Through a series of links this week, I came across another individual that does “High Score Save Kits” for arcade games other than Jrok. Most collectors probably already know Matt Osborn, he has developed a high score saving kit for Konami’s Gyruss and Time Pilot.
I decided to email Matt and learn a little bit more about his background, and see if he could give me some more information that isn’t listed on his “Score Saves” website. Really nice guy, this is the great response I got back!
Here’s some background info on me:
I went to MIT for graduate school, where I studied Nuclear Physics. I was an experimental physicist working on particle accelerators. So I’ve been tinkering with electronics and computers for a long time. But it was as an undergrad at UNH that I learned the most about electronics. In the Physics program there we were required to take a full year of electronics, one semester of analog and one of digital. The course involved extensive lab exercises.
For the digital labs we each got to build our own computer from the ground up on a breadboard. IIRC, it had a Motorola 6800 with an 8K SRAM. We learned a little assembly language and programmed our computers manually by loading machine code directly into RAM with a hex keypad. Our lab assistant (a grad student who apparently had too much free time) went as far as to make a Pong game with his computer that used an oscilloscope for a display.
My days as a physicist are long behind me… I’ve been working in software engineering for over 10 years now. I still love to tinker with electronics though. So when I started collecting arcade video games I just had to take them apart and see how they worked. Actually, most of the games I’ve picked up were not operational, so figuring out how they work was somewhat of a necessity. Fixing the games is half the fun for me.
For the most part, each game board is its own custom computer. It’s neat to see how they were designed and how they evolved through the 80’s. In the late 80’s and 90’s they started using more and more custom ASICs, and the schematics for the boards were not made publicly available, so working on or hacking those systems is usually not fun at all. But the classic arcade boards from the early to mid 80’s are fairly well documented and usually easy to follow. Luckily, those are the ones I remember playing as a kid, and hence are the ones I tend to collect.
But the one thing the later games tend to have but the early ones typically lack is the ability to remember the high scores after the machine is powered off. And I found myself playing the games with the saved scores more often simply because I had a clear goal when playing them (sometimes I’ll play for hours just to get a new score up on the table). With the old games, that incentive just wasn’t there. Sure, I had a rough idea of what my personal best was, but it just wasn’t the same.
I had seen that people like JROK had added high score saving ability to classic games like Frogger. So I figured I’d give it shot with some of my favorite classic games. I started with Time Pilot, and quickly realized that I could exploit the same trick I used there with Gyruss, so I combined the two score saves into a single EPROM that works with both. I’ve done score saves for a dozen or more games since then, as well as adding freeplay mode to games that either lacked it or had a poor implementation of it.
My arcade collecting first started with pinball machines. The greatest Christmas present I received as a kid (I believe I was 13) was a Gottlieb electro-mechanical pinball (Jacks Open, which I still have) that my parents bought for me and my two brothers. When I was out of school and had a place of my own I went looking for more pinball machines to buy and fix up (even though they wouldn’t fit in the place I was living at the time, and the games ended up in relatives’ houses) and I soon had a couple more pinballs that I found through the local newspaper.
Then one day my father-in-law called to say he saw some video games sitting by the side of the road on someone’s lawn. I ran over there to find a Galaxian (which I still have) and a Star Castle that the guy wanted $40 for the pair. And that’s how my video game collection started. Now they outnumber my pinballs.
Cool story on how he got into collecting arcade games. If you take a look at Matt’s website, Score Saves.com, you will see that he has a ton of projects that are on his plate.
Matt has started or finished high score saving or free play capabilities for classic games like;
- Juno First
- Time Pilot
- Time Pilot 84
Some other games that Matt Osborn has listed as possibly future projects for what you might consider an arcade “mod” or “upgrade” are;
- Circus Charlie
- Pandora’s Palace
- Roc’n Rope
- Mega Zone
Plus, he mentioned a few more cool arcade kits in his email that I am sure he will announced after he has had time to fully test them. I had briefly thought, “Maybe Matt could make up some Jr. Pac-man score save kits, and that is a pretty popular game so maybe it could be worthwhile for him.” I think Matt has enough to do:) I don’t know what I was thinking.
It is ridiculous how affordable the Gyruss kit is at $30, a drop in the bucket when it comes to collecting arcade games. Installing the save kit is pretty easy, do some soldering on a socketed chip and replace one or two more. Gyruss is a great game. I have only played it once in person in Chicago at Chris Moore’s place and I liked it instantly. If you have Gyruss, and are looking to up your game play and always challenge yourself, check out Matt’s high score save kit.