The Space Ace Saga: Part II, “Can We Keep Him?”
Tuesday, 11 January 2005 21:00
So to recap, it’s just after Christmas 2004 and there I was with a piece of smashed up wood in my front room and all I could do was play the Space Ace laserdisc on a separate player.
A couple of days went by and I started to rebuild the thing, my intention was simply to get it working. So the first thing I did was take everything out of the cabinet, lay the cabinet on its side and jump up and down on it. I managed to sqeeze it back together by about half a centimetre, but that’s all. It seemed more solid than before I jumped up and down on it though. I stood the cabinet back up again.
I then connected the laserdisc player to my normal TV to check if it worked. There was a problem, for some reason it wouldn’t spin up. I had it connected to the step down transformer that runs my other laserdisc player, so opened up the ld player and checked the fuse, I couldn’t tell if it was blown or not so I got another one I had lying around, it was slightly bigger ampage but what the hey it’d be ok. Except it wasn’t, still nothing happened. So I had another idea, which with hind-site I realise was possibly not the best idea I have ever had, I got a piece of 30 amp fuse wire and wrapped it between the fuse points because, I thought, there’s no way that will blow. And to be fair I was right, it didn’t blow, but it did blow my step down transformer! So now I had no way to test it. I thought about it a while and then realised I could plug it into the cabinet and power it up from there.
I had checked with a few people about the PSU in the cabinet and it was indeed switchable from 110v to 220v. So with a flick of a switch the cab was ready for the UK. I switched on the cab and it made a “ding” noise which signified that there was a problem but at least power was flowing.
I then made a second decision, which, again with hind-site, was possibly not the best I have ever made. I had been told that the laserdisc player had to run off the power supply that ran to the light bulb inside the cab. A quick inspection revealed the light socket to be near the power input of the cabinet. A quick bit of “wire cutting and twisting later” and the laserdisc power lead was attached. So I was all set to go, the laserdisc was now powered off the light socket which was powered off the 110v PSU.
Now I’m not a laserdisc expert, but when I heard the crackle, smelt the melting and witnessed the mini nuclear bomb style plume of smoke, I figured that something wasn’t quite right. As fast as I could I switched off the cabinet and examined the damage. I couldn’t see anything wrong but I new in my heart that the laserdisc player was dead.
It turned out that the light socket I had used shouldn’t have been there, it was simply a light added by someone at some time to illuminate the inside of the cabinet when working inside it the light that people were referring to was the marquee light (the bit at the top of the cabinet that has the Space Ace logo). Basically I realised that the light I had used was not driven from the cabinet PSU, it was driven from a direct input off the mains supply, i.e. I rammed 240 volts into it. In short, that is a bad thing to do and I highly recommend you don’t do it yourself! I switched on the cabinet to see if it was ok, nada, nowt, zero.
So now I had blown everything including my step down, the LD and the cabinet PSU! After resigning myself to the fact that I might never get it to work I spoke with a few people on the DLP discussion board and after a few posts of encouragement I set to it again. Taking some advice I went to Maplin and bought myself some new fuses of the correct ampage for the step down, cabinet and laserdisc. I also bought an extremely useful device called a multimeter, I should probably have invested the £4.99 far earlier. The multimeter is a simple device that allows you to stick two pieces of metal against electrical wiring and it tells you what voltage is there. You can test anything with them including the mains plug sockets.
I replaced the fuse in the step down and checked the output voltage, 110v. Bingo!, I replaced the fuse in the cabinet, crossed my fingers, switched it on and bingo, 110v, I plugged a fuse into the laserdisc player, plugged it into the step down and … nothing. bugger. I decided the laserdisc was dead and put it in the loft.
After making some enquiries I found out that a chap in London had imported a load of LD players that I could use, but they weren’t the original ones that came with the cabinet. Because of that I had to buy a converter that interfaced between the laserdisc communications input and the space ace electronics. I might as well mention that industrial laserdisc players have communications inputs into them (using rs232) that allow them to be controlled by external sources, such as arcade games.
As it happened I was going to London to work so I arranged to buy one of the laserdisc players off this very helpful chap. I went to his house, which actually was Heaven… It wasn’t a house, it was a Mission Control beyond anything comparable on Earth and in it was everything Space Ace or Dragon’s Lair that you could imagine. I won’t go any further but believe me this is the best games room anywhere in the universe.
You don’t believe me do you? well, have a look here and marvel at Finny’s room, that’s where I was and can you see those LD players racked up? It was one of those that I bought.
Are you back yet? Told you it was the best room ever! I simply refer to it as Heaven. Anyway Finny also lent me a converter while mine came and I could continue.
A little soldering and the converter was installed, I didn’t have to but I soldered the power for it up to the cabinet PSU because the power adapter that came with it didn’t work. I then removed the wires from the marquee light and connected them to the laserdisc power cable, needless to say I checked the voltage this time, 110v bingo. I plugged the power into the laserdisc, the laserdisc into the converter and the laserdisc AV and sound output to a normal tv, it looked a bit like a spiders web of wires around the room. I crossed my fingers fired up the cabinet, I hadn’t actually tested it with the innards connected up properly, I heard three “dings” which signified that the electronics were working, wahoo! and the laserdisc started to spin. At last!! And then Space Ace appeared on the TV, which I watched again.
