Bally Hi-Deal, 1975

Bally Hi Deal, 1975

A first pinball machine is a special thing, to be sure. It’s even more so when it comes with a story.

In November of 2016, my cousin Brendan reached out to me with an offer I couldn’t refuse. He was working at the time in a youth home, to which someone had donated a somewhat worse-for-wear Bally Hi-Deal. It lived in the common area of the home for a time, but eventually developed some sort of issue, as EM pinball machines all eventually do. One of the residents attempted to fix it, and got as far as disassembling it into a number of component pieces before parting ways with the project for reasons that have become lost to history.  Being that my cousin Brendan was a professional counselor, and not a “Pin Guy”, we arrived at a reasonable “Get-it-out-of-here” price, and I quickly jumped in the van. When I came to get it, the backbox and the playfield had been removed, as had the backglass and of course the playfield glass.  Thankfully, there was no “box of parts”, so it seemed that the disassembly had not yet progressed beyond the “macro” level before it stopped. My friend and partner in all things arcade, Jacob, helped me load it in and away we went.

This was my first pin, and knowing the limits of my ability, as well  as the limits of my time and available space, I elected to put the project in the capable hands of Curt Gardner at Portland Pinball Repair. I told him “No hurry”, and a couple of months later, he called me with some great news: the game was ready!

It turns out that this particular game had some interesting tales to tell. The price card indicated that it had once collected coins at Ground Kontrol, which is one of Portland’s most well-known and popular arcades, and one of the first “barcades” to open for business anywhere in the country. I shared this discovery on Portland’s arcade collector email list, and Anthony Dandrea, one of the owners and operators of Ground Kontrol remembered the game arriving, and also remembered selling it when its time on the floor had ended. Between the two of us, we were able to account for nearly all of the moves it had made since 2004.

It’s got some pretty significant wear on the cabinet, and the playfield is worn through to the wood in spots, but it plays nice and smooth, and everything works.

Playfield Detail

Maile tearing up the High-Deal

The High-Deal coming home. The Van isn’t tall enough to haul a pin with the head attached and upright, which is probably a good thing anyway.

High-Deal playfield

If you’re curious about the details of this game, here is the IPDB link:

Since EMs don’t generally have a free play setting, and I had no intention of ever routing this game, I did the “Free pay mod”, which essentially involves connecting the credit and start switches, so that the start switch adds a credit at the same time it starts the game.

I know this will cause some people to gasp and gag, but in the interest of lowering the heat emitted by the game (some of the plastics are warped), I replaced the incandescent lights with non-ghosting warm white LEDs. I don’t mind the look at all, and I feel a lot better about the longevity of the game with the cooler, lower power bulbs installed. If I decide to become a purist about such things later, it’s a simple matter to change the bulbs back.

Other than regular cleaning and waxing, that’s about all I’ve done to the high deal since it came to the Zencade. I really enjoy the more modern pins, and I doubt I will soon become an EM “specialist”, but I do enjoy having this one around. Sometimes it’s nice to just keep things simple and enjoy a slow roll. I think I’ll hang onto it for a while.

Williams Duramold – Part 1 – Coming Home!

In early November of 2016, my friend Jacob and I saddled up and headed into the far north of Vancouver Island in BC, Canada.  A few weeks earlier, I had managed to strike a deal with Ken Falta, the proprietor of Golden Age Arcade Parts, which involved, among other things, trading some 3D printing equipment for a Battlezone Cabaret project, as well as a Williams Duramold. For those who may not know what I’m talking about, Williams Duramold cabinets were cylindrical arcade game cabinets made out of plastic, rather than the more usual wood.  Unfortunately, they were produced just as the arcade market was starting to crash, so they never really caught on, despite their eye-catching style. as a result, they are generally highly sought-after by arcade collectors. Three games were originally available from Williams in Duramold: Blaster, which was in a black cabinet, Bubbles, which came in blue, and Sinistar, which came in black. None of them were produced in large numbers, but Sinistar is, by any measure the rarest of the three. It appears that it was never actually produced in quantity, and there are only three known original examples in existence.  The one that I was about to acquire had started as a Blaster game, but had then been converted to a fighting game, and had finally become the home to a rebuilt Sinistar board set. Both games were complete projects, and both had me quite excited.

