Released in 2005, Sega’s Dinosaur King was an attempt to appeal to the kids market, and to cash in on the growing popularity of turn based card games like Pokemon. The release was designed as a card battle game where players face off against each other using bar-code cards purchased from, and dispensed by, the machine itself.
There were three similar themed cabinets in total; Dinosaur King, Love & Berry and Mushi King. All three were released using the same basic interface and cabinet style, but each with an individual design. Love and Berry was specifically aimed at a young female audience in a gaudy pink, Dinosaur King in orange, and Mushi King in solid green. All three games had a strong following amongst children across the globe, and were marketed alongside cards, toys and even their own animé show.
Which is all well and good and interesting I hear you say. But what makes these cabs unique, is their diminutive size, appropriate to the requirements of their target market, namely small people. Standing at just 130cm high, they house a tiny 15 inch monitor screen. They are incredibly compact and nice looking machines.
But they represent a challenge that most arcade manufacturers have never really properly addressed – what to do with them when their shelf life is over? When they stop taking money, they are no use to operators, so where do they go? One man’s loss is another’s gain as they say, as this scenario presents great opportunities for the arcade collector – with a bit of ingenuity and imagination, these are fantastic candidates to convert into something else much more appealing to a wider (and perhaps adult) audience. The cabinets are very well designed and laid out, and have a surprising amount of space inside to drop in replacement hardware.
So it was without too much hesitation that when a few of these came up for sale last year, I decided to pick one up from a fellow collector who had a few in. The investment was a few quid and a road trip to Cambridgeshire during a day off to pick up the swag. Nice chap is Andy – he deals in Sega hardware to hobbyists and operators, and had a job lot of Dino King style cabs in that he wanted to shift. We had a good discussion about his market, and he showed me a few rare Japanese cabs.
But this is what I came for:
It’s hard to get an idea of the tiny scale of the cab from these pictures, but we’ll return to that later. As you can see, the cab was in pretty reasonable shape to say it was 10 years old. This one was on location in Dubai of all places, and had several thousand plays on it according to the coin counter which was present. The artwork on the sides and front was large vinyl stickers, and the control panel had a card reader still intact. Not much use without the rest of the game, so that would have to go. The main selling point here is that the cabs are nice and solid as they are made of metal, so they can take quite a bit of abuse from young excitable people without showing their age too much.
So back home after unloading (which I was able to do myself – which is unusual in this hobby), I unscrewed the rear door and stuck my head in to figure out what I was dealing with:
So as not to bore you to tears, what we have is a pretty bare cab with 10 years worth of desert dust all over its innards. But I’ve seen far worse. The game hardware and gubbins was removed, but we have a Power Supply at the bottom that we can tap into, and a 15khz arcade monitor at the top. Both of which are a great starting platform for a conversion.
My knowledge of monitors is better than it was. Interesting this monitor had a relatively up to date VGA connector, which should make life easier if I were to hook up a PC of some sort to the game.
So out with the vacuum cleaner, some hot soapy water and time to strip everything out and clean up:
The cab was pretty grubby having been on site for a few years, so a good hoover out and an hour with some flash liquid and hot water got things pretty nicely cleaned up for the most part. Top tip – get yourself a magic eraser to remove stubborn scuffs. Most of the blemishes were superficial – nothing a bit of elbow grease wouldn’t fix.
So what to do with the cab to give it a new lease of life? There were several options. I thought about sticking a Jamma harness in there so it could run Jamma PCBs, but eventually decided on running MAME on a PC. MAME, or Multiple Arcade Machine Emulator is a clever piece of software that emulates almost every arcade release known to man. Its primary goal is to archive the code of old arcade machines, and to make them playable within a basic program. Of course people far cleverer than I, have adapted MAME over the years with graphic interfaces and bespoke hardware that allows you to reproduce the arcade experience. What this means is one arcade cabinet can run literally thousands of classic arcade games – subject to you having the appropriate control layout of course – this is pretty handy if space is an issue.
So I purchased this micro PC, which runs MAME off the tiny red dongle you can see at the front, and will output the signal though the red video card at a native 15khz resolution – exactly as the original games intended. All I needed to buy was a PSU block to feed the PC the voltages it needed to run, an adaptor to get the video signal to the monitor and we’d be good to go.
Getting a picture on the 15Khz monitor turned out to be a bit of a ballache, but I got there in the end using a VGA amplifier I had lying around from the guys at Ultimarc:
After some tweaks to the pots on the monitor, I managed to get a stable bright picture:
Lots more work to do, but it was a good start. More in part 2 to come.