Friday, September 8, 2017

Modern Firepower - Upgrades and a Tune-up

It's been about 4 years since Modern Firepower received any attention under the hood, and it has been such a solid build it really didn't need any attention.  I had a switch wire break a solder connection once - my own fault for keeping the wires taut between connections, always leave wire slack - but beyond that it has been pretty much trouble-free.

Well, except for that one sheared pop-bumper bolt I discovered in the cabinet a few months back, still clinging to the nut it liberated in its desperate attempt to escape a life of pinball attacks.  It crossed my mind that perhaps I should see where the destroyed bolt was located, but since Williams style pop bumpers are connected with three bolts, I didn't give it too much thought.  From the top side of the playfield, all four pop bumpers seemed solid.

Fast forward to the end of the 2017 Southern Fried Gaming Expo.  While packing up Modern Firepower for the short trip home, I noticed another sheared pop bumper bolt lying underneath it on the floor.  Though I couldn't rule out its origination coming from a nearby machine, in my gut I knew Modern Firepower was the source.

Modern Firepower at the 2017 Southern Fried Gaming Expo, next to an original classic Firepower - photo by Juan Josino

Read on to see the Modern Firepower repairs, tune-ups, and the very special upgrade I installed...

Thursday, June 29, 2017

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 5 Progress

Though The Black Knight Rises missed the show, the work must go on...

Days 29 & 30 - Saturday & Sunday at the 2017 SFGE:
For me, one of the best things about attending the Southern-Fried Gaming Expo is hands-on time with hundreds of machines, including some custom machines.  Sure, I was having fun playing, but this was also work, research to be specific.

As I would play each game, I would make note of any unique features, not just from a playfield design standpoint, but more importantly from a software capabilities standpoint.

For example, I got to play American Pinball's freshly assembled Houdini.  At one point during gameplay, I triggered a mirrored and reversed flipper mode, in which the right button controlled the left flipper, and vice-versa, plus the flipper bats stayed in the upright position, and you had to press the buttons to lower them, releasing to hit the ball.

With a few lines of code, I could certainly add such a routine to the Chameleon Pinball Engine.

It was also a treat to see under the hood of Scott Danesi's most excellent Total Nuclear Annihilation custom pinball machine.  I learned some simple things, like how a drop target can be both raised and lowered by adding a second solenoid to "hit" the target and make it drop, and that there is a stock Williams flapper style one-way ball gate that includes a solenoid to raise the gate, opening a passageway to both directions of travel.  Scott also has developed his own Computer Startup and Shutdown Controller, allowing the standard power switch on the bottom of a cabinet to directly, and safely, power cycle a PC.

I came home with a mind overflowing with ideas, and it will take a while to work through them.

Read on for the rest of this week's progress...

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Modern Firepower returned to the Southern-Fried Gaming Expo

Three years ago, Modern Firepower made its public debut at the first annual 2014 Southern-Fried Gaming Expo.

While schedule conflicts prevented return appearances in 2015 and 2016, Modern Firepower was able to make the trip again for the 2017 Southern-Fried Gaming Expo.  A big thanks to Dan and Joe for making room for Modern Firepower.  An even bigger thanks to Troy, without whom the trip would not have been possible, and Steven, who also assisted with moving duties.

This year's expo itself was a smashing success, with a reported 270+ pinball machines and arcades.  The show was a lot of fun.  If you missed it, be sure to attend next year.

Firepower vs. Modern Firepower at the 2017 Southern-Fried Gaming Expo
Read on for show highlights...

Monday, June 12, 2017

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 4 Progress

With less than a week remaining until the 4th annual Southern Fried Gameroom Expo, I was now in overdrive working 16+ hour days.  The lack of sleep was beginning to take a toll on my ability to work.  I began to notice that even small obstacles would completely derail progress as I struggled to think through solutions.  I'm beginning to regret the challenging 4 week timeline.

Still, I pushed forward.  This post is longer than most, as a lot happened this week.

Day 22 - Saturday:
The cabinet felt very close to completion, and I was determined to spend half a day and knock it out.  I had applied the Danish Oil on Monday, and after giving it over 4 days to cure, it was time to apply a polyurethane protective coat.