Largely because of a favorable exchange rate, most things we found to be less expensive in Canada than in the US. Gasoline was a major exception, so we fueled up before crossing the border.

We left in the morning of the first day, and after realizing that we had forgotten a few things (I did NOT want to get in trouble with anybody’s Customs services on this trip!), we managed to get across the border before dark. We had a small disagreement with Google maps about exactly where the ferry terminal was, but despite out best efforts, we managed to arrive into Campbell River, BC, by mid-evening, where we stayed in a surprisingly nice hotel. I wasn’t expecting much given the price, but this was the beginning of my education about all things Canadian.

The following morning, we made it to Ken’s place, and sure enough, there was a big beautiful black plastic cylinder there! Ken and his wife, Noreena, really are great people.  I felt like we had gotten to know each other pretty well on-line, and it’s always great when you meet face-to-face and discover that person is just like the image they put forth on the internet.  If “rule number one” among arcade game collectors is “Pictures or it didn’t happen”, then Rule number 2 has to be that whenever a game is getting picked up, the visiting party gets a tour of the host’s collection. Ken has almost exactly the same arcade interests that I do, so I found his collection to be extremely tasteful and properly focused.

I gave Ken a quick inventory of the gear I was dropping off, then we got the games loaded into the van, and we were off!  We knew we would be in violation of some kind of Canadian law if we didn’t have some poutine before leaving the country, and we had a couple of hours to kill on the ferry, which had a full-on food court, so we had a snack while we made our way back to the mainland.  We made it back late that night, and it was a couple of days before I was able to get the games into the basement.

The Duramold cabinet with a blank control panel and no marquee.

At that point, I was able to take careful stock of just what was going to have to happen with the game.

The problems:

  • During the initial conversion, someone had chopped off the wires between the transformer and the power supply board. There are a couple of inches of stub left, which will be sufficient to figure out what goes where, but the wires will need to be replaced when I attach the new connector.
  • The harness is currently absent.  as part of our arrangement, Ken has the harness for a while longer, in order to document it for reproduction, as well as to make some adjustments to neaten things a bit.
  • The monitor (G07)has some Time Pilot burn, but it’s not visible behind the tinted bezel glass.
  • There is no artwork: none on the control panel, no bezel except for tinted glass (Normal for Blaster), and no marquee.

On the other hand, there are some very good things:

The “Williams” logo, molded into the cabinet under the control panel.

  • Somehow, against all odds, during all of its various conversions, the control panel was never drilled.  That is highly unexpected, and since Blaster and Sinistar use the same panel layout, it’s really a good situation.
  • The cabinet is in overall very nice shape, without any major dents, holes, or really even many scratches.
  • The Sinistar board set was rebuilt by someone with a significant reputation in the arcade community, and I have every confidence that it will work.  That is great, but not really necessary, as I actually plan to use a JROK board for its reliability and flexibility
  • With the known exception of the harness and the power connector, the game is complete.

The two-speaker setup is one way to identify this unit as a former Blaster cabinet.

The first step will be to repair the power brick,  and ensure that there will be electrons flowing through the game as they should be.  I suspect that process will involve installing a cap kit on the PS board, and very likely the monitor will need some work.

At the end of this process, I am very much looking forward to having a highly unusual Sinistar game in the Zencade!


The Sinistar Duramold harness, which was hiding in my house the whole time!

UPDATE: 1/2/2017 – Only hours after I posted this, Ken Falta read over it, and expressed that he recalled putting the harness into a box which included the various parts of the game that weren’t installed. Sure enough, after a very brief search, I found the harness, right next to the 49-way joystick and a few other parts.  Once again, Ken, I am in your debt. I’m not sure how long I would have sat around waiting for a part that had been in my possession the whole time!  Watch this space, as the Sinistar project has now moved significantly higher on my list of projects in the Zencade!

