Tuesday, October 15, 2013

New Legs, Wheels and Panels

I got my package from ChannelBeat today with new wheels, leg levelers and panels. I also bought a new connecting tube since it was totally absent from my machine. I am happy to report they were friendly when I asked questions, shipped quickly, and included everything ordered in the condition listed on their page (in this case, everything was in new condition). I am surprised at how heavy-duty the connecting tube feels. I don't think I've seen too many real ones in the wild.

The new wheels and leg levelers went in without issue and feel really nice. Playing on the pads on legs is like playing with shock absorbers. It's a totally different (and better) feeling than playing with the pads flat on the floor.

Here is a comparison of some of the old arrow panels next to the newly installed ones:

It doesn't really come across in the picture, but the old panels are flat-matte looking in the light while the new ones are all glossy and shiny. The new ones also feel more flexible and just better overall.

While replacing the panels I stumbled upon the solution for the player 1 down arrow getting stuck problem. It seems what was happening was that one of the washers holding the top L-bracket was getting stuck on a groove in the paint caused by wear. This would pin the L-bracket down until it was jostled loose by another action. I stripped some of the paint to smooth out the area on the L-bracket and replaced the washer which seems to have remedied the issue.

I also installed a small usb wireless adapter so that I can remote into the machine to make changes or add songs without having to connect a keyboard and mouse every time. This is currently how I am shutting down the PC when I'm done, which is less than ideal. I'm looking into alternatives for this currently.

Here is the machine as it stands today - running Stepmania with all the replaced parts so far:

Next up is reconnecting the bass neon. I will hopefully will get that done today.
The machine is in pretty excellent working condition, but there are still a lot of things left to do:

  • fixing the inside switch on the player 2 left arrow (wiring issue)
  • replacing the burnt out bulb in the player 2 select button
  • replacing the micro-switches for the select panel on the cabinet (I bought 6 to replace them but the blades on the switches are too large - I guess there are multiple standard sizes for these things...)
  • printing a new custom marquee image to replace the ink-jet printed bootleg Extreme one
  • figuring out what's up with the lights on the left side of the marquee (wiring issue)
  • replacing a few missing miscellaneous screws
  • cleaning the cabinet and replacing the wheels/levelers

Monday, October 14, 2013

Stepmania Machine

I built my Stepmania PC to go inside the DDR machine. It was a lot of effort, but totally worth it.

I read as much as I could about the process and learned that there are some considerations to make when creating a PC to go inside the DDR cabinet. The first major on is how to connect the pads and cabinet to a PC in the first place. The thing that makes this possible is a Minimaid JAMMA adapter. This device maps inputs and controls the lights from the cabinet and pad utilizing a USB port on a PC. It's practically magic and worked on the first try plug-and-play without any setup for me. There are other devices that will do this, but the Minimaid offers control over the lights which other boards don't seem to.

Another major issue is that arcade monitor input is vastly different than standard PC monitor input. People online make the claim that if you connect a standard arcade monitor to a standard PC video card you can permanently damage the monitor. I don't want to test the truthfulness of the claim.

I was lucky in the fact that the arcade I purchased my machine from had replaced the monitor with a CGA/EGA/VGA trimode monitor. The only thing I really have to worry about is making sure to send the video signal in 640x480. Most standard drivers only support 800x600 as the lowest resolution. There are ways around it, but I decided to get an Ultimarc ArcadeVGA card. This card works with a very wide range of monitors, both arcade and PC. Even without the trimode monitor this card should do the job on standard DDR cabinets.

I read this guide on creating a Stepmania machine which I followed as a general outline. His cabinet has the boards mounted vertically while mine are horizontal, so I had to do my own thing.

Here is a list of the PC components that I used:

My motherboard did not come with any screws or standoffs, so I ordered screws and standoffs from Amazon.

The first thing I did was get a board to mount the components on. It's roughly 13.75" x 17.75" x 0.50" and looks like a cutting board. I laid the motherboard, power supply, and Minimaid onto the board to space everything out, then I marked where the standoffs would need to go. I drilled a small hole for each one with a 3/32'' bit, which ends up being very slightly smaller than the standoff's threads.

