RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.RF Generation.  The Classic and Modern Gaming Databases.

Posted on Aug 14th 2018 at 08:00:00 AM by (slackur)
Posted under Collecting, Retro, Sega CD, Turbo Duo, Dreamcast, PS2, parts

Folks on this site likely know the feeling;  You and three 'friends' are in a heated Super Smash Bros. Melee when someone cries out, "My "R" button isn't working!  Hey guys, wait!"  Or that heated Joust versus match with the controller that just doesn't 'flap' as fast, or the time you were excited to show off your rare Sega CD Snatcher on one of the four days of the week that the drive tray doesn't want to work...

If you are a retro gamer that plays as well as collects, you know the effort it takes to upkeep your library.  Vintage video game collecting is like classic car collecting or pinball machine collecting; it's more than just having space for the stuff and the ability to find and pay for the games and hardware.  If it is going to remain playable, there's some know-how and some elbow grease that will become part of the hobby.  From notorious controller wear and faulty optical drives, to analog drift and bad capacitors, every retro player/collector has to get comfortable with just how far down the rabbit hole they are going to go.  Perhaps you are fortunate enough to have a passion for a console that seems immune to all but psyonic attacks (SNES, Game Boy Color) or maybe you've fallen for a glass snowflake (Famicom Disc System, a Turbo Duo with good sound), but either way there is always some basic maintenance needed. 

As most of us probably didn't set out to be a collector but just kept acquiring until a tipping point was reached, it may be a good idea to come to a sort of "line in the sand" ahead of time for how deep into repairs and upkeep you really want to go.  At some point it becomes more than just about money, but also time and frustration.  Some of us will be willing to download pin readouts and trace circuit boards, while others really don't care after the initial "well, I sprayed it with rubbing alcohol and told it I love you, I give up."  And that's not a personal critique either way; we all need to make that call and cut our losses or prepare to go deep.

And yep, this write-up comes from a recent personal experience.  A good friend and I (OK, mostly him) have been working on restoring old game systems I've had in boxes waiting to repair.  The great news is that most of them are still working!  The bad news is that we've already given one away that worked for a few hours and then gave up the ghost (cue Pac-Man sound effect.)  It's admittedly weird that you can get through several working systems, but sometimes the next one that fails kinda bums you out.  Part of me wants to go stock up on N64 analog joysticks and Dreamcast laser units and everything else I can find, and another part of me wants to just built the ultimate MAME cabinet installed with everything ever (and a dozen backups) and shrug at everything else.

I'm not much of a techie anymore, but I find that my solution is to dabble in both simple repair and modern concessions.  I do enjoy putting a little time in learning how to rebuilt, swap, replace, or fix old game systems, but I'm not so much a purist that I can't enjoy, say, the upcoming C64 mini or the nifty NES/SNES classics.  I think the most important thing is just to make the call ahead of time so you don't end up down a road you'll regret, whether that's knee deep in 3DO parts without a clue or selling it all and settling for a not-quite-there-but-close modern solution (and then missing your old collection.)

As us old-timers know, extra parts and redundancy are the best defense beyond simple common-sense care, but as all this stuff ages there will always be more stuff to fix.  Our annual retro video game conventions are partially spent hunting down parts, controllers, and accessories for our collection.  And between conventions and a few sites like ours, I get lots of advice on just how far I really want to go.  I once thought I would eventually own a Famicom Disc System, but after much conversation with folks who have had more experience than I, it was easy to decide to let that interest go as I don't think I'd want to put in the required effort to keep one running.  I have a strange knack for PS2 repair though, and I think one day I'll tackle Atari 5200 controller repair.  While I really appreciate the Game Gear library I don't much like the portable itself and its many (many) issues, but the Game Gear adapter with the Retron 5 (and a Master System or SNES controller) is a perfect solution for me.

It's not even just retro game consoles; I've had to learn how to keep XBox and 360 LANs running despite all sorts of interesting issues, and even a room full of XBox Ones and PS4s need plenty of trouble-shooting to play together.  Motion controls, VR, and quirky setups all take a bit of figuring out.  Sometimes it isn't about getting a game up and running, but minimizing frustration and awkward gameplay.  Maybe a tracking issue with PS3 Move lightgun games, or swapping out a faulty DDR pad.  The list is endless.

