Currently playing:

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Dodonpachi Daifukkatsu X360

I got this yesterday morning, and my eyeballs have been bleeding all different kinds of colors ever since. Cave really pushed this game to the visual limit, and made the Xbox 360 port fun with extra modes. A definite buy of any fan, regardless if you own the PCB or not.

I'm really looking forward to the special package version of DFK BL + Ketsui BL in February.

Friday, November 12, 2010

More D9200 neckboard problems

The Wells-Gardner D9200 continues to be a source of problems for me, despite the neckboards being modified per this service bulletin. Its no wonder these monitor chassis were recalled a long time ago.

You may remember me fixing this issue before when some of the colors would randomly stop and start working. But this time, rather than loosing colors, the Red gun seemed to be stuck on at 100% and wash out the other colors. I confirmed this by going into the digital controls and trying to lower Red to no effect.

Following the neckboard schematics I visually traced the Red signal pathway through the components, and spotted this bulging/blown transistor at Q203.

According to the schematic, Q203, which is a KSP2222A transistor, is what limits the Red signal, so I'm sure its the culprit in this problem. I placed an order with Mouser Electronics for a bunch of these, and a few more NTE2501's just in case. :)

[11/17/10 Update] Well that didn't fix it, so back to troubleshooting. :( [/update]

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Great Mahou Daisakusen item collection

I may not be great at item collections in Dimahoo / Great Mahou Daisakusen, but at least I was able to complete this full art set. :)

(With special thanks to Mikhail, Tom, and Laurent for helping me obtain a few of these pieces.)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Hacking the MGCD (Part 2)

The Dreamcast version of the MGCD has a similar issue to the PS2 version, of not being exactly JAMMA plug-in play. The last two edge pins on either side of the connector are mapped to joystick buttons rather than grounds (per the JAMMA spec). If these are grounded when you power up the MGCD, it will not accept any inputs from the joystick or other buttons, which is a pretty bad design flaw. So like the PS2 MGCD in Part 1, a simple adapter is needed to isolate these from the edge connector. If you actually need to use buttons 5 & 6 from both players, you can manually connect wires to the adapter and run them up to your control panel.

Above we have the MGCD, with edge adapter, mounted to a Dreamcast, and ready to be connected to any 15khz JAMMA cabinet. I should mention that the same hack used to disable the timer overlay on the PS2 version also works on the Dreamcast version. Also note this MGCD comes with an extra cable to attach a DC memory unit.

If you are like me, you relish the fact that the Dreamcast can output high resolution (31khz/VGA) natively, and I happen to have some JVS/JAMMA cabinets with tri-sync monitors. So you might think that simply using a DC-VGA adapater in place of the MGCD AV cable would work. Unfortunately its not that easy. The MGCD seems to stop working if there is no input video sync present at the MGCD AV connector. So a small hack is required to the DC-VGA box.

Shown above is my DC VGA box, which has its Composite Video Output connector modified to also be connected to composite sync, which is pin #10 on the Dreamcast AV input cable. You do not need to disconnect composite video pin #13, having both connected to the RCA jack at the same time will work fine. The blue video sync plug, shown above, is then soldered directly to the MGCD AV connector input pins (as shown below), along with Left and Right sound outputs from the VGA box.

So now I have a choice of using the MGCD amplified mono sound out of the PCB, or using the DC-VGA box's stereo headphone output if my cab has its own stereo amplifier. BTW: only the "Madness Gameware" or "DC Blaze VGA" box has headphone output and volume controls.

Lastly, you may have noticed a toggle switch on my Madness Gameware VGA box, this is a non-related hack I wrote about back in 2002 to force it into either 15khz RGB or 31khz VGA output. This is not needed for the MGCD, since you can get great 15khz RGB output by using the original MGCD AV cable.

So, below is the completed MGCD with Dreamcast VGA and stereo output connectors ready to go on a JVS/JAMMA cab.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Bakraid Love

(With special thanks to Seth and Paul for helping me obtain a few of these lovely pieces!)

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hacking the MGCD (Part 1)

The MGCD is a console to JAMMA converter created by Taiwanese company Frolicker, and distributed by many Taiwanese arcade resellers. Several versions of the MGCD were produced for Dreamcast, Playstation2, Gamecube, and Xbox. What makes the MGCD unique to other pay-to-play console timer PCBs, was the MGCD could be programed to recognize the start game screen of a particular title, as well as the end game screen, allowing it to disable all input, sound, and even video, until the game was fully loaded and start game screen ready. So in a sense, the MGCD could disguise the fact that you were playing the console version of an arcade game. Here is the manual for the MGCD-B Version, showing all the nifty features and settings.

