This game will need a new overlay (there is only a small amount of the original overplay present near the player 1/2 buttons. I also have a cap kit for the monitor that I will be installing soon. In addition to the black widow, I also picked up this:
You may not remember 8 Ball Action--I didn't either. I got this game because it used to be a Donkey Kong Junior. If you look carefully, you can see that the bezel is simply the original bezel installed backwards. The monitor has a bit of vertical fold over, so it will need a cap kit as well. I'm amazed at how clean this machine is!