GORF – Part Two – Flight Stick Trigger Replacement.

When the GORF came home, there was really only one problem with it: the trigger on the flight stick had broken, and was hanging loosely in the stick, held in by a rubber band.  The previous owner had purchased, and included with our deal a replacement part.

Getting the stick apart was something of a challenge.  The stick itself is held together by two bolts on the right side, and three on the left.  The drive looked at first like a security Torx, but in actuality is a security hex.  This is something of an unusual drive, but fortunately, my local Sears store had a 33 piece screwdriver set that included the bit I needed, and it was on sale for just under ten bucks. Just to be safe, I bought three sets. You never know.

Once into attack mode on the stick, there was good news and bad news.  The bad news was that someone had attacked the bolts on the right side of the stick with the completely wrong tool, so the drive heads were stripped.  These will have to be drilled out at some point.  The good news was that the bolts on the left side were pretty near perfect, and came off with the appropriate level of effort. That was enough to get to the trigger mechanism, and it was an easy fix after that. I will still need to address the bolts on the right side, and no major maintenance of the stick’s mechanism will be possible before this happens.

The left side of the flight stick came off without excessive difficulty.

The left side of the flight stick came off without excessive difficulty.


At this time, I also got a look at the insert, which was clearly broken in half. I ordered a replacement from Groovy Game Gear, and it looks like it’s going to work out nicely.  After getting the stick back together, the game plays just like it should.  Success!

The let half of the GORF flight stick shell.

The let half of the GORF flight stick shell.

GORF – Part One – Coming Home

As long as I have enjoyed arcade games, I’ve liked games with a little variety. One that not everyone appreciates as much as I do is Midway’s 1981 release, GORF. Supposedly, the name was an abbreviation for “Galactic Orbital Robot Force”, but personally I think it really has to do with spelling something backward. I dunno.  Anyway, it’s a game that I’ve always enjoyed.

GORF has five different screens, all of which are of the basic, Space Invaders, vertical shooter theme, but each of which is significantly different from the last. When one became available in nearly perfect shape, the only question I had was how fast I could get the cash out of the bank.

Me and my new GORF!

Me and my new GORF!

This particular unit was in immaculate shape. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen an unrestored game that looked as good as this one does.  The only real problems were a missing upper back door and a broken trigger on the flight stick. The various lights in the cabinet were burned out or missing, which is not in the least surprising in a game of this vintage. With any new arrival, I always assume I’ll be replacing bulbs and starters. On the issue of the trigger, the previous owner had acquired the replacement part, but never got around to replacing it. The trigger came  along in the deal, as well as a full extra PCB set, including the cage (GORF is one of several games that midway produced which housed a six-board set in a rack-style cage arrangement, called the “Midway Card Rack” or MCR system).  The G07 monitor is quite possibly the best example I have ever seen as well. The tube has no perceptible burn, the colors are bright, and all the lines look just like they’re supposed to.  The sound is clean, and all the speech functions work. This was a great find!

It appears that this particular game was in fact routed for a year or two, based on the license stickers that are still present on the cabinet, as well as some original scribbles on the cabinet bottom from the Midway factory:

1984-85 license fee label.

1984-85 license fee label.

How clean is this? Factory sharpie!

How clean is this? Factory sharpie!



Not much of a project, but a great survivor!

Missile Command – Part One – Coming Home

The day I picked up the Battlezone Cabaret was big. On the long drive to Northern Washington, I stopped off in the town of Centralia (so called because it is just about halfway between Portland and Seattle), to pick up a change dispenser that had been advertised on Craigslist.  When i got there, it turned out that the dispenser was owned by an arcade collector whose garage arcade is still one of the best I have ever seen.

Missile Command!

Missile Command!

As he was showing us around, he also mentioned that he was looking to sell his Missile Command, and was hoping to replace it with a Centipede.  It didn’t take me long at all to agree that the classic would soon be mine.

