Yo! Taxi! Swap my playfield!

Next up in my queue of games to work on was Taxi. Although playing well, cosmetically it was dirty and worn – definitely due for an overhaul! I started breaking down the game in preparation for the installation of a new playfield, ramps and plastics. See below how dirt is ground in to the surface and how the text of inserts is worn out.

After getting the top side completely disassembled, I took the playfield out of the game and on to a makeshift workbench (aka folding table) to start on the bottom. Everything has to come off! And at the same time I put the new playfield on the rotisserie. Prior to this, however, I had spent some time putting a few games on their backs to free up space in the garage. It’s so much easier to work on a project with the space to lay everything out. Here’s a view of the main work area with the old playfield upside down, new playfield on the rotisserie, and workbench just off to the right.

At this point on the old playfield it’s a matter of unscrewing every bracket, switch, and lamp. On the new playfield I started with pop bumper nails, t-nuts, rails, then GI wiring. Once everything is unscrewed from the old playfield, the whole wiring harness gets transferred off and over to a piece of cardboard for the move over to the new playfield:

Games of this era use unshielded bare wire stapled in to the playfield for GI, and you can see I still have one strand left on the old playfield in the photo above. It’s a lot easier to remove once everything else is off the playfield. I transferred that over to the new playfield and patched areas as needed – one advantage of bare wire is you can see broken strands, and given the amount of current going through the wires it’s important to not have partial breaks in the strands. Once installed, I then tested the circuit and made sure every lamp socket was rock solid. So much easier to replace any as needed now rather than on a fully assembled game!

After this it’s pretty much smooth sailing, focusing first on the bottom side and getting the wiring harness transferred over, and then getting every switch, lamp and bracket screwed back in. Once the back side is done, I can finally get to the most fun part of the whole job which is putting new parts on the top side. Here’s a photo mid-way through the top, focusing mostly on posts and ball guides at the rear of the game up to that point:

Note how I have the old playfield (which is now completely bare) nearby as it is really handy to use as a reference for positioning of parts on the new playfield. Although the new playfield has dimples indicating the position of screws and posts, I have found they should be taken with a grain of salt and parts often won’t fit correctly if the holes are drilled blindly on the dimples.

You know you’re near the end when it’s time to test fit the ramps! On Taxi, both of the main ramps and the spin-out (shooter) ramp need to be installed at the same time in order to get the wires snaked correctly through to the bottom side.

These ramps and the spinout are all new reproductions – shiny! One thing that can be tricky about these is that they are made from thicker plastic. It makes them more durable, but it means fitment can be off from the original. On Taxi the biggest problem I had was the Dracula catapult wireform – it fit fine on the original ramp, but my reproduction ramp one of the prongs of the wireform would end up deflecting the ball on the ramp when it shouldn’t. Unfortunately there wasn’t much wiggle room at all with the positioning of either the ramp or the wireform, so after careful consideration I concluded the best approach was cutting away a small section of this wireform. I didn’t get a photo of the “before” unfortunately, but on the below photo you can see the “after” – the metal wireform circled in red was cut down by about 3/8″ in order to not interfere with the ball on the ramp.

Other than that re-assembly went smoothly with everything coming together as on the original game. The game looks transformed with the new playfield and plastics!

With everything re-connected, I flipped the switch “on” for the first time and it fired right up! It really pays to take your time on the bottom side re-build to make sure there are no shorts. Here are a few photos with the game powered on.

I’m quite happy with how this project came out. There’s still some play testing and tweaking of mechs needed, plus it turns out pop bumpers work better when you install the ring-and-rod assemblies on them, but other than that this project is done!

Posted in Uncategorized | 2 Comments

Re-Capped Mac SE/30 Motherboard

It’s time once again for something decidedly non-pinball – a quick post about replacing the capacitors on my Mac SE/30’s motherboard. Although computers have used surface mount parts for decades now, all of the soldering work I’ve done on pinball machines and various other projects has been through-hole only, so this was a new skill for me to learn – and a new tool needed!