But here's the thing; there's a special joy in overcoming such obstacles.  For folks like me the passion is more than the game, it is the experience that comes with it.  I couldn't spend the amount of time, money, and energy in this stuff if I didn't grow from the passion I put into it.  It's all part of the picture, and certain people 'get' it and some don't.  We all have our pursuits, our side-projects, our hobbies that connect on a deeper level.  Sure there's frustration, and sometimes stuff just breaks and that's that.  But I have to smile when asked when we'll be 'done' collecting retro video games, or where the cut-off is.  I have no idea; I put boundaries here and there for mental and financial health, not to mention the invaluable expense of time.  But this is just part of what's inside; an endless fascination to play, tinker, socialize, and share.  There will never be more solutions than problems on this side of life, after all.  Might as well enjoy!

Fortunately, there is a great community of techie retro game fans that help solve such problems as replacing common components or solving known issues, and even services offered by a few to send out a system for repairs.  Over the years I've been helped by quite a few kind folks here at RFGen, or been given a name or community to contact for specific help.

These communities will become more and more important over the years to us collecting gamers, so I'm very grateful for great sites like ours!


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Hehe, I was just thinking about this last night (coincidentally).  Due to extremely limited funds this year (and a new vow to only buy physical for twelve months), I've really had to tailor my (now yearly) upkeep, so I try to do as many of the repairs myself, so that I can spend the savings on my "want" and "need" list.  Some are very simple (OG PS1 laser replacement), some take a few tools (SNES power port), some take research and practice (OG Sega CD PICO fuse), some take a large amount of practice, research, and skills (1541 drive for my C64), and some are just out of my wheelhouse (Turbo CD drive "PC" error code).  But I really love your analogy to pinball collecting, as it is spot on.  This stuff just breaks, and if one is truly committed to playing games on original hardware, I think one must become acquainted with the means to repair them (or at least with people who own an oscilloscope).

Great article, Jess.
Great article, and something that has been a sticking point for me. I'm a technical guy, in the sense that I'm in Information Technology as my day job, but have always been a bit shy about tearing apart game consoles to do repairs. Part of that is my own fear of damaging components; after all, I inadvertently destroyed my first home computer in '00 when I tried to swap out the floppy drive. A simple static electric shock took out my motherboard, and my $2700 investment from a few years earlier was completely worthless. Granted, I became a PC tech not long after that, and I've built and repair many a computer since then, but older hardware can be finicky, so I'm never 100% comfortable with opening these things up and sticking my hands and fingers inside the casing, lest I short out components. Also, my soldering skills are almost nonexistent, and I don't own any equipment of my own, so for me to want to do this kind of repair, I would have to really work up the courage (and the money) to invest in the equipment for myself, and dedicate the time to learning the craft. I haven't come to the point yet where enough of my systems don't work or need repair that I've felt compelled to go this route. However, I suspect there will come a day when I'll need to either know how to do this stuff myself, or pay a bunch of money for shipping and repairs, to someone who does. My dilemma is knowing whether or not I should bite the bullet, buy the equipment, and spend the time to 'git gud' with component-level repair now, so I'm prepared for it when it comes, or wait until I actually need the skills, and hope I don't mess it up.
I've delved pretty deep into repair and refurbishing older consoles and computers lately, with a lot of success. It's a part of the hobby that I am having a lot of fun with, and I always enjoy learning something new. I know it isn't for everyone, but these puzzles have to get solved.
This is an interesting article to me, and definitely hits on a point that I didn't purposely ponder, but now that I think about it, in general I've gone out of my way to purchase items that are 100% operational.  In some cases that hasn't been the case and I usually will get a small refund in those cases depending on where I purchase from.

The reason I try to buy working items is because I don't want to repair them before I can use them.  I've found that this is NOT a foolproof way to have a collection that is fully operational.  What I have found for myself is that I purchase tools as I need them.  When I had to get a tri-wing screwdriver, or the T-54, etc. I just buy the right tools to get the job done.  Currently I have a modded PS2 that I need to repair, but haven't found the correct soldering iron for the task yet (super tiny tip required).  Once I find it, I'll go ahead and fix that sucker.

I guess the point is that I won't attempt any repairs without the right tools, but I won't buy a particular tool until I need it the first time.

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