Truxton Cabaret Part 2

This has been a fun project (emoji projecting pleasure). Unlike previous restores which became what they already were, this is a shrunken-down conversion in need of reviving, with a few alterations. I’ve also taken my time a bit more, because there’s nothing more dull than a workshop with no work. I mostly go down on the weekends, turn on KALX, play a few credits of Robotron, then settle into a couple tasks.

As was established in the first post, the control panel began as Centipede, and then somewhere along the way an operator drilled new button holes and crudely patched the gap where the trackball had been. Before stripping it, I’d made a quick mockup of a one player panel with three buttons, which I thought better suited its new life as a JAMMA cabaret. More on that later.

With the cabinet and metal parts painted, I reassembled the coin doors and installed new locks. The Truxton marquee fit nicely into place, secured by six allen bolts, which look like security torx if you blur your eyes. Actually I liked them well enough to affix the speaker grill, replacing the kind-of-ugly original rivets.

Next I turned to the bare interior and added a new switching power supply, and then it occurred to me there was no AC line filter or fuse block. After a couple unsuccessful stops around town (actually Radio Shack did have a fuse block, but not much else, the poor neutered bastard), I emailed Bob Roberts who had the missing parts in my hands three days later. Using Bob’s article on AC wiring as a guide, I cut a 12″x12″ board and mounted the monitor’s isolation transformer, AC filter, fuse and distribution blocks, and new power cord. The simple diagram really tells you everything you need to know. Using 18g wire, I ran an earth ground line across a few components and up to the monitor frame, which will extend to the metal control panel. It powered up and voltages tested accurately.

As a side note about what not to do, for maybe the third project now I accidentally turned the power on with the monitor anode cap off. Unlike the beautiful arc I saw last time, this was fairly uneventful but dumb. Just never leave the cap off. After cleaning or repairs, stick the thing back on and be done with it!

While some cabarets had a backlit marquee, Centipede apparently did not. I had a cheap florescent light fixture on hand and a couple brackets that placed it directly across from the rear of the marquee. I pulled AC directly from the power supply and tucked away the wiring. What I thought was going to be challenging was a rather straight forward fix.

Back to the control panel — originally I considered having the holes welded shut, but the prohibitive quote made me turn back to my old JB Weld ways. Initially I grabbed some washers, but I ended up using thin sheets of aluminum cut with tin snips. This provided the backing, and JB Weld filled the surfaces. After 24 hours you could press your finger into the mend with no resistance, and in two days it felt nearly as hard as the metal. After some sanding and more leveling out, it should be in good shape for the overlay to come.

Truxton Cabaret Part 1

Cabaret and mini cabinets are cute-as-a-button shrunken arcade cabinets that Atari and other game manufacturers created in the early 1980s. Shorter, lighter, and noticeably narrower than the standard cabinet, the cabaret was less menacing with its stoic wood-grained vinyl sides, likely designed for being tucked away into restaurants, corner stores and dens. Atari turned some of their classics like Dig Dug, Tempest, and Centipede into iconic cabarets with 19″ monitor squeezed in. Their size makes them ideal to collect if space is a concern. I’ve wanted to find a Robotron cabaret but they’re fairly uncommon and I restored a full-sized version earlier this year. While there are several others I’d like to own, I’ve been more interested in finding a scrappy cabaret for general jamma use. It turned out that our Mike, once again, found an ideal candidate. A Truxton conversion in what was originally a Centipede cabaret.

The cabinet is in pretty good shape, probably more so than the first three restores I’ve done. The original wood-grained vinyl sides are intact with just a few small gouges. A few rips in the black textured vinyl on top means the rest will have to be peeled off and painted over — not really seen anyway. Someone had installed a huge metal lock bar across the coin doors which should be easy enough to remove and bondo over the holes. The original Truxton cardboard bezel is a bit faded but otherwise fine. Initially I wondered if Romstar, the US publisher of Toaplan’s Tatsujin, created both full size and mini conversion kits. This would be a surprising effort considering how unlikely Truxton’s popularity would’ve been in the US at the time. If there was a mini conversion kit, the control panel overlay didn’t make it on this cabinet. And the marquee was trimmed down from a more common size. The inside is pretty economical since it had been converted to jamma and ran off a switching power supply. The K7000 monitor seems in decent shape and without too much burn. To recoup half the cost of the purchase, I sold the Truxton PCB, as I already had a Tatsujin in my collection.

