Reclaim Arcade

Free Play All Day

Retrofitting Popeye for the Web

When I was stateside last month Tim was talking to me about a couple of his arcade game projects—he is always working on something cool. The one I won’t talk about here is pretty wild, it basically allows you to hack into the video and audio signals of an old gold arcade cabinet and stream it out online while someone is playing (reclaim Arcade meets Reclaim Video). But I’ll let Tim explain that in detail given it is something special. Just the other day he got online high scores working for one of our newest cabinets, namely Popeye. These high score save kits built for specific cabinets allow you to save high scores after restarting the cabinet (a feature not available to many of the earlier machines) as well as enable free play on certain cabinets that may not have that option. What’s more, for certain games like Popeye that have a free play option that does not use “attract mode” (when the screens shuffle to prevent burn-in) a save kit allows you to override those settings. The following video  from the folks at Canadian Arcade explains this quite well and even takes you through the installation of a save kit on Popeye:

Now, you can actually buy a save kit that also allows you to collect and push the high score data collected to the website


So, not only are we able to enable free play on Popeye now, but we can also push the high scores to a Reclaim Arcade website that tracks not only top scores, but the most recent scores as well:

And looking at the site it looks like 9 other arcade cabinets we have currently (namely Pac-man, Tron, Asteroids, Defender, Kangaroo, Galaxian, Galaga, Track and Field, and Centipede) could also have high scores saved to this website. I love the retro-culture around arcade machines that re-imagine them for the web, this is some niche-ass retrofitting which makes it that much more awesome.

Does 15 cabinets make an arcade?

I’ve been slow with the updates on the Reclaim Arcade collection, but that’s just because Tim’s acquisitions are outpacing my ability to blog them all. We are officially at 15 cabinets (counting Tim’s overhaul of Smash TV) which begs the question, do we have an arcade yet? I’m not sure what that magic number is precisely, but we are just about out of space in CoWork for the cabinets we have, which are as follows (in order of acquistition):

And more recently….

Track & Field is a 1983 video game that was leveraging the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles for its popularity. It is a fun, if not super hard, game wherein you have to mash buttons to run and then time the jump/throw degree which can be a real pain in the ass.

One of the run buttons has a kind of shield to make it that much harder, and it can be a game you walk away from in frustration if you are not careful. It is one of the games Tim and I playing in Oklahoma at Domains17 that kind of jump-started the arcade madness at Reclaim, and I do love it so. It will be forever connected with Grand Bald Pizzeria in Baldwin, Long Island for me, given I spent many a day trying to figure out the pole vault, which I can even get to anymore 🙁 This is the only game we have with an LCD monitor instead of a CRT. The price was right and it looks pretty good, but at some point this should be rectified.

Just this past weekend Tim got his hands on a 1982 classic, Q*Bert. The cursing monster straight out of a Dr. Suess book that was a mainstay of any self-respecting arcade. The pyramid maze was unique, and the simplicity of the game play as well as the unique riffing on Pac-man was impressive. It was created by Gottlieb, a pinball manufacturer, that made just a couple of video arcade cabinets.

As you can see from the images the cabinet is mint, and is a fine addition to Reclaim Arcade.

And not to be outdone by himself in one weekend, Tim picked up a second game this weekend, namely Ninetendo’s Popeye (1982). Popeye is unqiue in that the player cannot jump, but only punch, and for me it was one of the better ports for Atari 2600. I was a big fan of this game, and despite it being a Donkey Kong knock-off (in fact Donkey Kong and Pac-man were influenced by the Popeye cartoon—the power-ups in both Pac-man and Donkey-Kong akin to a spinach infusion) because I loved who well drawn the cartoon characters were in the game. Not to mention the fact you would run around collecting music notes and hearts being thrown by Olive Oil. As the pictures below will attest, like Q*bert, this cabinet is in pristine shape, and what started as a simple purchase of Centipede has become something of an addition, though Tim cleaims he can stop at any point 🙂

All of this begs the point what to do with these cabinets, and the obvious answer is to create an arcade. We are currently looking at some space and I do think the next logical step for us is to get even more cabinets and open up a full blown arcade in Fredericksburg. We are not necessarily in a rush, we need a place to put them more than a business model at the moment, but have a fully functional arcade to complement our VHS store would be pretty freaking amazing, if I have to be honest. 

