Mechanical shooters are a bit hard to come by. Many of these games were chopped up and tossed into the ocean when video games came along. The mechanical games were too heavy and required too much maintenance and, in many cases, didn't make much money but were useful in attracting customers to the other more money making games. These games were also known as 'novelties' in the arcades as most money was made with pinballs and cranes at the time. Mechanical shooters, drivers, and others were relatively simple and, to many, boring after a game or two as they did not have additional features like today's video games. Once you figure out how to shoot the boat or turn the wheel to avoid other cars there wasn't really much more to do.
For myself, however, I always found myself seeking out new 'novelty' games to see what was out there. Many were really bad but I can never remember their names ( edit as I find names ). Some I really liked like Midway's Sea Raider Periscope Game and Chicago Coin's Motorcycle. Marvin has the best site for EM novelties I've found ( http://marvin3m.com/arcade/ ).
Here's my Commando. It's an interesting piece as far as mechanics are concerned with the moving mirror and rotating helicopters but is relatively boring to play - the only objective is to shoot one of two helicopters and score points. The visual effect of two helicopters flying and landing, well, crashing into a simulated battlefield is based on the same principle as Disney's Haunted Mansion where you see the ghosts dancing. It's very impressive - still today. If you don't know how it's done most people can't figure it out. I'll let you in - it's all done with mirrors - no, really, it is!
When I received this game it had many problems - bad sound, wouldn't reset, not aligned, wouldn't score - you get the drift - it wasn't working. BUT I Actually got it with a manual! Woo Hoo! As with most electro mechanical games the problems were along the lines of bent relay switches, burned coils, and worn mechanical points. Oh, yes, the score reels were full of grease which had hardened. Also, the cabinet was yellowed with smoke. In fact, these machines, in many cases, came equipped with ash trays - as did this one. Who'd of thought cigarettes would be legislated out of existence. It's hard to find an arcade you can smoke in these days.
For starters the anti-cheat or hold relay was toast. This is normal in most EM games. The coil stays on the entire time the game is on. Most folks just lock the relay closed especially for home use. Just bending the tongue will hold the relay closed. I also clipped the wires going to the coil to prevent a possible short.
The score reels themselves were not working. They were gunked up with grease which had solidified enough to prevent movement. There are only two reels on this machine. After disassembling and cleaning the reels operated perfect. Grease on a score reel occurs when the reels get dirty and begin to malfunction. As time is money it's often a better business decision to grease the reel ( 15 seconds ) as opposed to cleaning it in the field ( 1 hour ) especially on a busy night in the arcade. It's not that the techs don't know that grease hardens eventually as often arcades have an off season when the techs can perform more elaborate maintenance. The fact, however, is that the grease rarely gets removed and more grease accumulates.
There were maybe 15-20 contacts out of alignment in the back box relays. Most were obviously worked at some other point in time. Such problems as game not running, hits not scoring and helicopters not flying were numerous in this game. After about an hour of tuning the game ran enough to test.
The premise is very simple - two helicopters fly around a battlefield and you try to shoot them down - sounds like Iraq. The game uses black lights and fluorescent paint on the copters to create an eerie visual effect.
The back glass has cracks in the corners and the ink was beginning to peel but fine for the age. I sealed the glass to protect any further damage. The plastic battlefield inserts were filthy and a wipe down with windex made all the difference in the world. These are a bit hard to remove as you must remove the glass - this requires removing the molding - and reaching into the bowels of the cabinet to remove 3 screws holding the battlefield in place. Once out it's like a plastic HO train layout - looks like vacuform.
The gun had a lot of play. It turns out a part called the 'mounting socket assembly' was worn so the gun rocked on the right side.
Short of re-casting the part I opted to deepen the worn spot to allow the holding screw to enter further into the hole. This worked fine and I suspect should last many years.
Also, the 'Gun Mounting Casting' had broken on one side. This is meant to prevent the gun from rotating 360 degrees and tearing up the wires. It broke at a weak spot where a roll pin kept the rod aligned. There's still an upper pin. This damage usually happens in arcades when kids slam the guns. Similar to gun stocks being busted off of rifle games. It's just part of the fun.
I opted to not repaint the gun even though it has some rust. I just prefer not to paint to preserve the game - not remanufacture it.
Putting it all back together.. The gun was miserably out of alignment. I don't think it's even possible to align these things well from day one due to the mechanical design - a stylus tracks the gun movement from below making contact with contact points on a pcb. There are many spots on the pcb where no contact is made - larger than the areas where contact is made - so you just have to 'get it close'. When playing these games you usually learn the sweet spots of shooting and simply wait for worlds to come together like 'shoot the helicopter when it's just left of center and close to maximum height'. To perform the alignment there are instructions in the book which explain how to lock the helicopters in place.
The hard part is aiming the gun and adjusting the board as you can't do both at once. I had to find where the target score a hit, estimate the adjustment of the stylus, and repeat until it was close. It took about 30 minutes going back and forth and I notice the pcb had been adjust to maximum meaning something is terribly wrong with a part but the previous owner had the board in the extreme position also. It appears some work had been done to the stylus tip so perhaps it had been offset just enough to create the issue.
The next problem was a bit odd. After operating for 30 minutes or so the helicopters would stop moving along with the up/down mirror motor. Just moving the mirror motor a bit would get things going again for a few seconds. After examining the circuit driving the up/down system, and checking all contacts, I saw the only electronic component - a single 3 ohm 12 watt resistor. These do change properties with heat so I subbed a 2.7 10 watt ( common television component ) and the game worked just fine. Even though the original resistor read 3.8 ohms doesn't mean it's working in circuit.
Finally, the helicopters have tiny motors to spin the rotors. It's just a cosmetic effect but they've got to be fixed. I took out the two motors hoping to free them up. They had lots of rust and gunk. I broke one free but the second motor wouldn't have it. I decided to buy two small gear motors from Radio Shack to replace these with ( about $3 each ).
Here's a nice shot of the degreaser running down the side of the cabinet. It's not pretty seeing all that cigarette smoke residue run down the cabinet - yech.. After setting a few minutes I wiped down to reveal a cleaning cabinet, albeit not perfect.
Leaving the degreaser on too long begins to bring up the paint so this is about as far as I'll go. The blotches are much more apparent in the photo then on the machine. Not too bad - not too great. In any case I don't like to repaint games so this is how it will stay. You buy it - you can paint it.
The game is fully functioning now but still needs some black lights, the gun secured, a new ac plug, and to have the locks installed. Perhaps another week or so.
June 16, 2007
FINALLY got the black light bulbs and starters. This game takes 3 F15T8 BLB bulbs. It's really an impressive effect. These are available from Walmart for $6 each. Since the helicopters are painted with reactive paint they are highlighted with the black light which provides a decent night effect. You can see the small orange helicopter near the '500' indicator in front of the gun.
At this point everything works and the game is ready to go. Addtional cosmetic restorations could be a nice touch. Also the machine gun recoil motor is missing but has no effect on gameplay. If or when I find one it'll bet installed.
To be continued ...
( another link: http://marvin3m.com/arcade/command.htm )