I picked up a hot air re-work station for 38$ on amazon – an essential tool for doing surface mount work. Instead of heating joints directly using an iron, hot air soldering involves shooting hot air to heat the entire area around a component. This means you can solder (or un-solder!) multiple joints simultaneously, making removing ICs with many joints arguably even easier than with through-hole soldering.

So on to the Mac motherboard. The electrolytic capacitors used on the SE/30 are known to fail, and once they do the computer will exhibit various different problems – mine would often give me a zebra (striped) patter on screen when powered up, and when it did boot up ย the sound was very very quiet. Both problems are linked to leaking/failed capacitors.

Here’s a photo of the electrolytic caps before the repair – it’s a bit hard to see in the photo, but the goop inside the caps has leaked all over the surrounding areas of the board.

On to the repairs! I started with one of the caps nearest the edge of the board, and used aluminum foil as a poor-man’s heat shield to protect nearby components. Hot air is great at getting multiple joints melted for easy component removal, but this also means you may melt the joints on nearby components you don’t intend to un-solder. It’s not really a big deal in many cases, but you have to be careful not to move those components when the joints are melted. You also want to protect any components that are at risk of melting such as plastic or nylon parts, as during manufacturing it’s quite possible those were put in using wave soldering and are not capable of withstanding the heat used in hot air soldering.

Here’s a photo of the replacement cap installed. It’s a different type – a tantalum capacitor which has no liquid inside and hence will never leak! Note in particular the stripe on the component indicating polarity is reverse from the original electrolytic ones! I have no idea why this is how they’re marked, but it’s definitely something to be careful of as things will definitely not work if you reverse them.

Definitely not the best soldering work in the world, but serviceable ๐Ÿ™‚ I then moved on to the rest of the caps, including the two larger through-hole ones. Compare the “before” photo above with the “after” below:ย 

The completed board! I checked continuity on every joint before attempting to power up the board, and after re-assembling it into the computer, both symptoms mentioned above were cured.ย 

As pinball boards move more and more to surface mount components, my hope is some of the skills I learned here may apply to pinball one day ๐Ÿ™‚

Posted in electronics | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Game room carpet upgrade

I undertook a new project recently to upgrade my game room to carpet. One of the main reasons, in addition to the great look, was to cut down on the noise – carpet does a much better job of absorbing noise than hardwood.

So, what carpet to get? I didn’t want to use just “plain” carpet – much too boring! I found a manufacturer, Joy Carpets, that specializes in just the right styles for game rooms – their “Neon Lights” line. The next question I had to answer was exactly what to get an how to lay it down on the floor. I wanted the wall-to-wall look, but without nailing it down to the floor which would damage the nice hardwood underneath. The manufacturer put me in touch with a local distributor, French Brothers Flooring America, which was able to custom-order me a rug made with that carpet but sized exactly to my dimensions! I measured up the room, took off an inch (to account for the room likely not being perfectly square, and sent off my order. A couple weeks later it had arrived (along with a grip mat to lay underneath) and I was off to pick it up.

It took me quite a while to get all the games out of the game room, of course, but I then laid it out and it was just what I was hoping for! It looks great and really gives the feeling of wall-to-wall carpet without the permanent installation. Note the ugly un-covered inch by the right wall will be behind the machines and not visible at the end of the day.

Hoping to cut down on the echoing/noise in the game room even further, I took the opportunity of the room being empty to install some foam panels on the wall. They are the cheap 1″ deep ones, certainly not professional grade, but better than nothing and not pricey.

Of course that’s not the end of this project! One of the cool things about the carpet is that the colored dots are UV (black light) reflective. I thought of installing black lights high up in the room, but I really don’t like the idea of staring into UV LEDs/tubes, so I decided instead to mount the lights underneath the games, but pointed down at the carpet. I bought an 8 foot long piece of pine trim at Lowe’s to fabricate light strips – I made five total, one for each game. Each strip has two black light LED strips each plus wiring long enough to reach the back of the machines.