Pac-Man at 39



I mentioned as much on Instagram a few days ago, but May 22nd marked the 39th birthday of Pac-Man, which was released on that day in Japan but would not hit North American until October of 1980. What’s wild is that Tim and I actually own an original Pac-Man arcade machine which we acquired this March. That game marks the beginning of my deep love of arcade cabinets, and I was unapologetically knee-deep in Pac-mania in the early 80s. It was the game I was best at, having memorized patterns through the second or third key, and owning a video game like this was beyond my wildest dreams until recently. But given Reclaim is seriously considering opening up an old gold arcade in Fredericksburg, it only made sense to start building the collection—which has grown yet again this past week with the addition of a Track and Field cabinet from 1983.


The generative power of a game like Pac-Man on my imagination is hard to quantify. I rank it up there with films like Star Wars and Alien when it comes to helping define a burgeoning sense of what culture meant to me—whether popular or not was not even a question yet. These were things that filled me with wonder while at the same time were not unique to me, they were shared  broadly as a kind of popular phenomenon becoming iconic of 80s culture. What’s more, it was kind of ground zero for video games becoming part of the public discourse more broadly, something that has only gained more and more momentum and relevance since.

If you are looking for some more insightful history around Pac-Man beyond my nostalgic longings, the Arcade Blogger has a great post on the development of Pac-Man that Tim shared with us the other day and I highly recommend it. Some take-aways I did not know was that Galaxian was the first game to use color RGB graphics (we own it), the Japanese name of Puck-Man was changed to Pac-Man for export given the possible variations North American teenagers might come up with, the power pills were inspired by Popeye’s transformation after eating spinach.

Happy birthday Pac-Man, you have aged quite well! In fact, to their great credit the twelve 1980s cabinets we have acquired not only feature impressive gameplay, but also have withstood the ravages of time so well. They are all closing in on four decades of gameplay and they remain remarkably solid and simple, making them relatively easy to troubleshoot and repair. Long live the arcade culture of the 80s!

Smash TV Control Panel

Smash TV Control Panel

As the work continues on Smash TV I can quickly see that this will be a very special game to me. I'm learning a ton (probably a common theme in these blog posts) and all the sweat and hours I've spent just heighten the anticipation of getting to play the game in all its glory. As I finish up restoring the joysticks I've been slowly working away at the control panel. As you may remember the control panel I was given was converted to an Area 51 complete with gun holsters, but hidden beneath the surface was an original Smash TV overlay so some quick heat gun work and it was unveiled.

I was a bit surprised by the quality of the overlay underneath, but at the end of the day there were enough problems with it and I had the artwork to replace it with so it had to go. Getting the overlay off was easy enough, again with a heat gun, but the glue underneath took a combination of Goo Gone and then a rotary sander. Finally I patched all the small holes from the holster up with J-B Weld Steelstik which easily can mold into holes and cures in an hour to sand down to a smooth surface.

Finally it was time to get the new overlay on. I had some difficulty getting things aligned but I'm pretty happy with how it turned out. On one hand it was great there was plenty of extra print to the new artwork, but it also made it hard to know where things were supposed to cut off on the control panel. I also got some red T-Molding and cut the vinyl in a way where I could tuck it underneath the molding for clean corners. But I had to get a glue gun and go to town because the wood was not grabbing the tiny barbs of the molding. Easy enough to fix and I guess someone who was super anal at restoring would have bondo'd and redrilled all the channels but I certainly wasn't going to take it to that level. The control panel is now ready for some careful X-acto knife work to cut the holes for the 4 joysticks and 2 start buttons and then the refinished joysticks are going in.

Joust upgrades

Joust upgrades

This is a short post just to document a few small upgrades to our Joust cabinet. Shortly after we got it we got a 131 RAM error which can mean a variety of things given it's the first RAM chip in sequence. Some research pointed to a potential power issue and I could see as much given one of the three LEDs on the power supply board was not lighting. A little reconnecting and jiggling the molex connectors and it came back on and we were back in business but that was obviously a short term fix. I ordered a switching power supply from Arcadeshop and wanted to do a few other small repairs while I was at it so I grabbed an NVRAM chip as well as the 4164 RAM chips and adapter for them.

