When I started getting back into video games, I wasn’t sure how long it would hold my interest, and I didn’t really anticipate how far it would go, despite laying it out in my first post on the topic. I had images in my head of picking off all my childhood consoles, like an obsessive lover resetting the clock, but the time, space and idiocy required seemed beyond what I had energy for. And since I was delightfully late to the gaming nostalgia party, prices weren’t going to be in my favor. As it turns out, they made a lot of these things, and there’s still plenty stacked in people’s closets looking for new owners, and my energy for time wasting apparently knows no bounds.
After moving to the country, the extra space rekindled the notion of having some arcade hardware. While a dedicated Gyruss was in the basement for a long-term restore project, I’d hoped to find an Egret or Astro City for playing various PCBs on. A supergun would’ve solved that without the bulky cabinet, but I’d come this far, and I didn’t want to blow up our tv infrastructure which was already overflowing with 12 consoles. In Japan finding a candy cab probably wouldn’t be so difficult, I imagine it much like stumbling across avocados in California. In the US, tracking down the wooden cabinets that once saturated our malls, pizzerias, and truck stops isn’t much further than a Craigslist search, though to find them cheaply takes patience.
Arcade forum group buys seemed like the best bet, splitting shipping costs with other hobbyists that live nearby. Even better is knowing someone who’s more nutty for this stuff than you are, and has the background and contacts to guide you straight to the madness. That someone was my friend Eric, who I should add, had nothing to gain from helping me out. Thanks man! The text came that there were a couple Egret II cabs coming over, and now was the time to decide if I wanted in. A week later we loaded one onto a truck I rented, while he took the second one for himself, squeezing it into his Gulf. Getting it up a few steps into our home was another matter entirely. While the thing’s on wheels, it’s 230lbs. I wouldn’t do it again without a third person or appliance dolly.
I’d like to say the first thing I did was play DonDonPachi DaiOuJou, which I’d borrowed from Eric. And I did for a while. But I spent the next thirty minutes trying to figure out why the coin mech wasn’t passing coins, even though you could still credit by hand. I wanted the full Japanese arcade experience, the one I was robbed of by my American midwestern parents. After grasping how it worked, I made a few adjustments, polished off the rust, oiled it and was dropping yen like a salaryman in Kabukicho. Then like any good candy cab owner I gave it a thorough cleaning, stopping short of a full break-down.
The power supply and monitor chassis seem in excellent shape, and the jamma harness is intact and tidy. The 29″ Nanao MS9 is 15kHz bliss, though reasonable bliss — it does have some burn-in and perhaps a little faded. I followed Emphatic’s handy guide on tweaking the colors and black/white levels which helped punch it up. Adding a 20″ fluorescent bulb brings the marquee to life, giving your face that pink shmup glow. And replacing the worn Sanwa sticks and buttons with Seimitsu LS32s made DOJ somewhat more manageable. The first week I felt like game center staff, repeatedly getting in and out of its locked doors. A faint, sweet tempura smell wafts out whenever the main door is opened to swap games, which is certainly a bonus over nicotine.
Rotating the Egret II can take two minutes or ten, if you try to rush and scratch your head, dropping bolts into its belly. So far all but one PCB I’ve picked up is vertical — well, two if you count the Neo Geo MV1FZ, you need at least one weeknight with Puzzle Bobble bouncing around in the background while you make dinner. This is of course the conundrum that two cabs solve, one oriented yoko and the other tate. Like replacing favorite DVDs with Blu-rays, I’m trying not to buy games I already have good ports of, but considering what a difference the experience is, the temptation is strong.
The hunt for PCBs without ball-busting prices is quickly becoming addicting and can rival the pleasure, and effort, of getting good at a game, which is all wrong. Playing one game for an hour and then going to the shelf for another, the tactile satisfaction of handling the actual hardware, is tempting as well. Along with occasional board fixes and cab maintenance. And carefully unwrapping new arrivals.