Fly Me to the Moon: A Moon Patrol Restoration
No game in my arcade game collection has needed a total top to bottom restoration more desperately than my Moon Patrol. I acquired this game over 15 years ago when I had a small collection of three arcade games while living in Memphis. I don’t recall paying very much for it at the time, maybe 200 dollars. It had been converted into a Tiger Road game (a typical scrolling fighter common in the late 80's) and was in ratty condition upon arrival into my hands. Once in my possession I modified the control panel back to a Moon Patrol layout, found a PCB on eBay, and made a haphazard JAMMA converter and poof! Moon Patrol lived again! Although not exactly in its most authentic form.
I would move from Memphis to Houston after about 2 years and sold all three of my arcade games I owned (including a decent Atari Millipede upright and a very nice Pac-Man cocktail). The Moon Patrol was sold to one of my coaches for roller derby (yes, I played roller derby for many years… somehow maybe I will write a blog about it one day). Flash forward to a few years ago and he reached out to me asking (I had at this time recently moved to Seattle) if I would like to have it back and I couldn’t resist.
Upon the game arriving to Seattle and not having seen it in well over 10 years, a few things were obvious upon the first examination. First, the shippers had done me zero favors or it possibly got dragged aggressively at the base causing a large amount of “chip out” on the bottom of both sides of the wood cabinet. Second, the original power supply had been changed into a switching style one which isn’t surprising since the power supplies in most classic arcade games are prone to failure and replacement. Next, the back doors (Williams games have an odd two back door design from this era compared to most other companies who used a single door design) were in noticeable horrid condition which was probably the case when I owned it originally. Finally, I was made keenly aware of many of my internal fixes and modifications from 15 years ago did not exactly measure up to the standards of arcade game care I now attempt to hold myself to.
A Brief Moon Patrol History
Moon Patrol in the USA was originally product of two separate companies. The Japanese company Irem who created and developed the game, and Williams Electronics who bought the distribution rights from Moon Patrol in North America. Irem started as a small store in Osaka Japan attempting to sell Cotton Candy in the late 1960’s, but by 1970’s had quickly evolved into a company selling, renting, and manufacturing gaming cabinets. Irem (Called IPM until 1979) developed and sold their first arcade game in 1978, a simple yet predictable copy of Taito’s Space Invaders. Over Irem’s lifespan however they would produce many original games with worldwide popularity. Some of these titles include the classic scrolling shooter R-Type, and the innovative fighting game Kung-Fu Master.
On our shores Williams Electronics was no spring chicken to arcade gaming even by Moon Patrol’s release date in 1982. Founded in 1943, Williams has a long tradition of manufacturing everything from pinball machines, electro-mechanical style arcade games, traditional video games, and even gambling devices. Williams might have been a bit slower to adapt to videogames in the 1970’s when compared to its longtime rival Midway (or up and comer Atari), but with the success of the 1980 release Defender Williams became a serious force in videogames during the golden age of video arcade gaming.
The concept of American companies licensing and marketing arcade game titles from Japanese developers wasn’t new or particularly unusual by the early 1980’s. Many of the biggest arcade gaming hits of the golden era came to the US shores via distribution of American companies. Namco’s Pac-Man was distributed by Bally-Midway as well as Taito’s Space Invaders. Atari would license several Japanese titles for distribution including Sun Electronics’ Kangaroo and the very popular Dig Dug by Namco.
Moon Patrol was released to almost instant success in the USA in 1982. Although no production numbers for Moon Patrol were ever released to the public, from serial numbers we can guesstimate around 10,000-12,000 machines were made originally. Williams offered the game as a dedicated upright and a cocktail cabinet version. No cabaret cabinet was officially offered for Moon Patrol, but several arcade game collectors have custom built ones over the years.
Moon Patrol is a fun and innovative side scrolling shooter with notes of platform style gaming. I would dare to call Moon Patrol almost cute, thanks to its lively colors, cartoony like graphics, and bouncy ear wormy background music (possibly based around a James Brown song). The gameplay is straight forward, you control a moon buggy exploring a rather busy and dangerous section of the moon. As you move from left to right you can regulate the speed of the buggy as either fast moving or slightly slower from the normative speed via the two-way joystick. You also have the option to jump or fire from both a front facing cannon and a top cannon on the buggy. Along your journey you fight off various types of flying ships, tanks, rocket cars, all while avoiding perils in the moon surface such as rocks or craters.
Several innovations and video game firsts were brought forth with Moon Patrol’s debut. Probably the most well-known of these innovations are Moon Patrol’s beautiful full parallax scrolling background graphics. Parallax scrolling is a technique used when a background image (or images) are animated in a fashion to move past the camera more slowly in progressive layers of speed than of those in the foreground. This helps create an illusion of depth and distance and is based around the concepts of traditional animation using a multiplane camera system. Although Alpha Denshi’s Jump Bug was the 1stofficial game to use limited parallax scrolling, Moon Patrol uses it more effectively and in the more traditional manner. Moon Patrol was also the first arcade game to allow a player to continue for the price of another credit. The top screen status indicator layout is also quite innovative (if a little confusing) alerting players to different danger warnings in the style of a traffic light.
The game was designed by legendary game designer Takashi Nishiyama whose other credits include work on the games Kung-Fu Master for Irem, the Street Fighter series for Capcom, and the Metal Slug series for SNK. The legacy of Moon Patrol is what I would consider to be described as a second-tier arcade classic. Moon Patrol doesn’t quite have the notoriety in the eyes of the public of titles such as Pac-Man, Centipede, or Asteroids but it does occasionally show up in retro gaming collections or vintage gaming merchandise.
Soon after its initial American release the home system rights were scooped up by Atari who produced versions for their home systems, home computers, and even their competitor’s systems through its short lived Atarisoft label. Like most popular arcade games of the early 1980’s there were more than its fair share of unauthorized knock off games for other home systems, outright bootleg arcade PCBs, and it had an influence on future arcade games. The 3rd level of gameplay in Taito’s Jungle King/Hunt game is obviously influenced by Moon Patrol, and the obscure 1984 Bally-Midway arcade game Crater Raider is somewhat like concepts in both Moon Patrol and the computer game Choplifter. The official sequel to Moon Patrol by Irem called Horizon was released in 1985 but only in a very limited fashion and is mostly forgotten to all but the hard-core gaming nerds.
Williams Electronics games from the 70’s and 80’s have some glorious, stenciled artwork on their cabinets. This can be a challenge when restoring these games since stenciling can be both difficult and a labor rich process. My last blog post and You Tube video covered the stenciling adventures with this game, so I won’t repeat myself here around those adventures. The biggest challenges beyond the stenciling was repairing the extensive damage to the bottom of the game cabinet. Williams games from this era had notably terrible leg lever systems built into the bases of the games. After years of moving the game cabinet what tends to happen is not just the destruction of the rather lackluster leg levelers originally applied to the cabinet, but an overall erosion to the sides of the wood cabinet itself.
Arcade cabinet wood bases tend to have a rough life thanks to moisture (mopping around the cabinet for years on location can create water damage to the wood), being moved with little care over the eras, abuse by patrons, and overall neglect. To repair the base of our abused little moon buddy, I used a good bit of Bondo, wood glue, and we ended up having to a whole new leg level system using more stout leg levelers. Although the result it not factory correct the game bottom was so badly damaged and warped due to years of abuse this was the only way to help its future survival.
One of the other main areas needing some major attentions were the back doors and the supports inside the cabinet that corral the back doors into place. The back doors were both bloated due to water damage (I don’t think these doors were the original doors to this particular cabinet) and had excessive amounts of damage caused by countless screws being drilled into them and then into the cabinet. The other effect of all these screws was a destruction of the support rails that hold the top door into place. With all these faults in mind new doors were created and painted, and all new support rails were made and installed in the back of the cabinet.
Beyond the major issues above, the control panel was completely sanded down and rebuilt to accommodate the controllers more accurately. A new silkscreened and accurate reproduction control panel decal was applied along with a Williams style plastic control panel “bumper” which had been missing. The game had an incorrect 4-way joystick and was replaced with a correct 2 axis rebuilt Williams joystick. The coin door (which was mostly a bucket of rust) was wire wheel sanded and repainted with my “fake” powder-coating technique, the inside wiring was fixed, a new power supply installed (it is still using a switching power supply but has its original transformer assembly), and the original CRT monitor received a capacitor kit overhaul.
Overall, I was very satisfied how the game turned out post-restoration. My biggest area of woe was my yellow paint dried darker than it originally had on my stencil paint test. I think this might have something to do with the large amount of primer I used on the cabinet, but I am just not sure. The bottom of the cabinet has gone through a night and day transformation, but the base edge is still not completely straight and probably wouldn’t be unless we built a whole new cabinet bottom like we did with our Simpsons restoration. Despite this nit picking the game presents well, plays great, and has finally been given the massive restoration it so desperately needed. The only real sadness I have is there is zero room upstairs in the arcade so the newly freshened Moon Patrol will have to live in the workshop next to its Williams sister cabinet Stargate until we hopefully buy a new home with a walk-out basement in the next 20-24 months. Until then my Moon explorations will have to take place in the workshop.
Happy (Lunar) Hunting!