Friday, July 31, 2009

Token Effort

My latest undertaking is converting my machines to run on tokens. This is part of the metamorphosis that many arcade collectors go through. Once your games are pretty much working, if you want to keep fiddling with them, you convert them to tokens.

The tokens I have chosen are 0.984 inches in diameter. These are called 'quarter sized' tokens, but they're actually just a bit larger than a quarter. I picked up a batch of old Chuck E Cheese tokens on Ebay. One nice advantage about 0.984 tokens is that you can usually convert a quarter mech to run with the slightly larger size. It requires a bit of filing and adjusting, but it is manageable. Plus, I already have a bunch of quarter mechs in the machines. It is possible to buy token mechs, but they can get pretty pricey in a hurry ($10 to $15 or so each on ebay). If you have the patience, converting your quarter mechs is the way to go.

In my case, this has been an interesting task, since many of my machines have different coin mechs, and many require different adjustments. It's a lot like solving a puzzle at times. Here is a basic rundown on a run of the mill metal mech:

Depending on the mech, you may have to file down the area where the coin enters just a bit to get the clearance needed for a 0.984 token.

Then comes adjusting the cradle. On this mech, I actually ended up removing one of the cradle pieces in order to get the tokens to pass the cradle area:

Then came adjusting the bar that decides whether to accept or reject a token after it has traveled through the mech. A screwdriver is used to loosen the bolt and then slide the bar back and forth until you find the sweet spot. This ends up being a trial and error game, so get ready to put that token through the mech about 50 times in order to get this right:

I may follow up with a post detailing some of the more challenging token conversions I encountered.. the Nintendo and Bally/Midway machines in particular required a bit more work.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Dragon's Lair gets a new monitor

My plan with Dragon's Lair is to run the game from a PC, using software known as Daphne (named for the princess in Dragon's Lair). Daphne emulates a number of arcade games that ran on laser discs.

My DL cabinet came with a 19 inch Electrohome G07 monitor. Unfortunately, an off the shelf PC cannot put out a 15 kHz RGB signal that an arcade monitor can display. Ultimately, I ended up swapping out the monitor for a new one. I ended up getting a 19 inch tri-res monitor:

The picture on this thing is great! It's a cool rig, since it can accept a VGA signal or traditional arcade signals. The screen was nice and bright, which made photographing it a bit of a challenge. In person, the screen images are fantastic.

I added in an Ipac (from Ultimarc) for interfacing the controls, and built a new harness for the joystick and buttons. The game plays great with the PC I was using for testing. I'm still ironing out a few kinks with the PC that will ultimately reside in this cabinet.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Ground Kontrol

The second post in my Arcade Safari series comes from a recent opportunity to visit Ground Kontrol, the classic arcade/bar in Portland, Oregon. As you stroll up to the front door, you can hear a continuous loop of arcade ambience on a speaker above the door, a nice touch.

They have a wide array of vintage video games as well as an upstairs pinball parlor.

Interestingly, they also sell vintage consoles. All the games ran on quarters, and the machines were in pretty good shape. Only one machine was dead when I was there (Battlezone).

I'd like to sum up the experience with the good and the bad.

The good:

  • Nice selection of machines.
  • Friendly staff (quick to return a lost quarter).
  • On a Sunday afternoon, you have your pick of games, because the place was pretty empty.
  • Only one machine was out of order, which was impressive, given the number of machines they have.
The not so good:

  • My biggest gripe--the overbearingly loud music pumping through all corners of this place. I was there at 3PM on a Sunday, and it was incredibly loud. (I used to play in a band every weekend--I am no wuss when it comes to loud music.) When you have to yell to someone you are playing a 2 player game with, it's too loud. It wasn't even 80s music.
  • A few of the machines were quarter eaters, but the staff was pretty good about it.
  • Some of the games were placed a bit too close together, face to face. When I was there, some guy was sitting down and playing the Ms. Pac, which totally blocked off access to the Galaga behind it.
  • They are a bit light on vectors (perhaps due to reliability) and didn't have any laser games.
All in all, an interesting place. They do have some interesting bands/DJ's sheduled there, and are supporters of video game related bands, which is very cool. This is definitely a good place to grab a beer and play some games if you are in the area. It's a short walk to the waterfront and the Chinese gardens, both highly rated local attractions. Just don't forget the earplugs.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Separation Anxiety

I finally got my old Tron back. (It had been in my Sister's care for a number of years.) This was the very first game I brought back from the dead--and when I say dead, EVERYTHING was dead on this machine--the power supply, boardset, monitor, fluorescent lights--the whole works. Anyway, it has been sitting for a while, and a number of the things I fixed need attention again.

