Tempest is 40 years old this month

Here's an interview with Dave Theurer, the creator:

Tempest hardware was always a bit problematic ... one time in the lab a monitor stopped working and we looked underneath it and it had gotten so hot that four or five components had actually desoldered themselves and had fallen out from the circuit board and were lying around.

To celebrate this anniversary, my Tempest at the club stopped working again. For the past several years, I'm not sure the thing has been functional for more than six weeks in a row.

At least this time it does not seem to be a monitor problem, but a power problem, probably the AR2. That's easier to deal with but I haven't gotten around to it yet. The monitors in both Tempest and Star Wars have been pretty stable since I retrofitted them with both an LV-2000 and an Alan-1. They actually run cool to the touch now! Highly recommended.

It's such a pain in the ass to work on these now that they're at the club, though, since I have no reasonable workspace there. That means that to give them any real attention, I need to scoop out the insides and schlep it all home, which means pulling not only the boards and the very heavy power supply, but also the wiring harness, which is like 20' long and screwed in to the cabinet at dozens of points. Those harnesses are custom for each game, and "spare Tempest wiring harness" is not something I've been able to find on eBay...

Pac-Man is also acting up. Sometimes it boots into Matrix crash mode again, and usually kicking it fixes it, but not always. There's this 4" square daughter board on it that seems to have a loose connection on its socket or something. I re-soldered it but that didn't help. What seemed to work was rolling up a lump of electrical tape and jamming it underneath it so that there's some pressure on the right side. And, of course that works about as well as you'd expect in the face of relentless subwoofers.

Oh yeah, and coin receptors remain a constant nightmare.

In summary, arcade games are a land of contrasts.

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16 Responses:

  1. I'm kinda wondering if the best thing to do with some arcade cabinets is to try to reverse engineer them (and make VHDL code for FPGAs) since the originals are unlikely to survive in working condition for future generations.

    Or is that a non-issue because MAME emulates them well enough?

    Props for keeping this one going so long. ❤️

    • jwz says:

      MAME emulations are a Herculean effort, incredibly impressive, and it's amazing that they work as well as they do. But they are not nearly accurate enough and I find them mostly no fun to play. These games were built around these particular controllers and monitors and cabinet layouts and without that it's not the same game. CRT or GTFO.

      • Brad J says:

        Even more so for vector games. It's really just not the same on a raster monitor no matter how high the resolution is.

        Add in the difficulty of getting a good spinner controller and it's night and day.

        Tempest is really a perfect storm (hah) of things that are hard to do right in MAME.

      • Yeah that's kind of what I was expecting. And I was thinking about the vector drawn Space Invaders that looks so different from any raster CRT version too.

      • Nik says:

        > CRT or GTFO

        Would you accept lasers? Because if so, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkHjG759ABY

      • phuzz says:

        I got to play on an orignal Asteroids cabinet once, and I realised that the little trails behind the bullets on the emulated versions I'd played, were just a pale imitation of the way the phosphor fades on a real machine.

        I suppose someone could emulate that on a modern high-res screen, but there's something about standing in front of a electron gun, accelerating particles to a significant fraction of the speed of light, towards your face.

    • Doctor Memory says:

      So, funny story, this more or less exists: https://tempestfpga.com/

      And while they're made any more, there was once a company making an FPGA-based box called "VectorVGA-Tempest" that attached to the Tempest/Star Wars video cable and output a 1024x768 antialiased raster signal over a standard VGA connector.

      Put the two of them together and you have Ship of Theseus: the Videogame.

      • jwz says:

        Wow, that's crazy! From what they're saying in the video linked at the bottom it sounds like it's not quite an accurate emulation yet but pretty close!

      • グレェ「grey」 says:

        That's pretty awesome!

        I kind of have to laugh at the "As always, game ROMs are not included. As shipped, Tempest FPGA Multigame will show “NO ROMS” when first installed." disclaimer. Good for them, adding some extra Verilog or whatever for that "NO ROMS" check and display!