Putting the new switching power supply in was fairly simple, just a matter of screwing in a few terminal wires and grabbing power from the monitor hookup. As always, John's Arcade channel is an invaluable resource. Reference video at (it's a long one but a good overview of that repair). After changing out the power supply the game boots reliably, but I was still getting adjustment failures that basically reset the factory settings every time it was turned off. I figured the NVRAM chip fix that and planned to do that fix as soon as I had a good desoldering iron and some time.

The 4164 RAM chips did not go as successfully, because I'm an idiot. For some background while I wasn't having major RAM issues, the Joust boards as well as Defender, Robotron, and maybe a few others, use a chip called a 4116 which can get pretty hot and prone to failure. The newer 4164 chips are drop in replacements with the exception of a small modification to the power to the board (and Arcadeshop makes that easy with a drop in adapter that goes between the power and the board). I figured it wasn't a bad upgrade to bulletproof from future issues. However I mistakenly put the chips in upside down paying no attention to the notches in the chips or how the old ones were placed. The game wouldn't boot and even after putting them back right side up they were fried and threw RAM errors left and right. So I have to order another set at some point but that's on the backburner and I'll walk the walk of shame on that one.

I did finally pick up a bitchin desoldering iron (I'll take Things I Didn't Think I Would Ever Say for $500, Alex), a Hakko FR-301, which is expensive but quickly makes it worth your time when doing PCB repairs, cap kits, and all other manner of work that requires removing or reflowing old components on boards. So today I sat down to tackle the NVRAM chip (resetting factory settings on Joust was getting old and how am I going to maintain my leaderboard status there?!). Jim joined me remotely from the robot to watch me do the work. The desoldering gun made quick work of removing the old chip which is soldered directly to the board at C1.

Joust upgrades
Desoldering Porn

The new chip is socketed so you basically have to solder the socket in and then you can just push the new chip in which is somewhat larger with it's own battery. While I was at it I desoldered and removed the 3 AA batteries and holder from the lower left of the panel given it was no longer necessary.

Joust upgrades

After booting the thing back up I reset the factory settings and set it to free play one last time and powered it off. Booting it back up it goes right to attract mode and now reliably saves the high scores. Rock on! So other than me foolishly putting in RAM upside down I'm feeling pretty confident these days about my ability to repair these things and continue to learn a ton every day. The Makerspace section of our office is even looking good with a nice solid workbench of tools.

Joust upgrades
Image taken before I proceeded to clutter the workbench with stuff.

Joust is so far my favorite game in the space (at least until my real labor of love, Smash TV, is completed) and it's great to put some time into making it a more reliable machine.

Square Pegs in Round Holes

Square Pegs in Round Holes

I've been tackling various parts to the Smash TV restore project at once and the nice thing about it is that when I get bored with one thing or need to do some research I can always step away from that and find 10 other areas I need to eventually work on so there's no shortage of mini projects. One in particular I wanted to tackle was getting the 4 Wico joysticks out of the old control panel and cleaning them up.

The term "Wico" may not be familiar to you but the Wico Corporation has a pretty interesting history. They made their fortune primarily in parts for games and not exclusively arcade either. There were aftermarket joysticks made for Atari, Coleco, and more. Apparently at one point they even dabbled in moving up the chain and resold Sega hardware and had a few pinball machines under their brand. They filed for bankruptcy in 2001 and so there are no more original parts being made but their brand name has a cult following in arcade circles due to the extremely high quality and durability of their joysticks. For this part of the project we have 4 original red 8-way Wico sticks to take out of a converted control panel and clean up and move to our original panel.

