As some of you know, I’ve had an inherited arcade cabinet – Atari’s Roadblasters – sitting in my garage for the better part of the last 5 years. The damn thing with it’s pressboard construction (weighing in at over 200 pounds I’m guessing) even moved to the new house. Poor movers.
Last weekend it went up for sale on Craigslist and was in the waiting arms of a new owner in less than 12 hours. He’s doing what I couldn’t/wouldn’t/shouldn’t: cleaning it up, repairing it and (possibly) making it into a MAME cabinet.
Here below are the geeky, lengthy and shame-inducing details he sent me via email. I want to be this guy, if only for his drive, passion and free time. :-)
Begin copy/pasted email:
Just an update on the arcade machine…
General Info (aka, it’s amazing what you can find out on the internet)
The machine was originally sold as a Road Runner (BEEP BEEP) machine, and then later had a Road Blasters conversion kit installed. The kit replaced one of the big circuit cards inside, the marquis graphic, and the control panel plus added the gas pedal. There are actually 4 different games that could go in this cabinet: Road Blasters, Road Runner, Marble Madness, and Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. I would like at some point to get the Road Runner kit and swap it between this and that. The machine is known as an Atari System I. I can’t believe how heavy it is. It bent my hand truck!
I now have it working. Still a bunch of cleaning up to do to the cabinet, but I will get to that as time permits. The first thing I wanted to do was get it working. I started by putting a new industrial plug on the a/c power cord. Then I vacuumed and damp wiped the inside of the body of the machine. As with most arcade machines, it was pretty nasty in there (and I won’t bring something in my house that could have critters inside!) I also removed that big security bar thing and filled in the holes in the cabinet with plastic wood.
There was a bunch of stuff wrong with the wiring inside. Hacked connectors, lots of splices. Using a set of schematics I was able to rewire the control panel harness to eliminate all the splices. I plan to get a new set of connectors and completely rewire the control panel at a later date (make it look factory new). Fixing the wiring still didn’t get anything working though.
Laser and Special Weapons switches
It turns out that all four switches on the steering wheel were bad (a common problem on these) and had to be replaced. They are VERY special, hard to find switches (Omron B3G-S).
I found out that some old (20 yr old) Sony word processing machine (those dedicated PC looking things) use the same switches. I wasn’t able to find one of those, but stumbled upon an old (20 yr old) Focus 2001 XT era keyboard that had switches that were similar. I disassembled the keyboard, and took a bunch of the switches out (they are hard to get out). I modified them to not click anymore (had to straighten a leaf spring inside), and had to carve them up using my dremel a bit, but I was able to use them to replace the stock switches. The good thing about that keyboard is that I now have 20 spare switches (just in case). That got the firing buttons working, but the steering still didn’t work.
This morning I got up early and decided to tackle that. I traced the signals on the main harness, and verified that the board was getting power. I removed the optical interface board (same technology used in the old PC ball mice) and used a meter to go component by component looking for problems. I discovered some cold solder joints. They looked absolutely good visually, but the meter said otherwise. So, I resoldered all the connections on the board, and now the steering works too! The shaft bushing on the encoder wheel shaft is completely worn out and needs to be replaced (there is about 1/2″ of side play at the encoder wheel). Rather than try to find (or make) one out of brass like the original, I think I may just use a nylon bushing instead. Steering is a little sloppy, but hey, it works!
I also tore down the coin mechanisms and rebuilt them. They were bent up a bit, and there was all kinds of nasty stuff imbedded in them (dried coke syrup, two quarters, dirt, you name it). There were also parts missing, but I found the missing parts in the pile of debris I cleaned out from the bowels of the machine (also found $1.62 in the bottom). I repainted the door, and replaced the burned out bulbs. They now light up and look and work great. I still need to get a coin box (or I can make one), and a lock for the coin box door.
I fixed the fluorescent light that lights up the marquis. I put a new bulb in, and it still didn’t work. I traced all the wiring through the machine with my meter, and everything looked perfect, but still no light. Finally, I swapped in a new starter and that fixed it.
The left side of the cabinet is damaged pretty bad, but I plan to use automotive body putty (bondo) to repair it, then sand and repaint it and re-install the edge molding (I think the molding itself can be re-used). The front left bottom of the cabinet is dented up a bit (could be water damage too), and I plan to press that out with a hydraulic jack and then possibly brace it with a piece of steel plate (or internally with wood. It was dropped at some point on that front left corner. I may just wimp out and not worry about it. We’ll see. I’d also like to get the side art for the cabinet. These cabinets came 2 ways, plain black (like this one) and black with blue and silver colored Atari logos that ran up the entire side of the machine. I think the Atari logo side art looks cool. I found a place that sells repro side art, but that will be down the road sometime after I get the cabinet fixed up.
I just wanted to say thanks again for selling this beast to me! I’ve been having a lot of fun fixing it up, and I think it has convinced me to turn my sunroom into a mini arcade. This will probably be the first of about 4 or 5 machines that I will put in there, one of which will be a generic MAME cabinet (see below).
MAME (the Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator)
MAME is a FREE arcade emulator that runs on your PC (Windows or Mac). It currently runs about 7,000 arcade games (I am sure this one is one of them). Basically, a bunch of programmers have created a program that emulates the HARDWARE inside the arcade machine. For instance, in this machine, there are 6502 and 68000 microprocessors, a Yamaha sound chip, and lots of other support circuitry. The MAME team analyze the hardware and write a hardware emulator that emulates the chips in each machine. The emulator requires rom chips (program code chip) images, called ROM files. Basically, each file represents one chip on the arcade machines motherboard. These are available on the net, but are copyrighted, so they aren’t always easy to find. MAME has the ability to emulate just about any machine ever made, and new ones are added all the time, but the MAME crew specifically tries to keep it from working with the newest games in order to avoid conflict with new arcade machines that are still being sold. It’s one thing to preserve the old games, another thing entirely to compete with the companies that create them. WIthout the arcade machine companies, there would be no mame!
You can play MAME on your PC using your keyboard and mouse OR you can get a MAME arcade cabinet with a generic style control panel, put a PC inside, and have a very attractive arcade machine that can play thousands of games. They even make cocktail table MAME cabinets.
If you decide to check out MAME, let me know. I’ve been collecting MAME stuff (software and rom images) for years and have all the files for the latest version (currently about 15 Zipped DVD’s or about 80GB of hard drive space). I would be happy to cut you a copy of the DVD’s, or I can come over and copy the entire installed image (80GB) from my MAME drive (120GB external 2.5 laptop drive) to your hard drive. It would save you a ton of work (collecting this stuff can be a pain). If you are interested, just let me know.
Sorry for the length of this email, but I wanted to update you!
If you made it here I have a cookie for you.
I’ll add some pictures to the post later. I’m too depressed at the moment.