Skip to main content Skip to main navigation menu Skip to site footer
arcade, fan communities, Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association, JAMMA, repair, retrofits, reproductions

Arcade Entropy

Materiality and Repair(ing) Authenticity

Kieran Nolan (Creative Arts Research Centre, Dundalk Institute of Technology)


Classic arcade coin-ops are complicated. They’re bespoke hardware and software assemblages that run overlapping software layers, with custom controls and encasings that are often legally protected. Nonetheless, they share much in common with DIY ethos of early microcomputing because they were often sold with full electronic and mechanical schematics. These schematics might have made arcade games more transparent to competition, but they were absolutely crucial to the endless process of keeping arcade games up and running. Indeed, though arcade games might seem technically simple by today’s standards, countless operators of yesteryear (and, as we shall see, countless collectors today) depended upon huge sociomaterial assemblages of technical diagrams, diagnostic equipment, specialized tools, human labor, and the standards around cabinet design to keep these games functioning—and to the keep the credits rolling in.

This article takes a unique approach to ROMchip’s already unique materials section to briefly outline not the material history of a single game historical artifact, but instead to interrogate and map the complex web of material forces that contribute to arcade maintenance and repair in both the past and the present. In this short piece, I will introduce readers to the myriad ways in which an arcade game can—and eventually will—break down, as well as the innovative strategies that arcade collectors have developed to keep old arcade games alive in the twenty-first century. On the way I will take a look at several materials, including wooden cabinets, operating manuals, internal components, and dominant hardware standards. These materials will then allow me to explore contemporary arcade repair practices to understand how the sociomaterial complexities of yesterday continue to shape collector and preservationist strategies today.

Bit Rot, Wood Rot, and Leaky Capacitors: Material Failure Behind the Scenes

It’s reasonable to assume that most coin-op videogames were not designed to go through their working life without needing some kind of maintenance. Arcade manufacturers willingly facilitated repair in as broad a nature as possible and with constant technical upgrades in manufacturing. This need becomes even more pronounced when we begin to think about arcade games as collectors’ items and historic cultural artifacts.

One of the first challenges the modern collector faces after acquiring a secondhand arcade game is finding a way to open the coin door. More often than not the barrels containing the locking mechanism will need to be drilled out and replaced since coin-slot mechanisms contain several moving parts and are prone to rusting up over time (fig. 1). Another common issue for new arcade collectors is deciding whether or not to refurbish the existing power supply unit (PSU), which, depending on the vintage, may be fully exposed and covered in dirt and grime. The simpler route, then, would be bypassing it and using a modern multivoltage arcade PSU. The latter route is minimally invasive and allows restoration of the original power unit at a later date.

Figure 1

A rusty coin door with a partially disassembled coin mechanism inside a 1981 Midway Pac-Man cabaret arcade machine. (Photo courtesy of author)

Bit rot, one of the most serious threats to a game’s longevity, is typically defined as the decay of magnetic storage media over time, a process that renders the data in that storage partly or fully unreadable. In the context of classic arcade games, bit rot goes hand in hand with wood rot, rust, and degraded plastic, ink, and paint. While digital data can migrate across storage media with the right tools and techniques, addressing the entropy of arcade games as a complete medium requires a variety of specialized maintenance skills. For example, the memory chips on many arcade boards have stickers that cover a light-sensitive diode. If the unprotected diode is exposed to UV light for a sufficient period, the contents of the chip disappear. It can happen that the stickers may fall off inadvertently and that over time natural light will corrupt or completely erase the chip’s digital contents.

Even if an old-school arcade machine or any retrocomputing platform is never taken out of its shipping container or switched on, some components will break down over time (see fig. 2). Electrolytic capacitors and batteries are a weak point for retroelectronics, as both can fail and damage the surround circuit board, but they are also relatively easy to replace. Capacitors store voltage and then release it, and faulty capacitors can swell over time due to gas buildup. In a worst-case scenario, broken capacitors can go up in smoke when the machine is switched on. Capacitor replacement is a regular first port of call for retrocomputing refurbishment. While caps are cheaply priced, they are made in numerous sizes and values, so it’s common to see replacement cap kits sold for retrocomputing systems that make this process more convenient.