What I thought would be the easiest part of the process proved to be the most challenging part of the whole thing, removing the old joysticks. You can see here an exploded view of how these joysticks are put together:

Square Pegs in Round Holes

From that diagram the mounting plate (3) would be screwed to the bottom of the control panel with with everything but the head of the joystick (1) and dust cover (2) coming underneath. Of course the hole for the joystick is smaller than the drilled hole naturally so I had to take it apart which should have been as simple as removing the e-clip (11) and pulling the joystick up and out. In reality no matter how hard I pulled the rubber grommet (4) that centers the stick in the assembly would not release it. So much rust and sediment had built up that it was basically fusing itself to the joystick.

Square Pegs in Round Holes
Rusty upside down joystick

I had a can of WD-40 so I figured I would first try that. With a few applications I was able to remove 2 of the 4 joysticks. The other two would not budge. A lot of what I was reading (this is apparently a common issue) was to just sacrifice the rubber grommet and go at it with a Dremel. But I didn't own a Dremel and that seemed like a last resort. So I stopped by Home Depot for a few things and grabbed some penetrating oil (PB Blaster) and applied that and let it sit for a few hours. 1 of the 2 came loose. Progress. I flipped the last joystick over in the control panel and applied more PB Blaster and let that one sit overnight since it was almost time to leave the office. Next day, nothing. More PB Blaster, gripping pliers, hammer, heat, not a damn thing worked. I finally decided to sacrifice the grommet and cut it out but even then the bushing was so fused to it even with a hacksaw I was getting nowhere. I finally own a Dremel and all 4 joysticks are free :)

With all the joysticks out the next step was to clean up the shaft and ball (stop laughing). I found a great video on YouTube that explains the process which basically involves anchoring the joystick in your drill and then using dry and wet sandpaper at increasingly finer grades to clean it up. You then use a towel with rubbing compound and finally some polish to give it shine.

I rushed some of these a bit compared to that video but I'm not looking for perfection, just something nicer than what I had previously. Here are a few in-progress shots as well as the final result compared to one of the old ones:

I'm not quite as happy with the polish (but these weren't too bad to begin with) and will maybe put some more time into that soon, but the way the metal cleaned up is pretty amazing. Given how much harder it would be to clean up, I've decided to get replacement grommets (needed one anyway and the others are so rusted), springs, and e-clips from Arcade Shop. I still have to tackle getting the old control panel overlay removed, sanding down the panel, and then applying the new one before the joysticks will be permanently housed but if feels good to get this part finished. I've got a few other things on order and several more mini projects on the list that I'll be blogging about, but as a visual person seeing the progress just gets me that much more excited and the learning process has been super rewarding.

Centipede High Scores

Centipede High Scores

Since this blog has become All Reclaim Arcade All The Time #noregrets I wanted to return to the very first repair I did on our first game last summer. Jim and I had travelled down to Richmond to pick up a Centipede in beautiful condition and brought it back to the office. It quickly became a signature piece in the space but in short order we noticed that it didn't seem like high scores would survive a power cycle. The game was previously owned by a family and sat in their den and in fact it was the mom who dominated the leaderboard despite several of us putting up decent ranking above her, with every power cycle mom was back on top!

After a bit of Google-fu I learned that Centipede stores the high scores in memory on a particular chip called the EAROM and the replacement is very simple given it's a socket chip. One $8 part from Arcadeshop and I was back in business. The biggest thing with socket chips is to be careful to remove them without bending or breaking pins by taking a flathead and slowly working each side of the chip a little at a time to lift it straight out (or you could get fancy and get a tool that grips both sides of the chip). With the chip replaced we now could dominate over MOM and not too long afterwards Lauren put up both first and second place positions before heading off to Florida and no one has managed to beat her yet!

Centipede High Scores
Photo credit: Mikes Arcade

An interesting side note, I only recently learned that Centipede shows a top 10 high score list, however only the top 3 scores are saved to the EAROM chip which makes a lot more sense (for awhile I started to wonder if the chip had gone bad again or if my own memory was failing me). There are aftermarket high score save kits for Centipede that will save all 10 slots but that gets a bit too far into modding than I want to do to a dedicated original cabinet.