In general, the game was in pretty good shape. The PCB seemed to be functioning perfectly, the cabinet was in good structural shape and clean on the inside, the coin door and marquee lights worked, and the game was complete.  The side art is a little rough, but not nearly as bad as some others I have seen.  Missile Command seems to be a particularly attractive target for vandals, and as such is often pretty thrashed.  The track ball was also in need of a rebuild,  the Plexiglas bezel was a little crazed and scratched, and the monitor showed some significant burn-in, but overall the game was perfectly serviceable. I left with a handshake promise to come back the next day for the pickup.

The next morning, Maile and I set off in the Xterra with cash in hand, and came back a few hours later with a Missile Command!

This is a game that had been on every version of my “gotta have it” list, and I was quite happy to get it into the collection.  The first order of business was to get a Braze multi-game HSS kit installed, which also added “Super Missile Attack” to the game, which is a nice hack by the same group that developed Ms. Pac Man.  If you ever find that regular MC is just too easy, Super Missile Attack is the game for you.  I know it’s going to be quite a while before I’m worried about that…

Old track ball roller on top, new roller on the bottom.

Old track ball roller on top, new roller on the bottom.

Also, I replaced the Plexiglas bezel with a glass one from This Old Game, and rebuilt the trackball using new bearings and rollers purchased from The Real Bob Roberts.  Finally, I ordered a new cardboard monitor shroud from a KLOV member who makes them.

I do still want to swap the tube, and I’ll probably throw on some new T-molding.  After that, I may or may not decide to redo the side art.  Once I’ve done that, there’s nothing left but to start trying to improve my high score.


Williams Stargate – Part One – Coming Home

Shortly after I brought the Centipede Cabaret home, My friend Jacob was approached by a co-worker who, hearing about his interest in arcade games, let him know that there was a Williams Stargate in his mother’s basement that she was looking to get rid of.


Stargate arrives.

Stargate wasn’t a game that I was especially interested in, as it is by and large a much more difficult version of Defender, which is already a really hard game. I have some great memories of playing Defender, but Stargate was never something I was really into.  Nonetheless, the price was certainly right, and I figured this would be a good project, and very likely would end up as trade material for something that I really was excited about.  In any case, the monitor sure looked to be in good shape, and the price of the entire game was less than I would have expected to pay for just that G07, so I really couldn’t figure out how to say no.

We brought it back to Jacob’s garage, and after drilling out the locks, discovered a cabinet that was in as pristine condition as I could have hoped to find.  Starting at the beginning, which is usually the power supply, we discovered that, of all things, it was in fact a $2.00 fuse that had blown.  A quick trip to the hardware store, and we were playing Stargate!

Unfortunately, there was still some work to be done.  The game would boot, and would coin up, but wouldn’t save high scores or settings. Also, and somewhat strangely, the game would start with infinite ships and smart bombs, which was not what was supposed to happen.

After replacing a fuse on the power supply:

After replacing a fuse on the power supply:

A little bit of internet research suggested that we were looking at a CMOS problem, which is non-volatile RAM that the game uses to store things like settings and high scores. Exactly what it wasn’t storing. On most Williams games, the CMOS is powered by three AA batteries.  This is a weak spot in the design, as the batteries will leak if not changed, and it’s almost certain that any game that has been stored for an extended period has the batteries still in place. If they do leak, the acid can follow the copper traces on the printed circuit board, and cause extensive damage through corrosion, sometimes bad enough to completely ruin the board.

As a precaution, I ordered a conversion kit from The Real Bob Roberts, which replaces the AA batteries with a single 2032 watch-style battery.  In addition to lasting much longer, the 2032 is much less likely to leak, and this is generally considered a good upgrade for any surviving Williams board.

Unfortunately, that did not solve the problem.  The next place to look was the CMOS RAM chip itself, which is normally a 5514 chip.  A KLOV member has developed a battery eliminator kit which replaces the CMOS chip with an NVRAM module which completely removes the need for a battery.  I went this route, and used my then brand new Hakko FR-300 desoldering tool to remove the old chip.  I then soldered in a socket and installed the 6514 module, and all was right with the Stargate!

