Defending the Multi-Cade
Full notice, I despise Multi-cade type systems. These 60 in 1, or MAME based arcade systems usually leave a lot to be desired. Often not emulating the games correctly, having the incorrect sound effects, or worse they end up being the reason people trash instead of restore classic arcade games. Multi-cade arcade games have destroyed or rendered restorable games useless for years. Often a quick fix for some, and a hack job for most it leaves preservationists with nightmares of good restorable games lost to the ages. Common boards with the 60 in 1 iCade or 19 in 1 iCade Williams board (which is very common) won't even allow you to accurately set up the controls for a classic game like Defender. This is where a lot of multi-cade systems truly fail in my opinion, making it very difficult to recapture an authentic experience of the layout or functionality of controls. Not to mention often not playing correctly or allowing strange cheating to occur. One needs to only look at the recent stories of dethroned Donkey Kong champion Billy Mitchell to see how arcade aficionados feel about emulated games. (https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/morning-mix/wp/2018/04/16/video-game-player-of-the-century-has-his-records-removed-after-donkey-kong-scandal/?utm_term=.a3725e54df48)
Last fall we bought a Stargate that had been sitting outside for several years. Luckily the game had been somewhat covered but the elements were still not kind to the game. Like a lot of these games it had obviously not seen any action or maintenance for many years. The cabinet was rough with some slight water damage, and there was some damage or oxidation taking place on the boards. My wife is a huge Defender fan so this seemed like a great way for her to play her favorite game (well the sequel anyway) and save a classic. The cabinet was rough, but salvageable. Everything was original if not very dirty and it seemed like all the pieces where there for a decent restoration candidate. Plus it was somewhat close to our house, so it was a rare local pick up. Which is always a huge added bonus.
After some major clean up and new RAMS's our game was working... for awhile. Then after some other issues we rebuild the sound board and added a new power supply. Acid damage from old batteries on the CPU also created some more repair work and questionable reliability. ROM's were replaced, along with some terrible old communication cables at some point. After about 6 rounds of not working, sometimes working, or reseting we decided we would invest in making the JROK jump. Since the JROK board isn't an emulator and uses the actual hardware used in these classic games. And this Stargate was pretty much left for dead (and isn't exactly the greatest example of this game) I didn't feel too guilty making this switch. Also since I was keeping all the original parts and not modifying anything that couldn't be changed back I felt I could sleep pretty well at night for doing this.
So what the heck is a JROK board you ask? The JROK Multi-Williams board (http://www.jrok.com) is a 6809 processor based multi-board using the original hardware design to play many classic Williams arcade games. These games all originally used the same hardware architecture allowing this kind of device to accurately recreate the game hardware without emulation. Plus as an added bonus, it eliminates the 6 (yes 6) original Williams CPU's needed (with questionable quality wiring harnesses and communication cables) to one tiny JAMMA based CPU that even has a VGA output if you want to go the LCD monitor route. Although these games were made to be played on a classic CRT monitor, and I would recommend doing that if possible.
I removed all the old Stargate boards and power supply, including all the older wiring. The original wiring harness in the cabinet was a hacked up mess, the boards were wrapped up and saved for another day. I elected to get a heavy duty Happ power supply and brand new isolation transformer for added reliability. I am determined to make sure the least reliable game in my collection becomes the most reliable through careful wiring and quality soldering on the connections. Much like the original Williams CPU's, you must make sure the JROK board is receiving close to 5 Volts as possible to prevent glitches or bad boot ups.
We installed this metal control panel (replacing the original wooden one completely) from Arcadeshop.com. Using old/new stock leaf switch style buttons, and these nice leaf switch Wico reproduction joysticks the feel and layout of the control panel feels as close as possible, this button layout is very important for the finger olympics required to play Stargate or Defender.
The wiring harness I ordered (which is essentially a Jamma style harness made especially for the JROK board) was a bit fussy to install. Many of the leads were a bit too short, and the wire harness connectors for the buttons were too large for my button and joystick switches. So I elected to solder all the wires directly to the buttons and joysticks. I wish the leads had been a tiny longer in some instances, an extra inch or two would have made the process a bit easier for me. On several occasions I had to solder extensions or all new wires to make things fit properly. Two joysticks are required to play Robotron and Splat, and two players can play Joust simultaneously as well. The only odd ball on the JROK board is Sinistar, since originally it uses a vertically mounted monitor. However thanks to a cleaver option in the menu, the joystick can be set up to react correctly to it's mounted orientation making the game totally playable on a horizontally mounted monitor. The new joysticks are very stiff and new, so we had to play with some of the microswitches a bit to get them to not continually register. I am sure everything will loosen up in time.
You can set up the JROK board to boot up several different ways. Firstly to the main menu you see on the right. Here it shows the selection of game titles you can enjoy or be terrible at. (I am terrible at Sinistar for some reason) Alternately you can have it quick boot up to a game, ours is currently set to auto boot to Stargate as it's default. (You can return to the menu at anytime by holding down the player one and two buttons at the same time for a second). Lastly you can have it boot to the game of your choice but use the original boot cycle. This will go through the ROM/RAM tests and give the familiar static rug pattern at the start of the boot up you see with most classic Williams games. This is a nice option for someone wanting to use the JROK board as a replacement for a dying or unrepeatable board set but still wants the real experience. With this option if you had the JROK board in a cabinet wired to the original control panel, no one would ever be able to tell it wasn't running the original hardware. You can even turn off the menu accessibility to the player, having it only acceptable via the internal cabinet test button. This test button also allows you to access the original set up menus just like the real games. All data will be saved (including high scores) unless you elect to reset or delete this data.
I can't recommend the JROK board enough, as long as you are not hacking up some nice restorable example of a classic Williams game. Our cabinet is pretty rough, and as stated above the working condition of the game was questionable at best despite our best attempts to get it working with some minimal reliability. The classic Williams games on the JROK are some of the best of the best of classic 80's games. Defender, Stargate, Robotron, Sinistar and Joust. You also get the fun and strange Bubbles (which I have grown very found of since we installed the JROK), the obscure and rare Robotron sequel Blaster. And the very odd and not very good Splat!, which is like Atari's classic Food Fight on acid. Seriously someone explain this game to me, why does my character's head come off? Having this machine also frees up space from having 8 unreliable Williams arcade machines (These classic games all use the same or similar board seat ups and have a reputation for being somewhat difficult to keep running) for other machines.
All mutli-cades are not the same, and let me be very clear on that. And I would never do something like this to a classic arcade game if I felt like it was either a rare collectable (they made over 20,000 Stargate machines), or an example of a common game that was a good candidate for restoration. Our Stargate was a C- example that honestly needed all new boards and a new wiring harness at the very least. Not to mention we really need to rebuild the cabinet base, and the top is somewhat water damaged. But now we have a very playable game that is both functional and as authentic as possible thanks to the amazing JROK board.