Even after all these repairs, fully working arcade machines may simply not meet current electrical safety standards or radio interference regulations. For example, it may be safer to have a machine retrofitted with a flat-screen monitor running continuously in a public setting rather than the original display. Yet these hurdles shouldn't be seen as deterrents but rather as opportunities that the arcade repair and preservation community addresses with creativity and innovation.

Figure 2

Rusty pins on a Texas Instruments SN76477 sound chip inside a 1978 Taito Space Invaders . (Photo courtesy of author)

The Arcade-Cabinet Front End: Repair and Authenticity Front and Center

Though the internal components may turn a piece of wood and metal into a game, the front end—comprising a cabinet’s controllers, screen, and cabinet exterior itself—contributes significantly to the player’s experience of a cabinet’s authenticity (see fig. 3). In order to preserve this authenticity, collectors prefer to replace old parts with original unused parts from the game’s original commercial lifetime. Where new old stock (NOS) parts aren’t available, there are active suppliers of high-quality reproductions of arcade artwork for cabinet exteriors, including control panels and bezels. Standard arcade joysticks and buttons are in ready supply, and reproductions of more specialized controllers such as the Tron flight stick are available (albeit in more limited supply).

Figure 3

The control panel on an upright 1978 Space Invaders complete with authentic vintage cigarette burns. (Photo courtesy of author)

Classic Arcade Cabinets hosts computerized numerical control (CNC) woodwork plans for a broad selection of coin-op shells.1 These are approximations and are ranked in terms of perceived accuracy; for example, the Dynamo HS-1 is rated 86 percent.2 3-D printing has also become an increasingly viable option in arcade repair and reconstruction: Dav09’s 3-D printed and CNCed sit-down Star Wars arcade rebuild showcases the use of reproduction parts, including a USB control yoke, a hand-built cabinet, and a field-programmable gate-array (FPGA) game board to recreate an otherwise scarcely available and long out-of-production arcade experience.3

Cathode ray tube (CRT) displays are one of the perceived hallmarks of authenticity in classic arcade games. This isn’t just due to their look and feel, but also for their tighter response times and compatibility with arcades’ low-resolution video-output signals. CRT screens also provide a layer of analog filtering to video signals, which blurs stippled palettes into new color combinations while softening aliased pixel edges. Their instant response time and compatibility with unmodified light guns is also hugely significant for the arcade gamer. To boot, flat screens are difficult to find at the arcade-standard 4:3 aspect ratio above twenty-one inches.

The control boards for tube-based arcade monitors are susceptible to capacitor issues, with out-of-tune caps causing display warping. CRT monitors can also suffer from color calibration issues but can be rejuvenated through a technique called degaussing. This process involves holding a magnetic coil called a degaussing coil in front the display to demagnetize the affected areas while it is switched on until the screen is recalibrated to normal.4

As tube-display mass manufacturing has dried up, the retrogaming community has gradually moved toward new sources. The original Pong machines used a consumer-grade black-and-white television, so there’s nothing unusual about repurposing a consumer television for a video game cabinet, providing it fits discreetly into the overall cabinet design. Professional video-monitor (PVM) CRTs used in broadcasting and health care have also become a target for arcade and retrogaming enthusiasts due to their image quality and video-input options, in turn affecting availability and driving prices up.

Secondhand CRT televisions need to be modified to fit inside an arcade machine, not just in terms of removing the external shell and securing the chassis to the game cabinet but also by adding a direct RGB connection to the television’s mainboard if that input isn’t readily available.5 It’s also possible to remove the TV’s tube from its control board and attach it to an original arcade-display control board, providing that it fits. There are also replacement chassis sets available for arcade CRTs, which can be paired with a cathode-ray tube sourced from a television set as an arcade monitor replacement.6