Star Rider (1983)

Tim unveiled his plans to restore a sourced Smash TV cabinet on the Reclaim Arcade blog earlier today, and he made the surprising point that Smash TV is our third fourth Williams cabinet after Defender, Joust, and Make Trax. That led me down two separate paths: 1) memory lane to 1990 when I moved to Long Beach, California and my older brother and I would go to an arcade in Fountain Valley and play Smash TV. The other was a vague memory of Williams’ foray into laserdisc games in the early 80s, and that’s when I uncovered a true blast from the past: Star Rider

This game is wild, and you can get a sense of the gameplay from the video above. The sit down cabinet extends into a motorcycle that you would mount and use to move the space bike on the screen. The background was generated using the laserdisc graphics that were far too complex for a computer of the time to generate, while the foreground overlaid computer graphics. The background visuals reminds me a lot of an early vision of No Man’s Sky:

The game also had a rearview mirror (which was a first) and characters from two other Williams games, Joust and Sinistar, appear fleetingly on occasion as Easter eggs. And while the stand-up cabinet also had the motorcycle steering wheel that pre-dates the more memorable Paperboy by a couple of years, the sit-down, rocket-powered motorcycle cabinet is a thing of beauty. 

Reading up on it again, the game was hoping to “ride” on the popularity of the laserdisc sensation Dragon’s Lair, but the arcade market was already beginning to turn in 1983 and according to the Wikipedia article it was a “major dog” and resulted in or contributed to a loss of US $50 million[3] for Williams. That’s a big number!

The other hole this led me down was discovering Moon Patrol, another game I really enjoyed, was licensed for distributed by Williams for the U.S. market. I also now have a cool name for the scrolling that both Moon Patrol and Jungle Hunt pioneered in 1982:

Moon Patrol is widely credited for the introduction of parallax scrolling in side-scrolling video games.[2] Taito‘s Jungle Hunt side-scroller, released the same year as Moon Patrol, also features parallax scrolling.

Parallax scrolling! And the gameplay in the video has aged quite well, but a mint condition Moon Patrol is not cheap. And finally, looking at the Star Rider cabinet brought this video highlighting an insane collection of rare and prototype cabinets, more than a few of which I had never heard of.  

Ok, now back to my day job.

Smash TV: The Future is Now

Smash TV: The Future is Now

I've hinted at my goal of finding a good project piece on the arcade front that I could try my hand at restoration work. I've never considered myself much of a handyman but between various small projects at CoWork and smaller repairs with the games we own I've gotten more acclimated to that work and amassed a decent set of tools to work from. I had originally hoped to restore a Robotron 2084 and bought the ROM and Sound Board so that I'd be ready when I found a decent cabinet for it (in fact our Joust is in a Robotron cab, but I could never bring myself to gut it unless a better Joust came along to replace it, it's my favorite game in the collection right now). This past week someone posted about a Smash TV project where they had sourced all the parts and artwork, but after a year of it sitting they were giving up on finding the time to put into it. It was the siren call of opportunity that I couldn't resist and without a doubt a perfect test of the idea of framing a makerspace in arcade repair and restoration.

For anyone who hadn't heard of this game, it was designed by Eujene Jarvis (notable in that he is also the designer of Defender and Robotron 2084) and in many ways the gameplay mechanics of Smash TV is very reminicent of Robotron with dual joystick controls for movement and firing. The premise of the game is quite a bit darker, however, with the year set in 1999 and a popular game show in which the contestants battle for cash, prizes, and their life while it's all streamed to television for the audience's viewing pleasure. The inspiration from The Running Man (1987) is pretty obvious.

The Running Man Trailer (1987)

Smash TV came out in 1990, which makes it our first arcade game of that decade and was popular enough that it was ported to many other systems included SNES and Sega Genesis and saw a spiritual sequel in the game Total Carnage. It also happens to be another in a growing collection of Williams games at Reclaim Arcade.

