Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Cinematronics - Dragon's Lair - 1983

"Dragon's Lair: The fantasy adventure where you become a valiant knight, on a quest to rescue the fair princess from the clutches of an evil dragon. You control the actions of a daring adventurer, finding his way through the castle of a dark wizard, who has enchanted it with treacherous monsters and obstacles. In the mysterious caverns below the castle, your odyssey continues against the awesome forces that oppose your efforts to reach the Dragon's Lair. Lead on, adventurer. Your quest awaits!". That quote will forever be etched upon your brain if you have ever played Dragon's Lair. That's the intro during attract mode. Dragon's Lair was released by Cinematronics in 1983, which was worked on by Don Bluth. The animator Don Bluth also worked for Disney creating classics such as  The Secret of NIMH (1982), An American Tail (1986), The Land Before Time (1988), All Dogs Go to Heaven (1989), Rock-A-Doodle (1991). He worked on animating several other movies but will forever be know for his contribution to one of the most technologically amazing video games at the time.

Dragon's Lair is also one of only three video games (along with Pong and Pac-Man) in storage at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C.

Essentially Dragon's Lair is a cartoon that is played on a laser disc which you control Dirk's quest. The laser disc player jumps from scene to scene depending on selecting the correct move. You control Dirk with a wico joystick maneuvering up, down, left or right, as well as a sword button. The controls seem easy yet the game is certainly frustrating if your unfamiliar with the game play. You start out with 5 Dirks which seems like a decent amount until you realize how quickly and easily if your timing isn't perfect you can perish before you can blink. This game to my knowledge at the time was one of the first games that cost .50 cents, In 1983 that was a big deal. Dragon's Lair's are getting tougher to find especially running original hardware such as a laser disc / laser disc player. I found one that wasn't restored but I needed to ship the game. I was scared and reluctant to do so because at first the seller wasn't providing me with all of the pictures I needed to know if they game was complete. The game was claimed to be complete but also stated arcade technician needed, game doesn't work. I didn't mind at this point I'm confident with time I can fix just about any machine so I took the chance and shipped it almost blind.

When I got the machine I turned it on and the fan vibrated the entire machine and was really loud, I then simply disconnected. The good thing was that the machine looked essentially "complete"as far as the hardware. The score board lit up, monitor had a vertical collapse issue. At this point I decided to replace the existing LV1000 laser disc player with an upgraded Pioneer LV4400. Before you can upgrade the laser disc player you need to make sure you have Shaun Wood's "Merlin" board installed.

Upgraded replacement Pioneer LV4400
 I tested the Pioneer LV4400 hooked right up to my LCD just to be able to test the player while I was waiting for my Merlin board from Shaun Wood. The Laser Disc player needs to have a baud rate of 4800 in order for it to be compatible with the Merlin card.

Testing LV4400 on my LCD TV

Dragon's Lair Power Supply

Shaun Wood's Merlin Board

Above you can see the original card on the left with the ribbon disconnected, on the right it's replaced with Shaun Woods Merlin. To obtain a Merlin board I highly recommend you talking to Shaun first to see exactly what your needs are http://wood1st.com/LaserCon/Merlin/index.htm . I can't say enough good things about Shaun Wood without him my Dragon's Lair along with many others wouldn't be using original hardware so I tip my hat. Shaun also guided me along with any questions about Dragon's Lair in general. A wealth of knowledge exists on his site the DLP Forums also known as the http://www.dragons-lair-project.com/ .

Cosmetically the game was completely missing side art but the original vinyl was in decent shape, I used armor all to clean the side of the cabinet. One thing I can recommend is that make sure it's completely dry before trying to apply side art or you will have a problem with the adhesion of the side art to the cabinet. The game was cleaning up nicely. 

Side Art Installed
 I originally ordered parts from Anthony at quarterarcade.com for the side art (as shown above with the premask, after installed shots), marquee, as well as the control panel overlay.

My original control panel overlay was missing a chunk of Dirk's legs. Not only was it missing but it was dirty and faded and needed to be replaced. Now to the common person most would see the below replacement suitable but I'm extremely picky when it comes to certain things about my restorations. Anthony's artwork although officially licensed was a complete abomination.

Original Artwork
quarterarcades reproduction registration error blurry

Original Artwork
quarterarcades issues
It's rather apparent that quarterarcades artwork doesn't compare to the original and the quality wasn't what I expected. Anthony on his website stated "Reproduction Dragon's Lair upright arcade game control panel overlay. CPO is professionally printed on 10 mil adhesive backed lexan, 4 color process, color matched and die cut. This is the only Dragon's Lair CPO licensed in the world! 100% money back guaranteed!". Well I wasn't happy so I talked to Anthony and he basically said he was aware of the issue which effects all of his cpo's. I kept the side art since that looked fine and was on the hunt for a NOS also known as New Old Stock CPO from 1983. What are the chances I was going to actually track one down ? I saw that someone on KLOV (Killer List of Video Games) posted one was for sale but I wasn't fast enough and it was quickly sold. Although it had delamination issues the colors were sharp and most of the issues were on the bottom of the control panel which wouldn't of been noticed. Since I pointed those issues out to Anthony he actually now changed some text on his website to reflect it, he now says "Please note that we have done our best with this reproduction, but have had some people indicate they were not completely happy with the quality of the artwork printing on this particular overlay. Because of the complexity of the original artwork, this was a very difficult piece to recreate (it cannot be redrawn easily, like other pieces we carry). We did borrow a NOS piece, had it scanned and recreated and this is what our printer was able to come up with. Please take a look at the pictures before purchasing.". Anthony kindly accepted my return and I actually needed other parts so it worked out fine.