Flat screens are becoming increasingly common as retrofits to classic arcade cabinets and are a given in new flat pack-style home arcade machines. However, there are options available to keep the classic CRT display feel by augmenting flat-screen displays with a custom convex lens front that imitates the curve of a tube display. The effect is then completed by using a scanline generator either direct from software or as a hardware attachment to the video cable. Iontank’s custom Amiga setup for the Andy Warhol Museum pioneered this technique in 2018.7 The team was tasked with setting up an Amiga 1000 that could function under repeated use in a museum even though the machine itself has been discontinued for decades. Iontank opted for a mix of software emulation and hardware simulation, using contemporary PC-compatible hardware inside an Amiga 1000 shell. This simulation approach was extended to the display by custom milling a front lens for a flat screen that fit seamlessly into the Commodore 1080 monitor shell. Independent designer JamHamster also built an optically adapted screen for a homebrew retrogame system in 2020. He documented the labor-intensive prototyping involved in his process,8 from milling the lens to finding a suitable adhesive that wouldn’t cause any image distortion. It will be interesting to see if the industry will eventually adopt monitor lenses for full-scale arcade machines in the future.

The Arcade Repair Community at Work: New Parts for Old Games

The levels of arcade platform renovation vary; they can range from straightforward fixes like replacing a chip on a printed circuit board (PCB) to completely replacing the original game board and overhauling both the internal wiring and external artwork. Before the Japan Amusement Machine and Marketing Association (JAMMA) standard allowed the complete swapping of arcade boards between machines, read-only memory (ROM)-chip upgrades were used to keep games in extended use. Ms. Pac-Man is an early historical example of a commercial ROM swap, originating from the unlicensed Pac-Man board update Crazy Otto.9

In terms of completely replacing a game board with new parts, at the top end is the MISTer FPGA system, presently the gold standard for fidelity. However, its accuracy depends on the level of FPGA designs loaded onto it. For the most part, users won’t notice a significant difference between a tuned-up multiple arcade machine emulator (MAME) PC or Raspberry Pi and an original game PCB. Bootleg JAMMA multigame boards such as the Pandora’s Box series and iCade 60-in-1 systems also fulfill a market need. Indeed, these boards are in such widespread use that the 60-in-1 has been seen in the wild being used to demo bootleg Pac-Man at official Namco events.10 That said, there are distinctions between original and replacement hardware in the context of competitive gaming, evidenced by how Twin Galaxies has separate scoreboards for emulated and original arcade hardware versions of several arcade classics.11

In May 2018, UKVAC (United Kingdom Vintage Arcade Collectors) forum members NaokiS and John Bennett posted details of their plan to reproduce the out-of-manufacture 1985 Sega 834-5801 motor board used to drive the hydraulics in the deluxe sit-down versions of OutRun and Space Harrier.12 Both machines are examples of Yu Suzuki’s Taikan (体感ゲーム) / Body Movement design approach,13 which enhances immersion by moving the player’s chair in tandem with the games’ on-screen and auditory feedback. Designed as a 1:1 scale drop-in replacement for the original, the reproduction motor board uses all the original components (fig. 2). Pragmatically the circuit also includes room for newer and more easily obtained replacement parts.14 The project’s development thread on the UKVAC forum shows the best of online collaboration, with the arcade collector community pooling their skills in electronic engineering and programming to help complete the replacement motor board. Forum members have worked out technical design details and then shared, for instance, circuit diagrams and dumped microcontroller code from the original Sega board as well as collaborating on debugging tasks.

Figure 4

The reproduction motor drive for the deluxe editions of Sega’s Space Harrier and Out-Run arcade hardware. (Image courtesy of John Bennett)

The UKVAC motor board is merely one example of how the efforts of the collector community help drive the preservation of classic arcade platforms. Banjo Guy Ollie and Caius are two frequent contributors to the arcade repair scene.15 Both regularly document their arcade preservation projects online and have developed several reproductions of custom arcade integrated circuits (ICs) using easily obtained components. The Taito PC030CM is a custom IC that plugs into several of Taito’s arcade games including Legend of Kage (1985), Arkanoid (1986), and Bubble Bobble (1986). It’s an essential part of the machine that provides coin and counter functionality. Caius produced a PC03CM reproduction in 2018 using surface-mounted device (SMD) parts in a form factor closely matching the original.16 Ollie’s 2020 Taito PC030CM reproduction design adapts a reverse-engineered PC03CM design originally found on a bootleg Arkanoid board (fig. 3).17 The repro PCB was sold online and reduces the original’s footprint while using full-size through-hole components for ease of assembly by hobbyists.

