Between The Buttons

Caught a few interesting pieces this past weekend. Loading them out of a hundred degree warehouse wasn’t a treat, but it was worth the effort.

First is what started as a dedicated Nintendo R-Type upright. Serial number is quite low, but it wasn’t exactly a common game either.

At some point it received a conversion to Golden Axe 2 that looks a lot messier than it is. The wiring was all terminated nicely so I can clip a Nintendo harness right back into place on the original connectors that were left intact. The coin door and vault were pretty messed up or absent but I’ve got spares I salvaged from some destroyed cabs at another warehouse years ago that will be a good match.

With some cleaning and the installation of a few parts it’s already looking most of the way there.

 

The second grab is another example of the purpose designed conversion kits that many manufacturers put out for the ubiquitous Pac Man and Ms Pac Man as they got on in years and stopped earning once the fever around those titles broke.

It’s a Nintendo conversion kit for the Vs. multi-game system. Similar in character to the Bally Sente conversion kit for these cabs, it takes a different approach to reconfiguring the monitor orientation and changing out the control panel.

This one clearly earned its keep as Pac Man before the transformation with almost twenty thousand plays on the clock, likely paying for itself twice over in its original incarnation.

The conversion was quite cleanly executed, though the Nintendo switching power supply has at some point been swapped for a generic model which was left hanging against the PCB cage.

Not a lot is retained of the original Midway internals. Portions of the power panel, AC wiring, and the Wells Gardner K4600 monitor are all that came along for the ride. The monitor has the maze burn you’d expect from any Pac Man game but it’s hidden pretty well by the smoked plexiglass panel that goes in front. Interestingly a standard Nintendo isolation transformer was included with the kit, though its 100V output is left unused and the Midway transformer is used to isolate power to the monitor.

A Nintendo video inverter and sound amp board is used to adapt the signal from the Vs. PCB to the output hardware in the cabinet.

Detritus in the cab says this one hung around in the Pacific Northwest, nearby one of the outposts of the Fred Meyer chain. The straw trick (“It has been brought to our attention that a flattened straw or similar object can be passed through the center opening in the upper hinge. If the object makes contact with the coin switch, it can be used to run up multiple credits.”) to getting free credits on Nintendo games must have made the rounds too, though whoever applied it didn’t realize that it only works on original Nintendo coin doors. We can also see the Vs. boardset played host to a few different titles over time, with Ice Climbers and Mach Rider in evidence.

This one will stay converted, though I’ll swap in a Dr. Mario daughterboard for the Super Mario Bros. chipset.

Bait & Switch

The Atari Roadblasters I picked up is in good overall condition, and the major parts are working, but most of the controls have problems of one sort or another. The steering yoke was half disassembled when I picked the machine up, with a pile of parts rattling around in the coin box. A few of the trigger and thumb button switches had been replaced, with incorrect parts, and one of the actuator buttons and several screws were gone altogether.

I brokered a deal with another local collector and got my hands on a second mostly complete yoke and pedal assembly… I still needed the right switches though…

I knew I recognized the switches from somewhere… That somewhere turned out to be the mechanical switch keyboards all the nerds are going crazy for nowadays (self included). I happened to have such a thing lying around, one of the cheaper and more commonplace of its kind, a Dell AT101W.

This model comes populated with Alps black keyswitches of the non-clicky variety. The one I had was also fucking filthy. As a rule, if you haven’t personally cleaned a keyboard in the last year or so (and I mean really, complete disassembly involved, cleaned it) it probably looks like this inside. Thought you all might appreciate that knowledge…

The other side of that mess is a PCB like this, to which each of those keyswitches is soldered.

Some quality time with my desoldering pump later, I was able to peel the PCB away from the keyswitches and their mounting plate. If you desolder the connections well, they’ll come apart much like this. If you do it wrong, you’ll either get nowhere, or rip the guts out of all of the keyswitches. Don’t try to do this with wick or a manual pump, is all I can say.

Even exercising some care I ended up breaking a pin or two on several keyswitches. Seems like they’re fairly brittle. Even with some loss I still ended up with plenty for this project though.

Removing the switches from the mounting plate was tedious but straightforward. Each switch has four tabs that secure it to the plate. I used a steel ruler to push in one side of two tabs at a time. It took a while but I was able to remove all of the switches without damage.