Smash TV (1990) Gameplay

I'll no doubt be posting regular on this project. The seller noted that someone could probably spend a weekend and get it up and running, I'm not so optimistic at my own abilities, but also want to take the time to do it right with a clean restore. The parts tell a really interesting story of how these machines become Frankenstein's of arcade owners moving to different titles both to keep interest alive but primarily when a game wouldn't play well and thus not make as much money it's easier to slap new artwork and a board/controller set than to buy a brand new machine. This cabinet was converted to a Golden Tee and the control panel the seller had sourced was converted to an Area 51 complete with gun holsters. In fact if you look closely you can even see the Smash TV overlay underneath the Area 51 art. New control panel, marquee, and bezel art is all included as well as the electronics. I'll have to source side art but otherwise it should be parts complete. Here's a few pictures of everything:

I will likely start by cleaning up the cabinet, removing all the Golden Tee guts, and seeing if I can get it to a point where the game boots and plays with what I have and then start the actual clean up and restore of all the artwork. So yeah, stay tuned as this project develops!

Reclaim Arcade: Free Play All Day!

That’s right, it has gotten to a point where we can soon start referring to our growing collection of cabinet video games as a bonafide arcade thanks to Tim’s weekend binge collector’s road trip. We have 11 operational cabinets at this point (Centipede, Defender, Asteroids, Kangaroo, Galaxian, Joust, Make Trax, Tron, Galaga, Millipede, and Pac-man) with a 12th cabinet which is a DIY restoration project that Tim is spearheading. I’ll let him reveal that one, but it’s a gem. What was fun was I had no idea what Tim was dreaming up (not to mention the magnitude of the enterprise) until I got a message yesterday evening that he was currently in a U-Haul somewhere in Northern Virginia on his way back from Maryland, and he had something to show me—I was immediately on tenter hooks. Twenty minutes later he takes me through the biggest haul of arcade cabinets yet: a completely mint Tron (which make be the most beautiful cabinet yet), a meticulously restored Millipede (which is a gorgeous complement to Centipede), a fully operational Galaga that looks perfect, as well my gateway drug to arcade games in the 80s: Pac-man.

Tim also showed me the cabinet for his restoration project in the works, as well as a few additional boards one of the sellers threw in for Pac-man, which included a modded Pac-man board for Ms. Pac-man which would be the hack that led to what Ian Bogost frames as the apotheosis of the feminist video game:

It was quite cool to actually see the modded board, and to think that Ms. Pacman may be another cabinet in our future. Probably the two games of the four I was least familiar with was Tron and Millipede. I was a huge fan of Discs of Tron, which after reading the Tron wikipedia page I learned was supposed to be a fifth subgame of the original Tron but it wasn’t ready so they made it a stand-alone game which was reportedly far less successful. I, for one, loved Discs of Tron with its fully immersive cabinet reminiscent of the Star Wars vector game: But as I watched from afar as Tim unloaded all five cabinets into CoWork with a regular dolly (a Herculean task), he gave me a close-up look at the Tron cabinet and it really is gorgeous with a kind of 3D tower art above the screen, black lights above the control panel, and uniquely shaped cabinet. An as John of John’s Arcade noted in this video, the cabinet may arguably be better than the gameplay, but I will have to re-visit that impression I have. Turns out this game was extremely successful, and someone joked in a Youtube comment that it made more than the Walt Disney film which inspired it. From the Wikipedia article there are estimates that almost 10,000 cabinets were sold and anywhere between $30 and $45 million in revenue was generated, which is wild to think about. 

Millipede is the sequel to Centipede, and I think I played it a few times back in the day. It introduces a bunch of other insects like earwigs, inch-worms, beetles, DDT, and more. The gameplay is quicker than Centipede, but quite similar. The restoration on this cabinet was done by someone fairly local to us in Locust Grove, VA, and it is absolutely mint. The quarter feed works, and we have an industrial strength receptacle for quarters that Tim was showing me, making this arguably the most completely restored game we have. I have to get some better photos of both cabinets, but they are both doozies.

Here is a screenshot from my tour once Tim had gotten everything unloaded, and while Galaga is in many ways Galaxian’s more popular younger sibling, I still prefer Galaxian. That said, I imagine Galaga is one of the most popular games of that era. And then there is Pac-man, what can I say?! Pac-man was the game I was actually good at, I could get to the 5 or 6th key and score well over 100,000. Seeing that game against the way makes it all the more official for me somehow, I think the argument could be made we now have enough games to officially christen Reclaim Arcade. And even if we can’t just yet, we now officially have a Reclaim Arcade blog that Tim and I will be contributing to, so at the very least there is that 🙂

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