Figure 5

Banjo Guy Ollie’s through-hole Taito PC030CM reproduction PCB design as shown on his Youtube channel the 8-Bit Manshed. (Image courtesy of BG Ollie)

There are some parts however that are just not viable for modern replacement in their original design due to significant technological and manufacturing obsolescence. Konami’s nonvolatile Bubble Memory modules were, contrary to their name, a notoriously volatile technology, susceptible to interference by magnetic fields.18 This major issue, alongside their costing more than the ROM- and disk-based storage of the time, consigned the modules to a short-lived commercial lifespan. Bubble Memory also had to warm up on boot, as it only operated between 30 and 40°C, presenting the user with a hundred-second countdown and accompanying musical melody as this process was underway.19 Konami phased out their Bubble Drive technology, and two of their Bubble System games (Gradius / Nemesis and Konami RF2 / Konami GT) were ported to ROM chips for their overseas release.

Ikamusume’s BubbleDrive8 (2022) is a modern hardware replacement for Konami’s Bubble Drive built on FPGA technology that can hold eight ROM images. The PCB drops into the place of the original Bubble Memory unit for plug-and-play functionality. While it runs on modern random access memory (RAM), the original loader still goes through its paces upon boot, maintaining the original pregame experience.

While Konami’s Bubble Memory was doomed to failure for its inherent technical weaknesses, prompting the arcade collector community to search for a modern replacement, Capcom’s CP System II boards were designed to self-destruct. Having been burned by rampant piracy of Street Fighter 2 on the original CP System platform, Capcom hid battery-backed encryption data in a custom IC that became known as the suicide chip.20 The battery lasts about five to six years.21 When this cell naturally runs flat, a linked capacitor holds some temporary charge for a few minutes allowing the user to swap in a new battery.22 However, if for whatever reason the battery isn’t changed on time and the capacitor also runs flat then the board is rendered inoperable. This design was implemented to deter attempts to hack and reverse engineer the PCB, as any cutting of power to the RAM will delete the encryption data and render the board inoperable. It also meant that without any kind of outside intervention, Capcom’s CPS II system was built to expire.

There are however three ways to rejuvenate a dead CPS II board thanks to the work of Eduardo Cruz and his collaborators. The original method, known as phoenixing, involves replacing the ROMs with a custom set that bypasses the board’s encryption method. The game runs identically to the original except for a Phoenix project logo that appears at start-up. The second method for repairing one of these boards is installing a modchip such as Undamned’s CPS-2 Infinikey (2019),23 which removes the need for a battery and injects the appropriate key upon boot-up. Method three is to return the board to its original state through the clean desuicide procedure, which is achieved by temporarily connecting a custom microcontroller setup to load the original encryption key back into the board’s RAM.24

The choice on which of the above methods to use really depends on the intended use context. If the requirement is to have the original board functioning exactly as when it was originally released (for example, as a museum-level archival copy), then the desuicide method is the way to go. Some see the Phoenix technique as akin to running an emulation on the original hardware due to the addition of extra branding graphics and new code for its copy protection circumvention. Considering Capcom’s CPS-2 copy-protection circumventions and the Konami Bubble Drive replacement, we can see that the exact original hardware state can’t always be re-created. More often than not, the choice is either having an unmodified and nonfunctioning material artefact or an augmented but fully playable game.25

Responding to the Intrinsic Complexity of Arcade Repair

There is a term that the arcade collector and preservation community use for their retro arcade-maintenance efforts: the hobby. This is a rather understated definition, as it undersells the complexity and overall cumulative effect of their work. The case studies and situations discussed in this article show that there's no single arcade repair issue or one quick fix for arcade coin-op entropy. Just as arcade machine assemblages are made up of a multifaceted array of components both hardware and software, digital and analog, so too a broad range of preservation and repair techniques is required to keep the material of the machines in playable order.

Arcade repair is also complex from a legal point of view. Today, the majority of classic arcade games that are serviced by spares made by the preservation community are no longer manufactured in coin-op form yet are still commercial properties actively on commercial release through official emulations, remakes, and sequels.