But first I wanted to finish the trim out.  During parts sourcing, I had stumbled onto reproduction Black Knight cabinet side rails, with the dual flipper/Magna-Save button cut-outs.  Of course, being sized for an 80's style cabinet in which the side rails extend to the very back of the cabinet, they were too long for a modern standard sized cabinet with a pivoting backbox.  To make them work, they would have to be trimmed to length.  I also needed to shorten the backbox hinges.

I put a ferrous metal blade on my compound miter saw and got to work.  The hinges were stamped from thick gauge stainless steel, and cut like butter.  The siderails, while much thicker than modern siderails, were still thin and soft, and more than a couple times I slipped with the saw and bent the rails.  I thought for sure I had damaged them beyond repair, but luckily with a bit of straightening and a more meticulous cutting process, I was able to get them finished.

Cutting the 1980's era Black Knight side rails to make them fit on modern cabinet.

Working again on the cabinet, I aligned and drilled the holes for the backbox hinges.  I also had to notch the side rails for the hinge bolts, and the rails were too tall.  I then assembled and tested the side rails and backbox hinges.  This cabinet build is similar to building a hot rod - merging old with new with unique, plus lots of custom fabrication.

Metal cutting finally done, the backbox pivots!

Read on to see how the final build week turned out...

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 3 Progress

It felt like I was beginning to turn the corner in week 3.  With the fabrication and restoration steps complete, and reassembly underway, it seems I might just make my self imposed deadline.

Day 15 - Saturday:
With the playfield clear coat happily curing without me, I turned my attention back to the cabinet.  I measured and cut out the coin door and bottom panels, then glued it all up.

Clamps, a woodworkers best friend.  Plus heavy stuff to weigh down the bottom panel while glue sets.

Once it was assembled, I was able to then measure for the top shelf and the playfield backstop (not sure what else to call it), cut them out and glued them to the cabinet.

Read on for the day by day recap...

Saturday, June 3, 2017

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 2 Progress

Week 2 was more challenging than the first, and as some tasks took longer than anticipated, my goal of readying The Black Knight Rises for the 2017 Southern Fried Gameroom Expo begins to slip away.

Day 8 - Saturday:
Troy arrived early and we set off to sawing some wood.  Previously I had hoped to use my 3' x 6' Shapeoko 2 DIY XL CNC router to cut the cabinet.  Unfortunately, over the past half year I've had nothing but issues from my CNC, ranging from bad power supplies to sloppy belts and uncontrollable backlash.  I simply couldn't trust the CNC router for this job.

Especially since I was using expensive walnut.  No paint for this build.

Troy and I spent all day, and got the cabinet sides cut out, and the backbox sides planed and cut out.  The backbox was being fabricated from solid walnut, since the cut sides would expose plywood, and since it was about 7/8" thick, it had to be planed down to 3/4".  For the cabinet I used 3/4" walnut plywood.

Setting up the mobile woodshop in the driveway.

Read on for the day by day recap...

Monday, May 29, 2017

"The Black Knight Rises" - Week 1 Progress

While a lot was accomplished in the first week, a sense of satisfaction is not present.  The road seems long from this end of the journey.

For the  non-electrical aspect of the restoration, I've been referring to the excellent "Vid's Guide to Ultimate Playfield Restoration", written by VID1900 about 4 years ago.  This being my first playfield restoration (Modern Firepower was built new), I'm not qualified to give any tips, merely point you in the direction of the information I've been using.

Day 1 - Saturday:
Though playfield evaluation and parts ordering had begun a few days earlier, I decided to mark Saturday as Project Day 1, since this is where the hands on fun begins.

Troy came over and assisted me in the full disassembly of the playfield.  Every part was tagged and bagged (or boxed).  Plenty of pictures were taken along the way, at various stages of disassembly, to document where various parts should be reinstalled.  We took our time to make sure no mistakes were made.

During disassembly, all the wires were cut off of the lights, switches and solenoids - except for those related to the Magna-Save magnets and solenoids.  We took special care to examine the Magna-Save wiring to reverse engineer the power flow - a task made harder because the flippers had already been forcibly removed and their wires cut free, and the flippers were wired in series with the magnets.  Eventually I came to understand how they were wired from the factory.

With the playfield stripped of parts, it was then cleaned with Naptha, Novus, and Magic Erasers.  This was many hours of back breaking work.

It's a dirty, naked playfield...
Read on for the day by day recap...