For a pretty stupid reason, the MGCD isn't exactly plug and play with most JAMMA setups. The problem is in the fact that the MGCD maps 12 player action buttons to the jamma finger board, utilizing the last 2 pins on each side, which are typically tied to ground on most JAMMA looms. If these connections are tied to ground, the MGCD will not boot up properly, and simply not work. To get around this, you must either modify your JAMMA loom connector of your cabinet, detaching the ground wires to these last pins, and connecting them to player buttons 5 & 6, or just leave them off completely. So instead of modifying my cabinet, I just created a fingerboard which lifts these last two pins on each side, allowing me to play on any JAMMA cab. If I wanted to use these last two buttons for fighting games, I could simply run a wire to the fingerboard up to the control panel.

Leave the last two pins on either side disconnected.

Similar to other pay-for-play "timer" PCBs, the MGCD can also play credits for time, although with an annoying timer countdown that is displayed once per minute at the bottom of the screen. With the limited number of games recognized by the MGCD firmware, the timer feature is primarily used by most people, where you can setup a single credit to play for a maximum of 256 minutes. The problem, of course, is that that annoying time displayed at the bottom of the screen.

Figuring out how to remove the timer overlay took some trial and error. At first I tried re-routing the RGB video signal from the console output, directly to the front of the fingerboard. This did work, but the signal was unamplified, and too dark/weak to be displayed on an arcade monitor. So the only other option was to figure out which chip on the MGCD was doing the video overlay, and disabling it. This took a lot of probing around, but eventually I found the chip, and grounded one of the legs to effectively disable it.

Video timer overlay chip highlighted in red.

Connecting these two pins (highlighted in red) will disable the video timer overlay.

Now here is what the output looks like without the timer.

Finally, here is the MGCD installed on my PS2, and ready to be played on any JAMMA machine.

Next, I'll talk about how to take the MGCD Dreamcast version and hook it up to a cabinet at either 15khz or 31khz. (Go to Part 2 here!)

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Ketsui: PCB v.s. XB360 port

I was lucky to buy Ketsui back in early 2005 while the hype (and monetary value) was still at a relative low point. Since then, the game had grown into legend with the failed Arika PS2 port and superplay debacle, failed Mame dump attempt, soaring PCB prices, and DS mini-game version giving only a glimpse of this classic Cave style play.

With the recently released 5pb port of the game on Xbox 360, now those who typically trolled the forums with angst towards PCB owners are finally getting their own taste of the game, and realizing it may have been worth the hype as one of Cave's top produced games this decade.

So how does the port stack up against the PCB? Lets find out.

At a recent Bay Area shmupmeet, a side-by-side comparison was setup for participants to judge for themselves. In an attempt to level the playing field, two identical arcade cabinets were used with sanwa arcade controls and tri-sync arcade monitors. The original PCB runs natively at 15khz video resolution, while the XB360's lowest setting 640x480 resolution was used. Obvious differences in the graphical look were apparent, but most participants didn't much mind the XB360 scaled graphics, which were helped by various filters used to reduce the blockiness. A noticable lack of formal HD graphics, and no scanline display options in the 5pb port pailed in comparison to the previous two Cave ports (Mushihemesama Futari, and Espgaluda II). Its arguable that external scaling hardware could be used to restore a 15khz display with native scanlines, although this would not be considered "pixel perfect" by purists. The only Cave ports that have "pixel perfect" bestowed upon them are Arika's PS2 Espgaluda and PS2 DoDonPachi Dai-Ou-Jou, which both run at a native 15khz (non-interlaced).

From this distance, both PCB and port look identical (despite a slight color variation in the monitors), but the game speed was noticeably different.

The next noticeable difference when playing the port was the game speed, which felt slightly faster than the original PCB. Again another compromise when porting a low resolution arcade game to a modern console that displays on consumer LCD screens and television sets. Does this really effect the playability of the port? Certainly not. But rest assured, console players will be quick to point out that they are playing at a slight disadvantage to the PCB.

Lastly, the sound, which normally a port should exceed the PCB, given it can play in stereo and with newly arranged soundtracks, but unfortunately the port being based on the last Ketsui rom fix, includes the slightly louder lock-on sound, which can be quite annoying if you are used to the original PCB rom. Of course with the fixed roms comes no chance of the game crashing during the demo sequence, which I've never personally witnessed on my PCB since I don't use freeplay settings.

So what makes the port better than the PCB?