One suprise I noticed when moving this thing was the fact that the back portion of the cab was separating. The cab has not seen water (nor does it have any water damage) so I was suprised to see this. I guess too much moving and wear and tear can have that sort of an affect on a cab. These Bally/Midway cabs are not built in the tank like fashion that Atari used. You can see some of the separation here:

That's the support that handles the orientation of the backdrop as well. The support holding the fluorescent tube (just above this and off frame) was also super loose.

One of the back panels had broken off as well..

(That's where the back board is supposed to connect.)

I considered a few routes, and upon consulting with Dave, he confirmed that going with big clamps and wood glue was my best option. I headed over to Sears Hardware, and they had a sale on monster clamps, in a color that would make the MCP proud. Here's a shot of the clamps pulling the back of the cab back together while the glue sets.

The cab is a heck of a lot sturdier now!

I started to go through the wiring, and found the wires for the switch (in the top of the cab) twisted together with no cap. I fixed this, then decided to fire up the monitor. The monitor showed some rastering, which was good. I then hooked up the boardset, and got some screen garbage (doh! these boards used to work..) and shortly thereafter, the monitor blew. There was a loud snap followed by some buzzing. I had capped this monitor, but heck, that was probably over 10 years ago! This monitor chassis had lots of random issues to begin with, so I ordered a replacement with new parts. I'll keep you posted on how it turns out.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Arcade Safari

One thing I want to do with this blog is use it to document classic arcade machines in the wild. At one point in time, the classics were everywhere. Now, not so much.

I used to go to school in New Haven CT. There is a record store there of some note called Cutler's. During the late 90s, Cutler's had a whole row of classic 80s video games and pins up back. They had Tron, Centipede, Ms. Pac, Galaga, and a whole slew of others. I recently went back there, and all they had up back was one solitary Ms. Pac machine.

Quite a few years ago, I had spoken to the guy who had his machines on location at Cutler's. He was a local collector. Apparently, the owner of Cutler's lease was mandating that they move next door/reduce their store to a smaller space, and also madated that they ditch the arcade machines. The claim (so he said) was the machines brought in a 'bad element'. Funny, the people I saw playhing the games during that time were in their 30s. Heck, some of them were bringing their children with them to show them the games they used to play. I used to get a lot of inspiration to fix up my Tron (and collect more games!) by visiting Cutler's. I certainly dropped my fair share of quarters into those games, and I had some good high score battles on the Tron there.

You know what stinks? Cutler's had a retro arcade set up to celebrate the arcade goodness of the past, and even that got shut down. If you appreciate the history of these things, do what you can to preserve and celebrate it, because not everyone looks fondly on this stuff.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Special delivery!

My handlebar overlay from this old game arrived, which was much needed on my Paperboy.


After scraping off the remaining adhesive with 'Oops':

Next, I used a drill with a wire brush to remove the remaining adhesive and paint:

I added a coat of primer:

Then I painted it black:

(I also touched up the bolts with some paint at this time.)

After the paint dried, I put on the overlay:

Last but not least, I put it on the machine. It makes a big difference in the looks. Now when people who come over to visit, they'll know how to select 1 or 2 players! :)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Now you have a friend in the paper business!

I finally dug my Paperboy machine out of storage. This one has had quite a journey.. I found it out in California while on a warehouse raid with my friend Dave (and his friend Mike). I was only out there for the summer, and had to return to the east coast to finish up school. Dave shipped the machine out (many thanks!) and I took it back to the apartment I was renting. I managed to get it working, but it was always flaky--it had power issues I was unable to track down, despite a lot of tinkering. I managed to pick up a Championship Sprint kit for it, which is a lot of fun with two players. After finishing grad school, I stored the machine at my parents' business, and moved back to California. There it sat in (literally) cold storage for about 7 years! Then, I moved back to the east coast, got a house, and started assembling an arcade in the basement.. it was time to reclaim the Paperboy.

