Thursday, August 19, 2010

Rock solid!

One of the toughest things about this hobby is dealing with the little things that are amiss with a game. My Asteroids Deluxe has always been a great playing machine, but the screen never really looked right. Asteroids Deluxe has a neat screen setup, where the picture you see is the combination of the vector monitor output and a blacklit 3D background. The two images are combined by a partially silvered first surface mirror. This mirror reflects some light (from the monitor) and transmits some light (from the fluorescing backdrop behind it). The problem with my screen is that you could see a dim white rectangle the full size of the monitor. There was no way to adjust this out.. and it totally killed the 3D background effect. You want to see ships and rocks floating in midair, not on a dim white screen that is interfering with your view of the cool 3D stuff!

My screen was also missing the blue 'gel' that goes in front of the monitor. That didn't bother me so much--I figured experiencing the game in white lines wasn't that much different than experiencing it in blue lines.

Then I got thinking about this a bit more. (For this next bit, you need to bear in mind that during my day job, I do a bit of spectroscopy, which deals with the interaction of light and matter.) What if it was the black light that was causing the screen to show up as a white box? As it turned out, the ultraviolet (UV) light from the black light was making its way through the partially silvered mirror, straight down to the picture tube. The UV was then causing some of the phosphorescent material on the tube (that is supposed to be lit up by the CRT electron beam only) to glow. As it turns out, air doesn't block UV very well. Glass (i.e. the mirror) doesn't block it very well either... but plastic, well, plastic is another story! Plastic is very good at blocking (absorbing) UV rays, and guess what the blue gel that is supposed to go on an Asteroids Deluxe monitor is made of.. You got it, plastic. With the blue gel in place, the UV from the black light does not have nearly as big an effect on the picture tube:

It's not perfect, but the effect is a heck of a lot better than it used to be!

Another small issue popped up what I was tinkering with the machine--intermittent power failures, accompanied by nasty audio buzzing, graphics flickering, and high scores getting wiped out. This machine has a (relatively) fresh big blue capacitor, a rebuit AR board, and a recapped/rebuilt monitor. Upon further investigation, it turned out that by jiggling the cables on the power brick, I was able to reproduce the effect. I figured it might be a bad molex connection on the brick, but the pins looked factory fresh. Things on the AR board looked great too--no loose pins or cold solder joints anywhere. Then I pulled on a few wires that were leading into the power brick (through the hole on top). These wires went to the (fresh) big blue... but they were the culprits! As it turned out, the end loops on the wires were loose where they were screwed on to the big blue. I had replaced that big blue a few years back, and apparently the replacement I got had screw holes that were a little bit too shallow for the factory screws that were used on the original big blue in this machine. The machine had worked fine for many years, but apparently the jostling the machine has seen over the years (including a coast to coast move!) had slowly loosened the wires. I pulled the screws and washers and cleaned them with a wire brush. Then I sourced a few more washers (to make up for the fact that the screws were a tad too long) and securely screwed the wires in place. The machine is now rock solid! The moral of the story--even if you know the big blue is good, check those connections! There are lots of wires going into and out of that capacitor, and they are all vital to smooth operation of your power supply.

One interesting side note is that these power issues wiped all of the high scores on this machine--high scores that were there when I bought the machine (I tend not to clear out high scores on my games). These scores were ridiculously high scores set by some guy named 'DAN'. DAN, I wanted to beat you the legit way, but it just wasn't in the cards. Now to *finally* put some scores of my own on there.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Two pack of cutesy games

<-- Here's my Ranger doing what it does best. I've been looking for a proper Q*bert and a Frogger cab for some time now. I have a bootleg Q*bert machine (in a generic cabinet) that I enjoy--but I have been keeping my eye out for a dedicated cabinet from Gottlieb. Frogger is another staple of the golden age, but for whatever reason, they are hard to find (at least in New England). A lot of Froggers were made, and I am sure that many are still out there.. but as everyone says, people tend to hold on to them. My friend Jay has the lowdown on where to find games around here and he recently clued me in on the location of a converted Q*bert cab. We cruised to the location, and I was pleasantly surprised to find a converted Frogger cab as well! Sweet--two birds with one stone. Both cabs are converted to Merit Trivia Whiz. Fortunately the conversions were relatively clean--the original power supplies and monitors were left intact, and a Trivia Whiz conversion doesn't Swiss cheese the control panel as much as a standard 'classic to JAMMA' conversion does. (Check out my Dragon's Lair conversion for an example.)

Some parts are on the way, and I have started cleaning and stripping these cabs. I'm considering swapping the guts from my Q*bert bootleg/generic into the Gottlieb cab, but that decision can come a little ways down the road. Now to find a Frogger boardset!

Monday, January 4, 2010

Donkey Kong restore

It has been a really long time since my last post, probably because I have been too busy fixing up games and the like. I've been taking some pictures along the way, and figured now is a good time to post something.

A while back I grabbed a converted Donkey Kong (DK) that was sitting on Craigslist. It was advertised as a Konami basketball, but the pictures showed it was in a converted DK cab. The cab didn't look that great online, but it appeared to have potential when I saw it in person. It still had the original Sanyo 20-EZ monitor, and the original Nintendo harness was intact. $100 and some driving left me with this in my garage:

I figured I would have to buy most of the replacement parts, but when I looked into the upper back, I thought I saw one of Donkey Kong's eyes in the marquee area. As it turned out, the marquee had just been covered over with a sticker, and the original marquee was quite well protected:

Unfortunately, the control panel had extra holes drilled in it, and the original overlay was long gone. I set to work on filling the conversion holes with bondo, then painted the panel, and lastly added a screen printed overlay from TNT Amusements:

Half of my control panel carriage bolts (the tiny ones) were missing, so I had to order a set from Mike's Arcade--kinda pricey, but those things are hard to find! The original buttons were discolored and some had cigarette burns, so I replaced them with reproductions from Mike's. Someone replaced the stick with a rather worn out 8-way, so I ordered a reproduction Nintendo 4-way (once again from Mike's). I would have gone with a cheaper used stick, but I was impressed with the one I purchased for my DK Jr, and figured DK deserved no less. The control panel wiring was a bit hacked up (for the additional buttons) but I was able to clean it up and get it back to its original state.

I was able to snag a new set of logic boards (2 board set) on Ebay, and also had to track down the small wooden shelf and metal brackets that hold the board in place. These parts took a really long time to find, but I was able to get them from someone who was parting out a badly water damaged cabinet.

The monitor had some bad foldover (see my earlier entry about this exact same issue with my Donkey Kong Junior) so I removed the monitor, ran the chassis through the dishwasher to clean it, and installed a cap kit. The monitor came out looking (and functioning!) like new.

The speaker panel had a bunch of gunk and residue on it, perhaps from tape:

This was cleaned up with some goo-gone, a plastic paint scraper, and a lot of elbow grease. While I was at it, I removed the black laminate above the control panel. It was in really bad shape and couldn't be saved.

I ended up sanding this area down and painted it with satin black. I may choose to cover it with laminate at some point in the future, and I still need to track down an instruction sticker.

Next up, I reinstalled the control panel and installed a replacement bezel that I found on Ebay:

That's looking a lot better than a Super Basketball! I converted the mechs over to tokens, added new connectors for the speaker, and reconnected some missing wires to the second coin mech. The machine needs a bit more cleaning up (I'm anxious to replace the t-molding) and a few decals, but for now it is back in the line next to one of its immediate family: