Manufacturer: Taito (original cabinet)
Released: 1987
(original cabinet)
Designer: ?
Added to my collection: April, 2004
Current Condition : Working 100%

Description
My Machine
Technical
Links

Description:

Double Dragon Screen ShotThe original game from which this multi-game constructed is a game I can quite honestly say I never intended to add to my collection. Although I played Double Dragon in the arcades as they were fading into obscurity in the late 80s, I was never a huge fan. This game was one of the early entries in the all-too-common side-scrolling beat-'em-up genre. You keep walking to the right, encountering and beating the crap out of bad guys as you go. There are a couple of interesting and redeeming features in Double Dragon, though. You can play cooperatively with another player (always a good feature in my opinion), and you can pick up interesting objects--whips, baseball bats, crates, and so on--to throw and use as weapons. Thwacking a thug upside the head with a baseball bat is always a fun experience (in a video game, anyway).

Despite these little things that made the game somewhat interesting, it never really made it to my "must play" list. In my opinion, the late 80s and early 90s produced several games in this genre that are a whole lot more fun, and are much higher on my list of "games I'd own if space weren't at a premium." Rolling Thunder, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and The Simpsons are all superior games, and the latter two actually allow up to four players to play simultaneously.

So why, you might ask, did I add this game to my collection? Therein lies a tale. Read on!

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My Machine (An Epic Tale)

Double Dragon. Sort of.Shortly after I started working as a technical writer at a company in Chapel Hill, NC, one of my co-workers learned of my coin-op collecting addiction...er...hobby. He is an alumnus of a fraternity at the University of North Carolina, and he expressed interest in having a classic coin-op arcade game at the frat house. We both thought it might be a cool way for the frat members to raise beer money. Originally, we were considering a dedicated game--most likely Donkey Kong, since it was one of his favorites and it was a well-known title that we thought would be popular. I started watching auctions on eBay and the occasional live auctions for a decent machine to serve in this capacity.

As luck would have it, local collector Brian Pipa decided to thin his considerable game herd a bit. He was selling a Donkey Kong that was in good shape at a very good price, and I contacted him about it. At the same time, he was selling a Double Dragon machine. Double Dragon is a JAMMA game. For those of you who don't know, JAMMA is a video game wiring standard that was adopted by many manufacturers starting in the late 80s. It uses a universal wiring harness that is compatible with literally hundreds of video games. This allowed arcade owners to quickly and cheaply switch games without replacing an entire cabinet. By just changing boards, changing the game marquee and artwork, and (in some cases) updating the control panel, the owner could have a new game to replace one that patrons had grown tired of.

Brian was selling Double Dragon for just over half the price of Donkey Kong. (Late 80s JAMMA games are usually quite cheap.) I started thinking that this would be a better choice than Donkey Kong. I knew few people would care about Double Dragon, but the nature of the JAMMA cabinet would allow me to install something more popular--and to change it when people grew tired of it.

When I bought the cabinet, I pulled out the Double Dragon board and replaced it. Because basketball is like a religion in North Carolina, I figured a basketball game would be perfect for a UNC frat house. I selected NBA Jam, a game that I actually quite enjoy (even though I loathe watching basketball). Although this JAMMA title was designed for four players, it can be easily installed in a two-player cabinet. I got a working board set and a marquee for just over $20 shipped on eBay. I installed the boards with no trouble whatsoever, and cut down the marquee (which is just a thin vinyl sheet, a common practice to save costs on JAMMA games) to fit the marquee area on the machine. To save money on artwork, I painted the back of the existing monitor bezel black and just put it in the game upside down. Using black poster board and stickers that I purchased at a craft store, I created my own cheap control panel overlay. The Double Dragon machine had a Plexiglas overlay cover on the control panel, so I put my homemade CPO under that. The machine was ready to go.

Unfortunately, the game wasn't a hit. Nobody wanted to play the game unless it was on free play. Part of the reason is that NBA Jam costs $1 a game--actually, 25 cents per quarter, but who wants to play just a quarter of a game? When faced with the choice of spending $1 on beer or $1 on a video game, guess what almost everyone chose? The second part of the reason is that it turns out that one fraternal organization at UNC is totally uninterested in basketball--and, of course, this was the one.