Taking hold of the joystick I pressed the credit button, and then start, but nothing happened, the game just played the intro over and over. After yet more investigation and conversations with really helpful people I sussed out that it was probably a duff cable between the laserdisc player and the converter I installed earlier. So I wired up a second cable myself with the specified pin-outs, plugged it in, pressed the relevant buttons again… and BINGO!! the game started.
Picture the scene; the LD player is sat on the floor with cables trailing into the cabinet and my TV. I had positioned the cabinet at 90 degrees to the TV and the cabinet’s cables were running across the floor via a four gang to the wall sockets. Basically my whole room had turned into the Space Ace machine! Anyway, hours of playing later I had a pain in my neck through looking sideways at my TV while playing so I turned it off and went to bed with a great big smile on my face.
So despite all the success I still had two more main problems, a smashed up monitor, no marquee light power and no sound through the cabinet yet. I started on the sound first which just worked when it was all plugged in, so no problems there.
Then the monitor; This was a whole different proposition. After searching eBay and asking a gazillion people it turned out that getting an original monitor in the UK any time soon was a non-option. I had to replace the monitor with something else. I could have bought a newer version of the monitor (a Wells Gardner) but it didn’t have the AV phono input board needed to convert the AV picture from the laserdisc player to the monitor RGB (these boards come with the monitor and are in effect part of the monitor), and to get the right one was going to cost a fair wodge, basically the best part of £400 for a newer monitor.
So I hatched a plan… could I not use a normal PC monitor? I pulled my 19″ monitor off my PC and opened it up. Basically it would have fitted the a cabinet but for the fact that the screws that held it together were in a different place to the holes in the cabinet that the monitor is mounted into. I noticed that the original monitor actually had the same problem but two brackets had been created (one for each side), each brackets had two sets of holes, one that matched the cabinet and one that matched the monitor.
There was another more immediate problem and that was one of picture conversion, as I mentioned the laserdisc player outputs an AV signal (most U.K. TVs have a yellow phono socket on them, that is the AV input) but the monitor obviously takes a D style connector for a VGA signal. I found a product for about £50 that would convert AV (amongst other signals) to a standard monitor output. It sounded like just the thing I needed.
I had a friend who worked in an engineering plant and a quick conversation confirmed that he could have brackets built for me in no time if I could draw what I needed! Wahoo, some luck at last. So I spent hours designing the brackets, making sure I had the measurements checked and triple checked.
So, encouraged by what I had dreamed up I bought the AV converter, plugged it between the monitor and the laserdisc player and it worked a treat. I sat the monitor on the floor behind the Space Ace cabinet so that I could see it when I looked through the front of the cabinet. I plugged the monitor into a normal UK wall socket because it was a UK monitor. Everything was going swimmingly, I could now play for hours and not get a pain in the neck!
After designing the brackets, but before my mate showed up (see next paragraph) I had a go at re-wiring the marquee light, basically I had to run two other wires to it, which I did. I left the wires loose so I could check the voltage. I bent down and reached around the back of the machine to power it up and it was at that point that I realised that something was amiss. You see, when doing projects like this, you don’t want to hear a crackling noise, ever, especially not one accompanied by little fiery particles leaping through the air. Now as beautiful as they are, you don’t want to see them raining down on your head, it isn’t good, trust me. I gave up on the whole idea after that and simply bought a UK strip light that I could plug into the wall, that’s a far safer route!
I then spent hours drawing up the bracket design to scale, I couldn’t put the monitor in the cabinet so I had to do my best to make sure the holes were measured properly and that the metal was cut so that it fit around the monitor properly. I double and triple checked everything and sent them off to my mate. A week or so later he visited my house to play Space Ace in any state he could, he’s as much as a Space Ace fan as I am, and brought the brackets with him. The brackets fitted to the monitor perfectly but I had got the measurements wrong for the cabinet holes, depite hours of checking and re-checking. The holes in the bracket were not lined up with the holes in the cabinet, so the monitor just slid down the cabinet. However we managed to slide a single nail through one of the bracket holes (and the respective cabinet hole) and it stayed up.
Hours we played for!! My Space Ace was finally running. I couldn’t believe it.
All that was left was to put a four gang into the cabinet and plug the cabinet, the monitor, the AV converter and the strip light into it. I re-sited the cabinet and plugged the four gang into another four gang that had individually switched sockets. So now all I have to do is flick one switch and the whole thing powers up.
That’s the end of the Space Ace saga, I guess the question is, “Was it worth it?”. Well, financially it was because (after I got a refund for the packing) it ended up costing me £900 less than the cheapest quote I had had in the U.K, I learned a shit load of stuff about monitors, laserdisc players and multimeters which means that I won’t make the same mistakes next time, I got to visit heaven and meet and talk with some of the friendliest people you could ever know and ultimately I have achieved a dream that I have had since I first dropped 10p into Dragon’s Lair and Space Ace, that dream being “I want one of these in my house one day”. So the answer is, “yes, absolutely!”.
Before I sign off I really would like to point out that getting the Space Ace working really was a country wide effort and so I want to thank:-
– Les for being the person that suffered the agony of unpacking it with me
– My mate, who shall remain named as “my mate” in case I get him into trouble at work, for getting the brackets made
– The bloke that actually made the brackets who I have never met
– Silveruk and Finny from the DLP discussion without whom I would not have been able to get started with fixing it
– and finally the rest of the people a the DLP site for their encouraging words and support
Epilogue: Did you spot the remaining problem? I had no monitor to run on my PC! Luckily Les had one he was throwing out that he gave me!