Egret II Tube Swap

Posted March 4, 2017

After having a spare tube for the Egret II in my workshop for several months, I finally swapped it with what I’m guessing was the original, which was rather dim, and with a fair amount of burn-in. I kept putting it off as I somehow imagined the rotation mech was going to be a hassle to deal with, that maybe I’d have to take it apart, or get stuck halfway through, or break something. Fortunately none of those things happened, as it was simply a task of unplugging, removing four nuts, and finding a second person to help pull it out, unless you’re large and strong. Another misunderstanding I had was thinking that it was putting its weight on removable bolts, while it’s really supported by four stationary pegs. Of course don’t forget to discharge, but this is also pretty easy and safe if done correctly.

What did take a few hours, if you’re picky, was fussing with all the pots afterwards. Arcade Otaku has a basic guide that’s as good as any, and there’s more specific examples of tweaking MS9 monitors and schematics if you need it. Only having a couple years experience with all this jazz, I can still become frozen and almost talk myself out of doing it simply because I can’t get it “perfect”, which is pretty funny because analog is anything but perfect, which I like (but then that, and then back again). Finding a nice medium seems key, since what looks amazing for one game may look washed out for another. At some point I had to just walk away, though honestly it could use a couple convergence strips to work out some issues in the corner.

Many thanks to my arcade friends for the tube and the, “You’ll be fine,” encouragement.

Coin Up

Posted July 12, 2016

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.

Candy Speaker Replacements

Posted January 30, 2016

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.

Astro City

Posted August 10, 2015

This addition slipped in about four months ago from my Egret II source. After a few days with the Egret, despite the rotating monitor, I realized I wanted to find a way to fit in a second cab. It’s like salt without pepper, DoDonPachi without Progear. And beyond monitor orientation, playing one game while attract flickers on the other is joy. But considering the costs and space, and idiocy, I tried to push it out of my mind, but every time I rotated the Egret the thought came back.

At some point I measured again to be certain two cabs wouldn’t fit in my office. I’d wanted to move the Egret into the corner anyway, which seemed like the ideal spot for two cabs. Somehow I’d originally miscalculated the dimensions and found there was indeed 70″ free after rearranging some bookshelves. An Astro City was available, looked good, and once delivery was offered it was all over.

When my friend flipped the switch the Nano MS8 lit up in the middle of the day with bright, punchy colors and sharp pixels, making me a little sad when I looked over at the Egret’s softer, more worn MS9. Side-by-side they were truly a handsome duo. I spent a few hours cleaning it up with magic erasers and vacuuming out the prerequisite cobwebs. Luckily like the Egret it needed almost no work other than a bulb and some replacement Sanwa sticks and buttons, and an extra Sega 5380 key.

Only three of my 14 PCBs are yoko, though if you count all the Neo Geo games I guess that makes it about even. Gokujou Parodius alone makes it worthwhile, but it’s really the Neo Geo that lives in the Astro the most.

Egret II

Posted April 19, 2015

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.