Southern Fried Gameroom Expo and Virtual Pinball

I had a great time with friends at the Southern-Fried Gameroom Expo 2016 this last weekend. The new hotel worked well and still leaves room for future growth.

Over the course of the weekend, and the week before I was able to gather a few more things to get some games working.

I was able to get a few “super rings” flipper rubber replacements which I really like. I know others are purist and want traditional rubber on the flippers, but I’m a fan of the elasticized PET. They are much more durable, and add a nice pop of color. And I personally like the ball feel when using them.

I was also able to secure a ARII rebuild kit for my Missile Command that was tragically murdered by a vacuum cleaner induced power spike . [Showing again the dangers of house cleaning…]  But after talking with the vendor selling these nice sets – and no longer allowing myself to be overwhelmed at the prospect of obtaining 20 odd individual capacitors and transistors – I’m fairly confident that this will be what I need to finally fix Missile Command and bring it back to the land of the living.

It’s been a few weeks now, but I was able to get a very affordable pack of LEDs from CometPinball. 200 hundred for a bit more than half of retail. From a price/performance point of view (as of this writing) you just can’t beat Comet.

I got both the LED’s and the super rings for Dolly primarily. With the rectifier board I’m installing tonight, and these new additions – my fingers are crossed that this will be everything needed to bring the game fully to life.

Back to SFGE — I had gone into the show thinking I might build myself a standard width style virtual pinball machine. And go all out adding solenoids to replicate the physical feel of playing a pin. As expected there were a few of these on the floor during the event. And I just couldn’t get over what a comparatively unsatisfying experience it is versus a real pin.

One vendor had a more vertical virtual pin – which the first time I saw it I had just ignored. I mean – pinball is flat, right? So, I just ignored it in favor of the standard layout tables. But the standard tables – the perspective was off and heavy. Often though the screen is level and flat, it ‘feels’ like it is tipping away from you.

I finally went up to the vertical game and gave it a shot. And to my intense surprise the very same virtual pins that were so unsatisfying were engaging and immersive. The virtual tables “feel” right when they are at a slight angle away from the player.

Madonna Future Pin table

Madonna Future Pin table

Coincidentally – Jeremy found Madonna Future Pinball table while I was at the show. He asked about what it would take to make it. Armed with my recent great experience with the new format virtual cabinet we’ll have to see where this goes – as I’ve already mocked up the design for the cabinet along with dimensions… I have a good idea :).

Vector Mame Cabinet / Game Progress

ControlPanelOverlay
ControlPanelOverlay

Control Panel Overlay for Space Duel Vector Mame

I decided to get to work on a project that is long over due – my Vector Mame machine.

Years ago I had purchased a Space Duel cabinet with some of the beginnings already laid out to convert it into a multi-vector game.  I had found a PC and loaded up all the software, spent some hours configuring it.  But then had some frame rate and sound issues.

Circumstances changed a bit with priorities and the machine ended up sitting in my garage for a couple of years waiting patiently for me to get back to it. But, Jeremy and I bought the house downtown and in the process of moving – the PC that was driving the system disappeared.

So, I was left with the cabinet and monitor, and the ZVG board – but no PC with a parallel port and a SoundBlaster card.

You see the difficulty is – this system requires true DOS mode to function – and only a select handful of sound cards work in DOS mode.  This along with needing a working parallel port, and a serial port – it has been a while since I’ve wanted to really face this challenge again.

Fortunately my friend Alex had an old pc which I’ve re-purposed from running Windows XP to powering my game.

I don’t recall where I have my old DOS 6.22 disks any longer – so I thought I’d try Freedos and see if I could get it to work.  The installation was so quick and painless I was shocked.  Then was surprised yet again when I set to start configuring things and all my old DOS command line skills proved to be intact.  I might not remember anyone’s phone numbers but I can still remember that a sound card needs an address, an IRQ, and a DMA and how to set them.