Alright, this is what really matters… On the left is one of the Omron B3G-S keyswitches that came out of the yokes originally. On the right is one of the black Alps from the Dell keyboard. Below is the small PCB the switches mount too and ride on inside the yoke assembly.

We can see a few differences right off. For one, the Omron switches have three pins, while the Alps have only two. The extra pin on the Omrons doesn’t matter, it only comes into play if you want to use these switches in a normally closed configuration, which is not the case for the Atari yoke. The small PCB the switches will be installed on is set up for a variety of different pinouts, so the slight difference in alignment doesn’t matter either.

There are two differences that *do* matter though…

First, the Alps switches have slightly larger pins than the Omron ones. This was easy to handle by enlarging the holes on the PCB with an appropriately sized drill bit in a pin vise.

Second, the Alps switches have a different setup for mounting then the Omron switches, and the yoke body halves assume you’re using the Omron type. To get the Alps to fit I had to clip off the tabs, and file down the remaining plastic to match the profile of the Omron switches while retaining the rectangular protrusion that keeps the switches from being pushed down into the yoke assembly.

The above picture shows an Omron switch on the left, a modified Alps in the middle, and an unmodified Alps on the right. A small straight file is sufficient to mod the Alps switches to fit, they should end up around 14mm wide when all is said and done.

Here we can see one of the original Omron switches installed in the lower position with the white actuator pin, and a modified Alps switched installed in the upper position with a black actuator pin.

It’s a bit of work, but considering the high failure rate of the Omron switches, and the fact that used replacements start at six bucks each and only get higher from there, I found it to be worth the effort. A single mechanical switch keyboard should have me covered for several lifetimes as far as replacement switches for this style of yoke go, and I know this style of standard key switch is used in other games as well.

If you’re another Roadblasters owner coming upon this information be advised that this is only confirmed for the kit style Roadblasters yoke. The dedicated Roadblasters yoke is a different assembly entirely and may use different switches. If anyone has pictures of the internals of a dedicated style yoke, or information on the switches used therein, please send them to me and I’ll update the post to include that information.

Speed Heart

Just when I was getting a bit of space back in the shop, another too good to pass on deal popped up. I thought it was a bogus ad at first, what kind of person offers, among other titles, Paperboy for $150 in working condition?

A friend had more confidence in the promise of Craigslist to deliver a steal every so often and texted the seller… They got an answer back, and a seven trip Friday night of acquisitional frenzy later we’d packed his garage solid. Thankfully, only two of our purchases would follow me home.

What’s six and a half feet tall, four hundred fifty pounds, and doesn’t clear the rear door latch of my van by about an inch?

The allegedly ‘compact’ version of Atari’s 1990 sequel to Hard Drivin’, Race Drivin’. I nearly passed this one on to another collector by virtue of its size alone… Moving it is awful! But a couple rounds at the wheel convinced me otherwise and I conned some friends into helping me drag the beast home.

The second, much more diminutive addition is another Atari title, Roadblasters, circa 1987. This example is the kit version of Roadblasters, installed in a System 1 cabinet that originally came outfitted as a Road Runner.

All of the games in the lot had signs of being taken off route at about the same time in the late 90s.

Roadblasters had something I’d never run into before attached to its main board. An Atari repair tag from 1992. The distributor noted, Dunis, is one I’ve found property tags for in several places, not surprised they were the go between for repair work on a local machine.

Roadblasters needs a little bit of attention to its controls, but is otherwise in good condition. The accelerator pedal needs a new potentiometer and the yoke has some missing parts and a failed repair to the trigger buttons on one side. I’ve got the parts I need on the way and as soon as its fixed it’ll be replacing one of the machines in the row of games at the office.

Race Drivin’ needs a little more in the way of repairs. It has no sound right now, despite the sound board passing its self test routines. The first gear shifter position and brake pedal are also non-functional. The shifter is a simple microswitch replacement, but the brake pedal uses a strain gauge rather than the typical potentiometer or microswitch common in other games. As far as I know, a proper replacement is unobtainable short of finding old stock or used parts, and neither really grows on trees… So I may have to figure out an alternative.