It was a tad tempting to just slide it in next to Galaga and Robotron, but what would be the fun in that. There’s a lot of potential here I didn’t want to waste. As I stripped it down I considered converting it back into Centipede, but a Truxton cabaret seems more unusual, and better suited to the shooters I’ll play in it. While vacuuming out the bottom, I saw signs of another past life, a Sky Shark sticker, confirmed later when stripping the control panel. Centipede > Sky Shark > Truxton. I put the cab on its back and made a slight alteration to the already modified marquee cutout to allow for more light to pass through. The speaker grill needed flattening so I had to drill out the rivets to get it off. Next I stripped the paint off the metal parts and control panel, the latter taking my usual 2-3 hours — the next time I may swap Citristrip for a more lethal paint stripper. Finally I gave the front of the cab and metal parts a few coats of primer, then my standard Rustoleum Satin Black for the wood and Flat Black for the metal, with a little textured paint first for the coin doors. Painting kinda sucks, but I’m always amazed at the difference it makes.

A smallish list of basic parts remained: leg levelers, power supply, 6×9 speaker, t-molding, service panel button and a joystick and buttons, and a couple coin door locks. Someone really should sell an arcade restoration kit for the essentials. A larger task needed sorted though — I decided to give the cabaret a different control arrangement by moving the joystick off-center and creating a three-button layout. This was going to require filling in a variety of now unneeded holes, including the whopper that held the original Centipede trackball, then drilling two new button holes, and lastly making a new overlay from a scan of the bezel art. Certainly the most customization I’ve done so far, but nothing too crazy.

Robotron Restore Part 3

With most of the hard work on Robotron finished, what remained was largely painting, a few small details, and reassembly. I started by sanding the front, top, and back of the cabinet. A bit of bondo repaired the bottom/front which was a crumbling mess. Once smoothed out I hit it with three coats of Rustoleum Satin Black, but the next day it almost looked better off before I touched it. It must have also dried too quickly in the cold basement, as little spots had formed. A few days later I took Mike’s advice and laid down three coats of black primer which began to give it a cohesive finish, and then several layers of Satin Black. Once the cabinet was vertical and away from the harsh work light it looked rather nice.

Painting continued with the coin doors, brackets, and a few bolts. For these I used a matte black, with a couple coats of textured paint first to give it a bit of its original surface. The temptation persists to have these parts sandblasted, and to buy paint guns and setup a little booth, but to maintain my sanity I’m trying to avoid looking for perfection in these projects.

The original speaker was, well, 30 year old paper, so I replaced it with a 4 ohm Jensen Mod 6-15. The speaker grill, which sits above the screen and runs the width of the game, was missing on mine. A KLOV member was selling beautifully machined reproductions which fit snuggly in place. I ended up swapping the original glass bezel, which had considerable scratches and gouges across the paint and screen, with another unexpectedly polished reproduction. Generally I try to stick to original parts, but when they’re not really available, it’s excellent that people are out there making this stuff. As a last tweak and suggestion from Mike, I replaced the incandescent bulbs under the player one and two buttons with blue LEDs which significantly helped the brightness.

Carefully I wired the PCBs together, plugged it in, and nervously waited for the startup sequence. Shazam! No pops, smoke or errors. I never would’ve guessed I’d own a Robotron, especially one in such decent shape. And now here it is, Vid Kidz’s code still glowing since 1982.

Coin Up

Thanks to the endlessly resourceful NorCal Arcade Club, and associates, my Astro City and Egret now sport ashtrays full of tokens. Fingering the wire was fun and all, but crediting with a coin is a must for the most legit and pleasurable arcade experience in the home. You just try harder when it costs you coins (which are free to you, though which you initially had to pay for, though you have the key so you can use them again, but still, try harder).


Both coin mechs had to be adjusted a bit since they were setup to accept 100 yen coins, which I only had a handful of. The Egret’s mech needed the magnet removed, but on the AC I had to sand down a metal post to let the larger token pass smoothly.

For some reason I don’t mind freeplay on the American woodies — partly because their coin doors aren’t as easy to open. But on Japanese cabs it just feels cheap to wander up and smash your finger into the 1p button like a dud.

Robotron Restore Part 2

Now that I had a working Robotron, it was time to take it all apart and risk breaking it along the way. As with my first two restores, I took lots of reference photos, especially of the wiring on the 5-board set. Mike had done a nice job getting the game stable and I really didn’t want to mess that up. All the little parts, screws and bolts got bagged and labelled, stripping the cabinet down entirely except for the monitor. It’s actually a fairly light game, so even with the K4900 still in place it was easy to maneuver.