I tried screwing the standoffs directly into the holes but found it difficult. What I settled on doing was creating a screw+standoff combo which I used to prime the holes. I just screwed it in and unscrewed it from every hole to start them off.

After that, I put a single drop of super glue into one of the holes and screwed the regular standoff into the place with pliers. This is what it started to look like:

An important thing to note about the above picture is that the motherboard position I originally chose did not leave enough room in the cabinet for the VGA plug of the monitor. I actually had to remove those standoffs and re-position them all, so that is something to consider.

In the guide linked above, the guy mounted the power supply by taking it apart and drilling new holes into the case which he then used to mount the power supply with wood screws. I don't feel confident enough to do that, so I found an alternative. On the bottom of the power supply, the bottoms of 4 screws are exposed. Miraculously, these screws match the size of the standoffs exactly, so I screwed 4 standoffs into the bottom of the power supply.

I positioned it where I wanted it on the board and pressed down to make small divets on the board where it would be mounted. I drilled the holes like I did for the other standoffs, and then screwed the screw+standoff thing into the holes as well. Instead of unscrewing them, I used pliers to pull them out. This removed the threading in the wood so I could skip screwing the power supply standoffs in. I put 1 drop of super glue into each of the 4 holes, positioned the power supply over them, and pressed down firmly. I tapped the corners with a hammer and the standoffs went into place fairly easily.

Here is what it looks like with the boards mounted (with the motherboard in a better position):

The only component missing now is the hard drive. This is difficult because, unlike the boards, the hard drive does not have holes that go all the way through it. It is designed to be mounted by sandwiching a sheet of metal between the hard drive and a screw head. In the guide, it looks like the guy mounted his to some plexi-glass suspended in the air by columns of standoffs. The standoffs I used are not threaded to go into one-another, and I don't have extra plexi-glass lying around, so I came up with something else.

I bought some longer screws and drilled 2 holes all the way through the board. This let me come from the bottom with the screws which I could attach to the hard drive, suspending it in space. The drive only weighs a few ounces, so I believe it is secure enough.

In this picture you can see I used some nuts on the screws. The idea was that they would prevent the screws from coming loose, but I don't thing they are really necessary.

This is what it looks like with everything mounted:

I connected this to a regular PC monitor to set up Windows and install some drivers. I also set the motherboard BIOS so that the PC will power on automatically as soon as it gets power. This will allow me to plug the DDR machine and PC into a power strip and power them both up simply by hitting the switch on the power strip.

Now at this point, I should have been able to plug in the existing JAMMA harness and other cables and started the machine up, but I ran into a problem. The existing JAMMA harness' plug was just slightly too small to fit onto the Minimaid. I have no idea why, but the plastic was just too small and it would not fit.

I first tried to lengthen the gap inside with  knife, but the plastic is very firm and I couldn't get it deep enough to help. So because of this, and because the harness looked like junk with hot-glue on it, I decided I was going to rewire the machine with a new harness.


I have no experience re-wiring anything, so this was a big deal for me. I ordered a new JAMMA harness which connects to the Minimaid perfectly. I unplugged all of the Molex  connectors and pulled out the old harness. The new harness ends every wire with a quick-connect terminal. This does me no good, since I need Molex pins to go into the Molex  plugs. Also, the coloring of many of the wires is different between the two harnesses.

I used this pin-out image as a guide and traced out the wires, writing down where each went. I bought a Molex pin extractor from Fry's Electronics along with 3 packs of 0.063'' diameter Molex pins for 24-18 gauge wire. I couldn't find packs containing male-only pins, so I had to buy them in pairs, but I only used the male parts.

I don't have any pictures of this tedious process, but I removed all of the existing pins from the Molex plugs that went to the JAMMA harness. I left ones that went other places; for example the connector for the pads branches to the JAMMA harness and to another Molex plug, so I only needed to remove ~5 from each. Next, I clipped quick-connect terminals from the new harness and stripped away some of the casing with wire strippers. I inserted the bare wire into new Molex pin and crimped the wire with needle-nose pliers. After I had done this on all of the wires that I needed, I pushed the new pins into the old Molex connectors and reconnected all the plugs. I reconnected everything to the old 573 board to test my JAMMA wiring job before connecting the PC.