Being an order of magnitude cheaper than the cost of the PCB is certainly a bonus, but the port has many advantages over the PCB which can't be denied. First and foremost is an all new arrange mode, which takes bullet canceling in Ketsui to a new level. I haven't spent much time with this mode yet, but it certainly looks fun, despite it not being created by IKD/Cave.

Next on my list would have to be the ability to practice individual levels, without which progress for me on the PCB has been quite slow. Being able to practice Stage 4 and 5 the past two days has been a great time saver, not to mention much more pleasurable without making those minor mistakes in the first 3 stages which prevent you from having a high scoring run. Something lacking, is the ability to practice individual bosses, which seems odd given this has been a standard in almost every other Cave port to date.

Last are typical XB360 port features such as arrange soundtrack, online leaderboards with downloadable replays, gamer icons, and wallpapers, all which don't interest me much to be honest. The replays are a nice tool to help see how others approach the game, but there have been plenty of Ketsui superplays/DVDs available before now, its really only worth watching if someone exceeds these previous records.

In Summary, the port is definitely worth owning, and all who played it at the shmupmeet thought it was faithful to the PCB (ignoring the slight speed difference). Unfortunately, 5pb's effort pales in comparison to previous Cave ports in terms of features, modes, and settings. This may be due to the high amount of pressure to release the game on time, and bug free, unlike their failed Dai-Ou-Jou 360 attempt. The question now remains if the port sufficiently bursts the hype bubble around the PCB to deflate its value to any significant degree. Given the largely positive feedback I've read on the forums, I think this may take longer than expected due to a now wider acknowledgment that Ketsui is indeed one of Cave's finest.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

April GETs

Keeping with the Milestone theme, I picked up these two Naomi GDRoms relatively cheaply. Not your typical style shooters, Milestone shmups favor function over form with complicated scoring mechanics and simple cell shaded artwork. Maybe its the need for variety over Cave danmaku, but I'm finding these games refreshing. The catchy techno soundtracks also help to hold my interest.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bombjack Twin highscore

NMK really upped the speed (and thus difficulty) in Bombjack Twin, making average game play times in the single digit minutes. This game is not for casual play, unless you like being stuffed by round 3 all the time. But there is definitely a pattern that can be found, where memorizing paths, and timing when the P icon comes out (which freeze the screen), can really help to finish off stages quickly. Each round has 3 stages, and after two completed rounds a special bonus round contributes to a majority of your score. Thus my highscore table below shows some big jumps after stage 3 and 6. I believe I got an extend icon by round 4 or 5.

DJK - 766,420 7-1

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

March GETs

I could not pass up an opportunity to snatch up one of those new Radirgy Noa kits on YAJ.

As well as another rarely seen NMK sequel (the original put NMK on the map) Bombjack Twin!

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The TRON desk is back!

Last December, I pointed out that Japanese STG blogger Ikeda_San had this cool black Taito cocktail cabinet, that looked similar to Dillenger's desk in the movie TRON. Well now the desk is back in its full glory, and I can't wait to see it coming out this December!

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Espgaluda II Black Label release party

This past weekend, I hosted a get-together for local SF Bay Area friends to celebrate Cave's Espgaluda II Black Label for XB360. I have to admit that one of the best things about these latest Cave ports are the Novice modes. Although these provide little challenge for 1CC, they do give an opportunity to really understand the deep scoring mechanics for what is considered one of Caves most complex games. I can attest to getting quite frustrated at this game in PCB form, and as such, have never given it a lot of attention, but am really enjoying the opportunity to learn it in a more friendly environment, which I'm sure non-shmup players would also find quite accessible. It seems that Cave really does understand the difference between their hardcore PCB fans and consumer console players.

Besides playing Cave's latest XB360 port (with its equally awesome Black Label and Arrange modes), we also played a few unreleased Cave titles, namely Muchi Muchi Pork and Pink Sweets, as well as some Type X2 games, and classic Genesis games via a jamma-converter.

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Rapid Hero highscore

I finally spent some quality time with Rapid Hero this Saturday, racking up a decent score, with plenty of room for improvement. In this run, I died twice in a row on stage 5, and was about to restart the game, but decided to stick it out to see how far I could get with 1 ship remaining. I got a 1UP in stage 6, and finally died part way into stage 7.

Overall, I'd say Rapid Hero is pretty easy up until stage 5, making this a pure joy to pickup and play without any prior practicing. Nothing beats ripping through waves of popcorn enemy, and collecting 10000 bonus chips. Stage 5 and onward has lots of scoring potential with strategies for positioning your ship for maximum amount of enemy destruction, while weaving through slow moving bullets that get left behind. There is really only 1 boss of the game, who keeps running away at the end of each level after taking a beating, but comes back with bigger and badder armor and attachments next time.

