Thursday, March 31, 2011

I got bored and built an NES clone bartop

I recently got bored and decided to attempt to merge some console and arcade technology in a twisted experiment. A friend of mine (Jay) had a spare Taito Arcade Classics bartop gathering dust: Other friends of mine (Dan and Gabe) talked me into buying a Yobo FC3 NES/SNES/Genesis clone (pictured below) at PAX East last year. You might be saying to yourself--stop now! Why hack two pieces of gaming technology that are cool in their own right? Well, the bartop had no game circuit board. As it turns out, those boards make for really nice multi Taito arcade cabinets, and someone had already removed the board. The Yobo FC3 is a cool little system, but the controllers it came with were absolute junk! One of mine was nonfunctional out of the box. The other died shortly thereafter. It plays cartridges fine--but without controllers, no joy. That being the case, I set out to graft these pieces of tech together. The FC3 would serve as the gaming powerplant and the Taito bartop would be the control platform. First off, I removed the existing 13 inch monitor from the bartop and replaced it with a 13 inch TV. The tube bolted right up to the existing mounts without an issue. While I was inside the cab, I yanked the existing speaker (right) and replaced it with a much beefier 'arcade' speaker (left). The bass on the new speaker really kicks: Wiring up the controls required a bit of circuit tinkering. Simple pad hacks were not in the cards, since the pads themselves were DOA. Ultimately I went with the circuit from this site, adapting it slightly for my use. It was really cool learning how NES controllers work from a circuit perspective. Since the Taito bartop already had two 8 way joysticks with two buttons each, a menu select and a two start buttons, it was an almost perfect match for the button layout on two NES controllers! I ended up mounting the FC3 to the top of the bartop cab using four carriage bolts. This allowed me to cut a slot in the top of the cab to use for swapping out NES cartridges: Here is a shot of the machine in action with Mario Brothers (the arcade classic) up and running: Right now this rig is working really well. For a while I was toying with the idea of cutting more slots in the top of the cabinet (to add SNES and Genesis capability), but that would also require creating swappable control panels. That might be a fun project for the future, but for now I'm enjoying the current setup. The art on this cab is not bad, but I think it might benefit from a Nintendo themed facelift at some point...

Wednesday, January 12, 2011


It's officially winter in New England, and you know what that means--trying to grab one last game before your basement gets snowbound! A local collector recently rescued a Vanguard and a Phoenix from a barn in New Hampshire. The story on the machines was that they were put away working. I've been keeping my eye out for a Vanguard, and fortunately for me the rescuer decided to pass the games along to other collectors. With a storm baring down on me, I managed to wheel this game into my basement just before Jack Frost hit us with 17 inches of powder.

I received the Vanguard complete, and pretty much unhacked (except for some wires hanging out through the coin door lock hole--obviously because there were no coinups available when this machine was stored). The game was pretty filthy (it had been living in a barn after all) and I had to extricate a wasp nest and several larvae of unknown origin. The manual (complete with schematics for the game boards and monitor) was in an envelope in the bottom of the cab.

After checking the connections, I plugged it in, and immediately got monitor crackle and speaker hum. The marquee blinked to life. Initially, there was practically no image on the monitor--it was a super dim bluish haze; the brightness control didn't help. I hooked up my trusty Heathkit rejuvinator, and all the electron guns in the CRT tested fine. At this point the game would not coin up or play bind, so I figured there was something up with the boardset. I checked all the DC voltages and they were fine.

I pulled the boards, reseated the ribbon cables, reseated the CPU, and cleaned the edge connector with a pencil eraser. At this point I could see some Vanguard like junk on the screen (still dim) and in a triple (overlapping) image. It looked like the attract mode, sort of. It still wouldn't coin up--then I realized that someone had twisted some of the coin switch inputs together (perhaps as a cheap attempt at a free play switch). These wires were sticking out in through the lock hole in the coin door. With this input shorted, the other (unhacked) coin switch would not activate. After separating the wires, the game coined up, and I was able to hear sounds, music, and speech.

At this point I set about adjusting the monitor (Wells 4600). Since the brightness control wasn't doing anything, I figured the dimness might be solved by a cap kit to be performed later. I really wanted to get rid of that triple image. I played with the adjustment a bit, and then started to work the horizontal oscillator coil (L351) on the XY board. That adjustment requires a plastic tool, since it is a bit recessed and not readily accessible. Upon turning this coil a bit, all of a sudden an nice saturated image flashed on the screen--yes!

At this point I had to adjust the vertical hold (which I had fumbled with earlier) and had to turn down the brightness a bit. The game plays, but it does have a graphics glitch on some of the sprites. I'm going to check the ROMs next and see if there is an issue there.