After a few months of service, the game netted a total of $2. Obviously, this was not working as planned.

About this time, I noticed that a lot of people were talking about 3-in-1 and 6-in-1 classic game boards online. These boards housed a custom selection of classic 80s video games on a JAMMA-compatible board. The player simply selects the game he/she wants to play from a menu. This seemed to be the way to go. At about $400 for the 6-in-1, it was quite a bargain. By the time I decided to buy one, the 6-in-1 had become a 9-in-1 (at the same price) which made it even better. The response at the frat house (at that time) was enthusiastic. Of course they would play a game like that!

I chose the games for the 9-in-1 board based in part on what I thought would be popular at the frat house--but, mostly, I picked games that I'd like, just in case this cabinet ended up residing in my garage. With those criteria in mind, I selected the following games:

One thing that these games have in common is that they are vertical games--they require the monitor to be oriented vertically instead of horizontally. Both Double Dragon and NBA Jam are horizontal games. While this would be a problem in most JAMMA cabinets, Taito did an amazing design job on the Double Dragon cabinet. The monitor is mounted in a square wooden frame with handles at the top and bottom (the long sides of the monitor). The monitor is bolted to the frame, but only two screws hold the frame in place. Once the screws are removed, you can grab the handles, pull the monitor out a few inches, and rotate it a quarter-turn to change the orientation from horizontal to vertical. You don't even have to disconnect the wires! Put the screws back in, and you're in business. The entire process takes only a minute or two, tops.

By the way, this easy reorientation came in handy for NBA Jam as well. It turns out that, for some reason, Midway decided that the video output for the NBA Jam boards should be inverted--that is, the image is upside-down compared to the output of other horizontal JAMMA games. There is no way to change this on the board itself, and the electronic solution is to rewire the monitor (not something I wanted to do). So, I took the easy way out--I turned the monitor upside down. Not an elegant solution to be sure, but it worked.

My makeshift bezel.Meanwhile, back with the 9-in-1 board--I installed the board with little difficulty (see the Technical section for more info). I relied on my artistic talent once again when it came to fashioning a bezel and control panel. For the bezel used the black side of the Double Dragon bezel again. This time, I printed out some stickers to spruce it up--artwork from the various games included, miniature pictures of the marquees for each game on the board, and even an instruction sheet.

The control panel was more of a project. Although I could have used the Double Dragon control panel, it had twice as many joysticks and six times the number of buttons I needed for the games on the 9-in-1. Another problem is that the Double Dragon joysticks are 8-way sticks, and it's hard to play maze games like Pac-Man with anything other than a 4-way stick. So, I decided to completely remove my old panel (after carefully marking all connections as to their function) and build a new one from scratch.

Homemade CPOI already had a pair of brand-new 4-way joysticks that didn't fit in any of my other games (the footprint of the bases are about half an inch narrower than the standard sticks on all of my games). I bought four standard micro switch buttons on eBay--two red buttons to use as fire buttons and two start buttons (one with a 1-player symbol and the other with a 2-player symbol). I was originally planning to have both left and right fire buttons (hence the two red ones) but I ultimately decided to be right-centric about it and install only one, the right of the stick.

With my parts acquired, I set out to build the panel itself. I started by measuring the existing control panel. I then cut the new panel out of a piece of half-inch particle board that I had lying around from some other project. I didn't bother to do the angled cut at the top edge (to make it sit flush with the front glass of the machine). I thought it would look bad, but it actually turned out okay. I then painted the panel flat black.

I bought a piece of one-eighth-inch Plexiglas to cover the top of the panel and had it cut to size at Home Depot. (The piece from Double Dragon had too many holes.) I used my Time Pilot control panel as a rough guide for where I wanted to place the buttons and joystick, and drilled the holes for these items in the wood. I then matched up the Plexiglas to the wood and drilled the holes in the plastic. This isn't easy, especially when dealing with such thin Plexi--it cracks very easily. I'd recommend something a little thicker. I'd also recommend properly measuring the buttons before drilling. I had to widen all of the holes after the initial drilling, which made kind of a mess of them. Luckily, the edges of the buttons cover most of the nastiness. I then pasted some more game art stickers that I printed myself onto the panel prior to installing any hardware.

I installed the buttons and joystick, and then screwed the Plexi to the wood in all four corners. I removed the latch clips from the bottom of the Double Dragon control panel and installed them on the new panel. I got the positioning perfect by using a really low-tech trick. I held the new panel in place, reached through the coin door, and scraped the control panel latches (which are attached to the inside of the machine) firmly across the bottom of the new panel. This left nice indentations to show exactly where the latches would hit the panel. Using these as a guide, it was a simple matter to install the latch clips in the proper locations.

Finally I hooked up the wiring and latched the panel into place. For a finishing cosmetic touch, I bought a generic classic game collection marquee online . (I figured I couldn't make a decent-looking marquee myself.)

Finally, after about a month, it was ready to go to the frat house. I wanted to keep it for our summer party, then it was going back. Why do I still have it? After several months without a machine in the frat house, the interest apparently waned. No one is talking about it anymore, so the assumption is that they don't want it back. If they do, they'll ask for it. So, for the foreseeable future, it has become part of my arcade.

I've toyed with the idea of selling the thing--they fetch quite a bit on eBay these days, enough to make 100% profit on my investment based on the average going rate. But I like having access to all of these additional games at a fraction of the cost and space it would take to introduce them to the arcade in a conventional manner. The only game that doesn't play very well on this board is Gyruss. It requires an 8-way joystick, so it's kind of clunky when played with the 4-way stick. The sound on Gyruss is also screwy--a not-too-good reproduction of the original stereo sound.

But wait...there's more.

After a couple of years of being a 9-in-1, I found out that they were making 60-in-1 boards that included support for a trackball (the board includes Centipede and Millipede). I picked one up, and bought all of the parts I needed to make all the games work--a trackball, extra buttons (some of the games need as many as three) and a spiffy new joystick that you can switch between 4- and 8-way mode by pulling up on the stick and twisting. (A switchable joystick is a MUST if you want precise control on games like Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man, which use 4-way sticks). I got the joystick from Ultimarc, and chose the Mag-Stick Plus version. The trackball is a Happ trackball that I got on eBay.

Once again, I constructed my own control panel (although this one is nowhere near as pretty).

So, my game now plays a TON of games (most of which are cool, some of which I couldn't care less about). You can see the game list (and buy the board) here.

And...after I got the trackball working, I sold my Centipede--Meghan doesn't care as long as she can still play the game, and it gave me some extra room (and money) for Family Guy. Of course, even though the board plays Pengo and Time Pilot, you won't catch me selling the original cabinets any time soon--they're two of my all-time favorites.

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9-in-1 Technical Info:

The settings for the 9-in-1 board are handled electronically. In order to get to the setup menu, you have to hold down the game Service switch (generally located just inside the coin door on the cabinet itself) when you turn on the machine.

I discovered an interesting thing about the Double Dragon cabinet when I attempted to run the setup for this board. The JAMMA harness has wiring for both a Test switch and a Service switch--and they don't necessarily perform the same function. In the case of the 9-in-1 board, this is very true. You have to have a Service switch wired to the harness to set the game options on this board--and, of course, Double Dragon had the switch wired to the Test connector.

I had to modify the connector to rectify this problem. I located the Test switch wire, disconnected it from its original pin on the harness and wired it to the Service switch pin. Afterward, the setup went just as advertised in the board's manual. Click here to see the JAMMA wire map in case you have to make the modifications yourself.

Oh...another thing you'll want to be aware of with these boards is the accursed music that plays when the attract mode is running. This horrible music plays any time there isn't a game running. The board setup options allow you to turn off the music in attract mode, and you'll want to do that right away (even before you go to the Ms. Pac-Man settings and set the maze objects from the default hearts back to the original dots). Unfortunately, there is no way to get rid of this music altoghether--it still plays while you select a game from the menu--but shutting it off in attract mode makes it much more bearable. By the way, although the music plays when there are manually-induced credits on the machine (quarters have been dropped in or you use the coin mechs to rack up credits), setting the game to free play doesn't keep the music playing forever. Thank goodness for small favors.

60-in-1 Technical Info:

Apart from the number of games, the big difference is that you don't need a test mode switch. To set the board options, all you need to do is flip a DIP-switch. All options are set via on-screen menus.

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