I'm pretty confident I could 1CC this soon, but now I need to prepare for next weekend's shmupmeet!

DJK - 2,102,030 - Stage 7 [Score Update!]

Monday, February 22, 2010

Rapid Hero

If you hadn't noticed by now, I'm a huge NMK fan, and this PCB had occupied the number 1 slot of my most wanted list for the last 3 years! What most consider the pinnacle of NMK's vertical shooters, is also the most rare, so words can't express how happy I am to now have this in my collection. ^_^

[Update 08/31/13]
Earlier this year, a Korean / International version of Rapid Hero was discovered called Arcadia.  As with other Korean region games, these have notably different colored silk-screening and components (typically cheaper to save costs).  System11 over at shmups forum has broken down the general difference between regions as follows:

Japanese build NMK pcb:

  • Amp screwed down to the PCB
  • Small filter caps near all TTL chips
  • Typical paper square NMK ROM labels
  • Typical paper NMK serial sticker (obviously these are often missing)
  • Mostly Japanese brand TTL chips - Motorola everywhere

Korean built NMK pcb:
  • Amp just floating - typical assembly method for Korean and bootleg games
  • Mitsubishi ROM labels - again common in Korea
  • Incorrect large filter cap sizes - back in the day cheaper brands were often larger
  • Most of the small filters are missing (a cost cutting measure, extrremely common on Korean boards of all makes)
  • Masses of Goldstar chips - while you do see isolated use on some Japanese boards, it's normal for Korean boards to be covered with them.

There has been at least one occurrence of a Korean built Arcadia board surfacing with Rapid Hero roms covered with Mitsubishi stickers.  Its unclear if this was a rom-swap by Korean importers, or are original JP roms populated by Korean distributors.  I've included some examples of recent sales, the last one being the board with RH roms.

Arcadia sold on eBay for $611 by boardfixxer (Korean importer) on Jun 03, 2013

Arcadia sold on eBay for $999 by www_worldhobbyist_com for $999 (Korean importer) on Aug 13, 2013

Aracdia with Rapid Hero roms on shmups forum sold for (unknown amt) by snkpowa on Jul 13, 2013 and then again for €460 by warlord on Aug 31, 2013

Arcadia unsold on ebay for $999 by by boardfixxer (Korean importer) on May 30, 2015

[Update 08/28/19]
So it turns out one of my friends recently bought a Rapid Hero board, which is a pretty rare find nowadays.  Upon looking at the picture, it was clear the board was actually an Arcadia that had been rom swapped to Rapid Hero.  All the tell tail signs were there, as described above, in fact upon closer inspection, the board he bought (in late 2019) was actually the 2nd board I have pictured above that sold on eBay Aug 13th 2013!  Lets take a closer look at his board:

First off, the pea green colored silkscreened top board is a dead giveaway of an Arcadia.  Then there is the floating amp, black caps, and goldstar chips.  What has changed is removing of the Korean tax sticker across the mask roms, and of course newly burned roms with fake labels (which were pretty well done).

So how do we know for sure this is the same as the 2013 Arcadia on eBay?  Look closely at the mask roms where the tax sticker was removed.  Notice the scraps along the bottom right most mask rom.  Also notice the same irregularities around the jamma edge.  And finally if you look at the first SMT chip below the jamma edge, again you will see a similar scrape along the right and left on the chip.

So yes, people are trying to pass off Korean Arcadia's as Japan Rapid Hero's, and going to great lengths to do so.  Now why would someone do this?  I'm sure the Korean version is just as rare, and in my opinion just as valuable.  But to the otaku PCB collector, they will pay much more money for an authentic Japan region board than the same game made for international distribution.  This is what creates demand for these types of conversion shenanigans.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Astro Restoration

Last month I bought this fixer-upper from Kenchan on the shmups forum. I remember the same cabinet being offered on the sega-naomi forum awhile ago, due to the distict "Lyfer" graffiti scratched into the monitor. :(

Besides the ruined tube, the monitor chassis was non-functioning, the control panel wiring was a mess, and there was a ton of caked on dirt inside the cab.

Since I already had a spare tube, chassis, and panel sitting in my garage, the actual restoration time was just two weekends. I completely gutted it, hosed down the fiberglass frame, then put it back together with the replacement parts. I ran into one small problem with the replacement chassis, which came from an Egret II, but was able to make it compatible with the Astro monitor harness via a slight modification.

I documented the project via twitter using my yfrog picture stream. Here are a few select before and after shots:

And here is the finished cab.

Many thanks to Kenchan for driving this down from Reno!