Now, I have never done anything like this before, so I was pretty sure that when I powered it on I was just going to get nothing out of it, but when I turned the machine on it worked on the first try. I did a lot of double-checking when tracing the wires, and I watched a video on wire crimping before I started but I am stunned that it worked. I have a deep respect for the people that made JAMMA and Molex connectors so easy to work with.

This is what it looks like inside the machine:

You might notice I don't have the bass neon connected. That's because I haven't rewired it yet. I'm not sure if it's standard or not, but the way the bass neon was wired in my cabinet required me to snip some wires to get the JAMMA harness out. There was a wire soldered to the ground on the JAMMA harness that runs to the small Molex connector for the bass neon. The other wire on that connector ran to a small black box mounted to the back of the left speaker - also to the ground. There was a red wire on that small black box that then ran to pin 6 (+12) on the JAMMA harness. There are then 2 brown wires coming out of that black box the look like they go into a box labeled as a neon power transformer. Since all of those wires were soldered directly on top of the pins of the JAMMA harness I had to snip them to remove it and I haven't reconnected them to the new harness yet.

I powered it up, installed some drivers, and adjusted the screen slightly to get it to look like this at 640x480:

Monday, October 7, 2013

Aging Computer Hardware

I've created a new page to keep track of the parts I've replaced in the DDR machine here. I'm waiting for a package from Grainger with the rest of my spacers for the L-Bracket screws. Once I get it the pads will be essentially complete.

I removed the smooth/slippery coating from the top of the foam tape on the L-brackets and covered them with electrical tape. I was finding that the arrows moved slightly when I hit them on an angle, making the pads feel slippery. I found someone else online had tried using electrical tape to get a better grip, so I tried it out. The arrows do seem to grab electrical tape better, so I'd recommend this mod to others.

I thought I had a bad sensor on the right pad (right arrow, left sensor) but after swapping it for another one I've found that the sensor was actually working fine and there is some other problem causing that area not to work. I'm not sure if it's the wiring, I/O board, or something else yet. I'll have to check into it more.

The pads got a lot of play over the weekend and they seem to be working pretty well. The cabinet (specifically, the 573 hardware) might not be in as good of shape, however. When booting, it sometimes reboots a few times immediately following "READ PROGRAM" (right after it checks the CD drive). I've also had it freeze a couple of times loading some songs (strangely - only on songs beginning with the letter 'A' but not all songs that start with 'A'). I think this is pointing towards an issue with the CD-ROM drive, so I'm going to swap it with an old LG GCR-8523BI to see if it gets any better. I've read that the machine is very picky about CD-ROM drives, but it looks like that LG one is on the white list and is available used for $3.

I messed with the disc first, thinking maybe the Betson disc was going bad (it's written on a Maxell CD-R), but even my own copies have the same boot-loop. At least this problem allowed me to learn new things about the machine. First, the 573 hardware is based on Playstaion 1 hardware (which explains the PSX.exe boot loader on the game discs). Also, EEPROMs are a thing, and they are actually pretty complicated when it comes to DDR machines. In my machine, the original Konami EEPROM was swapped for a single-mix Betson one:

You can see it there - upside-down - having the DDR Extreme logo stickered to it. Apparently, this EEPROM will get around security carts (which explains the presence of the DDRUSA cart), but it tries to lock the machine down to using only the Betson-supplied DDR Extreme disc by changing the boot loader name from the standard PSX.exe to QSY.dxd. Possibly, renaming the PSX.exe file on other discs will get around the Betson-imposed lock out, but I just ripped the existing disc and changed it myself to add 0.5x/Brake/Wave. Trying other DDR Extreme discs before learning this renaming trick caused the system to reboot with a hardware failure on the CD-R during every boot.