There’s always been a steep learning curve for arcade maintenance. The original industry-produced arcade operator manuals of the 1970s deliberately made the inner workings of their machine designs open knowledge. They were released to make this nascent and cutting-edge technology repairable for the arcade operators, and now their legacy, through the collected networked knowledge of five decades, continues to keep classic coin-ops in active play.


A huge thank you to everyone who has taken time to review this text and offer feedback, including John Bennett, Banjo Guy Ollie, Dav09, Logan Brown, Alex Mirowski, Marina Fontolan, and the ROMchip editorial team.


1. ^ CNC refers to programmatically controlled tooling in manufacturing.

2. ^ “Classic Arcade Cabinets: Street Fighter II,” Classic Arcade Cabinets, 2016,

3. ^ Dav09, “Star Wars Cockpit Arcade Project,”, June 19, 2012,

4. ^ Tim Peterson, “Using a Degaussing Coil,” Arcade Repair Tips, January 27, 2010,

5. ^ Tom Nardi, “Convert a Curbside CRT TV into an Arcade Monitor,” Hackaday (blog), May 30, 2018,

6. ^ pcbjunkie, “Installing and Modding a Wei Ya Clone 25” Universal Arcade Monitor Chassis,” November 26, 2019, YouTube video, 42:22,

7. ^ “The Andy Warhol Museum Amiga Exhibit,” Iontank, 2018,

8. ^ Jamhamster, “Jamhamster/Bending-an-LCD,” Github, February 27, 2022,

9. ^ “Ms. Pac-Man (Arcade),” The Cutting Room Floor, June 5, 2022,

10. ^ “ICade 60-in-1,” BootlegGames Wiki, accessed February 4, 2023,

11. ^ Twin Galaxies, 2023,

12. ^ NaokiS, “Space Harrier / OutRun DX Motor OpenBoard Project,” UK Video Arcade Collectors Forum, UK-VAC, May 20, 2018,

13. ^ Keith Stuart, Sega Arcade: Pop-Up History (n.p.: Read Only Memory, 2022), 5.

14. ^ John Bennett, “PCB Reproduction: Space Harrier/Outrun Deluxe Motor Drive,” PhilWIP, September 11, 2018,

15. ^ The 8-Bit Manshed, “Araknoid Arcade PCB Repair,” Arcade Cab and Boards Repairs, May 9, 2020, YouTube video, 8:58,; and “Reproductions,” Caius Arcade Repairs & Engineering (blog), accessed February 3, 2023,

16. ^ SMD is used to refer to capacitors, resistors, and any other devices applied to a PCB; and Caius, “Taito ‘PC030CM’ Reproduction,”, July 13, 2018,

17. ^ The 8-Bit Manshed, “The Taito PC030CM Repro (Arkanoid, Bubble Bobble...),” May 2, 2020, YouTube video, 5:01,

18. ^ Wolfgang Robel, “A Magnetic Bubble Memory” [in German], Mike McBike @ Home, January 25, 2017,

19. ^ kwns, “Konami Bubble System Countdown,” July 27, 2006, YouTube video, 1:45,

20. ^ Eduardo Cruz, “A Journey into Capcom’s CPS2 Silicon—Part 1,” Preservation and Reverse Engineering of Arcade Video Games, Arcade Hacker (blog), March 20, 2017,

21. ^ Tormod Tjaberg, “The Art of CPS2 Battery Maintenance,” last updated June 27, 2006,

22. ^ Eduardo Cruz, “A Journey into Capcom’s CPS2 Silicon—Part 3,” Preservation and Reverse Engineering of Arcade Video Games,Arcade Hacker (blog), May 30, 2018,

23. ^ undamned, “InfiniKey-CPS2,” Forums, Arcade Projects, October 12, 2018,

24. ^ Eduardo Cruz, “Arcade Hacker: Capcom CPS2 Security Programming Guide,” Preservation and Reverse Engineering of Arcade Video Games,Arcade Hacker (blog), September 13, 2016,

25. ^ Raiford Guins, Game After: A Cultural Study of Video Game Afterlife (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2014).