Of course, that was about the time I started thinking about how cool it would be to be able to play both Stargate and Defender in the same cabinet. Stay tuned for more on that in future posts!

Battlezone Cabaret – Retrace line issue SOLVED!

Battlezone test mode showing retrace lines.

Battlezone test mode showing retrace lines.

No sooner had I gotten my 1980 Atari Battlezone Cabaret home and working, when a small but potentially annoying video issue became apparent.

If you are unfamiliar with the differences between Raster and Vector monitors, here is a brief introduction:

On my game, there was something going on with the Z-axis video circuit, which was causing a line to remain visible between vectors. These are known as Retrace Lines. This was something that was completely tolerable at first, since I was going from NO Battlezone to an imperfect Battlezone, but I was also quite aware that this would be a serious annoyance before too long.  Most of the time this can be addressed by adjusting the brightness and contrast pots on the monitor’s deflection board.  In my case, adjusting wasn’t doing the trick, so something else was at work.

I was lucky enough to be able to run some tests on the PCB which excluded the monitor as the source of the problem, so I knew I was looking at a board issue. This is a great example of a time when the game’s schematics would be really handy.  Luckily, these are available widely on the web. If you can’t find them, look right here:


Close up of schematic sheet 2B, including IC P9.

With a little guidance from some KLOV members, I was able to use my logic probe to work my way back through the Z-circuit, and after making a few missteps, and replacing some parts that turned out not to be the source of the issue, I eventually discovered that the connections from the IC at location P9 on the PCB to the IC at N9 were being held high when they should be pulsing. The inputs to P9 were were normal, which suggested that P9 (which is a 74LS164) was likely the source of the problem. I removed the IC, soldered in a socket and inserted a new 74LS164.  Happily, this seems to have solved the issue completely.

With that issue fixed, the PCB was now running pretty much perfectly.  The next step was to address the joysticks, which, while functional, also showed some signs they they were in need of some help.

My Arcade gets its own logo!

Doesn’t every home arcade have a logo designed by two famous and talented artists?

The three versions of the Zencade logo.

The three versions of the Zencade logo.

Last Christmas, I got what may actually be the coolest gift I’ve ever been given.  My good friend Jacob, who is the creative force behind The Wooden Arcade, handed me a box, but failed to warn me about what was about to happen.  I opened it up, and found what, under other circumstances might be a perfectly normal and unremarkable (but certainly nice!) gift: A hoodie and a T-shirt.

The thing is, this was in no way an ordinary hoodie and t-shirt set!

As you can see, these were adorned with what has become the official face of the Zencade. The story here gets even better.

First printing Zencade T-shirt and Hoodie.

First printing Zencade T-shirt and Hoodie.

As it happens, Jacob’s brother in-law is Aaron Draplin, of the Draplin Design Co., North America. Jacob conceived of an amazing idea, drew up a pencil sketch, and then passed it along to Aaron for the full design treatment. The result: One design in color, as well as two in monochrome .  The color version is the obvious choice for things like banners and blog headers, while the mono versions also look really sharp on a t-shirt, or possibly a vinyl decal.  Both will likely be available in the near future.

From the moment I started to consider the idea of a home arcade, a custom logo has been high on the “must have” list.  A very big THANK YOU to Jacob Ashley and Aaron Draplin for making this one happen!

Meantime, go check out both of their websites. You’re guaranteed to find something amazing that you had no idea that you couldn’t live without!

Donkey Kong – Part One – Coming Home

Donkey Kong comes home.

Donkey Kong happy at home.

On February 3rd, 2016, I scored a Donkey Kong machine. The price was a bit lower than they seemed to be going for, and the seller was very up front about the reason: He said it was playing blind just fine, but the video was scrambled, and he wasn’t sure how to go about fixing it. That is not the kind of story that scares me off, and so off I went with my friend and arcade collaborator, Jacob, up to the Seattle area to pick up this Kong.