The first issue needing addressed was the bottom. I put my new jig saw to work cutting wood blocks and then drilling bolts into metal plates that held the legs. What could have been simple ended up taking me several hours, having very little experience with stuff like this. When all four were in place I stood the cabinet back up, already excited to see it looking proud.

The control panel on Robotron is wood, so I thought the work would go quicker, but it ended up taking even more time than stripping the overlay off a metal panel. Big chunks peeled off by hand, but the majority still required a lot of heat gun action and several coats of CitriStrip to get absolutely all of it. As always, a huge mess. I kept calling it done, sitting it aside, and then realizing it was still too gooey, another round of CitriStrip, and finally sanding. After several days of drying, I put the freshly painted metal joystick plates back in over the dust washers. Actually before that I used the plate’s holes as a guide to cut out holes in the repro overlay. All went well until I threw staples into the plastic guard at the top at a bad angle, causing the overlay to bubble up in a couple places. Some new old stock brackets, leafs and joysticks came together, new buttons, and then wiring it all back up, with fresh ground run to everything.

With one component entirely finished, I figured it was time to vacuum and deep clean the insides of the cab. Unlike that spooktastic Galaga, really only the bottom required attention — I yanked the wood plank out that holds the AC input, fuse block and transformer, thoroughly cleaned and soldered in a new grounded cord, and screwed it all back down.

Next I focussed on the top and bottom coin doors — the top only needed a little bending back in shape, but the bottom had about 13 holes likely from a security bracket that needed filling with JB Weld. Use too little and it caves in, too much and you’re sanding it back down for 15 minutes. This went on and on until it seemed the surface could eventually be painted. Lots of other metal parts got hit with Rustoleum Black, with most of the bolts first requiring some sanding in the hand drill.

So much left to do, and I couldn’t wait to get it back together to play it!

Tractor Beam

Well, Galaga has left the premises, and is the first cab I’ve sold. The joy was in having the game initially delivered, watching it freak out when I tried playing it, tearing it down, cleaning and fixing it, building it back up, and hearing those iconic sounds during those first few credits. In the end there just wasn’t enough game there, at least for my skill level and patience, and the thought of making a profit and freeing up the space won out.

Originally this was going to be a dual game setup, with Galaga ’88 secretly a button combo away. But once I saw ’88 on the Egret, I realized it would’ve been a sad fate for such a bright and colorful game.

DonPachi

I’m going to start cataloging PCB pickups here because, well, I enjoy the look of the hardware, and it suits this site’s journaling characteristics. While this wasn’t my first Cave board, it’s my first of the series, and Cave’s first arcade release. DonPachi isn’t terribly hard to find — certainly not as rare as its sequel, the pricier DoDonPachi — and I do like origin stories.

Published by Atlus in 1995 and based on Cave’s first generation 68000 hardware, DonPachi hits that mid-90s sweet spot for me in terms of hand drawn sprites, semi-complex animations, cinematic music and well balanced gameplay and ramp-up in difficulty. In the more frantic moments it seems to struggle to overlap audio, and the slowdown of the action, which is not too common here, is a welcome second or two of relief.

Initially I opted to use ship Type-A, which is the fastest, and seemed well suited in setting the pace. Chaining, the key element of killing enemies and scenery in quick succession for huge bonus points, felt well controlled by this ship type. But I also found myself constantly dying in area two and three and realized this ship may be better left for now to the experienced players. I became curious about Type-C after watching other runs but had a hard time adapting to the much slower speed. It played like a different game. Soon I was progressing further and scoring higher and haven’t turned back.

The weapons are limited, essentially focused on upgrading its power, and alternate between fire and laser by holding down the shot button at the expense of a slower ship, which became a classic shmup tradeoff. Bombing, the last resort oh fuck savior, modifies rank, along with losing a life. Keeping rank from making things too difficult is tempting, but bomb your way through a complex scene and you’ll never learn it. The controls are simple and effective and yet offer plenty of opportunities for your own play style.

Besides the addiction of returning to a game that constantly threatens to kill you, the draw of chaining, collecting each area’s hidden bee items, and pure score, ramps up DonPachi‘s replay value significantly. After a couple months I’m finally reaching near the end of area four (out of five) — even with all the progress it’s hard to imagine clearing the first loop on a credit, let alone the second. I give it a few attempts most days, and it offers an awful lot of fun in return.