I got a message from the person who bought the NOS overlay on KLOV  & said they were just using it as a back up and I was eligible to purchase it if I wanted it! At this point I was able to get Dirk's legs back and have an original overlay from 1983 that looked sharp. I started to take apart the control panel. To reiterate on prior posts once again I used a wall paper steaming machine to get off the chunks missing control panel overlay. I then began to proceed to sand down the control panel making sure no vintage glue remained. I probably should of waited until the NOS overlay actually got to my house but I wanted to start the process. Luckily It was in better shape than I expected it to be. 

Control Panel sanded down getting ready for NOS CPO!
NOS CPO installed
 At this point I used plastic clamps overnight to hold the NOS CPO in place. The following morning I then proceeded to clean the original wico shaft in the chuck of my drill, installed new switches, sanded and painted various bolts. Oh yeah for whatever reason this was the first game of dozens that I've worked on that the leaf buttons / leaf switch holders and pal nuts decided to not budge, I ended up just using my sawzall to fix that. Control Panel came out looking amazing! I'm really glad I decided to get an original overlay for this game. 

NOS CPO and hardware reinstalled
 Also many Dragon's Lair's from the factory had really what I consider low side art. I'm aware of placement was generally much lower however I hate the side art sitting that low so what did I do, not only did I place it higher which looks much better, but I got confirmation from Shaun Wood who used to work on the assembly line installing the side art in 1983 when he was 18. He basically said the side art height actually varied from cabinet to cabinet and that most of them were installed by him and his other 18 year old friends at the time. While I didn't need that confirmation it felt good to hear that come from someone who originally help produce these in 1983.

Raised Cinematronics coin door logo
Dragon's Lair coin door parts
Resprayed Dragon's Lair coin door

Cinematronics raised lettering logo cleaned up
Above you can see that the original Cinematronics coin door which had the more desired "raised lettering" was still present and in decent shape but needed to be revitalized. I took the coin door apart, removed original paint, hand sanded down the Cinematronics logo, repainted the coin door using my favorite black textured plastic paint new cam lock installed.

Dragon's Lair Scoreboard
The game is obviously unique in the fact that your controlling a cartoon on a laser disc especially for the year 1983 but also this is one of the only video games I can think of that has a score board that's not built into the CRT. The scoreboard displays your score, lives player 2 score, player 2 lives, as well as credits. Not only was my original scoreboard functioning it was in cosmetically good condition. I only lightly used some Novus plastic polish cleaner on it, which looks fine.

Behind Speakers & Scoreboard

Testing TV monitor outside of cabinet
The original Wells Gardner monitor inside the cabinet has a unique NTSC card that has a BNC connector on it that converts the Laser Disc signal to be compatible with arcade monitors. Even though the Pioneer LV4400 Laser Disc player has both BNC as well as Composite out majority of CRT arcade monitors don't have the input without using an adapter. As you can see in the above photo I'm testing the game using a regular TV which has those composite inputs therefore no adapters are needed. Some people who own Dragon's Lair take TV's and simply decase them , have them attached to the existing frame on the inside. I wanted to keep it's original Wells Gardner k4900 monitor so I decided to send out the chassis and NTSC card to fix the vertical collapse. I probably could of fixed it on my own as I'm familiar with cap kits but this particular monitor isn't as easy to replace so I sent it out to a guy that's highly recommended among the arcade community http://thearcadebuffett.com/ . Should you need to get your chassis replaced I suggest contacting him. He actually posts a video of each monitor he repairs on YouTube explaining what he fixed showing the monitor running.

Wells Gardner CRT K4900 NTSC Card
 When I unplugged the test TV, I wasn't getting any audio from the game speakers, even though they were properly connected. As it turns out that during attract mode I had set through the dip switch settings the audio to come on once every eight attract scenes. Also you can actually adjust both the background music, as well as the narration serpately with these two knobs as seen in this photo below (The knobs are located to the left inside the coin door) At first I thought they were fuse holders! I'm so used to the volume pots being on the actual PCB's I forgot to check other locations:

Volume Control Background Music & Narration
  I also completely replaced the marquee light fixture, it was dead so rather than take a chance wasting time and money the cost of an entire fixture that comes with a lamp is close to a single florescent lamp.  Once the monitor chassis and NTSC card was reinstalled and after I hard wired in the LV4400 laser disc player, my Dragon's Lair was ready to play. Below is a video of my Dragon's Lair machine during the attract mode.