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Robotron 2084 Reliability: Fitting a JROK Multi Williams FPGA board [video]

Published on 09/08/2013 by in Projects

Robotron 2084 Cabinet blog header picture

Robotron 2084 Headaches

Robotron 2084 is an awesome game – fact!  Despite it’s unconventional gameplay style of two joysticks it’s immediately addictive and can be picked up in minutes and mastered in a lifetime.

Sadly, the original Williams Electronics PCB’s that are supplied in the machine are based on their pinball machine control boards of the time.

There’s a board for the ROMs, a board for sound, a power board, an integrating board and so it goes on – they’re all connected together using ribbon cables like the BBC Micro used, these get hot with power going through them and become flaky over time.  The ROMs need reseating sometimes and the connector to the power board gets almost finger burning hot.

That amazingly clever chap JROK knew this too and set about building a more reliable board to play all the classic Williams games like Defender, Bubbles, Sinistar, Blaster and Robotron 2084.

This board uses FPGA (Field Programmable Gate Array) technology to house all the simple TTL chips that are found on the boards like the 74LS245 etc – don’t worry if you don’t know what that is but I’ll tell you what it isn’t though – emulation.

The board uses the original CPU, a ROM bank and an FPGA and some clever stuff to knit it all together so that you can drop this into either a standard JAMMA cabinet or adapt it into an original machine.

It’s worth mentioning that you can buy an interface harness kit from JROK which will adapt direct to the wiring inside the cabinet, however, time was not on our side and they have to come from the USA so we figured we’d make our own – I mean, how hard can it be?

Our experience

We have a Robotron 2084 machine on loan from Rav’s Retrokade for visitors to play, it was sent with an original board inside but we’ve had no luck in keeping it working for any long period of time much as we’d love to be 100% original, sometimes reliability and sense have to take over.  We spent a good few hours endlessly reseating ROMs, reflowing solder, reseating connectors etc and managed to get about 10 minutes of gameplay for our effort.

Enter a JROK Multi Williams FPGA board – the perfect solution.  The expert players out there of Robotron 2084 have given it the green light that it’s 100% of how the original plays so the only real job we have to do is get it fitted to the cabinet.

Inside the cabinet

On looking inside the machine, this straight away jumped off the page as going to be a relatively easy job.  Firstly, we’d have to bypass the original power supply board as we don’t want it running for no reason and just heating up the cabinet – simply disconnect the cable going to it solves that problem.

Next we’ll need to fit a nice modern switching power supply – grab one off the shelf, no problems here.

Interfacing to the monitor is no trouble, we just disconnect from the original hardware or wire on a spare – as we want the change to be easily reversible we got a spare cable out.

Speaker was next to assess – again, someone had modified the cabinet at some point so we hit lucky here with a simple connector strip in place – just wire into there and we’re set.

The only troublesome part was going to be the control panel, and I hesitantly say troublesome because all we needed was the right connectors.

The Robotron 2084 euro cabinet control panel uses a smaller factor AMP connector – it’s known as an 03-06-1152 – that’s what’s on the control panel side, the loom side needs it’s opposing female socket which is an 03-06-2152.  Unfortunately the UK doesn’t seem to have the female socket without a hefty carriage charge so we were putting an order in at Farnell anyway and just added some cable reels that come from the USA anyway and paid once for shipping.  Mouser also do these connectors but sometimes their shipping can take a few days more than we’d like.

So, armed with a standard JAMMA connector, AMP connectors, a monitor cable, a power supply and some wire we made up a loom of our own, fitted the power supply did a few checks along the way and finally, et voila, a working, reliable Robotron 2084 arcade machine for everyone to play on.

We were also armed with our trusty camera and the video below shows the highlights of what we did – including at the end showing how badly I suck at playing this game but – I just can’t stop playing it.

Direct link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FQUApPcVS8M

The total time spent on this was about 5 hours, I took my time making the loom as neat as possible, heat shrink covering each connection on the JAMMA connector, crimping each pin in any connectors so they couldn’t pull out easily and tinning any wires that are going into bare connectors.

Happy to say that at Retro Games Party 5.5, and the time running up to it, this ran solidly and was loved by many.

 
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