Reclaim Arcade’s Game of Maintenance

This is yet another post reflecting about the opening of the awesomeness that is Reclaim Arcade, I previously captured some general reflections, Reclaim Video, and the living room, and this one will focus on the meat and potatoes of the operation: THE GAMES!

While I love the video store and living room to no end, I have to recognize they’re not enough by themselves to bring folks in. They certainly help define the aesthetic for the space, giving it a distinct identity, but in the end people come (and hopefully will return) because of the games. And that’s fine by me, because it’s the games that not only sustain the living room and video store, but also allow me to keep coming back as well 🙂

Getting some Wizard of Wor time in

The games in Reclaim Arcade is a fairly big topic given we currently have 62 classic video games and 8 pinball machines, and those numbers just keep growing. So I want to focus this post around which games we got up and running for opening day, which will include discussions around board repairs, monitor work, and other maintenance we did to get the main attractions dialed-in.

A revived Battlezone looking as beautiful as ever

When I got back to Virginia we had a several games offline: Missile Command, Battlezone, Q*Bert, and the perennially down Space Invaders (which has yet to see the light of day). We also had a few games that were showing some graphical issues, such as Track and Field, Phoenix, Crystal Castles and Smash TV (there may be others, so fill-in the gaps if you read this Tim given I am spitballing here). So, 3-4 games totally offline and a few with sprite issues–keep in mind this was only upon my arrival back, more always crop up along the way. One of the best pieces of advice we’ve gotten as we were starting the arcade was from Darryl of DNS Games & Parts (a truly gifted game restorer who was quite local to us as we started collecting), he told us we should have a working back-up PCB (a CPU game board) for as many of our games as possible. We took his advice to heart over the last year, and we now have back-up boards for more than half our games, and keep buying more every day. I believe 10 of our games are from Darryl, and they’re 10 of our nicest ones, in fact the monitor colors of the Donkey Kong we bought from him may be the sharpest in the entire arcade, and that came from the Aracde Buffet himself—but more on that anon.

That said, we did not have backup PCBs for Battlezone or Missile Command, and our backup for Q*Bert was having issues. So we needed to get them repaired. In fact, getting a hookup for board repairs was essential to sustaining the arcade, and thanks to Darryl (yet again) we got an awesome connection with East Coast Arcade Repair. I spent a fair amount of time during this recent trip running arcade boards back and forth to Petersburg. I enjoyed the time in the car, nothing beats a jaunt on the I-95 in a rented Suburban. On the first trip down I brought the Battlezone boards (as well as the power-related ARII board), Missile Command,* Elevator Action, Make Trax‘s back-up board (graphic issues),  both Q*Bert PCBs, Gauntlet (assumed board issue), two Pac-man boards, the CPU for Pengo, two Track & Field boards that had graphical issues (we have a third board we since sold), and our non-bootleg Yie-Ar Kung-fu (that we realized was having sound issues the morning I headed out given the working board was having minor graphical issues). That was the first batch for repair, but there would be more.

After dropping the boards off I headed out to Powhatan, Virginia to pickup a a pretty mint Zaxxon machine I bought on Facebook a week or so earlier. I love to find these 40 year old games in someone’s basement looking as good as they did in 1982. After that I drove by the Bionic Teacher’s house for a road-side chat 🙂 It was a good day.

The prognosis on the boards is always interesting because even if we learn the PCBs were not having any issues when tested, knowing that helps you isolate for the actual issue(s). For example, the Battlezone PCBs were fine, but the ARII power board did have an issue, and that fixed Battlezone and got it back online. We brought down the Pengo PCB (a game we just received) because we could not figure out the issue, but the board tested fine.†  Same goes for the Gauntlet board we sent down that was showing red before we swapped it out with a backup, so that remains a mystery. The Missile Command PCB did have an issue and when that was fixed it was also back online and reliable. Yeah! Yeah! In other good news, both Q*Bert boards were fixed and that brought yet another game back to life. That’s 3 if you are following along at home. The Pac-man‘s were repaired so we now have two working backups, and the Make Trax took a bit longer cause I forgot bring the ARII board (the Williams PCBs are complicated), so they had to make one for us to get it repaired. Also, the Yie-Ar Kung-fu sound issue was fixed, so that meant we were finally making headway with our backlog of board issues.

I drove down the Friday the arcade opened to get Missile Command, Battelzone, and the Q*Bert boards which meant they would be online for opening weekend, the others were backups, so they waited for my next trip. The next round of boards I drove down were a Crystal Castles that was having graphic issues (in fact both boards we had were), Double Dragon went down unexpectedly (as they do), Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spare board needed repair, and after the first week Tutenkham was having what seemed like graphical issues, so I brought that down as well. That’s 4 more boards to repair, after dropping those off I picked up Elevator Action,  both Pac-man boards, and the two Track & Field boards I dropped off previously were already working—turns out that the graphical issue is linked to flipping a dip switch  (we have a third board we since sold) so that was an easy fix—but how else would you know this?‡

One of our Track & Field PCBs

After this trip Double Dragon was back online, we could swap out Yie-Ar Kung-fu with bootleg board to fix the graphical issues on our main board, and Crystal Castles could be swapped out so we could fix the graphical issues on the currently working board, and finally the Elevator Action board could be swapped and that fixed the color issues the game was having, which was awesome given it is a personal favorite. So, things were getting tighter and tighter, but the maintenance is never ending. After my two trips down I still needed to get Make Trax and we had issues with Wizard of Wor‘s sound chip, the sound in one of the  Q-Bert boards seemed to be acting up, and our Phoenix boards were all having graphics issues (we have 3 boards), so I brought two of the three down—you get a sense of the whack-a-mole that is maintaining an arcade full of 40 year old games.

Phoenix PCB

The Tutenkham PCB I dropped off previously was not having any board issues (turns out it was a power issue Tim fixed), Wizard of Wor’s sound chip was repaired and will be picked up this weekend (I also purchased a working backup board last week), and the verdict on the Phoenix boards is still out, will be interesting to hear what Tim learns when he gets them today. Both Crystal Castles boards were fixed, (I found a third in the office, which is crazy), so we put that one up for sale given we just need one backup, the only exception to that rule is Pac-man given I want to buy a machine for myself and ship it to Italy so I’m saving the one of our two back-up boards.

Crystal Castles PCB

Close-up of a Crystal Castles PCB

I think that’s everything, but I’m sure it’s not the last of it. The good thing is with such a solid PCB repair hook-up, we can start getting untested PCBs on the forums which are far less expensive, and take our chances with getting them fixed. The bigger lesson is without a community of folks who not only buy and sell but, equally important, repair these boards the retro arcade phenomenon would be dead in the water. So a special thank you to both DNS Games & Parts and East Coast Arcade Repair.

And that might be a good segue-way to talking about the other maintenance work we did on the arcade games, dialing-in the monitors. In general our games are in pretty good shape, but there are a few monitors that needed some love. And as it turns out we have another pillar of the retro arcade community, the aforementioned Arcade Buffett, local to us (we really are lucky in that, but I’m imagining there are great folks around in just about every region). Tim went to the Arcade Buffet a year and half ago when he was having issues with the Smash TV project he was working on at the time, and that trip is something akin to Reclaim lore. The folks who work on these machines are intriguing in many ways, and the Arcade Buffet is no different, he has containers full of arcade parts alongside a literal garden of CRT monitors (they can be stored safely outside in all weather without their chassis), and he is an absolute wiz with the various varieties of CRTs for the old school games. I was jealous that Tim had gotten to meet the Arcade Buffett (Buffett for short) and I hadn’t yet, so we reached out to see if he might have the time and inclination to visit the arcade and help us dial in some monitors, and lo and behold he was available and I was able to meet him, which was an absolute highlight of this trip.

The last of the LCDs are gone from Reclaim Arcade with CRT upgrade to Dig Dug thanks to the Arcade Buffett

There were several monitors we wanted him to rejuvenate, Defender (which recently started getting washed out), Galaga (which has been dim for some time now), Karate Champ (which Tim and I spent some time trying to salvage to no avail), swapping out the Dig Dug LCD for a CRT (our only LCD which is no more), and rejuvenating our Gyruss monitor which was also dim. Buffett got right to work, and he used a tool called the rejuvenator that, to quote Tim, “can measure the output from the cathode and …. they have the ability to boost the heater and apply positive voltage that will clear any oxidation in the cathode and boost the signal.” In addition to this, Buffett is able to adjust the settings on the monitor chassis to further fine-tune the colors and alignment, it is really an art.

Image from Tim’s post on the Rejuvenator, click image for link

While he was working I was picking his brain about the various monitor types, and a few major ones we came across in the games he was tuning were the Wells Gardner 4900, the 4600, and the Electrohome G07. The Nintendo games all have Sanyos, and from what I understand those are considered the best of the early 80s CRTs. The vector monitors for the Atari games like Battlezone, Tempest, Asteroids, and Star Wars are a whole different beast from what I could gather. After his visit, Buffett fixed both a 4900 chassis as well as a G07 for us, which went into our Galaga and Dig Dug straight away, which means our monitors are pretty dialed in at the moment. Buffett also makes a short video for all his clients describing the work he did, which is pretty smart to let them know the monitor is working in case there are any issues when shipping, as well as damn good advertising.

Getting to hang out while Buffett went through our games was a treat, and the fact he gives us a shout-out in the videos above was doubly cool. Folks like him keep this hobby vital, carrying the CRT tradition forward is no small feat and for that I’m particularly appreciative. We were joking about a documentary wherein he goes around the country visiting private and public collections of retro arcades to meet community members, help folks dial in their monitors, share some of his expertise, etc., and I kinda want to do it. A road trip around the US to visit arcades would be a blast and getting to hear peoples’ arcade tales would make for some compelling content, or at least I think so—so we’ll see if the “Jimmy Buffett Arcade Roadshow” has any legs—I mean Tim and I are gonna need a new project now that the arcade has successfully launched. Reclaim the documentary! 🙂

So, that catches us up on the video game repairs, luckily the pinballs are relatively new, so there were no major repairs, but Tim did give them a good cleaning and they’re not only gorgeous, but quite popular. We have another on the way too, but I’m not one to steal Tim’s thunder 🙂 In fact, as I alluded to in my last post, having extras has proved invaluable. Extra PCB boards, extra games, and extra parts, they all eventually come in handy as we’re learning. We went on a bit of a game buying spree in December and early January, picking up Double Dragon, Atari Football, Vanguard, Mousetrap, Pleiades, Frogger, Congo Bongo, Zaxxon, and Super Cobra and I’m glad we did because we needed them to fill out the space, and with games regularly going down there needs to be extras to swap to avoid having 3 or 4 games on the floor down at once. Plus, I love building the collection, and as someone said to me while I was talking about the 60 classic videos games we had, “80 is a near perfect number,” indeed it is, for now 🙂

There is a lot more to say about the arcade, like Tim’s ridiculously awesome video wall that you can see featured above in the picture of the Asteroids marquee above the pinball room. But these posts run long because I’m trying to capture as many details as possible so we can have a kind of snapshot in time of where we were and what we were thinking. I think right now, weekend 4 of Reclaim Arcade being fully operational, that folks are coming out, slots are selling out, and we’re absolutely blown away that this is proving to be successful beyond our wildest COVID dreams. And success can be cut a lot of ways, but for us it has everything to do with sustaining the maintenance of the games and being able to provide a truly unique experience for those that come out to support us.

So, love live Reclaim Arcade, and to that point it might be worth thinking through the economics of an arcade, but I’ll save that for my next post.

_____________________________________

*We thought Missile Command was back online for an evening when we plugged it back on and everything was working as expected, but that only lasted a few hours, and then it went out again.

†Pengo was an issue with the power to the coin door, no clue, when Tim by-passed the coin door with a credit button the game started working. Bizarre

‡My timelines of pickup and delivery for these boards may be a bit off given it blurs together, but wanted to get as much down as I remembered regardless.

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5 Responses to Reclaim Arcade’s Game of Maintenance

  1. Tim Owens says:

    This covers the repairs and maintenance well, it’s an ongoing thing but once we learned more (and are still learning) about troubleshooting the less headache it becomes. That being said it’s always an initial gut punch. I got a message Friday night that the Rick and Morty pinball machine would not start and had some time so I drove over to look at it and several coils would not fire at all, the launch, all three flippers, etc. So I figured a board issue but reseating the connector didn’t work. Only after leaving and later talking to a friend did I find out the pinball boards have fuses on them and that’s exactly what it was so Saturday morning I came back and found a spare fuse that would work while I order more. I’m overdue for a purchase of a handful of spare parts for the pinball like that: Fuses, Rubbers, Coils, etc so the maintenance work on those can be done.

    The other interesting thing to note are how you mentioned power can sometimes play a role. We had an issue with the Smash TV showing garbage on the screen and it was because the board was getting too much power and there’s a dial on the power supply to adjust that. Similarly I suspect with Track and Field we may have a similar problem because when we first turn it on from a cold start it goes to a black screen but then turning off and back on works 100% of the time. Odd issues like that can lead to chasing rabbit holes which I think is why knowing what to troubleshoot and doing it methodically can save time, money, and headaches at getting a game back online. But I love being able to do that work during the week in the workshop rather than in the heat of the moment on the floor which is why spare games are clutch.

    • Reverend says:

      That’s a good point about both power and fuses, they have been an issue on a few occasions. For example when the fuse on the recently delivered Wizard of Wor was knocked out of place while in transit or when we thought Q*Bert was cursed after it went down yet again last weekend, even after the boards repairs, so that is another save you made 🙂 Am I right that besides some replaceable plastic parts on Rick & Morty, that the blown fuse might be our first real pinball issue? I ask because the intricacies of pinball introduce a whole different level of complexity. It’s almost as if we have a process for the arcade games in place, and you are familiar enough with them now that no issue goes to long if it is not a PCB fix, which has been amazing. But as our pinballs start to get more wear and tear, that will be a whole ‘nother learning curve, and I am getting addicted to Stranger Things, so we have to keep that online always 🙂

      • Tim Owens says:

        It predates the arcade by a year but there was the TMNT flipper “fix” (I use quotes because the 3D printed piece ultimately did have to be replaced with a legitimate new link arm) that was my first real issue. Funny you mention Stranger Things, the ramp in front of the Demogorgon wasn’t going up on Friday but some force and it started working again so we’ll see if that starts acting up too. In some ways pinball is terrifying in terms of the sheer complexity under the playfield but on the other hand a lot of it is very mechanical and following similar troubleshooting patterns of trying specific things, testing, and seeing where the problem lies (and with pinball if something is broken you can usually see it if you look close enough above or below the playfield).

  2. Eric Likness says:

    Fight the good fight y’all! This is important cultural work.

    I know from following a Japanese pop-culture website (Sora24News) that Tokyo’s big arcade centers (some historical in their locations/role over the years) are shutting down. Check it out: https://soranews24.com/2021/02/22/downtown-tokyo-losing-another-arcade-with-closure-of-shinjuku-taito-station/

    The big ones in Tokyo that have shutdown this year are listed near the end:
    “With its closure, Taito Station Nishi Shinjuku will follow Sega Akihabara Building 2, Silk Hat Ikebukuro, and Warehouse Kawasaki on the list of dearly departed arcades, and it’s a reminder that while reminiscing about the past is all fine and good, arcades also need people actively coming in and playing games in order to survive.”

    • Jim Groom says:

      Eric,

      Wow, this is quite interesting, and I know a bunch of US arcades were getting hit hard and had to crowdsource funding like the mecca for US arcade games in New Hampshire, the American Classic Arecade Musuem, but I admittedly know next to nothing about Japanese arcades, which is crazy given how much of this culture was imported from them interpreting US culture, the link between Pac-man and Popeye is ever-fascinating to me. This also dovetails beautifully with the economics of arcades (as well as the games) that is the source of some real tension in the community for sure. Anyway, thanks so much for this link, and also thanks so much for continuing to be a regular commentator here when the crowds have stopped coming out to the bavablog arcade :), it means a lot—always nice to be writing for someone.

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