In other news - I've ordered parts to start creating the Stepmania PC replacement. Once I get that working I'll post the parts I'm using. I'm using this as a general guide.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Top Hardware Complete - Stage Nearly Done

I received the rest of the screws to finish off the top of the pad today, so I installed them:

They are smaller versions of the larger countersink screws that I used for the panels on the pad. I didn't drill any countersink holes since their small size allows them to sink into the existing holes pretty well. The tape you see on top of the L-Brackets is mounting tape, cut to size. The adhesive is on both sides, but I left the plastic on the top side to prevent it from sticking to the arrows.

Literally NONE of the internals are fastened with screws since I'm still waiting for delivery. Most of them are SEMS screws, which Amazon currently doesn't list with prime shipping, so I'm waiting on standard 5-day shipping. Surprisingly, everything feels very sturdy even without those screws. None of the plates move and nothing makes any noise when stepping. I could probably get away without using any screws inside at all, really.

I hooked up the pads and did an I/O check. There is only 1 dead sensor in the entire machine, which is a relief. There are a couple of weaker sensors, but overall it's in great shape. All of the neon in the pads and in the speakers works, too. I played a song to make sure everything worked and it was pretty great. Once I finish putting screws on the inside I'll do a video of the true first song on the rehabbed pads.

Re-fitting the selection buttons on the cabinet fixed the input problems I was having with them. All of the yellow arrows register correctly and both green buttons work. The green button on the right doesn't light, so it might have a burnt-out bulb, but it works fine.

I found the top left speaker disconnected so I reconnected it and it works. I was worried that maybe the reason it was disconnected was that it was blown or something, but it sounds fine. The connection was a little hard to get to since it's directly behind the marquee. 

The bottom left bulb on the marquee is still not working. Stranger still, during the lamp test I noticed that testing the lower-left bulb lights the top bulb and testing the top does nothing. I'll have to check out the wiring. The front plate on the top left bulb was also unlatched on one side, and there are some replaced screws on the housing, so I guess some part of it was replaced at one point.

I still need to clean/vacuum up some of the metal fillings left over from drilling the countersink screws. Also, the pads are legless and wheel-less until my order from ChannelBeat is fulfilled. I've ordered 8 new arrow panels and a new umbilicus tube (connecting the stage to cabinet). The machine is still technically playable and actually performs better than most arcade experiences I've had. I'm really happy with how this is turning out.

I'm not going to do any serious rehab on the cabinet until next month. Part of the cabinet rehab I have in mind is converting it over to a StepMania machine, which I'm pretty excited about. So far all I've replaced is the exhaust fan in the back since it was too dirty to clean. The new one is a little loud, but I can really feel it moving air which is not something that the old fan did very well.

The cabinet is also missing a lot of screws, but I kind of lucked out in that they seem to share the thread size as the larger stage screws (M6). I have 96 extra since they come in packs of 100 and I needed 104 for the stage. I'll probably use as many as I can since I like the way they look and I have 96 of them sitting in a bag.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Progress - Welded Bars, Clean Pads, Countersunk Screws

Earlier this week my friend added some welding to the bars and now they are rock solid. I set them up on the pads and they don't move at all so they should be good to go. Also, he managed to get the final leg leveler off of the stage with a torch a pipe-wrench.

There was still a  lot of dirt and rust on the frame so I took it to the garage for some all-purpose cleaner, CLR and steel wool. Here are a few shots I took during cleaning:

CLR improved most of the rust spots without much effort. I applied it with an old tooth brush and let it sit for about a minute. Afterwards I wiped it down with some paper towel and revealed the metal underneath the rust.

Steel wool is my new best friend. I went back over the triangle brackets and the top layer of stainless steel quickly with some steel wool and it cleaned them right up. The steel wool works on almost every piece of the stage and cleans without any chemicals which is nice.


I'm still waiting for a shipment of replacement screws for the inside, but in the mean time I've started replacing the top level screws and drilling some countersunk holes to make them flush. I bought a 1/2'' countersinking drill bit and basically did what is shown in this video.

Here you should be able to see how much more flush the screws sit after drilling. The screw on the right has had its hole drilled while the one on the left has not.

