So you want to start an arcade game collection?
Good for you. The arcade game collecting hobby can be one of the most fun, rewarding, and inexpensive hobbies around. But, it can also be one of the most frustrating, difficult, and expensive hobbies as well. The difference is all in how you go about doing it.
Your first game
It is imperative that you buy a fully working game as the first in your collection. Otherwise you will get frustrated and end up quitting the whole scene before you even get started. You simply are not going to have the knowledge, resources, contacts, or spare parts at this point to deal with a broken game.
But TBBK, where will I get this game?
That is a good question. Start with your local newspaper, check the coin operated, electronics, industrial equipment, and the bargain section (I have found them in all of those sections). Then check out Ebay, (only bid on games within driving distance of your house, and never on the truly "classic" games, as they go for over market value). Other places to check are the newsgroups (almost any newsgroup with the word "arcade" in the title will have some games for sale), and the message board over at klov.com. Finally there is the one place where you can always get a game, the arcade auctions. Most areas have from 1 to 10 amusement industry auctions per year (vaps.org keeps a fairly good calendar). These auctions will usually have hundreds of games from $25 up to several thousand. Finally tell everyone at work (and all your friends and family) know that you are looking for a game.
Ok, TBBK, I know where to buy a game, but what should I get? (I was thinking about getting Ms. Pac-Man).
I strongly reccomend that you do not buy a "classic" game as your first purchase (I have a rather lengthy writeup on that subject under the Ms. Pac-Man node). Instead you should try and get one of the following instead. Any Nintendo Vs. Unisystem or Playchoice 10 machine, any JAMMA wired game, or any NeoGeo game. I suggest these for several reasons. The first is that these titles (with the exception of NeoGeo), are often not very expensive. Secondly, all of those games are very easy to switch to other games (JAMMA games all switch easily, and the Nintendo and NeoGeo systems use a motherboard and daughterboard/cartridge type system. You may hate your first game, so you might as well have the abilty to change it into one that you will like.
What to do once you have that first game
First thing you should do is play it! Then you should begin to clean it up a bit (games always seem to be dirty when I get them, your mileage may vary). Then I would suggest prowling around Ebay looking for the boards to a game that is compatible with yours. If you followed my advice, then there will always be compatible game boards on Ebay for purchase at a reasonable price.
After you clean up your game (and perhaps buy a few more compatible game boards), you should begin to do any maintenance work the game might need. First thing to look at here is the control panel, do the joysticks feel right? Do all the buttons work? If not, you should consider ordering new buttons and joysticks (happcontrols.com should have exactly what you need). It is always best to replace all of the controls at once, as different brands of buttons and joysticks have different looks and feels to them.
Next thing you should do is adjust the monitor. This will take either 2 people or a mirror. First you will need a plastic screwdriver (you can make one by carefully breaking a plastic knife). Then remove the back door from the game and turn the game on (if your game doesn't come on at this point, you should look for a switch that may be activated by removing the door, this will usually be on the right hand side, just tape it down). Next look closely at the back of the monitor, it is going to have anywhere from 6 to 20 knobs scattered around it. You will want to adjust these slowly one at a time (while looking in the mirror, or having the other person tell you "better" or "worse". Do not touch anything with your hands. Use the plastic knife. Monitors can give you a shock bad enough to kill you. I would suggest always having someone else around until you learn exactly which parts of the monitor can be touched safely while it is on (my ex-roommate has been shocked by a monitor before, he didn't die, but he did have a headache for days).
Finally you should adjust your dip switch settings on your game for however you would like them (these will be little white switches on the games board). You can get the settings either from your games manual, a net search, or they may actually be posted inside the cabinet somewhere. My suggested settings for maximum fun is "standard difficulty", "maximum lives", and "free play" Don't set your game on easy unless you plan on getting bored with it really fast.
Basic tech tips
Your game will probably have a little knob on the power supply. This is the first thing to check when a game won't start up correctly. Simply turn off the game, and give the knob a teensy turn, then turn the game back on. Try it in both directions if needed.
In most games all the buttons and joysticks on the control panel will use a common ground. This is the first thing to check if some or all of your controls stop working.
Any monitor that still gives a picture (no matter how screwy), can probably be repaired with an inexpensive cap kit (available at happcontrols.com). These do take a little electronics knowledge to install, read the documentation first.
What to do next
Now you are ready to start buying more games (and maybe even fixing them and making money). When buying broken games I usually go by the 2 out of 3 rule. That is, if I buy 3 broken games at once, I can expect to be able to repair 2 of them with the parts from the other one (most broken games only have a single bad component, usually either the power supply, boards, or the monitor).