As soon as we pulled around the corner by the seller’s house, we could see the garage door open, and inside, all nicely warmed up, was a very clean-looking Donkey Kong, with an obvious sync issue.  As we got closer, the seller seemed a bit wistful about getting rid of it. He explained that he had owned it for over twenty years, and it had worked fine until he moved it to the house he was obviously still in the process of moving into, at which point he turned it on and found the monitor in its current state.  He also explained that he had painted the game a few years back.  He did an okay job, and it’s probably fine for most people, but I think I’ll want to sand the sides a bit before I put side art on.

The control panel was in reasonable shape, with the usual incorrect buttons, a few cigarette burns which established its authenticity as a genuine survivor.

DK Control Panel

The Donkey Kong control panel when I got it. Note the cigarette burns, the incorrect buttons, and the wrinkled rule sheet.

It was quite late by the time we got the game to Jacob’s garage, but it only took us about 15 minutes to adjust the sync, and we had a perfectly playing Donkey Kong!  Well, Almost…  On the first “cement factory” level, the fireballs weren’t behaving like they were supposed to, spawning at the very top of the screen, as well as right where Mario spawns.  So that’s a problem.

The next day, I ordered a Braze high score save kit, which is something I intend to install in any game I own for which one is available.  In addition to saving high scores, the Braze kits also bypass the game ROMs in favor of a set on the kit itself, which are housed in much more contemporary chips, and are a lot more stable and robust. In addition, at least for Nintendo games, the Braze kits include some very useful test functions. In this case, the kit was able to tell me that the game threw errors on two RAMs, which would explain the sprite issues we had been seeing.

Donkey Kong is currently on Maile's short llist of favorite games.

Donkey Kong is currently on Maile’s short llist of favorite games.

I removed the offending RAMs, and installed sockets and new 2114s. Just like that, the game play was perfect.

Still left to do:

  • Rehab the monitor, which, since the pick-up has been sort of faint.  I would be highly surprised if the caps had ever been replaced, so it’s probably about time anyway.
  • Go over the control panel, tighten up the joystick, which seems a little loose, and replace the buttons with some that are at least closer to what they should be
  • Acquire and apply a new rule sheet and the standard DK sticker set.
  • Figure out how much I care about the paint job, and what I want to do about applying side art.

Basic differences between vector (XY) and raster scan monitors:

Vector monitors, also called XY monitors, work on a different principle than standard raster monitors.  Both are CRT monitors, but there is very little similarity beyond that.  Raster monitors, like televisions, create an image by starting at one side of the screen, and scanning all the way across, then moving to the next line, and doing the whole thing again until it gets to the bottom of the display. Once there, it  goes back to the top and starts over. In this way, every part of the screen is active during each frame of video, which is normally thirty frames per second. This is actually very similar to the way film projectors work, by displaying full-frame images at a high enough rate of speed that it gives the impression of movement.

Vectors, on the other hand, work a little differently.  Rather than scanning the entire screen on every frame, a vector monitor actually draws the image on the screen, using only the parts of the screen that are necessary to display the image. The rest of the screen remains un-energized.  Vectors still draw fast enough to give the impression of a persistent, moving image, but they do it using only as much of the screen real estate as necessary.  Here is a simple example of each type of display:

Raster Image

A raster image energizes the entire screen on every frame.

Vector Image

A vector monitor only energizes the parts of the tube that it needs to generate an image.

Vector monitors draw their images using a 3-dimensional coordinate system, X, Y, and Z.

Okay, X and Y make sense, but where do you find a Z-axis in a two-dimensional display?

Here’s the best analogy I have come up with: Imagine you are drawing a picture on paper using a pencil. You are certainly making a 2D image, but if you think about it, you will quickly realize that you are actually working in three dimensions. If not, you’d never lift the pencil off the paper, and every part of the drawing would be connected to every other part by at the very least a line as wide as the point of the pencil.  So in the drawing analogy, you are lifting your pencil from the paper, and a vector monitor does the same thing using the Z-axis. It is how the monitor “lifts the pencil” off the surface of the screen.

The overall effect of a vector monitor is, in my opinion, pretty spectacular, and there is certainly no room for confusion about whether one is looking at a raster or vector.