The screws I'm using are M6 12mm flat-head phillips screws. They come in packs of 100 but I need 104 which is lame: 4 per plate with 5 plates per pad, 8 per arrow with 4 arrows per pad, making 52 per pad or 104 total.

I set the metal up on the pads without screws for now and glued the tape-switch holding rubber things back onto the metal frames using some super glue. Also, I reconnected the tape switches. It's starting to look pretty good.

I have replacement screws for the L-Brackets since a lot of them were rusty, so I'll probably try and get those done today, too. The screws I'm using are M4 8mm pan-head phillips screws and I need 96 (3 per switch making it 12 per arrow, 48 per pad, or 96 total). I'm going to reuse the existing metal spacers and washers since they are in good shape and replacement spacers are hard to find. I am missing a few, though, so I will need to find replacements eventually.

Monday, September 30, 2013

Second Pad

While waiting for a solution to the leg leveler problem on the 1P side, I decided to start cleaning the 2P side. Since I know have the tools to get things done the process was much, much faster. I have the pad completely torn down after only a few hours. There were a few screws that needed to be extracted with the drill, but everything else went smoothly. The leg levelers on this pad were a breeze. Two came out by hand and the others needed a wrench but they all came out without incident.

I'm still cleaning some of it up, and I will need to get some replacement screws for ones that are broken or lost, but I'm pretty happy with how things are going.

I also took a look inside the cabinet's front panel that houses the select and start buttons. I found the reason the two yellow left arrows were not functioning - the housings for the buttons were dangling inside the cabinet. I reattached them and this should fix the issue. I can't test it right now since everything is in pieces, but I expect to have this back in working order soon.

Cleaning and Leg Leveler Woes

I want to get rid of as much of the rust as possible on the interior metal components of the pad. I've tried using a combination of CLR and steel wool and I think it's had a pretty decent affect. This is what it looked after a few minutes of scrubbing:


It's not like-new but it's a lot better so I'll probably be doing this for all of the rusted internals. All I do is splash it with some CLR, wait a few minutes, and scrub it under cold water with a steel wool pad.

I've also cleaned the L-bracket compartments of the left pad. For comparison, here is a shot of all four - three of which I've cleaned with one that I hadn't started yet:

These are pretty easy to clean. I just remove the screws and wipe the parts with paper towel and some all-purpose cleaner.

So far, the process of cleaning this thing out has been pretty positive with only a few small set-backs. Unfortunately, I've hit a road block. Many of the leg levelers and wheels on the pads are rusted, bent and in pretty bad shape. I'm going to be ordering replacements from ChannelBeat, but to replace them I first have to remove them. On the left pad, two of the leg levelers came off without any trouble at all. The other two were rusted tight and wouldn't budge.

I used a lof of WD-40 and some vice-grips but all I was doing was stripping the bolts. I tried finding other solutions for similar problems online and saw that there are some pin-ball machines with similar feet that people had trouble removing. I saw a recommendation for Liquid Wrench that worked for at least one guy, so I figured I'd try it. This stuff is similar to WD-40 but it also claims to cut through rust while being specifically made for seizures like I'm experiencing with these levelers.

I sprayed some on both sides of the screws holding the feet in place and let it soak for a few minutes. Afterwards I attached a small pipe to the end of my vice grips for extra leverage. After a lot of effort, I managed to get one of the legs off. I had to use all of me eight and spin the screw about three full turns before it really started to come loose.

The other one, sadly, still won't move at all. My last attempt snapped the vice grips and the bolt is getting majorly stripped. This is the leg leveler in question (taken before I started using the Liquid Wrench):

I'm kind of stuck on what to do here. I've read about bolt extractors (turbo sockets?) but in order for that to work I think I'll have to break the rubber foot and it's metal enclosure off the screw completely. Even after that, I'm not sure the socket will be able to reach the bolt. The leg is also in really deep, so if I decide to leave it in place it will actually be above the wheel making it pretty useless.

While I look for solutions I'm going to be continuing the cleaning and restoration of other pats of the machine. Maybe I need a blow torch...