        I mean, I understand why it is there. However, the conceit that anyone will be paying $699 in 2021 for a bespoke FPGA emulation of an arcade game board from 1981 (without even including the additional costs for the cabinet and display required to make use of it) and wouldn't be able to source ROMs decades later is just really one of those: "who did the Disney funded extensions of copyright and the DMCA really protect?" Heaven forbid that Atari, Inc. not earn their due on an arcade game which they haven't sold since the 1980s! Technically, I think Atari, Inc. proper stopped existing circa 1984 after Warner Bros. broke them up with the arcade division becoming Atari Games.

        Surely, the warez kiddies who will fire up M.A.M.E. to get their once in a blue moon Tempest fix aren't going to be too likely to be customers of this kit. Moreover, I'd imagine most non-vector Tempest fans long since gravitated towards the Llamasoft Atari Jaguar (and ports) Tempest 2000 and later Tempest 4000 if they weren't sticklers and were OK with rasterized graphics for the gameplay, the soundtrack was also pretty enjoyable, for early 1990s techno with Video Drome sample references.

        The interview with Dave Theurer describing an extra 40-something credits score trick which occurred due to a bug in the copyright check kind of hammers home the question: have copy protection mechanisms ever been more than a "locks keep honest people honest" annoyance to the detriment of almost all that is decent? I think the answers are obvious, but still, here we are decades later, with more draconian BS than ever.

  2. Dave Polaschek says:

    I applaud you for keeping the games alive.

    I have nothing directly helpful, but will point out that I had a 1967 Volkswagen Beetle (which came with a 6V electrical system) into which I had transplanted a 1974 VW SuperBeetle engine. The electrical harness gave me no end of problems, and my solution was to replace each bit that failed with newer wiring, with quick connectors on the end(s) I had to fiddle with most often.

    It was a very half-assed kludge, and an immense pain in the ass, and I would not recommend it to anyone sane, but it may be instructive in your case. It did enable things like dropping the starter motor, taking it into the house, rebuilding it, and reinstalling it all in just slightly over an hour elapsed. Until the weekend there was a foot of fresh snow on the ground and I couldn’t get under the car to fix the failing starter motor…

  3. See https://www.arcadeshop.com/i/820/ms-pac-pac-sync-buss-controller.htm and https://www.arcadeshop.com/i/886/ms-pac-pac-vram-addresser.htm

    I suggest replacing both sockets w/machine pin sockets and install these. They're essentially the size of the ICs that the daughterboards were intended to replace, and are signal-wise identical. IIRC I have these on one of my spare boards. They weigh less and should stress the sockets less.

    I would re-cap everything on the AR2 board. I don't think you need to take the whole harness home. But come to think of it, the +5V supply doesn't even have a cap there. Is the big-ass cap on the metal power supply frame still blue, by any chance? They have to get replaced.

    Any burn on the AR2 connectors, especially the +5V pins, especially around the "sense" bits?

  4. Nate says:

    Not directly relevant, but there's a project to replace any CRT with a programmable controller and TV tubes. This way you don't need to find the one with the exact board as your original, just the right size tube. The smart controller does the rest.


    • The twitter thread is sparse and the github readme is one sentence. So I can't tell at all if this will do vector graphics or is limited to tv-like rasters.

      • Nate says:

        It’s a replacement at a lower level with a programmable board. It’s focused on emulating a wide variety of beam control voltage configs in order to allow a tube replacement without having to match both the tube and analog circuitry of the original.

        I don’t know how complete the project is, but vector should be possible. Ask the author!

  5. thx1138 says:

    Possibly relevant to your interests:



    Dave has held a World Record Score on the video game Tempest since 1983, but it was on Easy settings. Today he shows us what happened when he switched the game over to its most extreme difficulty settings, and take us behind the scene to see the code and the machine internals.

    Errata: At some point I say that the superzapper kills enemies in distance order, but from the code I believe it's age (oldest first).

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