I unfortunately don’t have a SoundBlaster – but I could get all the primary setting configured outside of that and ensure that the ZVG driver board, the monitor, and the controls still work.

Spent probably and hour and a half on the reformatting, copying, configuring each component and then connected this PC to the machine.  Ran a few utilities to ensure that I had my brightness and screen scaling set correctly – and gave it a go.

I breathed a sigh of relief when my test pattern showed up correctly. I fiddled with the focus a bit and was ready for phase 2 – starting DVMame (Dos Vector Mame). I started the program and was happily greeted with the menu system I had choosen, but I wasn’t able to select things as I’d hoped.  I mashed buttons and wondered if I had lost continuity or a wire had come loose some how during the move and the years of sitting.

I opened the control panel and traced the wires – they all were connected.  Finally after another hour and a half of poking, looking on the internet, poking, reading more, mashing buttons, and so on I found the keystroke combination that would allow be to enter the configuration settings for the control panel.

I had 2 buttons that weren’t registering correctly – so I restored the components to factory settings then rebooted the system. The buttons registered the keys they should – and I was ready to give Mame a go again!

All the stars aligned and the menu came up – and NOW all the buttons worked as they

should and I was able to start some games sans-sound. HOORAY for progress.

I found 2 older sound cards – I thought I’d give them a shot.  So I got a Diamond Monster II card and found the DOS mode drivers from a Windows98 setup archive. Copied them to CD (I’ve gone though 6 or so tonight ferrying new bits of data to the new/old game control PC – and each one has to be finalized so I can’t just add more data to a previous one — annoying).

I make sure I have the IRQ/DMA settings unique to the sound card, have my set BLASTER= correct in my autoexec.bat along with my SET ZVG to the system LPT1 IRQ/DMA port settings – and booted up.  It took a few minutes to get things working right as this card is looking for a not included .ini file that I had to generate by hand from the cryptic error messages I was being given.

But finally everything re-booted and came up error free.  Crossing my toes (as my fingers were busy) I decided that I’d give it a go and fired up my menu so I could select a game. Things seemed good – I had no speakers attached yet, but if the drivers loaded, and the game runs – that is my next step.

I select a game – press the start button, and the screen goes HaYWiRe and promptly blanks out.

OH NOssssssssssss

Stop the emulator, power everything down.  Reboot, try to bring up the menu – and dead.

I remove the sound card driver – reboot.  Start the game system  – it has not had a spontaneous Lazarus encounter and the proverbial stone has not rolled away.  The monitor on the arcade game is still dead and not responding.

I find the configuration application for the ZVG card – and start it.  I want to know if my card is dead or if the problem is something else.  Once the utility starts I see all the values are completely wrong.  I press the key to reload factory defaults and the monitor buzzes slightly – and comes back to life. I re-configure the settings, and my test pattern is back to what it was – This time I make sure to save these as a backup in case I need them later.

I run the game menu system again -without sound support and all the games come to life and are all playable – just like if Marcel Marceau had been the contributing sound man.

So, I’m back to where I was hours ago –  FreeDOS works generally. I don’t know if the driver conflation was a result of it not being actual windows, or the if the sound card itself is doing more behind the scenes than I want.

I guess my next step is to find the most basic Sound Blaster PCI 512 type card that I can, and see if that resolves the problems – or if it is the operating system perhaps.  I don’t want to re-re-rebuild the system, but I have all the software laying about here and there now.  I might go for Windows95 install if i can find find some media as DOS 6.22 can be a real pain to install off CD directly.

(And in the midst of all this flailing I’ve found that the motherboard tends to freak out every 3rd or 4th boot – it displays messages like “New processor detected”, or a case open intrusion alert.  I’m thinking the CMOS battery is going/has gone out and needs to be replaced.  I have another motherboard that might work – so I’ll give that a go in a day or two.  I’ve had all the drama I can deal with for one night.)

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p.s. if you have a real old basic CreativeLabs Soundblaster you want to donate let me know I think I have $5 left somewhere…