Once you have a few games you should start hoarding spare parts, you can usually get your parts from the same places as the games themselves, in the case of the auctions simply buy one of those $25 "junk" games at every auction, strip all the parts out, and demolish the cabinet (any $25 game probably won't have a cabinet worth saving anyway). The reason you should get parts in advance is that single parts tend to be expensive when you need one single specific part, but they are quite cheap when you are simply stripping out broken worthless games, or finding good deals on Ebay or the newsgroups. Or to rephrase that, you are gonna pay $20 for a new joystick if you just have to order that, but you will have tons of them on hand if you have been stripping out worthless games and have been buying cheap parts on Ebay. I even buy parts for games that I don't even own yet (such as my Duck Hunt marquee, my Pong spinner, and my big stack of Data East compatible gameboards).
My Personal Collection
This is what I currently own. I only have around $1000-$1500 invested in my entire collection, even though it is worth far more than that. You can keep costs down by being smart about buying and selling games (and you will end up selling a few of your games if you really get into this hobby).
Yes, I know I suggested you start out with JAMMA and or Nintendo Vs./Playchoice equipment, and I own absolutely none of that. I am not trying to set a bad example, I started out with that stuff too, but I moved on to collecting older games, most of which predate both JAMMA and the various Nintendo systems.
These are games that I used to own, but have sold;
Final Fight x3
Street Fighter 2 x2
Vs. Super Mario Brothers
Road Riot 4WD
Special Criminal Investigation
Force II (pinball)
Mame cabinet (4 different ones)
Jack the Giantkiller (cocktail)
English Mark Darts
- Amazing Maze
This is a Mame cabinet. I got this particular game for free, it was dirty and definitely non-working. After cleaning it up it looked awesome, but it still didn't work, and would have needed both PCB and monitor work to function correctly. The finished product wouldn't have been worth the repair costs, so I sold the internal parts and installed a computer and VGA monitor.
- Arch Rivals
This one was another freebie, I was given this in return for allowing someone from out of town to store a game at my place for six months. It is in a Defender cabinet with Defender sideart. It would work if it had a power supply and a coin door.
Vector games with missing monitors and PCBs are often not worth the cost of repair. I got this one in that condition for free from a friend. I have since installed a VGA monitor, and will eventually get around to installing a computer so it can run the original game via Mame.
- City Connection
I only have the PCB and marquee to this super rare game. It took me years to find them.
I still need some parts to complete this project, which was purchased for $20 (missing many components).
- Do! Run Run
This one is one of the stars of my collection. It is almost in perfect condition, and is in a Japanese imported cabinet (possibly dedicated).
This one is a Mame cabinet in a nice bootleg mini cabinet with a 21" display. It plays all the vertical games that can use a 4-way joystick.
This one is a very nice cocktail, it is running Mame and can play several different games.
This is a nice dedicated upright in excellent condition. I purchased it for $100 with a monitor problem. It has since been repaired and now works perfectly.
- Magical Spot
This is a cocktail and came as a part of the deal I made for the Do! Run Run, it is missing a PCB and thus doesn't work yet.
- Mr. Do's Wild Ride
Just a PCB, it plugs into my Do! Run Run cabinet.
- Out Run
This one is a very nice upright cabinet with flawless sideart, no cracks in the plastics, and a working shaker motor, it was purchased at auction for $275.
This one is very nice, and has flawless NOS sideart installed.
- Road Fighter
This one is an NOS conversion kit still in the original box from Konami.
- Space Firebird
This one is in a mini cabinet and has a computer in place of the original PCB.
- Sprint 2
I traded some spare Kangaroo parts for this machine, it has a major graphics glitch at the moment.
- Stunt Cycle
This one hasn't been delivered yet and I don't think it works.
- Super Basketball (PCB only)
- Time Pilot
This is a super rare dedicated cocktail with a serial number of 000007. It was originally purchased in very dirty condition for $50 with no PCB, no joysticks, and hacked up wiring. I later restored it, and have recently replaced the original monitor with a newer one.
- Time Pilot '84 (PCB only)
- Tournament Solitaire
This game is kind of unique in that it actually had a standard x86 PC inside straight from the factory. Mine was bought for $52 and had a defective 386 inside. I replaced the computer with a newer one and it works fine now.
I bought this one complete but disassembled for $20, and I haven't even started working on it yet.
This pinball machine looks and works great and has a prototype playfield installed.
The games belong to my next door neighbor/best friend (listed here, because I have access to them, and can answer questions about them).*
Doctor Who - Pinball, home use only prototype with factory moving Dalek head.
* Sometimes I envy Dave's games, I have a heck of a lot more, but all of his work.