Given that it was flaky when I put it away, I was not surprised to see that the machine was dead 7 years later when I plugged it in. Paperboy is a power hungry machine; it has the normal power block that most Atari machines have, but it has an extra big blue bolted to the floor of the cab. It uses an ARIII board for +12 volts, +5 volts and audio amplification, and then has a second power supply (in my case a switching power supply) that supplies +5 volts for the CPU board. (The machine needs +5 volts for both the CPU and the video board--both of which take up a lot of room in the cabinet.) When it's running, it pulls about 2.3 amps, more than twice what typical older machines require.

The troubleshooting went like this.. I noticed that I had a cooked fuse on the power block, which was traced to the circuit that is supposed to supply 12 volts DC to the ARIII board. This is a very simple circuit, consiting of a transformer, a fuse, a bridge rectifier, and two big blue capacitors. Upon replacing the fuse (slow blow) I found that I was getting about 3V DC, where I should be getting about 4 times that much. I thought I might have a short in the big blue.. I unplugged the leads that lead to the big blue, and tested to see what kind of output I was getting on the DC output of the bridge rectifier--and I was getting no where near the 12 volts (unsmoothed) that I was supposed to be getting. Then I checked the output from the transformer itself--12 volts right on the money. The problem was a bad diode in the bridge rectifier. One order to Bob Roberts for $3, and I had a new rectifier. (I also picked up a replacement big blue, and an ARIII repair kit just in case.) I replaced the bridge rectifier and the big blue--now reading a solid 12V DC on the ouput. I tossed in an ARIII board and bolted it into the machine. (Had to run out to the hardware store to pick up some 6/32 bolts to hold the board in place.) I plugged in the machine.. nothing. I got out the multimeter, and found that while I had good voltages on the CPU board, I only had 2.5 V (instead of 5 V) on the video board. The video board has its 5 V supplied by the ARIII. I happened to have another spare ARIII, so I popped that one in. As I looked down at the multimeter and saw +4.97 V on the readout, I heard the test tones go, and then the speech test said "Now you have a friend in the paper business." I walked around to the front of the machine, and saw that it was operational:

Then I proceed to play the game for the next three minutes, in that wonderful feeling of joy/disbelief that often accompanies an easy fix! I did a bunch of cleanup on the machine--the control panel, the glass, was pretty dirty. The handgrips were really funky from being in storage, but some hand soap and some scrubbing with a brush in the sink got them back in order.

The kicker is this--the day I got this thing back to my house from storage, Rich (from thisoldgame) announced that he is selling a reproduction overlay for the handlebars (conspiciously missing from this machine). This is the first time that part has been reproed.. is that good timing or what? I just got notice that mine is in the mail, and I'll post an update when it is installed.

If you need me, I'll be on Middle Road.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Activate interlock! Dynotherms connected! Infracells up! Mega thrusters are go!

(Disclaimer: if you plan on doing this repair, make sure to unplug your machine first--120 VAC can be dangerous.)

Ok, so this repair is not as exciting as the title appears. When I recently put my Centipede back together, I noticed that certain parts had been stripped, particularly the coin door area. Atari liked to put interlocks on the coin doors of its older machines, for safety reasons. Open the coin door, the power to the whole machine goes off. (That way the guy collecting coins has little chance of getting shocked.) My interlock had been stripped out, likely used as a repair part on another machine. You can see where the wires were twisted/black taped together. This is a sloppy and possibly unsafe scenario:

I took them out, separated the wires, and attached some quick disconnects:

Here's the interlock. If the plunger is pressed in (i.e. when the door closes on it) it makes a connection. If it is manually pulled out (i.e. during servicing) it also makes a connection.

Here is the interlock attached to the quick disconnects:

You can see in that picture that the AC wires leading to the interlock are fed through a rectangular mount. This is where the interlock snaps into place:

That's it. It's a small repair, but with these machines, every little bit counts.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Restoring a Swiss Cheesed Control Panel

Like many Dragon's Lairs, this one was ultimately converted to another game. This particular one became a Clutch Hitter, which required 2 joysticks with 3 buttons per joystick. The original Dragon's Lair had one centrally mounted joystick with 2 sword buttons, one per side.

Here's the converted panel:

Here I am in the progress of stripping the panel. My trusty heat gun, box cutter and scraper are clearly in view. For removing the adhesive, I used some Goo gone and a brass wire wheel brush on a power drill.

Check out the cleaned off panel--I see way too many holes! Fortunately, when they converted it, they did not fill any holes--they just cut new holes, put on the overlay, and bolted a piece of plexiglass over it.

My strategy for filling the holes was simple. I bought a thin piece of aluminum sheet metal, and cut it to the exact size of the panel I was working on.

Next, I clamped it in place behind the panel, and traced out only the holes I wanted to keep with a sharpie.

The 'keeper' holes were then cut out (roughly) with a dremel. They need not be perfectly round, since they won't be seen or touched in the finished article.

Next, I slathered on some quick setting epoxy:

Then I glued the aluminum sheet (carefully aligned) to the original panel. You can see that I clamped it in place with some spare junk buttons and some spring clamps. Now I have nice solid metal behind every hole I want to fill.

Bondo time! Here is the first layer after application:

Here it is after some sanding. I ended up putting on another layer (mounded up over the holes) and repeating the sanding process.

Next up I had to do some work with a metal file--some of the holes were kind of rough cut with the drill from the original conversion. After the edges were flattened out, I cleaned the panel with 409 (to get rid of dirt/fingerprints) and then primed the sanded panel:

That's starting to look more recognizable. After priming, I put on a coat of black paint.

Next, I lined up the overlay (from Quaterarcade) and put in some buttons for alignment. I pulled the backing off of the top edge, and tacked it down.

Next, I removed the buttons, and slowly removed the rest of the backing, sticking the overlay to the panel. I used a heat gun (very gently) to heat the portion of the overlay that had to make the 90 degree bend. Then I clamped it down (with spring clamps and some buttons).

Here's a shot of the panel in place on the machine, with a leaf switch Wico installed and a few buttons loosely tossed in.

Here's the machine with the restored panel and marquee. The cabinet still needs a lot of work, but it's identity crisis is over.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Hidden Treasure!

It's nice when you find a little something extra in a cab. I bought my Dragon's Lair cab assuming everything of interest had been stripped out of it. One bummer was this:

That's the scoreboard plexi--painted over. I figured I would have to hunt down and buy an original (or a repro) scoreboard. When I got the cab home and took off the back door, I was pleasantly surprised to find this:

That's the scoreboard card, between the two speakers. When the machine was converted, it was left in place. Score! I did some digging online and found a wiring scheme that makes is possible to hook the scoreboard up to a PC parallel port for reading scoreboard output from Daphne. I ordered the appropriate connectors and ribbon cable, built the cable and plugged it in for a test:

It works great! This cab is one step closer to delivering an authentic Dragon's Lair experience.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Getting Medieval

I've been kinda busy lately with work, but in my not so copious free time I have been trying to do bits and pieces of my many arcade projects. One of the big items on my list is deconverting a Clutch Hitter back to a Dragon's Lair. I started with the marquee, which was kind of a tricky task. The Clutch hitter marquee was stuck on there pretty good, over the original Dragon's Lair plexi:

So the trick was--removing this thing without ruining the plexiglass. Fortunately, the repro I ordered (from Quarterarcade) sticks on over the plexi, so slight imperfections in the plexi wouldn't be a problem, provided that enough light passed through. My tools of choice for this were my trusty heat gun, a metal putty knife, paper towels and a can of 'Oops' remover. I started by GENTLY heating the marquee material, and peeling it back. Some gentle scraping with the metal putty knife helped me get the stubborn bits off. This left me with a piece of plexiglass with a TON of adhesive left on it. There was so much, it would have made it tough for the new marquee to stick properly. This is where I came in with the paper towels and just a little bit of 'Oops' at a time. The nice thing about the 'Oops' is it was gentle enough not to melt/fog the plexi, but strong enough to lift this particular adhesive. It took some time (and elbow grease) but I was able to get the plexi pretty much crystal clear! I was very happy with the results:

(I took another pass with the 'Oops' and got it even clearer than that pic.) Next up was applying the new marquee. First, I cleaned off the plexi with some Windex, to get rid of my fingerprints. Then I lined up the marquee, clamped it in a few places, and then removed the backing on one edge. I stuck it to that edge, and slowly worked my way across the marquee from left to right. Fortunately, there is a bit of wiggle room with this application; the edges of the plexi get covered by the angled marquee brackets, and the marquee sticker doesn't quite fill out the plexi.

Next up, I tried it on for size in the cab:

For the full effect, I killed the lights and fired up the fluorescent fixture in the cab:

Next up, I'll be showing you my progress on the control panel.