I then fabricated a daisy-chaining wiring harness to connect all five strips to one power supply. Here are all the strips being tested on the wiring harness for the first time:

Finally, I attached the light strips under the games. I didn’t want to make any permanent modifications to the games, of course, and want to be able to easily transfer the lights to a new game if I sell one and get another, so I used 3M damage-free hanging strips to attach these to the games, as well as wire hangers (not seen here) to run the wires to the back of the games.

The light bars are designed to have one strip of LEDs pointed straight down, and the other pointed down towards your feet at a 45 degree angle.

They work great and light up the carpet fabulously! So in the end, not only does the room look amazing, it’s quite a bit quieter too and the games sound better with less echoing!

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Funhouse Playfield Swapped!

Over the last few weekends, I’ve undertaken a new pinball project – swapping the playfield in my Funhouse, Pat Lawlor’s awesome game from 1990. My game was playing well, but definitely wasn’t the prettiest Funhouse out there. The clock inserts in the center of the playfield, in particular, were particularly worn:

I have a brand new reproduction playfield from Mirco to swap in, so away we go with the teardown! Here is a shot a bit closer in after removing the ramps and some plastics:

Notice how beat up the light inserts are. Also notice the ball lock mechanism – underneath the playfiled it’s actually a flipper mech! Very clever to re-use the mech and simply design a new top side part that can release one ball at a time by rotating (like a flipper rotates). Finally I was a bit surprised to see green tape under the ramp flaps. I’ve heard this came from the factory, but it’s not something I had ever seen before. Interesting!

Like I did with Space Shuttle, every single part I removed had its hardware individually bagged and cataloged. I filled about 60 ziplock sandwich bags of hardware on the top side alone. After the topside was mostly disassembled, I removed the playfield from the game and installed it on my rotisserie.

The playfield is now ready to get flipped over to the backside. At that point, my technique is to start on the new playfield and transfer parts as much as possible directly from the old to new playfield. The first thing to go in on the new playfield are the T-nuts and pop bumper bracket screws, because these parts are much more easily installed with an otherwise blank/empty playfield.

A luxury afforded to me this time was the use of a second playfield rotisserie! I borrowed my friend Marc’s who wasn’t using his at the time. It’s definitely not a must-have for a playfield swap, but I’d call it a very nice to have! Here is the new playfield installed on the second rotisserie. So shiny!

Then both playfields get rotated to the backside, and the transfer of parts continues. After the T-nuts and pop screws, I moved on to wiring harness hangers, other mech brackets, and the light boards. As I’m doing this, every switch and light is also being unscrewed from the old playfield.

At the end of the disassembly on the bottom side, the wiring harness is the only thing left and only gravity is keeping it on the playfield ๐Ÿ™‚ I used the same technique as before of sliding in some cardboard pieces to pick up the wiring harness and move it over to the new playfield. Everything then gets screwed back in and mechs are rebuilt. I also took the opportunity to upgrade the flipper return springs to the newer WPC fliptronics style, but everything else about the flippers is stock.

Once everything is screwed back in on the new playfield bottom side, the rotisserie once again rotates back to the topside where re-assembly can start there!

Here is where all the time taken to meticulously catalogue hardware and take photos pays off. It’s pretty fast to take things apart, but going slow and taking a lot of notes makes it way easier at this phase.

The game got all new ramps and plastics, too, but this means some work re-riveting plastics attached to metal bits (which must be re-used). Of all the parts top-side, the step ramp took by far the longest to do – lots of stuff to transfer over! And although very little soldering was needed on this project, the step ramp switch wires are run through small holes and the only way to transfer them to the new ramp was to unsolder & re-solder.

Here’s the new playfield almost complete, just a few parts to go!

The playfield then went back into the cabinet and I went over all the solenoid lugs to make sure everything was clean and nothing was bent in a way that would create a short circuit. I plugged it in and powered the game on – no smoke, hooray! A few adjustments to switches were definitely needed, but fairly quickly the game was playable again, and plays better than ever.

This was my second playfield swap and it definitely went way faster than the first. It’s all known territory at this point, so way less time was spent thinking about how to do it and time spent doing it was very productive. The project took me about three weekends plus a few week nights here and there.

More photos of the completed game can be found here.

Posted in Funhouse | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments