Neo Geo MVS Refurb Part 5: Solder time

•December 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

One upside about this MVS system is that it is actually in pretty good shape electronically.  The issue is that the monitor is less than perfect with some alignment issues and vertical distortion and the MVS board is only playing the right audio channel.  Thankfully both of these issues can be fixed with some fresh electrolytic capacitors.  Using a cap kit for both the MVS-4F and Wells-Gardner K7100 series, I could get all of the components like new again.

For the MVS, I unplugged and removed the board from the cabinet.  Being horizontally mounted, it was a dusty mess, so I removed the metal cover and separated the two boards.  Using canned air, contact cleaner, and cotton swabs, I went about clean both sides of each boards as well as any contacts themselves.  Once that is done, I turned to the audio circuits found on the bottom left of the bottom board.  Using a good soldering iron, solder sucker, and a bit of solder wick, I carefully removed all 22 of the capacitors and replaced them.  For the monitor, I unplugged and carefully discharged the monitor and removed the main board below the tube (with the flyback intact).  I again cleaned this board the same as the MVS and proceeded to desolder and replace the 17 capacitors there.  Note that the solder pads on these boards are enormous, so these cap replacements were super easy.

After plugging everything back in, I checked that the headphone jack from the MVS was now outputting to both channels.  Since it was, I spliced an old 1/8″ stereo audio cable in to the MVS’ headphone out cable and plugged it in to the new speaker system.  Everything sounds fantastic with the subwoofer giving a nice little kick and the external volume control making things a bit more home friendly.  The monitor was better as well and with a quick picture adjustment looks almost as good as new.

Inside and out, the game is now done.


Neo Geo MVS Refurb Part 4: Lets Get Pretty!

•December 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Painting this cabinet wasn’t too tough since I was using (as close as I could get to) the original colors.  No tape was needed since I was replacing the molding anyway, just a semi-careful hand.  Using a small roller and edging tool, I painted the lower black area quickly and was able to make things look great with only two coats.  The red took a whole six coats before the color was uniform and properly blended the patched areas.  Primer would not have helped in this case, I have just found that red is hardest to get right.  However, in the end, the Behr Grenadine is a near perfect match for the original red and looks fantastic.  For the metal, I used the hammered texture spray on the coin doors and marquee with the semi-gloss on the control panel.  Nothing too fancy here as I was able to get a clean finish with only two coats.

Once everything was dry, I went about applying all of the new graphics needed.  The cabinet graphics were standard white vinyl, so with a picture of an original cabinet, a leveler, and slow application I was able to get everything on to the cabinet without issue.  For the marquee, the 4 “windows” had to be cut free hand using a razor for curved edges and scissors for long and straight.  The sticker was then applied to the new plexi and screwed in to the marquee.  For the control panel, I used the carriage bolts to line up and attach the overlay then a razor to cut out the holes.  I also cut out the two player credit windows and carefully replaced them with the original transparent red overlays from the old control panel.  After than I just placed the new plexi over the top and replaced the bolts and controls.  The coin mech was replaced with blue jewels (to match the blue of the speaker system’s power LED) and placed back in the cabinet.  The new locks were added at the same time.  Finally, some heavy-duty velcro was attached to the side of the cabinet to tack on the audio controls.  The cabinet is done!

Now it’s time to dig in to the electronics.

Neo Geo MVS Refurb Part 3: Elbow Grease

•December 1, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I have to be honest.  I am done with the project and I completely avoided taking pictures due to everything just being a huge mess.  That said the refurb is just a lot of elbow grease and there is very little info to share.  Here goes:


The Neo Geo cabinet is actually pretty easy is disassemble.  The marquee is held by 4 bolts at the top and the plexi is about 7 nuts threaded directly to the marquee metal.  The marquee circuit board is clipped and lifts right out and the wood panel behind it uses just 4 wood screws.  For the control panel, just open it by undoing the pair of clips under the monitor and unscrew each component from the bottom.  I just disconnected/reconnected each button as I went so I wouldn’t lose track.  The memory card board is four small bolts then pops right out.  Once that is done, the control panel will come off with 4 bolts as well.  Finally, you can remove the coin mech by opening the bottom access panel on the back of the cabinet.  Using a long slot screw driver, unscrew the 4-5 clips running up each side of the enclosure from behind.  The entire piece will then slide right out of the front.  You can remove the coin box and coin mech with a few screws.

Once everything was apart, I took the metal pieces and sanded them with a rough grade sandpaper (using a Black & Decker Mouse) then wiped them down with a damp cloth and let them dry.  For the cabinet, I first sanded out the holes from the old security bar and used bondo to fill them.  I then removed the T molding and used a medium grade sandpaper to smooth things out and remove the old, scratched graphics.  Again I wiped with a damp cloth and left to dry.  Now everything is ready to paint.

Fixing the speakers:

If I wanted to keep things easy, the speakers can just be replaced with 4 screws.  Instead, I decided to replace the old, busted speakers with a left over pair of Logitech 2.1 speakers.  I removed the old speakers from the marquee panel and removed the fabric grill from the front of the new speakers.  I then removed the rubber pads that were used to mount the fabric grill and removed the case screws that were hidden below.  I used those 4 points as the mounting points on the marquee.  After measuring, I drilled pilot holes to match and ran wood screws through the marquee and into the plastic casing on the speakers.  This held the speakers very well against the marquee.  I then drilled a large hole on the side of the cabinet under the control area to later mount and run the cables to control the volume of the machine (after painting).

Next up, finishing the cabinet!

Neo Geo MVS Refurb Part 2: Parts List

•November 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

SNK spent the early 2000s going in and out of financial problems.  That led to a rocky end to the life of the Neo Geo AES and MVS systems in 2003.  Now 8 years later, most parts for Neo Geo systems have dried up and those of us wanting more are stuck with searching for old leftovers, finding dedicated fans who are will to recreate, or making them ourselves.  The MVS shares plenty in common with other arcade systems, but for specific items it can be really hard to track things down.  I did a lot of shopping around and ended up breaking things down like this:

Hardware – Home Depot for most things, Ace for a few smaller items
-Sand paper
-Quart of Behr Premium Plus S-G-180 Grenadine
-Quart of Behr Premium Plus Black
-Rustolium Hammered and Gloss Black spray paint
-6 small carriage bolts
-2x 161 bulbs

Arcade Specific Hardware
-4x gliding leveler feet with brackets
-2x 7/8″ and 2x 1-1/8″ locks keyed alike

-40’of black rounded T-molding
-2x Happ 8-way ultimate joysticks

-2x coin return buttons (blue)

Neo Geo Specific Hardware
-Marquee graphics
-Control panel overlay graphics

-Side art graphics
-Left/Right player coin slot graphics
-Headphone/memory card overlay graphics

-MVS Capacitor kit

Finally, there is one last issue; the plexiglass.  I searched far and wide and had no luck finding replacements.  If you are lucky, you might see some reasonable condition original sets on eBay, but I could not find anything.  The other option is to just purchase sheets of plexi from any hardware store and do it yourself, but I lack the tools and proper workbench to ensure that I cut this cleanly.  Instead, I wandered upon a diagram in a random image search of the control panel layout for my cabinet.  I re-measured and found that it was not 100% right, so made some adjustments and added a second page for the outer bolt pattern.  I took my mangled marquee plexi and the diagrams to TAP Plastics and had them make it up.  The diagrams are linked below.

Now while I’m waiting for all of this to arrive, it’s time to strip down and prep the cabinet.  That is coming in part 3.

Neo Geo MVS Refurb Part 1: ToDo List

•November 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

2/20/90.  That is what is hand written just under the control panel with a signature I can’t read.  That means that this cabinet has seen action for over 20 years, most of those in busy public places.  There have been many different revisions of the Neo Geo MVS (9 in the US alone as per hardMVS).  As about the closest thing to an MVS connoisseur, I can say that the MVS-4-25 version 3 is actually my favorite of the bunch.  It has the full 25″ monitor, 4 game selections, separate headphone/card jacks, a big marquee with lit game selections and exposed stereo speakers, a great cabinet design, and lacks the added size and screen bezel of the 6-25.  Really the only common complaint of the system is the fragility any of the 4 or 6 slot boards, though that is mostly due to people trying to move the cabinet with the games still installed in the slots (and they are very lose anyway).  Overall though, this is a gem.

Once I managed to get the MVS inside, I went to work cleaning it up and checking each part.  The multi-slot MVS has a few extra features not common with other arcade games with a breakout for memory cards and headphones, per player credit counters built-in to the control panel, and a multi section marquee driven by some extra PCBs.  It makes for one cool machine, but a little extra work to refurbish.  Overall though, the system is in great shape given its age, history, and just how unwieldy it is to move.  Here’s the breakdown:

Motherboard (MV-4)
The motherboard is actually working great.  All four slots and functional and all the hardware tests pass perfectly.  The only problem is that it is producing sound very quietly to only the right side on both the speakers and headphones.  This is a very common problem that is usually fixed by replacing the capacitors for sound output.

To Do:
-Replace capacitors for sound

Parts List:
-MVS Capacitor kit

The interior of the cabinet is pristine with no water damage or signs of unwanted visitors.  There is also no sign of warping or any questionable joints.  The only structural issue is a bit of a bend in the hinged metal control panel that can rub when opened.  I will likely try to do some minor bending to straighten it out, but it’s not much of a problem.  The exterior has actually help up pretty well itself, but definitely shows signs of wear and has never seen a refurbishment.  There are a pair of holes near the coin door from a once installed security bar, but otherwise the wood has held up.  The paint and graphics are all original, but everything has some scratches and natural wear.  One of the leveller feet is missing.

To Do:
-Replace leveller feet
-Fill the holes near the coin door
-Replace T-molding
-Sand and paint the entire cabinet
-Replace original graphics

Parts List:
-4x gliding leveler feet and brackets
-40’of black rounded T-molding
-Sand paper
-Quart of Behr Premium Plus S-G-180 Grenadine
-Quart of Behr Premium Plus Black
-Replacement graphics
–Three logo set for both sides
–Left/Right player set above coin slots

Everything is in place in the marquee, but it has seen better days.  There are cracks in the plexiglass, the left speaker has a tear, and plugging in the PCB for marquee control results in a faint buzzing.  After using the hardware diagnostics, I found that the buzzing is due to the EL on some slots paper being out and needing to be replaced.  The speakers are simple 4″, 4ohm drivers that can be found at any car audio place, but I’ve decided to take it further.  I have a Logitech THX certified 2.1 setup that is collecting dust, so I will instead mount the speakers in the marquee, place the subwoofer in the base, and mount the volume control to the outside of the cab.  That should allow for much better sound, volume control without opening the control panel, and make it easy to output sound from any other board or PC that might eventually hide in the cabinet.

To Do:
-Replace plexiglass and attached graphics
-Replace speakers
-Mount volume control on outside of cabinet
-Mount power and subwoofer inside cabinet
-Replace EL paper

Parts List:
-Cut plexiglass panel
-Replacement marquee graphics
-Old speaker system
-4x A6 EL paper

Control Panel
While completely functional, there is definitely work to be done here.  The buttons were replaced recently and are working well.  The joysticks also work well, but are heavily scratched and are not the correct color.  The overlay graphics and are scratched and aged and the plexiglass and bolts are completely missing.  The wrist area has a ton of wear.

To Do:
-Sand down entire metal control panel and remove old graphics overlays
-Prime and paint entire control panel
-Replace overlay graphics, plexiglass, and bolts
-Replace joysticks

Parts List:
-Sand paper
-Rustolium Hammered and Gloss Black spray paint
-Replacement overlay graphics
–Control panel overlay
–Headphone/memory card overlay
-6 small carriage bolts
-Custom cut plexiglass
-2x Happ 8-way competition joysticks

Coin Door
Thankfully this is pretty clean and the mechanisms are working well.  The only thing is that the coin return panels are different colors and not lighting up.  Also, all of the locks on the cabinet (two for the coin doors and two for the marquee) take a different key, so it would be nice to get those on the same pattern.

To Do:
-Prime and paint doors
-Replace coin door bulbs
-Replace locks
-Replace coin return buttons

Parts List:
-Rustolium Hammered Black spray paint
-2x 161 bulbs
-2x 7/8″ and 2x 1-1/8″ locks keyed alike
-2x coin return buttons

It looks lengthy, but that should do the trick.  Since there are so many obscure items in this list, my next part will cover where I found all of this stuff.

The SNK Neo Geo

•November 2, 2011 • 1 Comment

Writer’s note:  This post turned in to a real memory lane, nostalgia thing.  Read at your own risk…

I remember being a young kid and walking in to a Toys’R’Us.  Back in the early 90s, most Toys’R’Us would have a glass case aisle near the games that cased all sort of high-priced wonders.  Sure, there were the NES and GameBoy displays that many of us remember, but there were also tons of the more obscure entertainment computers (including my beloved Commodores) as well as all sorts of odd contraptions like robots and electronic board games (which were less than impressive at that time).  However, the one item that always caught my eye was a video game system known as the Neo Geo.  I didn’t know what it was, all I knew is that it was $650 and played games that were the size of 2 VHS tapes at $200 a pop.  If it costs so much more than the NES, it must be amazing!

It was only a year later when the Neo Geo started to become a common sight in arcades and pizza places, but instead of a standard top loading game system, it was a big red arcade cabinet that contained anywhere from 1 to 6 titles identical to those in the Neo Geo home library.  I instantly got addicted to titles like Fatal Fury, Sengoku, and Crossed Swords and quickly pegged the Neo Geo as my arcade staple.  It was a tried and true way to get a lot of fun out of a single quarter anywhere I went and I was definitely going to play every title I could find for it.  For the past 20 years, this has remained true (despite the demise of the arcade).  I have definitely blown hundreds of dollars in my lifetime on those machines, even so much as playing on one everyday at lunch time in college.

In 1999, eBay was starting to take off and turned in to a great place to find some really obscure stuff.  I decided I had to own a Neo Geo and ended up grabbing a home system (known as the Neo Geo AES) for $120 with a handful of games.  A short time later, I took a trip to Akihabara in Tokyo and managed to scrounge up about a dozen titles from their bargain bins for a few bucks each, building a great collection.  I played that machine to death and it made countless trips to friends homes for all night arcade marathons.  However, my interest turned back to PC gaming and thanks to how expensive and difficult it was to collect Neo Geo, I ended up just using emulators to play the rare games I couldn’t afford.  Being a poor college kid, I ended up just selling the machine that already brought me tons of entertainment for a hefty profit and seeing it as a win.  I still missed the thing though…

Fast forward a decade and I still have a soft spot for classic arcade games.  I don’t have too much room in my house, but I still occasionally skim through Craigslist for an old arcade game that I might be able to sneak in.  While the holy grail would be the original Atari Star Wars cabinet (or surround), they have become insanely expensive and are really difficult to work with.  What I would really love is to return to the world of Neo Geo with an MVS (the arcade cabinet version, Multi Video System).  The games and parts are a bit more common and the ability to easy swap between games makes it great for a home arcade machine.  I poked around a bit and got way to interested on the ins and outs of the system.  I eventually made some off comments to my wife about my interest, but thought nothing of it.  Low and behold, I was surprised last weekend with a very early Christmas present from her and my parents:

My next project is to take this bit of my childhood and give it a polish and minor facelift.  I’ll be covering what needs to be done and documenting the process as I go… which will start very soon.

What a Difference a Link Makes

•November 2, 2011 • Leave a Comment

Welp, Hack A Day posted an article on my interactive tattoo a while back which resulted in a huge spike in the number of views to the blog.  More interesting, it resulted in a heated nerd debate that actually grew some legs.  More practical people were offended by the idea of a tattoo, more tattoo friendly people were offended by the minimalism of the design, and quite a few people just take things way too seriously.  The feedback, both good and bad, has been incredibly entertaining.

Anyway, on to a new project and time to breathe more life in to this blog.

The Interactive Tattoo Roll-Up

•August 22, 2011 • 2 Comments

A couple of weeks ago I got some ink done.  Being the huge nerd I am, I couldn’t just let the ink lie and had to add some technology to the mix.  Now anyone with a modern smartphone can point it at my arm and (as long as they have the right software) be redirected to webpages, videos, music, and anything else I might be in the mood to share that day.

How was it done?  Check out the 4 part walkthrough below:

The Art of the Interactive Tattoo: Part 1 – What am I doing?
The Art of the Interactive Tattoo: Part 2 – Tekmology
The Art of the Interactive Tattoo Part 3 – Design and Implementation
The Art of the Interactive Tattoo Part 4 – Post-mortem

The Art of the Interactive Tattoo Part 4 – Post-mortem

•August 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

I have already written too much about my tattoo experience, but I have a handful of final notes on things I learned along the way.  Thankfully nothing went wrong, but I know how I could have made things better.

What Worked:

  • Design:  I am really happy with how the design as a whole turned out
  • Domain redirect: I can change the target of my tattoo in a matter of minutes from my cell phone, which is just damn cool.  It also leaves tons of possibilities for the future by linking to videos, audio, even custom apps that can do things like augmented reality with the design itself.  The design can change with my mood.
  • Artist: Conor did an incredible job getting a pain in the ass design on to my skin

What I would change:

  • Investigate more domain names: My approach to my URL was practically to close my eyes and point.  I should have spent more time generating data matrix codes of a large collection of domains from eBay and deciding on the least complex code I could find.  My final code has a few areas that are asking to be a problem.
  • Increase the code size: While I like the size of the code within the overall design, the bigger the better.  The code does scan today, but it is not as sensitive as I had hoped (it can take a few seconds of waving the camera around, and older devices with poor cameras do not like it).  I know that with age the code will likely stop working some day and will have to be revisited at that time to see if there is a way of bringing it back from the dead.

And that’s it!  Hopefully you found the process interesting or find this helpful in generating your own interactive tattoos!

The Art of the Interactive Tattoo Part 3 – Design and Implementation

•August 22, 2011 • Leave a Comment

The design that I got addicted to many months ago was to place three minimalist arrows on the left wrist, pointing to my left hand.  That idea was that while I’m right-handed, I accomplish far more when I balance my output (playing music, typing, gaming, etc).  What kept me from following through with the idea was that it was almost too minimal for my tastes.  That’s when the interactive idea came in and I started work on embedding a code.  The problem is that I didn’t want a stark contrast between a blocky data matrix code and the smooth lines of a minimalist arrow shape.

Before digging in to the overall design, there are some considerations that need to be made with the data matrix code.  First off, it had to be a large enough size to be tattooed free hand.  Specifically for the code that I had, there are a couple of areas where there is a single white block surrounded by black blocks.  That will be a huge risk given that the ink will spread not only during healing, but for the life of the tattoo.  While doing a bit of research, I found one suggestion to stick with around 10 “dpi” (counting each element as a dot) which would mean my 16×16 element code would need 1.6 inches squared.  Seeing as how my whole tattoo was going to be about 4.5″ by 2.5″ (based on measuring the area I wanted the tattoo), that was going to make the code way too prevalent for my taste.  I decided to scale the code back a little bit to a little over an inch, about 15 “dpi”.  That definitely makes the tattoo a bit more risky and a bit less easy to read, but in the end I liked the design far more.  The other consideration is that in order for the code to be recognized, there needed to be an area of whitespace around it that was at least the width of a single “dot” in the tattoo.

Back to the overall design, I decided to take symbology of the original arrows a step further and use the data matrix code as a template to greatly pixellize one of the arrows.  I then lined up the code’s pattern as closely as I could with the arrow’s shape to make it appear the code what somewhat of an overlay to the arrow rather than a completely separate piece.  I then took the second arrow between the smooth and greatly pixellated arrows and pixellated it about halfway (this would actually require the most detail work).  The last issue with the design is that whitespace the code requires.  Because it made such a clear border in the design, I decided to build off the code even further and cut “blocks” out of the arrows to smooth the transition from arrow to code.  Yes, I even stuck a few Tetris piece shapes in there intentionally because I’m just that big of a nerd.  The design is done.

Here is the minimalist arrow I started with.  The original design was to stack three of these pointing towards my left hand.





And here is the final design.  In the end it still holds the same meaning, but now it’s far more interesting (to me at least), is interactive, and really shows a transition from technology to art.  This is exactly what I was looking for.











Now that the design is complete, the final step is just to get the work done.  This is where the experts come in, so I will just list a few hints I found when looking around:

  • Money is no object.  If you are looking to get something this precise put on you permanently, the price tag does not matter.  It’s all about the artist.
  • Get recommendations.  I got a few different referrals from different people and asked others when I saw what looked like clear, intricate work they had done.
  • View the artist’s website.  Obviously you want to get a general idea of their work, but also keep an eye out for clean, detailed work that shows off their steady hand.
  • Talk to the artist.  I spoke with a couple of different artists before finding mine.  Getting their feedback on the design and a gauge of their confidence in it means a ton.

Finally I ended up with a time setup with Conor Moore in Kirkland, WA.  The work took about two hours and all in all was a great experience.  Once the work was done, we grabbed his iPhone and immediately found the code working.  After a couple of weeks of healing, here is the result:

In part 4 I’ll be doing a quick post-mortem and wrapping things up.