Gyruss Restore Part 3

Posted July 18, 2015

Finally a Gyruss PCB popped up on eBay which I watched for several days, assuming the price would be driven past what I’d be willing to pay. In the end I got it for $57, quite a lucky break for an original Konami board in such great shape. I stood the cabinet back up and was happy and almost surprised to see the game actually working for the first time. I risked that luck by installing the high score save kit. I desoldered the existing RAM chip but the thing wouldn’t budge. A little solder wick loosened it the rest of the way. Next I soldered on the socket and pressed the new NVRAM into place. But when I powered up the board I saw a strange pattern on the screen. Eventually I realized I’d scratched a trace, and should’ve just cut the legs on the RAM rather than try to save it (as Matt points out). At least I gained a little trace repair experience.

Now it was time to apply the repro control panel overlay. I nervously taped it in place then started peeling off the backing and smoothing it down. All good, though I did notice a slight gap between the metal and the overlay in the back bend. Using the schematic I wired up the new buttons and Monroe stick, wiring it wrong twice before looking closer at the leaf switch placements. The leafs also required some straightening out to smooth the transition from one direction to another.

After talking with Mike, the hobby store dude I bought the cabinet from, I decided to change directions with the paint and try Rustoleum Canyon Satin Black, a spray paint rather than rolling it on. I’d seen his Gyruss restore in person, and photos of his Popeye which had a similar smooth black front, both of which turned out quite well. Two coats within an hour, then repeat 48 hours later. I went ahead and painted the top and back and various parts: marquee bracket, control panel hinge, vents, bolts and screws. For the coin door I used Rustoleum hammered spray paint, then a couple coats of Rustoleum semi gloss black spray paint. I needed to partially sand and repaint the coin door a few times to try and remove some bubbles that kept forming. It probably would’ve worked the first time if I had removed all of the original paint, but I wasn’t overly concerned since one day I’d like to replace it with a Centuri coin door.

While it was on its back I ran new t-molding down the grooves, using liquid nails glue on the bottom to hold it in place. Now that everything was dry I fastened the control panel on the cabinet, reassembled the coin door, then put in the blackout cardboard, original bezel art and smoked plexi. Slowly I realized that these were the last steps and it was more or less finished, after many months of slow progress and a variety of mistakes. After plugging it in I turned off the lights and put a new high score on the board, which beautifully remained once powered off and on.

I’m still looking for a top marquee bracket and replacement speakers, as both the originals have a rip in the cones, though they sound fine. A tube with less burn would be nice, but with the dark plexi in place it’s not too noticeable. The sideart is fairly worn but preferable to a modern replacement, plus I really like the graffiti.

Well, it’s been fun. I’m already missing having a project in the workshop to spend time wtih. Thanks to John’s Arcade videos and forum which have been incredibly helpful, Mike the hobby store dude who’s provided lots of advice along the way, and KLOV.

Gyruss Restore Part 2

Posted July 6, 2015

Back in January when I picked up a Gyruss to try and restore, our basement space I’d hoped to use as a workshop had no electricity other than a dim ceiling lightbulb and was full of discarded paint cans, unused bookshelves, a 100lb bathroom sink and a few spiders. The old, handmade workbench along the back wall held dusty blinds, a rusty mattress frame, and wooden shutters from some depressing far away time.

A few months ago I ordered two LED ceiling lights and brought back the electricians, who rewired several of our knob-and-tube outlets, to install the lighting and add an outlet to each side of the workbench. This motivated me to spend a few nights cleaning and a trip to the dump. Then I slowly started buying the tools I’d never really owned before: Molex crimpers, actually good wire strippers, a soldering iron, a hand sander, and a Fluke multimeter. That was a start.

The Gyruss itself had its own list: a better marquee, a Monroe joystick, a control panel overlay, t-molding, a new power supply, and of course to either fix the original PCB or find a replacement. When powered up both the audio and video were scrambled, and after checking voltages and looking for basic, obvious problems, a few forum posts confirmed it was likely beyond my abilities for the time being.

While waiting on a replacement PCB I cleaned the cabinet, added coin return lamps, Centuri 25 cent decals, a new lock, then tidied up the marquee light fixture wiring and did a tube swap for a less burned Wells Gardner K4900. A few hours alone went into restoring the Monroe stick to its original 360° glory. One night a moment of clarity made me slow down when I plugged in the cab and, having forgotten to put the monitor anode cap back on, created a lovely blue arc between it and the monitor frame.

Somewhere around this time I found another Gyruss PCB. Anxious to install Matt Osborn’s high score save kit, I practiced desoldering and soldering a 40-pin chip on another board, but when it came time to attempt the real thing I realized the Gyruss I had was a bootleg. I returned it and soon found a third board. This one wasn’t cheap, plus shipping from Canada, but it looked nearly new for being 32 years old. Sadly this one turned out to be a dud, so back it went.

Next I began working on the control panel, first using a heat gun to strip off the old artwork, then applying that beautiful pink citrus solvent to remove the remaining adhesive goop. After many messy rounds I sanded it down to its former factory glory, then primed and painted it black with Rustoleum enamel spray paint to prepare it for the overlay.

It was time to tip the game on its back and start sanding the front, as well as fill that extra security lock hole many cabinets end up with near the coin door. A little wood dowel and glue filled it in, then bondo smoothed it and a couple other spots. Now came what I thought would be one of the easier steps, painting the front of the cabinet. My first attempt was to use Rustoleum oil paint with a brush and roller, but this dried exactly as it looked, with lots of orange peeling and little bristle swirls. I tried again with just the brush, and again it dried with all the original brushstrokes.

I was starting to become frustrated with my progress, considering the game itself didn’t work and how hard it had become to find another board, that the front of the cabinet looked like a hand-painted shed, and knowing I still had to sand and paint a pile of metal parts. My lack of experience and limitations were bumming me out. Stay tuned for the exciting conclusion.

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night

Posted February 23, 2015

Castlevania: Symphony of the Night arrived in March, 1997, just as I was landing in San Francisco. Even if I had moved with all my game consoles (which I didn’t, most were sold off before then), I had never owned the first Playstation. And Castlevania was a long passed memory, having last played Super Castlevania IV in 1991. The series is much beloved for all the right reasons, even with the klunkers and inevitable leap to 3D. Castlevania I and II for the NES were defining moments in the early console gaming days, and set the tone for what I expected from side scrolling adventure games.

Returning to the series over the last couple years, first with the Game Boy (Castlevania: The Adventure was far too slow, but that music!), and then on to Bloodlines for the Genesis and Rondo of Blood for the PC Engine, I finally end up on the PS1. Viewed on a 55″ plasma screen, even at 4:3 one would think a mid-generation PS1 game would look blown-up, but it’s aged beautifully, with rich colors, deep blacks and crisp edges. Using Sony’s component cables siphoned through an XRGB-mini likely helped maintain SOTN‘s original glory. The sound effects are equally satisfying and of the period, with a haunting score that’s perhaps not quite as memorable as previous installments. The bad voice acting for the English dubs are often brought up, and they are bad, but not enough to really take it off course. I would’ve been happy to hear the original Japanese voices though.

Directed by Toru Hagihara and Koji Igarashi, SOTN was a conscious departure for the series, with noted non-linear gameplay and RPG elements, while retaining an appreciation for 2D sprites and effects. When asked if 2D translates well to 3D, Igarashi gives the direct response, “No, it’s basically impossible to communicate the same experience. 2D gameplay is precise – it can come down to one pixel of accuracy for attacking, defending, jumping, any sort of platforming element. In the 3D gaming environment, appreciation of distance is much more subtle, and control has to be looser.SOTN plays with those two dimensions very comfortably, a combination of reliable platforming mechanics with almost arcade style visual flourishes, from leveling up and character transitions to enemy and boss deaths, to water, fog and fire transparency. It’s classic Castlevania informed by a decade of development experience.

While SOTN employs role-playing essentials — experience points, weapon and item collecting and stats, tallies and maps — even for someone like me who doesn’t play RPGs, it adds a compelling and pleasurable layer of detail. Backtracking may be an unavoidable part of non-linear play, but the game offers enough warps and hidden surprises to reward your efforts. As the first half of the game closes with Richter’s fall, SOTN effectively double the terrain by famously inverting the castle, which I initially found gimmicky. Fortunately my much more patient (and actual gamer) husband pushed me to keep at it, putting my final completion to just under 200% (but not 200.6%). And while I found the second half of the game much more challenging, it’s rarely frustrating thanks to the ample save points (many directly outside of boss rooms) and character form shifting. Transitioning into mist and a bat was necessary at later points in the game, in one case being the only sane method in defeating a boss.

I fear this could be the last really good Castlevania I’ll play, save for rounding out the Game Boy editions, and there are many. Reading Hardcord Gaming’s book on the series has excited me to check out a few more odds and ends like Chronicles, The Adventure Rebirth, and Harmony of Despair (which I’ve tried to like a couple times now). And finding Kid Dracula for about half of what it goes for would be a bonus.

If SOTN is any indication of what the PS1 can do, I’m looking forward to playing more of it. Currently I only own about nine games, with a lengthy wishlist which perhaps includes too many shmups and not enough sprawling adventures.

Gyruss Restore Part 1

Posted February 13, 2015

About a month ago I picked up my first arcade cabinet, yes, it’s Gyruss! No not that Gyrus. The 1983 game by Konami with two s’s. Most people I’ve mentioned this to don’t remember it, though if they heard the Bach score they may. Gyruss was perhaps advanced for its time, packing in five sound chips, a DAC, two Z80 and one 6809 microprocessors. Its creator, Yoshiki Okamoto, who also made Time Pilot for Konami, went on to oversee 1942 and Final Fight for Capcom.

I like Gyruss, but it wasn’t on the top of my list. I wanted to start a restore project this year and this cab was relatively cheap and close by. The very first thing that I realized too late that I needed was an appliance dolly — the thing’s crazy heavy. I also need a lot of basic gear that I’ve never owned, like a multimeter, soldering gun, and hand sander. But even before that I need to clean out our basement space to create a little workshop. You know, with things like electricity and more lighting than one 75 watt bulb.

Then there’s the machine itself — while it’s really all there, much of it needs restored or replaced. For starters the previous owner said the PCB produces scrambled video and audio, so getting the game working will be my first goal. The marquee is in ok shape but has a crack down the center so I found a replacement. I also ordered a reprint of the control panel overlay and new t-molding. The cardboard bezel I can recreate, and the original art bezel is fortunately still in great shape. I still haven’t found the original Monroe joystick but they come up for sale often enough. It came with an extra Wells-Gardner K4900 monitor and chasis which I’ll swap with the current Gyruss-burned CRT. Nice to have would be the original Centuri-labelled coin door and Matt Ozborn’s high score save kit.

Sure wish I had a nice, shiny Egret II to keep me warm through this project. Seriously, look at this guy — a Taito stool refurbish!

Parodius Da!

Posted February 15, 2014

It took many hours across several days but I finally made my way through the arcade release* of Parodius Da!, which has become my favorite shmup series. Released in 1990, Konami crafted this absurdist string of games as a parody of Gradius, their celebrated and much more serious scrolling shooter. After 10 minutes with Parodius I’ve found it nearly impossible to go back to Gradius, especially considering the lack of the option to continue (c’mon, it’s a 90s-era game).

With the mechanics of Gradius as a foundation, everything else is pure creative potpourri, from hundreds of flying penguins, cats and pigs working hard to kill you, to blissful mountains (trying to kill you), power-ups made of deadly Japanese phrases, and playful American characters. Watching someone else play allows you to take in all the detailed sprites, beautiful backgrounds, and enormous bosses like pig sumo wrestlers, pirate ships with cat heads, and dancing showgirls with a dangerous pelvic thrust. If you’re playing and you tend to die a lot like me, be prepared to replay several of the later stages repeatedly, particularly the last two which I nearly gave up on. I’m not sure if it truly approaches bullet hell, but the slowdown in many areas proves to be helpful, unintended or not. The sound effects are pure arcade goodness and the music, circus variations on classical compositions by Beethoven, Tchaikovsky and Rossini, certainly adds another textural layer to this phantasmic porno.

For a long time the game crew I most wanted to hang out with were the original SNK creators of Metal Slug. But really, to have worked at Konami in the 1990s is the dream.

* While the Super Famicom port is said to be very true to the arcade version, unfortunately it never had a U.S. release.  In fact none of the Parodius games had a U.S. release.  Bemoaning this fact on Twitter, Konami actually replied with, “Sorry about that.  Apparently late 80s and early 90s America was just not ready for the absurdity that is Parodius.”