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.

Interstellar Safari

Took a little step back the timeline from prior projects with this last one. Designed in 1978, Stern Stars is part of the earliest wave of solid state machines, and bears many resemblances to its electromechanical predecessors. Most noticeably, it uses a chime box for its sound effects rather than a speaker.

The example I have landed alongside F-14 Tomcat, both fresh out of very long hibernation.

If the musty odor of long dead cigarettes didn’t give it away, the op tag confirms this machine spent some time on the bar circuit in Anchorage. While this machine survived its stint, the phone number for the Anchorage Amusement and Vending company now points to a physical therapist. Their last address of record is a still standing but one step above derelict warehouse with boxes and equipment piled high in front of the windows, and a high fence festooned with ‘No Trespassing’ signs.

While filthy, strung with rotten rubber, and malfunctioning, the bones of this Stars are quite good.

All that grodiness is probably the only thing that save the playfield from having a groove worn into it by the dragging right flipper, so I can’t complain too much about the mess.

The flipper assemblies needed an almost complete rebuild, the only original parts left now are the frames underneath the playfield. For some reason Stern used aluminum for most of the metal parts on this machine, including the flipper shafts, and one was bent enough to cause the entire mechanism to bind.

I had to modify the bushings I received from Marco, despite them being labeled as appropriate for this machine, because they were too tall for the playfield. A few minutes with a saw fixed that right up though.

The drop targets were another area where the aluminum hardware caused problems. The arms the targets ride on had deformed around the pins that hold the mechanism together, causing them to mushroom out around the pin shafts and in the most extreme cases this would cause them to bind against other parts of the drop target assembly. I straightened everything as best I could and filed down the burrs caused by this wear. Now the mechanisms work, albeit a bit sloppier than from the factory since the holes are wallowed out and some material was lost in the process. The reproduction drop targets from Marco are slightly different in design from the broken originals, but the changes didn’t cause any fitment issues.

The relatively simple layout only took a few hours to relamp and refresh the rubber on, and some light cleaning made short work of the built up grime on the artwork.

All of the playfield plastics cleaned up nicely, looks sharp reassembled and lit up. I’d originally intended to make a quick flip of this machine, but it’s grown on me since I took possession. The simple, colorful layout and straightforward rule set give it a character much like its EM ancestors, and the art is a great example of how a generic theme can pop when illustrated by a talented artist.