Truxton Cabaret Part 3

Posted April 9, 2017

Somehow it’s been seven months since an update on this project. Last fall it felt close to being done, then I ran into monitor issues, and then the winter rains flooded my workshop. It’s a 90-year old basement with lots of cracks allowing for the soaked ground water to rise, initially just the corners, as has probably happened for decades. But this season it nearly covered the entire floor, which doesn’t make for a particularly safe space to work on monitors. Once the rain stops the water seeps back out within a day, but this pretty much paused work for a couple months.

Red t-molding finished the cabinet work, then I focused on the control panel, drilling holes to mount the joystick and three buttons (a cheap set of hole saws and a block of wood behind the panel did the job), and moving the player two Atari cone button up and right of player one.

Next I replaced the mess of an existing Atari-to-JAMMA harness with a fresh one from Twisted Quarter. Having these labeled and separated into groups was quite helpful. As this was going to serve as a standard jamma cabinet, I mounted a volume knob and three-button panel for credit/service/test just inside of the coin door. The 6×9 4 Ohm speaker looked rather fragile, so that got replaced.

It was around this point when I pulled the K7000 chassis out to swap the yoke wires around in order to flip/reverse the image for an Arcadeshop board. After mounting the chassis back the image wouldn’t sync. Whether there was a short, a cold solder joint, or some failing part I wasn’t sure, so I pulled it out again but things never got better. After endlessly wrestling with Galaga’s monitor last year I wasn’t feeling capable of entirely fixing the issue, so I sat it aside and looked for someone who could repair it. I ended up finding a rebuilt chassis on eBay which, oddly enough, also wouldn’t sync the two boards I was using for testing. Soon I realized that neither board would sync in any of my cabs, so during my testing I must’ve fudged them up good, terrific. I tried a third game and that one worked fine. While I still had the monitor pulled I calibrated it and was fairly surprised to see it spring to life as well as it did.

Still, I was frustrated and concerned about larger issues in my rewired power supply area, so I unplugged everything and essentially started over until I was as sure there were no major oversights. Slowly I went over every connection, not finding anything wrong, except for the anode connector’s small round plate not quite sitting flush with the CRT, which had resulted in some very disturbing sounds coming from the tube. Alas, all monitor issues seem to have been resolved.

Finally over the past few weeks we’ve seen the sun come out, the rains let up, and so I started spending more time in the workshop again, cleaning up from last season and working on wrapping up this project. Really, it’s almost done!

Truxton Cabaret Part 2

Posted September 21, 2016

This has been an interesting project. 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

Posted August 23, 2016

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.

Supercade: A Visual History of the Videogame Age 1971-1984

Posted February 8, 2015

I took my time finishing Supercade, slowly flipping a few pages a night. With full-page screenshots from games that mostly produced 224×256 images, accompanied by ruminations that rarely run longer than one page, this is a book that suggests casual reading.

Published in 2001 and written by Van Burnham and an assortment of game writers, Supercade is a coffee table book true to its form that’ll put you in the mood to fire up the early classics and get lost in the innocence of the era. It’s heavy, square frame successfully pairs original game art and advertisements (with happy, white families) with in-game photos (likely snagged via MAME as suggested on Amazon, which is fine, but I’d like to see a few warped CRT shots). How can one not be fond of a book that starts with a quote by Eurgene Jarvis (“The only legitimate use of a computer is to play games.”), has a forward by the late Ralph Baer, and peppers it with BASIC code, start-up rom tests and a kill screen or two.

While the majority of the book covers arcade releases (and doesn’t much stray from the staples), home consoles and computers get a few pages: Baer’s Odyssey, Coleco’s Telstar, Mattel’s Intellivision, Commodore 64 (“Are you keeping up with the Commodore?“, and of course Atari’s 2600 and Home Computer.

This isn’t a book for learning something new as much as it is for celebrating what you like. “Visual history” is accurate, and one should look elsewhere for the more exhaustive and dramatic tales of video gaming. Considering it was printed just before the release of the Xbox, a new edition covering the late-80s through the mid-90s would be a welcome follow-up.

The Ultimate History of Video Games

Posted February 2, 2014

When I became interested again in arcade and home console gaming, I bought several books on the subject last year. The largest of my growing collection is probably The Ultimate History of Video Games by Steven L. Kent. At just over 600 pages, Kent covers a lot of gaming ground, from the pre-Pong 1960s, up to the release of the Xbox, around the time the book was published, in 2001. Which is fine by me considering my attention on the subject doesn’t really reach beyond the PlayStation 2.

I appreciated that a third of the book spanned the arcade, where I knew the least, much of which was devoted to the rise and fall of Atari and Nolan Bushnell. Nintendo of course receives a lot of attention, as do many other Japanese companies, which is great considering their immense contributions, a fact some Western authors tend to gloss over. This leads to the home showdown between Nintendo and Sega, then eventually Sony.

Exhaustedly assembled quotes and anecdotes carry you through the massive amount of information here at a fairly quick pace, reading more like a conversation than a serious historical assemblage, which is really what this is. Highly recommended.

On a side note, I signed up for Amazon Associates so if you happen to buy the book using the link above, I get some tiny portion. Considering the traffic this site generates, I should make enough in a year for a NES-era cup of coffee.

Atari Theatre Kiosk

Posted January 18, 2014

An Atari kiosk at Powell Station circa 1977.  Today it’s Prilosec ads.  The six Atari games unit allowed for “90 seconds of play, and a special 35mm slide projection system along with BART advertising panels.”  What a country! 

Photo courtesy The Pong goodbye: Arcade photos from the 1970s and 1980s and quote from the excellent All in Color for a Quarter.