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.

Robotron Restore Part 1

Having been content with JROK’s multi Williams, and considering the rarity of Robotron cabinets, I never really thought I’d have to decide whether or not to buy one. Of course I should’ve seen that I’m weak and can rarely say no to obsessions. A few months back Mike stumbled across an early model with the wrap-around control panel. While the sides were rather ragged, most everything was original except for the sticks and speaker grill. He focussed on the board stack to address the common Williams’s failings, replacing the RAM, connectors and pins, rebuilding the power supply, and fitted in a 2032 lithium, replacing the AA batteries.

Once Mike got it working and stable, I assumed, being a big fan of the game, he would then restore it for his collection. But a few weeks later he suddenly found a second Robotron in Los Angeles. Though this one lacked the original side art and PCBs, he decided to throw a JROK inside, keep it and sell the first one. How could I say no?

In person the cabinet was pretty rough, with the sides showing enough wear to warrant repainting, which is no easy feat. I’d read enough restore posts to know this involved careful color matching, several coats of silver, and an expensive set of stencils with rounds of red and blue paint. And ideally an air gun setup. While tempting, the effort and cost involved, when it would likely have one or both sides covered by other games anyway, wasn’t exciting me to go buy supplies. Also, like with Gyruss and Galaga, having some of the cab left untouched — with its period scars — is far preferable to me than ending up with something that looks like a shiny, new box.

Since I decided to leave the sides intact and original, I wanted to address everything else to the best of my abilities. This is one of the fun parts, the slow observation, what’s broken and what can be refurbished, and then drawing up a plan. I Wondered what lives it had led and in what arcades — I found a Chucky Cheese token and a slick sticker of a boy in purple slacks. A quick rundown.

  • The marquee had wear but was very useable, while the glass bezel could stand to be replaced.
  • The control panel needed major work all around, from overlay to new sticks.
  • While the coin door was solid, the bottom coin door had about a dozen more holes than it needed.
  • Like many cabs it had been dragged around in its later years without leg levelers, and the bottom showed it.
  • The wiring harness was good throughout.
  • The back doors were ok, but could certainly use primer and paint, along with the front and top of the cab.
  • One area where you could find yourself lost for days would obviously be the monitor and the PCBs, but this time I was lucky. The K4900 worked well, rather bright and colorful, though with traditional Robotron burn.

A sizable list of tasks but nothing too difficult. Holy mackerel it’s Robotron!

Candy Speaker Replacements

Occasionally I start researching speakers for the Astro City and Egret II, don’t find much, then give up for a few months and try again. The only drop-in solution I’d come across always seemed to be the Cambridge Soundworks SBS 52. Knowing this would work for the AC, I started focusing on what would fit in the Egret. There were a couple Egret tutorials for full on powered speaker solutions, usually involving modifying the original wiring and shoving in an ugly PC subwoofer behind the coin box. Yech. I didn’t want the cabs to sound unnaturally pumped, I simply wanted them to sound better. The stock speakers in both are actually pretty decent, but the Egret in particular could use a boost.

Cambridge SBS 52 are cheap on eBay so I thought I’d give them a shot in the AC. Removing the housings required a long Phillips screwdriver, with a fifth screw hidden behind the speaker grill. I removed the old solder, brought them upstairs and swapped them with the AC’s originals, using its quick disconnects. Sampling games I was familiar with I could hear maybe a very slight improvement, but the midtones had a kind of boxiness to them that wasn’t so pleasing. Or maybe they were fine and I just needed to give them more time.

I went ahead and took apart the Egret’s factory speakers which took a little more work to disassemble. They have their own brackets and speaker boxes, and their wires were soldered directly on to the driver’s tabs rather than using connectors. It turned out the Egret’s speakers are also 3″, same as the AC, and both are 4 Ohm ~10 watt. So sorta rushing things, I ordered another cheap pair of SBS 52. When they arrived I went through the same process, removing the housings, desoldering, then desoldering the Egret’s speakers, soldering in the new ones, back in their boxes with the bracket and back in the cab.

Since I’ve been playing a lot of DonPachi I threw the board in and played for a few minutes. It didn’t take long to realize it actually sounded a bit worse. I’m not sure how I thought swapping in unpowered PC speakers would be an improvement. I also realized that the Cambridge speakers were actually 3.5 Ohm — probably not a big deal but long term maybe not a great idea. In the end I put the factory speakers back in both cabs, annoyed with the whole project. Anyway, these were never meant to sit in someone’s office, but in cacophonous arcades pushed, by the dozens, side-to-side. This was another lesson in being happy with what you already have.